Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
Comfort One Another - November 9, 2014 - Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 27) - Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
This morning we are celebrating the third to the last Sunday in the church year. As we reach the end of the church year, you may notice how we hear and read texts which relate to death, judgement, and the end times. These texts help us to focus on what is important in life, not the things of this world, but having our faith firmly established in Jesus Christ. Our focus for this morning will be primarily on the Epistle reading which relates well to the reading from the Old Testament and the Gospel.
In our text for this morning, Paul takes up the topic of death and the second coming of Christ. We need to be reminded that at the writing of this letter, Christ had only been ascended into heaven some 20 years earlier with the promise of His future return. Paul believed that Christ’s return would be very soon, even during his own lifetime, but as we know today, the Lord is patient in His returning, not wanting anyone to perish and so we still today await His return. At the same time, we do know that each day we wait moves us one day closer to His return, so we are closer to His return today than the people of our text, the people of Paul’s day.
Paul does not refer to those who have departed as having died, but as having fallen asleep. This is a very fitting description of death, at least for the Christian. We know, as the Thessalonians knew, that death is not a horrible end because of the resurrection of Christ. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection we have the promise and certainty of our own resurrection.
However, it seems some of the Thessalonians misunderstood Paul’s teaching about the second coming of Christ. They were so anxious that Christ would come so soon that they were afraid that those who had already died, or fallen asleep, would not share in Christ’s glory with them. They thought they had to be alive to share in the resurrection. Thus Paul reassures them that just as Jesus died, and here He does not say “slept,” but does say died. Jesus died and rose so that we do not have to die. Just as Jesus died and rose again, so at the second coming, “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.”
Thus on judgement day Jesus will return bringing with Him those who had previously fallen asleep. Paul goes on to say in verse seventeen, “17then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v. 17).
Let us talk about what these words mean and what we they tell us about death. We believe that death has no power over us as Paul so aptly says it in 1 Corinthians, “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57). We believe that death is a falling asleep as Paul puts it in our text.
We believe this because we believe Christ has been raised from the dead. Again, quoting Paul in 1 Cor. 15 he says, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” “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. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitted more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:14,17-22). For us Christians, death is not an end, but is only a beginning, a beginning to eternity with Jesus in heaven.
At Christ’s second coming, then, those who have not yet fallen asleep will be here to see and hear His coming. His coming will not be a quiet rapture, but as Paul says, “16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God” (1 Thes. 4:16a). And for those who have fallen asleep Paul continues and says, “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (v.17). For us Christians, Christ’s second coming will be a very joyous occasion for in that day we shall meet our Savior face to face and will go to be with Him in eternity.
Thus, we believe, teach, and confess that judgement day will be the day the Lord comes to separate the believers from the unbelievers. He will bring joy to the believers in Christ because He has come to take them to heaven to be with Himself forever, for eternity. He can and will bring terror to the unbeliever because He has come to cast them into the eternal fires of hell to live there in complete absence of God and His love for eternity. They who have lived their lives in unbelief, rebellion, and wrongdoing will receive their final reward, punishment in hell. This day of judgement will be for all people, those who are alive as well as those who have died earlier, since the beginning of time.
How do we respond to these words? How does death affect us? Death affects each of us differently. You may have heard or read the stages of death through which psychologist will tell you a person must go. Each psychologist lists the stages a little differently, but these are some of the words used to describe the stages: shock, denial, fear, anger, resentment, guilt, despair, loneliness, panic, loss of clear identity, acceptance, saying goodbye, reinvesting one’s life energy in other relationships, learning from the loss, and reaching out to others who have experienced the same type of loss. For almost everyone death brings tears and feelings of missing the departed. I have officiated at many funerals. I have witnessed my grandparents funerals. I have witnessed my own daughter and son’s burials as well as my father’s funeral and know that death does bring tears and feelings of missing the departed. There is nothing wrong with those feelings. We are human beings and we do have emotions. In our text Paul says he does not want them, the Thessalonians, or us to grieve like the rest of men who grieve because they have no hope. This shows that faith does not negate affection. We can be sad because we miss our departed friend. Our emotion has nothing to do with our faith and does not say that we have no faith, or that our faith is weak. At the same times, because of our faith, our grief is not unconsolable.
But just as we are sad, so we are thankful. We are thankful when we know that the departed was a Christian and is with Christ in heaven which as Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Php. 1:21-23). Sometimes you are prepared for the death of a loved one who has a lingering illness, sometimes not. It is easier to be thankful for a Christian brother or sister who has died after a long painful time of suffering, knowing that they are suffering no more, but are in joy in heaven with our Lord. It is a little harder to be thankful after the sudden, and in our human way of thinking, the needless death of a young person who has their whole life ahead of them. Actually as we think about this, it is not that we are sad for the Christian who has passed away, because they are in heaven and really have no worries for us. They do not see us. Heaven is a place of complete joy. If they could see us they would not have joy, but sorrow. We are sad at the death of a Christian because we will miss them. We are sad because of our pain. Again, bringing back the paradox, we are thankful because we know that they are in heaven which as Paul says is better by far, but we are sad for ourselves. For Christians, for us, the promise of eternal life after death does reassure us and takes away the fear of death.
We respond to our knowledge of judgement day by, with the help of the Holy Spirit, dedicating ourselves and the use of our time, talents, and treasures to encourage and comfort one another. Paul says in our text, “Therefore encourage on another with these words” (v.18). He also says in 2 Corinthians, “And He (Christ) died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15). And as we read in the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus expresses the uncertain of the time of His return and the need to be ready at all times. So we do ready ourselves by our daily prayers and Bible readings. We ready ourselves by attending worship and Bible class, by remembering our Baptism, by participating in confession and absolution, by attending the Lord’s Supper, and by living the sanctified life. We ready ourselves by being given the gifts God has to give through the means He has to give them. We ready ourselves by hearing and believing His Word, by being reminded of our forgiveness and know that with forgiveness we also have life and salvation. And then we ready ourselves by helping others, those in need, knowing that as we do it to the least of these brothers of His, we did it to Jesus.
As we approach the end of another church year in which we still patiently await the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, our text reminds us that the Lord will return, probably when we lest expect it. As we await His return we are to use His Words to comfort and encourage one another in the faith. We await with earnest expectation and joy as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come. And we say with John at the end of his revelation, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly.” To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.