Last Sunday of the Church Year (2023)
GOD'S PROMISE MAKES A DIFFERENCE
GOAL: That the Christian yearn for the trumpet call of God indicating the Lord’s return, which means we will be with the Lord forever.
MALADY: We doubt God’s Word when it comes to death and instead, we adopt this pagan world’s idea that death is bad. We make decisions to shorten our suffering, instead of waiting for God to rescue. Jesus has been a long time in coming, so we don’t live with a sense of urgency.
MEANS: Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection and His Word and Sacraments.
To the new Christians in Thessalonica, Paul explains the certain hope we have that Jesus will come again, judge us righteous, and take us to be with him forever. His words are so simple yet so profound! Jesus died and rose again, and God promises us that all who die in Christ will go with him to heavenly triumph. And we will be with the Lord forever.
This is the central hope of the Christian faith: blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. St. Paul’s main point is meant for our encouragement. And so we are to encourage each other and be hopeful of the coming judgment. God’s Promise Makes a Difference.
The absence of the promise
The absence of the promise
IGNORANCE: 1 Thessalonians 4:13a “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren...”
This is inevitably the result when, for some reason, the Word of God is not faithfully taught or is resisted or rejected. Ignorance, superstition, misunderstanding, and a host of other tragic circumstances may be found everywhere when the Word is not taken seriously. One of the primary functions of the Word is to dispel ignorance.
When it comes to the subject of heaven many easily succumb to different ideas due to the trials of life. Luke 8:14 “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.”
Or, sometimes we are too comfortable and forget: “Life is good… I have no needs.”
MISUNDERSTANDING & HEARTACHE “That you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (v. 13).
Ignorance of the Word leads to heartache and grief.
The Christians of Thessalonica were needlessly grieved over the loss of loved ones because they feared that those who died prior to Christ's return would have no part in that great gathering to their heavenly home when Christ returns when we we are with Him forever.
Ignorance of the Word leads us today to adopt strange pagan ideas.
They saw the evidence of the dire result of man's sin in the face of death (Law) but were not able to appreciate the healing effects of the Gospel.
Others are still trying to “work” their way to heaven and their sins and shortcomings leave them with fear.
But God has promised!
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
The acceptance of the promise
The acceptance of the promise
brings knowledge and comfort.
Christ's death and resurrection assure the resurrection of those who die in Him 1 Thessalonians 4:14 “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
St. Paul's use of the Greek ei that our English Bibles translate as “IF”, does not imply doubt; on the contrary, it is a virtual assertion that they do indeed believe that Christ died and rose again.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
This confidence has the further ramification that those who die in faith will be brought together by God with Christ at His coming.
The Word of the Lord gives some details of Christ’s coming
15 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. 16 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. 17 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.
“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven”(v.16).
As He descends, there will be a cry of command, an archangel’s call, and the sound of the trumpet of God. The emphasis is on the Lord Jesus Himself.
He is the One who died, who was buried, who rose again, who ascended into heaven, and who has promised to return in like manner (see Acts 1:11; 1 Thess. 1:10). He is the focus of attention and the object of adoration.
Why would He do this? 1 Thessalonians 1:10 “and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
“The dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16).
This assurance St. Paul received as a special revelation from the Lord (v. 15). Those who are alive at the coming of the Lord will not precede those who have already died; rather, those who are already in their graves will rise first, then those who are alive will rise to meet the Lord in the air.
And, it is in this raising where our Lord separates all people, just as a shepherd separates sheep from goats, as we heard in today’s Gospel reading. Matthew 25:32
“So we shall always be with the Lord” (v.17).
17 for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
The focus is on the believers, those who died and those who remained, being united together with the Lord Jesus Christ, their only hope and only salvation.
The Word of the Lord gives comfort to the believers (v.18). That authoritative Word not only is able to comfort the individual, but it is to be shared among the community of saints. “Comfort one another with these words.”
The Christian Church is a band of pilgrims seeking a city which is to come. We speak encouragement to one another along the way.
Thanks be to God, that Word has been spoken. In Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our justification, we have forgiveness of sins and assurance of life eternal. All this is given through the Word and the sacraments.
Lo! He comes with clouds descending, once for ev'ry sinner slain; thousand thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Christ reveals his endless reign.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.