November 9, 2008
Proper 27 (A)
1 Thessalonians 4:3-18

Death is inevitable, a fact of life. The statistics on death are quite impressive: one out of one people dies. War does not increase death; traffic fatalities do not increase death; cancer and heart disease do not increase death; death is unavoidable and total in every generation. But death is not final. It is not the last hurrah. It is not the end.
An inscription on a grave stone in an old British cemetery not far from Windsor Castle reads:
Pause, my friend, as you walk by;
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
Prepare, my friend to follow me!
A visitor read the epitaph and added these lines:
To follow you is not my intent,
Until I know which way you went!
Paul did not want the recipients of his letter to be without hope as they faced impending death. The pagan world in Paul’s day offered no hope of life after death. The believers in Thessalonica were concerned about their loved ones who had died (“those who fall asleep,” NIV). What if the Lord returned? Paul sought to clear up the confusion. He offers hope-a hope not found in themselves or others or circumstances but hope found in Jesus Christ. A Christian’s hope is grounded on the person of Jesus Christ-who He is, what He has done and what He will do.

I. The Unmatched Death of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14)
Paul testifies to the death of Jesus Christ that “rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10) and enables us to “live together with him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).

II. The Undeniable Resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 14)
The historical resurrection of Jesus Christ attests to the power of God. Because Jesus has conquered death, we need not fear death or the future.

III. The Unimaginable Return of Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14-15)
The return of Christ is a dominant emphasis in Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians as it is in the entire New Testament, for the return of Christ is referred to over 30 times. In this context, Paul showed how the doctrine of Christ’s return can comfort the grieving. The fact of the Lord’s return is comfort in bereavement because we know that the Lord will bring with Him His people who have “died in the Lord.”
Jesus will return as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He will come in royalty. He will be announced with a loud command, the voice of the archangel and with a trumpet blast. It will be a cataclysmic moment, a death-defying event for those who have fallen asleep in the Lord and for those who are alive in the Lord. It will be a moment of great victory and breathtaking celebration.
When will this happen? No one knows. But it is imminent. It could happen at any moment. But whether believers are alive or dead, nothing is to be feared. Jesus will either come with us or for us.

IV. The Unbelievable Resurrection from the Dead (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16)
“The dead in Christ will rise first.” Resurrection assures us that death is not the end. The grave is not eternal. The body may go to sleep, but the soul goes to be with the Lord. When the Lord returns, He will bring the soul, then raise the body, and then unite the two together.

V. The Unavoidable Rapture of Living Believers (1 Thessalonians 4:17)
Although the word rapture in not used in this section, the words “caught up” are employed. At that moment, in a twinkling of an eye, those believers who are living will be seized by a heavenly force and claimed by God as a husband claims his bride. Believers will be taken to a new place, a heavenly home, where there will be no more pain or danger or distress. There we will “meet” the Lord. The word meet embodies the idea of meeting a royal person or an important person. What a grand and glorious meeting that will be.
Death is, indeed, a fact of life. But we are not living in the land of the living, waiting on death; we are living in the land of dying, hoping for eternal life. Are you ready? Do you have the hope of eternal life?

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