13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For 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. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left 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. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
There were only a few minutes left before our shift was over and then it happened. I was working in a concrete light pole factory in Wisconsin during the winter finishing up clearing the snow in the parking lot with my friend and coworker, so we could clock out and go home, when his skid loader broke down. We were both running skid loader machines with plows to clear the snow, but his was a little older and one of his hydraulic hoses broke. Luckily, the broken hose did not prevent him from driving the machine inside where we could assess the damage. We quickly determined that I could finish clearing the lot by myself in the one machine without too much delay, but the temptation to try to fix the hydraulic hose was too great for us. We didn’t have any spare hoses, but we did have a lot of duct tape and were completely uninformed about the amount of pressure in hydraulic hoses and the limits of duct tape. Thus, we wrapped the broken hose with an inch thick of duct tape and hoped it would hold. When people are uniformed about things, they often make bad decisions. In our second lesson from 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul did not want the Thessalonians to be uniformed about the fate of their fellow believers who had passed away before Jesus’ second coming. Paul informed the Thessalonians and all of us that though we have lost believing friends and family, we grieve with hope in Jesus.
As Paul opened his first letter to the Thessalonians, he was filled with joy at God’s work among them. They remained faithful to God amidst sever suffering for their faith. They strove to serve God and one another out of love by the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul described them as a model for the other Christians throughout the region. He said the reports about their church told how they had,
turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
The Thessalonians were eagerly serving God in the world, but were also waiting for Jesus to return and rescue them from judgment. They were filled with joy trusting Jesus had come once to save all people from sin and death, and would return to bring believers to heaven, but one thing still troubled them. They wondered what was going to happen to their fellow believers who had passed away. They wondered where they fit into Jesus’ second coming.
Paul made sure to inform the Thessalonians about their fellow believers now fallen asleep in death. Paul wrote,
13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
Paul was intentional about relating death to sleep. He wrote about death as if it were sleep because the world does not look at death as sleep. When the hopeless world or those without faith look at death, it is referred to as ‘forever sleep.’ For those who do not believe, death is the final end to life. It isn’t like taking a nap or lying down at night, only to get up and return to the regular routine of daily life. It means a person will not get up again to walk, talk, work, hug, laugh, love, play, etc. It is a permanent separation and that leaves the world grieving without hope.
Many in California are grieving all kinds of losses as the wildfires rage through their state. It’s late in the season, but the two major fires are relentless. They have been referred to as the worst fires in decades and the deadliest ever, with almost eighty people confirmed dead and over 1,000 still missing. For those who have lost homes, cars and personal belongings, there will be grieving, especially for family pictures or heirlooms that can’t be replaced. Yet, insurance and donations will replace most of what people lost. In other words, there is hope to rebuild, but those who have lost family and friends don’t have a way to get them back. Despite the horrible destruction of the fires, most of what has been lost can be rebuilt, but there isn’t any insurance agency, company, donor, government, doctor or person who can bring back those who have died. The terrible reality of death will leave many survivors of the California fires to grieve without hope and that is why these words from 1 Thessalonians are so important.
Paul’s words to the Thessalonians were recorded so that the world would not be left uninformed about the true reality of death. All of us have lost someone, which means we don’t have to be informed about the pain and grief death brings into our lives as we suffer through the separation and end of a relationship with someone. Instead, we all need to be informed that the grief will end, the separation will end and the relationship will continue. In our Old Testament lesson from Daniel 12, God revealed what would happen to all those who have died,
But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
And in our gospel lesson from Mark 13, we see who will bring all the dead back to life, Jesus. Jesus shared with some of his disciples that he would return on that day saying,
26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”
Jesus’ power over death allows us to grieve with hope and not grieve like the uninformed and unbelieving world.
We grieve with hope because we are confident that Jesus will wake the dead. As Paul writes,
14 For 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. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
All of us who have lost someone we love miss them dearly. We dread the separation death puts between us and those who once brought joy, guidance, protection and love to our lives. That grief we feel for those whom we have lost happens because death is not natural. God never meant for us to die, but since Adam and Eve fell into sin, we have all been cursed with death as Paul wrote in Romans 5:12,
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned—.
Death affects us all and the grief sin causes us by separating us from our loved ones when they die or filling us with fear when we lay dying afraid to leave them threatens our faith, but we have hope in Jesus who died and rose again, and proved his power over death to many throughout his ministry.
Jesus proved his power over life and death even before the first Easter morning. Once, a man named Jairus came to Jesus to have him heal his daughter and when Jesus agreed they started for his house, but on the way a woman reached out to be healed by Jesus delaying him. Then, servants came to tell Jairus his daughter had died and not to bother Jesus anymore, but Jesus told him,
“Don’t be afraid; just believe,”
and Jesus brought his daughter back to life when they got to his house. Another time, Jesus came to a town called Nain and found a funeral procession in progress. It was for a widow’s only son, and Jesus went up to the platform they were carrying him on, touched it to stop the pall bearers and
said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
Finally, Jesus brought his friend Lazarus who had not just died or was being carried to his grave, but had been buried for four days back to life. All of these miracles made it clear that Jesus had the power to bring people back from the dead.
It was Jesus own death and resurrection that gives us hope as we grieve for those we’ve lost. Losing someone we love leaves us filled with grief. It’s a feeling that often stays with us our whole life and affects us physically, mentally and emotionally, and Paul’s point to the Thessalonians was not to stop them from grieving. In fact, Jesus himself wept when he heard his friend Lazarus had died, so it is alright to cry and grieve, but not to the point of hopelessness or despair as if we will never see them again. Instead, we grieve with hope in Jesus. We grieve confident and informed about the reality of Jesus’ power over death. We grieve knowing that Jesus will bring all believers back to life to be with him forever as Paul wrote,
15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
There were only a few minutes left before our shift was over and we thought we could fix the broken hydraulic hose with duct tape to finish plowing the snow on time, but we were uninformed. After wrapping the broken hose with duct tape, my friend and coworker, jumped into the skid loader and tried to move the plow. The duct tape didn’t hold for a second and the hydraulic hose sprayed hydraulic fluid everywhere, including my coworker. I got a lot of grief for that failure and whenever I tell that story in front of him he gives me a nice, firm pat on the back to remind me how much he wished we had been more informed about the pressure inside the hose and the limits of duct tape. We didn’t have the knowledge to fix it, but when we got to work the next day, the machine had been fixed by the first shift crew with a brand-new hose. As we transitioned shifts, the morning crew showed us how to fix the hose the right way, in case it ever happened again. When we lose someone we love, we grieve, but we do not grieve like the world. We know that without Jesus’ we are hopeless to try and fix the pain and separation of death. Death can’t be fixed like a hydraulic hose or rebuilt like a home after wildfires. Death can only be fixed by our Savior Jesus. Jesus has saved all people from death and from grieving for those we’ve lost without hope,
18 Therefore encourage one another with these words…
we grieve with hope in Jesus, who died and rose, and with hope that we will be with the Lord forever. Amen.