1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
Text: 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.
I think that all of us have some sort of fear of something. Some of us may have a fear of spiders or snakes. Some have a fear of heights or closed in spaces. Some have a fear of speaking in public. The fears or phobias feel very real for the person who feels them, though others may not have them and, for that reason, cannot understand why people feel that way. There is, however, one thing that most people, if they do not have a fear of, they at least have some anxiety about. That one thing is death. ‘What happens after I die?’ Even the Christian must admit some anxious thoughts about death. It is for those anxious moments that God offers us comfort. He tells us: THE CHRISTIAN NEED NOT FEAR DEATH. This is true 1. Because Of What Jesus Has Done For Us and 2. Because Of God’s Promises.
As we study this portion of God’s Word, it is important to remember that the Apostle Paul had only three weeks to preach in Thessalonica before he was forced to leave on account of a Jewish led riot. Paul had only those few days to teach the Thessalonian Christians the basics of faith. What they had learned, they had received with great joy. But there were some things they still had questions about. These questions troubled them. Someone has said, “Ignorance is bliss,” but it was far from blissful for these people. They had questions about death and those who died before Jesus returned to the earth. It was for this reason that Paul starts this section as he does: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death.” (Verse 13) Paul doesn’t want them to troubled at the thought of death.
Paul, first, directs them to the basic building block of faith, that is, the redemptive work of Christ. “We believe that Jesus died and rose again.” We, too, would do well to look at these facts once again as a basis for discussing the hope that a Christian has. First, as we are told in Romans 5:12 “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin.” When sin entered the world, so did death. God had not created man to die. God created mankind to live with him forever. Yet, when Adam committed the first sin, death also entered the scene. Since that time all people are born sinful and all die. Moreover, since we all sin, we all are deserving of eternal death and punishment for our sins. We were powerless to change our situation. We were hopelessly lost.
But God changed all of that. How? Paul tells us, again, the most fundamental part of our faith and salvation. First, the fact that Jesus died. He was perfect. He never committed a sin in his thoughts, words, or actions. He completely obeyed his Father’s will. God only accepts perfection, which no one, except Jesus, could accomplish. Jesus lived a perfect life. He would not have died, because he had not committed a sin.
Yet, Jesus chose to allow himself to be put to death. He did so because he was acting as our Substitute. While he was on the cross, he suffered all the punishment that you and I deserve because of our sins. He took our place and paid the debt that you and I owed to God. Jesus even allowed himself to be put to death. The sinless Son of God was suffering the wages of sin that you and I earned: death. God did not look the other way and ignore our sin. He took the punishment that you and I deserved and heaped it upon his Son. How our God loves us!
Paul also points out that Jesus did not only suffer and die for our sins, but also that he rose from the dead. This act shows that Jesus completely broke the power that Satan held over us. He is powerless to accuse us anymore because we can point to what Jesus did for us. Now death has no hold on the one who believes in Jesus. He broke the power of death. Because we know and believe this, we need not fear death. Jesus has conquered death. We know that those who believe in Jesus will also share in his victory over sin and death.
This belief in what Jesus has done for us helps us not fear death. God has graciously provided us with a Savior from sin and death. We draw great comfort from the fact that Jesus paid the price we owed and now we are considered perfect, sinless in God’s sight. God further strengthens us by the many promises he makes to those who believe.
The Apostle Paul says, “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.” (Verse 14) What Paul is saying is this, ‘Because we believe in what Jesus did for us, we also believe that God will raise from the dead all who had believed in him.’ God promises that all who believe in Jesus will be raised to life on the day when Jesus returns to the earth. In 1 Corinthians, Paul calls Jesus “The firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) Just as some of the harvest is ready before the rest, so also Jesus’ resurrection shows us the resurrection that will be the believer’s. Just as Jesus was raised from the dead, so also those who believe in Jesus will be raised from the dead. Because of our faith in Jesus and the promises of God, we can be comforted when a person close to us dies. If they had been brought to faith, they will rise to join with all believers of all time in praising our God for all eternity.
God doesn’t want us to “grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (Verse 14) God is not saying that we are not to grieve. Death causes sorrow for those who are left behind. We feel sadness. Jesus, himself, wept at the death of a friend. Yet, our grief is not like those who do not believe in Jesus. If you cannot be comforted in the fact that Jesus died for your sins and someday the believer will rise, then you must rationalize. You can only hope that there is nothing after death. You are only left with fond memories. However, for the believer there is hope in the grief. There is comfort in knowing that the believer will rise again at the Last Day and will join with all the other believers in praising God forever.
With that in mind, the Christian can truly call death a “sleep” as our text does. There are several parallels. For example, when we lay down to sleep at night, we are resting from the day’s labors. This is also true for the person who dies. They are resting from their life’s labors. When we lie down to sleep at night, we are unaware of all the things that are going on around us and we expect that we will wake up in the morning with all of our senses and abilities functioning. The same is true for the believer. When the Christian dies, they lie at rest, fully expecting to be raised again to life. We can be confident of this because of the many promises God has given us.
Sometimes when I hear that someone has passed away, who was not a believer, it makes me wonder what comfort can be given to that family. When a believer dies, it is far easier to comfort them by reminding them of Jesus’ saving work. We can also look at all of God’s promises that he has given to us. He promises to raise us from the dead. Jesus tells us, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2&3) Jesus promises that all who believe in him need not fear death. Take every opportunity God offers you to strengthen your faith in him. May each of us be comforted by the words that God has spoken to us. Because of God’s promises and what Jesus has done for us, we do not need to fear death, nor do we need to wonder about those believers who have died. May each of us be emboldened in our faith that we can say with the hymn writer: “Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. Teach me to die that so I may rise glorious at the awe-full day.” (Christian Worship #592 v.2) Amen.
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