Encouragement for all who Grieve
Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
This passage was written specifically to encourage people who have questions and concerns about death.
Some people find life after death to be quite a mystery. We get some hints and clues about what happens when a person dies, but the full details have not be revealed. It remains a bit of a mystery.
This summer, late a night around the campfire, one of my cousins picked my brain about life after death, what it would be like. We know that it will be amazing – there will be reconciliation – with God, with other people, and within all of creation. The brokenness that haunts our world will be completely removed. The precise details are unclear, but you can be sure that it will be amazing.
9 However, as it is written:
“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard,
no mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him” —
10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
The beginning of that restoration has been revealed to us – we begin to see what is to come as we grow and mature in our walk with God.
The life to come is only one of the questions people have about life after death. What happens to those who die before Christ returns? This was a question that the Christians in Thessolonica were struggling with:
What happens to someone who believes in Jesus Christ when they die? What is their status in God’s kingdom?
For the Christians in Thessalonica, this question was very pressing.
You see, they were very confident that Jesus’ return was imminent. They thought that every member of the church was going to live until Jesus returned. So, not only were they very sad when members of their church died, but they were surprised and confused
Now Timothy had been sent by Paul to find out how the fledgling church in Thessalonica was doing. When he returned to Paul, he brought their question back to see what the Paul would say. Together we read the encouraging reply that Paul sent to the Thessalonian Christians. It is recorded as part of Scripture for the encouragement of all believers.
First, Paul says that believers do not need to mourn for a fellow believer as if we did not have hope. We may mourn – it is right and proper to mourn and lament, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope.
The complete despair that marks some other funerals is not necessary nor appropriate at a Christian funeral. There is a reason for that. As believers in a merciful God, we do have hope, great hope that can be described in Paul’s words:
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.
This verse gets to the heart of the issue.
I don’t need to convince anyone that there is something wrong with the world. The world does not work the way it should, it is broken. As the result of human disobedience – sin, death has come as a frightening shadow, always dogging our footsteps. As we grow older we sense it all the more. But people of God, the problem is not death itself, but the disobedience that makes death apart from Christ an endless separation from God.
Paul make a big point of saying that “we do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” We do not have any part with the horror that follows the death of those who are not in Christ. “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The Bible tells the good news that God himself came to redeem us from disobedience. All who believe in Jesus have had their disobedience and their guilt taken away by him. We still face physical death, and it still holds fear and uncertainty for each of us. It is uncomfortable to see it approaching. It is not surprising that the death of someone we love makes us sad.
However, the good news that I have the privilege of sharing with you today, is that the sting of death has been taken away for all believers.
You see, Jesus did not only die to redeem his people from sin, Jesus also rose again, victorious over death. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection from death. For believers, the sting of death has been removed. Neither death, nor the grave have conquered our Saviour.
Oh, death where is thy sting,
Oh, grave where is thy victory?
Grave, where is thy victory,
Oh, death where is thy sting?
Well the sting of death is sin,
And the strength of sin is law,
But he’s taken all my sin away!
Brothers and Sisters, death no longer has the same sting for those who believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. We believe that because Jesus died and rose again, everyone who believes in him will share in his resurrection.
Even when we are unsure of a person’s standing before God, we can still be hopeful. Even when we are uncertain of someone’s faith, we do not grieve without hope because we are certain of God’s love and grace.
Oh, God is not a pushover – he deals very seriously with sin – but our God is also very gracious and longs to forgive his wayward children. He longs for many people to come to him through Jesus Christ.
In answer to the Thessalonians’ question, a Christian who dies will not miss out on Jesus’ return to earth nor the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death.
The bottom line comes in I Thessalonians 4:17. Those who die in the Lord and those who live in the Lord “will be with the Lord forever.” Together with those on earth who believe in Christ, the dead shall be caught up with Christ.
The timeline of these events is not laid out. Scripture says that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” In fact it is compared to the sudden beginning of labour pains. As a pregnancy gets closer to the end, you know very well that labour will come, but you do not know when the labour will begin.
The day will come suddenly, but believers should not be surprised by it. Scripture calls us to be “alert and self-controlled,” prepared for the coming of the Lord. Always keep watching, be prepared for the Lord will come suddenly. Jesus warned of the need to be prepared, telling the following parable:
“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish and five were wise. 3 The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. 4 The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
6 “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’
7 “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’
9 ”‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’
10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
11 “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’
12 “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’
13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
We don’t know what that day will be like, but we can begin to imagine! Imagine the day of the Lord: We will be united as God’s family of believers in the end. And we will celebrate God’s cosmic victory over sin and guilt and death together. If you thought our combined services or your family reunions were exciting this summer, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
That is our hope for those who have died. They have died and their deaths make us sad because we will miss them. It is proper for us to cry together, to reminisce together, and to miss them for days, weeks, and years. And still, while we remember them even years later with tears in our eyes, we do not grieve without hope. Rather, we have great hope for those who have fallen asleep in Christ.
And we have hope for all who believe in Christ as well. This is our hope:
He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.
Encourage one another with these words. Amen.
a Isaiah 64:4