The Last Words of a Graduated Saint
August 13, 2022
Categories: Death, Evangelism
On June 2, 2022, Paul Krueger, a brother in the Lord and member of Firm Foundation Bible Church, died suddenly and went to be with the Lord. His memorial service was held here at the church, and I had the honor of serving his wife Brenda and their family by delivering the memorial message. It was not a large group, but there were several people who expressed considerable appreciation for the message, so I thought I would publish it here, word for word, as it was delivered that afternoon. (For readability, I’ve made some light edits and have added headers here in the post).
Special thanks to our dear sister Brenda for allowing me to publish this.
Preaching His Own Memorial Service
Anytime I do a service like this, I like to use the Bible of the person we are honoring, and base my talk on notes that they themselves wrote down in the pages of their Bible. That seems to me to be a way of allowing that person to commend to all of us, one last time, the things that meant most to them. And, assuming that the Bible is true when it says that believers who are absent from the body are in the presence of the Lord, it is a way they can exhort us one final time—from the very presence of the Lord, as it were—with respect to the realities that he or she now possesses.
When my own dad passed away unexpectedly three years ago, I did this same thing at his memorial service. I took notes from his Bible, and really just allowed my dad to speak one last time to all of us about the things that meant most to him, and which he now possessed in beholding the face of the Lord Jesus.
As I turned through the pages of our brother Paul’s Bible, there was definitely a common theme in the notes that he took and the passages that he underlined and marked. And that theme is the two basic responses among humanity toward what the Bible calls “the Gospel”—literally, the “good news” of the salvation that comes through faith alone in the death of Jesus instead of sinners.
In other words, Paul gravitated toward God’s explanation of what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished, and the only two ways that all people will ultimately respond to that explanation. And there is one passage in particular that evidently caught his attention that really crystalizes all of this. So, what I’d like to do is read that passage, give a few thoughts, and hopefully just allow our brother Paul Krueger to speak to us from the heart one last time.
“Anytime I do a service like this, I like to base my talk on notes that they themselves wrote down in the pages of their Bible. That seems to me to be a way of allowing that person to commend to all of us, one last time, the things that meant most to them.
In approximately 55 A.D., roughly 20 years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote a few letters to a group of new Christians in the Greek city of Corinth in order to instruct and correct them on a number of things. In some of the opening words of the first of two of those letters which have ended up in our Bibles, the apostle Paul wrote the following:
For the word of the cross is foolishness* to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the foolishness of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. –1 Corinthians 1.18–25, ESV
*Originally “folly;” so throughout this passage
The passage that the apostle Paul quotes there is from the prophet Isaiah, who had written about 700 years earlier. And what is really remarkable about that is that Isaiah’s words were not meant to rebuke the quote “unbelievers,” but the people of Israel, who were supposed to be the believers in Old Testament times. And Isaiah’s point—on which Paul is clearly basing his argument—is that there are people in this world who think that they are wise in rejecting the foolishness of the so-called “words of God.”
Just as Solomon writes in the book of Proverbs about 300 years before Isaiah, “All a man’s ways are right in his own eyes.” Nobody thinks they’re wrong about anything they think, and the human default is the commitment not to have my beliefs dictated to me by anyone. And that’s perfectly legitimate if God has not, in fact, revealed himself to humanity. But the Bible’s claim, of course, is that God has done just that: he has told humanity what he is like, what he values, and what he requires from his creatures, and men like the prophet Isaiah—and the apostle Paul, and Jesus himself—had faithfully and accurately delivered that message.
During those first decades of the first century, as this new faith concerning Jesus was spreading like wildfire in the Mediterranean world, the apostle Paul overwhelmingly faced rejection and even hostility to the message of the cross of Jesus.
“The human default is the commitment not to have my beliefs dictated to me by anyone. And that’s perfectly legitimate if God has not, in fact, revealed himself to humanity. But the Bible’s claim, of course, is that God has done just that.
Foolishness from the Greek Perspective
On the one hand, non-Jewish people—predominantly Greeks—were looking for wisdom in the vein of the great Greek philosophers of the past, like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, and the like. They were certainly interested in hearing new ideas, but when those ideas didn’t appeal to default human rationality, or when they weren’t presented in eloquent articulation, the hearers were quickly disappointed, and they moved on in indifference.
But beyond that, not only was the preaching of the cross not the performance they’d come to expect from Greek philosophers, but the message itself was absolute nonsense. God took on human flesh in the form of the man Jesus of Nazareth and died on a Roman cross instead of sinners, and the only way anyone is going to heaven is by believing that? We’re dealing with war, famine, family problems, crime, political instability, and death all around us—and that is the great message of this supposed living and true God who has created heaven and earth?
It’s easy to see why it was so foolish to the Greeks.
Fraudulent from the Jewish Perspective
Meanwhile, for well over 2,000 years, the Jews had been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, the everlasting King who would take the throne, crush the world, and deliver his people from all their enemies once and for all. Moses had spoken about the Messiah 1,500 years before Jesus. King David had spoken about the Messiah 500 years after that. Dozens of prophets—from Isaiah, to Jeremiah, to Daniel, to Malachi, and dozens in between—spent over 500 years majoring on the theme of the coming King.
Then Jesus appeared.
And for 3 solid years, he lived, and spoke, and acted in ways that no human being ever has before or since. And at the end of those three years, as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey during Passover week, Jews from all over the world were hailing him as the One they had been waiting for all those centuries: “Hosannah to the King, the Son of David!” they cried, as they laid palm branches like a royal red carpet on the road in front of him.
And the timing was perfect, because they were pretty sick of the oppressive, iron fist of the pagan Gentile Romans, and they were ready to see good foot on their necks once and for all.
The problem, however, was that, during Jesus’ life, he went around calling people sinners and threatening them with hell if they didn’t repent; he told them that believing in him was the only way that anyone was going to be saved—you know, all those kinds of things that will get you crucified if you say them often enough. And it turned out that those who heard Jesus’ words thought of themselves as religious or otherwise moral people, and his message was no more popular with them than it is today. So just seven short days after being ready to crown him the everlasting King of the World, the entire city called for his execution on the Roman cross. And rightly so, because the Messiah doesn’t get arrested by the Romans. No, he crushes the Romans, so clearly Jesus could not be the Messiah. So put him to death and get that fraud out of here.
In other words, while the message of the Cross of Christ was foolishness to the Greeks, it was a stumbling block to the Jews. So for one reason or another, the entire message from beginning to end was absolutely unacceptable.
Wise and Powerful from a Fool’s Point of View
I had a conversation several months back with our brother Paul, and he talked to me about coming to the realization that he wasn’t a good person according to God’s standard, and that there was no way that he could earn salvation by moral or religious performance. And it was especially devastating for him at first, because, as a proud, committed Roman Catholic, he thought of himself as a “good person,” and as someone who was doing—and had done—everything that was cosmically required of him. God owed him heaven, because, after all, he’d earned it.
But the realization that he was a sinner because he had spent his life in functional indifference toward God and violating all the things that God says to do—do not steal, do not lie, do not commit adultery, love your neighbor as yourself—Paul’s realization that he was a sinner but that Jesus died instead of sinners, accomplishing everything we need to be forgiven and reconciled with God now and forever—that realization radically changed the direction of his life for the rest of his life. And he never got over that.
And just as a matter of personal testimony, I can tell you that I had that same, exact experience 20 years ago when I came to that same realization. I’m not what I should be, and I’m not under any illusion about that and neither is anyone around me. But everyone who knew me before I came to that realization will tell you that I am not what I used to be.
In fact, the apostle Paul himself evidently had that same experience, and something like that is what he meant in the passage we read earlier, where he says that, to those who believe the message that the Bible calls “the Gospel,” Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The message of Jesus wasn’t foolishness or a stumbling block to our brother Paul [Krueger]. It was the power of God to forgive all his sin by the substitutionary death of Jesus, and then to change his heart and give him the power to live a new life. Not a perfect life by any stretch, but a new life that was radically different than his life before. But when [our brother Paul Krueger] was under the illusion that he was a good person, the notion that an abstract belief in a homeless Jew who was executed by the Roman government 2,000 years ago could have absolutely anything to do with him going to heaven was utter nonsense.
But when [our brother Paul’s] eyes were opened to the reality, Christ became—as the apostle Paul wrote—the wisdom of God.
A Way to God that Only Fools Accept
How wise it is of God to create a way of salvation that requires people to humble themselves—to have an accurate view of their moral deficiency, and to bow the knee in their hearts to King Jesus, the immortal, invisible, and only-wise God.
Wouldn’t it just be a lot easier and more sensible to base salvation on something easy and expected—like getting dunked or sprinkled, or eating a cracker, or reciting a few words, or belonging to the right religious group, or attending a religious service once or occasionally? That makes a lot more sense to people, doesn’t it? Or so it would, since that’s the wisdom of men and not the wisdom of God.
“Wouldn’t it be a lot easier and more sensible just to base salvation on something easy and expected—like getting dunked or sprinkled, or eating a cracker, or reciting a few words, or belonging to the right religious group? That makes a lot more sense to people, doesn’t it? Or so it would, since that’s the wisdom of men and not the wisdom of God.
It is ironic that the Bible is not full of heroes, but failures. The moral deficiency of every single person in the Bible on whom there is sufficient material is not only not hidden, but is actually highlighted—which really sets the faith concerning Jesus apart from every other belief system in existence. And, by the way, we can safely assume that if we only had more material on those whose moral failures are not recorded in the Bible, we’d have ample dirt on them as well.
But there are no heroes in the Bible. There’s only one hero: the Lord Jesus.
And that is because the message of God is not “Hey, you guys are good people, all roads lead to God, so do your best and find your own truth.” (And all of us, I’m sure, can attest to how productive and fruitful that idea has been in all our lives.)
No, the message of God is that all people have sinned and fallen short of the standard of God’s holiness, but anyone can be forgiven if they turn in faith to the Lord Jesus, who loved us and who gave himself instead of us to take away all our sins.
Besides Jesus, there are only failures in the Bible. The Bible’s heroes are not heroes. They’re failures who trusted God and believed what he had to say about Jesus. And that is all and the only thing that God requires for salvation.
Our brother Paul was a failure—which all of you knew, no doubt. And he was a fool—which many of you thought, no doubt. But Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and [our brother Paul] knew that. And today, from where he stands at the Savior’s side, if he could say one thing to us, he would say this:
“Become a fool, that you might become wise.”
Paul Krueger • March 20, 1959 – June 2, 2022
About the Author
Tony de la Riva is an elder and pastor at Firm Foundation Bible Church where he has served since March of 2020. He is an MDiv student at The Master’s Seminary, and also runs his own studio, de la Riva Brands, which specializes in branding and web development. Tony is originally from Fresno County in Central CA, and he and his wife Beki have been married since 2007 and have four children, Chloe, Daisy, Manasseh, and Israel.
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