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Have you ever wondered what happens to your believing family and friends who have died? Whether they are all right, you will see them again, or they will miss out on the blessing of Christ’s return and reign? As we continue studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner finishes chapter 4, teaching us what happens to Christians who have died.
Clear Thinking About the End Which Leads to Christ-like Living in the Present
Ignorance is not Bliss - Always Being with Jesus Is
A Reminder that Holiness and Purity Matter
Missing Each Other Without Missing the Mark
Leaders That Create Churches Others Are Thankful For
A Letter of Thanks to a Church to Be Thankful For
Have you ever wondered what happens to your believing family and friends who have died? Whether they are all right, you will see them again, or they will miss out on the blessing of Christ’s return and reign? As we continue studying the book of 1 Thessalonians, Todd Wagner finishes chapter 4, teaching us what happens to Christians who have died.
Well, good morning Watermark friends and family, and folks who are watching from a lot of other places. Happy Mother's Day! It is May 10, 2020, and we are still not together the way we want to be with our families. I pray that you are maybe near your mom or that you'll take some time today to pick up the phone and call your mama and wish her a happy Mother's Day.
We need mamas because they love us despite our tendency to need admonishment, encouragement, and a lot of help. Let me tell you why that's, frankly, a perfect segue into our study of 1 Thessalonians this morning. A long time ago, there was a follower of Jesus who lived in the third century whose name was Augustine. Augustine said this. "He who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his Father."
Remember the church is the bride of Christ, and the church has been given the stewardship of the gospel and the chance to bring to us the power of God for salvation. We know that the Spirit is what germinates faith in us and gives us the gift of understanding, but the church, you and I, are the stewards of this. Then God doesn't just give us the ability to proclaim the gospel to others but to help people to grow more and more into Christlikeness. So the church is our mom.
In fact, when Paul was writing to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, he makes reference to this. He said, "Hey listen, when we were with you, '…we proved to be gentle among you…' "Thank God for gentle mothers. "…as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children."
He said in verse 8 that we didn't just preach at you, but we wanted to impart our very lives to you. That's our goal here at Watermark. We don't want to just preach at you and give you the gospel, which certainly we do. We want to give birth to new life in you, but we want to impart our lives to you. We want to be the iron that sharpens your iron.
We want to be the extortive father who spurs you on to love and good deeds. We'll do that some today. We want to be tenderly sharpening and caring for one another the way a nursing mother does her children. All of that is why we gather. We can't wait to gather. We thank you that you're gathering in smaller communities now, and we look forward to being back together again.
I just want to pray for you right now and just remind you as we get started that no matter what kind of mother you were, no matter what kind of mother you had, no matter what kind of father you are or what kind of father you had, God is the Father to the fatherless, and he has given you grace. I tell people all the time that your earthly father is not a reflection of your heavenly Father, but your heavenly Father is the perfection of what he intends our earthly fathers to be.
So God is our Father, so he gives us his Word we're going to study today. God has given us the church as a mother to tenderly care for us. So we come around you now and we teach you words of life. So I pray the pure milk of the Word today would comfort you, that's the specific point of this passage, and strengthen you, which is what good nourishment does. So, welcome. The God of grace makes up for all the imperfect moms and all the imperfects dads who are out there both in provision and in grace for our sin. Let me pray.
Father, thank you for grace. I know as much as I want to be a great, perfect father to my children that I'm just a reflection of how good you are. I thank you that you are the perfect Father and that there is nobody out there today who you don't want to bring into relationship with you. So I pray for folks who are listening, who are orphaned by sin and have been ripped out of relationship with you by their own choosing.
I pray that today, Father, you would give new birth to them and that they would come to see your kindness and your goodness and your love expressed through Christ on the cross that they could be reconciled to you. I pray those words would not be foreign to them, but that they would see your love and that you would tenderly care for them this morning as you even confront them in their sin, you would awaken them to new life, they would be born again, and then the mother of the church would help them grow.
Father, thank you for this body and the fact that these friends help me grow in every way and for the privilege of being a steward of the mysteries of God. Would you allow my words now to encourage my friends on this Mother's Day as we honor you, our Father? In Jesus' name, amen.
Well, 1 Thessalonians, chapter 4. What I want to do just to set this up for you is I want to block out this amazing passage. It starts in verse 1 of chapter 4 with this little statement. Like finally, and I mentioned this last week. It doesn't mean like, "This is the last thing I'm going to say," because Paul is going to go forward, and he is kind of saying, "And now in light of the gospel and your reception of it, now this is how you respond to the gospel."
So watch what Paul did. It's a very simple outline. I'm going to take myself off the screen for a second and give you an outline for the rest of the book. So here it is. Boom. We all want to know what God's will is for us. What I tell people all the time is that we don't want to be obsessed with figuring out what God's will is as much as we want to worry that we do what God's will is. In other words, sometimes we think about God's will for ourselves where we're trying to figure out where we eat or who we marry or what's our job? First Thessalonians tells you what God's will is.
It's specifically that you would love God and love others. You see that there in that first outline. You saw last week when we talked about verses 1 and 2 specifically that God's will is that you would be living to please him, the one who gave his life for you. So really verses 1 and 2 set up the entire next two chapters. That you would live to please him, that you would love God, and then the rest of it from chapter 4, verse 3 all the way through the very end of chapter 5 to the end of the book, you'll see that is application of how we love others.
So last week, we talked about how we're going to pursue faithfulness in purity, we're not going to use people as toys for our own pleasure, we're not going to live in godless exploitation of people as those who were doing who didn't know Jesus, we're going to constantly be increasing in our love for others, and we're going to be people who have a hardworking, responsible life.
This week, we're going to talk about how we're going to be people who even in a world still filled with grief, we can show steadfast hope. Let me just give you a little preview to where we're headed next week. You're going to see that we're going to talk more about end times, that people who love God, love others by being excellent in the way they live, show that there's judgment that's coming, and they're ready for Christ's return.
We'll study verses 12 through 15 of chapter 5 the week after that where we see that we should have a great respect for our spiritual leaders, those, if you will, who are head of the church and those who shepherd our hearts, even as we're patient and graceful toward each other as we follow Christ. We should be rejoicing always and constant in prayer, thankful in everything.
You see at the very end, Paul is just almost going to bullet, bullet, bullet all the different ways that we can live a Spirit-yielded, spiritual sensitive and faithful life as we hate evil and depend on Christ. There we go. That's kind of the outline of the rest of the book of Thessalonians. Okay, the good news is you don't have to worry if you didn't get all that written down, because every week what we do is we put all these notes online for you.
At watermark.org you'll see that there's a Sermon Notes section right under the Message tab. They transcribe the whole message for you to go back if you want to read it and take some notes. Then also anything that we put up on the screen and maybe some other things and some other links to parallel resources are always right there for you.
As we get ready to study verses 13 through 18, let me just remind you, as I said, that God's will for our life in 1 Thessalonians 4:3 is our sanctification. Sanctification is God's process of having us learn more of his ways so that the power of sin to control us, to make us people who are in rebellion against God, is minimized in our life.
So let me just tell you this. Salvation is a class, and it involves justification, where when we trust in Jesus, when we have peace with God, and we're freed from the penalty of sin. Sanctification is when we are being delivered from the power of sin by yielding to the Spirit in our life. Then we're going to get to the blessed hope that we have even a little bit today when God finishes this good work he began in us. It's called glorification, where we're delivered from the presence of sin. Man, what a great day that's going to be.
But right now, we're in a world that is still marred by sin, sometimes in us and sometimes around us. Death is still here on this earth. The Thessalonians were trying to figure out, "What do we do in a world where there's still death? What about those who believed in you, Jesus, and now are dead? Did they miss out on the blessing of your return?" Those were the questions the Thessalonians asked and that we're going to study today.
We have to study. I'm going to talk a little bit in just a second about ignorance is not bliss. I'm going to tell you where that statement and that idea came from. Both your Bible and that particular phrase, by a poet who lived in eighteenth-century England. Here is a really good quote by a gentlemen who is a noted scholar. His name is D.A. Carson. He is up there at Trinity Seminary.
This is why we study God's Word. It's why we're here together, dad, with pen in hand and journal open in front of our kids. Because D.A. Carson said this: "People don't drift toward Holiness." Remember, we just showed you that God is trying to get us to understand a right response to the gospel.
We have to participate with what God provides for us so that we can experience what God means for us. Sanctification and pursuing God's will doesn't just happen because we sit there and go, "Okay, God. Go to work." He tells us to participate with him and to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. That's why we gather.
We don't gather because we need to do things for God to love us. We gather because we love God. So watch this. "People don't drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and…" Sometimes to our great shame. "…call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and we call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith.
We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated." Wow. May that not be true of us. May we live to please God and to love others.
May God's will for us, our sanctification, be evident in the way we conduct ourselves in physical relationships, in the way we emotionally and relationally pursue one another, in the way we work for God's glory and, now in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, even in the way we face grief, death. That's the section of Scripture that we're in.
The last thing I want to say to about this is we work hard because we're motivated to serve the God who gave himself for us. We are not legalists. Legalism, and I'm going to put these up and they're in the notes… As I said last week, it's worth reviewing. Legalism is, "I'm going to do it so that I can be loved." We reject that.
Paul doesn't say, "Finally, do these things so God could love you." He said, "Finally, because God loves you. And you see, you've heard the word I preached to you about Christ crucified for you. Respond to him." Right? So legalism, I'll tell you in a second, is a false gospel. But there's another equal and opposite response that is just as offensive to God that it's called licentiousness.
I mentioned this some last week. Licentiousness is, "I don't need to do anything because God loves me so much. I have license to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it because it is finished, and Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for me." That's nonsense. People who say they love God and they don't care what God cares about have a false profession about their understanding of the love of God.
Then lastly, there's what we called appropriately the love motivation. Love motivation is, "Man, I'm thankful that Christ died for me. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Christ died for me, so I want to live for him. I'm going to deny myself because he is my Lord and my King."
We are motivated by love to possess our vessels in honor. We are motivated by love to pursue each other relationally and care for the lost. We are motivated by love to work hard so that we're not a burden to other people. Because of the love of God, we grieve, and not as those who have no hope. So legalism is a false gospel, licentiousness is a false profession, and the love motivation is what makes up a true Christian.
Let me give you some great truth. Are you ready? I'm so excited to study this passage with you. Thank you for the privilege of getting to study God's Word and to teach it to you and to be a pastor to you and a friend and a co-laborer. I need the mother church. I need you, as friends, to admonish me and encourage me and to help me. So off we go to encourage and help one another. All right? 1 Thessalonians 4:13 through 18. Paul is writing. He is saying,
"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words."
So let me tell you what's going on here. Paul has come to a church like ours, to a town that didn't know Jesus. We grew up in a town that did, and we heard the gospel from other Christians who were here who were faithful parts of the church, but for you, imagine just trusting in Christ. You heard Paul came, and he told you about the fact that there is a God.
He is not angry at you. He does judge sin, and all of us are sinners. All of us fall short of the glory that God intends for us, and there is a consequence to that. But praise be to God, he made him who knew no sin, the God man, Jesus, the one who has eternally existed, the Creator of heavens and earth, the one who is one with the Father, one with the Spirit, the eternal glorious kind godhead.
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we [by faith] might become the righteousness of God in Him." Jesus, though he was crucified, God raised him from the dead to show you that he wasn't just some madman, some teacher, some deceiver. He was who he said he was. He said, "…I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me…"
That's exactly what Jesus did. Then he ascended to heaven and he said, "Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." So let's just say you just heard that. Then, the person who brought you that good news that you believed in, left.
While he was gone, and while that teacher who had encouraged you with truth and had pointed you to how the Scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus and that Jesus was coming back… Paul always would teach what was called the imminent return of Christ, that nothing needs to happen in world history for Christ to return suddenly. People who believed with you are dying, maybe some because they've been persecuted.
They had a lot of questions. Paul didn't tell them when Christ would return, but I made some notes to myself. They were probably saying, "Hey, what's going to happen to my family and friends who have died? Are they all right? Will I see them again? Will they miss out on the blessing of Christ's return and his reign? What about us if we die?"
So the Thessalonians had some questions. When Paul heard that the church had some questions, he decided to put this little section in the letter. Now part of our sanctification is growing in our understanding of what God has told us. As it says in the book of Hebrews, we're no longer going to just hear about the elementary teachings of sin and judgment and the resurrection of the dead, but we should move on to more fuller understandings of other things that God has for us.
So this is one of them. I love what Paul says to them right here as he starts off. He says, _ "But we do not want you to be uninformed…" Now this is a pretty familiar phrase with Paul. I like this when I hear it, because I'm a person who loves to learn. I think one of the things that makes me an image-bearer is that I long for knowledge.
The Scripture says, "…but the glory of kings is to search out a matter." I am always asking questions. We all love the Google, right? But Google doesn't have all the answers that Jesus does. This book is called a revelation. It is a peeling back of a curtain that keeps us from understanding things that are true. God, in his grace, is revealing them to us, and he has given us his Word. Okay?
So the mark of a wise young man or woman is that you would aspire to understand. This is what Solomon wrote as a young man to his future generations of sons in Proverbs, chapter 4. He says this. "The beginning of wisdom is: acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding." Why? Because when you know what's true and you understand how to apply it to your life… "Prize [wisdom] , and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her."
One of the things that Paul wants them to do is, "I want you to understand something that Jesus taught on that I'm going to grow you in your understanding of so that you can be exalted even in the way you grieve." Christians are an interesting crew. We're not like the rest of the world. You go to a Christian funeral, and we sing.
I have been around the world. I have been in India along the Ganges River where you'll see people mourning the death of their friends. It's somber, and there's a burning of the body, and they're dumping this into the river where it flows downstream and then it reincarnates. There's just not a lot of hope. I guess the hope is that you'll come back with a better life than the one you just left.
Well, we have a greater promise than that. In fact, I just think it's good to laugh and to smile some. So I want to read to you before we get serious about how other folks had no hope and what they said. This is a poem by a cowboy poet. His name is Wallace McRae. It kind of lends itself to this reincarnation view. So you ready for a little cowboy poetry? I'll give it to you. If you want to look it up, it's pretty easy to find. Just type in "Reincarnation by Wallace McRae," and you can have access to the poem. We'll put a link to it in the sermon notes. Then you can have it. But this is great.
'What does Reincarnation mean?'
A cowpoke asked his friend.
His pal replied, 'It happens when
Yer life has reached its end.
They comb yer hair, and warsh yer neck,
And clean yer fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life's travails.
'The box and you goes in a hole,
That's been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts in when
Yore planted 'neath a mound.
Them clods melt down, just like yer box,
And you who is inside.
And then yore just beginnin' on
Yer transformation ride.'
'In a while, the grass'll grow
Upon yer rendered mound.
Till some day on yer moldered grave
A lonely flower is found.
And say a hoss should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once wuz you, but now's become
Yer vegetative bower.'
'The posy that the hoss done ate
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can't use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once wuz you.'
'Then say, by chance, I wanders by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponders, and I wonders at,
This object that I found.
I thinks of reincarnation,
Of life and death, and such,
And come away concludin': "Slim,
You ain't changed, all that much."'
That's funny. All right? It just makes me laugh. Not a lot of hope in that, is there? That when the steed no longer needs the nutrients that come from us, that we're passed through him and we turn into waste. So that's kind of the hope. Some people don't want to come back that. They want to be reincarnated into all kinds of things. I don't need to go into reincarnation. I want to go into resurrection truth. I want to give it to you.
Let me just tell you why Paul was writing to these folks. It was common to folks in that day and age that when they died, they would have different philosophers who would tell them what was waiting. So here's just a few of the ideas that were out there. This is from Aeschylus, who said, "Once a man dies, there is no resurrection."
It's kind of like, I remember a guy named G. Gordon Liddy who lived. He said, "Hey, you die, and you're food for the worms. That's it." Another guy would say, Theocritus said, "There is hope for those who are alive but those who have died are without hope." Another guy Catullus said, "When once our brief light sets, there is one perpetual night through which we must sleep." There's not a lot of hope there.
The guy who wrote Brave New World…this is just to bring it into our day and age…a guy named Aldous Huxley who denied Christ. I'm going to talk next week about why people deny Christ, and specifically Aldous Huxley. He thought we should, "Ignore death up to the last moment; then, when it can't be ignored any longer, have yourself squirted full of morphia and shuffle off in a coma." That is not much hope.
God doesn't want us to have to be medicated out of our pain and sorrow. God doesn't want us to go to the grave thinking that's it, because it's not. The Bible has long taught, all the way back to Daniel, chapter 12. He said there's going to be a resurrection for the righteous and for the wicked. They're both going to stand before God, and they're both going to give an account. So the Thessalonians had a question. The question was basically this. "What is going to happen to my family and my brothers and sisters in Christ who have died before Christ is returned?"
We have our answer right here. What Paul is going to tell them is that our hope is in the gospel. Our hope is the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead, so he is going to raise those who are his from the grave, and he is going to return. Paul is going to map out exactly how that's going to happen. It should bring us comfort.
Let me just go back, though, to this statement that Paul starts with when he says, "But we do not want you to be uninformed…" There are a number of other times that Paul says this. He says it in Romans, chapter 1. "I do not want you to be unaware [as to my condition, so I'm going to write to tell you] ."
He said in Romans, chapter 11. "For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery…" What God is going to do with the descendants of Abraham, the nation of Israel. "In light of their rejection of Messiah, I'm going to tell you what he is going to do with the nation of Israel." That's Romans 11.
He tells us in 1 Corinthians 10. He says people who have seen amazing acts of God who saw him split the sea, who watched him bring forth water from a rock… When you get to 1 Corinthians 10:5, he just says he just want you to know that despite all they saw, "…God was not well-pleased…" And a lot of them sang some great hymns to God and they were brought to judgment. He says, "I don't want you to be uninformed about the fact that judgment comes to those who even profess the faith."
He says in 1 Corinthians, chapter 11. Boy, if there's ever something our world needs right now, it is a reminder of this. That there is binary gender and that there is creative order and that we don't get to assign pronouns. God does. "But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man…"
Then he says that man has a leadership role and woman has a role and man had better make sure that he doesn't confuse his role with his rank, because man is accountable to God. If you use your position of leadership to be abusive to women, that's not going to go well with you. If you deny that there is male and female, that's not going to go well with you. Paul says, "I don't want you to be uninformed."
Then finally, in 1 Corinthians 12, he says, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware." So 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 and 14, he corrects the Corinthians' abuse and misunderstandings of spiritual gifts. Isn't that what a loving Father should do? Just tell you things? Now listen, everything in Scripture is teaching, but specifically, there are some times he says, "Hey, I'm going to teach you on this topic." And right here in 1 Thessalonians 4, verse 13 is one of them. All right?
I love the quote from one of my pastoral mentors who lived centuries or so ago, Charles Spurgeon. He said that when he talks about God's Word… This is the thing I'm just telling you guys. This is why we devote ourselves daily. So we can go to our friends and not share our ideas. We can go to our friends and say, "Let me counsel you biblically. Let me admonish you faithfully as I pursue you as a mother tenderly does her nursing child. Let me teach you what the Father has said." That's what Paul is about to do.
Spurgeon is the one who said if we don't love the Bible, we certainly don't love the God who gave it to us. We should never say, "Give God the hand." When you have a question, before you Google it, get on your knees and God it. Open the Scriptures and see what it says. Let me just give you an application point, if I could just say it in a fairly pithy way.
This isn't really short, but when you're challenged by life circumstances, you should be somebody who just is rattled a little bit about what is true, like, "I lost somebody I love. Is God good? Does God care for me?" Here is a statement. "When what you know to be true and when what you are experiencing in your own life don't match up, you must continually go back to what you know is true (which is God's Word) and surround yourself with those who love truth."
All right? So one more time. When what you know to be true… And as a Christian we know God is good. We know his Word is true and we know that he loves us. What you know to be true and what you are experiencing don't match, you have to continually go back to what you know is true and surround yourself with those who love truth.
I was talking to a friend this week who did exactly that. He was struggling to the point of despairing, and he just said, "One of the things I'm doing right now is I'm meeting with my friend and we're reading Scripture together to remind myself about how I should handle some of the thoughts that I have that are leading to a restlessness, maybe anxiety, or even despair." Maybe thoughts of self-harm for some of you.
I've told my friends, if I get some information and some news that great harm has come at the hands of evil to one of my family, I want them to run to me, and I want them to speak to me in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I want to flood my mind with truth because when I'm experiencing things that don't match God's love for me and God's care for me, I have to be reminded the world that I live in.
Now here's the thing for the Thessalonians and for you and me, especially during this season when we're watching tens of thousands of folks in our country die. In addition to all of the deaths that were already there from seasonal flu and from cancer and from heart disease and from a myriad of other things, now we've added to that a new expression of sickness that is leading to the termination of life.
It's always sad when we lose somebody who we love, but we shouldn't grieve as those who have no hope. Here's the point right here in our message. God's Word is here to be a light to our feet and a lamp to our path. He wants to guide us, and he doesn't want to leave us in the dark. So we open our Word, we read it to one another, and we study it. Okay?
It is not true that ignorance is bliss. I told you that I would make reference to this. We kind of maybe all know that, and yet sometimes we do say, "Hey, ignorance is bliss." Here's the truth. Ignorance isn't bliss. It's a breeding ground for trouble. So just to give a little teaching to you. That phrase "ignorance is bliss," in some ways it came from your Bible, but the exact phrase came from a guy named Thomas Gray who wrote a little poem in 1742 called "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College."
Now Eton College is probably the most celebrated prep school in the world. It's where all of the nobles and well-off, well-to-do people in England actually go to high school. It's a high school, but it's called a college, Eton College. While he was getting ready to leave the wonders of being a young son of a nobleman who grew up in the beautiful countryside of England and enjoying all the bliss of being a young man under the care of his father, he wrote a poem getting ready to go to Eton College. It's called, "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College."
What he is basically saying there is, "Hey, it's time for me to grow up. While there has been a blissfulness to my life as a child, when I was a child, I thought as a child, but now I have to learn to face the realities of the world. Here's the way, at the very end of the tenth stanza, he says this. He says, "Yet ah! why should they know their fate? Since sorrow never comes too late…"
"I wish I could just be a kid who could just kind of skip through life." I watch my grandkids right now, I watch my dog and they have no worries about insurance, no worries about unemployment. They have no worries about how we're going to pay for the next thing. They're just happy. They skip and they chase butterflies and they chase their tail and they want to go on the swing.
What Thomas Gray was writing, "Since sorrow never comes too late, and happiness too swiftly flies." So reminiscing on his childhood days, he says just basically this. "Thought would destroy their paradise." But he is saying it's time to grow up. "No more; where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." Why? "Because I'm a man, and it's time for me to grow up and face the realities of the world."
One of the realities of the world is death. Paul didn't want you to be surprised that it was still coming. Paul and God don't want you to be surprised at what is going to happen to those who believe. So let me tell you what Paul doesn't cover in this passage. He doesn't talk in great detail about hell. He doesn't talk about the new heavens and the new earth.
He doesn't go through the nature of the resurrection body. He doesn't really talk about the fact that there's an ultimate judgment day and what the reign of Christ is going to be like, but what he does tell you is this: those who die have gone to be with the Lord. They will return with the Lord. Their bodies will be resurrected first, and then you will join them and will always be with the Lord.
So just to wrap this up. Solomon, when he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, started by just saying, _ "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity." _ One of the things he said is vanity is much learning. I'm going to read to you a couple of verses out of here just to kind of wrap up this idea that if you think your learning is going to give you peace ultimately, Solomon says, "No, it's not."
The only learning that's going to give you peace is the learning of the goodness and sovereignty and care of God for you. Don't think that you're going to learn some philosophy or some broad scope of intellect that will give you peace. This is what he says. He says in Ecclesiastes 1:18, "…in much wisdom there is much grief…" Because you see even though I know all these things, I still can't solve everything.
In chapter 2, in verse 13 and 14 he says this. "And I saw that wisdom excels folly as light excels darkness. The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness." He doesn't have any clue about what's going on. "And yet I know that one fate befalls them both." Both of them still die, and they have no idea what's at the grave unless God shows them.
So that's why Solomon, at the very end of the book of Ecclesiastes… What he is saying is, "Hey man, there's nothing that you can find real satisfaction and joy in other than God." So he says this. This is what's true. "The words of wise men are like goads…" They're going to move you along. And the wisest of all men is God himself. He is not a man, but he is the omniscient one who has, in his grace, shown us truth that it can strengthen our hearts.
It says "…masters of [the words of God] are like well-driven nails…" They hold things together. They give people hope. All those wise words come and are given by one Shepherd. Hopefully this church has some who are wise shepherds. Watch this. He says the endless study of the books of this world, it's basically meaningless.
I mean, read it for fun, read it for insight, but real hope comes from this. Verse 13: "The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil." That's next week's text.
This week's text says, "Let me comfort you with this truth. Are you ready? Have you lost somebody in this season or have you lost somebody you love? What a gift. It is to grieve at the grave." I just want to make it really clear to you right here that grief is not unfamiliar to or even forbidden to the Christian. What is forbidden is grief with no hope.
We know something. We know that the grave is not the end. We know it's an eternally fixed beginning. We know that Hebrews 9:27 says, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…" And we know that if we believe in Jesus Christ, we have passed out of judgment into life. Now Paul is going to tell us what happens when we die.
There is a statement about grief that I just want to stick in right here that I think will help you a little bit that I read that I really like. That is that grief never ends. I just want to say this. It's wrong to tell people that they can't feel loss. Jesus felt loss at the death of his friend Lazarus. He wept, but he had hope.
He said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies…" He said, "I even let you, my friends Martha and Mary, experience this loss with me so that you could see the power of God." Then Christ, I'm so thankful, not just with Lazarus, but then through his own sacrifice, showed us that he has the power over even death.
It's why we don't grieve as those who have no hope. Because our gods are not insufficient. Our God has created for us a victory over sin and death. The grave and sin and death has lost its power and lost its sting. So while there is grief that never ends, it does change. Grief is a passage that we pass through.
If you don't know about our ministry here called GriefShare, I would encourage you to check it out. It's a wonderful ministry for folks, children and adults, who have lost somebody and who are grieving and to be reminded by the study of Scripture and the comfort of one another how we can make our way through this passage that is grief.
Grief is not a sign of weakness. It's not because of a lack of faith. Grief is the price of love. When you lose somebody whom you love, what a gift that God gave you, the gift of that father, that brother, that sister, that friend. It's just the price of love. But do you know what else was the price of love? The redemption of those who caused God grief, you and me in our sin.
Love went to a cross to redeem our lives from a pit and to pay the wages of our sin, which is death, and to give us the free gift of eternal life. So watch what Paul writes. He says this right here. "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep…" And "asleep" here I'll get to in a second, because it shows up three times. He says, "…so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope."
We're supposed to grieve differently. Here's why. In verse 14, "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again…" _ We believe because Christ told us that. "…even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus." Christ is going to return with those who have died before his return. That's the general statement.
Now he is going to give you the specific order in verses 15, 16, and 17. He says this. "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord…" "This isn't just my idea," Paul is saying, "This is my teaching you what Jesus, in effect, has said." "…that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep."
So your friends who have died? They're in a better place than you. Remember what Paul said? "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." What Paul is going to try and do is strengthen the hearts of the Thessalonians. I'm going to strengthen your hearts right here, because you and I right now today are living in a world that we are going to… When we're with our Savior and we see him in all of this glory… I've told you this before, and it's true.
The number one thing I'm going to ask Jesus for when I'm in heaven, if he doesn't remove this from me… When I see that God is who he says he was, that he really went to a cross for me, that he really was resurrected, that he really lived, that he really was very God of very God and the person of Jesus and that he saved me and that he left me here to serve him, I'm going to want to go back and go, "Can I just serve you for one more week? Can I go tell the world this is true?"
Paul is trying to tell the Thessalonians, "You have such a privilege. 'Rejoice always; pray without ceasing…' '…do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.' And to be God's workman and workmanship so that others can know the goodness of God." What a privilege we have right now to serve our King.
But guess what? When we die, it's going to get better. We're going to be with our king. We're not going to have a chance to serve him anymore; we're just going to enjoy him. When we see how much joy he brings us in the fullness of our salvation, don't you go, "Can I do anything for you?" This is our day, Thessalonians, Watermarkians, friends listening. This is the day that we get to serve him.
It hurts us when we lose brothers whom we love, but we haven't lost them forever. They're with Jesus, and their resurrection bodies are coming first. You guys know I do something called Real Truth. Real Quick. to try and answer questions sometimes.
Myself and my friend Randy Alcorn, who wrote the best book on eternity that I know of called Heaven, we answer the question, "What happens to us in what's called the intermediate state, between our physical death, where we know from the Scripture that we go to be present with the Lord?" Because, remember, the thief on the cross when Jesus turned to him and said, "…today you shall be with Me in Paradise." And yet that thief's body was taken off the cross and was put in a grave, just like Jesus'.
Now Jesus', because he is the firstborn of all creation and because he is the firstfruits of God's redemptive work, was raised from the grave in three days, and then he said he is going to go be seated at the right hand of the Father and he is going to return, and in that return, there's going to be a resurrection of all of our bodies. Paul is going to explain for us in verse 17 the order of that. What you need to know is that the dead in Christ will rise to meet him first, and then those of us who remain will join them in the air. Okay?
Info on that in just a second, but here's what you need to know. We don't think right now… And go check out that Real Truth. Real Quick. on what happens between our death and the resurrection of our bodies. We don't think that we're in some intermediate state where there's no… Well, we think we're in an intermediate state, but we don't believe for sure that there is what is called soul sleep.
Remember how I told you that Paul uses three times right here "those who are asleep"? There's a reason that we as Christians use the word sleep. And it was common as a metaphor for death because when you sleep, you look like you're dead, right? Quickly, I'll tell you a story. I was on an airplane one time. We were getting ready to land, and the flight attendant said, "Hey, would you please raise your seat backs and put your tray tables away and prepare for landing?"
They were kind of going down, and there was a guy whose seat was behind me. It was still leaning back. She went over, and she looked at the guy. One of the reasons that sleep is a metaphor for death is because sometimes when you're asleep, you look dead. You're just so still. Sometimes you go, "Are they breathing?" Well, that was the case with this guy. He was out.
She just jostled him, "Sir, will you please wake up sir?" About the fourth time she said it, I spun around like, "Okay, man. We're getting ready to go here. There's going to be a little CPR that's about to happen." With that, she got a little bit louder like, "Sir!" And she grabbed him, "Sir!" So now I'm up on my knees looking back over, and there's now three or four people around.
All of a sudden, a person on the other side of the plane comes over, pushes the flight attendant out of the way, and she takes her knuckle and she puts it right here on the guy's chest and she just drills it, like that. The guy goes, "Argh…" And he kind of wakes up. "Hey! Wake up! You're freaking everybody out!"
I mean… The guy kind of did this. Now apparently, he wasn't just asleep. He had helped himself to some of the smaller bottles they sometimes serve on airplanes. I go, "Do you know that guy?" She goes, "No, I'm an emergency room nurse, and if somebody is alive, if you put your knuckle right there on their sternum with any kind of pressure, they're going to wake up." So that's what she did. But sleep looks like death.
Sleep is a time of rest, but here's the other thing that sleep is. It's temporary. It's temporary. There's an awakening. What Paul is saying is, "Hey, our blessed rest is when we're in the presence of God and we're free from the labors of sin of this world. Don't look like you're dead. You should be alive right now, but when you do die, it's just a temporary death, and there's going to be a resurrection of your body."
What that intermediate state is that we're in, there's good evidence that there is some corporal existence, but we're sure there's no soul sleep. We know that those who are dead are with Christ and alert and with him, worshipping him and speaking, which would seem to indicate that there's a body. But go listen to the Real Truth. Real Quick. What you need to know is Paul wants you to be comforted by this. Are you ready? Let's read it one more time. We've read it once. We'll just end with this.
"For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first." Their bodies in the grave will rise. "Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord."
Now next week when we're going to talk about the second coming of Christ, I'm going to talk about this thing called the rapture, which is referenced here, and the return of Christ, the second coming, which is separate from the rapture. Pretty much a right understanding as we can make it out, and I wouldn't start a new church over this, but the beginning of the reign of Christ for a thousand years is what marks his return.
There's an event before that where those who are alive are violently snatched like a thief in the night up to meet the Lord in the clouds. But it says before we're snatched, the bodies of those who are already dead will come to meet whatever intermediate state they're in. They're already with the Lord, you're going to be with them, and we're all going to be with our King.
Therefore, comfort one another with these words. Death is not the end. It's lost its victory and it's lost its sting. So let me just close perfectly because Paul wrote the Thessalonians from a town called Corinth. When he wrote the Corinthians, he talked more about the resurrection event. I'm going to close with that. Then we're going to introduce a new Watermark song to you that we've written called "Sing Hallelujah."
If you understand this passage, even in the midst of grief and the grave, we will sing. Here we go. First Corinthians 15:50-58: "Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…" Sound familiar? "…at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, 'DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?'"
We sang a song at Easter we wrote called "King of Victory." It came right from there. "The sting of death is sin…" The Scripture says. "…and the power of sin is the law…" And we don't follow it. "…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore…" And this is the application. "Therefore my beloved brethren, be steadfast…" Right now, today. "…immovable…" Don't get pushed off faithfulness. "…always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [our] toil is not in vain…"
Because Christ is coming quickly, his reward is with them, he will recompense men according to their deeds, and if you know him, you have passed out of judgment into life. Let that life be evermore like Christ for you today. So don't grieve as those who have no hope. Have great hope, for the resurrection is coming. You know the resurrected King, and you have the privilege of serving him now. Let me pray for you, and then we'll "Sing Hallelujah." Here we go.
Father, thank you. Thank you for this teaching, for this seminal text that we should comfort one another with continually… That's the application. You don't want us to be ignorant, and we should be like well-driven nails, that we get the words from our chief Shepherd and we build a place of comfort that holds things together. We build your house.
We build your truth into other people, and then they become secure. I pray that we would be secure, Father, in our faith, and that we would grieve and we would let each other grieve in a way that is appropriate for each of us, but our grief would not be alone. It would be accompanied by hope. I pray that that hope would come only, Lord, not from wishful thinking, not from superstition, not in believing that our beloved ones are angels. They're better than angels. They're with you in all the glory that you intended a human being to walk in and be created in.
So, Lord, help us to care for those who don't know you. Share with them the gospel that they would believe the one whom you have sent, that they would not come into judgment but would pass out of death and into life. We thank you for the privilege of serving you now, and we "Sing Hallelujah" because we know that even our greatest enemy, death, has been overcome by you.
So let us not, Lord, in these closing days of our lives, or maybe history… Who knows? Let us not fear those who threaten to kill our bodies or kill our careers or kill our reputations, but let us, as Jesus said, "…fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Thank you that your grace has covered the hell of our sin and made us one with you. Let us walk with you now. In Jesus' name, amen.
Well, "Sing Hallelujah" people, all week long. Have a great week of worship. We'll see you next week.