The Hope of Life Together as Saints Triumphant (November 12, 2017)
The Hope of Life Together as Saints Triumphant
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Years ago, there was a great physician. He was known for his healing skills. Back then, many people could tell you how this man had saved their lives. Needless to say, the sick and the suffering kept him very busy. So busy that he and his coworkers were exhausted by the end of the day.
One day a man came to him and begged for his help. This man loved his daughter very much and she was sick, very sick. The father pleaded that he come to his home. And to his great relief, the busy man agreed to make a house call.
But as they made their way, someone came to him with dreadful news. It seemed that all was lost. The girl had died. Yet the physician continued on. He went on. He even told the father something that seemed too good to be true.
Picture the scene. They arrive at the house where people are wailing with grief, They are about to enter the room where the lifeless body of a young girl lay. But before they go in the man says to the people outside, Stop wailing. She is not dead, but asleep.
The Bible tells us the people laughed. We can understand why. After all, the girl was dead. And no one could change that-except this man who came to this house that day. Only he could make these words so true. She is not dead, but asleep. For the One who spoke them is not just a man. He is the very Son of God, our Savior. And with God, nothing is impossible.
Have you ever been inside such a room? Have you ever looked upon the lifeless body of a loved one who died believing in Christ? If you have, you know what grief is all about. If you haven’t, you know a fellow Christian who has. And of course we think of those families down in Sutherland Springs. Their little boy or girl. Their beloved husband or wife, father or mother who have died in the Lord. To each one of us who knows such grief, to each of us who will know it someday, Jesus says something that sees too good to be true. He says something that we can hold tightly as we commit that lifeless body to the ground. He [or she] is not dead, but asleep.
And here is where this Word of God comes in. For here our Lord come to us with words that can temper our grief. He comes with words that can fill that painful void in our hearts with something this world cannot give — hope. Not a wish, not a maybe, but a hope that you and I and every grieving Christian heart can look forward to:
The Hope of Life Together as the Saints Triumphant
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. Every person grieves the loss of a loved one. There would be something wrong if not. There would be something wrong if we did not ache inside. But when that loved one has died trusting his or her Savior our grief need not be the grief of a dead end with nothing more to follow. Think about it. What did Jesus call that young girl’s death? What did he make it? A sleep.
Well here Jesus’ apostle calls the Christians death the very same thing. Sleep. Not once but three times. Go with that. When someone goes to sleep, what do we expect? We expect that person to wake up, maybe sooner, maybe later. So yes, we grieve but we grieve with this hope. It’s only for a time.
You see, our Christian faith does not leave us stranded in the pain of the moment. No, the Holy Spirit dresses our wounded hearts with the hope that is ours in Christ. Listen again: 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.
Think about it. We know and believe that the very Son of God suffered and laid down his life for us and all people. He suffered the wages of our sin. He suffered what we deserve so we could be spared on the Day of Judgment. But death did not have the last word with Jesus, did it? That’s why we are here on Sunday mornings instead of say another day. For on a Sunday morning long ago, the body of Mary’s son, given in death, became alive once more. He came out of the grave. So death did not have the last word with Jesus, life did.
And here’s the joy for our tears. You are united with Jesus. In your baptism, the Holy Spirit united you with your Savior. His death to take away sin became yours. But not just his death. Also his victory over death. That victory belongs to every Christian. So that obituary that says he died or she passed away is not the last word for that body in the grave. No, life is. The Hope of Life Together as the Saints Triumphant.
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. It seems that some of these Christians were worried about their fellow believers who had died. They worried that their loved ones would somehow miss out when the Lord Jesus comes on the Last Day. For more than once God’s Word pictures that day like a joyful wedding celebration. Would their loved ones miss out? Would they go on without them?
And you know, we can feel that way when we leave the gravesite. For we go on in this life without those we leave there.
But no, the apostle tells us. 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. Now please don’t misunderstand. We know that when a Christian dies, angels carry his soul to be with Jesus in the paradise of heaven. But that is only until that great day to come. The Day of Resurrection. The day when those bodies fallen in weakness, pain and death will rise. They will awake to live and not as they did before. Not afflicted with disease. Not afflicted by a world that can break our hearts. But to live in glory, a glory that we can’t possibly imagine.
And here Paul reminds us. This is not some kind of wish., some pious sentiment to keep us going. This is the hope that Jesus gives us as we stand at that gravesite. This is the hope he gives us as we leave the cemetery empty and alone. For this is God’s promise and he does not lie.
So let’s complete the picture. 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. There are many things we can look forward to in that day. We will be swept up from this perishing world like Noah’s family in the ark. We will be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye.
But there is something very special in these words I’d like you to think of today. For right now there is a great divide that stands between us and those who have left this life. It’s a divide that keeps us from those we love. But the Day is coming when that deadly divide will be no more. For what are we told? Together with them…we will be with the Lord forever.
Every now and then you see it on television. Maybe at a school gym or a sports stadium. A parent and children are there. They do not suspect what is about to happen. Then they turn around and he or she is coming their way with a big smile. Still in uniform, back from deployment in a far away place. They run to each other and hug for the longest time. And the words we hear. Let me look at you. I love you. I’ve missed you daddy.
But what is too often the case. Dad or mom has to go back not once or twice. But like my son, again and again. That happy reunion is often followed by another tearful goodbye.
Dear friends. There comes a time when we all have to say goodbye in this life. And when it’s the goodbye that death demands, it can seem so empty, so hopeless.
But our faith in Jesus speaks to us in that darkness. It consoles us in our grief. For his Word promises a different kind of reunion. A blessed reunion from which there will be no more sad goodbyes. That is the hope that Jesus gives. That is our hope for the day of his coming. The Hope of Life Together as the Saints Triumphant. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.