Last October, our church started praying for Elisa Picken’s pregnancy. All those long months we prayed for her and for her baby every week, as we happen to do for our pregant ladies. Life proceeded through the rhythms of weekly worship and fellowship, of work and family life, of celebration of the holidays. Her tummy grew, and then on May 15th I sent out a celebratory email announcing the birth of Joseph John Picken to our congregation… 9 lb. 4 oz, mother and baby are doing well. Later on I learned that he was very tall… 24 inches.
On Sunday, June 28th, we celebrated Joey’s life yet again as I baptized him in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Joey was a beautiful baby boy, chubby, growing, and happy. He was a good baby, a delight to his parents, and cherished by his brothers and sisters.
And then, late last Wednesday evening, I received a text, and my heart sank down to my feet. From the look on my face, my wife instantly recognized that something was wrong. News like this hits you like a ton of bricks, and you are left wondering, “Why?” What happened? How could this happen? What purpose does it serve?
You go through the emotions and experience of grief, of sadness, hurt and even anger. You see and feel the pain, the lost potential, the lost life. And then you pray. At least you should pray. I prayed.
The text I want to start with is from the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians 4:13–14, and it gives us some biblical wisdom about our emotions, and it is particularly appropriate to our context today… 1 Thess. 4:13…
13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
“Fallen asleep” here is a euphamism for dieing, a biblical one (the same one that confused the 12 disciples about Lazarus). Death brings sorrow, and that is a given in the text “lest you sorrow”. This is something we all “get”, something we all understand. But here, Paul is concerned to inform the brethren in Thessalonika about the hope of the gospel. “I do not want you to be ignorant.” There is a difference between sorrow over death between those who have no hope, and those who believe in Jesus Christ.
And this difference exists because of the resurrection from the dead… vs. 14…
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
You see, if Jesus was raised from the dead, that is our hope. It means that we may be raised from the dead in Him.
It means that we are not forever gone, and never to be seen again. It means that who we are and what we do have lasting value, into eternity. Jesus makes the difference between hopeless sorrow and meaningful endurance.
Now, I keep talking about “believing in Jesus”, and being raised from the dead “in Him”, and about the gospel, and I understand that there may be some of you out there who are not Christians, who don’t know the gospel, or believe it. Let me share it with you now… Because this is an excellent place to identify our need for it.
Our culture likes to hide from death. We idolize convenience and youth, and we shun difficulty and hardship, and mortality. But death comes to all. It is the wages of sin, as I mentioned earlier. And death outside of Christ is a hopeless thing. Because we will all be resurrected and judged by the Holy and Perfect God who created and sustains the universe. And every man alive is guilty of breaking God’s law. Now the word “Gospel” means good news, and so far this doesn’t sound very good, does it?
The good news part of this is that God became a man, Jesus Christ. He lived a perfect and holy and sinless life, and He paid the penalty for sin. He died on the cross. And God raised Him up from the dead three days later. Jesus promises us in the Bible that, if you will confess your sins, and believe on Him, that you will receive free forgiveness of your sins, a gift. Romans 6:23 again…
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ.”
How this happens is that you are united to Jesus Christ by faith. In believing, you are connected to Him, in such a way as that your sins are paid for on His cross. His death is your death, and correspondingly, your life is His, and He is now your King and Lord. Obey Him, because it is worthwhile. What you receive in return is eternal life, forgiveness of sins, hope, and peace with God, a peace that passes understanding.
You see, God created us to live in peace with Him, and sin has put a great divide between us and God. But Jesus removes the divide, and more than that draws us into the divine life. We are united to God, so that we can embrace the promises of the gospel… My next text is from Romans 8… vs. 28…
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Also vs. 31…
… If God is for us, who can be against us?
By faith we know these things are true. In our baptisms we have been adopted by God. From His word, we know that nothing happens by chance and that He controls all things, therefore, by faith, we do not sorrow as those without hope.
It is not as if we can definitively explain why Joey died, or particularly how this works together for good for us. But at the same time, we can know what God says, and accept His truths… that He is for us, and that this, despite our limited abilities to explain it, is In His purpose and for the good of those who love Him.
There is no hope or salvation outside of Jesus Christ, and we have no choice but to worship God and proclaim the blessing of His name, all the while, grasping onto the promises of the gospel, which cannot be taken from us… Romans 8:37-39…
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Neither death nor life… God loves His people, and the door is open, so what are you waiting for? Embrace Jesus and live. Confess and believe, and know the hope of eternal life, and the freedom from fear and condemnation.
We love Joey, and we miss him, and we sorrow for him, but our sorrow is not hopeless, because Jesus is alive. We will see Joey again in glory.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, let’s pray…
Father in Heaven, thank You for Your promises in Your gospel. Thank You for redeeming us from our sin, and thank You for delivering us from the tyranny and power of death.
We ask that You would be glorified in us today, we ask that You would teach us Your word, and implant it in our hearts. Fill us with Your Spirit and grant us faith in Your grace and mercy as we honor Joseph, and remember his life today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.