I have done a lot of funerals during my time as a pastor and there are two things I try to say at every one. The first thing I want to do is provide some words of comfort and assurance. Beyond celebrating the life of the person who has died, my presence as a pastor needs to remind people that death is not the end of life but the beginning of eternal life through Jesus Christ. I always want to proclaim the good news of the gospel and remind us all that there is a home waiting for us in heaven that has been prepared for us by Jesus.
The second thing I want to do is encourage family and friends to try and find ways to keep the life and spirit of their loved one alive in this world. I have often said that the best way to honor and remember a person is not by what is said at their funeral but by how we live after it. When we follow their example we keep their lives going in this world. Just yesterday I talked about how Ken Kopp was a very faithful man. He was always there for his wife and always working to be present in the life of the church and we would do well to learn from Ken how to live with faithfulness to God and commitment to our families.
So I try to do two things- comfort people and challenge them. I offer comfort by reminding us about the hope we have in the future when we trust in Christ and I try to challenge us all to keep going and keep following the example that has set. Comfort and challenge is also the final message Jesus leaves with his disciples in his farewell discourse. It is our Lord’s prayer for us all to find comfort and yet to also be challenged.
We hear words of comfort from Jesus in John 14:1-7.
We often read this passage at funerals because it does provide comfort. It is this promise that Jesus makes that assures us that life in this world is not all there is but that Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven. Some people have called this home a mansion, which is fine, but it’s helpful to understand the image that Jesus provides. Jesus says that in his father’s house there are many rooms and that he is going to prepare a place – or a room for us in that house.
Among the Jewish people, when a son or daughter got married they didn’t go down the street and build a new house, the family would put a room onto the family house and they would all live together. There would often be three or more generations all living together and if you became part of the family you moved into the house. What Jesus is saying here isn’t so much that we have some kind of physical home in heaven that is all ours but that when we believe in him we become part of God’s family and that assures us of eternal life. What these homes are like doesn’t matter as much as the comfort we find in knowing that there is life with God forever when we believe in Jesus.
But let’s look at that word believe because it doesn’t just mean we intellectually affirm who Jesus is and what he has done, the word believe means that we are so persuaded about who Jesus is that we will now live our lives differently. Perhaps a better word would be trust. Have you ever participated in an exercise called a trust fall? You stand in front of a group of people that you trust to catch you and then you actually fall back and allow them to catch you when you fall. I could stand here and say I believe my friends will catch me, but just believing that doesn’t mean much – am I willing to be so persuaded that they will catch me that I am willing to fall into their hands. Are we willing to act on our beliefs?
This is the kind of belief Jesus is talking about. Are we so persuaded that Christ is the one who brings us life that we don’t even look for other ways to find it? When Jesus says I am the way and the truth and life and no one comes to the father except through me, part of what he wants to do is give comfort and assurance that he is the way to God so we don’t need to go out and find other ways. There is no other way so we can trust Jesus to bring us light and life now and forever.
Do we trust Jesus alone to bring us life and life eternal? It’s easy to say yes, but how often do we still trust ourselves by trusting in our good deeds or wealth or giving? Saying Jesus is the only way to God means that we stop trusting ourselves or anything else or anyone else save us and give us life because Jesus is the one who has prepared the place for us.
Part of Jesus’ final message is a word of comfort that we are part of God’s family completely and that nothing can separate us from that. The room has been built on to the house and we are included in the family and we can trust God to make it happen and because it will happen we don’t need to be afraid, we don’t need to look for something else or to someone else and we don’t need to try and do it on our own. We are secure and safe in the home of God forever. No matter what happens in this world and no matter what happens to us, when we trust Christ, we are safe and secure with God. God will never leave us. God will never forsake us. God will never give up on us. God will never forget us or abandon us or turn on us because through Jesus we are part of God’s family. Jesus may be leaving his disciples but he offers them comfort by saying that through him we are part of God’s family now and forever.
Jesus offers his disciples comfort but he also issues a challenge. Several times during this final message Jesus tells them to keep following him.
John 14:15 – If you love me, keep my commands
John 14:21 – Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.
John 14:23 – Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.
The challenge Jesus gives his disciples is to continue to love him by following his teaching and obeying his commands. Love is not just an emotion we are to have for Jesus but an emotion that leads to action. We cannot say that we love Jesus and then not do what he asks us to do and live the way he has taught us and shown us to live. The way we love Jesus is to live the way he has shown us. Love and action always go hand in hand. This is also what I try to say at funerals.
If we really love those who have gone before us then we need to make their lives part of our lives. We need to love as they have loved us. If they have been patient and kind with us then we need to be patient and kind with others. If they have served us then we need to serve others. If they have been faithful and committed to family, friends, church and community then we need to live a life of faith and commitment as well. Loving others means that we follow their example and honor them by making the important part of their lives the foundation of our lives. The challenge Jesus gives us is to follow his example and keep his command to love.
Comfort and challenge was the message Jesus gave and it is also what we see in the illustration Jesus provided as well. John 15:5
I am the vine and you are the branch, remain in me and I will remain in you. These are words of comfort. Just because Jesus is going away doesn’t mean that we are left alone. We are not being cast off like a branch removed from the vine where we will wither and die – we can remain in Jesus and he can remain in us and we can still be together. When we trust him we stay connected to him. When we love others we stay connected to him and this brings us comfort.
We also hear a challenge – produce fruit. We don’t remain in the vine and stay connected to God just so we can feel good, we stay connected to God so we can bear fruit and that fruit is seen in how we live and love and serve. John 15:9-10. This illustration is part of Jesus prayer that we find comfort and yet are challenged to love.
The final thought Jesus leaves with his disciples about comfort and challenged is that these are not things we are left trying to find or do on our own but something God actually helps us with through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will comfort the disciples because it will remind them of everything Jesus has said. It will remind them that they are not alone and that their future is secure and the Holy Spirit will be a spirit of truth who will be with them and guide them into the light God has for them.
The Holy Spirit will also be there to encourage them as they try to live faithful and obedient lives. When John talks about the Holy Spirit he uses the word paraclete which means advocate or encourager. The Holy Spirit is the one who will walk beside us, go before us and stand behind us and give us all the strength we need to do all that God calls us to do. So it is the Holy Spirit who will comfort us and it will be the Holy Spirit who will give us the strength to live out the challenge Jesus gives us.
Today it is also important for us to remember that Jesus gave this final teaching as part of the last Passover meal he shared with his disciples, what we celebrate as Holy Communion. Think about how this meal sums up all of what Jesus is saying. This is a meal that provides comfort because we know that God is here with us and we see once again that it is Jesus who has saved us. Jesus is the way to God and the way to life and there is no other. This meal brings comfort because it assures of forgiveness of sin and the promise of eternal life.
But this meal is also a challenge because to reminds us to live differently. By taking the bread and sharing in the cup we are saying that we want to follow this example of Jesus. Sharing in the meal says that we want to lay down our lives for others and that we are even willing to love the way that Jesus loved – giving all that we have to God and placing others before ourselves.
This is also a meal of the Holy Spirit because it is the holy spirit present here that makes this more than bread and juice but the real presence of Christ with us. It is the Holy Spirit that provides comfort and it is the Holy Spirit that also challenges us right here.
Two things Jesus wanted to say to his disciples.
Be comforted. I am not leaving you as orphans and I will not forsake you – I will be with you always.
Be challenged. Live the way I have shown you and taught you. Keep my commands and love one another. And all this is possible through the Holy Spirit that brings us light and life.
John – The Gospel of Light and Life
Our Lord’s Prayer
1. This week read John chapters 16-17.
Use the following questions during your reading:
- • What is said in this passage about Jesus?
- • In this passage, how does Jesus bring life to me?
- • What response do these verses require of me?
2. Jesus farewell discourse was to comfort his disciples. How does knowing you are part of God’s family and have a place in God’s eternal home bring you comfort?
3. In what ways have you put your trust in Jesus? Are there other things you trust to bring you light and life? In what ways do you need to trust in Christ more and in Christ alone?
4. Jesus’ farewell discourse was also a challenge to his disciples. Where in your live do you need to be challenged to obey God’s commands and follow Jesus’ teaching?
5. How have people shown God’s love to you? In what ways did that love bring light and life into your life?
6. In what ways can you love others? How can you show the greatest love there is and “lay down your life for a friend”?
7. What other concerns of Jesus do we see in his final prayer (John 17)?