MEMORIAL SERVICE SERMON
Caught Up Together in the Clouds
Today we have gathered in memory of
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, especially verse 17
“13 And now, brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died.
15 I can tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not rise to meet him ahead of those who are in their graves. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. 18 So comfort and encourage each other with these words.” (NLT)
In this time when we feel such heartache, pain, and loss, Scripture offers so much comfort, encouragement, and victory. It seems that, in writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul knew of some church members who had recently lost loved ones. To those who were hurting and grieving, he offered reasons to hope.
1. A Different Reaction (v. 13). Paul specifically addressed those in the church who have lost friends, family, or loved ones. He says we should react to death differently than those who have no hope. Two things to keep in mind:
A. Our Mourning Is Natural. Paul isn't saying we should not be sad when our loved ones die. Psalm 116:15 is often translated, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones." The Hebrew word for precious refers often to precious stones or possessions; it can also be translated "costly, expensive." The Lord does His work on earth through His people, so doesn't it make sense that their death is costly? He knows our loss because He experiences it with us! Do you remember the story about Lazarus' death? Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:4), but when he saw the sad faces, approached the sealed tomb, and felt the loss of a loved one, Jesus wept (John 11:35). We know that departed believers will be resurrected, but being apart from them causes natural pain and grief.
B. Our Rejoicing Is Supernatural. Paul explains that we are to react differently than those who have no hope. Although we mourn and grieve, the Lord is with us through it all. As believers, we have comfort and hope in the future: we know that our departed loved ones who were fellow believers are now with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8); Scripture even calls them blessed:
"And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, `Write, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!'' `Yes,' says the Spirit, `so that they lay rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them'" (Rev.14:13 NKJV).
2. An Important Reality (vv. 1417). Paul reminds us that if we believe in the gospel, we also believe in the Second Coming of Christ! No topic is more comforting to us in our loss than that of the resurrection; it's the true hope that only we as Christians have. The scene he describes causes us to pause in our grief and anticipate the future:
A. The Privilege of Deceased Saints (vv. 14, 15). When Christ returns, He will bring the deceased believers with Him! While we grieve their loss, surely they rejoice and anticipate the day when they will be the first to see the resurrected Christ return for His people.
B. The Triumphant Return of Christ (v. 16). We are told that, "The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first" (v. 16). When Christ comes for the second time, it will not be in a manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths, announced by a single star to wise men or by an angel to shepherds, but He will come wrapped in glory and splendor with an earth-shaking shout of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God Himself! And who will be the first to see these things? The dead in Christ will see it.
C. The Triumphant Reunion (v. 17). After the deceased saints are resurrected to be with Christ in His glory, "then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord" (v. 17). We will be reunited with our fellow believers whom we have lost, and all together, we will be united with Christ in all His glory for the rest of eternity!
Conclusion: Today we are naturally grieved. But we also have reason for great comfort. When you feel the deepest pain, you can read this passage. Surely, this will engage you in the deepest anticipation of Christ's return. Paul said about these verses,
"Therefore comfort one another with these words" (v. 18). As we leave today, let's remind each other in our grief that our friend will be one of the first to see the magnificent return of the Savior, Jesus Christ; we'll meet our friend later, together in the clouds.