Sermon title:  Memorial Day and God’s Mercy

John 18

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, May 24, 2020

 

 

This Memorial Day weekend

we take time to remember

those who gave their lives defending our freedom.

 

There’s a widely-used expression

“All gave some;  some gave all.”

 

So, we remember with deep gratitude, especially

those who were wounded

and those who lost their lives in battle.

 

And we remember with gratitude

all those who served.

 

Memorial Day is also a time

when we remember all those we have lost

including parents and other loved ones.

 

We decorate their graves,

but we know they are not actually in those graves.

 

Naturally, we give thought to where they are now.

 

Some religious authorities claim to have all the answers.

 

But the Bible really says relatively little

about life after death

except for the assurance of heaven

for all who belong to Christ.

 

Even though the Bible says very little on the afterlife,

whole books have been written on the subject,

often filling in what the Bible doesn’t say

with what the book writers

imagine to be the case.

 

And, even though they rely so much on their imagination

they often write, as if speaking with authority.

 

There’s a funny story that’s been going around for years.

 

It goes something like this:

 

St. Peter is giving new arrivals a tour of Heaven.

 

First he takes them past the section

where all the Methodists are.

 

Then he has them look in on the area

where all the Presbyterians are.

 

And then he puts his finger to his lips

and tells everyone to tip-toe quietly

past the next section.

“Why?” someone whispers.

 

“Because that’s where the Baptists are,”

St. Peter whispers in reply. “And they think

they’re the only ones up here.”

 

I’ve heard that story told in various different ways,

naming various other groups, other than the Baptists,

as the ones who think only their people

go to heaven.

 

Most Baptists I know don’t really think that way.

 

But there are a number of cults and

exclusivist churches that do think

only they are the only ones going to heaven.

 

The Pharisees our Lord Jesus dealt with

during his earthly ministry

were like that, too.

 

They were generally well off financially,

and they thought this showed

they were favored by God.

 

They held to something resembling

the “health & wealth gospel”

taught in some churches today.

 

So, Jesus told them the parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus,

where a poor, sick beggar named Lazarus

used to sit outside the door of a rich man’s mansion,

eating the scraps of food

from the rich man’s table

when his servants took out the garbage.

 

Lazarus in the parable dies and

is carried by the angels to Abraham’s side

which completely goes against

the beliefs of the Pharisees.

 

And the rich man,

who they would have expected to go to heaven,

ends up in fiery torment.

Our Lord also refuted the beliefs

of the chief priests and religious leaders,

when he told them at Matthew 21:31

that

“the prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you.”

 

Many religious people today

would lay down a rigorous standard

for entering Heaven—the Kingdom of God.

 

But, at Mark chapter 9, Verses 40 and 41, Jesus said,

 

40For whoever is not against us is for us. 41Indeed, if anyone gives you even a cup of water because you bear the name of Christ, truly I tell you, he will never lose his reward.

 

So, if someone does something as small

as giving a cup of water to a Christian

because the Christian bears the name of Christ,

that person who handed out the cup of water

“will never lose his reward.”

 

How does God ensure that this happens—

and what, exactly is that reward?

Is it when they face Judgment Day?

 

We can’t say for sure.

 

The Bible doesn’t tell us enough

about what happens to everyone after death

for us to have all the answers.

 

It just gives us the “blessed assurance”

that we believers have,

that we will be with Jesus on his throne

living in our heavenly Father’s

mansions in the sky forever.

 

Even pre-Christian men of God

had that blessed assurance,

looking forward miraculously

to the Messiah who had not yet come.

 

More than 1000 years before Christ,

Job said at Job 19:25

25 I know that my redeemer lives,

and that in the end he will stand on the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,

yet in my flesh I will see God;

 

A thousand years before Christ,

 David concluded his 23rd Psalm with the words,

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell[a] in the house of the Lord

Forever.

 

And hundreds of years before Christ,

an angel told the prophet Daniel,

“As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days, you will rise again to receive the inheritance set aside for you.”

Daniel 12:13

 

We have that blessed assurance made even stronger

by our Savior who died for us

and rose from the dead

to prepare a place for us in heaven.

 

Our heavenly hope is spelled out unmistakably

throughout the New Testament.

 

But the Bible is much less clear

on other aspects of the afterlife.

 

So, we need to avoid drawing doctrinal conclusions

from a single verse of Scripture

without comparing the rest of Scripture.

 

For example, Jude 1:7

Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Jude 1:7

 

But in Matthew Chapter 10, our Lord said,

 

14 “And if anyone will not welcome you or heed your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

Matthew Chapter 10

 

And in Matthew Chapter 11, Jesus said,

23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to heaven? No, you will descend to Hades! For if the miracles that were performed in you had happened in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

 

Jesus says here that it will be more “bearable”

on the day of judgment for some, than for others.

 

What does that mean

for those who don’t belong to Jesus

and don’t go to heaven?

We wouldn’t dare build doctrine

on those verses alone.

 

Centuries ago some theologians came up with

the doctrine of “purgatory”

but that teaching is rejected today

by most non-Catholic scholars.

 

It goes beyond what is written in the Bible.

 

But Jesus did say, at Luke 12:47,

 

47 That servant who knows his master’s will but does not get ready or follow his instructions will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who unknowingly does things worthy of punishment will be beaten with few blows.

Luke 12

 

How does that apply to life after death?

 

We can’t say for sure.

 

There are some things

that God makes very clear in the Bible.

 

For example,

that Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life.

 

And that no one comes to the Father except through him.

 

And that we need to accept Jesus as our Savior

and follow him as our Lord

in order to be saved.

 

But there are other matters

that God leaves unclear in Scripture.

 

And that’s where we need to simply trust him.

 

If we have concerns

that God would treat unfairly

our loved ones

whose relationship with God is questionable,

we need to remember to trust him.

 

We are not called upon to grasp intellectual doctrines

concerning the afterlife.

 

But we are called upon to trust God,

to trust Jesus,

with simple childlike trust.

 

Abraham was a perfect example in this.

 

Like us, Abraham was concerned about his relatives—

relatives whose lives

were in somewhat of a mess.

 

I’m talking about Abraham’s nephew Lot,

and Lot’s wife, and their two daughters.

 

Today we would call them a dysfunctional family.

 

They chose to live in the sinful city of Sodom—

probably because Lot’s wife wanted to live there.

 

After angels rescued them just in time,

and God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah

with fire from heaven,

Lot’s wife looked back, evidently longing for

the life she left behind in that sinful city.

 

After the two daughters’ fiancés

refused to flee with them,

both girls got their father drunk

and committed incest with him.

 

It was a dysfunctional family.

 

But they were Abraham’s relatives,

and he loved them,

and when it was revealed to Abraham

that God was about to destroy

the city where his loved ones lived,

Abraham questioned God about it.

 

Genesis Chapter 18 tells us,

23 Abraham approached him and said, “Will you sweep away both the righteous and the wicked? 24 Suppose you find fifty righteous people living there in the city—will you still sweep it away and not spare it for their sakes? 25 Surely you wouldn’t do such a thing, destroying the righteous along with the wicked. Why, you would be treating the righteous and the wicked exactly the same! Surely you wouldn’t do that! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?”

 

 Abraham questioned

whether God would do what is right.

He asked about 50 people,

but he was really concerned about

his relatives in the city—Lot and Lot’s family.

 

When God said he would not destroy the city

with 50 righteous people in it,

Abraham persisted:

 

28 Suppose there are only forty-five righteous people rather than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?”

 

And the LORD said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five righteous people there.”

 

Still concerned really about his relatives,

Abraham kept lowering the number,

to 30, then 20 and then 10,

until God finally assured him

that he would not destroy

any righteous people

along with the wicked.

 

We might make a similar plea to God

about our relatives and our loved ones.

 

But we can learn from this episode involving Abraham

the lesson that the God of all the earth

will indeed do what is right.

 

God will do what is right, fair, kind, merciful and just,

even if we don’t understand

all the details of how and why.

 

But there’s one thing we can understand,

and that’s the call goes out to all mankind

to repent of their sins

and turn to Christ for salvation.

 

When we put our trust in Jesus and follow him,

we have the blessed assurance

of everlasting life in heaven.

 

Christ’s rising from the grave guarantees that.

 

We read in 1 Corinthians Chapter 15,

 

20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

 

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

 

Yes, death is swallowed up in victory.

 

And we have that victory

through Jesus Christ our Lord.