Blog / Book of the Month / William (Bill) Wendel Funeral Sermon – Matthew 28:16–20 January 20th 2024 / What is Life After Death Like?

William (Bill) Wendel Funeral Sermon – Matthew 28:16–20 January 20th 2024 / What is Life After Death Like?

William (Bill) Wendel Funeral Sermon – Matthew 28:16–20 January 20th 2024 / What is Life After Death Like?

William (Bill) Wendel Funeral Sermon - Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Saturday January 20th 2024: Season of Epiphany / Matthew 28:16–20 "What is Life After Death Like?"

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him they worshiped Him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends and family of Bill Wendel. In our Gospel reading we heard the risen Lord Jesus promise to His remaining disciples that He would be with them “always, to the end of the age.” This promise was made to them as their Lord Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of Jesus’ heavenly Father. The one who made this promise had suffered a brutal death upon a Roman Cross and Saint John was an eye witness to that death, just as he was to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This same Saint John recorded another promise from our Lord Jesus which Jesus made the night before His crucifixion where Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also.”[1] The place of that preparation was the cross of His crucifixion and knowing that all was accomplished Jesus said, “It is finished,” and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. In that moment the final touches of your place in Christ Jesus were made complete. At the beginning of the Service we heard the Holy Spirit inspired words of Saint Paul teaching us that the Christian baptised into Christ Jesus is baptised both into Jesus’ death and into His resurrection which means that for the Christian they are, in life and in death, with Jesus and Jesus is with them. This same Saint Paul likewise comforts us saying that, in Christ Jesus, he is “sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[2]

Now why am I laying this all out for you today? Well, because this primes the pump to talk about something that was on Bill’s mind: What is life like between a person’s death and their resurrection on The Last Day? What is that like for the Christian in particular? What can we know about it from Scripture? And I’ll add to that, ‘what comfort can we find in the truth of what Scripture teaches regarding these things?’  

Let’s start with the first question: ‘What is life like between a person’s death and their resurrection on The Last Day?’ For those who have no faith in Christ Jesus Scripture teaches that they’re in a kind of prison awaiting the final judgment on The Last Day.[3] Now on the other hand if you think back remember the two men crucified with Jesus, both were criminals and Saint Luke recounts how “one of the criminals … railed at [Jesus], saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other [criminal] rebuked [the first one], saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”[4] So here you see the contrasting states of existence for your mind and your soul after your physical death on the one hand prison, for those without faith in Jesus and His promises, and on the other hand paradise, for those who have their faith in Jesus and His promises. What does John 3:16 say “For God loved the world in this way, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”[5] So at this very moment before The Last Day and the Final Judgment arrives no one is currently burning in hell and no one is currently walking the streets of gold[6] in the promised new heavens and the new earth;[7] no, right now everything in all creation, including every person from Adam and Eve to you and me until The End of Time are waiting for That Day and the long desired return of Jesus in His second coming where He will “judge the living and the dead” as we confessed in the Creed this morning. Remember what Jesus said in our Gospel “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me,” that would include the authority to judge the living and the dead, in fact in the Book of Revelation Saint John records Jesus’ words when our Lord says, “Fear not, I am The First and The Last, and The Living One. I died, and behold I Am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[8]

So it is plain to everyone that life in prison would not be the same as life in paradise and that life in paradise is promised to the Christian with their faith in Jesus. Jesus Himself puts a fine point on how a person ends up in paradise and not in some spiritual prison when He says of Himself, “I Am The Way, and The Truth, and The Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”[9] The next question then is ‘What is that like for the Christian in particular?’ What is this promised paradise like for the faithfully departed who now, in Christ Jesus, await the New Heavens and the New Earth? There are plenty of common ideas about “life after death” that float around in popular culture everything from the notion that people become angels to the idea that the dead are busy “watching over” their living family members like guardians, Scripture doesn’t teach any of this. Scripture does teach that those who died because of their faith in Jesus, the martyrs, those souls in the presence of God “under the altar … who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne [cry] out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before You will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”[10]

From what the Bible says we know that these folks are aware of how they died but they don’t see what is happening in the here and now because Scripture also teaches that “the dead know nothing … their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.”[11] In other words they are free from the troubles of this life and they are free from any remorse over having missed out on the joyful, loving and happy moments we share now. And Scripture tells us that even for those who righteously and without sin cry out to God after their death “how long before You will judge and avenge our blood” that they are “each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”[12] Now not all Christians die as martyrs but what Scripture teaches here tells us a lot about the common experience that Christians will have following their earthly death. So what we can take from this is that Bill will still know who he is, He will likely know how he died, he will be comforted after his death and he will be at rest and as Jesus further promises Bill will be in paradise on the very day that he departed from this life, and that Jesus Himself will have come to take Bill to Himself so that where Jesus is Bill will be there also. Therefore Bill and all those who die with their faith in Jesus have eternal life and that that life continues in Christ because Christ Jesus is The Life. This is what Scripture teaches and it is what Jesus promises.

“All Praise to Thee my God this Night”[13] one of the hymns in our hymnal includes this line in stanza three, “teach me to live that I may dread The grave as little as my bed,” the reason it’s written like that is because the Bible talks about the death of a believer being like sleep.[14]  And of course if someone sleeps they will wake up, so the Christian looks forward to The Last Trumpet being sounded[15] and the resurrection on The Last Day when body, mind and soul are reunited and we at last share in the same promised resurrection that Jesus had on that first Easter Sunday.[16] With this in mind the thing that troubled Bill was the question of what that sleep in Christ would be like. Think of a time when you were so dog tired that when your head hit the pillow you were immediately out like a light and then in a snap when you’d woke up from your sleep you realize that you’d barely moved as if no time had passed at all and yet it was hours and hours later and time had in fact passed while you were asleep, if that is what falling asleep in Christ was supposed to be like Bill didn’t like that idea at all. As Lutherans “a soul sleep which excludes a blessed enjoyment of God[17] must be defiantly rejected [based on Saint Paul’s teaching that eternal life in Christ will be “better” than the sufferings associated with the life we live now[18] and the imminent promise of paradise that Jesus gives the man crucified with Him at the cross[19]]. A sleep of the soul that includes enjoyment of God (says Luther) cannot be called false doctrine.”[20] So what more can we say from Scripture? Well in our physical death “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”[21] And in Scripture it’s also common to hear that the departed in death are buried and that they then go to sleep with their fathers; that they are at rest together with those who had gone on ahead of them.[22] If then, these are the faithfully departed, then they will be together at rest in Christ and they will be wherever Jesus is. In the Service of the Sacrament, in Holy Communion, we confess that we raise our voices together with the angels and arch angels and all the company of heaven as we laud and magnify the Glorious Name of the LORD saying Hosanna, Hosanna in the Highest. So when physically Jesus comes to us in the meal as He promises to do then all those who are at rest in Him are with Him there at the Communion rail hidden away in Christ until the day of His appearing. We join at the rail and we see, smell, taste, touch and feel what is there in front of us even as we are aware that the faithfully departed are likewise there with Christ Jesus and on the other side of the divide would not the faithfully departed in Christ who enjoy eternal Communion with Him in His presence do so knowing that we are there with them at table even if they cannot at present see us just as we cannot see them? Years ago when our church was renovated they built an architectural feature into the chancel of the church where the altar sits that teaches this, you can see it if you come up and take a closer look. It’s a half circle, this correspond to those of us gathered together around Jesus in the flesh in Holy Communion, then if you continue to think about that circle there would be the other half of the circle that you cannot see, this correspond to those who have gone on ahead of us in the faith and are part of the heavenly hosts that accompany Jesus wherever He goes. So even though we cannot see them we know and trust that we are together with them in Christ. We therefore have a foretaste of the happy reunion in the meal, and they as well, for on The Last Day all will be together in the flesh made new in Him. Now however, at this time Bill is together with those dear to him who have departed in the faith and we need to remember that as Bill departs from us he has at last arrived with them, in Christ, where there will be great joy at his arrival.

Does time tick by as slowly there are it does here? This we do don’t know but until The Last Day when Time itself is made new and is redeemed with everything else in creation we will need be patient until our time comes. In the here and the now we will want to live lives to the benefit of our neighbours and everyone we meet, to keep them in our hearts and have concern for them just as Bill in Christ had concern for those he was in contact with. Bill learnt this from his teacher Jesus along the way and it is a good lesson for all the faithful to embrace in this life as we pass the days until the day we are called home in Christ Jesus.  

Dear ones Jesus promises to be with you to the end of the age and as you go about your days I’ll leave you with the last verses of our Psalm for today where King David says of the Lord, “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your Right Hand are pleasures forevermore.”[23] Lastly Saint Paul says “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at The Day of Jesus Christ.”[24] This has not been up to Bill to accomplish, as promised Bill now has the answers to his questions and more so for he sees in full now what we can only know in part. Amen.    

Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] John 14:1–3
[2] Romans 8:38–39
[3] 1 Peter 3:19-20
[4] Luke 23:39-43
[5] John 3:16
[6] Revelation 21:21
[7] Isaiah 65:17-19; 2 Peter 3:11-13; Revelation 21:1-4
[8] Revelation 1:17–18
[9] John 14:6
[10] Revelation 6:9–10
[11] Ecclesiastes 9:5b–6
[12] Revelation 6:11
[13] “All Praise to Thee my God this Night” Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #886
[14] 2 Peter 3:4; Acts 7:60; Acts 13:36; 1 Corinthians 15:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-15; 1 Thessalonians 5:10
[15] 1 Thessalonians 4:16
[16] Philippians 3:20-21
[17] psycho-pannychism
[18] Philippians 1:21–23, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”
[19] Luke 23:43
[20] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics Volume III, Concordia Publishing House 1953, Pg 512.
[21] Ecclesiastes 12:7
[22] 1 Kings 2:10; 1 Kings 11:43; Acts 13:36
[23] Psalm 16:11
[24] Philippians 1:6