“I Have Kept the Faith”
ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
As he wrote this second letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul was an old man. He knew his end was near, and he was looking forward to the time when the Lord would call him to rest from his labors. Unlike Paul, Ruth did not know when the good and gracious will of the Lord would be done. She did not know when the Almighty would call her into eternal glory. But she was ready, just as Paul was. Both could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
It was not my privilege to serve as Ruth’s pastor for very long. I only had the opportunity to visit with her two or three times. But I can tell you with absolute confidence that Ruth hungered and thirsted for the Word of God and the gifts Christ died to give her. Before Pastor Buetow moved on, he told me about the members of Bethel in general and specifically the shut-ins under his care. He told me that Ruth looked forward to his visits, so much so that she wanted him to preach at her funeral. Sadly, he couldn’t be here today. But when I asked him what he remembered most about Ruth, he told me, “She received Christ’s gifts faithfully.” What a wonderful testimony for a baptized child of God! She lived her baptism by confessing her sins and receiving forgiveness. She lived her baptism by receiving the body and blood of Christ. And through these gifts, the Lord prepared her and made her ready for this day. By faith Ruth could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Are you ready? Could you make the same confession? Are you fighting the fight? Are you running the race? Are you keeping the faith? Just as surely as the mortal remains of Ruth are before you today, so also will your body find rest from its labors. When will your end come? Will it be today on the way home, suddenly and unexpected? Will you live to a ripe old age? Will it be somewhere between? Death wants to swallow you whole. Are you ready? What are you going to do with this Jesus? Do you cling to him? Do you hunger and cry out for His Word and His gifts? If you have neglected your spiritual welfare or the spiritual welfare of your family, let both the words of Paul and the reality of Ruth’s passing demonstrate your need for a faithful relationship with the Lord.
Saint Paul stated the truth that those who have no such trust in and worship of the Lord will not partake in the joys and blessings of heaven. He wrote: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the Crown of Righteousness, which the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing.” When Paul was no longer able to go about freely and be with the congregation for worship, his desire was still to have the Word of God brought to him. He asked Timothy to bring the books and the parchments to him, to have the Word of God brought to him in his prison cell. When Ruth was no longer able to come to church, her desire was to have the Word of the Lord brought to her. From the monthly times when she received the Lord's Supper and heard Bible readings to the times when she came to Bible class, Ruth was kept close to her Lord.
The faith that the Holy Spirit created in Ruth, that faith which clung to the Word of God, depended entirely on the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus took Ruth's place. Jesus lived the perfect life that Ruth could not live. Jesus went to the cross and endured the full punishment of God's wrath in Ruth’s place. Jesus rose from the dead in order to show Ruth that her body will one day rise to immortal perfection. This is the gift that the Holy Spirit delivered to Ruth when He created faith in her in the waters of Holy Baptism.
This faith is not just for Ruth. The Jesus who lived a perfect life in Ruth’s place also lived it for you. The Jesus who took Ruth’s sins to the cross also took your sins to the cross. The Jesus who rose from the dead to give Ruth the promise of resurrection also makes that promise to you. The Holy Spirit delivers this same gift to you through the faith He creates in you.
This means that the goodbyes we say today are not forever. We will see Ruth again. Although we shall not again see Ruth in this life, there is a life to come in eternity. Those who believe in Jesus will live again in His presence. In the meantime, gathering around His body and blood, we shall be reunited with those who have gone on before in the faith: “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven.” And then, on the Last day, we will be raised, and we shall be forever reunited with our loved ones as we gather around the throne. By faith, we will see Ruth again.
Saint Paul wrote elsewhere, “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.” The world grieves without the hope of seeing loved ones again. We also grieve. We will miss Ruth, just as we miss her husband, and we mourn. But the day is coming when we will see them again. We will join them at the throne of God, and we will dwell with them in the house of the Lord forever. In that place—our fight fought, our race run, our faith kept—we shall live in the sure knowledge that we shall never be parted again. ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.