Monday, April 17, 2017

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (Easter sermon)



The Problem of DEATH




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.




All my life, I’ve heard Christianity referred to as a ‘crutch’ – “something weak people lean on in hard times.”  

Which doesn’t bother me, because it’s true – circumstances remind me how weak I truly AM and my relationship with God gives me strength, direction, and purpose, that quite frankly, I’ve never found any other place.
So if believing in Christ makes me weak, then I am proud to be accounted as such.
BUT
WHEN life kicks in, hard times, grief, and loss come –when all the things you have placed your confidence in fail you and you realize how vulnerable you really are, THAT’S when you are​ glad you have this ‘crutch.’

Think about death for a minute.
We’ve all been to funerals.  As we stand beside the casket and gaze into the cold, lifeless face of someone we knew and loved, we are confronted with the terrible reality - the finality of death.  We are reminded, too, of the ominous fact, that, one day, THAT will be US.
How does a person answer the problem of death WITHOUT Jesus?
In walks the philosopher.  He shares his lofty opinions and theories about life.  He talks about death as though it is some mystical person​ he doesn't know. He quotes thinkers of the past, none of whom can speak with any authority as to what lies BEYOND the grave or how to be prepared FOR it.  In the end, the philosopher offers NO ANSWERS​.
In walks the scientist with all his years of study and experimentation. His knowledge of the human body and medicine, while impressive – proved entirely inadequate to spare your LOVED ONE from death.  He may know a lot about disease and DNA … but he has never yet found an answer for death.
Interview all the esteemed professors of our great colleges and universities… talk with those who have succeeded in making names for themselves: lawyers, congressmen, CEOs – all those we admire for their intelligence and skill – they all share one thing in common – NONE have an answer for death.  Even the religions of this world have no answer outside of personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
You can call Christianity “a crutch” if you want too, and that’s just fine with me.  I prefer my “crutch” to the cold and cruel view of death held by modern intellectuals.  Call me “narrow minded and ignorant” if you must, but only in Christ do we have hope beyond the grave.
Over the course of my 50 years, I have lost a lot of people I love to the “sting” of death.  Some were family, others - friends, ALL were people I loved and respected.  Standing beside the grave as the last clod -of -cold -clay covers their casket, my faith in Christ and the power of His resurrection, gives me the assurance that ONE DAY I will see them again!


The question of death is universal, even haunting those young Christians saved under Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica.  Paul had only preached there 3 weeks before he was run out of town by an angry mob who hated what his preaching had done to their lucrative IDOL business.  3 weeks.  Not much time to get these new believers grounded in the key doctrines of the bible.  So, they wrote him a letter filled with questions about their new-found faith.
ONE of those questions involved the problem of death and what the resurrection of Christ MEANS to those who believe.
Though Paul was run out of town and the church had so many struggles, we can be thankful that even amid such cruel adversity, God is sovereign; for, had those young believers been firmly grounded, Christians throughout history would have been deprived of this glorious and inspiring passage.  Had Paul remained in Thessalonica, we might not have ever learned the hope-filled answer to their question, “What happens to those who die in the Lord?”
There are three things we notice about Paul’s message to these struggling believers:

1.  First, consider his words regarding those who are asleep.  

Paul says, 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.
One of the great mysteries of the last 2,000 years has been the total silence of God.  
  • The world has been wracked with terrible wars, and God has remained silent.  
  • Injustice plagues our society...  
  • Domestic and Foreign tragedies abound;
  • famines that wipe out whole populations;
  • pestilences, earthquakes, tornadoes, persecutions, holocausts, crimes against humanity on every hand – and STILL - God remains silent.
  • Wicked men grow rich on the backs of the poor,
  • evil regimes flourish by terrorizing innocent citizens,
  • false religions hold millions in soul-damning darkness,

and God remains silent.
The great cry of humanity is, “Why?” IF our God has all the answers, then WHY doesn't​ He SAY something???”
The answer is simple – He has!  He HAS spoken.  He has ALWAYS spoken.  As the writer of Hebrews explained, Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by - his - Son

Don't make the mistake of interpreting God's silence on the world's stage as ambivalence.  What the world has witnessed since the day of our Lord’s ascension into heaven is the silence of an infinitely patient God.

It is PATIENCE - not INDIFFERENCE.
According to what Paul tells the Thessalonians in our text, when God NEXT breaks His silence, it will be with a shout!

  • He has spoken once in GRACE by sending His Son to this planet.  And what did WE do?  We murdered Him.  

  • For 2,000 years He has spoken in MERCY to us by His Spirit and Word, and we have ignored Him.  

  • The next time He speaks, it will be impossible to ignore… it will be with a SHOUT.  

A shout that wakes the dead!
There are 3 times we find the Lord ‘shouting’ in the Scriptures, and each time the gates of death fling open.
  • How about the time Jesus stood at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus?  The Bible says in John chapter 11, “he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’  And he that was dead, came forth.”
  • The second time we hear Him shout, it is from the Cross.  Matthew talks about it in Matthew 27.  He wrote, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, he yielded up the ghost, and behold…the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City, and appeared to many.”
The first time He shouted, ONE man arose.  The second time He shouted, many arose…
  • But the NEXT TIME He shouts there will be a wholesale exodus from the grave!
Paul tells us about it in our text.  This shout will be heard across the 7 continents and the 5 seas.  Its echoes will climb the highest peaks, and reverberate through the deepest caves.  Ancient battlegrounds and every cemetery will look like freshly plowed fields.  

When that voice is heard, the dead in Christ will rise!
They will come, a countless host, “ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands” – says the Apostle John.  Men, women, boys, and girls, from every nationality - every locality, they will come… ALL who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb.
For the first time in history, the whole church will be seen.  Every member will be present.  Not one will be forgotten.
This shout will signal TRIUMPH for those of faith, and TRAGEDY for those who are faith-less.


These early Christians were understandably concerned.  They believed that Jesus was coming back – that at any moment He would return for His Church… and in the time they spent waiting, some of their loved ones had died.
So they asked Paul, “What about THEM?”  And he lovingly explains to them that those who have died in Christ, will rise FIRST!


It comforts us, does it not, to know that the people we love who have passed on, who loved Jesus, are waiting for us on the other side of the grave?
2.  But not only does Paul reference those who are asleep, he also has a word for those who are ALIVE.  Notice v. 17, 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.
Consider the words “caught up.”  It is an effort to translate into English the Greek word “harPAzo.”  The word literally means “to snatch away.”  

  • It appears a few other times in the NT – such as in Acts chapter 8, when Philip had shared the gospel with the Ethiopian Eunuch – after baptizing this new African believer, suddenly Philip was “harPAzo” – “snatched away” by the Spirit so that the Eunuch saw him no more.
  • This word appears again in the short book of Jude – where it refers to those who win people to Christ as “snatching their souls out of the fire.”
  • By way of contrast, it is used to describe the activity of Satan in Matthew 13, as he “snatches away” the good seed of the Word of God that is sown in the hearts of those who hear the gospel, but fail to respond.
  • It is also used to describe the way the soldiers rescued Paul from an angry mob in Acts 23, when it says, “the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and TAKE HIM BY FORCE” (“harPAzo” – snatch him up.)
In the same manner, those who are ALIVE when Christ comes back will be snatched up, taken by force, before the awful judgment of God falls on this earth.  We will be “harPAzo” “caught up together” with the resurrected saints of the past.
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that at THAT moment, our bodies will be changed.  We will receive bodies that are engineered for eternity – incorruptible bodies that do not yield to disease, death, or decay; bodies of power, immortal, heavenly.  He also adds that this new body will be like Christ’s resurrection body in Philippians 3:21. John also confirmed, “We shall be like Him” in 1 John 3:2.
Suddenly, the spiritual pull of glory will overcome the physical pull of gravity, and the church will be gone… assembled with the Lord, never to be separated again.
Will you be in that number?
In a popular movie of a few years back, The Pirates of the Caribbean, the arch enemy of all sailors, Davy Jones – captain of the ship The Flying Dutchman, (a ship crewed by the dead,) overtakes various ships at sea, steps on board, and asks those terrified sailors, “Do you – fear - death?”  Their blood runs cold as the enemy of their souls asks that compelling question.
Let me ask YOU that SAME question – do YOU fear death?
Suppose everything I have told you is true – suppose that any moment the shout of the Lord will echo from the heavens, and Christ snatches His Church away.  

Would you be among them – if it happened today???
But what if I am wrong about all of this – and once you die, it’s over and there is nothing after this life… suppose the scientist is right… suppose the humanistic professors and philosophers are right – after death is - NOTHINGNESS.
What have I lost??? Nothing. I’ve made a bunch of friends, lived a clean life, and got to be a part of something OUTSIDE myself that does good.
BUT what do THEY lose if THEY are wrong???  Everything.


3.  Thinking like this prepares us for the final thought in verse 18, where we find Paul’s word to the assured.  He says, Therefore encourage one another with these words.  

No, I can think of far more pleasant topics to discuss than death… but I AM comforted by the thought that Jesus has prepared me for it.  When my time comes, I will be in that sainted assembly in the sky, not because of anything I have done, or because
  • I have tried to live a good life
  • or because I have been good to my neighbors
  • or a family man
  • or an honest employee.  
  • I won’t be ready for that day because I attended Sunday School, or put money in the plate, or lived by a list of rules.  

No, I have the assurance that I will be ready, because when I placed my faith in Christ – He gave me ETERNAL LIFE.  HE has conquered death, He IS alive, and He wants to give each one of us THAT - SAME - LIFE.
There IS no comfort regarding the dead… without Jesus.

Where does this “Easter season” find you?  

Maybe you are uncertain about your future… you don’t believe you would be ready if you stood before your Maker today.  If that is you, why not accept the life He offers you today?  Why not bow before Him while there is time and give your heart and life and FUTURE to Him?  We are going to give you that opportunity in just a moment.


Maybe you are a Christian already, but as you think of that day when Christ calls us home, though thrilled for yourself, your heart is heavy

because someone you love ISN'T ready for that day.  

And though you have prayed many times, you want to use this time to once again lift up that loved one in prayer, asking God to use the circumstances of their lives, your witness, and the Holy Spirit's​ conviction, to draw them to salvation.  Why don’t you come now and pray for them?
Whatever your need, whether you want to be saved today or to pray for someone who needs salvation, will you come forward?