Summary: Encourage one another with the greatness of the hope that is ours. This hope is so great that it’s all we need to motivate us. It’s a hope that will keep us from the fear of death, keep us from despair, because it promises God’s power to be with us moment
Someone suggested that today’s service is bit like a funeral, or at least a memorial service and the passage we’re looking at today might reinforce that idea. But I hope that’s not how you see it. This is meant to be a celebration of good ministry that’s happened over a long period of time and that’ll continue, albeit under a new name and with some additional players.
And in fact the passage in 1 Thess 4 isn’t addressed to a time when someone has died, though it does answer one of the questions that people often ask at that time. On the contrary it’s about issues that need to be thought about while we’re alive and kicking. It’s about being wide awake, working for God’s kingdom and being prepared for whatever Satan may throw at us.
One of the questions Christians often ask is the one Paul addresses in 4:13. Where is my friend who’s died. Are they in heaven already? Are they still lying in the ground where they were buried? Does it matter that they were cremated? These Christians in Thessalonica seem to be were worried that Jesus hadn’t returned in time to take their loved ones with him.
Do you remember from last week how they had such a strong belief in Jesus’ imminent return that some of them had even stopped working? They were waiting for him to return and take them to be with him in heaven. And now some of them have died. So what’s happened to them? Did they miss out?
So Paul sets out to reassure them, to set their minds at rest, first about their Christian friends and then, at the end of the passage, about themselves, about their own future with God.
Notice that he sets out to ease their minds by using their minds. He says "we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters." In so many situations despondency arises as a result of ignorance. Not knowing what’s going to happen is a major contributor to stress and depression, particularly when there are all sorts of possibilities you can think of, some of which are not very good.
So he wants them to use their minds even while they’re grieving. Notice he doesn’t say we shouldn’t grieve. I know there are some Christians who think it’s unspiritual to grieve. I remember a man in a previous parish whose wife of some 40 or so years had died and he refused to allow himself to grieve over her because that would be unspiritual. So he just didn’t mention her at all. I think that was a fairly unhealthy way to be.
But at the same time Paul says he doesn’t want them to grieve the way those do, who have no hope. There’s great sadness when a loved one dies and there’s no need to lessen the sense of loss being felt at their death but there’s also a certainty for those who die in Christ that heaven awaits.
Hope for a Christian is not something that’s uncertain. It’s not like our current situation where we’re hoping that St Andrew’s School will be able to buy the land on Burwood Hwy but it’s completely uncertain until we hear that a contract has been signed. No, our hope for the future is already signed and sealed because of what we find next.
Basic Christian Truth
"14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died." I know there are some Christians who deny the historical reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They’re happy to talk about Jesus’ resurrection as a spiritual experience of the disciples but deny the possibility that he physically came back to life. But, sadly, that leaves them without a firm hope for themselves and their loved ones. Our hope of resurrection stands or falls on Jesus’ resurrection. Because we have a firm belief that Jesus rose from the dead, we’re also firmly confident that we will rise from the dead.
He reminds them that Jesus has promised that he will return and will bring with him those who have died already. The Christians in Thessalonica were waiting eagerly for Jesus to return. We continue to wait with longing for him to come and take us to be with the Father. But our hope isn’t just for ourselves. Our hope, our confidence, includes those who have died as believers in Christ.
So Paul assures them that not only will Jesus return as he promised, but when he does it’ll be a cataclysmic event: the archangel will cry out, God’s trumpet will sound, Jesus will descend from heaven and those who are dead in Christ will rise from death. Then those who are still alive will be caught up with Jesus in the clouds. Can you picture it? Trumpets ringing out; Jesus shining from the clouds; the dead rising to meet him. It’s mind-blowing, isn’t it? It’s the sort of thing that Hollywood might try to capture but would never quite manage. John in Rev 1 puts it like this: "7Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail." No-one will miss it. No-one will be able to hide. At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. So don’t be disheartened at the fact that some of our Christian brothers and sisters have died. Their fate is as certain as ours. They’re simply waiting for the day of the Lord, just as we are. The word that’s translated "have died" there in v1 is actually the word for "are sleeping". They’re just resting from their labours until Jesus comes to awaken them to their new life with God.