Sermon 11.19.2017 Saints Triumphant

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18    Rev. Kenneth Frey 
Saints Triumphant    11/19/17

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18  We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For we say this to you by a word from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting
1.  The promise
2.  The events
 

When his son was a little boy, he would take him to ball games.  As they would leave the ballpark, navigating through the mass of people, he would hold his son’s hand tightly.  He did not want to lose him.  Now his son, a young man in his 20s, is lying in a hospital bed, dying.  Through the night he stays at the bedside, and he remembers.  He remembers the ball games, the family vacations, Little League, the birthdays and graduations.  As he remembers, he holds his son’s hand tightly.  He does not want to lose him.

Have you been there?  Have you been where death was so close it seemed like a shadow hanging over you waiting to descend?  Have you kept that bedside vigil as someone you loved lingered between life and death?  Or maybe death robbed you without warning?  A clear day, blue sky, and then the phone rang, and the darkness descended.  Suddenly, unexpectedly, the world became an emptier place because someone who meant everything to you was gone. (Tom Westra, Forward in Christ, April 2002)

We lose so much when loved ones die.  We lose their companionship.  We lose their encouragement.  We lose their conversation.  We lose all that made them the unique and special people they were.

And so we grieve.

But this morning we are reminded that for us, for Christians, our grief is different.  What is different is that we grieve with hope.  What is that hope?  We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

Paul wrote, We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  Death comes to us all. Death is the tyrant that holds us all in fear.  Why?  For all have sinned and the wages of sin is death.  We all sin; we all die.  You will die.  Whether suddenly in a car accident or quickly from a heart attack or slowly with cancer.  You will die.  Your loved ones will die.  And you will grieve.

But you grieve with hope because Jesus died and rose again.  In Jesus’ death and resurrection we have victory over death.  The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. 55 Where, death, is your victory?  Where, death, is your sting?   56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)  That is our hope.  Those who die in faith in Jesus are not gone for good.  Jesus will bring them when he returns.

Imagine it’s late at night.  Your spouse has fallen asleep but you are having trouble getting to sleep.  Sooner or later you fall asleep too.  Will you see your spouse in the morning?  Of course you will when you both wake up.  That is the promise God is giving us in this lesson.  

Death for a Christian means falling asleep in the arms of Jesus.  Children aren’t afraid to fall asleep in the arms of their parents, are they?  No.  They prefer it.  And why shouldn’t they?  In their parents’ arms they find warmth and protection.  In the same way a Christian doesn’t need to be afraid of dying because it’s like falling asleep in Dad’s arms at grandma’s house and then waking up in your warm comfy bed at home.  

We believe in that Jesus died and rose again, and that faith links us to Jesus.  His death and resurrection become our death and resurrection.  It’s like holding on to a rope tied to a speedboat.  Wherever the speedboat goes, you’ll go.  If it zigs to the right, you’ll eventually zig to the right.  If the boat goes in a circle, you’ll go in a circle.  So just as Jesus died, we will die.  Just as Jesus came back to life, so will we.  

A mother whose son had just died tried to explain to her 5 year old daughter that brother went to be with Jesus.  Later the little girl heard mom crying with a friend saying, “I’ve lost my son, I’ve lost my son.”  The confused little girl asked, “Mommy, is somebody lost if we know where they are?”  Those who have died in Jesus are not lost.  We know where they are: they are with Jesus.  And we know we will see them again.  It is never good-bye, just “See you later.”  

Here’s what will happen:  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still 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.  The “shout” here is a battle cry, a “Charge.”  It is a word full of authority and urgency.  

Along with the shout will be a trumpet blast.  The barracks on a military post are hastily emptied when the bugler sounds the call to assembly.  So it will be on that day.  One command, one shout from the archangel, one blast from the trumpet and Jesus in person will come down from heaven.

Have you ever been jolted by a noise that you didn’t expect?  When Jesus returns, the world, including you and me, will have to drop everything we are doing.  At that moment, whatever you are doing will no longer matter.  All the noise of life will come to a screeching halt as the internet goes down, the cable goes down, everything goes down at the trumpet call of God.  

When that trumpet sounds, the first thing to happen is that the dead will rise.  Every person who has died from Abel on will rise.  Every grave in every cemetery will give up those buried in them.  And then the believers who are still alive when Jesus returns will be snatched up from the earth.  Like a hawk snatching a mouse in its talons, we will be snatched up immediately into the air to meet Christ.  Paul said it would happen in a flash, the twinkling of an eye.  

When the President comes to a city, the local officials and important people all show up to greet him.  They wouldn’t think of not having some kind of welcome for such an important person.  That is what Paul is describing here.  All of us will join together to welcome Jesus as he descends in the clouds and so we will always be with the Lord. 

How can that assurance not make a difference in our lives?  That tells us that regardless of which life’s storms we’re passing through, Jesus is going to get us to the other side.  Paul’s words are a promise from God that in the end things work out.  Because of Jesus, and only because of Jesus, we are going to heaven.  

Forty some years ago John Lennon wrote the song, “Imagine.”  Do you know it?  “Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky, Imagine all the people, Living for today . . .”  He dreamed of a world where we would be free from religion because, he thought, then we could all live in peace.  

Well, imagine . . . 

Your x-rays have just come back, and the doctor says you have a spot in your lung that indicates cancer.  Imagine there’s no heaven.

After 25 years of marriage, your husband says, “I don’t love you anymore.  I’ve found someone else.”  Imagine there’s no heaven.

You have slaved to make your business go only to discover that your partner secretly stole a fortune from the company, part of which was your retirement.  Imagine there’s no heaven.

Your dreams have all been shattered.  You’re stuck in a job you hate.  Your family life is depressing at best.  You know you should want to go on, but you can’t find a very good reason.  Imagine there’s no heaven.

No, don’t.  We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.  You are heaven bound because Jesus died and rose again.  

Imagine there’s not heaven?  No.  Imagine heaven.  Imagine what it will be like in the presence of God.  You will be surrounded by everything that is good and pure and perfect.  And you will not only be able to experience that goodness, purity and perfection, but you’ll be able to respond to it as God intends.  That means you will be able to love God without reservation.  You will be able to love people without competing or comparing.  And you will have fun and joy and glory – for all eternity.  

Imagine it.  Believe it.  Believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.