Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the passing of my friend Richard Scott. Richard came into my life during my ministry in Vermont, already suffering from a brain tumor and determined to steward his suffering for the glory of God. I was so impressed by this tender warrior and felt it an honor to know him and shepherd him and his family til the day of his death. Below is the sermon I preached at his funeral. If you're inclined to read such a thing, I hope it will bless you.
Richard's Memorial Service Sermon
Richard believed some pretty provocative things. And he was adamant that I share them with you this morning.
He started talking about his funeral with me about three weeks after I met him, which made me REALLY uncomfortable. And he brought it up several times over the last almost couple of years. See, Richard had been given a gift that many of us don't get. He got to wake up every day knowing he was going to die.
Now, all of us know we're going to die. None of us gets out alive. But Richard woke up every morning face to face with his mortality. It hung over him in a way it does not for the most of us. So he knew time was precious and it was important to use it wisely. And he knew his mind and body were failing, so it was important to him to spend them on what mattered most.
Rick has described Richard in the obituary as a "passionate Calvinist." I don't know if you know what that means, but I'll try to explain it the way I think Richard understood it. A Calvinist is a Christian who believes the most important think in all of life is the glory of God and therefore that whatever most gives God glory is the most important thing. Furthermore, a Calvinist is someone who believes God gets glory when he acknowledge that God will get the glory in anything and everything. And a Calvinist is someone who believes that one way we give God glory is by affirming the absolute sovereignty of God over all of life, God's control of and rule over everything.
So a Calvinist is someone who, for instance, might think that cancer was not simply allowed by God but given by God as an opportunity to give him glory.
Like I said, provocative.
A passionate Calvinist is one who really believes this stuff.
So Richard was not interested in shallow spirituality, trite inspirational platitudes, a vague and sappy Christianity. He did not care for the kind of faith you'd see by breaking open a fortune cookie. He had the kind of faith you'd see by breaking open a person.
About a month ago, as we were driving to Pratt's store for his Philly cheese steak without the bread, he brought up his funeral again. He asked me if I knew what I was going to say. I said, well, you know I can't not talk about the gospel. And he said, "Yeah, that's what I want."
I asked him if he had certain songs he wanted sung, certain people to speak, a particular Bible passage I should preach from, but he said no. He didn't care what songs were sung, he didn't care what passage I used – he only cared about the gospel. And so I think he'd be a little mad at me if I used this time simply to talk about how incredible a man he was, how he was probably the bravest man I ever met. He would be disappointed with me, he would be "passionately Calvinistic" with me, if I used this time to make much of him. He wanted me to do what he was trying to do with his own dwindling life: make much of the one true God and King, Jesus Christ.
The word gospel means "Good News" and the good news is this in a nutshell: God saves sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I don't want to waste your time. Life is too short and it's too hard. Richard wouldn't want me to do anything but spend this time on God's glory in this good news and he felt it was urgent for many of you to know this. I have picked out a Bible passage from perhaps Richard's favorite book in the Bible, Romans, and it's on your inside cover of your program. Read along with me, please.
8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Oh, finally the truth! In a world full of mixed messages and thickly veiled lies, in an age of self-centered spiritualities and moralistic pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps pep talks, we can always count on God to shoot us straight. He will be HONEST with us, and in this case, the bad news is in a sense good news because it's finally somebody telling us the truth about our condition.
We cannot please God.
I in the flesh cannot please God. And neither can you. And I'll tell you why:
God created the world and gave the first people mandate over creation to build and cultivate and multiply and they walked in perfect harmony with God's Spirit but they turned in on themselves, sought to make gods of themselves and so disobeyed him and rebelled against him. This is what brought death into the world.
THIS is not how it's supposed to be!
Don't we all know that deep down? We aren't supposed to die, let alone die at 32 from cancer.
The world is broken. Elsewhere in Romans 8, God says through Paul, "all creation is groaning for redemption, and we along with it."
All that's wrong in the world is the result of our having turned away from God and turning in on ourselves, seeking our own way, pursuing our own glory, not God's.
So sin in the Bible is defined as "falling short of the glory of God."
And every attempt at living apart from God only perpetuates the problem. We can't fill this glory deficit up in our own strength. That's what Romans 8:8 means.
So no matter what you pour in to fill that gap – achievements, family, friends, work, play, even RELIGION – it won't fill it up because the gap is eternal. We were made for eternity and only the eternal can fix us.
No, not even religion can save us, which is kind of the whole point of the book of Romans and also Paul's book Galatians, because even the best and most of our religious works are still finite attempts at spanning the infinite. The Bible calls human works done in an attempt to achieve salvation "self-righteousness." And it says compared to God's glory, our self-made righteousness is just filthy rags.
No, we need to be holy. We need the holiness of God. And we don't have that ourselves. "In the flesh we cannot please God."
And the stakes are HIGH. This isn't just life or death, as dire as life or death is, this is about life after death. Or death after death.
Richard would want me to be honest with you this morning, not to tiptoe around the important truth, not to softball it. He believed you could take it, he loved you enough to not want me to play games with you. Because we are all sinners, without becoming holy, when we die, we go to the place of condemnation, the place called hell. That is because God is sinless and he cannot abide sin. It is because God is just and righteous and sin must be punished.
You don't like it when people who do bad things and don't feel bad about them get off scot free. You don't like injustice in the world. Corrupt people getting away with all sorts of crimes.
Do you know where that comes from? God. He put that sense of justice in you.
He is just. So sin must be punished. And because he is just and sin must be punished, you and I deserve to be punished. Richard deserved to be punished. He would be the first one to tell you that.
But then there is the gospel.
Oh, the wonderful news, the most important, vital, beautiful announcement any soul could ever hear!
Romans 8:9 — You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
So there is an antidote! There is a way out! There is an escape from punishment!
Well, what is it?
The way to be made right with God, to have your guilt removed, to go from being "in the flesh" to holy and blameless is not through religious efforts but through "the Spirit of God." God himself will save us!
Sin must be punished. And God—get this—God TAKES THE PUNISHMENT himself.
See, God is glorious and is worthy of all glory. So do you think he would let our disobedience have the last word? Do you think he would let sin and death reign over creation? Get outta here.
He intervenes himself, by coming in the likeness of flesh to live among us, ultimately to die for the sins of those who would stop trusting themselves and start trusting him. Enter Jesus Christ.
Oh, you thought he was just some good teacher, a sage philosopher, a hippie peasant carpenter. No. From his own mouth he says:
"I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
"If anyone builds his house on these words of mine, he will not be destroyed."
"He who would lose their life for my sake will find it."
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will never die."
Do you see how utterly unique this is?!
No religion in the world would offer that the hero of the faith, let alone God himself, would seek out sinners. And no other religion in the world would offer that God would die for them himself.
This is what is called grace, and Richard loved it. The message of grace in the good news of Jesus Christ is that we are worse than we think we are, but we are more loved than we realize.
God, who has every right to commit us to condemnation for all eternity, looks over our offenses, forgives our sins, and MAKES US HOLY.
When Richard trusted Jesus with his soul, the Spirit of God took over his life, and consequently, Richard belonged to him.
And he felt this deep down in his bones! Richard lived as if it was true, that his life was not his own but that he belonged body and soul to his Savior Jesus Christ who had redeemed him and given him new, better, eternal life.
Last weekend I was looking through old messages between him and I. It'd been a couple of weeks since I'd heard him speak, so I was anxious to hear his voice in some way. So I pulled up old Facebook messages and email exchanges. One in particular stood out to me. It was an email he sent September 12, 2012, a little over a year ago this month. It is mostly an update on his treatment schedule, how he needed a particular protein to qualify for some trial. But he ended the message with these words:
When I get more understanding I fill you in and would likely mention something briefly at our prayer time at church to show what God is doing all for His Glory. I really feel so blessed that God would actually use me at all to attempt to bring Him the Glory He so deserves. Why me, brother?
Did you catch that? Do you see what he was saying? "Why me?"
Most people in his position would say "Why me?" in the sense of "Why should I get cancer? Why is God picking on me?" For most people "Why me?" is an expression of self-pity.
Not for Richard. "Why me?" for Richard meant "Why would God choose me for this privilege? Why would God honor me with this opportunity to share the love of Jesus through my suffering?"
In another book in the Bible, Philippians, Paul the apostle writes this:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death
Elsewhere, he writes that he considers his suffering—and Paul knew suffering—"a light momentary affliction" (2 Cor. 4:17). He said, compared to the "eternal weight of the glory" of God, my suffering takes on a different meaning. It points me to Jesus, it makes me like Jesus.
Richard had so abandoned himself to Jesus, he ceded sovereignty over his body to Jesus. I mean, what choice did he have?!
But he was convinced of the truth of the gospel. And the gospel tells him that death is not the end of the story.
Romans 8:10 – But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
We must be holy. Only the gospel says God will give us his own holiness purely by grace, received only by faith, not the result of our works or efforts. It's free. Who doesn't like free?
So in exchange for trusting Jesus instead of himself, Richard got Christ's righteousness—his goodness, his holiness. FOR FREE. And if he got Christ's righteousness, he got all that comes with it… Romans 8, verse 10 says "LIFE" He got life! Real life! Eternal life.
See, Richard knew this was not a fair trade at all. But he knew this was because it was not fair the other way. It seems like Christ is getting the raw deal. He's the one who comes and takes the punishment for sin? He's the one who suffers the wrath of God? And if I put my faith in him instead of myself or anything else, his punishment becomes my punishment, his death becomes my death, his life becomes my life?
Richard saw the sheer eternal value in getting Christ's everything for his nothing.
And so what this means from the start is that dying for Richard was no tragedy. From his perspective it means finally seeing his Savior face to face. It means entering the place where God's glory and sovereignty is most manifest, the place of paradise we call heaven.
Because he belonged to God, because God's Spirit lived within him, because the Spirit of God is life, Richard is more alive now than he's ever been.
Through trust in Jesus, Richard had become so united to Jesus that his last breath was like Jesus' last breath on the cross, his body giving way was like Jesus' giving way, and when Richard finally fell asleep to the world early in the morning Sep. 22, he opened his eyes to behold his Lord and Savior saying, "Well done. Well done."
But wait. The good news gets better:
Romans 8:11 – If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
"give life to your mortal bodies"
What can this mean? What is this life given look like?
Well, what is this God like?
What may happen when the miracle of the gospel lands squarely in your heart, as it did Richard's, when the gospel becomes real, when it really strikes you, this reality that God—as in, God—loves you?
But the God of the Scriptures is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24). "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). He stirs up the oceans with the tip of his finger, and they sizzle rolling clouds of steam into the sky. He shoots lightning from his fists. This is the God who led the children of Israel by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. This is the God who makes war and sends plagues and sits enthroned in majesty and glory in his heavens, doing what he pleases. This is the God who arriving in the flesh turned tables over in the temple like he owned the place. This Lord God Jesus Christ is the one who says "Nobody takes my life; I give it willingly," as if to say, "You couldn't kill me unless I let you." This Lord calms the storms, casts out demons, binds and looses and has the authority to grant us the same. The devil is this God's lapdog.
And it is this God who summons us, apprehends us, saves us. It is this God who has come humbly, meek, lowly, pouring out his blood in infinite conquest to set the captives free, cancel the record of debt against us, conquer sin and Satan, and swallow up death forever.
Oh, we wish you could see with your spiritual senses this God! Richard wished you could see with your heart his Jesus and how glorious he is!
He is the image of the invisible God and the firstborn of all creation. By him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and he holds all things together. He is the head of the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might be preeminent in everything. In him the fullness of God dwells bodily, and through him God reconciles all things to himself, making peace by the blood of the cross.
He is the radiance of God's glory and the exact imprint of his nature. He upholds the universe by the mere word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.
God has highly exalted him and placed on him the name that is over every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
All that is excellent, all that is lovely, all that is beautiful, all that is glorious, all that is wonderful, all this powerful, all that is supreme and satisfying and saving is bound up in Jesus Christ.
Jonathan Edwards, New England's original "passionate Calvinist," said in Jesus meet a conjunction of diverse excellencies. What he means is this, even things you think shouldn't go together, find their unity in Jesus. For instance:
He is fully God but also fully man.
He is the Lion but also the Lamb.
He is the king who came as a servant.
He is the master who washed feet.
He is the Lamb of God who is also the Good Shepherd.
He is the great high priest who is also the sacrifice.
He is the judge who puts himself in the place of the guilty.
It's no wonder Richard wanted me to make much of Jesus. He found in Jesus the only satisfaction that satisfies, the only savior that truly saves.
But it gets more delicious: "give life to your mortal bodies", Paul says.
Richard wore a bracelet that read "God's got this." It was given to him by a family friend. Generally speaking, the phrase "God's got this" might have referred to his circumstances, his trial, his disease. God was in control of the situation, the bracelet said.
But last Saturday as he was lying in the hospital bed in his bedroom, sedated asleep, I sat next to him talking to him and praying for him and I looked at the bracelet and decided it meant something else too. God didn't just have Richard's cancer. That bracelet hanging loosely around his thinning wrist meant that God had "this," that God's got Richard's body.
"he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you"
No, God's plan is not simply to evacuate those who belong to him into disembodied bliss. He will not let death have the last word. There is the day coming, and it's coming quickly, when Christ will return to set all things back to rights. He will reverse the corruption, cancel the curse, eradicate all rebellion and injustice, vanquish all sin and death, and what the Bible says is this:
The dead in Christ will rise.
They will be given bodies like Christ – perfect, glorified, tangible material bodies to carry on the mandate given at creation in the new creation, in the new earth. Richard knew there was nothing God would take from him that he wouldn't give back a million times over. If God wants this body, he figured, he owns it anyway and besides he will give me a new one, one that pain-free, one that is disease-free, one that is finally and fully free to live forever without suffering and without grief and without death.
It doesn't get better than that. It is worth trading this life for. It is worth spending this life on.
And if you want this salvation, it is yours for the asking.
It doesn't matter if you've done some terrible things, thought terrible things..
It doesn't matter if you go to church, regularly or not. It doesn't matter if you're a Calvinist, passionate or otherwise. All that matters is CHRIST.
If you will put your trust in him, he will forgive you freely, justify you totally, and secure you eternally. That is his promise. If you will believe.
At the end of Romans 8, Paul writes some of the most stirring words in all of the Bible. It is how he sums up the message of the gospel, the implications for those who stop trusting in themselves and place their faith in God. He writes:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
"For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
Richard knew death was no death. He knew "God's got this." And as his body was giving way, he was unconquerable, "more than a conqueror," not even death could separate him from God's love.
If God would not spare his Son from Richard, how would he not also give him everything else?
Someday you will die. We know from this experience that it's not always after a long life. So this must be considered and dealt with TODAY.
You are going to die. And just like today, people will gather around to remember you. What are you spending your life on? What are you trusting in?
If Richard were here right now he would say this to you: Don't waste your life!
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Run to him. He is not shaking his head and tapping his foot. He is running to you with open arms.
Our prayer has been that you would know the deep, deep love of Jesus today because it is in Jesus alone that you have hope in life and death and what comes after.