Jump Start # 2113
1 Thessalonians 4:13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are sleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.”
Paul’s words here introduce a section about the death of Christians and the coming of the Lord. Death is never easy nor pleasant. Even when family realizes it’s going to happen, it’s still hard. Death is going through a door that swings only one way. Folks do not die on the weekend and are back to work on Monday. That doesn’t happen. An empty chair is a reminder of how permanent death is.
However, tucked neatly in this one passage are several thoughts for us.
First, we need to know. Do not be uninformed. Paul wanted the brethren to understand death and what happens afterward. Plenty of passages add to this insight and understanding. The Lord’s account of the rich man and Lazarus shows us that our memory, desire, love, recognition and even communication were still working after death. The bodies had been taken to the cemetery, but that wasn’t the end of the story. That wasn’t the end of them. There is no “The End” to our story. They lived on.
Not knowing fuels speculation, theories and ideas that cannot be supported Biblically. We hear about people who claimed they died, went to Heaven and some how came back. They write books. They tell about all the wonderful things that they saw. Fascinating that no one in the Bible ever said what they saw or heard after they were resurrected. Not knowing allows us to believe things that may not be true. Not knowing encourages us to put everyone in Heaven, even those who never walked with the Lord.
The source of information is the Bible. Gather all those passages that talk about death and study them. Wrap your faith around what God has revealed, not around unproven speculations generated by those who do not know the Lord. Have Bible classes on life after death. We will spend more time on that side of things than we will here. Walk through any old cemetery and you’ll notice that the people have been dead longer than they were alive. We ought to spend some serious time thinking about what’s on the other side of that door we call death.
Second, this passage focuses upon those who are “asleep.” That tern is used in the N.T. for the death of the righteous. Lazarus was considered ‘asleep’ by Jesus, when he had died. Jairus’ daughter was said to be asleep when she had died. Christians die. God doesn’t prevent that. Even though we have been redeemed and forgiven, we are part of the curse of this broken world. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why the young, the innocent, the believers die. The process of death for the righteous and the wicked is the same. Our bodies shut down and our spirit departs. This is how Jesus died upon the cross.
People will sometimes declare that it’s not fair that a young person, a godly person dies. It’s not. Death doesn’t just come to the old. The young. The powerful. Those who are needed. Those who are doing a lot of good. Death doesn’t care. It takes a young mother who is so needed at home. It takes CEO’s that are running major corporations. Death doesn’t wait until we have completed a semester, finished writing a book, retired from work, or even gotten old. Death comes while at home, at work, and even on vacation. Wrapping all of these thoughts in a large package, we agree that life is not fair. This is why James reminds us that life is just a vapor. It’s here for a moment, and then it’s gone. Somehow, people want our time on earth to be Heaven. It’s not. There is pain. There is sorrow. There are tears. There are things that are not fair and right. Some get away with murder, literally. Some crimes are not punished. The innocent and the righteous are often shoved to the side for others to get away with filthy and immoral agendas. Why is it in these times that a comedian, sports figure or politician can say anything vulgar, offensive, rude or hurtful and when called out on it, offer some lame apology and that is suppose to make everything right. Things are just not fair down here.
Third, there are two types of grieving indicated here. There is grieving without hope and grieving with hope. How we mourn, how we cry at funerals is built around what hope there is. Paul is not saying that the righteous should not mourn or grieve. It is common today to refer to funerals as celebrations of life. Pictures, laughter and good times are a part of it. Most funeral homes in my area now have liquor licenses so they can make those celebrations a real party. It seems that much of that is a mask and a cover to hide the emptiness and the hopelessness that fills those lives.
It’s not wrong to grieve. Remember, Jesus wept. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. Crying is not a sign of faithlessness or a lack of hope, it means that someone touched our lives and our hearts are broken. Tears are shed because of love. Don’t rebuke a Christian because they cry at a funeral. I’ve heard heartless things said such as, “Why are you crying? You’ll see them again someday in Heaven.” Really? The lack of tears is not a badge of spirituality, it probably means someone has a heart that is no longer beating even though they are alive.
Hope here is the key and the foundation. Those without hope grieve in a certain way. Those with hope grieve, but not like those who lack hope. The hope is in Jesus. The hope is that they have walked with the Lord, been forgiven and are disciples of Jesus. The promise of God is that they will live on eternally. There is the hope of Heaven. There is the hope of the grand reunion with the righteous. There is the hope of the land of no sorrow, death or tears. There is the hope of seeing the face of God. This hope isn’t a wish. We’d all wish for those things. This hope is a reality. It will happen. It will happen because God promised and because the one fallen asleep has made the right choices in his life. He has chosen to be a worshipper of God. He has chosen to invite the word of God into his heart. He has chosen to talk often to God. He knows God. He has followed God. And, now, that path has taken him to where God is, Heaven. That’s the hope.
For the unrighteous, they want the same. They want their loved ones to be in Heaven. The preachers will do all that they can to put that person there during the funeral. For some, having a preacher at a funeral is so unnatural. They never spent anytime listening to sermons while alive. They never opened the Bible when they could. They never worshipped God as the Lord directed. But at death, they now want a preacher. Why not read the sports page at the funeral? Why not call the bartender to speak at the funeral? No, the family will declare, “the loved one was a good person” and they want preaching, prayers and Heaven. No time for those things while alive, but at the funeral, bring them out. They may have been good, but without God. Good, but living a life that chose to be apart from God. Good, but without any hope.
For the unrighteous, their hope isn’t real. It’s a wish. It’s a dream. They fool themselves into thinking that their loved one is in Heaven, and they go on their ways, living as he had, ignoring God, fulfilling self and dying without any real substance of hope.
We are not that way, is what Paul says. There is something to all of this. It’s not just being good people here. It’s not just filling your Sundays with something to do. It’s not just being nice. It’s living for Christ. It’s dying in Christ. It’s being resurrected through Christ. It’s living eternally with Christ.
Our lives do not end at the cemetery. The journey ends at the throne of God. There, by God’s grace and love, our hope is realized and we are invited into God’s house forever.
We need to spend some time talking about these things. Death is coming for a visit some day and more than that, we need to have real hope that has been built upon a real faith in Jesus Christ.