Summary: The resurrection of the dead and the return of Jesus are two great reasons we have to be encouraged to face life and death today
1. Text: I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11
Introduction: The year was 155 AD. Persecution against Christians had swept across the Roman Empire and arrived at the city of Smyrna. The proconsul there joined in, and ordered the arrest of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. He was to be brought to the public arena for execution, before thousands of spectators screaming for blood. But the proconsul had compassion on this man, almost 100 years old. He silenced the crowd and said to Polycarp, "Curse the Christ and live."
Everyone waited for the old man to answer. In an amazingly strong voice, he said, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he has done me no wrong. How dare I blaspheme the name of my King and Lord!" With that Polycarp joined the ranks of the martyrs.
Ecuador, 1956, 5 men were killed by the Auca Indians. One of them was Jim Elliot, whose widow Elisabeth ultimately saw the baptism of her husband’s killer. Listen to what she wrote on behalf of those 5 widows one year after their husbands’ deaths:
“We have proved beyond any doubt that He means what He says--His grace is sufficient, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We pray that if any, anywhere, are fearing that the cost of discipleship is too great, that they may be given to glimpse that treasure in heaven promised to all who forsake.”
Colombia, 1981,Chet Bitterman was a missionary killed by terrorists. When he is asked about his family, Chet’s father says, “We have eight children, and they're all living: one's in heaven and seven are on earth.“
What is it about these Christians and the way people speak of their deaths?!
Sometimes it’s almost funny what people come up with as the ways that Christians are different from non-Christians. Some think it means we dress a certain way, or that we speak with a certain accent. To some, Christianity is merely being a person who doesn’t do certain things – most of them fun. In fact, it means not having any fun at all. They’re sure that’s the same as being a Christian because Jesus never smiled.
One author quoted a confused church member saying about Christians, “We already know that we can’t love each other the right way, so people can’t tell by that, but shouldn’t we at least be weird?”
How are we different – or how are we supposed to be different? Let me encourage you this morning with a section of this letter to the Thessalonians that tells us 2 very encouraging ways believers in Jesus are different from everyone else – it’s about the way we face death, and how we face our life in the future.
I. We Face Death with Great Hope (4:13-18)
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 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. 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.
1. The way we face death is different than the rest
One clue to that is the way that Paul talks about those who “have fallen asleep” in v13. He does it again in 14, 15 and in 5:10. We do not want you to be uninformed about those who have fallen asleep. Asleep? Exactly! Don’t be uninformed about this. Get some good information from Jesus!
When Jesus looked at death, He saw beyond it:
• Jairus’ 12 yr old daughter lies dead at home. Jesus tells the people there, “Go away. The girl is not dead, but asleep.”
• He gets the news that His friend Lazarus has fallen ill. So, He delays 2 days and then heads for Bethany. He tells the disciples, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, and I am going to wake him up.” The disciples say, “Lord, if he’s just asleep, he’ll wake up! No need to make a trip.” Finally, Jesus tells them bluntly, “Lazarus is dead.”
In I Co, Paul speaks of death the same way.
1 Corinthians 15:17-18 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.
There has to be some significance to the number of times in the Bible death is called “being asleep.”
One way that followers of Jesus are different is the way we regard death.
Paul says in v13 that we shouldn’t grieve like people without hope. It’s not that we shouldn’t grieve, but our grief should be different, because of the hope we have through Jesus Christ.
So, (v13) there are 2 groups:
The rest – that’s non-believers. They’re the people who face death and grief with no hope. You’ve met them. I’ve visited with them around the time of a loved one’s death. I watch a mother clinging to her son’s coffin, unable to let him go, because she had no hope.