November 14, 2021
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Picture in your mind a funeral. There are flowers in a church or funeral home. There are acquittances, friends and family gathered. Many words of grief are expressed, and many memories shared of the one now separated from the living. These are all things you see at a funeral, but I want you to picture what you are left with at a funeral. You are left with a body in a casket or ashes in an urn. This is the picture you do not like to talk about or remember. This picture of a person you loved empties you of hope and fills you with grief because all you see of your loved one is death.
Though dead, there are some people who seem to defy their death. There are names from history that live on because of their contributions to society and good influence in the world, and even some for their destructive and evil ways. There are names like Sir Isaac Newton or Cleopatra. In the Old Testament book of Daniel written in the six century B.C., God shared with Daniel a prophecy of the future and people from history we still learn about today. In Daniel 11, God showed Daniel how the Persian Empire would rise to power culminating with King Xerxes challenging Greece but losing. Then, Greece would rise to power with Alexander the Great, but he died, and his empire was divided among his four generals forming four nations. Finally, detail is given about the many battles between two of those nations, Egypt and Syria, because the Israelites lived between them. Leaders from Persia, Greece, Egypt and Syria seem to defy death because we still talk about them. I am sure at their funerals great things were said, but they are all still in a hole in the ground. They are still dead, and even those who grieved for them are dead.
Death has the power to fill you with hopeless grief. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian believers, he addressed their concerns about death. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4, 13 “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” The Christians in the city of Thessalonica had been to funerals. They had seen death. They were filled with grief because they were separated from loved ones. They were also living in the same world as you and me, which means there were getting all kinds of advice about how to deal with their grief and all kinds of explanations about where people go when they die, but they still had grief and struggled with hope of ever seeing those who had died again. Specifically, the Thessalonians were worried about believers who had died before Jesus returned. They worried that if a person died before Jesus came back that they might be left behind or lost forever.
You have the same questions as the Thessalonians when you are faced with death. You have been to funerals, you have seen death, you have grief from being separated from a loved one, you get all kinds of advice and theories about how to grieve and what happens when a person dies, and you wonder what happens to your loved ones who are believers. When you dwell on the lifeless body in the casket or the ashes in the urn or listen to the opinions of other human beings who are worldly and have no greater insight or access to knowledge than you, then you will only see death being “13 … uninformed … like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” But God does not want that for you. Therefore, he had Paul write twice in one sentence, “13 … we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” God does not want you to have hopeless grief over death.
You have hope for those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. Paul carefully chose to use the word sleep to describe those who had died in Christ because they will wake up. Paul makes a series of points to give real hope and comfort when grieving to the Thessalonians, to you and all believers. We read in 1 Thessalonians 4, 14 “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Jesus died, but he rose. He was embalmed, buried in a sealed tomb, and left for multiple days. Then, he came back to life. In 1 Corinthians 15, we read about many people who saw Jesus come back to life, 5 “… he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Hundreds of people saw Jesus alive after he had died.
It is a historical fact that Jesus died and rose, and he will bring back to life all who die with faith in him. So, whether you are alive or dead when Jesus returns, you will live as Paul continued to write to the Thessalonians, 15 “According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” When Jesus returns on Judgment Day, all the believers will be brought back to life and the believers who are alive will join them in the clouds with Jesus, where he will take them all to heaven. The unbelievers are not mentioned here but are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. They will be brought back to life too, but then sentence to hell. Paul’s points here are to comfort believers. His words are the reason you do not hopelessly grieve like the world. You grieve with hope because your hope is based on life. Your hope is based on your living Savior Jesus.
Jesus gives you the words to say when facing death. Many times, you struggle to find the words to share with someone grieving at a funeral or when facing death. You even struggle with what to tell yourself at a funeral or when facing death. You even struggle when facing your own death. Here is the Word of God to use when facing death. From Daniel 12 which comes after speaking about great leaders from history who are all dead, 2 “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” You are the wise who trust in Jesus and will rise to shine like the stars alive with God in heaven forever. The words of Jesus from Mark 13, 26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” You are his elect, his chosen people, who will be brought together and taken to heaven. And these words again from 1 Thessalonians 4, 14 “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Whether you are awake or asleep, alive or dead when Jesus returns, you will have eternal life with Jesus. There are many other sections of Scripture that give us hope for life. Use them as Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4, 18 “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” Use these words when you are at funerals, faced with dead or talking with someone who is grieving.
At a funeral, you are left with more than a casket or ashes in an urn. You do not grieve like the worldly. You know the only one who did come back from the dead, whose name existed before time began and will be praised forever, Jesus. Paul did not tell Christians not to grieve, but how to grieve. Grief will always come when someone you love dies, but it is accompanied by hope, 14 “For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” Jesus’ tomb was empty. Keep your eyes on the clouds waiting for his return to give you eternal life. Do not base your hope on death, but life. Amen.