Larry Cernik, RIP

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My friend Larry Cernik was a no-frills, no-nonsense, basic-gospel kind of man. He was a man who wanted to live by the Word of God, straight up the middle, and with no funny business. This being the case, what I wanted to do here today is to declare this gospel in the same way that Larry lived it out.

Over the years I had many opportunities to see how Larry lived it. After we built our house, we called on Larry a number of times to supplement or complete or add on to what we had done. I always admired his dedication to his craft, his integrity in business, and just how steady he was. I had a friend once who hired Larry to do a job, and one morning my friend came out to where Larry was working and said, “You know, I don’t think you’re a Christian.” I presume that Larry was somewhat startled. “What?” he might have said. “Why would you say that?”

“Well, you show up on time, you do what you said you would do in the bid, and you do good work.”

They were words to that effect. Larry was a real Christian, and he was that kind of Christian. And I believe that what Larry would want for this occasion is for me to present that same kind of message. So you may consider this to be a Kentucky-bourbon-gospel message—straight, no chaser. And this is why I would exhort you, as a minister of Christ, as you love your own soul, to listen closely.

When our first parents rebelled against the clear Word of God, they not only descended into disobedience, they also at the same time descended into delusions. We were ensnared by the father of lies, and he accomplished this by lying to us. We cooperated with him by believing all the lies. Not only are we profoundly broken, but we lie to ourselves about the extent of this brokenness, along with the nature of it. As a result, our self-centered pettiness seems normal to us somehow, and holiness or righteousness seem weird, or stiff, or truly odd.

The apostle Paul tells us that prior to Christ’s intervention on our behalf, we were all dead in our transgressions and sins. We weren’t sinking, or beginning to drown. No, we were a corpse that had been in the river face down for three days. We couldn’t have been more dead.  

What this means is that Christ is not medicine for sick people who can sign the appropriate forms and agree to take it. The risen Christ is rather an embodied and incarnate resurrection power who walks into the graveyard in order to speak a word over the bones. But because we are deluded and dead, we mistake our animal life for spiritual life, and so we continue on in our misery.

We believe we are not dead because we are still moving around. But Paul says that “you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked . . .” Death is not an inability to move; death is separation. Physical death is separation of soul from body, while spiritual death is the separation of God from man. Death is separation, not cessation. And so from the day our first parents ate the forbidden fruit, they were separated from the fellowship with God that they had previously enjoyed.

The only answer to this kind of death was another kind of death. As in algebra, the negatives cancel. Christ came to this earth as a perfect man, stretched out His arms on the cross, and the sin-death of all His people was laid out across His shoulders, and He thereupon died. “It is finished,” He said, and breathed out His last.

Scripture teaches us that when we look in faith toward Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit of God joins us to Him. We are united with Christ by faith and it is the power of the Spirit that accomplishes this. When we are united to Christ, everything that happened to Him happens to us. When He lived a sinless life, we lived a sinless life in Him. When He died on the cross, we died there with Him. When He was buried, we were buried together with Him in that tomb. And—here is the kicker—when He rose from the dead, we rose from the dead in Him. This is what makes it possible for us, in the here and now, to walk in newness of life. This is the real thing, and only this is the real thing.

Scripture tells us that it is better to go to the house of mourning (Ecc. 7:2), as we are gathered now, than to go into a house of feasting. And why? Because this end, this conclusion, this point of physical death, is the end of all men. And this is why the wise man says in Ecclesiastes that the living “will lay it to heart.”

It is the way of wisdom to consider what preparations we have made. We need to be reminded regularly by funerals, because funerals bring us up short. These reminders are reminders that we desperately need. When you have attended the funeral of more than one person you went to high school with, certain questions should arise in your mind.

The foolish sit through a memorial service, listen for the last amen, go out into the sunlight in order to blink a few times, and then they plunge back into the old routines. But the wise hear, and the wise take it to heart.

I had many conversations with Larry, and he is now with the Lord. Many have had conversations with me, but one day I will be with the Lord also. There is no way to switch off the conveyor belt of time, and it does no good to address this problem by pretending that it is not moving. Every person here is one day closer to the moment of their physical death than we were at this time yesterday. But—glory to God—we are also one day closer to the time when are privileged to hear the glorious gospel declared, as we are in this moment.

Here it is again, in conclusion. Christ lived, suffered, bled and died. He did this so that sinners could look to Him and be saved. Having taken them, and all their sins, down into the grave with Him, He came back from the dead, carrying them in His arms, but having left their sins behind, down in the grave where they belong. Wouldn’t it be marvelous to have your sins, and all the guilt of all of them, surgically removed like that? As though they were at the bottom of the sea? As far as east is from west?

This is something that only the Christ of God can do. Let this funeral do what every funeral should do . . . remind you to look to Him.