I Thessalonians 4:13-18 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you do not grieve in the same way as the others, who have no hope. 14Indeed, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then in the same way we also believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15In fact, we tell you this by the word of the Lord: We who are alive and left until the coming of the Lord will certainly not go on ahead of those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them, to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore, encourage one another with these words.
THE SAINTS ARE JOYFUL AND TRIUMPHANT!
Grace and peace to you from the God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are not many things I can quote from the Grinch in a sermon, but one here’s one. The Grinch had just stolen all of the Christmas presents from the Whos down in Whoville when the sounds of Christmas corals begin to make their way to the Grinchs green ears. “Those Whos! They’re joyful and triumphant! Joyful and Triumphant- those words fit well for us as we head into the last weeks of this church year. Regardless of what is going on around us in this world that breaks your heart- because of Jesus we are joyful and triumphant! And on this second last Sunday of the church year we see a true picture of those who have gone home to heaven- they are joyful and triumphant! As we look at god’s Word this morning let’s look at our believing loved ones the way God’s Word presents them rather than the Grinch’s or the hymnwriter’s order, triumphant and joyful.
Remember last week Pastor Spaude mentioned that the Thessalonian church had some messed up ideas about Jesus’ return. Some thought that since Jesus return was on its way that they could and should quit their jobs and spend their days doing nothing but waiting for Jesus’ return. There were also people who somehow thought that if you died before Jesus return that you missed out on the party- in other words not very triumphant. So Paul writes, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you do not grieve in the same way as the others, who have no hope. 14Indeed, if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, then in the same way we also believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”
A person who has died is not the picture of triumph. The wages of sin is not very pretty. It looks and maybe even feels like a person has lost. So we can understand how some of the Thessalonians might have thought you missed out on the party if you died before Jesus came back. But things are not always how they appear. Those who trust is in Jesus who have died have won the victory! A bliss won for them by Jesus: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again” (4:14). Jesus wanted so badly for us to experience heaven forever with him that he came down as man and experienced death, the wages of sin, in our place. He took all of our sins on himself and paid for them all with his death. But he didn’t stay dead. He rose to life three days later to guarantee that everyone who believes in him would have life too. And Jesus takes all who fall asleep trusting in Him to enjoy the bliss that he has won for Jesus will bring them back in victory!
A triumphant return in victory is coming. “In fact, we tell you this by the word of the Lord: We who are alive and left until the coming of the Lord will certainly not go on ahead of those who have fallen asleep.” If you are wondering how you know that your believing loved ones are basking in triumph, you have the Lord’s own word on it. The one who won the victory over the grave itself assures you that his triumphant is your loved ones triumph. On this side of Judgment Day, their souls are safe with Jesus. On Judgment day, the Lord will raise their bodies and change them from dust and ashes to perfect flesh and our loved ones will be at Jesus’ side body and soul on the day Jesus comes again. Maybe your believing-loved one who died had a battle with Alzheimer’s like my mom. For the last 10 years of her life she was not herself. Maybe your loved one wasted away with cancer, maybe they died in a car accident. When Jesus raises our loved ones up at the Last Day their minds, their bodies will be fully restored in a glorified resurrection body. “16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
I can’t really say that the thought of loved ones who die before Judgment Day are missing out on heaven is a thought that bothered me so much. But what does bother you about those who fall asleep? Since my mom went home to heaven, there have been 5 grandchildren born in just our family along with many graduation and birthdays. Does that bother you about your departed loved one? That they missing out on weddings, birthday parties, graduations. Are they missing out? Not only are the saints triumphant, they are joyful! And one day we will be joyful with them.
Remember the Lord takes our believing loved ones to heaven! If we are thinking of them missing out we have been looking at this all wrong! We have been thinking about all the things that those who have fallen asleep in Christ miss out on. What we should be thinking about is what they are experiencing. Today is Saint’s Triumphant Sunday. This is the weekend when we remember that those who have fallen asleep in Christ are right now enjoying eternal glory, bliss and happiness in heaven! Heaven is a beautiful place where nothing sad or bad ever happens.
As much fun as it would be to have our moms and dads there with us on our special days, as great as it would be for our loved ones to play a round of golf with us or travel with us the fact remains that for a little while they are much happier than we are. They are not thinking about what it would e like to see Jesus, they are seeing Him, face to face. Paul said “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”
So is it OK for us Christians to grieve? Sure, we are human. Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus seeing the mess sin and death had made of His creation. Abraham grieved for Sarah. King David grieved for his best friend Jonathan. Christians cry at funerals and many go through a deep grieving process. They know that their loved one is in heaven. But there is a difference in the tone of their grief. They don’t “grieve as those who have no hope”. It has the tone of I’m sad because I can’t see and touch my loved one again but doesn’t have the tone of “I’ll never see my loved one again.” The tears are tempered by knowing the day is coming when we will share their joy.
On those days until then, if you are missing our loved one remember that they are joyful and coming again with Jesus. “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them, to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore, encourage one another with these words” Caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Jesus will be at the center of the picture that day. But look down the line. There’s your mom, your grandpa, your friend. No matter what your family didn’t get to experience together in this life because you were separated by busy schedules or geography or even death, one thing that you will for sure get to experience together is this meeting with the Lord in the air. There’s Moses and Mary and Adam and Eve. You’ll see and talk God’s people you’ve only known in your Sunday School folder.
And remember from last week this is when Jesus will say, “I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” If your grandfather did not get to hear your name called at graduation, he will get to hear Jesus call your name and say, “well done, good and faithful servant,” and your grandfather will say “that’s my girl!”
5 or 6 years ago our family had to put our dog Archie to sleep. Archie didn’t live with us his whole life. He grew up on a farm with some of our family and then came to live with us for the last three years of his life. When it became clear that Archie would not be able to go on, I talked with our relatives he grew up with and they came down to see him. Archie had not moved from his spot all day. He didn’t make a sound when the door bell rang but when he heard their voices he let out what I’m sure in dog language was an, “Oh it’s you!” “And so we will be with the Lord forever” We look forward to saying, “Oh it’s you! Lord Jesus” when Jesus comes again. Oh It’s you when Jesus brings our parents, our grandparents, our children with him. “Therefore comfort each other with these words” The Saints are joyful and triumphant. Amen