A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on April 20, 2008 by Pastor Dale Raether An Open Letter to a Dying Friend John 14:1-12 Children, think back to when your mommy took you some place where you never were before. Maybe it was to a special store or a park or maybe even to school. Sometimes, when we’re going somewhere for the first time, we feel kind of scared. If you’re feeling scared, what will your mommy do for you? Maybe your mommy will hold you. But you can be sure of this, when your mommy takes you somewhere, it’s always something good. This morning we’re going to talk about something we all have to go through, something we might be nervous about. We’re going to talk about death. What really happens to us when we die? Is it just black nothingness? Do we begin life again as some other person in some other place? Or, are we made to appear before God to be judged, and if so, what will our verdict be? A lot of people think talking about death is a waste of time, because they’re settled in their minds what’s going to happen to them. Yet how can we really know for sure? Eternity is a long time, what if we got it wrong? There is only one real expert on death – the one who went through it and came back to us. And here’s what He says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” Our hearts do get troubled when it seems to us that our lives have been so much harder and so much shorter than they should have been. We wonder, “Why hadn’t God helped me? Has He abandoned me?” The disciples were feeling like that was about to happen. Jesus had just told them that He would be dying very soon. The disciples were in shock. They were numb. They couldn’t imagine life without Jesus, anymore than we can imagine not being with our loved ones. But Jesus tells them, “Don’t be afraid. Trust in me.”We can trust Jesus, because He is one with God the Father. His miracles prove that, the greatest of which is His resurrection. I suppose someone could argue that the disciples had just made up His resurrection, so they could start their new religion. But quite frankly all attempts at explaining away the resurrection are lame. And so, since Jesus lives, His Word, the Bible, is true for He is God the Son. And now here’s another reason why Jesus urges us to trust in Him. He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” We shouldn’t take this literally that Jesus is up there with a hammer and nails getting our room ready for us. Rather He’s getting US ready. We were not born ready, because in the first place we weren’t created to die. We were created to live forever. But the fact that we die is proof that we sin. And because we are guilty, we cannot remain in the holy light of God. Rather He must shut us out from Himself, otherwise He would be tolerating sin, and that would be contrary to who He is.Still, here’s what Jesus has done to get us ready for heaven. He took away our guilt by being shut out from God in our behalf. And so, whenever it seems like God isn’t helping us or has abandoned us, don’t believe your feelings. The cross and all that Jesus suffered for us is proof that God does love us. Furthermore, His resurrection after taking our sins upon Himself is proof that we are now holy in His sight. Another way Jesus is getting us ready for heaven is He’s giving us faith to trust in these things. Jesus began giving us faith through our baptism, and He adds to our faith each time we hear His Word or receive the Lord’s Supper. Unfortunately the sin, that’s in our hearts until we die, is always dragging us down. It’s always focusing our attention on things or telling us that the Bible isn’t true or that we don’t really need God to be happy. God helps our faith fight sin by sometimes letting sin run its course, so that the consequences of sin makes us see sin for what it is, so that we’ll turn to Him. And so even the bad things that God allows is out of love for us. One more way that Jesus is getting us ready for heaven is He’s training us for some of the things we’ll be doing in heaven. In fact when Jesus says, “I am preparing a place for you”, that word place also means position. Jesus has a position in mind for us when we get to heaven, and He’s using all our experiences and struggles and challenges to get us ready for it. However, as you hear this, don’t become nervous about what your position might be or try to figure it out. Let’s just let it at this. Psalm 16 says, “At His right hand our are pleasures forevermore.”While we don’t know what exactly we’ll be doing in heaven, we do know whom we’re going to be with. We will be with Jesus. We will see Him face to face. We’ll see His hands, His feet and His side, and if we want to touch His wounds, He’ll let us. Also, we will be with all believers who have ever lived, and we’ll remember how we got along with each other here. For example in the story of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus, the rich man in hell could see Lazarus in heaven and knew him as that beggar he had never bothered to help. Or here’s another example. In Thessalonica the believers were upset that they would never again see their loved ones who had died. But Paul comforts them, “We will be caught us WITH THEM to meet the Lord in the air. And so WE will be with the Lord forever.” But this raises some questions. What if someone we love rejects Jesus and ends up in hell? Won’t the sadness of that ruin our joy? It will not. When sin no longer lives in us, our wills will be as holy as God’s will, and so agreeing with Him that this is the way it has to be won’t diminish our joy. Still, now’s the time for saying and doing everything we can so that all our loved ones will be in heaven with us. Another question we might have is what if some make it to heaven, who were horribly mean to us here on earth? In our Sunday School story this morning Jonah was wrestling with that. God had called him to bring the Gospel to the city of Nineveh; but the Ninevites were nasty, and Jonah didn’t want repent, because he didn’t want to be with them in heaven. Don’t be alarmed. In heaven those people will be just as holy as we will be. Furthermore, all of us together will be rejoicing that God has forgiven US, and that He has worked in ALL things for our blessing. So, while we are on this earth, sin destroys relationships. In heaven our relationship with everyone else will be perfect and will be another source of joy for us.However, maybe all this sounds too good to be true. Christians can have thoughts like that too. Jesus said, “Trust in God, trust also in me.” In other words, we can deny that there’s a god, but deep down we know there is. So, since we believe in God and know in our hearts that He is holy and that we are sinners, and since Jesus died and rose from the dead for us, let’s trust all that He has told us in His Word. If we do, Jesus makes another promise to us. He says, “If you have known me (and we do), you will know my Father also.” God will reveal Himself to us fully, and then everything about His Word and our life will make sense. Until then don’t be surprised if the thought of dying makes us feel apprehensive. We feel apprehension, because we’re facing something we’ve never experienced and we’re heading to a place we’ve never been. But let’s remember again, Jesus, our Savior, is with us. And so, there is no more reason to be afraid of dying than a child is afraid when his mother is carrying him from the car into a park. However, there is one circumstance when death should be frightening to us. It’s if we’re facing it without Jesus. Unfortunately a lot of people are. They believe Satan’s lies that when you’re dead, you’re dead. Or, when you die, you get another life to maybe get it right next time around like in some cosmic video game. Then there’s the lie that there are many ways to God and practically everyone goes to heaven – except for the people we personally don’t want to see there. Confident in these lies, there are many, many people who have no fear of dying. In fact sometimes they’ll hasten death along by taking their own life. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The reality of God is as real as life. The reality of sin is as real as death. The reality of forgiveness is as real as Jesus’ death and resurrection. But those who for whatever reason reject Jesus’ forgiveness, stand before God in his/her sins and so cannot be allowed into heaven. For this reason, while we might not like to talk about death, it’s good that we do. This way we can be warned from Satan’s lies and we can be comforted in hope. And finally in our hope, we can joyfully live each day to the full and focus on the things that really matter as we help others get ready for heaven, and as God gets us ready also. Amen.

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