November 17 & 18, 2018 – Saints Triumphant
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
He was her pride and joy. She couldn’t help thinking back and recalling all the wonderful moments she had with him. She remembered well his first few steps. Those shaky steps didn’t last long because soon enough he was running all over the place. Yet those days seemed long gone as the boy was now a young man. He meant everything to her since she had already tragically lost her husband and this was the only child they had. Suddenly the mother snapped back to reality. How did this happen? For at that moment, she was walking with her neighbors who were carrying her son’s coffin. Like her husband, her son had died, and she was all alone.
Just as the grief was becoming overwhelming, a man interrupted the funeral procession. His heart went out to the mother. He lovingly told her, “Don’t cry.” “Don’t cry? Don’t you know what I’ve been through?” But the man went straight to the casket to see the young man lying there. Then the man touched the coffin and said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The young man suddenly sat up—fully alive and fully given back to his mother. Jesus had overcome the woman’s grief by raising her son from the dead.
You know grief and sorrow too, don’t you? I doubt there is anyone here who has not lost someone—a mother or father, sister or brother, family member or friend. Death can bring such sorrow to our hearts. Death can also bring so much fear to the heart. Suddenly people begin to wonder, “What is going to happen to me when I die? Where will I be? Where is my loved one right now? How can I get to heaven?”
The Christians living in the Greek city of Thessalonica were very dear to the Apostle Paul’s heart. They had been continuing in the faith in which they were instructed, and Paul was thankful for that. But there were a few things that these newer Thessalonian Christians just didn’t quite understand yet. Maybe it was because Paul didn’t have time to teach them while he was there on his missionary journey. Those Thessalonians did not fully understand death and Judgment Day. They were unclear about the End Times. They were very worried about their loved ones who had already died. So Paul wrote to them to give them the truths about death and Judgment Day. Paul would want us to know these facts, too. He wants us to Know The Facts that Give You Hope.
Here’s what he says first, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you do not grieve in the same way as the others, who have no hope.” One thing is inevitably true, death brings sorrow and sadness. There’s nothing wrong with being sad over the loss of a loved one. There’s nothing wrong with missing a person whom we love to spend time with. But there is a difference between missing a loved one and what Paul says. Listen again, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you do not grieve in the same way as the others, who have no hope.” To be uninformed really means not to know or not to understand something. Paul doesn’t want us to be unknowing of the truth and thus, he says, to grieve like the rest of people. He doesn’t say we shouldn’t grieve at all, but rather, that we shouldn’t grieve like those who have no hope.
We however, do have hope, and Paul wastes no time telling us what that hope is in the next verse, “Indeed, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then in the same way we also believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.” Note he didn’t say, “We hope Jesus died and rose,” or “We think Jesus died and rose.” No, “We believe” it. We know it to be truth and fact—because it is!
Death is the ultimate reality for us. It’s the sobering truth that reminds us of who we are. Adam and Eve were not created to die. God made them as perfect people who would live forever. But as soon as they disobeyed his command and sinned, the perfect image of God was lost. They became sinful, and with sin came death.
Sadly that sinfulness became a part of human life, passed down from generation to generation. That sinfulness has infected every person. God’s demands are still in place. He still declares, “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus still tells us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The demands from our God are still in place. If we want to live with him in heaven, then we must obey God perfectly. If not, well, God says it very clearly in the book of Ezekiel, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”
All it takes is one bad thought. One curse or swear. One doubt. One lie. One cheat. One hateful or vengeful thought. One worry. The soul who sins is the one who will die in hell. But we’ve sinned much more than once. No wonder death is scary. No wonder people worry about what comes after death. But Paul says, “Don’t grieve like the rest of men. Know the Facts that Give You Hope.” Jesus died and rose.
We are sinners and we deserve God’s punishment. We deserve death. But Jesus came to take our punishment. We believe that Jesus died. He went to the cross to carry our sin. He went to the cross to carry our guilt. He went to be the death of all deaths as our substitute. But he didn’t stay dead. Just as he showed that grieving mother whose son he raised to life in Nain, so he showed his power over death to all people. We believe that Jesus died and rose again. He rose to life victorious over sin and Satan and death.
The apostle Paul wants us to know those facts that give us hope. Death isn’t scary for us. We don’t need to grieve like other people. Those who die with faith in Jesus as Savior will join Jesus in the joys of heaven. Since we believe, so will we. Know the Facts that Give You Hope.
There was a young girl who was very sick. Her parents hardly knew what to do. This was unlike any other sickness. She kept getting worse. So the father turned to Jesus imploring him to help. But there was no answer at first. It seemed as though Jesus didn’t care. Sure enough, the beautiful little 12 year old girl died. If only Jesus had answered the requests and prayers of the parents. (How often don’t we talk like that?)
The next day the weeping and wailing crowd was quieted as Jesus arrived. It seemed almost insensitive and uncaring when he said, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” They laughed at him. But then he went with the father and the mother and his three close friends to see the girl. He took the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha koum!” (When translated, that means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”) Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around.
The apostle Paul talks about death in the same way Jesus did. Look again at verse 13, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep.” And then in verse 14, “Indeed, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then in the same way we also believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.” Paul also speaks of death being like a sleep. But that is exactly what death is for Christians. It’s like closing your eyes to sleep. You close your eyes in physical death, but you immediately wake up in the joys of heaven.
What comforting words for these Thessalonians. They were terrified that they would never see their loved ones again who had passed away. But Paul tells them that’s not the case. Death is but a sleep from which we immediately wake in heaven. And, when Jesus returns on Judgment Day, all those who have died will rise to life again, and their bodies will join their souls in heaven—like they had just woken up from a really long sleep.
What comforting words for us. Death is but a sleep. There is nothing we need to fear. Christians don’t need to fear death. Maybe we are a little afraid sometimes of the way that we will die or the pain of dying, but we don’t need to fear being dead. Death is but a pleasant sleep for us. Because Jesus died and rose again as our Savior, we will wake from that sleep eternally in heaven. Know the Facts that Give You Hope.
Just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he shared timeless words with Lazarus’ sister Martha. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never perish.”
The Apostle Paul reminded the Thessalonians of this, and so we are reminded today as well. He reminds us that those who die only go on to live. Listen to how he finishes this section: “In fact, we tell you this by the word of the Lord: We who are alive and left until the coming of the Lord will certainly not go on ahead of those who have fallen asleep.” When Jesus returns on Judgment Day, we won’t go to heaven with Jesus before those who have already died. He continues: “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.” Judgment Day will clearly be obvious. The dead will rise. “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them, to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, encourage one another with these words.”
Paul wants us to know that those who have died in faith are not lost. They will rise to join those who are alive on Judgment Day, and all believers will be with the Lord forever. Know the Facts that Give You Hope. All believers will be with Jesus forever in heaven. Today is called Saints Triumphant as we celebrate that all believers, all saints, who have died are now triumphant in heaven. Today we celebrate that we too will soon be triumphant in heaven. We can mourn over death. Even Jesus wept. But we need not be afraid and have no hope. Jesus showed his power over death when he rose back to life. Know the Facts that Give You Life. Jesus died and rose. Heaven is your home. Amen.