On behalf of the Lee family, I want to thank everyone for being here.
Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to know Mr. Lee. But Ms. Betty, you said something about him the other day that really stood out to me. I believe you referred to your husband as a “silent helper.”
You know, I’ve always been fascinated by the sheer number of people mentioned throughout the Bible who played a pivotal role in history, yet very little is said about them. In some cases, we’re not even given their names. We remember men such as Moses, or King David, or the apostle Paul. But what about all of those figures whom God used as vital pieces of a much larger story than themselves?
For example, consider Mary Magdalene. Of course, we all know her name. But there is surprisingly little said about her in Scripture. In fact, it seems that most people know more about the myths surrounding her than what the Bible actually says.
Mary shows up in the middle of Christ’s ministry, and here’s the extent of what we learn about her: “The twelve [apostles] were with [Jesus], and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out” (Lk 8:1-2). That’s it. That’s the entirety of what the Bible says about her background. And from there, she seems to fade into obscurity without another mention (that is, until the resurrection of Christ). And after the resurrection, she disappears again. We never read another word about her.
Then, of course, there’s her role in the resurrection. This woman, who barely makes a footnote in history, becomes one of the first people to see Christ alive after his death. While his disciples are locked away in a room somewhere, grieving the loss of their Lord and Teacher, Mary’s at the tomb searching for his body. And while she’s there, she has a conversation with a man whom she thinks is the gardener. But that man says to her, “Mary” (Jn 20:16). That’s all it took. She immediately knew his voice and cried out, “Rabboni” (or Teacher).
Now Jesus doesn’t just choose Mary to be one of the first people to see him alive after his death. No, he also sends her on an important mission. She’s told to go quickly and find the disciples. Why? Because it was upon those eleven men that Christ would build up his church. We’re told that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles” (Eph 2:20). But first, they needed to understand what had happened. They needed to know that Christ was raised from the dead. They needed to see him with their own eyes.
Of course, Christ could have easily revealed himself to them anywhere. But he chose Mary to go find them. So in a very real sense, we owe the worldwide spread of the gospel and 2,000 years of Christian history to a woman whom we know almost nothing about. God saw her as important. The Bible shows us her importance. But again, she’s barely a footnote in history. Secular history pretty much ignores her altogether.
My point is this: While some may look at a humble, quiet man who is constantly serving others at his own expense as an insignificant blip on the radar, I see the backbone of our families, our churches, our communities, and even our world. We need men like Mr. Lee. Frankly, his kind seems to be a dying breed. We certainly don’t need more people who say, “Look at me. Look at me. Look what I’ve done.” We need kindhearted, sacrificial people who are always willing to lend a hand even without fanfare or public recognition. I get the impression that Mr. Lee was that kind of man.
Now here’s a beautiful truth according to the book of Hebrews: “God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints” (Heb 6:10). God sees every quiet deed. He knows the so-called silent servants among us. In fact, God’s the one working through them as they serve others and perform their good works. “Faith,” we’re told, “is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).
It is apparent that “God’s love [was] poured into [this man’s heart] through the Holy Spirit” (Ro 5:5). And what does that really mean? The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Ro 5:8). In other words, Mr. Lee’s love was a manifestation of God’s love for him. And if God loves us, Christ died for us. And if Christ died for us, we have been “reconciled to God” (Ro 5:10). We have “[received] the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Ro 5:17). We have “eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ro 5:21).
So right now at this very moment as you weep for your great loss, your husband, your father, your grandfather, your great-grandfather sits in the presence of God and Christ. I can hear the voice of God saying to him, “Behold, the dwelling place of God…[I] will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4).
And I can hear Mr. Lee saying, “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee. How great thou art! How great thou art!”
You know, the Bible gives us a preview of what people are doing in heaven right now. According to John in Revelation:
I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne…and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7:9-12)
I know that you’re hurting right now. I know that you miss him. But be sure that you don’t weep for him; weep for yourselves. I can assure you that there are no tears in his eyes. Paul said:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)
Now I’m told that Mr. Lee loved to fish, garden, and work in the yard, among other things. Personally, I believe that he’ll soon be doing those things again. When Christ returns, we’re told that he’s bringing with him “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1). It is God’s plan to not only redeem his people, but also his whole creation. He’ll soon perfect the earth once again. And I have reason to believe that our world will eventually be what it was in the beginning before sin.
Do you know what that means? Chances are, there will be a garden. There will be grass to cut and fish to catch. But it will be a perfect world. There won’t be any weeds in the garden. You won’t have to mow the lawn in 90-degree temperatures. At least that’s how I imagine it. And best of all, there will be no more death, no more tears, no more hurting, no more sorrow. Kidney diseases and the horrendous things that plague us now will long be forgotten.
When the book of Revelation describes this new earth to us, it adds this invitation: “Come…let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 21:17).
Turn to Christ. Put your life in his hands. Let him be your hope for the future. Let him comfort you now in your time of mourning. As the Bible says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 6:16).
Preached at Bryan-Lee Funeral Home (Angier, NC) on April 22, 2017, during the funeral of James H. Lee.