Sermon title: Memorial Day and God’s Mercy
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
“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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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,
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.