(Tim) This is a sermon manuscript--not a transcript--and thus differs substantially from the sermon itself.
From the Pulpit of Church of the Good Shepherd
(Service held at Sherwood Oaks Christian Church)
Funeral Service for Elizabeth Rasmusen held July 24, 2009 at 10:00 AM
My Little Daughter Is Dying
Mark 5:21-24; 35-43
(Preliminary comments on the frequency of death of children in Colonial America, followed by excerpts from prayer requests taken from the flip sides of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon manuscripts.)
Professor Stephen Stein, a retired faculty member here at Indiana University, read the flip sides of hundreds of the scraps of paper on which Jonathan Edwards wrote his sermons. At the time, paper was a valuable commodity and Edwards recycled the pieces of paper given him by his parishioners containing their prayer requests each Lord’s Day, later writing his sermons on them. Professor Stein published an article outlining the content of those requests and they're instructive for us today, on this occasion of the death of little Lizzie Rasmusen. Listen as I read you a few excerpts of these requests and see if there is anything for us to learn from souls who have gone before us...
How do the Christians of Edward’s day respond to the afflictions from God that entered their lives?
At the time of the Great Awakening, colonial Americans believed in the sovereignty of God and their prayers were clearly aimed at submission to His will, both in accepting with joy and thanksgiving His blessings, but also in seeking their own spiritual growth through his afflictions.
Most men do what they must to keep a safe distance from death. Most men, in their actions and thoughts, refuse to live in light of the explicit statement of the Word of God—the only Word of God, written—that “it is appointed unto man, once to die, and after that the judgment.” Most men go through life fleeing God, evading Jesus Christ, and resisting the Holy Spirit as, from God’s kindness, He convicts us of sin and righteousness and judgment.
It is man’s habit to sidestep spiritual matters and the questions of eternity moment by moment, week by week, month by month, year by year, decade by decade; and then to put on the stiff upper lip and face death with cheap talk about not being afraid to die and how death is only the natural end of the human organism.
But every now and then, we are awakened from our stupor, jolted out of our spiritual comas by the loving hand of God.
Some deaths are unavoidable in displaying the stark reality that death is an enemy, a terrible enemy. Such is the death of a tender child. Awful in its finality; in the springtime of life with the fair flower of youth in its budding beauty; death yanks a precious little one from the black soil of the love of her father and mother, sister and brother, and she is gone.
This one time, there is no helping it; there is no escape: we must grieve.
All of us must grieve. And all of us must face sin and death and righteousness and judgment and the awful holiness of our Maker and Creator, God.
Not just any god, mind you; no national or ethnic or partisan political god. There are lots of gods in this world, but I am not wasting time speaking to you of any of these gods. They are idols, all of them, made by man’s hands and mind, bearing his puny image.
Following death, though, there is only one God—all the others are gone. They have vanished, as the early morning mist burned away by the brilliance of the sun.
As we stand before the Judgment Seat, we will be called to give an account before our Creator, before the God Who, Himself, made us and this world and the ten billion light years of the universe.
He is the only God and He has made Himself known to us through His Only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Being jealous for His Own glory, He demands the worship and adoration of each of His creatures bearing His Own image—from every girl and boy, man and woman of the race of man. But from our rebellion and wickedness, we turn away from Him and go our own way; do our own thing; rut in our pleasures and pride and refuse to repent and turn to Him in faith.
So, what does He do? Faced with our depravity and endless entertainments by which we amuse ourselves to death, does He allow us to pass on to judgment and Hell without warning?
From His kindness and love, today He has awakened us by an instrument that is the source both of His most severe discipline and His most tender affection; and that instrument is death—the death of a tender child.
We have gathered to mourn the death of Elizabeth Grace Rasmusen.
And it is her gift to us to call us to God, to holiness and repentance and life. This is the meaning of this hour for every one of us.
God is calling us, through this terrible loss, to choose life.
Satan, the Evil One who is the Father of Lies and seeks our destruction, both now and eternally, hates life.
But God is the God of life.
I was reminded of this, reading through stories little Lizzie wrote. Here’s the heart of a child who, like her Maker and Creator, loves life:
January 13, 2007
Once upon a time, there lived one one boy and two girls. And they wanted more brothers and more sisters. So they asked one morning a lady, “Can you find us some brothers and some sisters?”
The lady said yes.
“There's a lady right behind my house, which is the blue one. She doesn't want so many boys.”
So they went there and asked if they could have one of her boys. She said yes. Then they asked her if she knew anybody who didn't want a brother or a sister. She said, “Well, there are four houses behind mine. One of them is rainbow-colored, one of them is blue, and one of them is pink, and one of them is aqua. Pick the one that's aqua. She doesn't want so many girls, because she has nine girls and one boy.” So they went there. And they asked her if she could give them a sister. She said yes. Then they asked her, “Do you know anybody who doesn't want so many brothers and sisters?”
“Yes I do,” she said. “There'll be two houses. Pick the one that's blue. And then go inside. She doesn't want so many brothers.” So they did that. But instead of them picking the blue one they picked the pink one, which was the other one. Then when they were inside, they saw no children, so they went out. So, they went into the other house. And they asked her if they had any brothers or sisters. She said yes. She said she would give them a boy. Then they asked her, “Do you know anybody who could give us any brothers or sisters?”
“Yes. Go to the house behind mine.”
So they did that. And that lady said, “I'll give you a brother.” They figured out it was dinner time, so they went home.
Like her Creator, Lizzie loved life. So, naturally, her death has struck (and continues to strike) us a deep and bitter blow.
Where might we look for God’s sovereign purpose in such a death as hers? Of what value is such a tragedy in God’s eternal plan?
I have chosen for our time in God’s Word, this morning, a passage of Scripture that shows us the compassion of Jesus for those who mourn and His power over all the consequences of sin in this world. And this passage should have special meaning to us since it tells the story of the death of another child of tender age. Listen, then, to God’s Holy Word.
* Mark 5:21-24,35-43
When Jesus had crossed over again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him; and so He stayed by the seashore. 22 One of the synagogue officials named Jairus *came up, and on seeing Him, *fell at His feet 23 and *implored Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” 24 And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him.
* * *
35 While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?” 36 But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, *said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” 37 And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the synagogue official; and He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing. 39 And entering in, He said to them, “Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep.” 40 They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child’s father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was. 41 Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. 43 And He gave them strict orders that no one should know about this, and He said that something should be given her to eat.
This part of Mark’s gospel comes in a section showing Jesus’ authority over every weakness of mankind. His power over nature is demonstrated by his calming the storm. His power over Satan and his demons is demonstrated by the casting out of the many demons in the man who lived in the region of the Gerasenes. Then, on His way to the bedside of Jairus’ sick daughter, Jesus is touched by a woman whose bleeding has gone on for twelve years with no remedy. Upon touching Jesus she is instantly healed.
And so we come back here to Jairus’ daughter.
22 One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, fell at His feet.
Now Jairus was a wealthy man and one of the town’s chief leaders. He was a ruler of the synagogue—the center of the town’s social and religious life back then— but neither his rank nor his assets could keep death from the door of his house and from his most precious daughter.
So, today we also must keep from thinking that somehow death can be warded off by our money, or by our defensive driving or good doctors, or miracle drugs. We ought to be careful lest we think the good judgment we have tried to train our children in will make them invulnerable. Death is no respecter of persons. All of us will die and in His perfect timing and nothing we can do will keep us from meeting our appointment with death.
Jairus was the leader of his community, but status was powerless to either keep his daughter from disease or to comfort her father and mother’s sorrow when she had died. Notice then, where or to Whom he did turn for help.
This is a posture of humble entreaty.
Verse 23: …and implored him earnestly, saying “My little daughter is dying.”
A father’s heart of tenderness for his child; have you had any little children die? Have you ever felt the same desperation Jairus felt?
Verse 23: Please come and lay your hands on her so that she will be healed/get well and live.
Have you known the powerlessness of watching a little one—especially your own child—suffer? And has this caused you to hate sin? Can we help but hate sin when we see the terrible things it has brought on us and on our loved ones?
In this fallen world, sin has left its mark on everything. So, when you see a little child suffering, do you hate the agent that caused this suffering? Do you hate sin?
Verse 24: (Jesus) went off with him…
Now, when they got near the home, this message came for them:
The messenger of death always tries to suck us into despair and hopelessness, but Jesus commanded Jairus to believe and not to give in to death’s oppressive darkness. Although the messages of the messengers were:
…why bother/trouble the teacher anymore?
The fact that this had started out as a case of healing a physical disease, but had now turned into a matter of raising the dead, was no big deal to Jesus. After all, which is harder for God—to heal a physical ailment or to give eternal life and raise a man or woman, boy or girl, from the dead?
Verse 36 (Ignoring what they said, Jesus told Jairus) “Don’t be afraid any longer; only believe.”
Note Jesus’ tender understanding and care for a weak and wavering father.
Calvin on Mark 5:36: "There is never any fear that (our) faith will range more widely than the power of God.”
Jesus told Jairus, “just (or only) believe.” ‘Only’ and ‘just;’ the limits of our duties in the presence of the omnipotent God. Thus, “Faith is the condition for Jesus to heal any of our sickness, sins, and sorrows.”
Verse 38 "Commotion" and "people loudly weeping and wailing."
There’s no doubt this child was dead; the wake had already begun and the neighbors had gathered to share the sorrow and mourning.
* Verse 39 Jesus told them; “The child has not died, but is asleep.”
Often death is referred to in Scripture as a “sleep,” and by this we are to understand the passing time of quietness and the coming awakening of the resurrection for those who belong to Christ. This is quite different from what unbelievers experience in death; it is anything but a pleasant sleep for them, regardless of the many accounts to the contrary.
So how did the unbelievers respond to Jesus?
What is the character of unbelief?
* Unbelief is inconsolable in grief and sorrow.
-no hope in resurrection
-belief in extinction
-no hope of reunion
-no hope in the fatherly kindness of a Sovereign God
-just cruel fate
-unbelief cannot say, “The Lord giveth and the Lord hath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job)
-unbelief ridicules true faith because it cannot understand it
-unbelievers are destined, however, for astonishment at “the sight of eternal truths.”
Think of the change carried out in that home, at the moment death became life, doubt became faith, tears became laughter, and sorrow became joy. This is the power of God over all lives, to change us.
Verse 42: And immediately they were completely astounded…
Jesus holds the keys to death in His hands. And one day, we are told in Isaiah 25:8, He will “swallow up death in victory.”
*Hosea 13:14 I will ransom them...
* J. C. Ryle: “When Jesus gathers His flock around Him on that great day of His appearance, not one lamb will be missing."
John 11:25: Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
How often God calls us back to remember the grave, and to prepare for it.
Death enters all homes—castles or shanties, alike—and no bar or deadbolt can protect us from it. It hits all men alike.
The sinner and the lover of God; the child of rebellion and the child of grace and beauty.
There are many occasions to think about the coming end of our days, but this past week, we had a particularly grievous reminder of death’s constant presence in our midst in the death of Lizzie. Let us, therefore, use this great sorrow as an occasion to think about the divine will of God and His purposes in death—especially the death of a little child.
Though all men’s lives are short and, like the grass or the flower of the field, quickly gone, death does not come to all men equally; some are taken much sooner than others and die in their years of tenderness.
Many children die in the womb before we have a chance to know them. Others die as infants or as toddlers. Others die as teenagers and young adults. Cut down as tender shoots or flowers in the springtime of their lives; in the time of their glory and strength.
So what, then, do we say to the deaths of our precious children? What purposes does our Heavenly Father have in such tragic events?
1. Sometimes, it is those God loves best who are taken soonest. Abel taken at a young age. Jesus Himself made an early death holy and good by His death in the prime of His life.
* “Whom the gods love die young.” Menander, 352 B.C.
2. Sometimes, there are children who have a supernatural desire for heaven—to be in their Father’s house—and this is nothing for which to condemn them since we are all called to be heavenly-minded.
* Paul said: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
* Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling. (II Corinthians 5:1-2)
3. It is possible that God knew that the child’s life—or another person's life, for that matter—would not have gotten better or ended well, and that’s why He took them. After all, there’s no guarantee age produces a greater holiness or sanctification in any of us.
Paul himself talked about running the race so as not to be disqualified at the end.
Think of how King Solomon decayed.
“We are sailing in a very tempestuous and uncertain sea, like mariners that sometimes set out with a fair and strong gale, and make half their passage in a few days; but then they meet with some rough contrary winds that force them to lie by at least, if they are not driven back, and have many a league to measure over again, if ever they make their passage at all. If the ship springs a leak, though it do not founder, but after many hardships the port is gained, yet the loss and damage sustained is usually very much. So are there many that set out well in their youth, and at last get to heaven, but it is sorely shattered and broken, through their falls before temptation and another in their way. The floods do not drown them in perdition, but yet through their ill conduct and foolish management much of their rich freight and lading is damnify’d and thrown overboard. They can show the riches they once had put aboard them, but alas, canker’d and marred now: they are not when they die, even what they were in their early years, but their beauty marred by the advance of age...
(Many points toward the end of this sermon are taken from a sermon by Rev. Benjamin Colman titled, "A Devout Contemplation on the Meaning of Divine Providence in the Early Death of Pious and Lovely Children," a sermon preached by this Puritan pastor on the occasion of the early death of Elizabeth Wainwright, age 14, on April 8, 1714; published in New England Funeral Sermons; Scholars’ Facsimiles & Reprints, Del Mar, New York; 1978, pp. 13,14)
For all we know, the child that dies might have grown in grace closer to Jesus; yet, also, for all we know, the child might have grown away from Jesus.
4. God sometimes takes the righteous away to spare them from evil (other people’s evil) to come in the future.
* The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. (Isaiah 57:1)
We don’t know how many of even our greatest joys will turn to evil in the coming days, and become the source of our deepest heartaches. Think, for instance, of how many Christian parents end up seeing their children turn away from God. How many godly mothers and fathers live to feel a deep heartache because of their son’s or daughter’s rejection of Jesus and their lives of sin?
So, sometimes we remark to one another concerning loved ones who have died, “What a blessing that he or she didn’t live to see this day! He’d turn over in his grave if he knew what was going on right now!”
5. The death of youths is also useful to awaken the hard of heart who want to forget about eternity.
“God cares for the souls of many through His providential dealings with one.” -Rev. Benjamin Coleman
What practical applications are there here, or how can we “improve our afflictions,”—the constant theme of the prayers of Edward’s parishioners.
1. Young person: Think of how easily it might have been you. Are you ready to meet the living God?
Think along these lines: “What is my life worth in the eyes of God compared to this life of Lizzie He has seen fit to take?”
Are you taking advantage of the means of grace; the instruments, disciplines, places, and times God has promised to use in bringing souls to Himself? Are you listening to your parents as they teach you about Jesus and eternal life? Are you seeking God with all your heart, soul, and mind?
How many more days do you have? Do you really think you are invincible?
-Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit.
2. Adults, Parents, and the Elderly: What about our own souls? If the axe has come to the root of the tender young sapling, how much longer will it be held off from us? When we fall, where will we fall? Where will you fall—into the pit of fire where the thirst is never quenched and the worms never die, or into the arms of our Heavenly Father?
* “God comes into His garden and plucks whichever flower He pleases.”
Are we preparing our precious young ones to meet their God or are we wasting the time which remains with soccer camps, T ball, and piano lessons with not the slightest effort to sit down and teach them about eternity or heaven or their Savior Jesus Christ or His precious Word the Bible?
We must not love our children more than we love God.
No matter how great the pain we must not rebel against God.
Rather, let us say: The sovereignty of God is a good enough reason for me and I need no more. This sovereignty is worth more than a thousand reasons when staring in the face of the inscrutable judgments of the Maker of the universe.
Note this well: Life and death are the sphere of responsibility of God, uniquely; not of any man or woman. He has made life and He holds the keys to life and death, to heaven and hell. Shall He not, then, do with our loved ones (and even our precious children) just as He pleases?
Can our children be in Heaven too soon? Can its peace, happiness, joy, praise, and holiness come to any person too quickly?
If a little baby boy is taken from his father’s knees to be gathered into his Heavenly Father’s arms, can this properly be referred to as a tragedy?
When a newborn infant is taken from her mother’s breast can it be sad? Is it really heartbreaking for such a little one to leave off its mother’s nourishment and, instead, lie in the bosom of Jesus, the shepherd of souls? To be cared for from this point on throughout eternity by Jesus; the one who promises to feed and care for and watch over and protect His sheep?
I’ll close with a couple excerpts from an e-mail I just received a couple days ago…
From: (A friend)
To: Tim Bayly
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 2009
Subject: Anna Elisabeth…
You may have heard our sad news. On June 24, we delivered our stillborn daughter, Anna Elisabeth, who died after six months in the womb because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. This is the “official” reason, but we know God ordains all things and supervised both the growth of that cord (we were told it was unusually long) and its movement in the womb. She was beautifully formed (Ps. 139). We were able to hold her for a long time and she spent the night next to (her mother’s) bed. We had a funeral service for her followed by her burial on June 26.
“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand,” Jesus said (John 13:7). We’re deeply grieving, but are also sensing His great comfort. It’s an “afflicting time” for us, as the Puritans would say, and our heads are bowed down under it in worship, through heaviness and tears. We’re learning by grace to “give thanks in ALL circumstances, for this is the will of God through Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 5:18).
* * *
It’s been hard for us to tell many people about this just yet. We’re planning to write a letter to friends when we feel a little stronger to write. Meanwhile, feel free to mention it to the Church of the Good Shepherd body as something for which we would greatly appreciate prayer.
I remember the grief you felt at Nathan’s passing, and now have some “experimental” sense of this. I also remember the words of your dad about the difficulty of burying one’s dear children. He gives and takes away; blessed be His name.
He is good in all things,
P.S. (My wife) was sure this was going to be a girl (as with the other three, we hadn’t found out), so we only had a girl’s name picked out. Elisabeth means “God is my oath” or “the oath of God,” and has the connotation of “consecrated.” Indeed, we now see that God consecrated this one for Himself, and we take it as a sign of His covenant faithfulness to us. Anna of course (Luke 2:36-38) was the prophetess who stirred people up in the temple to look for the salvation of Israel. We trust that at her funeral, Anna’s mute stillborn tongue was used in the temple to “establish strength” for the Lord (Ps. 8:2) and testify to His goodness. Now we trust that she has been cut out for the temple not made with human hands (Ps. 144:12), perfectly satisfied in the fullness of the Lord’s presence.
P.P.S. Preparing to teach the Divine Comedy, I saw this morning that Dante consigns the souls of the unborn to Limbo in hell, but by faith we take King David’s words, under the true inspiration of the Spirit, as our gospel comfort: “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (II Sam. 12:23).