Funeral Sermon for Vernon Huneke
Text: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
One of the last times that I had devotion with Vernon, we turned our attention to Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We were reminded that there is only one way to be saved, and that is through Jesus. Jesus is the truth in the midst of all of the so-called truths that you find in our world today. Finally, Jesus is the life. He is the reason we have hope for this life. He is the one through whom we receive eternal life. Another way to look at that verse is to say that Jesus is the beginning, the middle, and the end. He is the beginning. He has opened the way to salvation for us. He is the truth that guides us along our way. He is the end. With him we have life eternal.
In essence, we have these same truths expressed by the apostle Peter in our text for this afternoon. A bit of background will help us appreciate Peter’s words all the more. Jesus had spent the day teaching the crowds that were following him. As he was teaching, he was challenged by some of the religious leaders of the day. They questioned him and what he was teaching. Just prior to this Jesus had fed the 5,000 men plus women and children with the five loaves of bread and the two small fish. The leaders challenged Jesus by pointing to the fact that Moses had fed the nation of Israel in the desert for forty years with manna. They were saying to Jesus that, if he provided food as miraculous as that of Moses, they would believe in him. To this, Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” The crowd had difficulty understanding what Jesus was talking about. As a result, many of them turned away from Jesus and no longer followed him.
Then, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Our text for this afternoon is Peter’s answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” By God’s grace, Peter was brought to the realization that Jesus was the only place where he could find those words that would bring about eternal life.
It was by that same grace of God that Vernon was brought to the realization that in Jesus we have eternal life. This is not to say that there are not some words that Jesus taught that are hard. Some are not so hard to understand as they are hard to hear. What makes them hard to hear is the picture that they paint of us. For example, it is natural for us to hold on to grudges against other people. We feel perfectly justified in doing so. If we talk to our friends and relatives, they may even encourage us to hold on to them. Yet, what does Jesus tell us we are to do when someone hurts us? We read in Luke 17:4, “If [someone] sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” When we withhold forgiveness from someone, we are going against what God would have us do. We call it justifiable. God calls it a sin. This is just one instance of the many ways that we go against Jesus’ clear will for our lives. To show the standards that are demanded of us, Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Jesus is also clear that the penalty for these rebellions, these sins, is an eternity of punishment in hell. You see, it is not so much that the teachings of Jesus are hard to understand. They are just hard to hear because they point out that fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
This fact was readily confessed by Vernon. He knew that he had sinned. He knew that he had not lived the perfect life that God demands. This was part of our confession, whether it was here in church or at home when we would have private communion. There was clear acknowledgment of sin and its dire consequences.
Thankfully, that is not the full extent of what Jesus teaches us. As hard on the ears as the pronouncement of the law and its consequences is, so sweet in the announcement of the gospel, which tells us what Jesus has done to rescue us. Because you and I cannot reach that level of perfection that God requires, Jesus came to the earth to live in our place. Throughout his entire life, with every one of his actions, words, and even thoughts, Jesus perfectly followed his Father’s will. He was perfect as our Substitute. Then, because we still had that debt of sins hanging over us, Jesus went to the cross where he suffered and died. While on that cross, he suffered the very torments of hell so that we never would have. He completed the payment for our sins. We know this from the fact that, just before he died, he said, “It is finished.” Furthermore, Jesus did not stay dead. On Easter morning he rose from the dead. This assures us, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Father accepted Jesus’ payment for our sins. When God looks at those who have ben brought to trust in Jesus as their only hope for salvation, he sees perfection. As a result, the gates of heaven stand wide open to us. We take such great comfort when Jesus says to us, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25,26) This beautiful teaching is why Peter stated, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He had been brought to believe that it was only through Jesus that sins are forgiven and heaven is ours.
It was this same truth that Vernon was taught throughout his years here at Zion. From the time of his baptism by Pastor Monhardt through his Sunday School days and confirmation class, he came to know that Jesus was his only hope for salvation. He continued in his love for the truths of God’s Word as he faithfully attended Bible class, so that he might learn more and more of what God wanted him to know. He showed that this Gospel message was important to him as he expressed his disappointment that he was no longer able to receive the Lord’s Supper because the swallowing was too difficult. These truths were so much a part of him that on Thursday evening, when Vernon was starting to slip, he still was able to join in the prayers that were being said. He also wanted to make sure that others knew these words of eternal life. Not only was he concerned that his children knew the truths of God’s Word, but he also took his roles as sponsor and Sunday School Superintendent seriously. He found great joy in making sure that others knew about their Savior. Obviously, it was important to him, because he shared it with others.
Now, by God’s grace, he is enjoying that eternal life that Jesus won for him. He is free from all of those things that made life difficult, especially at the last. He is in heaven where there are no more tears. He is there at his Savior’s side, completely at peace. It is for that reason that we can rejoice today. Yes, our loved one has been taken from us. Yes, right now there are tears of sadness. Yet, we also know where he has gone. We also look forward to that time when we will be reunited with our loved ones in heaven. All of us, who believe in Jesus as their Savior, will meet again. On the day of our death or the Last Day, whichever comes first, we will be together with all believers in the joys of heaven. How we long for that day.
In the meantime, during these days of sadness, we have our Lord’s own promise that he will be there to care for us. He showed love and concern for Mary and Martha when their brother died. He shows that same love and concern for us, today. God promises that he will be with us to comfort us. He has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” God tells us in Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The healing and the binding up of the wounds come from the knowledge that God loves us and will be with us always. When sadness or loneliness comes, lean on him for your strength and your comfort. He will not let you fall.
Sometimes, life is so difficult that we just want to give up. We feel like we run into one dead end after another. How thankful we are that there is one to whom we can always turn, and that is our Savior. He is there for us every day. He demonstrated his love for us by coming to the world to be our Savior. We thank him that he so clearly has shown us that he is the way, the truth, and the life. We thank him that he gave this confidence to Vernon, which is so beautifully articulated in his confirmation verse, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” May our gracious God give us this same confidence, as well. Amen.
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