December 30, 2007
Despite our ability to accumulate wealth and knowledge, mankind remains plagued by strife in our world, our relationships, and our own consciences. In this message, Alistair Begg points out that we cannot fix the human condition on our own; we must acknowledge our need for help. The good news of the Gospel, though, is that God has already taken the initiative to reconcile sinners to Himself. Through the cross of Christ, salvation and lasting peace can be ours forever.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, I invite you to turn to Isaiah chapter 9. It’s page 489 in the church Bibles. And for those of you who are visiting, we are in the midst of a mini-series that emerges from the names of this child, the one with the four names identified by Isaiah here in the sixth verse. And I will read from verse 1 through to the end of verse 7:
“Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who are in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by … way of the sea, along the Jordan—
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
We pray now before we look at the Bible:
We come humbly to you, living God, thanking you for your living Word, the Bible, and praying that the work of the Holy Spirit now will so take that which is of yourself and introduce it to us, as we think about things, in a way that is rational and life changing. Only you can accomplish this, and to you alone we look. And we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, each day, as some of you will know, the Wall Street Journal carries a summary of the news right on its first front page, which is very helpful if you don’t have much time at all. You can very quickly, in the course of about a third of a cup of coffee, find out exactly what’s going on, at least according to the Wall Street, in terms of business and finance, and then in terms of the world in general. This is the half-a-cup-of-coffee’s introduction to the world that was provided for us Friday, December 28, just a couple of days ago.
If you sat down in the morning and took your paper, this is what you were confronted with: Pakistan’s ex-premier Bhutto was assassinated, sparking riots. US forces in Iraq seized two men possibly linked to the capture of three American soldiers earlier this year, and they killed twenty-two in the process of doing so. Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to put aside a dispute over a certain kind of construction in a Jerusalem neighborhood, but at the same time, an Israeli air strike killed six militants in Gaza. North Korea continues to make a shambles of its nuclear arms program. (That’s not what it says; that’s my interpretation. Sorry. I’m not supposed to editorialize.) Two Russian officers were convicted by a military court of killing three construction workers. Kenya’s presidential vote went off fairly well despite violence and allegations of vote rigging. Sri Lanka’s military said its jets destroyed a Tamil Tiger; the infantry killed sixty-six rebels and fourteen government troops. Hindu extremists torched churches, and Christians set fire to the homes belonging to Hindus. France asked Chad to hand over six French workers because they were stealing little children from the Central African Republic, presumably involved in the sex trade. In Indonesia, the toll grew to eighty-seven dead or missing as a result of the landslide. And the San Francisco Zoo’s director said a tiger that killed a teenager and mauled two other men probably jumped over a wall of its pen that was below the recommended height.
Just a routine Friday with your newspaper, allowing us to conclude that the Bible is very, very accurate when it lets us know that the world today knows no settled peace. The world today knows no settled peace. In fact, we would be pretty accurate in acknowledging that not a lot has changed since the time of Isaiah’s prophecy which we have just read from the ninth chapter. Because it is there, in the fifth verse, that Isaiah says he anticipates the boots of the warriors and the garments that are rolled in blood being “destined for burning” and being made as “fuel for the fire.” And in the context of war and oppression, he focuses on the coming Messiah. All the bits and pieces of war, he says, will eventually be irrelevant, will be rolled up and put away.
And then he tells us why. And it is an amazing statement. He says, “For to us a child is born” and “a son is given.” In other words, the answer to everything that is going on and will go on is directly tied to the birth of a baby—not just any baby, but this particular baby, the baby who has four names: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,” and our name this morning, “Prince of Peace.” In fact, if we summarize what Isaiah provides us with in these verses, it is simply this: he says, “A child is born, that child is the Prince of Peace, and if we would have peace, it is to that child we must go.” A child is born, he’s the Prince of Peace, and there is no peace except that which is found in him.
I say to you again, it is a quite staggering claim. I thought about it this week when I was listening to folks talking on one of the programs concerning the death of Benazir Bhutto, and the news that had come out at that point, as I was listening to it, that the government of Pakistan were actually suggesting that she had not been killed by shrapnel or by a bullet, but she had actually died as a result of the explosion causing her to fall and hit her head on the open roof of the vehicle in which she was traveling. And one of the commentators, who’s particularly conservative, said, “Actually, I believe that. And the reason I believe it,” he says, “is because it is so implausible. Why would the government, of all the stories it could invent, invent a story such as that, that people would say, ‘Oh, come on’?” And in many ways, people who are on the fringes of Christianity, who are wondering about the Bible, who are not sure what it says, may feel the very same way about a claim like this. “You actually suggesting—is the Bible really saying—that the answer to the dilemma of man, that the issues of our enmity with God and with one another, are found in the birth of a baby, albeit a baby who’s been given four names?”
Well, this particular name, Prince of Peace, is our focus for this morning, and I think it has the most curbside appeal of the four. If you were putting something up to speak on, I think you may get more reaction from this than from any of the other three. Certainly, when I mentioned it to someone in Starbucks a couple of weeks ago, inviting them to come to the services this morning, and I told them that we would be addressing the question of the Prince of Peace, it had an immediate reaction. “I’m not coming.” No. Their reaction was, “Oh, that’s very interesting.” I don’t know if they’re here, but if they are, we can talk later.
Because a desire for peace among the nations is more than matched by a sincere desire to live at peace with each other. Enmity is ugly. It’s distasteful, it’s not nice, it’s not enjoyable, and nobody really likes being in a bad mood and aggravating everybody for the entire day. That may hit a little too close to home for some of you enjoying the Christmas celebrations together. But the fact is, we know the importance of harmony amongst one another. And we know the absolute necessity of peace within ourselves. Peace within ourselves. In fact, tranquility on the outside may simply disguise the raging torment that is going within us. Because strife and disharmony and futility and decay are undeniably part of the fabric of our lives. It’s not nice to observe, but it is honest to observe.
And it is equally accurate, as we discovered in the words of the psalm that was read for us earlier, that despite man’s ability to accumulate stuff, despite his progress in knowledge, both in the Psalms and since the Psalms, that sense of frustration and alienation which men and women are forced to acknowledge is not answered by a trip to the mall, is not answered by a master’s degree, is not answered by anything that holds out hope to us.
Now, you don’t have to read big books to figure this, do you? It comes at us in all kinds of ways. It comes to us in the monologues of the comedians and in the little bits and pieces they write. George Carlin—whom I will surely get a letter for quoting from the pulpit—but George Carlin somewhat humorously and relatively sarcastically writes as follows:
We’ve cleaned up the air but polluted the soul. We’ve conquered the atom but not our prejudice. We write more but learn less. We plan more, we accomplish less.
These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships; the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses but broken homes; the days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer to quiet to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window, nothing in the stock room; a time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight or just to hit Delete.
Well then, of course, he’s right, isn’t he? Not particularly brilliant. It’s just an observation of what each of us, if we’re honest, has to face up to.
David Wells, commenting on contemporary culture, describes “the human spirit … sagging beneath the burden of emptiness.” “Sagging beneath the burden of emptiness.” And again, this is not something that is unique to the twenty-first century. It’s a staggering statement, isn’t it, right in the heart of that psalm that Pastor Bickley read for us? “For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish.” You can die as a PhD or you can die as a dimwit, but you will still die. That’s what he’s saying. And you can die with a tremendous bank balance, or you can die with zero, but you’ll still die. And “their tombs will remain their houses forever, [and] their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves.” Rhodesia: Cecil Rhodes, as a result of his business and political acumen, has a nation named after him; unfortunately, it’s now—for his heritage—Zimbabwe. And he’s long gone. And we will be too.
The Preacher, who writes in the very heart of our Bibles in a book called Ecclesiastes, describes his own tortured search for peace and for contentment, and he’s honest enough to say that he conducted it without reference to God. He tried to unscramble the riddle of life by simply looking “under the sun.” He took what was here and what was now and what was available, and he said, “Now, perhaps in these things I will be able to find peace.” And if you read it for yourselves, you will discover that wisdom left him frustrated and restless, work made him tired and angry, leisure caused him pain, and stuff just made him sick and sad. He lived the American Dream long before there was an America and told us it was a dead-end street. But nobody wanted to believe that then, and frankly, nobody wants to believe it now.
But let’s try and be honest with one another if we can. It’s the final Sunday of the year. We might as well start now. We could finish strong, couldn’t we? Because if we’re honest about it, the living of our lives, even on our best days, is actually an attempt to make the best of a bad job. I know that doesn’t sound very positive, but I think it’s true. Again, David Wells, in a purple passage, says we face a “relational disjuncture … so substantial and … complete as to leave [us] … disoriented” and “caught in the coils of painful futility.” Disoriented and caught. Let’s just leave it there—not sure where we’re going, not too happy about where we’ve been, and sensing that if ever we could see much further down the road and round a few bends, it wouldn’t look any better than it did in 2007.
That’s why, you see, this name has such appeal, doesn’t it? Who is this Prince of Peace? A Prince of Peace. Someone who is himself peace. Someone who has achieved peace. Someone who, in knowing him, becomes our very peace.
Now, I’d like to suggest to you in the balance of our time that there are essentially only two reactions—and I know this seems simplistic, but I think I could substantiate it—there are really only two honest reactions to the human predicament. And I want to summarize them both in a lyric from the grandfathers of rock and roll, Lennon and McCartney. Either men and women look around them at this “relational disjuncture,” this enmity, this fighting, this feuding, this internal psychological mayhem, and they say, “We can work it out,” or they say, “Help! I need somebody, not just anybody.”
First of all, then, the reaction of man that simply says, “I know things are not the way they ought to be, but I can fix this myself. After all, I am an individual, I have intelligence, I have resources,” or whatever it might be. And from this perspective, the individual doesn’t usually want to deny that their life is not exactly a rose garden, picture-perfect. At the same time, they’re probably unprepared to admit that their lives are more like a jungle, but they may be honest enough to say, “I know that my life is often untidy, it’s sometimes ugly, and it is frequently painful. But don’t worry; I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry; we can work it out.”
In 1985 a professor at Berkeley wrote a book which was phenomenally successful entitled Habits of the Heart—Professor Robert Bellah. And in that book, he sought to chronicle the American experience in the ’80s as a search for community and security and spirituality. And I thought about it this week. I remembered it, and I went looking for a particular quote, which I was able to find.
It concerns one of the characters he interviews in the book. Her name is Sheila Larson. She is a nurse. And in the course of talking with her, this is what Sheila says: “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.” How perfect! You got the whole thing without even leaving your bathroom, all there for you. All you have to do is look inside, Sheila. What do you see? Says Bellah, commentating on this, “We must consider how it came about that ‘Sheilaism’ somehow seems a perfectly natural expression of current American religious life,” and we need to examine “what that tells us about the role of religion in the United States today.”
I’m not sure that even as bright as he is, he could have anticipated the development of Sheilaism over the last twenty-two years, so that you can meet people all the time and in the strangest places who will tell you that they’re actually finding the answers, and all by looking within. They’re finding the answers not as a result of discovering truth, which is objective and verifiable, but as a result of discovering truths; not as a result of disdaining the sacred and buying the secular but of searching for the sacred, and finding the sacred in the strangest of places, and combining it, and amalgamating it, and putting it into a nice little pot of stew which is perfect for all the Sheilas of the world. And as long as this individual benefits from this kind of quest—has some kind of therapeutic or psychological value, makes them feel “at peace”—then, of course, they’re happy to continue looking within. As soon as the value slides, then they look somewhere else.
I don’t want to belabor this. You can think it out for yourselves. You can say, “You’re full of hot air,” or you can say, “I think you probably have a point there. I have noticed that—if in others, if not in myself—there is a strong strain of ‘We are in a dreadful mess, but we can work it out.’”
Life is very short, and there’s no time,
For fussing and fighting, my friends.
I’ve always thought that it’s a crime.
But we can work it out.
The other alternative—and I think there are really only two; they all pour into these two vats—the other alternative is the person who finally says, “Help! I need somebody, and not just anybody. I’m going to have to look beyond myself, because I’ve looked in, and frankly, the in that is in ought to be out, and I can’t get it out. And I’ve read a lot, and I’ve thought a lot, and I know that I must be looking for someone. I must be looking out and beyond myself. Instead of reaching in and reaching down, as it were, to search inside of me, I wonder, is there someone who comes from outside of me and has the answer to my dilemma?” Well, of course, that’s the message of the Bible, isn’t it? Instead of man finding God, it’s the account of God finding man. “For unto us”—as a result of God’s initiative—“a child is born” and “a son is given,” and this son is the Prince of Peace.
Now, clearly this peace is something more than just the absence of warfare, or even the presence of an inner sense of tranquility or well-being, or the enjoyment of harmony amongst those who were previously feuding. All of those things are inevitably limited in their duration. There has been no lasting peace since the garden of Eden. There is the front page of the twenty-eighth of December 2007—and that’s not comprehensive; that’s selective. Is there someone? Help! Is there somebody, not just anybody?
Well, actually, this peace of which we read is an eternal peace. That’s what it says in verse 7: “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” “There will be no end.” Well, what kind of peace is that? We’ve never known peace like that. At the end of the Second World War, Churchill was so concerned immediately to get on and deal with the Russian problem, wasn’t he? Nobody would listen to him. No, but they eventually threw him out as the prime minister, despite all that he’d done. He said, “There is a great bear up there, and if we don’t deal with that one, pretty soon it will come and swallow us up.” “Oh, go home, Churchill. You’re a warmonger.” “No,” he said, “I’m a realist.” And he died in ’65, and by that time Communism was pretty well entrenched, and everything that he had acknowledged had come to pass. Was he simply a pessimist? No, he knew.
Well, if there is a peace that is eternal, and if that peace is found in this Messiah, this Wonderful Counselor, how does all of that work? How do you get from a phrase “Prince of Peace” to the experience of peace within a life, within a home, within a nation, within a world, within a universe? If God has come in the person of this Prince, we ought to expect that he has accomplished what he set out to do. And that is exactly what the Bible tells us.
And for that reason, I want to end, as I’ve done in each of these studies, by looking at another portion of Scripture which helps us to see worked out, as it were, the phrase that we’ve been considering. And for this I invite you to turn to page 833; it’s Colossians chapter 1. And once there, I want you to notice three words, and we will be done.
Here, in a section that begins with verse 15, Paul is introducing us to Jesus. You’ll notice he begins, “He[’s] the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation,” and so on. Let’s look from verse 19: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” And the reason that this is so significant is because—verse 21—“once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.”
Well, let’s start there and work back up. First word is alienation. Alienation. An alienation that touches our minds, our believing; and an alienation that is represented in our lives, our behaving. We behave wrongly because of our minds; our minds are wrong, and so we behave wrongly. And the predicament that is before us is that we are alienated from God.
Now, you’re not gonna find this anywhere else other than in the Bible. You won’t find it addressed by anyone else or any other religion in this way. Buddhism will suggest to you that you look within yourself, that you try and find the answer somewhere in there. That’s what makes it so appealing, because it blends the individualism of America with the fact that I can just believe pretty well what I create for myself. Nobody out there is telling me anything; nobody out there is making these proud assertions, as it were.
But what we have to do is we have to say, “Do these offerings of peace knock, as it were, off the throne this amazing story of God becoming man, dying for his enemies, and praying for their forgiveness?” That’s the story of Christianity. God takes the initiative and comes to us. The Prince of Peace dies for those who are opposed to him and simultaneously prays for the forgiveness of his enemies. And the reason that this has validity is because of the fact of alienation.
Now, again, you can find alienation everywhere you turn. Contemporary music and poetry and the arts are full of it. Films are absolutely packed solid with it. And that’s why so many of them appeal to us—the fractured relationships, the sense of internal dissonance, the sort of shadows of a God once known are all there. And we go, and we watch those things, or we read these things, and it tugs at us and pulls at us, and we wonder about it. And then we turn to the Bible, and the Bible says, “The reason that you know relational alienation, the reason that you experience psychological alienation, the way you feel all messed up within yourself—all of those alienations are directly tied to Colossians 1:21: you are alienated from God and enemies in your mind.” Enemies in your mind.
Well, if we are the enemies of God—if by our belief and by our behavior we turn our back on him—what hope is there for peace then? Unless, of course, this God from whom we are alienated is the one who takes the initiative. And that’s exactly the prophecy of Isaiah 9: God takes on human flesh and provides for us the man who will represent all men.
He comes to deal with our alienation by effecting—and here’s our second word—reconciliation. Reconciliation. “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell” in Jesus—all of God that may be known is in Jesus—and through this Jesus, this Messiah, to “reconcile to himself all things.”
In other words, there is a barrier between God and man, and that barrier the Bible describes as sin. Our passive indifference, our rebellion against him, all of that stuff that we understand, that offends against our consciences—at least until we do it so many times that we flat-out don’t care—and all of that offends against a holy God. Because he is just, he must punish sin. Because he is loving, he provides a solution in the midst of the execution of his judgment.
And it is here that we find ourselves at the apex of the Christian claim. Because it is here that Paul is making sense, if you like, of the phrase from Isaiah 9: he is the “Prince of Peace.” In what sense? Well, he is the Prince who by his sacrificial death atones for sin, takes upon himself the righteous response of God to sin—not a burst of fiery anger, such as our horrible approach to life when someone does something to us, but the settled indignation of the character of God to that which is opposed to him. Because he is just, he must deal with that. And here the Prince of Peace moves inexorably towards the cross of Calvary, and there he bears in his own body our sins.
In a very realistic sense, we have to fasten on the fact that what is taking place on the cross is, to use an old-fashioned biblical word, a propitiation—that Christ in himself bears the wrath that we deserve and propitiates. So that the story of the cross is not as many of us got it from the Passion movie. The overwhelming response to The Passion by the general public went something like this: if they were unaware of the story of the Bible, they came out saying, “That’s a dreadful thing to do to a nice person. I can’t believe people would do that to such a nice person. I think I’m gonna try and be a nice person. But I hope nobody does that to me!” Is that the gospel?
No, you see, the key to that movie was actually in the scroll that ran before ever it kicked into its opening scenes. And do you remember what it said?
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth.
He was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
the chastisement that brought us peace was upon him;
and by his stripes we are healed.
So that in his sacrificial death is the answer to all of our human alienation.
Again I say to you, it is such an implausible claim that you might find its very implausibility appealing: that the answer to all of my life—all of its fractures and its failures, all of its disappointment and its dirtiness, all of its unfulfilled hopes and dreams—may actually be traced to a moment in time on a hill outside Jerusalem on a narrow strip of land at the point where three continents of the world intersect? Yes!
You see, I say to you again: this Christmas story that everybody can set aside and dismantle with the Christmas lights is not the story to which we’re introduced in the Bible. No, you can go to Hallmark for that. You don’t need to go to the Bible for that one.
The real question is, Are you reconciled, then, to God? You say, “Well, I know a number of people who are sinners, but not myself. This is good for somebody. I must get this for someone. I know somebody.” Be honest. Isn’t it so strange that we’re able to look with clear eyes at all the stuff that is so obviously wrong—all the violence, all the hatred, all the broken-down business; we watch it on TV, we read it in the newspapers, and we’re prepared to acknowledge things are really messed up—and yet we can’t somehow or another face up to what is messy, untidy, ugly, and painful in our own little lives?
No, you see, Jesus is a sufficient Savior. That’s what he’s telling us here. He’s reconciling the world to himself. And on the cross he has accomplished a reconciliation. And the issue for us is not achievement but acceptance.
You see, today, as we go back out into Cleveland in the final hours of 2007, our society, our immediate culture as a whole, remains completely unaware that a reconciliation has been achieved: that on the cross of Christ the answer to all of our deep-seated angst has been provided. The reason it doesn’t know is because in many cases those who believe don’t know well enough to tell others about this, to tell them that in that alienation the Prince of Peace has done a work of reconciliation which leads—and our final word—to transformation.
Transformation. A transformation not only of the individual but a transformation of the whole universe. Look at that: he reconciles to himself “all things.” “Well, what do you mean, ‘all things’?” Well, the one in whom all of God’s fullness is found is the one who reconciles everything—whether things on the earth, or things in heaven, and actually things under the earth as well. In other words, Paul just points out the cosmic sweep of the reconciling work of Jesus. Nothing in the universe lies outside the range of what Jesus has accomplished. Nothing and nobody lies outside the extent of God’s reconciling work.
Let me finish in this way. When Adam sinned—turns his back on God—a huge dislocation took place that not only affected Adam and his wife and the two of them and their kids but affected the garden. And suddenly there were thistles—ironically, thistles being the emblem of Scotland, but why we would choose a weed, who would ever know? But nevertheless, in the garden of Eden there was no emblem for Scotland—no thistles, no thorns, no daffodils, no nothing, just pristine beauty. But man turns his back on God and dislocates his relationship with God, his relationship with other people, and his relationship with creation itself.
So, we do have something to say to people who start out on the periphery and say, “Are you concerned about creation? Are you concerned about the environment?”
The answer is, “Absolutely I am!”
“Are you concerned about the issues of AIDS and the fact of disease?”
“Without any question at all.”
“Does Christianity have anything to say to the predicaments of the human heart whereby people are lost and entrapped in their own psychological disorders and find themselves enveloped in all kinds of things?”
“Without question! In fact, I’d love to introduce you to a person—somebody, not just anybody: the Prince of Peace.”
Because by his coming, his death and his resurrection, the age to come—which will be finally put together according to God’s timetable—but the age to come has dawned. And little glimpses of it, little insights to it, are to be seen.
But one day the San Francisco Zoo tiger will no longer jump over its wall—unless it just jumps over and says, “Could I have a bowl of Rice Krispies, please?” Well, not actually says it, but it just jumps over, and jumps over for a cuddle. Why? Because of Isaiah 11: the lion will lie down with the lamb. Well, what is that describing? It’s describing what happens when the Prince finally says, “Okay, let’s put the whole thing together.” The day is going to come when the accoutrements of war will be put away once and for all—they’ll be totally obsolete—when the diseases that ravage our bodies will be no more. And God will provide a new heaven and a new earth. And the structures of government within that new heaven and new earth will not be about man’s power and his predilections and his posturing but will be about the glory of God. Why? How? Because “a child is born.” The child is the Prince of Peace. And if you would know peace, you must come to the Prince. And what a welcome you will receive! For he has taken the initiative in making a reconciliation which he doesn’t ask us to achieve but to accept.
So, which way do you want to go out? Under which lyric? Your choice. Say, “Hey thanks, Al. That was fine. You know, almost on time, not bad. But, hey, we can work it out. We’re fine.” Or, “Help! I need somebody, not just anybody.” See, because your view of the world has to deal with your life now and has to deal with your death then.
What a strange thing I have in my repertoire that not one in a thousand have. You say, “This is going to be good.” It is. That is that I can say the words of committal for a graveside ceremony without looking at my notes. Why? Because I’ve said them so many times. And why? Because I believe them with all my heart. And so I’ll finish with them. It goes like this:
Forasmuch as it has pleased Almighty God to receive to himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our earthly bodies, that they may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things, even death, to himself.
Your choice: “We can work it out,” or “Help! I need this Prince of Peace.”
Just end our year with a prayer from Augustine:
O Lord, to be turned from you is to fall, to be turned to you is to rise, and to stand in you is to abide forever. Grant us in all our duties your help, in all our perplexities your guidance, in all our dangers your protection, and in all our sorrows your peace.
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all evermore. Amen.
 Bob Moorehead, “The Paradox of Our Age,” Words Aptly Spoken (1995). Paraphrased.
 David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 178.
 Psalm 49:10–11 (NIV 1984).
 For example, Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV 1984).
 Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 194–95.
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “We Can Work It Out” (1965).
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Help!” (1965).
 Robert N. Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, updated ed. (1985; repr., Berkeley: University of California, 1996), 221.
 Lennon and McCartney, “We Can Work It Out.” Lyrics lightly altered.
 Isaiah 53:7 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 53:5 (paraphrased).
 See Philippians 2:10.
 See Isaiah 11:6.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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