As I hung up the phone last Saturday, I couldn't believe my ears. I prayed, "Lord. Let it be a rumor." Soon another member of the church called to confirm the news. Then another and another called. It was no rumor. Mark Conolly was dead.
I wish there was a formula or process that would reduce the pain, but that is not how grief works. The grieving process takes time. The grieving process can be especially hard when we grieve for someone who was a beloved husband, father, and son - when we grieve for someone who was a respected professional and leader in the community. Mark was all these things and so the process of grieving his loss begins for many.
I am sure that many of you want me to explain why a person has to die at such a relatively young age. What could Mark have done with a little more time? For that matter, what would a Mozart or an Alexander the Great have done with a little more time? God in His perfect wisdom keeps the answer to Himself. As God said through His servant Isaiah, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
What we do know for certain is that all people die. The death rate among humans is one hundred per cent. Death is an equal opportunity destroyer. The Bible tells us that death comes to all men because [Romans 3:23] "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," and [Romans 6:23] "The wages of sin is death."
Now I am sure that some of you will want to say, "But pastor, Mark was a good man who loved his family and worked hard for the community. How can you say that he was a sinner?" And I have to say that for the past few days, I have heard nothing but good about Mark. Never the less, if you could talk to Mark right now, he himself would confess mistakes that he has made. He would tell us that there were times that he wanted a do-over. He himself would tell you that that he stood his ground when he should have compromised and compromised when he should have stood his ground. He Himself would tell you that he kept silent when he should have spoken and spoke when he should have remained quiet. Mark would be the first to tell us about the many mistakes he made in his life and the punishment that he deserved for them.
Never the less, Mark would also tell us that in spite of these mistakes, he has a place in heaven. Mark has a special place in heaven not because of anything he did, but because his savior purchased that place for him thousands of years ago as He hung on a cross. He reserved that place when the tips of a whip and the points of spikes pierced His Divine flesh. He confirmed Mark's place with a cry of triumph when He shouted out, "It is finished!" He revealed Mark's reservation through angels with the words, "Why do you seek the living among the dead. He is not here. He has risen!"
Now, because Mark's Lord and savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he enjoys the eternal bliss that Christ bought for him with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. When he stood before God this past Saturday, he wore the righteousness of Christ and God saw him as His holy son and welcomed him into His eternal home.
Mark would want me to tell you one more thing. His savior reserved a place in heaven for you too. That reservation waits for the time when God in His infinite knowledge and wisdom brings an end to your time here on this earth. Those who trust the person and work of Jesus Christ will join Mark and all the other believers in Christ. Together with Mark and all the other believers in Christ they will enjoy the eternal happiness of heaven.
Mark would want us to listen to the words of Paul, "Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." He would emphasize the word now. He would also encourage us to listen to Christ's words in the Gospel where He says, "Concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." He would warn us that we should all be prepared for our last day. It could come like a thief in the night.
There is an enemy who tempts us into believing that we have plenty of time before death takes us - that we can always become a Christian later. The Bible says otherwise. Mark's death says otherwise. Now is the time of salvation. Our savior has already purchased a place in heaven for us. Now is the time that the Holy Spirit wishes to plant faith in us and begin sharing the blessings of our salvation. Now is the time that the Holy Spirit wants to give us the confidence and comfort that we shall spend eternity in God's presence - with Mark and all who trust the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Mark was busy with the annual preparations that most of us make to meet the baby Jesus in the manger. He suddenly found himself in a face-to-face meeting with the Lord Jesus in heaven. We thank God that the Holy Spirit had given him the gift of faith that prepared him for this meeting.
Mary, Mike, Matthew, this time of year will always be special for you. While you enjoy the many preparations that this world makes to celebrate the savior's birth, you will remember why the savior was born in a manger and died on a cross. He came to rescue you, Mary, and your husband, and you, Mike and Matthew, and your father from the slavery of sin and to offer salvation to you all. He came not just to be a baby in a manger, but to rescue us all from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ shall see Mark again. We can join in the fellowship of the Church where we join not just with angels and archangels, but with the whole company of heaven, including Mark, as we laud and magnify God's glorious name. We can join our song to his, and we can follow him to Jesus' side - to the Church of the firstborn in heaven. For Jesus not only died for Mark, He also died for, and loves, us.
Although we can rejoice in the fact that Mark is with Jesus in the eternal joy of heaven, that doesn't end the sadness for us here on earth. A dear one has been taken from us. Yes, the fact that Mark is free from all the frustrations of this life comforts us, but we still miss him. It is honest to mourn, but we do not mourn as those that have no hope. Our sorrow is the sorrow of those who must say good bye for a long time, but not forever. We know that Jesus did not die in vain and that He will bring us to Himself in the end.
With faith in Jesus Christ your time in eternal glory will be greater than any time here on this earth. Our separation from Mark and other loved ones will not last. The trumpet will sound. The dead will rise. And we will be joined in Christ forever. Amen.
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