I vividly remember the day of my great grandfather’s funeral. That day I trekked to northern Indiana with my mother, my father, and my sister to grieve at the funeral proceedings. Great Grandpa Butler was a silent, hardened World War I veteran who lived his whole life in Gas City, Indiana. But by the grace of God he trusted in Jesus Christ for eternal life one week before his death at age 85. Little did I know that God would use Granddad’s physical death to draw me into spiritual life in the eternal family of God.
We traveled to the funeral home. And just before the service my family took me forward to the open casket to pay my last respects. It was when I laid my hand on Granddad’s that a violent chill – almost like an electrical shock – traveled up my arm, then down my spine. It was for me a moment of raw horror. I was terrified to be in the presence of the body of one I loved so much. I knew he was not there. But where was he? In that moment God began to open my heart to the truth of my mortality and sinfulness.
Mom and Dad tell me that all the way home from the funeral that day I peppered them with questions about Granddad. Was his soul still alive? Why does aging and death happen? Where exactly is heaven at? How do you know Granddad is there? That day was my close encounter of the first kind, and it made a deep impression upon my mind. That day I saw the frailty – the temporalness – of human existence. I saw the unstoppable decay of death. And I knew I needed a Savior of my soul.
It was just a few months later – after careful Biblical instruction from my father – that I came to trust Jesus Christ, the One who triumphed over death. On the morning of March 22, 1981 the Holy Spirit awoke in me the desire to know Jesus for myself. Finally all Dad’s lectures about Jesus, and the cross, and especially the resurrection of Jesus began to make sense. I knew that I did not know him. And I wanted to.
My father shared with me I John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Even then I saw that I was a sinner and that the only way for me to become good was to face the reality of my sin. And to repent. In the words of the Apostle, I was compelled in my heart to “confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord, and to believe in my heart that God had raised him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).
So that Sabbath morning, I knelt with my dad on the orange carpet at the head of our stairs and confessed that I was bad, that Jesus was good, and that I would trust Jesus to make me good. I stated my belief that he was the Lord over heaven and earth. Even then, I clearly remember understanding that Jesus died in my place upon the cross. It was my sin that nailed Him to that cross. Later, I learned that He confirmed His deity and sealed my justification by rising up from the tomb the third day, then ascending to heaven where He is seated at God’s right hand.
That was the first time I confessed Jesus Christ. But because I have been born again, I now I delight to confess Christ as King every day of my life. Since then God has taught me many things. He has taught me just how much he delights to break in on depressed and broken people, and restore their hearts. He has taught me how important it is to tell others the good news about what he did in forgiving my sin. Above all, he has taught me of the wonder of ‘so great a salvation’ that is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone.