I do my fair share of funerals. Many of them are a ministry to families who truly celebrate an aged parent or grandparent, having lived a full and blessed life. But then there are those occasions when a death is nothing less than a sad and tragic event. Last week I had one of those funerals. I officiated a service of a young woman who left three small children and lots of questions from friends, parents, and siblings. Addiction was at the center of her passing from this life into the next. The following is the biblical substance of what I said at that funeral, based in a Scripture passage from Isaiah 65:17-25.
This Scripture passage from the prophet Isaiah portrays a vision of hope – a hope for better days when the brokenness of this world will be mended, when that which is lost will be found, and a time when what is incomplete will be made whole. There is a confident expectation for the believer that our troubles, our sufferings, and our failings are not the last word; instead, the promises of God will have the final say, and those promises will all be realized.
If it were left up to us, to fallen and fallible humanity, there would be no hope because it is our sin that has made such a mess of things. But, thanks be to God, that hope is built on what God says and his promises to his people. And every promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and formed man and woman as his greatest creation. To human beings alone God created them in his own image and likeness. But tragedy happened when the people God formed for himself and for his glory decided to rebel and go their own way. That act of disobedience plunged the entire world into darkness. To this day we feel and experience the effects of that original Fall into sin and separation from God. Yet, the story of the Holy Bible does not end there because God, in his grace, did not abandon his creatures but promised to redeem them. The ultimate act of this grace was God the Father sending God the Son to this earth. It is the life and teaching of Jesus, his death on a cross, his resurrection from the dead, and his ascension to heaven that has taken care of the sin issue and the brokenness of the world once for all. God’s Holy Spirit is at work, even now, bringing the effects of Christ’s finished work to the lives of people so that they may live new lives. And this is where hope is kindled – that there is coming a time when all things will be made new and the world will be made right because of Jesus Christ.
Sin, death, and hell do not have the last word. Everything in this world that is unfair, unjust, twisted, and broken will be healed. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a vision that is ahead, which is coming. This is a vision of the future that helps give us some sense and a bit of meaning to our present questions and grief.
The ancient Israelites, for whom this prophecy was directed, did not always live as they ought to have lived. The history of the Israelites is a complicated picture of sincere worship of God punctuated with sad times of rebellion and disobedience. It is true of us all that we are at many times a convoluted mix of both good and bad, capable of both wise decisions and foolish actions. The reality is that we all bear the marks of being in the image of God, but also of a sinful nature that resembles the Fall of our original ancestors.
There are times in life when we exemplify the image of God within us – times when we have sincere spiritual excitement and a desire for prayer – times when we can freely share Scripture with family or friends to help them in their hour of need. Our giftedness and abilities can go far when used for good. Yet, tragically, we also carry within us the burden of our fallen natures and we are, at times, carried away by that which enslaves. We are by no means alone in that struggle. The Apostle Paul, by whom much of the New Testament was written, captured this tension and difficulty. He said to the Church at Rome: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. Paul went on to say: For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. He concluded his thought with this: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! Men and women, but for the grace of God, but for the cross of Jesus Christ, we would all be given completely over to trouble!
The prophet Isaiah has given us a glimpse that God’s plans and purposes move toward a climax – that life as we know it right now is not how it will be forever. Death sometimes cuts off life before it has had a chance to begin well. Sometimes when that happens, we ponder our own failings and wonder if things could have been different if we had acted a certain way or said a certain thing. But what transcends all of our human words and earthly actions is the promise of God to make all things new, restore all things, and bring a new era of righteousness into the world. The hope the Christian has because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that the power of death itself has been destroyed. A whole new order of things is coming, and it will be so new that the past will be forgiven and forgotten in Jesus’ name.
So, today we have a choice: to place our faith and hope in Christ, or to go our own way. God gives us everything we need. Yet, being human, we, at times, fail to use that which God has given. But God always has the last word, and his last word to us is salvation and deliverance from the power of sin and death in Jesus’ name.