May 12, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ— especially you, Leah and Ronnie:
Although I did not know Carlene all that long it didn’t take me all that long to learn that there were times when Carlene could be a somewhat “particular” person. My first indication of this came when I asked Carlene if she would be willing to proofread the bulletin that I had produced for one of the special services here at church. Even though I had read and re-read that bulletin a number of times, when Carlene gave it back to me I realized I should have read through it at least one more time. She had circled where the punctuation was incorrect. She had circled words that should have been capitalized as well as words that shouldn’t have been capitalized. From that day on, every time I produced a special worship bulletin I was extremely grateful that Carlene was ready, willing and quite able to proofread it for me.
That’s why it didn’t surprise me at all when Carlene told me that she wanted to talk to me about her funeral service. She wanted to make sure that I understood that she did not want me talking about her— even at her funeral. She said something like, “I don’t want you talking about Carlene this or Carlene that.” When I told her that I like to try and “personalize” a funeral devotion she looked at me and said, “Oh, please don’t do that! I don’t want the focus to be on me! I want the focus to be on Jesus!”
Therefore, my friends, out of love and respect for Carlene and her wishes I have chosen to use Hebrews 12:1-3 as the basis for Carlene’s funeral devotion. Under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit the writer to the Hebrews says to us today, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
If I were to follow my usual practice of trying to “personalize” a person’s funeral devotion, the opening verse of this text would easily lead me to give you many clear examples of how Carlene served as a beautiful example of a humble dedicated Christian. But since Carlene so specifically told me, “Oh, please don’t do that!” I will let each of you think back on all of the ways that Carlene was indeed a wonderful witness for her dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And since Carlene very specifically told me, “I want the focus to be on Jesus!” let me share with you three reasons why I think this portion of God’s holy Word does exactly what Carlene wanted!
First, this portion of Scripture reveals to us exactly who Jesus is! By the grace and power of God alone Carlene knew that Jesus is “the author and the perfecter of (her) faith”! Carlene knew deep down in her heart that as the true Son of the one and only living God Jesus is indeed the “author” of her faith. That word “author” can also be translated as the “originator,” the “ruler,” and the “leader” of her faith. Carlene knew that the Christian faith is not something that was developed and designed, adopted and adapted by mortal sinful human beings over the course of the ages. Carlene knew that the Christian faith was “authored” or “founded” by her Savior-God in the Garden of Eden and then revealed to us by the Lord God Himself— right here in His holy Word. As the “author” of her faith Carlene also acknowledged that Jesus is the “ruler” or “leader” of her faith. As King David brought out so beautifully in Psalm 23, Carlene knew that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and as Christians we faithfully and humbly follow Him!
At the same time, Carlene knew that Jesus is the “perfecter” of her faith! Carlene knew that no matter how much she understood about Jesus, no matter how much she understood about the Bible there would always be more for her to learn. That’s why she gathered together right here in this church for worship and for Bible study as often as she possibly could. Carlene knew that even though she tried her very best to live a sanctified Christian life, even though she tried to be the best Christian woman, the best Christian wife, the best Christian Mom, the best Christian friend she could be— that she always fell short of God’s “goal” for her. Carlene knew that the Lord God Almighty does not accept her or anyone else’s “best” because Carlene knew that God says in Hs Word, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) and, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That’s why Carlene rejoiced in knowing that Jesus is the “perfecter” of her faith! That’s why Carlene rejoiced in knowing that Jesus is the One who would bring her faith to its ultimate “goal”— living in the joy and perfection of heaven as a saved and redeemed child of God.
How could Carlene be so sure of this? Because by the grace of God Carlene also knew what Jesus had done for her! That leads us to the second major reason why I chose this portion of Scripture as the basis for Carlene’s funeral devotion. Striving to follow Carlene’s wishes, “I want the focus to be on Jesus!” we read, “Fix your eyes on Jesus…who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Carlene knew exactly what Jesus had done for her. Carlene knew that Jesus’ love for her was so amazing that He was willing to take all of her sins upon Himself and carry them to the cross on Calvary’s hill. (Pointing to the cross) Carlene knew that even as Jesus suffered the unspeakable agony of hell— for her, in her place— He stayed focused on the “joy” that His sacrifice would bring to her, the “joy” of her eternal salvation. Carlene knew that Jesus physically rose from His grave on Easter Sunday and 40 days later ascended Home to heaven where as the writer to the Hebrews says, He “sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” as His guarantee to everyone who believes and trusts in Him— including Carlene— that He will one day raise their physical body from their grave. Yes, my friends, Carlene knew that Jesus was willing to endure shame the likes of which no other human being could ever possibly endure all so that she could have the “joy” of moving into that room that He was preparing for her in His heavenly Father’s Home!
“I want the focus to be on Jesus!” Finally, I think that was Carlene’s way of saying exactly what the Holy Spirit said to her and what the Holy Spirit says to us in the closing words of our text, “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Humanly speaking did Carlene have reasons to “grow weary”? Humanly speaking did Carlene have reasons to “lose heart”? Yes, she did. And yet, while the battle that she valiantly fought against cancer did indeed take its toll on her physical body, it did not and it could not harm her soul! Her soul was and is and will forever be safe in the nail-pierced hands of her Savior, Jesus!
“I want the focus to be on Jesus!” Personally, I think that was not only Carlene’s wish for her funeral service, but I think that it is also Carlene’s wish for each and every one of us. As Christians we will always face opposition from the sinful world in which we live. There is always the chance that this opposition could cause us to “grow weary.” There is always the chance that this opposition could cause us to “lose heart.” That’s why we all would do well to heed Carlene’s words, “I want the focus to be on Jesus!” When the focus of our faith and the focus of our life is on who Jesus is, the “author and perfecter of our faith,” then, my friends, then we will always be able to join with Carlene in singing that beautiful Song of Isaiah, “I will praise You, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” When the focus of our faith and the focus of our life is on what Jesus willingly endure for us (Pointing to the cross), then like Carlene we too will always be able to hear the Lord Jesus Christ gently say to us, “”Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
“I want the focus to be on Jesus!” May God grant that just as those words were true for Carlene that they will always be true for each and every one of us.
Let Jesus be your Source of comfort and confidence both now and forever.
To God be the glory!