On a previous post, I highlighted the four most important elements to any funeral service. Though those four elements are clear, it can still be a challenge to know how to apply those four elements into a funeral service. Thus, here is one of the ways I try to accomplish this task by using the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead from John 11. A narrative text about Jesus seems to be most effective as it is easy to follow and your hearers can plainly tell what Jesus’ direct words are about Himself and eternal life.
The unchanging character of God: Though this element can be pulled from the eternal existence of Jesus portrayed in John 11 (I am the resurrection and the life…) I typically like to establish this element from the beginning. As mentioned earlier, I often read Psalm 145:17-21 for “The Lord is righteous in all his ways, and kind in all his deeds…” Any observation about the unchanging eternal nature of God in regard to Jesus simply affirms these opening words.
Instruct those present how to grieve: Though less important, I like to start with this because it brings everyone into the narrative to a place that everyone can relate to the most (even non-Christians) and that is being saddened by the death of a loved one. Others are weeping at the grave of Lazarus, but in a surprising turn, Jesus weeps (v.35). Jesus knows He can and will raise Lazarus from the death (v.43-44). Yet, He still seems to weep for 2 reasons: First, His compassion for those who were grieving over their loss. Second, his personal grief He experienced as He saw the effects of death. Though it is not the primary focus in the text, this provides a helpful spring-board to explain the essential need for your hearers to grieve over the loss and a smooth segue way to the hope of the gospel.
The hope of the gospel: The hope of the gospel in the midst of the death of Lazarus comes in Jesus’ words to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (vv.25-26). It flows naturally and powerfully from Jesus’ own declaration of Himself to explain the essential elements of the gospel (God, man, Christ, response) and each hearers’ need for Him to escape death.
A call to respond to the gospel: Appropriately last is the call to respond to this gospel. That call comes from a question from Jesus to Martha at the end of His declaration (v.26), “Do you believe this?” These words of Jesus provide a clear, yet appropriate opportunity to challenge each hearer what they think of Jesus and whether they believe what He says about Himself.
My final words at every funeral are as deliberate as the first and they are…”Jesus is asking each one of us whether we are a friend, relative, or life-long spouse (of the deceased) this same question as one day He will demand an answer from each of us when we stand before Him. The question is, ‘Do you believe this?’ There is no better time to evaluate this question as we see the inescapable reality of death before us today. What would be your answer to that question?”