A couple of years ago, my wife and I decided to plan and prepay for our funerals. Picking our caskets, vaults, and other arrangements was both surreal and sobering. Although death is inevitable, it’s still a somber event to design your own gravestone.
A recent Sunday School lesson caused me to reflect on these pre-planned arrangements. Our class was studying the Book of Jeremiah. As we reviewed chapter 22, a verse captured my attention. It was Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning King Jehoiakim: “He will be buried like a dead donkey” (Jeremiah 22:19, NLT). The Bible tells the whole truth and speaks candidly about death.
Two contrasting images of funerals immerge in the teachings of Jesus in Luke 16. Jesus shares what many believe to be a parable about the death of two men, while other Bible scholars conjecture that this may have been an account of actual people known to the Master. “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he (the rich man) was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:19–23).
Lazarus’s body was likely unceremoniously disposed of in the city dump. But, his real ‘funeral’ was one that anyone of us would desire. The pallbearers of Lazarus’s spirit were angels who bore him into Paradise, by Abraham’s side.
It seems likely that the rich man’s body was buried with all the ‘pomp and circumstance’ attendant to his status. However, the rich man (some Bible scholars think it may have been Caiaphas the High Priest) found his grave to be a trapdoor to Hades and torment. No matter how elaborate the casket, how prestigious the burial plot, or how great a host of paid mourners, who would want to be in his place?
The Prophet Jeremiah’s prophecy of the funeral of the wealthy, powerful King Jehoiakim is much like the rich man of whom Jesus spoke. Jeremiah said, “He will be buried like a dead donkey —dragged out of Jerusalem and dumped outside the gates” (Jeremiah 22:19, NLT). On the other hand, a poor, bedraggled, dying thief heard Jesus say, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43, NIV). In each situation, we might ask the same question as Jesus: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36, KJV).
As we plan for our own funerals, may I suggest we spend less time on caskets, burial plots, and temporal arrangements, and more time on things of eternal significance. Better to be buried in a paupers’ field with ‘clean hands and a pure heart’ (Psalm 24:3-4) than to have a grand funeral and be lost.
Conclusion: Pray to have a funeral like Lazarus, not one like King Jehoiakim.
~ Brother Roy