My Mother-in-Law, Mary Lou, passed away on Sunday, December 14. This is the written text of the sermon I gave at her funeral. Before I preached, a Gospel Quartet sang the old hymn, "Beulah Land." I turned to Isaiah 62:1-5 for the text of the sermon "Beulah Hope".
“Beulah Land” - An odd or perhaps old fashioned word or phrase. What this song we just heard captures is the desire and longing by every believer… by every person who trusts Jesus as the sole fount of salvation for the soul.
This Gospel song, written sometime in the 1870s, draws on a passage of scripture that speaks of the drawing nearness to God. Listen to Isaiah 62:1-5
For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace,
And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
Until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness,
And the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness,
And all kings thy glory:
And thou shalt be called by a new name,
Which the mouth of the Lord shall name.
3 Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.
4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken;
Neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate:
But thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah,
And thy land Beulah:
For the Lord delighteth in thee,
And thy land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marrieth a virgin,
So shall thy sons marry thee:
And as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride,
So shall thy God rejoice over thee.
While more modern translations remove the terms “Hephzi-bah” and “Beulah”, the old King James version kept the Hebrew as a means of heightening our base connection to the feel of the text. In the great classic, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan equates Beulah land with the very outskirts of the Celestial City - the place every true pilgrim strives to reach.
For those of us who knew Mary Lou well, she was an incredible woman. A generous person who gave a smile willingly and often - A person who inspired many of her students to greatness - A person who loved her family - A person who wanted others to connect with the joy that filled her heart.
In our selected text, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah boldly declared a messianic vision of hope. A hope that would come through the promised one: Jesus. “For the sake of the people I love, I cannot be silent,” God says. “Instead, I am going to make my love so clear that no one can avoid it. It’s going to be blindingly bright and inescapable.”
In her early days working with Campus Crusade, Mary Lou spoke of this this love with others daily. She did the same with you and me and did so often. She had seen the light found in the person of Jesus Christ and sought to share the hope of that Messiah with others.
Lest we make a mistake here, Mary Lou wasn’t perfect. She was an incredible person, but a person nonetheless. What we all saw in that amazing smile, in those sparkling eyes - What we heard through her encouraging words, through the song that was always on her lips - What we encountered through her life was the reality of the light of her Savior Jesus Christ shining through her. That’s ultimately what touched our lives in such a precious way.
I remember seeing it when she sang praise to her creator in the choir. Angie stated it must have been Sunday morning choir practice she was headed for just a few days ago. You couldn’t miss it. She loved the Lord and it radiated from her.
This hope. This inescapable hope. Hope in her Savior. Hope in a secure future in His presence. Hope beyond measure that met its fullness on Sunday as her hope was realized.
As our text continues, Isaiah records an amazing concept. Not only will God bring salvation through the Messiah, Jesus, but He also will enter into an intimate relationship with as and will change our names. In this most essential of Ancient Near Eastern concepts, the name given to you by others captured the essence of who you were.
In the case of the People of Israel, as they walked in rebellion against God, they lost their way. The were called “desolate ones” in the prior chapter. They were the ones with no place to call their own. No home in which to hang their hats.
It was a desperate situation. Hopeless. Or so it seemed. But through the power of the Good News of Messiah, Jesus, not only would they experience and see Salvation, but they would experience a name change. No longer “desolate”, they would be referred to as Hephzi-bah! This name mattered! It carried with it, according to verse 3, the weight of the very crown of the King of Life! There would be no mistaking to whom you belonged. God’s people would be the opposite of “Forsaken ones.” They would be his Hephzi-bah, or, “My delight is in you.”
Don’t we know that this is how God felt about His daughter and our wife, mother, sister, Aunt and friend Mary Lou? “My delight is in Mary Lou”! As she entered her eternal home, that she would have heard, “Well done Good and Faithful Servant!”
Can this be said of you? Our promise in Scripture is that for all who trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, we experience His peace that passes all understanding. We have a destiny change and we are promised eternity in the presence of Jesus. Our identity even changes. We are children of the King! Even today, if you have trusted him, you are His child! We serve and wait for him to call us home, but we are HIS children! Too many of us forget this! We are trapped in our mistakes and trapped in our misguided belief that God could never love us. Friends, He delights in you! You are His child! You, Christian, are Hephzi-bah!
Ultimately, this intimacy with God is demonstrated even further by use of the term “Beulah.” Yes, we return to this odd word from our Gospel song earlier. It’s meaning is rather simple: “married”. If the language of Hephzi-bah threw you, perhaps you can connect here to the idea of marriage. As the people of God, we are called the “bride of Christ” - Our “Beulah” status is all because of the work of Christ.
Remember, this is based not on our abilities, not on our work, not on what we accomplish or how ashamed we are of our failures. This hope - This Beulah hope - is found but simply through Jesus.
We saw this poignantly demonstrated through Curt’s love for Mary Lou until the end. He daily attended to her needs. He cared for her every step of the way. In fact, despite the difficulty Mary Lou experienced in her final years, Curt’s love ran even deeper than it ever had before. It was a love for the ages!
Yet the love story that God writes on our heart is even greater! When he calls you his own and when he intercepts your story and begins to write His story through you, we see the love of God over and over and over again. It’s real. It never fades. His love through Jesus endures forever.
Thus, as we gather today to remember, we gather today to rejoice. We rejoice in full because we know that Mary Lou is in the presence of her Savior. We rejoice because the grips of a horrible human disease no longer effects her in any way. We rejoice because the very thing that she saw in part was finally made whole when she saw her Savior face to face. Joy reached its final destination - eternity in the presence of God.
Augustine of Hippo in his book, Confessions, wrote the immortal words, "our heart does not rest until it rests in God." His vision of heaven painted eternity as one long embrace - First and foremost, the embrace of God, and then an embrace of other people who love Christ.
Today, that would be Mary Lou’s encouragement to you. She would smile and express to you the love that is found in Jesus Christ. The hope that is found in the cross. The eternal love that can be experienced when you turn and surrender at the foot of the cross. Would you trust him with your heart and life right now?
We will listen now to one of Mary Lou’s favorite hymns “Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling.” Friends, as you listen to the words of this song, could this be the invitation you need to hear as God calls you to himself and you experience the truth of an intimate relationship with God? Could today be the day you experience your Beulah-hope the same way Mary Lou found hers?
John Mark Yeats