God intervened for Jill’s salvation, and for yours
Proverbs 3:5-6 + Romans 8:28-39 + Luke 24:36-48
We were all stunned last week to learn that Jill had died and perplexed by the circumstances of her death. It’s OK to wonder, why now? Why in this way? I can’t tell you why the Lord took her now, why He didn’t intervene at that moment to prevent her death. But I can tell you what Jill’s favorite Bible passage was, as her sister recently discovered. It was Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
Why trust in the LORD God, why lean on Him instead of your own understanding? What I can tell you—what Jill would want me to tell you—is that God may not intervene in the ways and at the times we think He should, but we Christians trust in Him because of those times when He did intervene in human history.
Of course, God is the Creator of human history, and of the universe itself. After creating the world in perfect condition, God didn’t push Adam and Eve toward that tree in the Garden of Eden. He warned them not to eat from it, not to rebel against Him; He warned them that they would die if they did. They chose to lean on their own understanding, to disobey, to disbelieve. They brought death upon our race, and a corrupt, sinful nature that passes down from generation to generation, shaking its fist at God, blaming Him for our faults, for our bad decisions, for human misbehavior, for human misery. Death and everlasting punishment should have been the forever-fate of us all. But God intervened. He promised to send a Savior to save sinners from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Fast forward through the Old Testament to the Nativity of Jesus, when God intervened in a most miraculous way, sending His Son into the world through the Virgin’s womb, to share our flesh, to share our humanity, that He might redeem fallen mankind by the shedding of His own blood as our Substitute.
Fast forward to Good Friday. There was the most horrible, most wonderful divine intervention of them all. God gave His only-begotten Son—gave Him over to be despised and rejected by men, crucified, put to death as the atoning sacrifice, as the terrible payment for our sins. That’s how much God loved the world, that His own beloved Son should suffer what we all deserved to suffer, so that death might not be the end for us who brought it on ourselves.
Then we come to the words you heard today from St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ appearance to His disciples on Easter evening, no longer dead, but risen, glorified, and immortal. Yes, we really believe that. Jill really believed that, that Jesus, after suffering for our sins on the cross, was truly raised from the dead on the third day. He proved it in various ways to His own slow-to-believe disciples, showing them His hands and His feet that were pierced on the cross. He even ate a little meal with them on that Sunday evening, to prove that He was not a ghost, not a figment of their imagination, but the same Jesus who died on Good Friday, now alive forever and ever.
Then the Lord Christ showed His disciples from the Old Testament Scriptures how God had actually been intervening all along, preparing the world for His Son to be born, to suffer, to die, and to rise again from the dead, showing them how repentance and remission of sins must be preached to all nations in His name.
Preaching repentance, that all people should recognize that they are lost and condemned sinners who don’t deserve and can’t earn God’s forgiveness, even a little bit, that all people should sorrow over their sins and then flee in faith to Christ Jesus, the Refuge of sinners, whose holy, precious blood made atonement for all sins.
Then preaching remission—forgiveness of sins—to all who believe, so that, even though we face all sorts of hardships in this life, even though we will all eventually die, believers in Christ should know for certain that God no longer counts their sins against them. They are forgiven, and they will live again with God in joy and peace. As Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.
God has been intervening in history for the last 2,000 years or so, seeing to it that the Gospel of Christ is preached, seeing to it that the Gospel reached Jill way back in 1954, through her parents and their pastor. The picture of Jill does not sit here on the Baptismal font by accident. The font itself is just a symbol. But the baptismal waters that were applied to Jill 62 years ago were much more than that. They were, as Scripture declares, a “washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit,” the “washing away of sin,” her “burial with Christ through Baptism into death.”
That’s no small thing. It meant that Jill had already died with Christ and been raised with Him. It meant adoption as a child of God, being made an heir of eternal life. It’s what made heaven her home, as we sang earlier.
Then Jill did, by God’s grace and to His glory alone, what so many of the baptized fail to do, to their own ruin: she kept hearing the Word of Christ, which is the food of faith. She kept receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion, Christ’s very body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. She didn’t become sinless in this life; no one does. But she confessed her sins. She fought against them. And now, at last, she has won the victory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So, while our human reason and understanding may not comprehend it, we Christians trust in the Lord God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—who has proven His love for us in a thousand ways. We trust that, in His mercy, the Lord did intervene on Jill’s behalf last Thursday, that “all things have worked together for good to her who loved God,” as He brought her earthly struggles to an end and has now brought her soul safely into His heavenly kingdom, where she is comforted in the presence of God, where she awaits the glorious resurrection on the Last Day.
And God will do the same for you, Gerry, and for all who love Him, so that all things work together for good to you. He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? He will comfort you with His love and see to it that you are not alone for the remainder of your own pilgrimage here, until He intervenes to bring you to the waiting arms of Jesus.
For all of you who are hearing this Gospel today, it means that Jill’s death has served another purpose that God has also intended. See how He has intervened! Jill’s death has become the opportunity for the love of God in Christ Jesus to be preached to so many of you whom God brought into contact with Jill in this life. And, knowing Jill as I did for these past ten years, I think I can say that Jill would be absolutely giddy right now, knowing that this service has become her final gift to all of you, that you may hear the Gospel and believe in Jesus Christ as she did, and so be prepared to meet Him, as she most certainly was. May God grant it, for the praise of His glorious grace and for your eternal salvation. Amen.