End Times 3: Saints Triumphant

Preached: November 16, 2014

Why Is Christian Mourning Different?
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit prepares us to meet Jesus is 1 Thessalonians 4.

Now brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, so that you may not grieve even as the rest do who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, in the same way as well through Jesus God will bring with him those who fall asleep.

For we tell you this by the word of the Lord: We who are alive who remain around until the Lord's coming will certainly not proceed those who have fallen asleep. The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a command at the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive who are left around will be taken up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And in this way we will be with the Lord always. Therefore encourage each other with these words.. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A family gathered at a graveside. Tears flowing, hugs given, words of sympathy shared. Is this the graveside of a Christian or not?

On the outside the death of a Christian and the death of an unbeliever may look the same. We too cry. We too comfort each other with hugs and words of sympathy. Jesus himself wept at the grave of Lazarus, and those who saw it said, “See how he loved him” (John 11:36 NIV84).

So the similarity is not just on the outside, is it? We too feel the loss. We too feel the heartbreak. We too mourn. Psychology talks about the stages of grief. The Kübler-Ross model lists denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Now there can be other emotions and the order may vary and not everyone experiences all of them. Yet Christians go through various stages of grief even as the unbeliever does.

So what's Paul getting at when he writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV11)? He's not saying that we don't grief at the death of a Christian. We do, but our grief is different. It's not like the grief of the rest of mankind. But why? Why is Christian mourning different?

Paul doesn't leave us in suspense. He points out the difference in the very next words. The rest of mankind have no hope, but the Christian does.

However, don't unbelievers talk about hope as well? “I hope they're in a better place. I hope they're no longer suffering. I hope they live on in our hearts and minds. I hope they're not forgotten.” Yet at the death of an unbeliever, those are all false hopes, and so in actuality no hope, no matter how strongly that person feels about it or how much they want it to be true.

So why is Christian mourning different? Because Christian hope is different. And what makes Christian hope different? Paul tells us in the very next words. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (1 Thessalonians 4:14 NIV11). Jesus makes all the difference.

A. Christ Jesus our Lord has died and risen

Christ Jesus our Lord has died and risen. He has gone through death ahead of us. And look at what happened. He rose from the dead. Won't he also raise those who have followed him? Those who share his cross here will live with him in glory there.

He certainly has the power to do this. For he himself has broken death's chains. He has paraded through hell in victory. He has conquered the grave. And he gives that victory to his people. That's what he wants to do. He says to you and me, even as he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies” (John 11:25 NIV84). What a promise! Believe it.

At his command the dead will be raised. In John 5 Jesus talks about himself and says, “A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:28, 29 NIV84). For through faith in Jesus we are eager to do good. And even though our best effort is still stained by sin, Jesus' blood washes it clean, so that we can offer our lives as pleasing and acceptable gifts of thanks to our God. On the other hand, for those who do not rely on Jesus as their only Savior from sin and death, even their best and most beneficial works are evil in God's sight. There is no hope for them. See how different the Christian hope is because Christ Jesus our Lord has died and risen. And so our mourning is different.

Since Christ has died and risen, the Christian's death is like sleeping. That’s how Paul refers to it. Now the world also may refer to death as “sleeping.” For them, that's a euphemism. They don't want to face the stark, brutal reality of death, so they call it something that doesn't sound so bad.

But for the Christian that dies, death really is like sleeping. For Jesus will wake us up. Yes, our bodies fall asleep and lie in the grave, waiting for Jesus to wake up our bodies on the Last Day, even after they have decayed and turned back to dust. As for our souls, at death the Christian's soul goes to be with Jesus and will come back with him. That's what the text says, “God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV84).

But how can we be sure? How can we be sure that the Christian's soul goes to heaven and that his or her body, which lies in the ground just like an unbeliever’s, will be awakened from death’s sleep on the Last Day? Why isn’t this like the false hope and empty comfort of the unbeliever who says, “I hope they're in a better place”? Because Christ Jesus our Lord has already died and has already risen. Those are accomplished facts. Our hope isn't built on wishful thinking or on wanting something to be true. Our hope is built on the history that has already happened. Jesus has died and has risen. So we can be sure that those who fall asleep in Jesus live with him in heaven and will be raised from the dead when he returns. Believe, dear friend, believe.

For you see, he is certainly coming back. You have his unchangeable word on that. Christ Jesus our Lord will come again.

B. Christ Jesus our Lord will come again

What a day that will be! Picture what Paul describes. “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.”

Those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will rise with glorified bodies. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power” (1 Corinthians 15: 42, 43 NIV84). And in Philippians 3, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:20, 21 NIV84). What glory awaits those who are faithful unto death!

And the Christians who are still alive will be glorified as well. “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” (1 Thessalonians 4:17 NIV11).

Why is Christian mourning so different? Because we know Jesus is coming and what glorious blessings he will bring to us who believe in him. That changes not only our mourning but everything else in our lives as well.

Christ will come again. How this encourages us and enables us to encourage one another in Christ. At the death of a faithful Christian, point each other to Christ. He has died and risen. His death pays for all sins. His resurrections declares the guilty sinners to be right with God through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. His death and resurrection is the promise that the Christian death is like sleeping waiting for Jesus will wake up our bodies at his return.

Comfort and encourage each other not only at a time of mourning but also to continually be ready for his return. Our Lord is coming back! Don't be caught unprepared. Keep the flame of faith burning with the oil of God's word and sacraments. For the Gospel in word and sacraments is what fuels our faith and hope. Yes, what hope the Christian has! But the flip-side of that is there is no hope apart from Christ. Hell is for real. So many think they are ready for Jesus even though they don’t fuel their faith with God’s word. They neglect the oil like the foolish virgins in Jesus' parable. Don't find the door shut because you weren't ready.

Encourage each other to keep faith's flame burning with living hope. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. That’s the the oil for our lamps. That’s the fuel for our faith. Christ Jesus our Lord has died and risen. He has paid for your sins, dear friend, to reconcile you to God. How we eagerly await his return with patient hope and faithful service. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313