Nearly 400 people attended the memorial service of Matt Waters on Sunday, October 12, at the Little River High School gym. Many wonderful tributes were given by Matt's friends. The story about Matt and his friend making chocolate chip pancakes late at night--with Matt plucking the chocolate chips out of a tub of ice cream--is one I won't soon forget.
The following is the memorial message I was privileged to deliver. It's based on John 11:1-44, the story where Jesus raises back to life his friend Lazarus. May it be an eternal comfort to Matt's friends and family.
This has been for us a very emotional journey. When Matt first went to the doctor, we were surprised. When he was taken to Wichita, we were concerned. When he was transferred to Kansas City, we were fearful. And we when we learned Matt was no longer with us, we were filled with grief.
We prayed prayers to God and we hoped. And yet.
Today, we can relate to what Mary and Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:21, 32).
One of the questions I’ve asked, and maybe you have too, is, “Why God?” Imagine if God came down and answered our question, “Because…” I doubt there’s any answer that would ease our pain. It leaves us to wonder, “If God is good, why didn’t He use His power?” And another question, “Since God didn’t use His power, does that means God is not good?”
If we ask those two questions only, it will lead to despair and bitterness. Today, I suggest you ask a third question, “Can good come out of suffering?” “Can good come when God delays?”
This memorial service is proof—yes indeed—when suffering comes, good can and does rise up.
You are witnessing how Matt is greatly loved. What marvelous tributes we’ve heard and seen.
You also know the good of the organ donation program. We were extended hope because someone gave hope to Matt. And in turn, Matt’s family has given hope to other families.
You also know that it’s good to grieve. It’s good to let out your emotions. It’s OK to cry. Even Jesus wept (11:35).
And yet, I admit, I have said to God, “Lord, I’ll trade all this good—if we can just have back Matt.”
The answer to the question, “Why God?” is a mystery that God has chosen to keep to Himself. Deuteronomy 29:29 declares, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things He has revealed belong us and to our children forever.”
In the Gospel of John, what God reveals to us is this—even though God delays, He comes at the right time.
In our story, Jesus learned that his friend Lazarus was sick. And yet, Jesus waited two more days before he went to see him. And when he arrived, Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
Jesus delayed. And yet, he promised, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (11:4).
Dear friends, this is God’s promise for us today. Sickness does not have to end in death. And the reason is this: When death comes, God always gets the last word.
In John 11:25-26, Jesus gives you and me an incredible promise of hope. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
In these verses, Jesus declares that He is the victor over death. Death does not get the last word—God does.
Jesus makes a bold claim—He says of himself—He has power over death. He says the words, but in a time like this, we need more than just words—we need a real promise, one that will empower us to live, from this day on, forever strong.
And so, Jesus does something even bolder. He stands at the tomb of Lazarus and says, “Take away the stone” (11:39). And then he yelled, “Lazarus, come out” (11:43).
And he did! Verse 44 says, “The dead man came out.”
God delayed, but he came at the right time. God always gets the last word.
Someone has said, “Until you meet adversity, you don’t know your strength.”
In this story, Jesus met death. And now you know, His strength.
After all this, the only thing left for Jesus to say was, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (11:44).
Dear friends, there will come a point in time when every one of us must put on grave clothes, but the Good News of the Gospel is that Jesus declares, “Let him, let her, go.”
All of humanity must put on grave clothes because the Bible declares that “all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In thought, word, and deed, we have failed to live the way God calls us to live. We have all broken the Ten Commandments. We each have our own story of how we’ve turned on God to do our own thing.
But the Good News of the Bible is that despite our sin, “God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son—Jesus Christ” (John 3:16). 2,000 years ago in the land of Israel, Jesus lived and modeled for us the way to live. And then, Jesus was crucified on a cross. He died. But on the third day, the Bible says that Jesus rose from the dead. 40 days later, he ascended up into heaven. He is there today. He receives all the souls that belong to Him. And one day, the Bible promises that Jesus will come back to earth (1 Thessalonians 4:16). He will raise the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:14). He will judge all people (Matthew 25:31-46). And He will create a new heavens and a new earth—where there will be no more crying , no more pain, and no more death (Revelation 21:1-4). God will get the last word.
Heaven then is not filled with people who are good enough. Heaven is filled with people who are forgiven. The Good News is that your sins are forgiven. The Good News is that after you die, you can go to heaven.
God only asks one thing of you. That you believe. That you entrust your soul to Jesus Christ—to the one who has power over death.
Remember the promise Jesus makes in our story—“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and who lives and believes in me shall never die.”
Remember too the question Jesus asked afterwards, “Do you believe this?”
Someone has said, “Every man or woman must do two things alone. They must do their own believing and their own dying.”
The choice is yours. God offers you His forgiveness, His victory over death, and a home in heaven. You can receive these gifts simply by asking God. Talk to God. You can pray something like this:
“Lord God, you know I’m not perfect. You know I’m not always good. I need your forgiveness. I’d like to receive it. I believe that Jesus died and rose again for me. Thank you for your power over death. Thank you for letting me come home. Teach me how to live as a forgiven child of God. Amen.”
The churches of Little River, Windom, and Andover exist because we believe that God truly is the victor over death. For this reason, you’re invited to attend a worship service and be part of a church home. And to those of you students who attend this school, you’re especially invited to come to the Methodist Church on Wednesday nights at 6:00pm—and experience God at the place where Matt came to experience God.
God has delayed. But I also believe He’s come at the right time. Think about it. We’re here on the very weekend that our school is celebrating what heaven is all about—homecoming.