Summary: This past August (Robin Williams) we saw how NOT to grieve. So how shall we?
1 Thessalonians 4:13 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. 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. 15 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. 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 each other with these words.
What are you supposed to think about when someone dies? I thought it was interesting this past August to watch our culture think about the death of the celebrity, Robin Williams. I don't want to get into whether Robin Williams was a Christian or not, a good person or not, etc. What I do want to get into is how our culture talked about his death. A lot of it wasn't good. Some of the culture talk seemed to glorify the idea of suicide - that wasn't good. Some of the culture talk about Robin Williams promoted the ideas of universalism or good works theology - in other words, Robin Williams is in heaven because all people go to heaven. Or, Robin Williams is in heaven because he was a nice person and all nice people go to heaven. Once again, those ideas contradict the Bible and therefore aren't good. Some of the talk about Robin Williams promoted the idea that this world is all there is, and so you better just enjoy it as much as you can. That wasn't good either. All this talk in our culture about death - there was a lot of confusion, a lot of sorrow, a lot of people trying to dull the pain by remembering the past - Mork and Mindy, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Morning Vietnam.
And so if most of what was said about the death of Robin Williams wasn't good, then what are you supposed to think about? Is there a way to have real hope and real encouragement as you deal with the matter of death and eternity? There is, and it really comes down to what you believe about Jesus and what you believe about Judgment Day. What do you believe? Why do so many people say so many wrong and hopeless things when someone dies? Our first verse talks about that: "We do not want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." The Apostle Paul writes these words to first century Christians, and he acknowledges that his world back then is like our world today - when it comes to death, or Jesus, or Judgment Day - there's a lot of ignorance. There a lot of words, but not a lot of hope. It's OK to grieve, Paul says. It's OK to be sad when a loved one leaves you in death. Just don't grieve like the rest of people who have no hope. Here's how you have hope…
"We believe that Jesus died and rose again." Do you believe that? If you do, then you can deal with death in a way where you have hope. "And so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." It's talking about Judgment Day. If you're alive on Judgment Day, you're not only going to see Jesus Christ, you're going to see that Christian loved one who died. Notice how our text calls them the people "who have fallen asleep in him." Now what does that mean? To fall asleep in Jesus means that at the moment of your death, you believed in Jesus as your Savior from sin. You were "in him" when you fell asleep in death. For a believer in Jesus, death is like sleep - it's temporary, it's peaceful, it's not something to be afraid of, and there's a moment when you wake up.
Do you see how you can have hope as you think about the death of a loved one who died believing in Jesus Christ? It's not over for that person, according to these verses. Verse 16 gives us a clearer picture of what will happen: "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven." So Jesus will come, and it won't be a humble lowly baby lying in a manger type of a thing. No, he's going to come down in a different way - just as he went up into the clouds on his Ascension, so Jesus will reverse that and come down on the clouds on Judgment Day.