Saints Triumphant Sunday November 15, 2020
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
463:1-4, 468, 766 (Worship Supplement 2000), 463:7-8
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ. Amen. +
Dear fellow sinners made saints by the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, dear fellow redeemed,
I think it’s safe to say that death and funerals are some of the most uncomfortable settings we deal with. Think of the last time you attended a funeral and struggled knowing what to say to the mourners. Sometimes the best we can come up with is, “I’m sorry for your loss,” “He looks so peaceful,” or “She’s not suffering any more.” And, of course, there is the current popular statement, “Now, he’s looking down on us”—even though the Bible says the dead are ignorant of us and do not acknowledge us. (Isaiah 63:16) We do all sorts of things to try and make death less ugly and uncomfortable. We have the mortuary put make-up on the deceased. We purchase pretty caskets with soft, fluffy lining. We pay hundreds of dollars for floral arrangements. Death is uncomfortable.
The Christians in the Greecian city of Thessolonica were feeling VERY uncomfortable about the death of their fellow believers. While they knew Jesus was coming again, they feared that those believers who had died before Jesus return would miss out on that final victory.
On this “Sunday Triumphant Sunday,” as we consider both the living and the dead believers in Christ, Almighty God does not want you, His saints to be uninformed and without comfort. God wants to comfort His saints with the word of our text. But God’s comfort does not come from hiding the ugliness of death with make-up and pretty decorations, but from the sure and certain hope in His promises. Let all saints find comfort in Christ’s own resurrection, His return, and our reunion. The Apostle Paul writes of this in his first letter to the Thessalonians, chapter four, beginning with the thirteenth verse:
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. (ESV)
“I believe in the resurrection of the body.” A bodily resurrection from the dead is one of the basic teachings of our Christian faith. Even in the Old Testament, we find Abraham believing God could do it with Isaac. Job said he KNEW that after his skin was destroyed that with his own two eyes he would see God. At a Christian burial the Pastor says, “We commit this body to the ground; ashes to ashes, dust to dust: in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
How could that be? From the ugliness of rigor mortis to the decay of the flesh, if you have seen the uncomfortable ugliness of death, a resurrection of that body seems impossible. So how can we honestly say that we believe in the resurrection of the body? Paul points us to Easter’s empty tomb in verse 14 and declares, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.“
So, how many of you believe that Jesus died and rose again on the third day? Show of hands? All of you? Of course you do, or you wouldn’t be here. None of us doubts Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then none of should doubt the second part of verse 14. God will bring those who sleep in Jesus.
And notice what God calls the death of one of His saints, His believers. He calls it “falling asleep.” How many of you were afraid to lay your head down on your pillow last night? Just as you do not fear your bed at night, the saints of God do not need to fear death. Just as we close our eyes at night expecting to awake in the morning, we can close our eyes in death knowing Jesus will awaken us at His return.
This is exactly what Jesus promised. “Because I live, you will live also.” (John 14:19) Because Jesus rose, all believers will rise to life as well. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul ties Jesus resurrection to the believer’s resurrection to life also. “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.” (vv. 20-23)
At beginning of harvest time in Israel each Spring, the Jews celebrated the festival of “First Fruits.” At this feast, they were to bring the first part of their harvest to the Temple and wave it before the LORD in thanksgiving. The first-fruit of their harvest was a reminder that God had once again supplied for their fields and there would be more to harvest after those first fruits.
Jesus is the “firstfruits” of those who have fallen asleep—or died in the faith. His resurrection means that the saints who are asleep in Jesus will rise as well. It has to be the result. There can be no other possibility. “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
What will happen on this great resurrection day? Paul takes us step-by-step in our text starting with verse 16, “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.“ When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, only a handful of people were aware that the Savior of the world had been born. When Jesus returns it will be no secret. He will return with a shout, with the voice of a mighty archangel, which will resound around the entire planet. The trumpet of God shall sound to announce the return of the King.
Now, on that Day, the Bible tells us that ALL the dead will rise—both believers and unbelievers. But in this section of Scripture Paul is trying to comfort the Thessalonians who were confused about their fellow believers that died before Jesus returned. That is why Paul focuses specifically on the resurrection of the “dead in Christ.” They will rise first and the resurrection harvest will begin.
We learn more about that resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul writes, “The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” When the trumpet sounds and the dead rise, the resurrected believers will be changed—as will be the living. There will be no more stiff joints or bad eyesight. With these two eyes, in perfect 20/20 vision, we shall see God. From Adam, Abraham, and King David, to the Apostle Paul, Ron Roehl and Donna Scholz, when Christ returns on that Last Day, all the saints who are dead in Christ will rise and be glorified. “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Heaven is difficult for us to comprehend because it is unlike anything we have ever experienced here on earth. It’s hard to imagine the timelessness of eternity, let alone everlasting joy with no sorrow—ever. One widow wanted to be sure she would know her husband. One widower wanted to know if he would be able to snuggle with his bride in heaven. While God doesn’t tell us ALL the details of the unimaginable joys of heaven, He does tell us what we need to know. And what He tells is comforting for all saints.
After our Savior returns and the dead are raised, Paul continues, “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.” After the return and the resurrection, there will be a reunion. First and foremost we it will be a reunion with our Lord—the Lord who chose us from eternity to be His own; the Lord whom we had only seen by faith up to that point. Then we will meet the Lord whom we believed was nailed to the cross to pay for all of our sins, with the nail prints still in His hands; the Lord who died to purchase us for Himself as His own special people. The Lord who shed His blood to cleanse us from our sins and make us saints. We will meet our Lord in the air.
We will also be reunited with our fellow believers who were asleep in Jesus. They had closed their eyes to this world upon death and will be awakened by their Lord at His return. And we will be caught up together with them in the clouds. Together we will meet our Lord in whom we placed our hope. Together we will see Him face to face as we are glorified. Together we will worship the Lamb who rescued us from the eternal judgment and gave us eternal life as a free gift. Thus we shall always be with Him. “Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Death is pretty uncomfortable—it is uncomfortable to look at, talk about, or talk with others about. But for all the saints of God, for those who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, we do not mourn as those who have no hope. We have hope. Hope based on Christ’s resurrection and God’s promises. Because Christ rose, we too shall rise and be with our Lord and our fellow believers forever in heaven. This is what Jesus died and rose to give us. Therefore comfort one another with these words! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.