Luke 24:36–49 36As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
37But they were terrified and frightened and thought they were looking at a ghost.
38He said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While they still did not believe it (because of their joy), and while they were still wondering, he said to them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”
42They gave him a piece of broiled fish and some honeycomb. 43He took it and ate in front of them. 44He said to them, “These are my words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.”
45Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. 46He said to them, “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49Look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
“The God of love and peace will be with you.” (2 Corinthians 13:11, EHV)
One of the blessings of being a pastor is being at the bedside of an elderly saint and ushering that Christian brother or sister home to heaven with the resurrection comfort of God’s Word. My first year at Epiphany, I was blessed to conduct fifteen funerals. I had conducted only two funerals during my previous eight years in Kentucky.
One of the hardest funerals I ever preached for was for a little baby that died in his sleep.
Because this was something I had never experienced before, I reached out to my brother pastors for advice on how to comfort the grieving family. They gave me wonderful scriptural and pastoral advice. One of the pastors shared with me how his family had been visiting some close friends in his congregation. While they were there, one of their friend’s little children fell into the pool and drowned. Not only did he need to preach for the funeral of this little one, he had to find the words to comfort his friends and their children … at that moment, in their home. He also had to counsel and console his own grieving wife and little children, who had experienced the death of this little one first hand.
There is definitely grief and sorrow when death visits an elderly grandparent or parent. But, I think that grief becomes exponentially harder the younger a person is. The anguish multiplies when death robs us of a spouse or sibling … and especially a child.
No matter at what age you lost your child to death, or how long ago he or she was taken from you, the pain is raw and fresh. Parents are not mere spectators along the sidelines of suffering. They are right on the playing field. But, this is no game. A well-intentioned word can bring you to tears. A picture can be like a punch in the gut. A memory can feel like someone is clawing at your heart. A child’s laughter can send you into a bout of depression.
And, that’s the way Satan likes it!
Satan uses his close ally of Death to throw our lives into turmoil.
Satan uses your grief to rob you of the joy and peace that Christ’s resurrection brings. He wants your tears to be so heavy that you cannot see the open tomb in front of you. He desires your mind to be so clouded so that you do not notice the dead Christ defeating death for you. He enjoys seeing you so overwrought with sorrow over what you lost that you cannot think about what Christ has gained for you.
Satan needs for you to be so consumed with anger that you are enraged at God for what He has allowed to be taken from you. Your anger leads you to question how God could call Himself loving when He was so unloving in taking away this precious child of yours. If God really cared about you, He would have let you keep your loved one for much longer than He did. If God was really merciful and full of grace, He would have shown that mercy and grace by healing your child from their disease or allowing your child to wake up from their sleep.
Satan craves for your guilt to overwhelm you. What could you have done differently that would have kept your child alive? What did you say in anger or frustration that became the last thing your loved one heard? How could you have rescheduled your job so that you could have spent more time with your spouse, parent or child? You learned the hard way that there will always be another meeting, but there may never be another time to sit down together at the dinner table or play catch in the backyard or just say, “I love you.”
This grief, anger, and guilt can wreck your marriage. They can destroy your relationships with your family and friends. They can create a barrier between you and your Christian brothers and sisters. They can drive you away from your faith in God as being a merciful Father in heaven.
Satan delights in all of that!
Satan uses death to torment and take away. Christ Jesus turns death into a victory for His beloved saints. “Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)
Author, Philip Yancy, recounts a conversation with a priest who had just performed the funeral of an eight-year-old girl. “His parish had prayed and wept and shared the family’s agony for more than a year as the girl fought a futile battle against cancer. The funeral had strained the emotions, the energy, and even the faith of the priest. ‘What can I possibly say to her family?’ he confided in me. ‘I have no solution to offer them. What can I say?’ He paused for a moment, and added this, ‘I have no solution to their pain; I have only an answer. And Jesus Christ is that answer.’” (Where is God When It Hurts, p. 228)
When you are in such grief that you can barely lift your head off the pillow; when you are so depressed that you cannot get out of bed in the morning; when you carry such guilt that you can barely move; that’s when you need to remember Easter. Easter is not just a nice celebration with a full church, lilies, robust hymns and egg bake casseroles. It is during times of tragic deaths where our Easter faith is put into action. When we are standing next to that tiny infant casket is when the rubber hits the road. It is where all the “Alleluias,” “Hosannas,” and “He is risen indeed” statements are most necessary.
As a pastor at the death of a little one, I do not venture to give answers that are easier than the ones God gives. We may not always know what to say or be able to give reasons why God allows things to happen. All we can do is bring our sincere questions to the throne of our heavenly Father.
God’s answers all our guilt, fear, and sorrow at His Son’s bloody cross and open tomb. That is where God’s Son paid for our sins. He crushed Satan’s head. He defeated sin. He won the victory over death and the grave. That victory replaces guilt with forgiveness; fear with courage; and sorrow with joy.
That’s exactly what Jesus was doing in the upper room on Easter evening when He appeared to His frightened disciples who were hiding away behind locked doors. They were discussing how the women, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and the Emmaus disciples, had all seen Jesus alive. They were undoubtedly feeling grief that their Rabbi and Messiah had been killed. They were feeling guilt because they had all run away from Jesus when He was arrested in Gethsemane. They were feeling confusion because they were wondering how God could love His Son and yet allow Him to die such a brutal death.
Amid all this fear, guilt, and confusion, Jesus is standing among them and says, “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).
Jesus comes amid their fear, guilt, and confusion and gives them what they need most – His peace. He gives them a solid place to stand in front of the judgment seat of the Almighty God. The crucified Christ has made the atoning sacrifice for their sins. The resurrected Savior has overcome the reality of death. The death and resurrection of the Son of God had always been a part of God’s salvation story from the very beginning. “These are my words, which I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He said to them, “This is what is written and so it must be: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Luke 24:43-46).
In response to mankind’s rebellion against God, God cursed humanity by promising, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). The whole Bible is about how God undertook a rescue mission to save us from the misery we had brought upon ourselves. God did this by sending His Son to be the Savior of the world. This Savior, decisively dealt with sin by taking sin upon Himself. He overcame death by dying. He defeated the Ancient Serpent by crushing its head, while subjecting Himself to its venomous bite.
Jesus shows the disciples His hands and feet. “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have” (Luke 24:39). These marks of His passion are our certainty.
To those of you who are suffering grief and guilt, this resurrection is for you! Christ won it for you!
We can’t say why God took your loved one away through death. We can only say what God says. And, throughout Scripture, God gives some beautiful words about your Christian loved one’s death.
Your infant who died in her baptismal grace has been spared this present evil (Isaiah 57:1).
Your believing child who died in His sleep, woke up to his own room in the mansion of heaven (John 14:2).
Your youth who suffered pain has departed to be with Christ, where there is no longer any pain or suffering or tears (Philippians 1:23; Revelation 7:16).
Your Christian family member has been gathered to God’s people (Genesis 25:8,17).
Your loss has turned into their great gain (Philippians 1:21).
Your lamb is enjoying the green pastures and quiet waters of paradise (Psalm 23:1,2).
Your loved one has passed from death to life eternal (John 5:24).
Your saint who suffered and struggled so much in this life has departed in peace to be with God (Luke 2:29).
Harry Boer, who served four years as a chaplain during World War II, spent the final days of that war among marines in the Pacific Theater. “The second Division saw much action, with great loses,” he writes. “Yet I never met an enlisted man or an officer who doubted for a moment the outcome of the war. Nor did I ever meet a marine who asked why, if victory was so sure, we couldn’t have it immediately. It was just a question of slogging through till the enemy gave up.” (Harry R. Boer, “And a Sword …”)
There is a parallel in how Christ won the war over the cosmic powers of sin, Satan and death. His bloody cross and open tomb have assured the final outcome. Yet, the battle remains. Suffering, grief, and death are constant companions in this war. We suffer and slog through, though, knowing that the victory is sure. The Devil and Death are defeated. They just haven’t given up yet.
Satan wants to use your grief and guilt to turn you away from God. He wants to drive a wedge between you and your heavenly Father. God wants to use your grief, so you come to Him for comfort. He wants to remove your guilt and replace it with His precious words of forgiveness. He wants to calm your anger at Him and teach you that everything He has done has been for the eternal benefit of your love one (Romans 8:28).
You may not understand that now, but by the grace of God, your loved one in heaven is appreciating that eternal benefit right now.
This is the peace that the resurrected Christ gives to you. He is with you, speaking to you in His words, showing you the wounds of His passion, bringing you this much needed resurrection comfort. On Easter Sunday. In the hospital. At the cemetery.
“Peace be with you.” Amen.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7, EHV)