Fourteen years ago, my brother was hit by a truck. This past week, after living in a persistent vegetative state for all this time, he went home to be with the Lord. I shared the following at his memorial service on August 14, 2008. (Follow this link to view a YouTube tribute that was played at the memorial service.)
After Jeremy’s accident, I wrote a gospel tract entitled “Why?” that answered the basic questions the average person has when he undergoes trials. Now, fourteen years later, I find myself asking the same question, but in a different way. I was satisfied with the answers from God fourteen years ago, but why did God keep him around for fourteen years? Some people would say Jeremy was a drain on society and had a terrible quality of life. And at weary times, we are susceptible to all such tempting thoughts. In fact, I can say for the family this morning that in a way, a weight has been lifted. A fourteen-year weight. However, if we don’t answer that question, we are gathered here today as fools, trying to find meaning in a wasteland.
But God has the answers, and we are pressed to find them today. Why did God keep Jeremy alive in that condition for fourteen years? When you have a friend on the verge of death for fourteen years, you think about this day a lot and what you would say. I would like to share with you fourteen reasons for fourteen years.
- Fourteen years changes the contemporary idea of quality of life. The idea that quality of life is to be defined solely by the individual rather than by the community is from the Devil. American individualism has robbed this nation of many benefits. Countless stories could be told of the untold blessings of Down syndrome, handicapped, special needs, and yes, PVS patients and the way they have made people ponder what true quality of life is—a life that displays the wonders of God. And all life is valuable.
- Fourteen years was the time needed to teach us the ways of God. The psalmist said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted that I might learn thy statues.” Some things we learn only in affliction. Visiting Jeremy was often like looking in a mirror. His life message was convicting. You were confronted with your life, your lack of love, your priorities, your dedication, your care for the hurting, and the nature of your service. I cannot explain it, but many of you know of what I speak. Many times I left his bedside and followed Job’s example in chapter 42 and repented of the idolatry in my life. One of his friends said, “There was a time when I struggled with what appeared to be the senselessness of it all. But the reality of the goodness of God and then the experience of the work of God in lives through Jeremy’s suffering have resonated with the truths of Scripture. It is real. This is what the world needs to see —a real God transforming real lives in the most intense of situations.”
- Fourteen years screams at the suffering of their need of patience. James admonishes us to let patience have its maturing work. Job was held up as an example of patience; at the end of his long journey, he saw a merciful, compassionate God. When a trial grows in length, the value of it deepens like fine wine. Clichés no longer sustain us. Shoulders to cry on vanish. Christ demands that we do what is supernatural, to abide under the burden while He perfects us.
- Fourteen years provoked thousands of Christians to improve their prayer lives. When the trial happened, thousands prayed. Over the years, thousands more have interceded. One note I received from a college classmate of his said that her mom prayed for him every day for fourteen years. That’s fourteen years of communication with God. Fourteen years of pleading with Him to work. Fourteen years of Him saying no. Fourteen years of Him increasing and His creatures decreasing. I observed this fact firsthand as my boys made him their prayer project from the time they learned to speak. Yesterday, as we closed the casket, they wept. Boys, thank you for praying for him all these years. Sometimes God says no, and we can know that this is best. I was reminded of David who prayed and fasted for his child to live. Perhaps God would show mercy. He didn’t to David, and He didn’t to us. He had better plans.
- Fourteen years uplifts the sovereignty of God. In our wisdom, we wonder, Why fourteen? Why not four or twenty-four? Yet we can rest, not in our autonomy, but in God’s great, ultimate plan. He tells us that Jer’s days were numbered before he was born, so he went home on the perfect day. So if I asked God why not four or twenty-four, He may respond the way he did to Job. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?” God knows why it was fourteen years, and that is enough. Sovereignty is a soft pillow.
- Fourteen years prolonged his earthly ministry. Jeremy’s legacy runs deep with many who remember his boundless energy, but he ministered to more through his tragedy than he ever did through his so-called “public” ministry. That was simply setting the stage for God to show something far deeper, far more marvelous. Over the past fourteen years, hundreds of people asked ultimate questions as they cared for him. Whether on his dozens of trips to ER, his transfer to multiple facilities, or his regular caregivers, he forced people to consider God’s hand in the world. One of his college professors e-mailed me yesterday with apt words. “As I see it, Jeremy has been full time in the ministry for the last fourteen years. It was not the ministry he would have chosen or any of us would have chosen for him. But he gave up the right to choose how God would use him sometime along the way, and I know he wanted what God wanted for him. He is a great example for all of us.”
- Fourteen years has forced all involved to rely on divine strength. The physical demands of caring for Jeremy fell on his caregivers and primarily on my parents. And I want to publicly thank them for tirelessly caring for him, fighting for him, and staying by his side until the end. In our weakness we were forced to rely on a strength that was not our own. We can say that we were able to do this through Christ who strengthened us.
- Fourteen years gave many people a new ministry of ministering the comfort of Christ. Second Corinthians 1:3-5 tells us that we get to take the ministry of a comforting Christ to our own hearts and use that to minister Christ to other hurting hearts. Our phones ring when brain-injured people enter emergency rooms. And we go. It’s a stewardship. It’s a gift. It’s a joy.
- Fourteen years allowed him to preach the gospel longer. From the beginning, a gospel tract written on his life was used to give the gospel to lost sinners. At the end, on the night before he saw Jesus, one of his caregivers knelt by his bedside and accepted the Lord into her life. Paul testified to this in Philippians when he said of his persecution, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
- Fourteen years gave us a glimpse of what it means to be part of the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ. No human being suffered the way He did. John MacArthur says it well. “The deepest moments of spiritual fellowship with the living Christ are at times of intense suffering; suffering drives believers to Him. They find in Him a merciful High Priest, a faithful friend who feels their pain, and a sympathetic companion who faced all the trials and temptations that they face (Heb. 4:15). He is thus uniquely qualified to help them in their weaknesses and infirmities” (Heb. 2:17). I can say that I better understand Christ and His cross because of fourteen years of suffering.
- Fourteen years allowed us to see the works of God. God used Jeremy’s trial to transform lives. People were saved, lives were transformed, and believers were sanctified. Why was the man born blind? Because of sin? No, so that the works of God could be displayed in his life.
- Fourteen years proved Satan wrong. I can visualize the day when Satan walked into God’s throne room and said, “Do the Janzes fear God for nothing? Do those who know and love this boy simply believe in a feel-good God?” I can see God granting His permission. I fast-forward to sitting in the Salt Lake Hospital with family and friends who were reeling. But let fourteen years prove that this trial did not derail the saints of God. Let Satan be silent. Let it be known that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world. So fourteen years proved him wrong … for fourteen years.
- Fourteen years made us long for heaven. Perhaps one of the more draining experiences of these years took me by surprise. It was the dreams. Nobody told me about the dreams. But more times than I could keep track of, I would walk into a hospital room to a coherent brother, and I would catch him up on all that had taken place only to wake up and realize that it was a farce. The new grief got old fast. I began to long for heaven where we could converse about life during these fourteen years. I want him to know my children, my wife. God tells us that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glories of heaven. In a sermon by Jonathan Edwards in 1733, he said, “God is the highest good of the reasonable creature, and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. — To go to heaven fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean. — Therefore it becomes us to spend this life only as a journey towards heaven, as it becomes us to make the seeking of our highest end and proper good, the whole work of our lives, to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?”
- Fourteen years showed us that our satisfaction should be in Christ. “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever!” (Ps. 21:26). God forbid if we ever lose sight of our true satisfaction. It is Jesus, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer, our Hope.
|Jason Janz, former SharperIron site publisher, is planting Providence Bible Church in downtown Denver. Formerly, he served as an assistant pastor at Red Rocks Baptist Church (Morrison, CO). He has a bachelor’s degree in Bible and is currently finishing a master’s degree in theology. He has been married to Jennifer for ten years, and they have four boys. His interests include pastoring, reading, and wrestling with his boys. He likes SI because of how it helps serve pastors and church leaders.|