Monday, November 17, 2014

3rd Last Sunday 2014 Sermon

(This was my sermon from the 3rd Last Sunday of the Church Year, 11/9/2014. A couple people asked for it, I thought I'd post it here.)

Dead In Christ Will Rise

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

I do not believe it is only me, but death has touched our area recently in very tragic ways. In a twenty mile radius around Embarrass, six young people, younger than twenty-five, have died in the last few weeks. As I said before, I do not know the faith of those who died, so I am not speaking of them today.

But, I thought today would be a good day to talk about some things about which there seems to be some confusion and misunderstanding. Today’s sermon will not be my normal Law/Gospel sermon where I lead us all to repentance and then proclaim forgiveness and life in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, this sermon will be what is called a didactic sermon, a sermon which has as its main goal and purpose, teaching. This type stuff usually takes place during Bible Study time, but as death has so grievously impinged upon our area, I thought some time should be spent talking about it as it is addressed in our Epistle lesson, and since most do not attend Bible Study.

When death touches our lives, people want to feel good about what happens with their loved ones. Unfortunately, not all the ideas people have about what their loved ones are doing after death, are based upon the truth of God as He has revealed it to us His Word, the Holy Scriptures.

First of all, God wants us to be comforted about those who die with saving faith in Christ.

With that in mind, we are comforted to know that those who die in the Lord go to be with Him immediately upon death. Jesus Himself says that is how it happens when He proclaims to the repentant thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” 

Believers, upon their deaths, are with Jesus in paradise. But to those of us left here, as it says in our text, they are asleep. The do not talk to us, they do not listen to us, they do not watch over us, they are not with us wherever we go, and they are not now angels. As I said, believers, upon their deaths, are with Jesus in paradise, enjoying perfect happiness and bliss with Christ, they have no more sorrows.

Consider this. If our loved ones were to see what our lives are like, the things we do, the things that we suffer, the trials and tribulations we may be enduring, would they be perfectly happy? No! If they could see what is going on here, my mom would be continually slapping her head saying, “Todd, what are you doing? Cut that out!” There would be no joy and happiness in my mom if she were seeing us in this life.

There is something else going on with those who have died in Christ. You hear about it every Sunday we have communion, it is part of our liturgy. As we prepare for communion, we hear about those who are gathered with Jesus in paradise – we hear of how they are gathered around Christ, just as we are gathered in Holy Communion around Christ. The pastor proclaims that we join them in the same song, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven – all those who have died in Christ –  are gathered around Christ.

Do you understand the implications of this truth? As we gather around Christ in Holy Communion, they also gather around Christ. No, we cannot see one another, but we are all gathered together around Christ. It as if we are together at the same table with Christ. What comfort it is to know that my mother doesn’t see my sinful failures, but that we are gathered together around the One who died for us both – we are at the same banquet feast of the Lamb.

Dear friends, our Epistle is a beautiful text that gives us great comfort and expectant hope. Listen to it again:

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.

Did you hear that? You know the foundation of this, for you know what happened. Christ died to purchase our forgiveness. We are baptized into that death, so that it becomes our death. His death frees us from eternal death, that is, separation from God for all eternity, which is the punishment we deserve for our sins. And as we are united to Christ’s death, we are also united to His resurrection.

Yes, there will come a day when our mortal lives will end, unless Christ returns before that day comes. But as our text proclaims, on that day Christ returns, those who have died will be raised from the dead.  The dead in Christ, those who died believing that He died to forgive them their sins, will rise from the dead, and heir bodies will be perfected.

Those who are alive, and in Christ on the last day, will also rise to join them, their bodies perfected. From that day on, we will be together with the Lord. We will enjoy all eternity in perfected, sinless, fleshly bodies, just as Christ has, so will we have.

Job spoke of this hope many centuries before Christ took on human flesh. He spoke of his resurrection hope with these words, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my own eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”

Job hopes for the last day, for the day of the resurrection of all flesh. He looks forward to seeing his Redeemer, the One who purchased and won him from all sin, from death, and from power of the devil – who bought him not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death. He knows that he will see Him with his own eyes. How his heart faints, how it yearns, how it looks forward with eager expectation, to that day.

Yes, there are many questions which are unanswered about that last day. Where exactly is heaven? What will we be doing there? I remember someone who did not enjoy singing ask me, “Will we be singing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?” Will we really be walking on streets of gold? Good questions.

We do know heaven will be glorious. Most of the pictures we are given in the Bible are given us in apocalyptic language, or what we might call vision language. Are they actual views of places and events taking place in heaven, or are they metaphorical views that depict the vast richness and glory of heaven?

We cannot even imagine what the glory and beauty of heaven will be like. It is so far beyond what we know from our human experience and condition. Why? Because what we see and think of as beautiful and glorious in this present life is all tainted by sin.

I know dear friends that my Redeemer lives.

I know that He gave His life to purchase you, me, and all people from sin and death.

I know that He rose again the third day to proclaim that He has won the victory, and that all those who believe in Him will also rise.

I know that this body and life, with the aches, pains, sorrows, tribulations, will be made new on the last day and enjoy eternity with Christ in the heavenly kingdom that He is preparing for me and all believers.

I know that with my own fleshly eyes I will see Christ in His flesh, and all those loved ones who have died in faith before me. What a glorious reunion that will be!

I am therefore glad to live each day in this life, so that I can proclaim this good news to others, so that they too might have hope for this life as we wait for the perfect life to come. Amen.

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