Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice.    Philippians 4:4


A man came to the Lutheran Church and asked to see the pastor. “Pastor,” he said, “My dog died and I would like a Christian burial for him.” The Pastor said, “I’m sorry to hear about your dog, but we Lutherans don’t do funerals for dogs. You might try the church down the street. They will do most anything.” The man turned sadly and said, “I’m sorry you won’t do my dog’s funeral, but I understand. I’ll try the another church. But would you tell me how much is appropriate to leave for a memorial for the church? I was thinking of giving a $10,000 memorial in honor of my dog.” “Wait a minute,” said the pastor. “You didn’t tell me that your dog was Lutheran.”


All levity aside, we have something in common with that dog. One day death will visit us too. And one day someone will be making funeral arrangements for us. Many of us have already made funeral arrangements for a loved one. A loved one’s death hurts. It hurts a lot. And it hurts for years.


And in such times, the embers of doubt can burst into full–blown flames of cynicism, so that life takes on the appearance of some kind of cruel game in which all must play but in which all must finally lose when the clock strikes midnight for them.   How can we celebrate when the Coronavirus is stalking us….especially if we have “underlying conditions” that make us more vulnerable to it; or when death takes a loved one; when a job is lost – but not by our own doing; when the Market crashes;   when we find ourselves lonely; or find ourselves in conflict with a family member; when there’s “nothing to do and nowhere for us to go” because everything (almost) is closed; when we can’t even go to church because our government has asked us to observe safe distancing from others?    When we’re struggling with discouragement or depression, when we’ve got cabin fever from being confined, or when we’re facing death ourselves (and it could happen)….Then….where’s the joy?


That’s why we are a bit flummoxed when the Apostle Paul in our text says, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again rejoice”? Our first thought is to say, “Hey Paul, maybe you ought to get in touch with the real world! Maybe you’d change your tune if you spent a little time in my shoes!”


But, then, he says to us, “Come on, let’s swap sandals.    You can take my place in this Roman jail … in shackles and chains.   Because that’s where I am as I write these words to the Christians in Philippi, encouraging them to “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again rejoice,”   And before this, do you know what happened to me? Well, I have been in many prisons and often at the point of death for the sake of Christ. From the Jews, five times I received the forty–lashes–less–one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep.” Let me tell you, I’m no stranger to suffering and hardship.   But I still want you to know that, in Christ, there is always joy inside a Christian’s tears. I have that joy in my heart. And it’s not possible for you to rejoice in your sorrows, it’s essential…..because the inner joy of Christ is what makes sorrow bearable for us.”


And Paul, my friends, is absolutely right. When we look at our text, we notice something: Paul does not say “rejoice always”, and mean thereby that we should rejoice in everything that happens—no matter what. If that were the case, then it would be necessary for us to rejoice when our neighbor’s house goes up in flames, or when see the towers of World Trade Center blow up, or when we ourselves sin. To rejoice in such things is plainly reprehensible, to say nothing of being unbiblical. No, Paul did not say “Rejoice always!” but “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Those three little words, “in the Lord” make a world of difference. To be “in the Lord” means, of course, to trust in the Lord Jesus for our eternal salvation. And if we trust in him, then, no matter what happens to us, our eternal security is safely guarded in heaven itself, in the very vault of our God’s loving heart. Therefore, if your husband or wife, your mother or father, your son or daughter dies in the Lord, there will be tears. But that is not all. There will be joy inside our tears. Why? Two reasons: First, we know that, if they died in the Lord, they are wondrously alive in heaven. And second, we know that we will see them again, when the Lord calls us home. Never forget: Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.


But now let’s look at this whole matter from a decidedly Gospel perspective. By that, I mean to say, let us see what God has done to make it possible for us to “rejoice in the Lord always”.   He sent His one and only Son, Jesus, into our world to be our Redeemer from sin. As such Christ lived perfectly – in our place fulfilling our obligation to keep God’s Law flawlessly….which we are unable to do on our own.   Then He suffered the full wrath of God against our sin when He was forsaken in our place on the cross….so that we might be spared an eternity in hell, forgiven of all our sins and reconciled to God through faith in Christ, our Savior.  And, finally, Jesus conquered death and the grave for us when He rose on the third day, confirming that we will live forever in heaven after our deaths, and that one day our bodies too – will rise perfected from our graves as His was.  


In Christ, God also has given us three essential ingredients that make life rich and meaningful. He has given us, first of all, a proper sense of identity. Second, he has given us security. And third he has given us a purpose for living.


Let’s talk about identity. If a person’s identity is wrapped up in the things of this world, what happens when they are no more? Take, for example, a professional football player. In addition to a large salary, he has notoriety and status. Football is his life. Ask him who he is and he’ll likely tell you what he does. “I’m a professional football player,” he says. But what happens when an injury ends his career? Who is he now? He doesn’t really know. His world has just fallen apart! The same thing happens when our identity is wrapped up in our careers, our money, our status, our children, or our spouse. When such things crumble, what then?


Have you ever noticed? In America, when we introduce ourselves, we often identify ourselves by our work. For example, “I’m Joe Smith; I’m an engineer.  Or, “I’m Mary Smith; I’m a teacher. And sometimes a person might define himself or herself in terms of another, like, “I’m Melania Trump, the wife of the President of the United States, Donald Trump.”  But how often, if ever, do we identify ourselves by saying, “I’m David, a Christian?” Or “I’m Sue, a follower of Christ?”


For us as Christians, our identity is wrapped up in Christ, the eternal, omnipotent Lord. Never forget that. We must always keep in mind who we are and whose we are. We need to be like a certain young African man who was kidnapped from his home. He was forced to cross the ocean to America on a barge of festering humanity known as a slave ship. After months at sea, the young man arrived in America. The traders pushed the youth onto the slave auction block to be sold. To the surprise of the crowd, this slave didn’t hang his head in shame and humiliation, as most did. Instead, he stood rigidly erect, thrusting his chest out and lifting his chin high, and fixing his eyes straight ahead. The crowd stirred as this proud, black man stood on the block. Why was he so different? The slave trader knew the answer. He said to the crowd, “This man is the son of a king in Africa, and he can’t seem to forget it!”


Well, we, fellow Christians, are sons and daughters of the “King of kings,” and may we never forget it! Indeed, we are royalty, for the “King of kings and Lord of lords” has adopted us his sons and daughters.   We are, therefore, princes and princesses in the greatest of all kingdoms, the kingdom of God. And just as Christ lives and reigns forever, so shall we. And so I say to you, “Lift up your heads, for Christ has made you great and given you riches that can never be taxed.”


And in Christ we have security. My friends, the children of this world suffer intensely as they wait for the bell of death to toll. So it is that Woody Allen is moved to say, “It’s not that I’m afraid to die. I just want to be there when it happens.” The 20th century French philosopher Albert Camus put it this way: “There will be no lasting peace either in the heart of individuals or in social customs until death is outlawed.” So we see that the world still cannot answer the question raised some 4000 years ago by Job, when he said, “If a man dies, shall he live again?” 


But we, dear friends in Christ, know not only that we shall live again, but also that we shall live again forever in kingdom of glory. We need not fear the coming of death, for our Lord has traveled that road for us and before us. Through faith in his perfect life and substitutionary death, God declares us righteous in his sight, forgives all our sins, and plants us on the road that leads to Paradise. And he makes this sterling promise: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” Yes, in Christ our future is secure. We have security.


And not only has God given us identity and security, he has also revealed to us the purpose of life. The purpose of life is to make it to eternal life. So long as he gives us life and breath, we are to cling by faith to him. We are to worship him. And we are also to serve him by serving others. We serve him not grudgingly but willingly.


Let me illustrate what I mean by serving willingly. One–hundred–seventy years ago, in New Orleans, a beautiful mulatto girl was put upon the block to be sold to the highest bidder. The first offer was for $500. The bids quickly rose past $1000. At last the girl was bought by a Northerner for a price of $1450.   When the slave auction was concluded, and all the paperwork was done to complete the heinous transations…..she was turned over to her owner. The poor girl said tearfully, “Sir, I am ready to go with you.” “But I do not want you to go with me,” he gently replied. “Please look over these papers.” He handed them to her and she looked carefully at the documents.   She could hardly believe her eyes. If what the papers that she was looking at said was true, she was a free woman. Then the man looked at her and said, “I bought you so that I might free you.” “Free!” she exclaimed. “Does that mean that I am no longer a slave to you or to anyone else, and that I can do with my life what I wish?” “Yes,” he answered, “you are free!” In an instant, she fell down and kissed his feet. Through her sobs of joy and thankfulness, she lifted up her head and said to him, “Oh, sir, then I will serve you forever!”


Dear friends, to him who has freed us from our sins, shall we not say, “Oh, Jesus, I will serve you forever. I will serve you forever?” Indeed, we shall, for he has made us royalty and given us everlasting life?   


Now we can see why, in the midst of life’s tears, we can also rejoice in the Lord always! Now we can see how we can have peace of heart even though life rages with turmoil and tragedy. Now we can see why we can sing “Joy to the World” at any time! Why? Because the Lord has come!    Indeed, in Christ we have identity, eternal security, and reason for being. So with Paul I say to you, “Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again, rejoice!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.