A pension of death ...
Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God’s gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master (Rom. 6:23, The Message).
I haven’t told many people this—but the fact is … I’m dying. I have a terminal illness that will result in my death. The reason I haven’t told many people about my terminal condition is simply because everyone has the same illness. It’s called sin.
I often talk with people, and when the subject of death comes up, I’ll sometimes ask them, “Doesn’t that seem strange to you? That humans die? I mean, why do we have to die? Why is death a thing anyway?”
There isn’t a more straight forward answer to those questions than what the Bible tells us. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Or, as The Message translation puts it: “Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death.”
People die—everyone dies—because death is the result of sin. Sin we’re born into, sin we participate in and sin that stains and damages everything…even the best things.
I have officiated many funerals and memorial services during my time at Crossroads Church. By a rough estimate, it might have been 350 funerals with even more to come! And guess what? I use the same homily at every one of them. Even if the audience is the same for a particular funeral. It doesn’t matter. I use the same basic message every time.
Of course, I personalize it to honor the deceased. But otherwise, its always the same message. I ask two simple questions. These are questions that people are uniquely ready to hear and to have answered at the funeral of a friend or a loved one. Here are the questions:
1. “What do you believe about life after death?”
I’ll ask people to identify in their minds what happens to a person after they die. “Where is Tiffany today? Is she laying in that box ready to be buried and that’s the end of her existence? Or do you believe something else? Is she in heaven? Is she being reincarnated? Is she learning of her “karmic” payback? What do you believe about life after death?”
And then, after a couple minutes, I’ll ask the second question with the transition: “Actually, I don’t really care what you believe about life after death. I have a more important question …”.
2. “WHY do you believe whatever it is you believe about life after death?”
“Whatever information you’re relying upon about eternal life or annihilationism or spiritual absorption into the great cosmic forces … whatever you might believe … WHY do you believe that?”
And then I’ll tell them that the reason Christians believe that “Tiffany” is in Heaven with Jesus is because of one simple fact. Tiffany put her trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, and for the promise of eternal life with Him. And she did that based on the simple fact that no one in the history of earth other than Jesus has ever said and done what Jesus did—and then verified it and made it true by “pulling off” His own resurrection from the dead.
Then I’ll always ask this, “Does what you believe about life after death have that substance and voracity to it? Is it that reliable? Why do you believe whatever it is you believe? Did you hear it on a podcast, read it in a book, did Oprah tell it to you, or Joe Rogan, or Jordan Peterson?”
“Let me commend to you the truth of Jesus who deserves to be listened to because of the single history-altering fact of His resurrection from the dead to make everything He said and did absolutely true.”
I’ll adjust that theme slightly for the funeral of someone who’s faith was not in Jesus. But I always stick to the same format.
Like someone said, “The statistics of death are quite impressive, still running at 100%.” My pension is death, so is yours. Getting clear about what happens after it seems to me to be a rather important matter.
Prayer: God, I wish I knew more than I do. I’m so hungry for truth and knowledge. Especially in these wild and crazy days. Help me to lean into the truth I do know. What You’ve said in Your word is not everything I want to know, but it is everything I need to know. Thanks for that. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Kim Skattum
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains