Scripture
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Date
November 18, 2018
Speaker
Pastor Georgeson

End Time 3, Year B, Saints Triumphant

November 18, 2018

Pastor Seth Georgson

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

 

13We 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.

Jesus Makes Us Saints Triumphant

It did snow where I lived in Arizona. If you haven’t been there, you might think the way I used to, that the entire state can be characterized by 120 degrees and a cow’s skull in the sand next to a saguaro cactus. That’s just some parts of the state. Other parts have mountains and pine forests and yes, it snows. That said, it has been a while since I’ve seen a good Midwest winter storm like we had this week.

I was reminded of another Midwest November winter storm, one that happened before my time. On November 10, 1975 a surprise winter storm hit Lake Superior, bringing near hurricane-force winds and 35-foot waves. In the middle of that lake and the middle of that storm was the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a freighter carrying 26,000 tons of ore to a mill near Detroit, MI. It still isn’t known exactly how it happened, but shortly after 7:10 PM, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, taking with it her crew of 29. It is still to this day the largest ship to have sunk on the Great Lakes. No bodies were ever recovered.

It’s a tragic story, and what makes it even sadder is that they were only 17 miles out from Whitefish Bay in the upper peninsula of Michigan. They just couldn’t quite make it to safety. They lost the fight and they all perished.

In the season of End Time we think a lot about death. It’s fitting, because the way the world goes is also the way that we go. Our time in this world is going to end. It might end when Jesus returns on Judgment Day to bring us to heaven. Or, if Judgment Day doesn’t come for a while yet, our time here will end when we die. That could be a long time from now, or it could be very soon. It could be after we’ve done everything we want to do in life, or it could be when there still seem to be many things ahead of us.

Most people in this world don’t really like to talk about death. They don’t want to plan for it and they don’t even want to think about it. Even though they know it’s inevitable, they do everything they can to put it out of their minds. I don’t listen to a lot of popular radio, but it seems like in recent years there have been a lot of party anthems boldly asserting that we are going to do whatever we want and we don’t have to care because we’re going to live forever. That always strikes me as odd, especially because wild parties sometimes do the opposite and shorten people’s lives.

Christians take a much more sober approach to death. We know that death comes, sometimes tragically. We grieve for those who have died. But we don’t grieve the way the rest of the world does. We find Paul talking about this in his first letter to the Thessalonians. Thessalonica was a Greek city that Paul had visited and one of many places where he had started a Christian church. Paul hadn’t been able to stay there very long though, because people who were opposed to what he was doing started a riot and he had to leave the city.

What happened in that city after Paul left? One thing that is clear in his letter is that life did not become easy for the Christians there. Paul doesn’t describe what was happening but throughout his letter he writes to comfort and encourage Christians who are suffering. And it seems likely that some of that suffering includes people who were dying for the name of Jesus. What Paul writes is great for any Christian to read, especially in the face of death. And for those who have recently lost a fellow believer because of persecution, what could possibly be better? Paul writes:

13We 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.

This is one of those things that we as Christians understand perfectly well, but it is so completely foreign to the rest of the world. I’m sure most of you have been to a funeral like this: one where people talked all about how wonderful the deceased person was, and there were speeches and eulogies and lots of weeping. Christians sometimes cry at funerals. And sometimes they talk about how wonderful of a person the deceased was. But there’s a huge difference between a Christian funeral and a non-Christian funeral. Christians have hope. Sadly, even some Christian churches get this wrong. I often say that one of the best places to see what really makes us Lutherans is at a funeral. The main thing we talk about at our funerals is not how wonderful of a person the deceased was, it’s how wonderful our Savior Jesus is.

Why do we have hope? We believe that Jesus died and rose again. Using nearly every historical method, unbiased historians agree that Jesus was a real historical person. Every historical method, that is, except for one: Where is his body? You won’t find it buried in the ground. He was dead, but he rose again. And that rising was the proof that we too will rise. Jesus is the proven solution to death. So while we might grieve over suffering and tragedy and loss in this life, we grieve as people who have hope, certain hope, tested and proven hope, in the resurrection that Jesus won for us.

But there’s even more to it than that. Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t merely undo the tragedy of death. It turns it into a victory. Paul goes on and says,

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.

Paul is painting a picture here, one that the Thessalonians would have immediately recognized. When a victorious, conquering king or general returned to his home city, what would happen? A herald would shout and trumpets would play. There would be a great celebration, a parade, the people would open the city gates and come out to meet him. That’s Jesus, as he returns to his people. Not even the dead will sleep when the celebration over our victorious king begins. And the captives he leads in chains behind him are sin, and hell, and Satan, and death itself.

Sometimes we still get the idea that this life is where it’s at. We have our friends and family, our hobbies, our things. We love this world, and that’s why we see it as such a tragedy when someone is taken from it, especially someone who was young and in the prime of life. That scares and horrifies us because we know that could be us. We could be the ones losing everything we have in this life. Or we could be the ones losing the people we care about. But Christian, this life is a constant battle. We are now the saints of the church militant. We’re in a constant fight, like sailors on a ship in a storm, never knowing who the waves might claim next or when the boat might go down entirely. We’re fighting against great enemies: sin and temptation, Satan and the power of hell, and the inescapable jaws of death.

We sometimes refer to a person who has died as someone who has lost the fight. But the war has already been won. Because Jesus has crushed sin and Satan and death, our death is not a defeat. It’s not our end, just the end of our fight. The trumpet will sound, the archangel will cry out, and we will live forever as the Saints Triumphant.

Paul’s reminder is that for those who die in Jesus, who fall asleep in his name, there is no “missing out.” There is no tragedy, there is no loss. There’s only the victory of the Saints Triumphant. There’s only Jesus.

So hold on to Jesus’ promise. Fight the good fight. And know that with Jesus, we can’t lose. What power does Satan have? What fear does death hold? Jesus has already won. The victory is ours. He makes us saints triumphant.

Amen.