Summary: Christians are people whose hope is rooted in the bedrock truth of the resurrection.
Title: When We Are Out of Here
Text: I Thessalonians 4:13-18
The Big Idea: Christians are people of hope.
What happens when we die?
In most cultures it is customary to have a memorial service of some sort… over the years I have planned a few such services. When planning a service with the family of the deceased I often ask them what they would like remembered about their loved one. And on more than one occasion, I have gotten into conversations about what it is a person would like to have said at their funeral service.
One such storied conversation went something like this:
One friend said, “I would want people to say, ‘He was a great humanitarian who cared about his community.’”
A second friend said, “I would want people to say, ‘He was a great husband and father… a great example for us all.’”
The third friend said, “I would hope that someone will say, ‘Look, he’s moving!’”
The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes wrote, “God has made everything beautiful in its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
God has placed the concept of eternity in our hearts… God has placed within the heart of every living person a sense of the afterlife or life after death.
In 2004 Tyndale published Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven. He wrote of how the thought of an after life was an essential belief in every civilization in history. The Aborigines in Australia pictured heaven as a distant island beyond the western horizon. Early Finns thought such an island existed far to the east. Some South American and Island peoples believed the deceased went to the sun or the moon.
An ancient Babylonian legend refers to a resting place for heroes and hints at a tree of life. In the pyramids of Egypt, the embalmed bodies had maps placed next to them as guides to the future world. The Romans believed that the righteous would picnic in lush meadows with horses grazing nearby. The Roman philosopher wrote, “The day thou fearest as the last, is the birth of eternity.”
The author stated, “Anthropological evidence suggests that every culture has a God-given sense of the eternal – that this world is not all there is.” (Randy Alcorn, Heaven, Tyndale, 2004, PreachingToday.com)
One exception is noted by Philip Yancey who told of one African custom where family and friends silently circle the casket looking at the deceased. At some point a peppermint candy is give to each mourner. When the candy is gone, the person’s life is over. They believe life simply dissolves. (Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts?, Zondervan, 1997, PreachingToday.com)
There is no shortage of beliefs about death and the afterlife, so it is important for Christians to know what to believe.
There are two desired outcomes from this text… the first is stated in verse 13:
1. God wants us to be knowledgeable… God wants us to know truth.
• “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep...” 4:13
The NLT clarifies what is intended to be understood by the concept of falling asleep. It clearly states that Paul wants them to “know what happens to believers who have died.” The Message refers to not wanting them to “be in the dark” about the dead and buried.
Albert Einstein once quipped, “Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” It seems he had little confidence in our ability or the human will to rise above ignorance. Daniel Boorstin said, “The greatest obstacle to discovery [of truth] is not ignorance but the delusion of knowledge.” In other words, when we think we know it all… it is not likely that we will ever know it all.
However, when we are willing to admit our ignorance there is hope for knowledge.
The ignorance or lack of understanding or knowledge to which the writer speaks is directly related to the early Christians’ perception that the return of Christ was imminent and their concern that those who had died would miss the Second Coming of Christ… they were deeply concerned about what happens to the people who die before Christ returns?
Paul wants them to move beyond ignorance to understanding.
The second desired out come is alluded to in verse 13 and clearly stated in verse 18:
2. God wants knowledge and truth to be comforting.
• “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.” 4”13b
• “So, comfort and encourage one another with these words.” 4:18
Apparently people who live and die in a culture of hopelessness grieve differently than those who confront death with hope. Paul does not want the Christians in the faith community at Thessalonica to “carry on” in their grief like those who have no hope.