6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Here ends our text.
Jeanne, Jerry, Mark, and Vicki, it has been a long couple of months, hasn’t it? Bill has been in and out of the hospital, dealing with hearts issues that eventually claimed his life. Through all of this, it must have been difficult to see a father, a grandfather and even a great-grandfather who was fairly healthy go into a downward health spiral. However, there was a silver lining to all of this: Bill died in the faith and is now with Christ.
The words that St. Paul wrote, the words of our text for today, are words of comfort and assurance to you, the family, and to all of us gathered here today. When I visited with Bill Friday before his death, he was in a state of calm and relative painlessness. I think that after these last few months, Bill had realized that “the time of [his] departure [had] come.” As a baptized and redeemed believer, Bill knew of the certainty of death. He knew firsthand what Paul wrote to the Romans: “For the wages of sin is death.” He had seen sin in all of its evil gruesomeness. He had seen war and death in World War II. He had been captured by the Germans and made a POW. He saw death in the POW camps. He saw death at its worst when death claimed the life of his wife, Louise. He knew that death would even claim his own life because of his sin. But through all of this, Bill had hope, because he knew that death is not the end.
Paul continues, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Bill knew that death was merely the end of his earthly life. Because God placed His name upon Bill in the waters of Holy Baptism, he knew that he had the promise of everlasting life. There, in His Baptism, Bill received the “the free gift of eternal life.”
Death reminds us of life with Christ. As God’s beloved children, we have been redeemed by Christ and given new life with Him. That new life with Christ is what Bill looked forward to. He looked forward to that new life every Sunday when he came to church, to hear God’s Word and promises for Bill and for you. He looked forward to that new life when he came and received the body and blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of his sins. On Friday, Bill was welcomed into God’s heavenly kingdom where He received his crown of righteousness.
This crown of righteousness that Bill received was not by his own doing. It wasn’t because Bill was a perfect person. It wasn’t because of all the things that Bill did throughout his life. The crown of righteousness that Bill received was because of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. It was by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that Bill is with Christ, where sin and death have no dominion over him.
Looking at Bill’s life, he too can say the same thing that St. Paul did: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” There were times in Bill’s life where he did fight, even times where he fought for his life. Serving in World War II must have been difficult. The old saying, “war is hell” could not have been any more true for Bill. After being held in a POW camp for eight months, Bill probably experienced hell on earth. But he survived. He “finished the race.” Throughout everything, Bill “kept the faith.” Bill continued to look to the future. Because he could. Because he had hope – the hope of heaven and eternal life for Jesus’ sake.
There is one thing that is stake for every single person: life and death. Paul knew that more than anyone. He sought to put to death anyone who sought new life in Christ. It wasn’t until he came into contact with Christ that he realized that he was dead. He was dead because he did not Christ and the salvation that He brought. Upon his conversion, Paul sought to bring that saving message of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone. Praise be to God that Bill knew that saving message. He knew that he was heaven-bound. He knew that it on account of Christ, He was forgiven. It wasn’t anything that Bill had or hadn’t done that makes him certain of eternal life. It’s all about who Christ is and what He’s done.
That same forgiveness, that same eternal life that Bill has is given by Christ to you as well. That’s what Paul means when he says, “not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem brought peace and goodwill, and His appearance on the cross won salvation for the world. The Lord still appears in His Word and His Sacraments; and where He is, there is forgiveness, life and salvation. That’s why Paul can look ahead, because heaven is his solely for the sake of Jesus. And because it was solely for the sake of Jesus, that crown of righteousness is certain.
That same reward that awaited Paul is the same reward that awaited Bill and it is the same reward that awaits you as well. The crown of righteousness that Bill has received is nothing short than the complete removal of his sins and the giving of righteousness won by Christ.
That same hope is yours, and it is just as certain because it is for the sake of Christ. We are always in the shadow of death in this sinful world, and we don’t know how much time we have left here. But we can say with confidence, “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day.” No matter what lies ahead, you always have more life to look forward to. That life is yours, not on account of your merit or worth and not on account of your actions. That life is yours on account of Christ and what He has done for you, the same thing that He did for Bill: was born into this sinful world to redeem it. The crown of righteousness belongs to Christ, who wore the crown of thorns for you. Risen again, He lives and reigns forever, and He shares that crown of righteousness with you. Eternal life is yours solely because Jesus died to make it so. Because of the cross, the Lord will rescue you from every evil deed and bring you safely into His heavenly kingdom. What Christ has done for Paul, what Christ has done for Bill, Christ also does for you. In Jesus’ name, amen.