Comforting Concerned Christians [11-20-22]



ENCOURAGEMENT…ENCOURAGEMENT…ENCOURAGEMENT


Remember, Paul and Silvanus and Timothy were only in Thessalonica for a short time. Then there was a back-and-forth of messages and messengers. At one point, Paul sent Timothy to share the gospel and his greeting. Paul longed to hear about how they were doing. There was much love and affection between them. The One True Gospel took root and resonated in their lives, from the beginning. ENCOURAGEMENT marks the verses leading up to our pivotal passage here in chapter four.


First, let's look at context. Thessalonica was a diverse city. Christianity was new to the region. Most people adhered to a combination of cultural and

pagan beliefs. A lot of what people believed was influenced by emperor worship cultish-ness. Remember, the believers at Thessalonica were baby Christians. They were all, mostly, born and raised in a pagan, cultish culture.


In the general culture of Thessalonica, there was little to no belief in a resurrection or afterlife of any kind. There was such low hope or expectation for any afterlife that being together with one's spouse in the grave was the only expectation for a final destination.


There were several popular tomb inscriptions:

"I WAS NOT AND I WAS, I AM NOT AND I CARE NOT." In fact, this one was so popular, that from its original language, non fui, fui, non sum, non curo, it was abbreviated N F F N S N C.

"WE ARE NOTHING. SEE, READER, HOW QUICKLY WE MORTALS RETURN FROM NOTHING TO NOTHING."

"IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHO I AM, THE ANSWER IS ASH AND BURNT EMBERS."


So into that worldview came the message of resurrection. Not only that, also the worldview of sinful, fallen people needing to be saved from God's wrath. This was a culture of wickedness. How do you convince people they need to be saved from their sin when they don't have any concept of what it means to be separated from God by their sin?


Paul brought the gospel into that culture. It was foreign to them. Yet, because they had been called by God to believe, they embraced it. The gospel resonated with them from the beginning. There was so much affection between Paul and these believers in Thessalonica.


With that in mind, let's look at 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

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.


There are two things we need to rule out about this passage.


First, the believers in the Thessalonian church did not fear death. With believing hearts, they embraced the gospel message of new life in Christ. In fact, in verse fourteen Paul put forth a creedal confession that most likely was affirmed by all the churches everywhere:

FOR SINCE WE BELIEVE THAT JESUS DIED AND ROSE AGAIN, EVEN SO, THROUGH JESUS, GOD WILL BRING WITH HIM THOSE WHO HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP.

Let's say that together…


As did that first generation of believers in Thessalonica before us, we take to heart the good news of the resurrection. Here's how Charles Spurgeon

once put it:

"To be doubting, and fearing, and trembling, now that Jesus has risen, is an inconsistent thing in any believer."

That's something that doesn't hound us, and it didn't hound them.


Second, Paul doesn't insist or even imply that Christians should never mourn.


In Philippians 2:25-27, Paul wrote:

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

Clearly, grief is a real and normal emotion to feel and express. As one commentator puts it, "There is no justification here or anywhere else in Scripture for Christians to gloss over the pain of death and glibly utter pious phrases about the deceased 'being in a better place.' Tears and other expressions of grief by believers in these situations are not evidence of a weak faith but only of a great love." {Weima} Remember John 11, when Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. People said, "See how he loved him."


Most non-believers in Paul's day had little expectation for a life after death. This hopelessness was captured by one writer who said, "Hopes are for the living; without hope are the dead." Another one, a Latin poet, observed, "The sun can set and rise again, but once our brief light sets, we must sleep a never-ending night." These were commonly held pessimisms.


Clearly, the Thessalonians held tight to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of eternal life to all who believe in him. God called them into this glorious state of grace. He gave them hearts to believe. I love how Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it:

"GRACE IS UNDESERVED FAVOR. IT IS KINDNESS, BLESSING, SOMETHING THAT COMES ALTOGETHER OUT OF THE HEART OF GOD, NOT IN RESPONSE TO ANYTHING IN US, BUT IN SPITE OF US AND UTTERLY UNDESERVED."

They were happy at rest in that truth. They didn't choose to be saved. God chose them…He saved them. They responded by living joyfully and faithfully out of that gift of grace and mercy. So what was the pressing issue? What troubled these young believers at Thessalonica?


The answer lies in a beautiful reality of their relationship with Paul and each other. While they weren't perfect people or a perfect church, they had a firm grip on the essentials of the cross and empty tomb. That's why they had so much love for each other and for Paul. As we've already seen, thanksgiving in this letter is preeminent. Their concern, and Paul's concern for them, was rooted in love. It is such a beautiful place to be.


Here is the primary concern of the Thessalonians:

NOT WHETHER THE DEAD WILL BE RAISED BUT HOW THEIR RESURRECTION COORDINATES WITH THE TRIUMPHAL RETURN OF CHRIST.

Here's where that's coming from. They believed Jesus would return within their lifetime. When Jesus returns, he will descend from heaven. And believers will be gathered together to meet Jesus on the clouds in the air,

where they will be with him as he completes his journey to earth.


Their concern was about those faithful believers who die before Jesus returns. Will they miss the great and glorious opportunity to descend with Jesus to earth? Foremost in their minds was would those who have already died miss this great gathering?


Before we look at what a loving disposition that is to have, let's look at what happens to Christians who die.


As Jesus was dying on the cross, one of the thieves crucified alongside him said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." To which Jesus answered, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Now, the how and where of that is topic for another discussion. The most important thing for us to remember is that this teaches we will enter into conscious communion with Christ upon death. We will be in a glorious state in the presence of our Risen Lord and Savior. That is a beautiful thing.


I love the euphemism Paul uses in verse thirteen. He references the dead as those who are asleep. It's not uncommon to refer to death in different ways. It's like us saying, "He passed away." Or, "She is gone." The word Paul uses in verse thirteen is a form of the Greek word, koimao…to fall asleep; to sleep. What word to you hear in that? Right…coma. Which, by the way, is the root of the word for cemetery {koimeterion}…or sleeping place. Fascinating how all that ties in together.


One writer sums it up this way:

"Death has been changed to sleep by the death of Christ. It is an apt metaphor in which the whole concept of death is transformed. Christ made sleep the name for death in the dialect of the church."

Because Jesus paid the wages of our sin with his death, we will be with Jesus eternally. When we die, who God created us to be will be alive with Christ. And then the day will come when we will be gathered together with all other believers in resurrected bodies. What a beautiful promise. All because Jesus died on the cross for our forgiveness.


Consider that blessed truth. You will be raised someday. The Thessalonians did not doubt that for a minute. Your decomposed body will obey the voice of Jesus Christ. And you will rise from the dead and face him - the One who was humanly tempted like you are, but was without sin. And he will look at your life…not for perfection but simply for the evidence that you were abiding in the vine…trusting, resting, receiving, drinking from him and being satisfied in him and bearing fruit of the Spirit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control {paraphrased from sermon by John Piper}.


Like the Thessalonians, we have seen his glory in the gospel. We heard of his glory, glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. And on this light of glory comes grace upon grace. Like the Thessalonians, we receive him. We trust him. We treasure him.


So, with that promise in mind, we now look at what troubled the Thessalonians. It is such a beautiful truth. It says so much about not only how solid was their belief in the gospel, but also how much they loved each other. Christ working in them filled them with love.

There was never a doubt that they would go to heaven. The question was,

their love for each was so profound, that it broke their hearts to think that those who have already died would miss this great event of Jesus' return. They were crushed by that thought.


Look at these key words again:

"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."

That's why Paul can confidently say, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." He paints a glorious picture of dead believers and living believers being brought together to meet Jesus as he descends from heaven to establish his Kingdom on earth.


Let's pray:

THANK YOU, FATHER, FOR THIS OUTPOURING OF PROMISE AND HOPE. WE PRAY THAT ALL WHO HEAR THESE SCRIPTURES WILL LIVE IN THAT PROMISE AND HOPE. FOR ANYONE WHO IS WITHOUT HOPE, BRING THEM TO THE SAVIOR THIS DAY. SAVE THEM BY YOUR GRACE. WE THANK YOU FOR THE LOVE WE HAVE FOR EACH OTHER, AND WE PRAY THAT MORE WILL BE ADDED TO THE NUMBER OF THOSE WHO WILL BE GATHERED TOGETHER TO BE WITH CHRIST FOREVER. WE LOVE YOU…WE LOVE EACH OTHER…AND WE LOVE OUR COMMUNITY. AMEN.