A Sermon on the Occasion of the Death of a Child
Every death brings with it a unique set of emotions and challenges but for a wide variety of reasons the death of a little child is one of the more painful experiences a human being can go through. What is a pastor supposed to say? What can he say, at a time like this? Pastor Larry Peters demonstrates the approach we hope we will hear from all pastors when they preach at the funeral of a little one.
Sermon preached for Nicholas David Stiltner, 2007-2013, on Monday, January 7, 2013.
Lessons: Jeremiah 31:15-17 – Isaiah 40:10-11 – Mark 10:13-16
David, Cyndi, Alex, and Tim.
Let me begin by simply saying that there are no simple answers to the question of why. No answer can fill en empty mother’s heart or end a father’s longing or restore a brother to you. We come here not for answers but for comfort. The comfort we seek is the Word of the Lord that endures forever.
And what does God tell us of His great love for children? The Psalms describe children as a treasure from the Lord, gifts from God to the wombs, hearts, and lives of His people. No life and no child is hidden from the Lord. No child suffers without the Lord suffering and no child’s cry is not heard in the ears of our heavenly Father.
Indeed God describes His great love for us in parental terms. Again the Psalmist says “as a Father has compassion upon His children so the Lord has compassion on His people. In that same Psalm the Lord reminds us that He does not deal with us according to our sins or repay our iniquity with punishment but He has removed our sin in Christ so that it is as far from us as the heavens above the earth. Yet, that said, the Lord knows our frame, and that our bodies are but dust. No love can erase this fact. Death passes to all and is no respecter of persons. But the love of God is manifest in the life He gives that is greater than death’s claim upon us.
Indeed the whole character of God’s steadfast love is so great that this is what parents speak to their children. His word endures forever. So we teach it to our children and pass it on to those not yet born so that all may set their hope in God and never forget His merciful works.
The Psalmist says that “precious in the Lord’s sight is the death of His own…” This means that as we grieve for Nick, so God grieves with us. He is wounded as we are when His enemy death steals away the life that God has given. But that is the fruit of a sinful world and the lot of a sinful people. The world is not as God wills it but has been marred by sin and its death. We come to God in our sorrow and in our mortality and He answers with the gift of His own Son. He gives Jesus to us, in our flesh and blood, to bear our suffering in His own suffering and to die for us the death the ends death’s reign once and for all.
We just celebrated Christmas, a season of holy and happy joy. Yet right in the midst of Christmas is another story of death. Herod’s anger sought to kill the Son of God and in his rage he killed the first born children of Bethlehem leaving the holy city of Jesus’ birth in sorrow. Matthew quotes Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children, she refused to be comforted because they were no more.”
Today we come for weeping and lamentation, with hearts that refuse to be comforted because the grief of the loss of Nick is too great we think for us to bear. But the hope of the people then and our hope now lies with a gracious God whom we know in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
This is the Jesus who invites us to trust in Him. If even evil fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who call upon Him. Even in our greatest pain, God is still there and His steadfast love endures forever. He asks of us simply to trust in Him.
Faith is not an exercise of the mind but the trust of the heart. A child trusts without fear while we adults find our fears, anger, and hurts so great that we do not know how we can trust in God. Jesus speaks of this innocent and child-like trust. He rejoices that the ways of God are hidden from the wise and understanding and clear and plain to the children. This is God’s grace.
Who can know the pain of our loss? Like you, David cried out in pain at the death of his son. “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept for who knows if the Lord will be gracious to me so that my child may live.” Like David you prayed and prayed hoping that you would never hear the words a parent lives to fear. David goes on, “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again?” Like David we have a family that wonders if faith is worth while if it cannot restore their son. But listen to what David goes on to say: “I shall go to him but he will not return to me.” Look at the direction of hope. We cannot call back the dead from the grave but we will go to be with them in the arms of our Savior for all eternity. Our hope is in the promise of God.
We want our children to outlive us. No parent ever thinks the day may come when they must bury their children. But the world in which we live is not about fairness or justice. What we expect from God is far above fairness and justice. It is mercy. Mercy strong enough to bear our broken hearts and make them whole again. Mercy strong enough to hold a hope of the blest reunion to come. Mercy strong enough to fill our emptiness and teach us joy again.
God intervened into our suffering and in this world of death to deliver Nick from every pain or suffering. It was your intention to raise Nick in the faith. You brought Him to baptism where God claimed Nick as His own. “I have called you by name; you are mine.” You brought him to the services of God’s house. He heard the Word of the Lord and listened to your prayers. Know now that God is merciful and loving, that He reaches into our greatest sorrows with the rescue of a life death cannot steal. It is this confidence that calls to us now in this hour of sorrow.
Long ago the prophet Isaiah promised that the Savior the Lord would send “would gather the lambs in His arms and carry them in His bosom and gently lead the young. Those words became flesh and blood when God sent His Son to be that shepherd to carry the little lambs in His arms. In his baptism, Nick became a lamb of the Lord’s flock and a sinner of His own redeeming.
Remember how our Lord loves children. People were bring their children to Jesus that He might bless them. The disciples pushed the children away, thinking they were in the way. But Jesus was indignant and said to them. “Let the little children come to Me and do not prevent them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And Jesus took the children in His arms and blessed them.
So today I ask you simply to stop being an adult and trying to answer all your questions and to become like a little child and come to Jesus… Faith is not an intellectual thing but simple trust in Jesus… Bring your pain to Jesus… Bring your broken hearts to Jesus… Find your comfort not in explanations or reasons but in the hope and promise of a manger that held the Christ child, the cross on which He suffered to put an end to our suffering, and His death that gives us life. He gives power to faint, He fills the hearts of the empty and gives strength exhausted.
He will renew your strength… He will restore you… For the pain of this day will give way to the promise and hope of that which is to come… when tears will flow with joy instead of sadness and all our questions of why fade away in the presence of the Lord, in the reunion with those whom we love who depart in the Lord, and in the unending future of joy He has prepared for us.
So put away the doubts and fears and simply trust in Jesus. Let go of the quest for answer and reasons. Lay down the bitterness and anger. I ask you to become like the little child Nick was… to simply trust in the Lord. He knows your pain and His own heart grieves with you and for you. He will bind all things together in hope and comfort… enough for today and for an eternal tomorrow. Enough for the blest reunion we look for when our Lord returns to claim the rest of His flock for the eternal pasture of His grace. Amen.