Written in memory of Pastor Don Mathis, who died at age 95, February 22, 2022.
FORTY-EIGHT HOURS BEFORE HE DIED, our dad was gently lifted from his nursing home bed and wheeled to the chapel to preach his final sermon. Christ was worthy, even with the humbling misery of a cracked hip, failing kidneys, and a near century-old body bruised and stitched together. Feeble, brief, jumbled in delivery, dad’s sermon was not pretty. But the Treasure of his crumbling earthen vessel would be exalted, one more time.
To speak well of Don Mathis would be sinful on my part if I did not speak of dad’s Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Before there was a Pastor Don, there was a sinner saved by God’s grace. Our dad was a blood-bought sinner. The fruit of joyful godliness we saw and benefitted from grew from the root of his having been saved through faith alone in Christ alone. So, to honor dad, his Savior and Lord Jesus Christ must be honored.
Our dad did not grow up in a Christian home or godly environment. At 16 he left home, wanting to work on a farm. Dad met Betty Jo Hice in high school, and they were married in 1946. Like all children of Adam, they assumed their own goodness and their own autonomy.
IN GOD’S PROVIDENCE, Dad and mom found themselves up against the irrevocable reality, God alone is sovereign and God alone is holy. They were feeble rebels and their only hope was the substitute God provided in His Son, Jesus Christ.
In 1950, God’s sovereign grace enabled these slaves of self to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and their obedience of faith began. The trajectory and flavor of their lives was forever altered.
Like newborn babes longing for milk, their salvation came with hunger. Their new lives in Christ required the nourishment God provides in His Scriptures — the Word of God. The result was dad and mom became lifelong students, feeding their own souls and the souls of thousands of others on the Word of God.
Beginning in 1953 Dad would serve his Lord as a pastor. With mom at his side until her homegoing in 2018, they worked as a team. They loved people practically and spiritually by telling them of the Christ who alone could save and who alone would bring God-honoring change in their lives. For about 42 years Dad would serve five churches in Michigan, Wyoming, and Nebraska. In the 1990’s he taught pastoral theology at Frontier School of the Bible. But from age 70 until the time of his death dad ministered in nursing homes.
DAD WAS A PASTOR to hundreds in their final, inescapable state of weakness. Multiple weekly visits to bedsides. Thousands of simple declarations of the Gospel to deafened ears and clouded minds. Countless funerals. Zero weddings. Simple Sunday sermons. Untold extra-large print hymns and Bible passages printed. The aging shepherd saw his aging flock through to their presentation before the Ancient of Days.
Dad’s Christ-honoring life that thousands witnessed did not come naturally or magically. What Dad was in public was a result of what he was before God in private. Like all sinners saved by grace, Dad had to learn to put on the new self that honored Christ and put off the old sinful self. Dad recently told me that when he and mom were brand new believers, they learned from the book of Galatians of their sinful flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. They learned there could only be a war between their flesh and the Holy Spirit. He told me, “Every night we would get down by the side of our bed and confess what was of our old nature. That made us seek the Lord in His Word all the more. That’s how the Lord changed us.”
Dad was single-minded. He hungered for sinners to be saved and their lives transformed by the Christ of Scripture. He offered nothing more to sinners and expected nothing less for sinners than what God had revealed and promised in the Bible and was confirmed in his own life. The Christ who brought full forgiveness to sinners in His death, was the same risen and ascended Christ whose Spirit brought new life to the forgiven sinner. This life could only be one of pursuing holiness in loving submission to Christ as Lord.
HE WAS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS. We often heard him say: “There are only two kinds of people in this world – saved or lost.” His message was for sinners, children of Adam ruined by the fall. His Gospel was the cross of Christ that is foolishness and a scandal in any age.
Dad spent no time labeling other’s personality types and even less time analyzing his own. His ministry was void of man-defined assessments or solutions.
Dad put no confidence in moral improvement programs or mystical rituals to help people with their damning sin. He knew those things only wash the outside of the cup. It was the good news of Jesus Christ that was the power of God unto salvation. While tenderly aware of the hard and horrific situations that Adam’s sin has brought into the world, as well as the consequences of the sins of his children, dad patiently, ploddingly remained on task, pointing sinners to Christ who is life.
On February 22, 2022, at 95 years of age, dad became absent from his body, and present with his Lord. For decades he had seen the glory of God by faith. Now he joins mom and the myriads of other blood-bought saints and he sees face to face.
Dad would have it no other way than to urge you to consider the following from the Word of God and examine yourself, to see, if you are of the faith.
Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him. See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. – I John 2:28-3:3