Pentecost 23, November 8, 2020
Some Encouraging Words!
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18
Could anyone use some words of encouragement this morning? I mean, after all, when someone says something nice to us, compliments us, supports us, your day, attitude, and outlook on life can positively change in a second. I’ll never forget when I was in 8th grade, I played basketball for St. John’s Lutheran School in West Bend, WI. Now when I was 14, I was about 6 feet, 1 inch. And I weighed MAYBE 100 pounds. So when we played the West Bend public schools or the area Lutheran schools, I was always the tallest player, but I didn’t even play center because it was so easy to push me away from the ball. You also need to know that I was a huge fan of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. (He still played in Milwaukee then.) And his move was the Sky Hook. Well, I practiced a lot of hook shots in my driveway, but never had the guts to try one in a game. One night, we were playing the church/school at Greenfield, and we were up by ten, late in the game. One of our guys got a steal, I ran to the hoop, he passed it to me and followed. We had a two on one, while our fans were all in bleachers behind the hoop we were going to. Instead of going to the hoop, I thought, “Why not?” and took a step back, shot a hook shot, and…nothing but net! And the St. John’s contingent rose as one, they yelled “Kareem!” and gave me a standing O. This isn’t a dream by the way, this really happened. That felt good.
Well, Paul has some words of encouragement, because his audience back then needed comfort, confidence, and real hope. And those words deal with the coming of the Lord and the sequence of events concerning the bodily resurrection of believers.
You see, my brothers and sisters, some Thessalonian Christians thought that believers who died before Jesus Christ’s return would somehow be left out, wouldn’t go to heaven. Now this was/is not the case. (What we teach) Could you imagine those Thessalonian Christians who thought their loved ones who died, who were also believers, would miss out on Christ’s glorious return—not being with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven? Well, Paul gave them detailed information so that they wouldn’t live without the hope of the resurrection and everlasting life.
It’s sad to say that there are many in the church who don’t know the Bible teaches this. In fact, over the years, I’ve answered questions from parishioners concerning the events of Christ’s return (and Burial/Cremation), but also dealing with our own resurrections—even though we confess that weekly in our creeds: “and I look for the resurrection of the dead” (Nicene Creed) and “the resurrection of the body” (Apostles’ Creed).
So before Paul listed those detailed events of what will happen when Christ returns, he reminds us of the importance of Christ’s death and resurrection. We see this when he wrote these encouraging words: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (v 14).
Before God could raise us to life, Jesus had to die and rise again—for without His bodily resurrection, there would be no hope; hell would be our future, and death would be the final outcome for our souls and bodies due to our sin. This is what God teaches us through His Word. The Scriptures clearly teach that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day and appeared bodily to His disciples. In Acts Peter said, “God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40–41) and Luke said, “he presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).
Because of Jesus’ bodily resurrection, we now have the comfort of knowing that this is our future. The Bible makes this clear, there are lots of verses that bring us comfort. Here are some of these encouraging words: First of all, Jesus is the Son of God, as Paul declared: “[He] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 1:4). Second, we know this is true, as John wrote: “Jesus answered, . . . ‘For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice’ ” (Jn 18:37). Our next words of comfort are that our heavenly Father has accepted Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world, as Paul declares: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10). And finally, what comfort it is to know that all who believe in Jesus Christ will rise to eternal life, as Jesus said to Martha at the death of her brother Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn 11:25–26); and to His apostles: “Because I live, you also will live” (Jn 14:19). St. Paul adds, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22).
And yet, the comfort that Jesus reveals, brings, and gives doesn’t stop here but continues! The Bible tells us what will happen at the end, which is really the beginning. These are the next encouraging words I have for you: Yes, there’s an order of events when our Lord returns. Those “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” (1 Thess 4:15–17).
In one of Luther’s sermons, he wrote about the future that Paul describes. Luther notes that Paul foretells the future events as sure and certain—as sure as if they were in the past. Paul, according to Luther, describes life with Christ in eternity as a “beautiful eternal summer,” that cannot be compared to the winter of death and pain and sin (Joel Baseley, trans., Luther’s Family Devotions [Dearborn, MI: Mark V Publications, 1996], 632).
And so, what encouraging words, my friends! Yes, words of hope, that we, who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection, will always be with the Lord! Just think of that, my Christian brothers and sisters. What we, the Church, have been praying and singing for throughout the years—“Thy kingdom come”; “Glory be to God on high”; “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven”; and “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth”—this will one day be for me and you our reality, our lives. St. Paul encourages us in our text, “we will always be with the Lord” (v 17), our souls first (if we pass before Jesus returns) and our resurrected bodies, with no more sin, death, or the power of Satan. Yes, indeed, we will never ever be separated from our Lord! Jesus Christ will return. (Don’t know when…) He will come to bring us to heaven, to Himself.
So, brothers and sisters, could you use some words of encouragement? As the election still drags on and everyone is stating their opinions in your face or online, could you use some Good News? Well, first of all I want to remind you that our comfort, our hope, our salvation does not come from someone on a ballot. That comes from the Son of God, Jesus Christ who died and rose for us. God is still in charge, Jesus is still our Savior, no matter who is in the White House or has an office in the Capitol.
I realize that when we normally think of words of encouragement, we think of little things like, “Good Job.” “Way to go.” “Well done.” “You’re the best (Pastor ever).” What we hear today in this part of Scripture is really encouraging. Therefore, thanks be to God, that by His grace we are able to know, confess, and proclaim to others the what we have to look forward to: We Will Always Be with the Lord! Those are definitely words of encouragement, they are the best (Better even than a compliment on a hook shot).
All glory be to God! So as it is written. So let it be done.
In the Name of Jesus.