“He’s in a better place now.”
“She went home to be with her Lord.”
I am struck by the lack of uncertainty that we have when our loved one’s die. Regardless of how they have lived, we convince ourselves that the moment after their passing they were in the glorious presence of God.
Without a doubt, we want to believe this sentiment. Let’s be honest–who of us wants to entertain the thought that our deceased family member or friend is not in heaven, but is–in fact–in a place of suffering? None of us do.
But what about those will who grieve our passing? What will they think?
Perhaps I should ask the question this way: What will you leave–a basket or a bouquet?
Most of us will leave a bouquet–a beautiful arrangement of flowers. At the memorial service, others will admire the colors. They will enjoy the scent. But the rich colors will begin to fade. The scent will diminish. The flowers will eventually be thrown.
Allow me to suggest an alternative. Rather than leaving a bouquet, let’s leave a basket–a fruit basket! Consider the following:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:15-23)
WOW–consider that warning statement from Scripture! There is a vast difference between looking like a sheep and being a sheep! Which am I? Which are you? How can we know? Fruit. Wolves do not bear good fruit. Sheep do. Wolves may call Jesus “Lord.” They may even perform acts “in His name.” But their fruit is consistently bad, not good.
These thought cause me to remember the response of John the Baptist as the religious leaders came to him to be baptized. I’ll quote it below. Notice the concept of fruit mentioned again.
“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:7-10).
Isn’t that almost shocking?! These men come to be baptized and John said, “Nope! Ain’t gonna happen.” What John was doing in the waters of the Jordan was anything but a performance. As was their custom, the Pharisees and Sadducees–what I call “The Greatest Show on Earth” during the days of Jesus–were doing what they always do–going for the applause of men. But John knew it! He could see through the white walls! And–he could see their empty bouquets! That’s why he so boldly told them to product fruit in keeping with repentance!
This concept of bearing fruit is repeated throughout the New Testment. Various writers challenge us to let our light shine (Mt. 5:16). Paul even gives us a list of what he calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” The point is clear. Our lives should give clear evidence of our identity. In other words, our eulogy must contain more than “He prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer'” as a child” or “She attended church every week her entire life.” Beloved–the religious leaders during the life of Jesus and John the Bapitst prayed. They attended their local synagoge every Sabbath and participated in Temple worship. But their fruit was bad. They were in a very precarious place. They were given no assurance of eternal life.
There is a vast difference between looking like a sheep and being a sheep! Furthermore, there is a vast difference between being religious and being a real, fruit-producing branch.
“In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive” (Acts 9:36-41).
I am not sure I can provide a better example of the truth I am presenting today than that of Docas. Luke–the Holy Spirit-inspired author of Acts–informs us that she was a disciple of Jesus Christ. She was a follower of the risen Rabbi. She didn’t just know about Jesus. She knew Him! And–her life proved it! He mentioned three proofs of the authenticity of her profession: (1) She was always doing good, (2) She helped the poor and (3) She blessed her friends. Friends, that is bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. That is presenting a basket for others to enjoy! That is the eulogy we should all desire be distributed at our funeral.
Will it be?