We are here today to celebrate the life of my grandfather, Joseph Mattes. It is an honor to be before you, sharing my heart about one of the most significant persons in my life. My grandfather knew how to take care of his family. He was a pillar of stability in my life. When times were tough for my mom and me, my grandpa was always faithful to step in and help and serve us with true sacrificial love. I spent many weekends staying over at my grandparent’s home. Their door was always open – so open that I moved right on in during college. I have so many wonderful memories of my grandfather.
I’m up here this morning to share some really good news incorporated in my two greatest memories of my grandpa. As many of you know he had a heart attack in December. We really thought we were going to lose him. Now, some of you may know that my grandpa was not the religious or church going type. I wanted him to know that he did not have to be afraid of death. I wanted him to know he didn’t have to go to church or be religious to have the promise of heaven. So, up at the hospital I asked him if I could share some of God’s word with him. Surprisingly he said it would mean a lot to him.
I said, “Grandpa, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I told him that it’s not about church or religion; it’s about how much God loves him. It’s about how much God wants to spend eternity with him. I said, “You see we all sin and there’s a penalty for sin called death. We could never do enough good to pay off our sin debt. To enter into God’s presence we must be perfect because He is holy.”
I don’t know any perfect people. I told him that God offers a gift – something we don’t deserve and can do nothing to earn – it’s the gift of eternal life. When someone gives you a gift if you don’t accept it, it does you no good. The gift God offered my grandpa and each of us in this room is having all our sin debt paid for at no cost to us. God’s statute was always shed innocent blood for the forgiveness of sins. Now, I don’t have any innocent blood to shed, my grandpa didn’t either, but that’s okay because we are covered by the blood if Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have itmore abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;” (NKJ)
He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me,” and “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” (NKJ)
My grandpa accepted God’s gift that night at the hospital with joy. He repented for his sins and proclaimed Jesus as his Savior. Then he said, “I really believe that! I really believe that!” So in light of this, I want to read some encouraging words for you to keep in mind as we grieve the loss of my precious grandfather.
Jesus promises, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know… Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You have heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away and coming back to you.’ If you loved Me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father,’ for My Father is greater than I.” (NKJ)
I know that my grandpa is in that place Jesus prepared for him, with my grandma, his brothers, his sisters, and the Lord. God tells us that in His presence is fullness of joy. So right now we find ourselves in a place where we can rejoice for my grandpa and look forward to the day when we will see him again. We’re grieved at the loss of him; we miss him terribly, but we love him so much that knowing he is happy, healthy, and strong brings joy to our hearts that overshadows the grief. That is because true love thinks of the other person and only what is best for them. That is the way my grandpa loved his family.
I read something to him the other day that reminded me of his character. This reading may be familiar to some of you, but powerful and true nonetheless.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I haveprophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, andif I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient andkind; lovedoes not envy or boast; itis not arrogant 5or rude. Itdoes not insist on its own way; itis not irritable or resentful; itdoes not rejoice at wrongdoing, butrejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, butwhen the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, butthen face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even asI have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (ESV)
My grandfather loved deeply and his love lives on in every life he touched. Just to let you know how faithful the God I love and serve is I want to share my other favorite memory of my grandfather with you all. It was my heart’s desire and my prayer to hold my grandfather’s hand as he took his last breath. My mother and I had camped out by my grandfather’s hospital bed for days. I am an SAT tutor and my students were sitting for the exam on Saturday. My grandfather had begun teaching me algebra at age seven. Now I carry that legacy as I tutor my students. I felt it would be an honor to him to help my students be as prepared as possible for their exam.
I had a peace about leaving my grandfather’s side to tutor for a few hours. I told my mom to call me if anything changed in his breathing. Hospice had told us he would most likely die that day. As I was tutoring my second student, my mother called and said that my grandfather’s breathing had changed. She said he might have five minutes left; he might have an hour. I found myself in a place of being a half hour away, without considering traffic. It was rush hour. This is where my faith kicked in.
I finished my tutoring session and then hopped in my Jeep. I thought, “I know I want to be holding his hand when he dies. I know God knows my heart’s desire. I know God knows what is best.” I prayed, “Lord you are in control and I know that you can make traffic clear and stoplights change. I know you can keep my grandfather’s heart beating until I get home. I know that you know who should be there when he dies. You know what is best. I am not going to rush and try to weave in and out of traffic. I am not going to stress about this. I am going to trust you with this desire of mine.”
When I arrived at my grandfather’s he was still alive. After everyone else went to sleep that night, my mother and I watched a movie in the living room where my grandfather was asleep on his hospital bed. My mother fell asleep during the movie, but I was able to stay awake. Once the movie ended, I got up to check on my grandfather. I thought of swabbing his lips with water. As I walked over to him I put my hand on his hand and said, “Grandpa.” The second I did so he took a breath. I realized his breathing seemed shallow so I yelled, “Mom! Mom! Wake up!” Within a second she was at the other side of his bed. He never took another breath.
As I had lain my hand on top of his, my grandfather had breathed his last. It was God’s perfect timing. He hears our cries. He answers the prayers of his children. He is so real to me, and I can stand here and assure you that my grandpa’s life did not end on June 3rd. If you believe, as my grandfather does, that Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for your sins, defeated the power of death, and rose from the grave to offer you the gift of eternal life, you will see my grandpa again. I look forward to that day.
Scripture taken from the New King James Bible (NKJ) and The English Standard Version (ESV)