James R. Van Tholen was a gifted young Christian Reformed pastor who (in 2001) lost a battle with cancer at the age of 36. Where All Hope Lies: Sermons for the Liturgical Year (Wm. B. Eerdmans) is a collection of 56 sermons by Van Tholen which reflects the work of a gifted and insightful communicator. In the sermon he preached on his first Sunday back after treatment (and a few weeks before his death), Van Tholen said:

“Believe me, don’t put your hope in your legacy or your name recognition, in some sermon you wrote or project you accomplished. Even if it allows you to last a little longer, it won’t matter, because in the end you’ll still be swallowed up, and your place will remember you no more. The story of Lazarus being raised isn’t really the story of Lazarus; it’s the story of Jesus. Lazarus got a few more years and then he died all over again—he was resuscitated, not resurrected. The story of Lazarus makes for a good film, but it’s not much to rest your entire existence on. But this isn’t the story of Lazarus; it’s the story of Jesus, the story of the one who gives life, even through his death, the story of the one who breathes the breath of God into utterly dead souls.

“Our place will know us no more. It’s true. All the stuff we think will keep us alive, when we really look at it, it only shows us how little we have to depend on, to stake our lives on, to put all our hopes in. All we really have is the scandalous gospel of grace, that while we were still weak and sinners and even enemies, Christ died for us.

“My place will know me no more, but God knows me. The Giver of life, who came to me and kept coming to me before I ever went to him, knows me, and so I have hope, hope on which I can rest all that I am…

“I’m dying. Maybe it’ll be longer instead of shorter; maybe I’ll preach for several months instead of a few weeks. But I am dying. And it’s hard and I hate it and I’m frightened by it. But there is hope, an unshakeable hope. That hope is not in something I’ve done, some purity I’ve kept, or some sermon I’ve written. I hope in God, the scandalous God with a plan the world has never heard of—reaching out for an enemy, saving a sinner, dying for the weak. And that I can stake my life on. I must. And so must you.”

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