One of my convictions and commitments is that I would always present the gospel whenever I performed a wedding or a funeral. Both audiences tend to include a wide range of people—religious, irreligious, god-fearing, agnostics, Christ followers, and atheists. The occasion might be the only time the individual will be in church. I don’t want them to leave without hearing even the briefest mention of how to have a relationship with God.
When the funeral is for someone whom I know to be saved, I am straightforward and direct in talking about their relationship with Christ and the fact that based on the promises of Scripture, they are right now in God’s presence. The challenge is how to present the gospel graciously when I don’t know the person at all, or when I have grave doubts about their salvation.
Fortunately, I came across some ideas presented by Dan S. Lloyd in his book, Leading Today’s Funerals: A Pastoral guide for improving bereavement ministry. I wrote in a previous post about how I adapted his thoughts into my own presentation I use during a funeral for an unchurched person.
This week I was asked by a local funeral home to conduct a wake, a funeral, and a graveside service for an unchurched individual. Since I didn’t want to repeat myself at the wake and the funeral, I needed to develop another way of sensitively presenting the gospel. Again, I adapted some of Dan Lloyd’s thoughts into my own words.
After beginning the wake with prayer, I read John 14:1-6 to emphasize the hope we have in Jesus. The family asked for the Lord’s Prayer to be read as well. I introduced the prayer by saying that this prayer teaches us to depend on God for all things including the forgiveness of sin. I then went on to paint the contrast between the uncertainty of life and the certainty of heaven.
I’m sure we’d all agree that life is uncertain. The apostle James wrote in his letter (4:14), “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
None of us planned to be here tonight. If I asked you last Wednesday what you were going to be doing right now, none of you would have said, “I’ll be at a wake.”
Life is uncertain. None of us knows how long our life will last. We don’t know if this will be our last breath.
While life is uncertain, heaven is very certain. Things on earth can go sideways. Plans fail, and people fail, but Jesus never fails. John 14:1-6, the passage I read earlier, tells us that Jesus promised to provide an eternal home in heaven for all who come to the Father through him.
Luke 16 tells the story of a rich man who died. After his death, he met Abraham and begged him to send someone to tell his family and friends to make the right spiritual choices before death.
I believe ____________ would send a similar message to us as well. He would want us to know that life is uncertain. He would want us to know that each of us will stand before God and answer for what we did in this life. He would want us to know that we can only enter heaven by asking Jesus to forgive our sins. ____________ would encourage each of us to be ready for our death by receiving Jesus Christ as Savior without delay.
To do that, you can simply say, “Dear Lord, I want to go to heaven. I know I can’t get to heaven because my sins are blocking the way. I know that Jesus died on the cross to forgive all my sins. Please forgive my sins and allow me to enter heaven because of my faith in Jesus. Thank you for forgiving me and making me part of your family.”
I then closed the wake in prayer. When I conduct the funeral later this week, I will present the gospel using my other approach.