Sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
End Times 3: Saints Triumphant Sunday
Know the Facts that Give You Hope
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
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 as he wobbled across the living room. Those shaky steps didn’t last long because soon enough he was running all over the place. The mother then remembered the time her mischievous son climbed up on top of the table and mashed his hand into the cake, just to get a little bite. It just seemed as though he had grown up so fast! It was not long after that the boy was running all over town with the other boys of the town. They weren’t causing trouble, but they were just being boys—goofing around, playing ball, getting dirty. Yet those days seemed long gone too as the boy was now a young man, an older teen with a bright and promising future ahead. He was the pride and joy of his mother. He meant everything to her since she had already lost her husband tragically and this was the only child they had. The mother and son were so close, and dearly loved each other.
Suddenly the mother snapped back to reality. How did this happen? How could this be? For at that moment, she was walking with her friends not celebrating her son’s birthday or great achievents or championship game. She and her friends walked together carrying her sons coffin. Like her husband, her son had died unexpectedly, and now 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 continued his interruption and went straight to the casket to see the boy lying there. With the whole crowd, and the tearful mother, watching and waiting to see what would happen next, the man touched the coffin and looked at the boy and said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” Before the words could even be processed in the crowd’s mind, the young man suddenly sat up—fully alive, fully restored to health, and fully given back to his mother. The people hardly knew how to react, but they said this about the man, “God has come to help his people.” After that, the news about Jesus quickly spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
You know the grief and sorrow too, don’t you. I doubt there is anyone here who has not lost someone—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 Thessalonika 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 quite 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 of the world. They weren’t sure about what would happen on Judgment Day. They were very worried about death, and especially 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. So follow along on page 8 as we read Paul’s words and then learn to Know The Facts that Give You Hope.
Here’s what he says first, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or grieve like the rest of men, 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, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” To be ignorant 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, “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.” Note he didn’t say, “We hope Jesus died and rose,” or “We think Jesus died and rose.” No, “We believe” it. It’s such a confident belief and trust that we know it to be truth and fact—because it is!
Death is the ultimate reality for us. It’s the sobering truth, the cold splash of water that reminds us 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 broke his will, disobeyed, 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. Oh, 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 deamds 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 though. One worry. Just one sin is all it takes. The soul who sins is the one who will die. But we’ve sinned much more than once! No wonder death is scary! No wonder people worry about what comes after death! But Paul steps right in and says, “No don’t worry. 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. We 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 of 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, and when we die with faith in our Savior—all believers will join Jesus in the joys of heaven. Know the Facts. Know the Facts that Give You Hope.
There was a young girl who was very sick. Her parents hardly knew what to do. Previously, she had bounced to full health when she had been sick. But not this time. She only seemed to get worse. So the parents turned to Jesus. Just as you or I might pray in such a situation, the father especially 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 a man arrived. It seemed almost insensitive and uncaring when he said, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” They laughed at him in disdain and anger. 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! (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” Immediately the girl stood up and walked around.
The apostle Paul talks about death in the same way Jesus did. Look again at verse 13, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignoratn abou those who fall asleep.” And then in verse 14, “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.” Paul also speaks of death 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. First of all, death is but a sleep from which we immediately wake in heaven. Secondly, 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.
There was a family of three siblings that was extremely close. The two sisters loved to cook and and clean and take care of the house. Their brother was very dear to them. How devastating it was, then, when their brother passed away and died. Almost the entire community of that small town grieved with the sisters at the loss of their brother. This brother had other friends who were very close to him. One of his dear friends arrived a few days after he had passed. He, too, was sad at the loss of his friend. The friend wept. But shortly after the friend called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And he did. Lazarus walked out of the tomb fully alive, and he joined his friends and his sisters Mary and Martha.
Just before that miracle, Jesus shared timeless words Lazarus’ sister Martha. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”
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: “According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are stil alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, 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. Everyone will know. The dead will rise. “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. Therefore encourage each other 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 The Festival of Saints Triumphant. Today 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 be sad over death. We can mourn over death. Even Jesus wept. But we need not be afraid and have no hope. Look at Jesus’ track record! He showed his power over death when he raised the boy in Nain, when he raised Jairus’ daugther, and when he raised Lazarus. Most importantly, Jesus showed his power over death when he rose back to life. Know the Facts that Give You Life. Jesus died and rose. Jesus is your Savior. Heaven is your home.