What you think of Jesus, and your relationship with Him, determines where you stand with God.
For whoever believes in Him, the only-begotten Son, has eternal life with His God and Father in heaven. And so it is by faith in Jesus Christ that Bob is not dead and gone, but alive with God, now and forever. His soul abides in the perfect peace of Christ, even as his body now rests from its labors and awaits the Resurrection of all flesh in the final judgment. Indeed, though his mortal flesh has worn out, failed, and died, Bob shall not perish forever because he lives, even now, in the crucified and risen Body of Christ, his Savior.
But whoever does not believe in this Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, remains in the darkness and is condemned by and for his unbelief, and will surely perish.
For life and light and love are found only in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and it is by faith alone that you abide in that true and only God, the Holy Trinity. Apart from Him, there is only darkness, death, and damnation, from which you could never escape or save yourself.
But of course, that is where you and all of us were conceived and born — in the darkness of sin — subject to death, deserving of damnation. And that is where you would remain eternally, if not for the fact that God has sent His Son into the world and given Him for you; and He, Christ Jesus, the Light of the world, has come in the flesh to shine Himself into your darkness and to manifest the works of God in you for life.
Praise God, that is what He did for Bob in tender mercy and loving-kindness. He made Himself known by the preaching and confession of His Word, and by His grace He called Bob to fear, love, and trust in Him, and to live in the Light of His Word. Even as the same Lord Jesus Christ here causes His Word to be preached into your ears, in the face of sin, death, the devil, and hell. He causes His Word of Life to shine for you in the presence of your enemies, so that you should be rescued from all evil and live with Him in His Kingdom.
And yet, you are afraid, and you are made nervous by this Word of God. For your deeds are evil, and you do not want them revealed. You do not want yourself to be exposed and found naked and ashamed in the light of judgment. You prefer to pretend that you’ve got it covered, that you’re doing fine, and that your life is safe and sound — all the while you’re wearing out and dying.
Thus, you cannot bring yourself to come to Christ. You would instead retreat even further into the darkness of pride and ego, or into the darkness of doubt and despair, even to the point of death, rather than facing the truth. In ignorance and fear, you would hide yourself away from Him who is alone your life and light and salvation.
Apart from Christ, you do not know the Love of God the Father, and you do not partake of the Holy Spirit — and you neither know nor can you believe the Gospel.
But without such faith, you cannot know Christ Jesus or come to Him. You are terrified of Him and flee from Him in fear. Even the bravest of hearts, the boldest of soldiers, who would put themselves in harm’s way, rush into the breach, and face down the enemy unflinchingly, are no match for the terrifying judgment of God’s Holy Word.
Yet, even now, take heart. For the Lord pursues you with His Word, and He puts you to death by His Spirit, not to destroy you or drive you away, but to resurrect you from death to life, and to bring you of your darkness into His own marvelous Light.
Everything else finally pales by comparison to these mercies of God, though they are hidden in this fallen world under the Cross. All of the Lord’s other blessings in this body and life, even those of wife and children, aim at the blessing of His Word and the preaching of it.
So it was that Elaine and her pastor and her congregation brought Bob to faith in the Word of Christ, and to the confession of His Word, and to the new birth of water with His Word in Holy Baptism. So, too, even after Elaine’s death, Bob returned again and again to the household and family of God, to the Divine Service of His Word and Sacrament. He was indeed faithful, even unto death, having fixed his hope on the Gospel of Christ and the promise of His Resurrection.
I can tell you that Bob and I spoke frankly about these very things over the past several months, in particular. He lived his life and faced his death in the confidence of Christ. And his prayer, as he shared with me in his final weeks, was that his children would likewise find their hope, their peace, and their life in the House of the Lord.
The very fact that you are here today, not to mourn as those who have no hope, but to mourn in the joyous hope of the Resurrection, is testimony to the grace of God. For as He acted in love and mercy to call Bob to Himself, to gather him into His Church, to enlighten him with His gifts, to sanctify and keep him in the one true faith, so does the same Lord call you to Himself, to know Him, to love Him, and to live with Him by faith in His Gospel of forgiveness.
It is in love that He has acted, for Bob in his lifetime, and no less so for you. And it is in love that He comes to serve you here and now by the preaching of His Word.
The Father sends the Son, not to condemn and punish you for your evil deeds, but to forgive your sins and judge you righteous by His grace, to save you by His Gospel.
For Christ Jesus, the Son of God, has borne your sin and suffered your punishment; He has been naked in your place upon the Cross, and He has taken your shame to be His own, so that you might be clothed in His righteousness and covered with His honor. He was crucified, dead, and buried on your behalf, and He is risen from the dead for your justification, vindicated by His Father.
This same Christ Jesus shines His Light in the darkness, in the midst of sin and death, and He brings life and immortality to light through the Gospel of His Cross — for the forgiveness of all your sins and reconciliation with God.
So do the rivers of living water flow from His side, from His innermost being, to cleanse and refresh you in Holy Baptism. And so are His Body and Blood prepared as a great Feast within His House, on earth as it is in heaven: The choicest Wine and finest Meat, given and poured out for His children to eat and drink, that they should thus abide with God and rejoice in His presence.
Thus do we give thanks for all His gifts and benefits, and we sustain one another with the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs of His Word. We rejoice, give thanks, and sing the Gospel, which God the Father sings to you by the Holy Spirit in the Flesh of His only-begotten Son.
By that Word of the Gospel, He causes the Light to shine within the darkness of your heart, and He pours out the Holy Spirit upon you unto life and salvation. So do you believe in Him who is your Savior, Jesus Christ. He is your Strength and your Song, and He has become your Salvation. And as you believe in Him, by His grace, by His Word and Holy Spirit, so shall you not perish but have eternal life — with Bob and with all who abide in the crucified and risen Body of Christ.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.