9 Oct 2005 A.M.
Joliet Wesleyan Church
What a Funeral Message
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
My five-year-old daughter and I often walked through an old cemetery to reach the local playground. One day she saw someone push a rod into the soil near a gravestone and hang a wreath on it. "Why did that man put a wreath there?" she asked. "He wanted to remember the person who died," I replied. "Will someone do that for me when I die?" "I'm sure they will," I said, mentally preparing myself for the next question. We walked in silence for a moment. Then she turned to me and said, "It won't be fair. All I'll see is the stick."
Death and dying has always been an area of concern. Its one of those unknown things that we face -- or at least its an unknown thing for the non-Christian. Christians on the other hand look at it as something we must go through in order to reach our final destination – it’s like a lay over. We want to go to Chicago, but we have to stop off in Denver or Salt Lake City for a few hours. We understand that and we accept it.
This morning’s passage is one that is often heard at funerals. Its used to give comfort to those that are grieving, and that is why Paul wrote it. It seems as though the Thessalonians were having trouble understanding what was going to happen to the believers in Christ who had already passed away. Were they going to be able to share in the celebration of the resurrection when Christ returned? Remember, the Thessalonian church was a new one. It was also being persecuted and was under savage attack. Some of the believers were dying; perhaps some were even being martyred and Jesus had not yet returned. They were eagerly looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of Jesus. They believed the gospel just as we know it: the gospel proclaims that Jesus is returning to earth to receive believers unto Himself. When He returns to earth, we know . . . the living believers will be lifted up to meet Him in the air -- that all the glory, majesty, dominion, and power of God will be displayed in the heavens in the most spectacular scene imaginable -- that the believers who are lifted up will experience the most wonderful transformation and be given bodies that are perfected forever.
But what about our loved ones who have already died? What will happen to them? Will they share in the majestic display of God's power? And what about their bodies? Will they be transformed into something new?
All kinds of concerns about the resurrection arose in the minds of the Thessalonian believers just as they do in the minds of believers in every generation. They were concerned about their loved ones and were asking questions out of their concern. It’s too bad that this is not the case today. Most people ask questions not out of concern but out of wanting to know about the end times -- but the fact that Christ is returning should cause us to be concerned about what is going to happen to our loved ones -- both those who know Jesus and those that don't -- more specifically -- those that don't know Him. Paul said two things to the Thessalonians in regards to the resurrection of the dead. He told them not to be ignorant about the resurrection. We are to study and grasp what God teaches us and at the same time we are to be comforted and challenged in the glorious hope He gives.
The second thing he tells them -- Do not grieve excessively over loved ones who die before Christ returns. There is nothing wrong with grieving, so don't believe people that tell you to suck it up and get over it -- but Paul reminds us that as Christians, death is just a lay-over -- we are not to suffer grief like unbelievers who have no hope. They have a reason to suffer the most terrible sorrow and grief -- why -- because they have no hope! There will be no celebration for them! But look what it says in verse 14 about those that have gone on before -- "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." Did you catch it? "God will bring WITH Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him." That means they are with Him! I can not bring Jonie with me, if we are not together -- we can meet there but the only way I can bring her with me is if we are together. "God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him."
We don't have to worry about where the believers are at that have gone on before us -- they are in a much better place -- Paul, in his letter to the Philippians says, "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far;" (Phil. 1:23). Jesus even told the thief on the cross, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43) So what do we make of the phrase Paul uses here, "asleep in Him"? He was not teaching that death is a semi-conscious state or a deep sleep. He may have been simply using a soft word for believers who have departed this world. It is a picture of resting from the trials and sufferings of this world. The person who believes in Jesus Christ while on this earth simply "sleeps or rests with Jesus" for all eternity. Jesus tells us in John 8:15, "I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death." And in 11:26, "And whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?"
Notice this also, Paul says that Jesus died and rose again -- He died -- but believers have fallen asleep -- they don't die! And its these believers who will come with Him when He calls those that are still living here at home. They are the ones who will get to see the start of the celebration!
In verse 16 Paul tells us who it is that will come down from heaven -- its Jesus Christ Himself. That task is left to none other than the One who died for our sins! The Lord of lords and the King of kings will be the One who will come down out of heaven to call us home! The Supreme Majesty of the universe, the Lord Jesus Christ, will tent the skies and miraculously appear in all the spectacular glory, pomp, and power of heaven itself. When He appears, three great events will occur.
The Lord Himself will appear "with a loud command." The word means a military command. The commander-in-chief of the universe will shout louder than any voice has ever shouted – He will shout just like He did when He was upon earth, except He won't be calling Lazarus come out of the grave . . He will be shouting: "Believers – brothers and sisters, come out!"
Then we will hear the voice of the archangel cry out. His shout will probably be the rallying cry for all the armies of the heavenly angels to join in the praise of the glorious event. We are told in Scripture that angels will accompany Jesus on His return. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7 says, "God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels." And then there will be the trumpet -- the trumpet of God will sound!
A trumpet has always been used for the purpose of arousing attention and warning. The whole universe -- both earth and heaven, believers and unbelievers, will be aroused and all the unbelievers will be warned. What's the warning that they will be receiving? That the Lord Himself is now appearing and the events of the end times are now being launched upon earth.
All this noise is going to take place to draw attention to what is happening, as everyone looks up to the sky -- there they will see Jesus -- the Son of God returning with all those that have gone on before -- those that have fallen asleep in Him and then those that are still living will be caught up. We will be given new bodies our old ones will be gloriously transformed -- never to see decay, or sickness, or pain, they will be totally new -- 1 Cor. 15:53 says, "For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality." A new body! Did you notice what 1 Cor. 15:53 said? That this body we currently have is a perishable one, we MUST cloth it with the imperishable! If we are to live with God our bodies must be changed. Luke 20:36 says, "And they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection." And I love this one in 2 Cor. chapter 5 -- "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands." (5:1). A tent is flimsy and so is this earthly body we have, but God will give us a building -- one that could only be built by the hands of God -- there is nothing flimsy about the building, the body He is going to give us!
After we are given these new bodies we will be joined with those that had died. We will be reunited with all our Lord's loved ones, and even more wonderful, all believers -- not only those we knew but those that we had never met -- will all be joined together with our Lord! We will all be there together rejoicing in the presence of Him who has saved us and transformed us into perfect and eternal beings. What a day that will be when my Jesus we shall see!
It not just a temporary thing -- "we 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!"
What will our first thoughts be? Our first reaction? Everything takes place in the blinking of an eye. Suddenly we will be standing in mid-air and transformed into perfect men and women -- we will be standing in the clouds in the midst of millions -- we will be transformed in the midst of the spectacular glory and majesty, dominion and power of the Lord God Himself.
Is there any question as what our first thoughts will be? I know what mine will be -- because I have it now -- and that thought is WOW!! We will start lifting up His name in the most perfect hymn of praise and adoration ever arranged. Jesus will be the total focus of our attention.
Is there any wonder why Paul concludes this passage with these words -- "Therefore encourage each other with these words." God does not reveal the events of the end time to satisfy curiosity. He tells us about the glorious events so that we can prepare and encourage each other. There is no need for discouragement on this earth; no need for extreme sorrow and grief; no need for hopelessness; and no need for ignorance. The Lord Himself has given us the most wonderful hope the hope of living forever face to face with Him -- of worshipping and serving Him forever in a new heaven and earth.
John the Revelator tells us that "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev. 21:4) Amen!!
Miles City Wesleyan Church -- Jan. 16, 2000 A.M. -- Miles City, Mt
Tree of Life Wesleyan Church – 23 March 2003 A.M. – Billings, MT.