Christ our Comfort

Christ Covenant Church
Rev. Marq Toombs
19 May 2019
Fifth Sunday of Easter

Series on 1 Thessalonians — The Future Shapes the Present

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Sermon Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

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.

Context –

The church at Thessalonica has experienced hard times.

Acts 17 — After Paul and co-workers preached the gospel, some of the deeply religious folks (Jews) were jealous, and took some wicked men of the rabble, and formed a mob, and set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of new Christians, seeking to bring them out to the crowd.

1 Thessalonians 2 — You suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets.

They were in good company with Christ and the prophets = sharing in their sufferings, bearing the cross.

As it turns out, some of these new Christians have been persecuted to death. When Timothy reported to Paul what he had seen and heard, he expressed the concerns of the new church.

According to multiple news outlets, hundreds of Christians have been persecuted to death in Nigeria and Sri Lanka. Thousands of Christians have been persecuted in China and Colombia.

Christians under pressure like that often ask: Why O Lord? How long, O Lord?

They also ask, What happens when we die?

In the Greco-Roman world, the vast majority of philosophers and ordinary folks believed that death was the end. Most believed in extinction, some believe in reincarnation.

Catullus — When once our brief light sets, there is one perpetual night through which we must sleep.

Lucretius wrote — No one awakes and arises who has once been overtaken by the chilling end of life

It was not uncommon to find this grim epitaph carved on gravestones:

I was not
I became
I am not
I care not

Finally, an inscription has reportedly been found on a pagan tomb at Thessalonica which read — “After death there is no revival, after the grave no meeting of those who have loved each other on earth.”

What happens when we die?

Conversation — Stephen Colbert and Keanu Reeves

In stark contrast to all that, the Christian faith offers hope for this life and life beyond the grave.

Our hope is not just for this life only, but also for the life beyond this life. Our hope is in the resurrection of the body and the life after life after death.

+ CORE GOSPEL

“We believe that Jesus died and rose again.”

Christian hope is rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is our hope.

Like our brothers and sisters who suffer and die for the faith, so Jesus suffered and died. At first his death looked like the end, but on the third day, Jesus proved that death was not the end when he rose again from the dead.

All those who die in the Lord shall also live in the Lord; those who sleep in Christ shall awaken in Christ. How?

+ DIVINE PROMISES

“God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep [in Christ]. 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.”

Fallen Asleep — a metaphor for death.

Asleep refers to the temporary separation of body from the soul. At death the body rests in the grave while the soul/spirit rests in the paradise of God.

According to Leon Morris our word for cemetery (Gk. koimeterion) is derived from the Greek word for sleep, so a cemetery is a ‘place of sleep’. The body that sleeps in the cemetery is the body that will awaken from the grave.

For Christians, death is a temporary and relative condition. Relative to other men a deceased Christian may be dead because he/she no longer walks in this world; yet relative to Christ he/she is always alive because he/she is united to Christ never to depart from him.

Awake — a metaphor for life.

Awake refers temporary state of the body-soul unity. Life in Christ before death.

+ DIVINE LITURGY OF THE RESURRECTION AND TRANSFORMATION

“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.”

The apostle Paul describes the divine liturgy for the final resurrection of his saints. The resurrection liturgy was revealed to him by a word from the Lord.

The Lord Jesus Christ will descend from heaven. Christ will bring with him the spirits of the saints who have fallen asleep. Christ our Life will appear to bring new life — eternal life — to his people.

The parousia will be announced with three distinct signals — a cry of command, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of God’s trumpet.

“The word for command describes the cry made by a ship’s master to its rowers; or by a military officer to his soldiers, or by a hunter to his hounds, or by a charioteer to his horses. When used by military personnel it was a battle cry” (Reinecker & Rogers).

The cry of command signals that the Risen Christ is marching out from heaven to wage war on one final enemy.

Trumpets were used in the OT to call people to wake up, worship God, wage war, and welcome the King.

These signals shall tell the world that the Risen and Ascended Christ is marching out from heaven one last time.

Christ’s return and appearing will be marked by a series of undeniable events.

What happens when we die?

The dead in Christ will rise first.

The sleeping bodies of departed saints will be awakened by the triad of sounds — the cry of command, angelic voice, and trumpet blast. Their decayed bodies will respond to the signals and rise up from the grave. Their resurrected bodies will be reconstituted into spiritual bodies, and their new spiritual bodies will ascend to be reunited with their descending spirits.

Next, the saints who are alive at the Lord’s appearing, will be transformed.

Since flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven, the wide-awake and alive saints will be transformed. Like Enoch who walked with God and was no more and Elijah who was take away in a chariot of fire, the saints who are alive will not experience death; rather they will experience radical metamorphosis. They will be transformed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye — from earthly dust into the heavenly glory.

All the resurrected and transformed saints will be caught up together.

Contrary to dispensationalists, this is not about the (so called) Rapture.

“The verb harpagesometha combines the ideas of force and suddenness seen in the irresistible power of God…There will be a reunion with Christ, but there will also be a reunion with friends who have gone before.” (Morris)

The saints will meet the Lord in the air.

The expression translated “meet the Lord in the air” is a kind of technical term ‘for the official welcome of a newly arrived dignitary’ (Moutlon/Milligan). We will rise up to greet the victorious Lord Jesus with praise and worship.

When the last trumpet sounds, we shall wake up and welcome the Lord Jesus Christ, and worship the One who waged war against Sin and Death and won the victory for the people of God.

And so we will always be with the Lord.

True life after ‘life after death’ is not just about going to heaven. It is about going to be with the Lord. That new life begins when we are re-united with the Risen and Ascended and Majestic Christ and the rest of his Church, beyond the veil of space-time history, in the new heavens and earth.

Thus, we will be with the Lord in a glorified state, as resurrected and transformed body-soul persons.

+ TRUE COMFORT

“Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

Death strikes everyone — no one gets out alive — but not everyone responds to death in exactly the same way. Everyone grieves in the shadow of death, but not everyone grieves in the same way. Some grieve in hope, others grieve in despair.

Encourage one another. Even the most hopeful Christians need to be encouraged in the face of death. The word for encourage means comfort, console, or counsel. (The idea is to call doubting, hurting, or grieving persons to your side in order to counsel them.) The command is reciprocal, meaning we should give comfort to one another in our seasons of grief, and we should receive comfort from one other in our seasons of grief.

With these words. Bear in mind that the comfort and counsel we offer one another must be rooted and grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ not psycho-babble or pop-psychology.

+ PASTORAL APPEAL

Now, let us fall down before the Majesty of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, and let us fix our gaze upon the eternal horizon, and let us wait for the coming of the one who was dead but now lives forever. And let us pray for one another that we may be comforted in our loss, sorrow, and heart-ache. Finally, let us hope and wait in the promises of God for we will experience life after life after death in power and glory of Jesus Christ.

Heidelberg Catechism

Q: What is your only comfort in life and in death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.

Sountrack for the Sermon — Ain’t No Grave