Present Suffering, Much Greater Future Glory: Sermon for the Funeral of Jerry Popma

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“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Gayle, Corey, Kyle, Kellie, Amy, grandchildren, the rest of Jerry’s family and friends gathered here today: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Just looking at Jerry’s life history, you can see that he had a pretty good life. Happily married to Gayle for over 54 years. A family man, blessed with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Starting his own electrical contracting company, successfully operating his own family business for 38 years before turning it over to his son. Civic-minded, active, and well-respected in the community. Known for his sense of humor, work ethic, kindness, and generosity.

Jerry lived a pretty good life. But no one would say it’s been perfect. The evidence is right in front of us. If life in this fallen world was perfect, we would not be here today. Jerry would have never taken ill. Jerry would never have suffered. Jerry would not have died. And you would not be grieving his loss. No, we do not live in a perfect world. The evidence is before our teary eyes and aching hearts.

Still, I think you could say that Jerry died well, too. Not that we should ever consider death itself to be a good thing. Death is an enemy. It was not intended in God’s good creation. But those who look to Jesus and His cross, find strength and comfort and peace even in the midst of death. As the hymn, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” reminds us, he “who dieth thus dies well” (v 4). Surrounded by family, visited by many friends, at the hospice house, Jerry was loved and cared for as well as any man could hope for. He was encouraged by words of Scripture and prayers. And in his suffering, Jerry ministered to many of you even in his final days and hours, witnessing his faith and confidence in the Lord.

When it became apparent that this day would come, Jerry told me that his biggest concern was for his grandchildren. It’s not so much that he thought more highly of them than the rest of you family members—though grandchildren do have a special place in our hearts—no, it’s that he’d seen the rest of you grow and thrive in the midst of adversity. Gayle, he’d seen how you’d been his rock in many challenges through the years. He knew that although you’ll miss him every day, you are strong and resilient and have a good network of support. Jerry had watched his children grow up into very caring, sensible, productive adults. The last few weeks, I had many opportunities to see you interacting with your dad. I heard how much fun you’ve had on vacations, how much you looked forward to seeing him come to work every day. You’re ready to carry on the family torch!

For you grandchildren, his “little stinkers,” you’re just starting to get to that point—going to school, establishing careers. You have so much potential, so much to look forward to. So much that you could’ve still learned from your grandpa. So many big life events ahead of you, and your grandpa knew that he wouldn’t be there to celebrate your joys or to walk beside you in your sorrows.

To all of you, today is a stark reminder of Jerry’s absence. It’s the first big thing you face without your husband, your father, your grandfather, your brother, your friend, Jerry beside you. It’s also another reminder that we live in a world subject to futility in which creation groans as it is in bondage to corruption. A world of suffering in which good guys die and leave behind their loved ones.

Why is it like this? Romans gives two answers.

The first is because of original sin. It goes back to Adam and Eve, created to be perfect and holy and in the presence of God. In the presence of God, Adam and Eve and all their descendants had eternal life, free from corruption and decay. But Adam and Eve chose to give in to the devil’s temptations: they turned from God, who creates and preserves; to sin, which only corrupts and takes.

Their sin didn’t just have consequences for them: as God created mankind to be one, interconnected family of servants to each other, their sin extended to all their descendants, too. Not just their descendants, but now all of creation groans because it has been subjected to futility because of original sin.

But there’s another important answer to the question, “Why is it like this?” Because while sin may have been the cause, God was the agent. Our text declares that all of creation is under this burden because God subjected all creation to it. Remember what the Lord declared to Adam after sin came into the world? “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19). In other words, “Creation is subjected to futility and corruption because of you, Adam.” It’s because of man’s sin that creation groans and decays and will one day end.

Why has God done this? Because you need the sermon preached. You need constant reminders of the wages of sin in you and around you. The Lord wants you to come back to Him, back in His presence forever. If sin had no consequences until Judgment Day, you would just go your merry way and enjoy this life until the hammer fell, and you were lost forever. So, instead, the Lord daily preaches His Law to you that sin brings futility, corruption, and death; and no matter who hard you work at maintaining yourself, you’re going to die eternally.

This daily preaching of the Law isn’t particularly welcome—but is it necessary? Absolutely, because sinners easily overlook their sin and believe there’s nothing wrong. How often do you consider yourself a generally good person, rather than a poor, miserable sinner who deserves only wrath? How often, when things go wrong, do you find yourself claiming that you don’t deserve to be treated so badly, when the truth is that none of us has earned anything good from God?

 So, creation groans, and you groan too.

But did you catch why creation groans? It is groaning in the pains of childbirth. That takes us back to original sin, too; for as God cursed the ground for Adam’s sin, He also cursed childbirth with the pains of labor. The most joyous moment—the arrival of new life into the world—would now be accompanied by pain and cries and groans. But! But those cries and groans would be followed by new life. And that is why creation groans, for it awaits the revealing of new life—not just new life for creation, but new life for you. Creation eagerly longs for you to be revealed as sons of God.

Creation’s groan-filled sermon of Law is there to point you to the Gospel. Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, became flesh to reverse the curse of sin. He did so by living a perfect life, free from sin and futility and corruption. And though He didn’t have to die, He submitted Himself to death on the cross in our place. Not just death of the body, but eternal death beyond any mercy from God. He was forsaken on the cross for sin so that you might never be forsaken by God. Laid in the grave, though, Jesus did not see corruption. He is risen from the dead. Risen from the dead, He lives and reigns to deliver you, to raise you to a new heaven and earth that is free from sin and corruption and death forever.

The creation groans to point you to Christ. Every death, every sickness, every suffering, big and little, in this world is to say, “This world is dying, and you are dying, so don’t put your trust in this world! Confess your sins and cling to Christ who has died to deliver you to eternal life.” Thus, creation longs for you to be revealed as sons of God.

Baptized into Christ, you are already sons of God. All of you, male and female, are sons of God, heirs of the kingdom of God. God declared and made it so in Baptism. There, just as He did for Jerry many years ago, He marked you as His own and said, “For Jesus’ sake, you are now My beloved son and an heir of My kingdom.” It’s already yours—it’s just not revealed yet. Your new life is hidden, waiting to be revealed. And in Christ, you have the certain hope that heaven is yours. One day Christ will come to raise all the dead and you will be reunited with Jerry and everyone who has died in the faith and you will be with Him forever.

So when you groan, it is not only out of suffering, but expectation. Our text declares, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, grown inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” Your groans are not groans only of “When will this end?” They are tempered with, “I can hardly wait.”

That waiting is difficult, because the groaning of creation is a powerful sermon of the Law. If that is the only sermon that you hear, then you’ll get the message wrong and be driven either to despair or anger at God. So it is not just you and creation that groan in our text: the Spirit groans, too: “Likewise,” says our text, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.”

For the sake of Jesus, God has sent His Holy Spirit to you. By means of His Word and Sacraments, the Spirit continues to put forgiveness and faith and salvation into you. He continues to finish the sermon that creation starts. Where creation preaches, “You’re going to die because of your sin,” the Holy Spirit concludes, “except that Christ has died for your sins and Christ is risen from the dead. Thus, He grants you grace for Jesus’ sake, as well as patience to endure.

Therefore, rather than despair or anger at God, you pray. As long as you endure this corrupted creation, you commend yourself to Him. You declare to His your needs and worries and griefs and angers and sorrows; and you know that—because He has already adopted you for the sake of Jesus—your Father in heaven will not fail to deliver you as He sees best for you. And you have no doubt that your prayers reach His ears, because the Spirit intercedes on your behalf with groanings too deep for words.

Though you grieve and groan, you grieve and groan in hope. Heaven is coming, and how good will it be? St. Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Is Paul making light of your suffering, your grief? Is He saying it’s no big thing? Hardly: we’ve just heard of our need for the Spirit because we could not endure or hope on our own. Rather, no matter how terrible the wages of sin you encounter in this life, the glory of heaven is that much indescribably better. You simply cannot imagine how great and wonderful are the blessings of heaven and eternal life that await. But they are yours.

They are yours because Christ has died to make you His.

They are yours because the Spirit safeguards them for you as He delivers repentance and grace by His Word.

They are yours because you are forgiven for all of your sins.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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