Preached at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Sherman, IL on May 28, 2013
Text: Job 19:25-27; John 6:40
God keeps His promises. Char, Josh, Brandi, Tina, family, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ: Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the promise keeper, the One whose words are a solid rock. They are for you to cling to, especially now.
God keeps His promises. From eternity, God knew and considered His servant Melvin – “Woody” – and knew him to be a sinner. And yet from eternity God said, “Behold, my beloved servant, whom I love. I myself will save him from his sins.”
As if it was only for his servant Woody, God gave His only begotten Son. That’s right. It didn’t matter if anyone else would benefit from God’s sacrificial gift. God loved Woody enough to win the victory over sin and death just for him. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live;..” God said that about Woody. God keeps His promises, so He did something about it, didn’t he? Christ hung on the cross for Woody.
Jesus knew of Woody, too, when He said “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Jesus promised it. It’s a fact.
When Woody was baptized at Rochester Christian Church way back when, it wasn’t something he was doing. He wasn’t declaring his love for God or his desire to keep a promise for God. Even if it felt that way to Woody, even if everyone there thought that’s what was happening, it was instead the other way around. It was God keeping His promise. God was baptizing Woody. Even if no one else would benefit from it, God made baptism just for Woody, so that he’d receive the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was God’s promise, made on that Day of Pentecost so long, long ago. God keeps his promises. Forgiveness and the Holy Spirit? Those are Woody’s. He has them – he received them from God – in his baptism.
You see, when Woody was baptized, Jesus’ death and resurrection became his. God washed away all Woody’s sin. He was cleansed, purified, washed in the blood of Jesus and declared holy and righteous in God’s sight. In his baptism, Woody has the lifelong – eternal – promise that he is God’s child and cannot be separated from the love of Christ.
So, many years later, I just happened to arrive at the hospital at the very moment in January when Woody received his terminal diagnosis. I stood out in the hall, hearing quiet voices talking, hearing Char ask some questions. Josh came out at one point visibly upset. Woody remained – as far as I could tell – silent, taking it all in. I didn’t hear what the doctors said, but it was obvious.
That day we considered Job together. Job, who knew by faith that God kept his promises and that God loved him. Job, who witnessed calamity after calamity visited upon him, believed that God kept His promises.
Dear ones, even if the last few months feel as if you have been thrust into Job’s life, do not despair. Remember Job’s response to everything falling apart: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
How can we not say this very thing, knowing that God never fails to keep His promises? He saved Woody on the cross. He gave Woody salvation in his baptism. He heard Woody’s prayers. He heard the prayers of those who love Woody. And He answered them. He took away Woody’s pain, He spared him more suffering, and He brought Woody into the eternal kingdom that He prepared for His children; for Woody.
Even in the midst of great trial, when it would be easy to “curse God and die”, Job instead remained faithful. I noticed that of Woody, too. Especially during these last few months, assailed by trial after trial, Woody still confessed a lively faith in God’s promises. He knew that God was keeping them. He prayed the “Our Father” – sometimes about the only thing he’d say – even until just a couple days before his death. In faith, Woody can confess along with his brother-in-suffering Job:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
God made that promise through Job, yet God had Woody in mind. Woody will rise again from the dead. Woody will rise again at the Last Day. Death has no more dominion over this saint. On the Last Day our Lord will awaken Woody from death. He will keep that promise.
This is the blessed promise of Jesus Christ, Woody’s savior: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” On the Last Day Woody will stand up, and with his own eyes behold His Lord, Jesus Christ, in the flesh. And you too, believing in Jesus, have that same promise to look forward to.
We grieve this morning in part, I think, because we’d like that promise fulfilled now. We grieve because Woody is not with us, at least not in the way we remember him. We remember him alive, but grieve because he is dead. But our grief is different. Our grief is set in hope, because our Lord promises to raise Woody from the dead once again.
Our Lord Jesus Christ gives you hope this morning. Woody is with Jesus. Woody has overcome the world by the blood of Christ. He is without pain, without aches or sorrows or worries. He is one with Jesus. And so are you, dear baptized children of God. Jesus washes you in the waters of holy baptism. He promises eternal life to you and to all who trust in Him. You will be reunited with Woody, and with all those who have departed in Christ. That is God’s promise.
And God keeps His promises.