With the Lord
November 19, 2017
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
With the Lord
1 Thessalonians 4:13–17 (NIV84)
Brothers, 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. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 After that, 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.
Dear friends in Christ,
Are you winning at life? You might have days and weeks and years when you feel like you are winning. You are healthy. Your family is doing well. Your career is fulfilling and you are being compensated well. You are generally happy. Your faith in Jesus feels strong and real. You are winning at life. You are triumphant in life.
To have a day or week or even a few years of feeling like you are winning at life is possible in this life. But so are days and weeks and years of feeling like you are losing at life. Someone loses a job. You lose a loved one. You lose a friendship. You lose money from your bank account. You lose your spot on the team. You just feel like a loser.
Physically, emotionally and spiritually, we are all going to have winning days and losing days in this life. Paul points us to a reality and promise that is outside of us and tells us that all believers are and will be winners through Christ. We will be saints triumphant and will be with the Lord. On the best of days in this world, remind yourself that it will be even better when we are with the Lord. And especially on the really bad days in this life, remember God’s promise that we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. We will be with the Lord one day.
Those Who Fall Asleep in Jesus
Paul begins this section of Scripture by talking about those who fall asleep in Jesus. He gives us comfort that all our loved ones who fall asleep in Jesus are even now with the Lord.
Brothers, 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. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
The Bible often speaks about death as falling asleep. Some might call this a euphemism. It is just a gentle way to talk about talk about something so unpleasant as death. To the world death is the final defeat. The cancer patient wins if they beat cancer and survive. The cancer patient loses if they die. The unbelieving world can only see triumph and defeat in terms of life and death on this earth. Therefore death is the final enemy and finally defeats everyone in the world’s eyes.
Truly death is the enemy according to God too. The Lord God looked over all he made and on the sixth day declared that it was very good. Death was not a part of God’s creation. But after Adam and Eve fell into sin, death entered the world. No longer can God look over all the world and declare it to be very good. Death is not not. It is punishment for sin. It is separation from God. Death is terrible and the very opposite of good. And this great enemy will take us all.
How can Paul put a good spin on death? Why does he call death something so peaceful as falling asleep? It is not just a euphemism. Paul is not just playing with words to make death sound better. He is presenting the reality of death for believers in Jesus. Jesus himself gave this comfort to his disciples when he told them that his friend Lazarus had fallen asleep. The disciples didn’t get it. Then Jesus raised Lazarus back to life. Jesus went to the home of Jairus and told those who were loudly weeping that Jairus’ daughter was not dead but sleeping. The people laughed at him. Then Jesus raised the young girl back to life. Death does not separate the believer from Christ.
Jesus took on the death we earned by our sins when he suffered death on the Roman cross. He suffered the separation from God that we deserved when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He took on the permanency of death by rising from the dead on Easter. He triumphed over death in every way so that death is no longer the end of us but can simply be described as falling asleep.
You know about sleep. You say your prayers, go to bed, close your eyes and then you wake up. When someone falls asleep in Jesus, their body stops working but Jesus wakes them up and they are with the Lord forever in heaven.
Most of us like to sleep. It is something we look forward to. We need the rest for our bodies. As believers in Jesus we also look forward to the day we fall asleep in Jesus. We know that Jesus will wake us up and we will be in the eternal rest he has prepared for all believers.
One day each of us will fall asleep in Jesus. It will not be a day of loss but a day of victory. For Jesus died and rose again and he will bring all who fall asleep with faith in him to be with him forever. We will be among the victorious believers. We will be saints triumphant on that day.
Believers Who are Left
Paul now moves on to talk about believers who are living when Jesus returns on the Last Day. Whether we fall asleep in Jesus or live to see the Last Day, we will all be with the Lord forever.
According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 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. 17 After that, 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.
The believers in the church at Thessalonica seemed to misunderstand Paul’s teaching on the Last Day when he was with them. There seemed to be the idea that believers who fell asleep before Jesus returned would somehow miss out on the resurrection of the dead. Maybe they would miss out on heaven. Paul has already corrected that in the first section of our Scripture for today. Now he gives some details on that Last Day that are meant to comfort us and make us look forward to the great victory on the Last Day.
When a sports team wins a big game, the crowd has been known to storm the field in celebration. If your team wins the Superbowl or World Series the whole city hosts a parade. When World War II ended huge parades celebrated the peace that had been achieved through so much sacrifice. Jesus’ return will be a celebration that makes those others celebrations seem boring.
Jesus himself will come down from heaven just as the disciples saw him go into heaven on Ascension day. Christ himself will announce the beginning of the eternal celebration. He will call out so that all the world knows it is time. No one is going to miss this day. He will cry out with the voice of an archangel and literally raise the dead. When Jesus came to the tomb of his dear friend Lazarus, he called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Lazarus came out alive! If you have fallen asleep in Jesus, he will call out to you to rise from the dead and your dead body will be alive again. You will answer that call and body and soul you will meet your Lord in the air.
And the trumpet is blasting for this celebration in the sky. Then those who are still alive are caught up with Jesus together with all who fell asleep in Jesus. Every believer will be there! Every believer will be with the Lord forever. That is what the disciples wanted. They wanted Jesus to stay with them on the earth. They wanted him to rule forever on earth. They did not want him to suffer and die. They did not expect him to rise and did not want him to leave them and ascend into heaven. They wanted to be with the Lord and so do we. Because Jesus died and rose again, we look forward to being with him forever.
When you arrive at that celebration on the Last Day, it will not matter what kind of life you had on the earth. It won’t matter if you had more winning days or losing days. It won’t matter if you were successful in life according to the world. It won’t matter if you were rich or poor. It won’t matter what sins you struggled with all your life. All that matters is that you received the victory through Jesus who died and rose and will bring you with him to heaven. And it won’t matter how you died. The infant who falls asleep in Jesus before seeing a day will celebrate Jesus’ victory just as much as Adam who lived over 900 years. The believer who falls asleep in Jesus because of illness or accident will celebrate Jesus’ victory along with Christians martyred for their faith or those whose lives were ended in a small Baptist church in Texas. All believers will be saints triumphant, rejoicing forever in the victory provided by Christ.
How we live and how we die does not determine if we are a winner in this life or the next. How Jesus lived, died and rose again makes us winners now and forever. Therefore we live with faith in Jesus. We fall asleep with faith in Jesus and we will be with our Lord forever.
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