Hope in Death - Asleep in Christ: Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost - 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18
Hope in Death - Asleep in Christ: Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost - 1st Thessalonians 4:13-18 / Pastor Ted Giese / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For 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. And 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. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. "We do not want you to be uninformed." Uninformed about what? This reading from 1 Thessalonians, in fact each of our readings today are about the same thing. They are all about a coming judgment, they either point towards or point directly to the End of Time, the Last Day, the Day filled with Awe, the Awful Day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment, Judgment Day - the Day of the return of Jesus Christ. We have a pile of different names for it but St. Paul didn't want the church of the Thessalonians to be uninformed, and the Holy Spirit who inspired this letter to be written and protected this letter through the ages so that it could be heard by your ears this morning didn't want you to be uninformed either. This letter was for them, this letter is for you.
When the Last Day comes, the world will be surprised, the Christian in the world need not be surprised at the second coming of Jesus. As Christians, knowing that He's coming; we listen to Jesus' words from our Gospel lesson in Matthew chapter twenty five where He says "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." St. Paul, the central author of 1 Thessalonians, says don't be uninformed, Jesus says watch, Jesus' parable about the ten virgins with the their lamps is a parable about being prepared for the coming of the Lord, in the parable Jesus Himself is the Bridegroom that they are waiting for. Scripture tells us to know what's going on, be prepared, and watch. In the mean time while those around us fall asleep in Christ, as those around us die with their faith in Jesus, as those who are baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection meet death, we are likewise told by Paul that we who know what's going on do not need to not grieve as others do who have no hope.
There were at the time of the writing of the New Testament a group of Jewish leaders called the Sadducees and they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They did not believe that a day was coming when the dead would be raised up. In their opinion the best you could hope for was to be fondly remembered by God, by your friends, by your neighbours, by your family. They literally had no hope that the dead would be raised. Dead to them was dead, lights out, darkness, game over. St. Paul says, "we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep."
When a person dies we often say that they have passed away, it's practically an automatic response, I catch myself saying it too, the better thing to say is that they are at rest in the Lord, they are asleep in Christ, they are dead to the world but not dead to God. What has passed away is not them, but in Christ what has passed away is their troubles, what's passed away is their sin, their pain, their tears, their mourning, these, "former things have passed away.” When they die in Christ He wipes it all away. Speaking of your coming death, speaking of his own coming death, St. Paul says, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." In death even the doubts a Christian might have will pass away because we will see Jesus face to face. Last week in 1 John we heard this same good news, "what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when [Jesus] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see [Jesus] as He is."
If you read just a little past our Epistle reading this morning St. Paul explains, "that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night." The night is dark. For the five foolish virgins in Jesus' parable, the ones with no oil in their lamp it is dark too, when "at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him.’" The Prophet Amos in our Old Testament reading says of That Day, that, "It is darkness, and not light," The five wise virgins in Jesus' parable have trimmed wicks they have oil in their lamps they are ready, they are not without light in the darkness. They have hope where others grieve in the dark.
Seeing Jesus face to face will not be a comfort for those who were not baptized, those who had no faith, those who lacked oil in their lamp, St. John in Revelation describes The Day of Jesus' coming like this: "When [Jesus] opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the Great Day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
Indeed, who can stand? You will stand, you will stand washed clean in the blood of the Lamb of God, in Jesus' precious perfect innocent blood you will stand, you will stand all your sins passed away in Christ - you will stand. Who can stand? You. In the judgment of That Day God will pass over your sins with forgiveness just as He passed over the homes of the Israelites who'd faithful painted the blood of the lamb on their door posts and lentils in Egypt when they were being rescued from their captivity. Because Jesus on Good Friday died upon the Cross in the darkness that fell unexpectedly in the middle of the day, you will be saved when darkness falls unexpectedly on the Last Day, when the sky vanishes like a scroll that is being rolled up. St. Paul wants you to know "that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For 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. And the dead in Christ will rise first."
What will that cry of command be? Jesus stood outside dead Lazarus' tomb and Jesus "cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” and the man Lazarus who'd been four days dead came out of the tomb alive. On That Day, on the Last Day when Jesus returns, Jesus who is the Word of God made flesh will call out to your body, and those who have died in the faith, those who have been baptized into Jesus, those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will hear His voice, they will know their Good Shepherded, their Jesus, and they will come forth with joy, while the rest of the world will come forth with fear. And "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."
Therefore do not be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, do not grieve as others do who have no hope. The dead do not simply beak down and compost back into a mess of chemicals, potential nutrients for green things. They have a soul, they are not animals as some today would say, we and they are the workmanship of God. We are not a cosmic accident: We are loved by God, you are loved by God so much that He sent the Christ His one and only Son Jesus to rescue you. This same Jesus promises you saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I Am you may be also." To the living who wait for Jesus' return He says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I Am with you always, to the end of the age.” No one needs to face death without hope, not in the hospital bed, not on the battle field, not in their home or at coffee or anywhere that you may find them, tell them about Jesus and encourage one another as Christians.
The last line of our reading today says, "Therefore encourage one another with these words." This is the encouragement we receive from God's Word: Jesus in the flesh died, Jesus in the flesh was risen from the dead, and Jesus in the flesh will come again on the Last Day and because of this we who die in the flesh will on the Last Day be risen in the flesh and in our flesh - now made perfect in the perfection of Christ Jesus - we will walk into eternal life. We are His, He is our Light in the darkness, He is the oil in our lamp, He is our righteousness in the face of judgment and in death He is our life, as our Life Jesus has swallowed up death forever. Until He comes we watch, and pray and live our lives, and how are we to like our lives? St. Paul says lead a quiet life, mind your own business and work with your hands so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders, so that you will not be dependent on anybody. apart from Christ Jesus who is your one and only hope in the face of death. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Revelation 21:4
 1 Corinthians 13:12
 1 John 3:2
 1 Thessalonians 5:2
 Matthew 25:6
 Amos 5:18
 Revelation 6:12-17
 John 11:43
 John 14:1-3
 Matthew 28:18-20
 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12