Funeral for Martin Niewald
September 30, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
Wilma, Dottie, dear family and friends: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
On April 6, 1941, the Rev. Carl Schmidt read the following words to Marty after he confessed his faith before the saints at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Rosebud: 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, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand (vv 27-28 KJV). Marty’s confirmation verse is more than a little piece of inspiration; it the promise of his Lord and Savior—for him and for you—that death does not get the last word. That Word belongs to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Marty Heard His Shepherd’s Voice and Received the Gift of Eternal Life
Even though Rev. Carl Schmidt was the one who read those two verses from John’s Gospel to Marty all those years ago, it wasn’t his voice speaking, but the voice of Jesus. So it is, whenever the Word of God is read and proclaimed, not the preacher’s voice, but the voice of Jesus. My sheep hear my voice. This is the gift of faith, to find the voice of Jesus speaking through His Word.
Marty heard the voice of Jesus. Too often, a young man’s confirmation verse is the last time he’ll ever hear the Words of Jesus, but not Marty. When the Psalmist wrote, I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord (Ps 122:1), he was taking the words right out of Marty’s mouth. He was glad to be in God’s house, not just because his hands helped build this particular house, but because this is the place where the Shepherd’s voice is heard.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. The voice of Jesus creates a unique and intimate relationship. The Lord knows each one who hears His voice, and so He knows Marty. In fact, He called him by name: Martin Walter, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I have called you by name; you are Mine.
And Marty knew the voice of His Shepherd. I AM the Good Shepherd, says Jesus, I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My soul on behalf of the sheep (Jn 10:14-15). The voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, led Marty to the cross, where Jesus laid down His life on behalf of Marty. Because Jesus suffered and died for Marty’s sins, it was no longer necessary for Marty to suffer and to die for His sins.
The voice that Marty followed is not only the voice of a Shepherd who laid down His life, but who also took it back up again. And because Christ is risen, death cannot be the final word. And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
The voice of Jesus shepherds us through this valley of the shadow of death and into eternal life. But it’s not as if eternal life is something we have to look forward to. It’s something that He gives us right now, even as He gave it to Marty just last Friday. With a little bite of bread and a half a sip of wine, our Lord Jesus Christ gave Marty a Supper of His own body and blood—the same body and blood that was given over into death and shed for the forgiveness of his sins. And wherever there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.
That brief meal last Friday afternoon was a foretaste and a pledge of what awaited Marty on Sunday afternoon. Because on the other side of the valley of the shadow of death is a mountain, and on that mountain is a banquet of rich foods and new wine. Marty has now climbed that mountain, led by the voice of His Shepherd. The shadow of death cannot swallow him up, because the voice of Jesus leads him to the mountain where He swallows up death forever. The tears that you wiped from Marty’s eyes with tissues last week are now dried by the hand of Jesus Himself.
Dear family and friends, the voice that led Marty also leads you. The Word of your Shepherd Jesus is what now guides you through this valley shadowed by death. The Word of Jesus calls you to look up out of this vale of tears to the mountain where Christ has defeated death by His cross. His voice calls you to take and eat, take and drink, and so join Marty at the banquet by partaking in the foretaste He gives to you in His Holy Supper. There you join with angels and archangels and faithful Marty lauding and magnifying the glorious name of Jesus. At the altar you are cradled in the arms of your Shepherd, and no man will pluck them out of His hand.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Jacob W. Ehrhard