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“To live is Christ and to die is gain.”
᛭ INI ᛭
Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
It’s a weird thing Paul says today. It’s a bit odd to hear it at funeral. “To die is gain.” You don’t have funerals because you’ve gained anything. We’re here because you lost your wife, Gary, your mom, Todd and Scott, your grandma Brett, Garret, and Kali, your sister, Ruth, Rose Ann, Lavern, Mary Lee, or however else you knew and loved Linda. Lost to death.
Death is loss. It’s the worst loss we experience. It’s why we don’t talk about it much, why we don’t want to think about it, be around it. It scares us. It’s scary! It’s sad! It’s inevitable. We’re all going to die, someday. Someday soon. Someday not so soon. One day for all of us will be our last.
But that’s not a day of loss. Not in Jesus, with faith in Jesus. Now, Paul’s saying it for himself, but his words are comforting for us who are going to die, for those of us who mourn Linda, those we love who’ve died in the faith. The comfort is this:
WITH JESUS TO DIE IS YOUR GAIN.
(I. But to live is Christ.)
WITH JESUS TO DIE IS YOUR GAIN,
but in the meantime “to live is Christ.” This means that for the Christian, that’s someone who has faith in Jesus, they are Christ’s and Christ’s is theirs, and He is at work in them and through them. This is the daily gift and promise of Holy Baptism, as Paul says in Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2)
With Christ working within you and through you, you are then His instrument to others. “To live is Christ” because “living in the flesh means fruitful labor.” After all, “we are [the Father’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Eph 2) The Spirit bearing it out in our life: “The Spirit’s fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Gal 6) In this way “Christ will be magnified in [your] body…by life.” (Phil 1) “Let Him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
You all know how that spun out for Linda. Her obituary stands as a brief summary testimony not to herself, but to God the Father. He gave all these good gifts to her on account of Christ alone. It’s also a testimony to Him who by the Spirit worked these many blessings through her to others. (Faith in Jesus recognizes the true fountain and source of all these things is the Triune God. “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17)
But as good as life can be it will come to an end. Whether it’s with your family by your side or by yourself. That’s the hard truth that Linda’s casket puts on display. Spoilers!—you’re going to have one someday, too. No matter how hard you try to ignore it, avoid it, or keep it at bay—your life will end. “The wages of sin is death.” Whether that’s death by cancer or something else. You will die, but
WITH JESUS TO DIE IS YOUR GAIN.
(II. To die really is your gain.)
Without Jesus to die is loss! The worst loss! Those who cared—eternal loss!— | Not for Him nor for His cross, | He shall send in shame and guilt | To the place for Satan willed. As Jesus Himself warns, “Whoever loves his life in this life loses it.” (Jn 12) “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk 8) With faith in Jesus, we can recognize that “every good gift is from above” (James 1) We can enjoy them, but not put them before faith in Jesus, not make them the be all, end all of our existence. Cling to them—to things like what’s listed in Linda’s obituary—for dear life. They aren’t life. When compared to Christ, they’re rubbish! (Phil 3:7ff)
But with Jesus to die really is your gain. It’s gain because of what Christ Himself has done! “I lay down my life for the sheep,” He says. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” He laid down His life. He died—suffered on His way there, too. Pain and worry, grief and sadness accompanied Christ to Calvary and at Calvary. There He suffered our wages, “the wages of our sin.” Death itself. But “the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” because He came back to life on the third day.
This is a promise of your own empty casket, your own empty grave, on your way to eternal life. “Death is gain” because “nothing can snatch a sheep from Jesus’ hand.” Not even death or cancer or “anything else in all creation.” (Rom 8) That promise Jesus makes to His sheep not only with His own death and resurrection, but also delivered right to His sheep in His preaching and gifts. So in Holy Baptism Jesus first delivers that promise and again and again through sermons, through Bible readings, through Holy Absolution, and the Supper of His body and blood. (Linda heard His Word, His preaching, His Absolution.) “Amen.” the word of faith each time she did.
To die really is your gain means even more. As Paul says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Lind expressed similar desires to Paul’s in Philippians.) But death is gain for the believer in Christ, because once you depart you are with Christ. Eternal life is far better not because you’re at peace, or at rest, or without pain. It’s better because Christ Himself is there! (Those other things happen because He’s there.) If He’s not there, what’s the point? “Yea, heav’n itself were void and bare, If Thou Lord wert not near me.” (LSB 708) (That’s what faith says.)
Sure, to live is Christ. There’s many good gifts His Father gives to us on Christ’s account. But more than that:
WITH JESUS TO DIE IS YOUR GAIN.
Death is gain because Christ Himself died and rose. To die is your gain because nothing not even death or casket keep you from Jesus. In fact, your death, your casket, your grave is just as temporary as the bed you sleep in every night. For Jesus’ sheep it’s gain because He’s given the promise of eternal life to all those who believe in Him. Death is gain with Jesus because you will depart to be with Christ.
He lives and you will live also. That’s His promise. It’s as certain as His cross and empty tomb. It’s His promise to you—yours through faith in Him, but given right to you at Baptism, in His Word, in Sermons, in Absolution, and His Supper. There He’s yours and you’re His, and with Him,