Should I have a funeral?

Funerals seem to be decreasing in popularity. Instead of a funeral families are frequently opting to not have a service of any kind, to limit the service to a brief time at the graveside, to hold a family gathering to scatter the ashes or to have a “celebration of life”. Are funerals important? Does the Bible teach that people should have funerals?

The Bible does not depict any funeral service as we would know it today. Scripture does describe various aspects of the rituals and ceremonies observed during times of death. A summary of the Biblical data reveals that the deceased were generally treated with respect. The body was buried relatively quickly. The New Testament describes the first century practice of wrapping the body and covering it in spices. Acts 9 tells of Dorcas’ body being laid out in an upper chamber prior to her burial. These rituals followed the practices of the culture, not the instructions of the Bible. The Bible does not command the observance of any specific ritual or the holding of special services when someone dies.

Death is a recurring theme in the Bible. Though the Bible does not give any specific instructions regarding what kind of service should be held after someone’s decease it does give many principles that should guide the Christian’s thinking about funerals.

Most important is the Biblical truth that every person is an immortal being comprised of a body and soul. Though the body has died, the spirit remains. The person is an eternal being who has entered into an eternal existence. Only the Word of God can teach man what happens in eternity. The funeral provides an opportunity to share the truths of Scripture. The funeral interrupts the daily barrage of the fleshly and the worldly to remind people of the spiritual and heavenly.

The Bible also says that the wise man considers the short span of life. I suspect the tendency to do away with funerals is a part of the culture’s tendency to avoid anything that is painful or negative. Most people do not like to consider the end of life so they do away with those things which remind them of it. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4) Psalm 90 says “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10, 12)

Funerals remind us that mourning and weeping are fine. Grief is painful and sorrow is unpleasant but they are not wrong. Tears bring healing to the wounded heart. The wise man recognizes there is profit to be found in grief. The wise man learns wisdom by considering how short life is. A funeral is not required by the Bible yet most times a funeral is to be preferred. The funeral offers a chance to somberly consider the realities of life and death. By grieving together, remembering together and being comforted together with the truths of God’s Word a good funeral can give lasting benefit to those left behind.

Did God die on the cross?

Jesus is God. Jesus died on the cross. Did God die on the cross? At times pastors, theologians and the average Christian all say that God died on the cross. This statement is both entirely accurate and entirely inaccurate. In one sense it can be said that God died on the cross. In another, equally important sense, God did not die on the cross.

Understanding what happened on the cross requires an understanding of the Trinity and the hypostatic union. The Bible teaches that God is one God who is Three. God the Father is God. God the Son is God. God the Spirit is God. These three are distinct but not separate. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Spirit. God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, became fully human without giving up any part of His deity. Jesus is fully God and fully man. When Jesus died on the cross the God-man died.

Saying God died on the cross becomes a kind of short hand for saying, Jesus, God the Son, died on the cross. When understood this way the statement “God died on the cross” is a helpful way to describe the magnitude of God’s sacrifice for our salvation.

In several important ways God did not die on the cross. Because God is a Trinity and because of the unique nature of the incarnation God the Son endured things that the Father and Spirit did not. God the Father did not hang on the cross. God the Spirit was not buried in a tomb. Only God the Son suffered these things. If the phrase means anything more than God the Son died on the cross it is inaccurate. God did not die on the cross.

If death is a cessation of existence, a loss of ability, or a conclusion of consciousness, then God did not die on the cross. Not only did God the Father and God the Spirit not cease to exist on the cross, neither did God the Son. The Divine portion of the second person of the Trinity did not stop functioning on the cross. No member of the Godhead can cease existing. God the Son is as eternal as the Father and the Spirit. His eternal essence did not dissolve on the cross. He remained fully God and His deity did not cease with the end of His physical life.

This does not mean that Jesus’ death on the cross was purely physical or a solely human act. Jesus died as the God-man. Thus His eternal nature was involved in the suffering and death on the cross. Jesus Christ the Son of God died on the cross. He truly suffered all that death entails, physically and spiritually. God the Son did not cease to exist, even for a brief time, but God the Son endured death for the salvation of men.

Where was Jesus between His death and His resurrection?

The dead body of Jesus was taken off the cross and laid in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. What happened to His soul? One of the more popular answers to this question is based on a cryptic statement in the book of 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:18-20 says of Jesus, “Being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.” (1 Peter 3:18-20) These words have led many to conclude that Jesus’ spirit went into hell while His body was in the tomb. Unfortunately, what this verse is talking about is not at all clear. One author has said there are over 180 different interpretations of 1 Peter 3:19. A clear consensus about the meaning of the phrase “preached unto the spirits in prison” will probably never be reached on this earth.

The words of the Apostles Creed (not actually written by the apostles) imply that Jesus’ spirit went into hell.  “I believe in Jesus Christ  . . .  (He) was crucified, died and was buried, He descended to hell.” The apostles creed is believed to have been written 50 years after the death of the last apostle, but the earliest existing copies of this creed do not contain the phrase, “descended into hell”, leading many to conclude it was not originally in the apostles creed. Whether this phrase is original or not, it cannot be traced back to a direct teaching of the apostles.

A strong case can be made that Jesus went into heaven on the day of His crucifixion. At His death He said, “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Knowing that Jesus is God’s beloved Son who pleased the Father in all things we can reasonably assume that at death He was taken directly into the presence of the Father. This is confirmed by Jesus’ promise to the believing thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Either Jesus was with the thief in heaven that very day or He erred in His promise. Since Jesus is God who cannot lie, the latter option is not possible. After His death Jesus went into heaven.  Being the Son of God His spirit was in no way restricted to heaven.

If Jesus did go into hell, though I don’t believe He did, He did not go for the purpose of paying for salvation. Jesus death on the cross did everything necessary to purchase our salvation. His work was finished and the payment fully paid before He died. This is why Jesus said, “It is finished”. Teaching that Jesus had to go to hell to finish the payment for sin diminishes the value of the cross and denies Jesus’ own words.

We don’t know exactly what Jesus’ spirit was doing in the days between His death and resurrection. What we do know is that Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification. He is alive now and forever to give salvation to those who turn to Him for forgiveness.

Should Christians cremate their loved ones?

Europeans and Americans have long placed great importance on burying the bodies of their dead. Even in times of war or great poverty the energy was invested to inter the body. Rich and poor alike sought to give their loved ones a proper burial. America’s west in the late 1800’s illustrates the importance that was placed on interring the body. A man could be gunned down in the streets of a western town, unknown to any one, but someone would dig him a grave. Boot Hill may have been filled with anonymous cowboys, but even the most despised were given a “decent burial”.

Over the last several decades America has seen a steady increase of the number of cremations. Some statistics show that nearly half of all deceased are cremated. For Christians considering what to do with the body of their loved ones this can be a difficult decision at a very difficult time. To make this matter even more challlenging the Bible does not give any commands for or against burning the bodies of the dead.

This does not mean the Bible is silent on death and burial. The Bible consistently shows burial as the standard practice of the people of God. Multiple examples of this could be given, starting with Abraham and ending with Jesus. Clearly burial was the normal practice of all those in the Bible. Burning of bodies is only mentioned a few times in the Old Testament and is always associated with judgment. Achan was burned after being stoned to death for his disobedience to God’s command to not take anything from the city of Jericho. The book of Leviticus prescribed two cases when a person’s body was to be burned and both were commanded as part of punishment for specific sins.

The example of the Old Testament must be considered by the Christian. Burial was the normal practice of the Old and New Testaments saints but that does not necessarily mean the Bible teaches burial is the only permissible treatment of a dead body. Generally those who oppose cremation offer theological reasons as the basis for burying the dead. Two of those theological reasons are the resurrection of the body and the dignity of the person.

Often funeral practices are a reflection of the beliefs of the culture. Much unconscious symbolism can be found in the modern tendency to have no funeral or to replace the funeral with a party. Burial points to the future resurrection of the believers. A Christian burial reflects the teachings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 that the body is sown in the ground and will spring up again as something greater. The sown seed will spring up into a full, greater existence and the Christian, like that seed, looks forward to springing up again with a glorified body into eternal life. (This does not at all imply that the resurrection of the body is in any way dependent on a proper burial.) Burial points to the Christian’s expectation of resurrection.

Burial respects the dignity of the person who is created in the image of God. While Christian burial does not attempt to keep the body in a pristine a condition for as long as possible (though modern embalming and entombing practice seem to have that effect) it does seek to treat with respect the person who has died. Genesis 1:26-27 states that God created mankind in His own image. Though sin has marred this image Genesis 9:6 and 1 Corinthians 11:7 indicate that man still bears the image of God. That which is a reflection of the image and glory of God is worthy of respect. Cremation intentionally destroys the body and has been seen by many cultures as a sign of contempt. The apparent disrespect in burning a body is not in keeping with the respect due one who is the image of God.

The Christian should give careful thought to the Biblical teachings regarding death, resurrection and the dignity of the person. However, when all things are considered the Bible gives no direct instructions regarding the disposal of dead bodies. The Bible nowhere forbids burning a body after death, nor does it command burial. Crematiòn is a matter of liberty in which each Christian and each family must seek to reach a Biblical conclusion as best as they are able. Each Christian must be careful to not bring an extra measure of suffering on those mourning the loss of a loved one.

Will we know our loved ones in heaven?

One question that weighs on the hearts of many who have lost ones who were very close to them is whether we will recognize those loved ones in heaven. The Bible does not specifically address this question, but it does offer some hints to help us answer this question. One such clue is from when Jesus was transfigured (Mark 9). When Peter, James and John saw a glimpse of Jesus’ glory they also saw two men standing with Him. These two men were Moses and Elijah. Though the disciples had never seen either of those men they recognized them for who they were. The text seems to indicate that they just knew, by some unknown means, who the men were. Though it is possible that Jesus later told the three men who was standing with Him and that part of the conversation was just not recorded for us. Another passage that gives some help in answering this question is Luke 16. Jesus recounts the tale of the rich man and Lazarus. After death, the rich man in hell was able to look across to heaven. He recognized Abraham, whom he had never known in life, and Lazarus whom he had seen in life. This passage is a pretty clear indication that though we will have been given glorified bodies Christians will still be able to recognize one another in eternity.

I do not think we will recognize one another because of similarities to our current physical appearance. In 1 Corinthians 15 we are told that the earthly body will be replaced with a glorified body. The glorified body will be free from the corruption of sin and delivered from all the infirmities of the earthly body. The glorified body will be as unlike the earthly body as a stalk of wheat is unlike the seed. Whatever the physical appearance will be, it seems that we will be able to identify one another in heaven.

Many who ask this question do so seeking comfort that they will be reunited with loved ones. The certainty of seeing loved ones again in heaven is very comforting, but the Biblical description of interactions in heaven all revolve around our relationship with God the Father and Jesus. The relationships between believers in eternity are going to be very different from our earthly ones. The joy of a spouse or beloved child will be replaced by much greater joys. The relationships will be unlike what they were in life, but that difference does not mean they will be inferior. The relationships in heaven will be greatly superior to any and all relationships on this earth. All believers will rejoice together in perfection, harmony and eternal praise to God.

Is Hell really eternal?

One of the most difficult doctrine in Christianity is the Biblical teaching about hell. The classic teachings on hell describe a place of intense pain and suffering, a place of fiery torment and a place of unending judgment. The hell described in the Bible is a horrific place. Any right thinking person recoils at the thought of anyone undergoing such horrible torture. For many, the worst part of hell is the unending nature of it’s torments. The doctrine of an eternal hell has prompted people throughout history to search for other ways of explaining hell that won’t be so terrible. Some have taught that God will not really send anyone to hell. Many teach that God will only send the worst of the worst to hell. A number of groups teach that most of those who suffer in hell will only do so for a limited amount of time. Still others deny any thing like hell even exists. Unfortunately, for those who claim to believe the Bible, hell is described in such a way that its realities cannot be denied. Consider a few passages.

Revelation 14:9-11
And the third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, the same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.

Revelation 20:10
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

2 Thessalonians 1:9
Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power

Matthew 25:41
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

Matthew 25:46
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

For those who believe in an eternal heaven of bliss, the doctrine of eternal hell is a necessity. The Bible could not be more plain. Hell is eternal. The same words are used to describe the length of heaven’s joy as are used to describe the length of hell’s suffering. Both are said to be “everlasting”, “eternal” and “forever”. One cannot change the meaning of these words as descriptors of hell without also changing their meaning in relation as descriptors of heaven. The righteous will enjoy heavenly bliss for the same eternity that the lost endure hell’s torment. Scriptures offer no hint that the souls of the condemned cease to exist at some point in the future. All the Bible says about hell declares that it is a place of unending, eternal torment in which the condemned will consciously endure physical and spiritual agony.

Despite the horrors of hell, God is not cruel and pitiless. In His mercy God has provided a means of salvation. He has promised those who trust Jesus alone for salvation from sin will be forgiven of all guilt and made righteous. Hell is a place of judgment, first built for Satan and the demons that follow him, and into which all those who refuse to obey the gospel will be cast. Those who do not believe are already condemned, but if any turn to Jesus for salvation he will escape condemnation and be given eternal life.

Do babies that die go to heaven?

Few tragedies in life tear the heart as the death of a little child. A life cut off before it has even gotten past the beginning is a tragedy that leaves all involved in deep sorrow. Though the child was not able to live a full life, she may never have learned to walk or talk, yet the tiniest infant is an eternal being with an eternal soul. The eternal state of that soul is a matter of great importance.

Most people who believe in heaven and hell are inclined to think a baby that days is given a free trip to heaven because he has not had a chance to do anything wrong. This perspective is certainly appealing, but is it Biblical? When considering the eternal destiny of any person, be he infant or adult, sentiment and superstition have to be rejected. Only God can declare the eternal destiny of a person. Only God’s Word teaches what conditions must be met for one to go to heaven. To answer this difficult question all sentiment must be set aside and Scripture be allowed to speak for itself without interruption by the heart of men.

First, every person, is under the curse of sin from the moment of conception. David declares this in Psalm 51:5, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” From the moment human life springs into existence the spirit of man is in bondage to sin and separated from God. The infant, though limited in ability to express and understand sin, is not free of sin. The infant labors under the same curse that afflicts the adult. The curse of sin is why death is found among infants.

Second, God’s grace is extended to all who will believe. Salvation is by the grace of God, through faith in Him alone. The little child is not able to respond in faith to the message of salvation. The infant is not able understand the Word of God, feel his own weight of guilt, repent or trust Christ alone for salvation. However, the infant is not without hope.

Though the Bible is not definitive on this matter, several passages give hope. These passages give confidence that the little child is not condemned in his guilt but God in His grace holds the child in innocence because of the little one’s physical inability to believe and be saved. In Psalm 106 the children of the idolatrous and disobedient Israelites are said to be innocent. The book of Jeremiah describes the children of vicious, oppressive idol worshipers as innocents. In the gospels Jesus says, “Allow the little children to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” He seems to be saying that heaven is populated by little children. Not just those who receive Him with childlike faith, though He does say that elsewhere, but heaven is filled with children.

Though the Bible is not as clear on this matter as we would like two things are certain. God is good, always doing what is best in every situation and every life. Every child that is in heaven is in heaven because of the grace of God and the blood of Jesus. No child is free of sin and guilt. No child, however small, deserves to go to heaven. God’s goodness and grace exceed all human comprehension.

Who was responsible for Jesus’ death?

The death of Jesus was entirely the plan of God. His death was not at all plan B but the eternal plan of God. Jesus did not come to earth and tried but failed so He had to go to the cross. The cross was always the plan of God. Jesus is the “Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world.” As we think of this question, it is important to recognize that Jesus’ death on the cross was God’s plan.

Even though Jesus’ crucifixion was the eternal plan of God, there were those who nailed Jesus on the cross in disobedience to God. They were not accepting of God’s plan for salvation and striving to live in obedience to God. They were in rebellion against God. God holds those responsible who rebelled against Him and who in their rebellion conspired for Jesus’ destruction.

A huge body of people were directly involved in the conspiracy to kill Jesus. Judas Iscariot jumps to the forefront of the mind because of his betrayal. Judas was hired to betray Jesus by the ruling body of Israel, called the Sanhedrin. The Sanhedrin tried Jesus and condemned Him, but they had no authority to put Jesus to death. The Jews were under Roman domination and so could not legally execute a prisoner. Only Rome could do that. The Sanhedrin had Jesus taken to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who attempted to pass the problem to the Roman governor of the next region over, Herod. Herod just wanted to see a magic trick. When Jesus refused to perform, Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate knew the injustice of the Jews schemes to have Jesus crucified and sought to have Him released. The Jews became very agitated and Pilate finally agreed with their demands. He brought out a basin of water and washed his hands in front of the Jewish leaders telling them he was not responsible for what happened to Jesus.

When Pilate washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this just person” the Jews willingly took the responsibility on themselves. They bear the responsibility for Jesus death. The Jews knew the promises of God. They knew the Word of God. They were waiting for their Messiah. They rejected God’s Word and God’s Savior and took on themselves the responsibility for their rebellion which sought Jesus’ crucifixion. When Pilate his hands before the Jews they said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:25) The Jews said they would take responsibility for Jesus crucifixion.

This is borne out later in the Bible. After Jesus death, burial, resurrection and return to heaven, the apostles of Jesus began to preach to the Jews. The apostles preached of salvation, forgiveness and judgment. They preached to the nation the judgment for their rejection and execution of Jesus God’s Messiah. In Acts 5 the apostles were called up on charges before the Sanhedrin, the same group that a few months earlier had condemned Jesus to death. As they stood before the rulers of Israel Peter declared to the of “Jesus, whom ye slew and hung on a tree.” Peter and the apostles, under the direction of the Holy Spirit repeatedly declared it was the Jews who were responsible for Jesus death.

Even though it was Pontius Pilate who gave permission for Jesus death and it was the Roman soldiers who did the scourging, who took Jesus to Golgotha, who drove the nails through His flesh and hung him up on the cross, the responsibility falls on those Jews and their leaders who rejected Jesus. Jesus came to His own people. He was a Jew, a descendant of King David. Jesus came to bring salvation. The salvation He brought was not the salvation the Jews were wanting. They wanted deliverance from Rome and Jesus was bringing deliverance from sin. The Jews of that generation rejected their Messiah and their’s is the responsibility for refusing their promised Savior.