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TEXT: I Thessalonians 4:13
SUBJECT: A String of Pearls #14
The standard Puritan sermon is made up of two parts: doctrine and use. In the first part, the pastor explains what the verses mean; in the second part, he says what they mean to us. Teaching and application: this is the Puritan model-and unless today's preachers get back to it, our churches will remain ignorant and immature. I know some men who impersonate the Puritans-and that's good, but it's very good to follow [them] even as [they] follow Christ.
For the last few months, we've been studying a classic Puritan sermon, preached at a funeral in 1657 and published a short time later. The preacher is Thomas Brooks and his sermon is named A String of Pearls or the Best Things Reserved Till Last.
The doctrine of this sermon is Believers have nothing to fear in death. And now, at the end, we have two or three uses or applications. If it's true that believes have nothing to fear in death, then.
This is precisely what Paul is getting at in the verse that I read a couple of minutes ago: "We grieve.but not as those who have no hope".
How should you feel about the death of a loved one? The Stoic or the Buddhist is taught to feel nothing when his wife or son or best friend dies.
Some Christians pretty much agree: if my daughter was saved then her death put her in heaven-and why should I cry about that? This sounds very devout and patient, but in fact, it isn't! No one was more devout and accepting of God's will than our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, at the tomb of his friend, He cried with such feeling that others exclaimed, Behold, how He loved him! It is right to mourn the death of a loved one-not only because of your loss, but because of his too.
For believers, death is gain, but not only gain. There is a loss in it too. The advantages are far weightier than the disadvantages, but there are disadvantages to dying-even in Christ!
We ought to weep for their losses. And our own, too. The death of a loved one hurts, often on many levels. When my friend lost his wife, he lost his best friend, his partner in ministry, his children's mother, his lover, and even things as mundane as his maid and cook and washerwoman. These things hurt and there's nothing wrong with feeling sad about them-very sad and for a long time.
But, although sorrow is justified, we must beware of excess sorrow. We grieve-yes we do and without apology-but not as those who have no hope. For dying in Christ is not only a bad thing, but a glorious and wonderful thing as well!
Friends who die in Christ are far better off than we are. For weeks we've been looking at what they are welcomed into when they leave this world: an inheritance, a rest, a deep knowledge of God, the presence of Christ, the perfection of their own graces, and the best company in the world (or out of it).
We have all these things now-in part. We rest in Christ, but how often do troubles, the lack of assurance, and other things disturb us? Very often. We have love, joy, peace, and so on, but how well developed are they? Not very. We have good friends at church, but how many of them are perfect? Not one of them. We know the Lord, but how deep is our understanding? An inch deep? Maybe less?
Our loved ones in heaven have all these things in full-and nothing bad mixed in!
Thus, we should be sorry when a Christian dies, but our sorrow must be tempered by faith! If God tells the truth, our saved friends are not dead, but alive-alive in Christ in a way we can't even imagine.
A believer's funeral, then, is not all bitterness. It is bittersweet. Romans 12:15,
Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.
If the best things are reserved till last for God's People, then don't be too sad over a believer's death. That's the first use.
Tom Wilson is 24 years old, without a job, living in a cramped apartment, and eating macaroni and cheese three times a day. Is he rich or poor? It seems like he's poor. But before you say that, let me tell you the rest of his story.
Ten years ago, Tom's uncle died leaving him $3,000,000,000 to be paid on his twenty-fifth birthday, which is one month away. Now tell me: is he rich or poor?
His tax return says he's poor, but he doesn't feel that way. He's got nothing today, but in thirty days, he'll be one of the richest men in the world.
Many believers are like Tom: at the moment, they've got nothing-or less than nothing, owing more than they possess. But their poverty is not permanent. It may drag on more than a month, but it won't be much longer than that. A Man died 2000 years ago and left us riches beyond compare, payable on the day we die!
No Christian in this room will be poor in a hundred years. Most of us won't be poor in fifty years. And someone may be rich by nine o'clock tonight!
This hope does not pay off our bills, put money in the bank, or get our kids through school, but it sure takes the edge off our worries and lifts the dark cloud that hangs over the future!
We should meditate long and hard on how much we have in Christ--and what we will have when we die. If we did this, we would worry less than we do and be content with what we have.
There is no sin more common--or less excusable--than discontentment! You know why unbelievers are never happy with what they have: because, without Christ, they've got nothing! St. Augustine said,
"Lord, you have made us for yourself and our souls are restless till they find their rest in you".
But believers have Christ and this means we have everything: everything we need in this life, and in the life to come, everything we could want, and far more! How this hope sweetens the hardships of live and makes our poverty seem like a light affliction which is but for a moment.
If the best things are reserved till last for Christians, be content with what you have and live in hope. That's the second use. The third is also the last, and the end of the long Puritan sermon.
The main reason we don't witness as often or as boldly as we should is because.we're afraid. We don't think our neighbors will turn us in to the Secret Police and we'll be carried off the middle of the night. What we fear is someone laughing at us or thinking ill of us or getting mad at us or hurting our feelings. No one wants to be belittled.
But think about the word, be-littled. Made little of, cut down to size. This would not concern us if we thought more about heaven. In heaven, the littlest saint will be greater than the mightiest king who ever ruled on earth. Men like Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander the Great, Augustus Caesar, Napoleon, and others will seem like busboys and shoeblacks compared to the least saint in heaven. Nothing they say to us or behind our backs can belittle us to God or lower our position in heaven.
Remember the leaders of the Soviet Union? Old men with chests full of medals. I suspect we'll have them, too, and the medals we'll wear most proudly are the insults sinners and fools once threw at us.
The greatness, glory, and happiness of heaven are so great that-if we recalled they belong to us and must be ours before long- they would make the laughter we endure in this life easy to bear if not, downright laughable.
So there you have it: A String of Pearls or the Best Things Reserved Till Last.
Before we quit, however, I have to remind you: the best things are reserved till last only for Christians. For unbelievers, the best things you'll ever have are the things you have now. And, even if you have a good life, the best things you have are not that great. You have good health, but it is breaking down. You have a happy marriage, but one day it will end, and before then, it may go sour. You have a bright future, but it may be a mirage-looking like cool water, it's only more hot sand. And worst of all: the best things in life you now have do not include Christ. And without Him, what have you got? Have you got the forgiveness of sin without Christ? No. Have you got fellowship with God without Christ? No. Have you got a good conscience without Christ? No. Have you got hope without Christ? And-most of all- you haven't got heaven without Christ!
If you're no believer-even if you're nice and sweet-you need to repent of your sins tonight and put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But if you are a Christian, you're living a fairy tale. In the middle of the story, all manner of bad things happen-you're caught by a witch, you're put into an oven, and so on, but, after all this, they all lived happily ever after.
Because the Lord does not go back on His Word and His eternal blessings aren't rusted by water, eaten by moths, or stolen by burglars. Old Tom was right: The Best Things are Reserved Till Last.
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