Over the course of the past 35 years or so, I’ve officiated about 500 funerals. Interestingly enough, most of that number were not people I knew nor were they members of churches I pastored. Rather, they were people connected with people connected with people. In other words, they often were distantly related to people I knew. In fact, for many of those services I have been asked to oversee, my being asked was a result of my having officiated a previous service which had been attended by a loved one or friend of the one for whom I was now being asked to give “words of comfort”.
And as I’ve aged, I have learned my limitations and weaknesses. Interestingly enough, I’ve also learned that our God has no limit nor weakness. And for that I am quite thankful. It is He Who has equipped, enabled, and directed me in those preparations. And yet in recent years I’ve learned, I have REALLY learned, that there is just so much that I am able to do. As a result, I’ve shared with the local funeral homes that I would be honored to officiate only for those services where the deceased or a family member specifically asks for me to be a part of the service.
That was the case for “Irene”. A couple of days ago, I had the honor to try to bring comfort to Irene’s family at her service. I did not know Irene well; on the contrary, I knew her late husband who I affectionately called “SPCA ‘Bob’”! After his retirement, Bob volunteered for many years as the greeter for our local animal shelter. He was so good at it – how good was he? – he was so good that many of us called him “SPCA Bob”. The nickname was given due to his courteousness, his compassion, his immediate relationship with anyone who came through the front door of the shelter. Eight years ago Irene asked me to serve her through her late husband’s funeral. And, as I recently learned, after Bob’s service Irene let the funeral home know that she wanted me to one day officiate her doings.
And the connections continue! My wife worked for several years with Irene in a local elementary school cafeteria. My wife also graduated in the same class from high school with one of Irene’s daughters-in-law.
But here are the big questions: “Did I know Irene?”. No. Did I know her family well? No? Did I know the spiritual foundation of either Irene or any of her surviving relatives? No.
So the REALLY BIG QUESTION is this: how is it possible to bring eternal comfort to a family whose spiritual base is unknown or uncertain?
By offering the family HOPE.
Does offering “hope” mean that you are wishing their loved one into heaven? (Invariably, many of the family members at the service said that “Mom” [or “Nana”] was now enjoying baking cookies in heaven for “Dad” [or “Pop Pop”).
That presumption that “all people go to heaven when they die” seems to be an ongoing trend of the attendees at most of my services. The only exception is for those rare services which involved a member of a church that I had pastored. In most of those cases I had known of the deceased profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. As a result, I could offer hope to the family and friends based upon that profession of faith.
So back to “hope”. How is it possible to offer hope to a group of people – often both young and old – who may have no eternal hope? In fact, they are seeking “COMFORT” – hope is the farthest thing from their grieving minds.
And yet isn’t it possible that in offering TRUE HOPE a major by-product will be COMFORT?
Into that picture comes an amazing phrase, one of my favorites that our Savior used. Let me give you the entire phrase along with its surrounding verses:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28-30 (NKJV)
The Lord in His infinite wisdom loves this phrase, “Come to Me”. He uses it throughout His Scriptures. The occasions of use are both rare and personal. They are a part of our Bible some 38 times. 24 are found in the Old Testament; the remaining 14 are in the New.
The first use is found in Genesis 18:21 where the Lord Himself says, “ I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
In the previous verses, the Lord had given an indication to both Abraham and Sarah that the time for His fulfillment of a promise was nearing completion – Abraham was to be the father of a son! And Sarah even in her old age was to be the mother. Her laugh of unbelief, and the Lord’s giving of the name “Isaac” to the unborn child, were indications of the Lord’s purposes in promise. By the name “Isaac”, that is, “Laughter”, these two elderly – and the rest of us as well – were to be reminded of those moments of unbelief.
Yet in the middle of revealing His purposes to Abraham and Isaac came the Lord’s revealing of His purposes for Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord does not mention the exact heinous deeds of these two cities, However, He mentions that what has “come to Him” was an outcry. Once the source of that outcry was verified, the response would be the complete destruction of these two cities.
The Lord would reveal His desire to destroy. Further, in His grace, the Lord would reveal His desire to preserve life – Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family.
“Come to Me”.
In later years, once more a cry would come to the ears of the Lord. Listen to Exodus 3:9-10, shared with Moses from a burning bush:
“9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
This time the cry was of an unborn nation. The descendants of Abraham were now slaves in Egypt, treated shamefully – more like dogs than as humans. Their cry came to a caring God Who according to His eternal purposes was bringing to pass the creation of the nation of Israel.
“Come to Me”.
Let’s look at one more – this time spoken not by the Lord but by one of the enemies of the people of Israel. Listen to the familiar uses spoken by both Goliath and later by the shepherd boy David in 1 Samuel 17:43-45:
“43 So the Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
44 And the Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!”
45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
David, later identified as a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), would be the shepherd boy who had learned by experience that the God of Israel is faithful. He had also experienced God’s faithfulness through the slaying of the animal enemies of his sheep. And now this giant Philistine was to be just like one of those animals. While the giant had no eternal help, David had the help of the God of Israel.
“Come to Me”
So now the hope of Matthew 11:28. To “Whom” or “what” did Jesus say to “Come”? Did He say to “come to My church”? Did He say to “come to My religion”? The answer to both questions is an huge NO! He made a two-fold plea. First, He said “Come to Me”. Then He said, “Learn from Me”. We first “come” and then we “learn”. What do we “learn” after we finally submit our wills to “come”? We learn that He is worthy of our trust for eternity. His death, burial, and resurrection is the only hope for those who are without God and without hope. And when we “come”, we learn that He is not only worthy of our eternal trust. He is worthy of our daily trust! We will find Him faithful for every day of the rest of our lives! Wow!
And when we find that His invitation to “Come to Me” is true…and when we find His invitation to “Learn from Me” is true…what do we have then?
Aha! Aha! We have what we hunger for!
We have true COMFORT!
“Come to Me”!