Dear family and friends of Dave,
As I was thinking about what Scripture Dave might like you to hear at his funeral I kept coming back to this familiar passage. Dave was very concerned about Evangelism. He pushed the congregation to set up an Evangelism committee and served as its first chairman, and then continued the rest of his life as a committee member. And, although he liked discussing ideas about how to get the good news of the gospel to as many as possible, it wasn’t just talk for him. He did all he could to share the gospel himself. He shared God’s word on Facebook. And while he was in the hospital and the nursing home, he found ways to talk about Jesus with those who were caring for him.
Dave would not want to be held up as an example. He would be the first to say that he certainly wasn’t perfect and that there were lots of things he could do better especially in sharing his faith. His zeal for evangelism was like that of the Apostle Paul. Like Paul, because he knew how much he needed God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus, he appreciated it much. He understood how much everyone needs God’s grace and forgiveness in Jesus and he wanted them to know what he knew so that they could have the peace and comfort he had.
What a comfort it is to know that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Jesus! He is King of kings and Lord of lords. It’s not the congress, or Trump, or Putin, or Kim, or any earthly leader that’s in charge, it’s Jesus. He is in charge. Everyone must bow to him and everything must obey his will. He rules everything, seen and unseen, for that church- that’s you, and me and all who believe in him as their Lord and Savior.
Because of our sinful nature, because of all the evil we see and hear about, it’s difficult for us to believe these things. But think about the context of Jesus’ words. Jesus, the one they saw hanging on the cross, the one they saw pierced with the soldier’s spear, the one they wrapped in cloths and laid in the tomb, was now standing before them alive! He had eaten with them over the past 40 days. He had invited them to touch him so that they would be absolutely sure that he was alive, risen from the dead. Soon they would see him ascend into the sky. When you are tempted to doubt that Jesus is in control, that he has authority over everything that exists and that he is ruling everything for your good, remember the context. Remember that he said these things after he died and rose again, as he was about to ascend back to heaven. He showed his authority over death, and even over the laws of gravity. He is in control. Remember that his death and resurrection assure you that your sins of doubt have been paid for in full.
What does that mean as we gather around the casket of our loved one, our brother in Christ? It means that, even though we would have liked to have him remain here with us- I know those of us who visited with him will miss having those good spiritual discussions and being inspired by his zeal for reaching others with the gospel- Jesus knew the time was just right for Dave. We are confident that for Dave, to be with Christ is better by far.
Therefore, Jesus says, in view of the fact that I am the one who died to pay for your sins and the sins of the word, and who rose on the third day; in view of the fact that I have all authority in heaven and earth; this is what I want you to do. As you go, as you leave here rejoicing in the fact that I am your savior and return to your everyday lives, I want you to make disciples. I want you to make it clear that they are not your disciples, they are not believing in or following you. Make it clear that they are my disciples, by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching them everything you have learned from me. Work every day at making disciples. And, as Jesus explained just before he ascended, start in Jerusalem, then go to Judea and Samaria, and don’t stop until you have reached the ends of the earth. The Gospel needs to be proclaimed to every person, to every tribe, people, nation and language.
It sounds like a daunting task, doesn’t it? Imagine being the twelve, or the 120 members of the early church. Really, Jesus? How can such a small group reach all nations? Actually, it’s not hard to imagine their situation. Most churches in America have less than 200 members, and we have a difficult time thinking about reaching our own neighborhoods much less all nations to the ends of the earth. But then consider the powerful tools God has given us.
Jesus said baptize. To the world baptism doesn’t look like much. To the world it seems like just an outward ceremony. But Peter reminds us that Baptism saves because it has the power of Jesus’ resurrection attached to it. Peter encourages the people to repent and be baptized and wash away their sins and they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, a promise which is for them and for their children. Baptism is done in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit because, through it, the one and only true God is claiming us as his dear child and making us his disciples.
By God’s grace, Dave knew the power and comfort of Baptism. He knew God’s promise that through it God had claimed him as his dear child, washed away his sins and united him to Jesus in his death and resurrection. His baptism reminded him to drown his sinful nature by daily contrition and repentance. He wanted everyone to have the wonderful comfort and encouragement that Baptism gives.
By God’s grace Dave also knew that Jesus stressed the teaching of all things that he had commanded. He knew that he needed to continue to be taught by God’s word and he studied it daily. He knew that what Jesus taught, that all have sinned and that He was the Messiah he came to pay for the sins of the world; that he alone is the way, the truth and the life, is the most powerful message there is. The Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of all who believe. God’s word is both the hammer that breaks our stubborn, sinful heart to pieces, and that then binds up the broken hearted and creates a heart of faith that moves us to love God and serve our neighbor in selfless love.
Baptism and the Word, the good news of the gospel- these are the means of Grace. These are the tools that Jesus gave us to do what he has asked us to do- make disciples for him. When you think of it that way, it shouldn’t seem like such a difficult thing. Do you talk to people, sometimes even strangers, about the weather, or the Huskers? Of course you do. How wonderful then that Jesus would make it so easy. You are already talking to people, so just keep talking to them about the weather, and then mention how all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. He is ultimately in control- the forecasters sure aren’t. How wonderful it is that because of Jesus I can look forward to the perfect weather of heaven. Just keep talking about the Huskers, and how much you want them to win, but how thankful you are that your eternal life doesn’t depend on whether they win or lose, or on your own success or failure, but on Jesus who lived perfectly in your place, died to pay for your sins, and rose from the dead to proclaim his complete victory over sin, death and hell. Just go about your normal life talking with others about normal things and include what’s most important to you, who Jesus is and what he has done for you. Remember the Gospel is the power of God. And if someone has a baby, what an opportunity to share with them the power and promise God attaches to Baptism! We don’t have to take a child to the top of some distant mountain, or perform some difficult ceremony making sure everything is done in the right order or it won’t work. All we have to do is apply water in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and God promises his power is at work.
As we mourn today we are comforted by the same promises that gave Dave strength and comfort. All things have been placed under Jesus’ feet. He is ruling everything that exists for our good. He has promised that the Holy Spirit works through the Gospel in word and sacrament. He graciously saw to it that Dave was baptized and that he continued to hear the Gospel his whole life. As Dave was also motivated by God’s promises to get the Gospel out to others, may we be motivated to do the same trusting Jesus’ promise to be with us always, today as we mourn, and everyday as we live in his gracious forgiveness, to the very end of the age, when Jesus will return and we will rejoice with Dave and all believers in the glory of his presence forever.