All Saints’ Sunday
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
I Thessalonians 4:13-18 Sermon
November 6, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
143 "Hark The Sound Of Holy Voices"
144 "For All The Saints Who From Their Labors Rest"
141 "For All Thy Saints, O Lord"
590 "Forever With The Lord"
TRUE CHRISTIAN ENCOURAGEMENT
TEXT: (vs. 16-18) “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.”
When I was a student at Mankato State University in Mankato, Minnesota, I took a course called “The Sociology of Death.” The intent of this class was to examine how different cultures and societies deal with dying, death, and grieving. We read articles and watched various movies about this topic.
For example, the great pyramids of Egypt are all tombs for the dead. The ancient rulers and pharaohs would build one of these enormous structures for themselves, in preparation for their own death. Certainly there was a lot of heathen theology connected with this practice.
The Hindus in India have the practice of building this enormous bonfire, or pyre as it is called, where the body of the deceased is cremated and the ashes thrown into the Ganges River. Again, there’s more heathen theology connected with this.
One movie I watched in this class was probably the saddest of them all. An 8 year old boy was in the hospital with a terminal disease. He didn’t have long to live, and he knew he was going to die. His request was that he would be taken to the cemetery in an ambulance with the lights flashing and the siren going to let them know he was coming.
When the boy died, there was no funeral. The mortuary took him directly to the cemetery, where a few people talked about what a nice boy he was. Then it showed a few people gathered together over at the parent’s house saying a few nice words to the parents—things like, “At least his memory will live on with you.” And that was it.
There was no hope here at all. As far as the parents were concerned, death ended things. They had their son with them for eight years, and now he was gone. It was the end of the story as far as they were concerned. They would grieve from time to time, but they just had to get on with life the best they could.
Death is one of those things that touches everyone. Regardless of whom a person is, how rich they are, what their race is, or what their religion or philosophy of life is, death is a certain reality. The mortality rate amongst human beings always has been, and always will be 100 percent.
One of the things I have learned, is that when it comes to dying and death, Christianity is the only religion that comes with a certain hope, a 100 percent guarantee. Every other philosophy or religion is filled with a lot of uncertainty and guesswork. Any hope given by non-Christians is tenuous at best.
In our text for today, Paul is writing to the Christians at Thessalonica. Even though these people were firm in the faith, yet there was something that still disturbed them. They were concerned about their family and friends and loved ones who had already died. They died before Jesus returned in glory. Would they be lost because of this? They needed to hear some very real words of hope. They needed to know how this resurrection to eternal life was going to work out for them.
So Paul begins with a very important fact. Jesus says in John 14, 19: “Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus died, but then he arose again, which demonstrated clearly his complete power over death. Paul knew that they believed in Jesus’ resurrection. They just needed to be reassured that Jesus would come through in their lives as he had promised. It would make no difference if a believer had died before Christ’s return to earth, or if they would be alive at that time. All true believers in Christ would receive their heavenly reward, guaranteed
For the Christian, death on this earth begins an eternity with Christ in heaven. Jesus himself gives us a tremendous amount of hope in John 14. Allow me to share some selected verses: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going….I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me….All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”
These are indeed some fantastic words of hope from the mouth of Jesus himself. These words are there to comfort Christians for all time. A Christian can be certain of his or her salvation, as well as being certain of the salvation of their Christian friends and family.
Even though this is the case, yet Christians will still grieve over the death of a loved one. There will always be sorrow connected with death. We miss those who are separated from us. When someone we love even moves a long distance away, we miss them. How much more then do we miss someone who is parted from us by death. It’s perfectly natural for this to happen.
In our text for today, Paul says that Christians do not grieve “like the rest of men, who have no hope.” People who grieve without hope show evidence that they have no real comfort. They’ll try to cling on to a few precious memories, or they might try to soothe themselves by going all out on an expensive casket and a lavish funeral. But when all is said and done, that person is still dead and buried in a cemetery. For an unbeliever, the only hope they can see is not much more than a six foot hole in the ground.
A Christian does not have that tenuous uncertainty about what has happened to a loved one who has died. A Christian with true hope knows for certain about life beyond the grave. And a Christian knows they can completely trust in what Jesus has promised.
An eternity with God in heaven is why Jesus came to this earth in the first place. The will of God when it comes to sinful man is best put by Paul in I Timothy 2, 4: “[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” God doesn’t want anyone to be without this hope. He wants all people to go to heaven.
Therefore, all people need to know Jesus. A few minutes ago, I quoted Jesus’ words in John 14: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
When we come to “A knowledge of the truth” as Paul says, it means that we see ourselves as we are. We recognize that we are sinful people living in a sinful world. The fact that we’ve sinned and transgressed God’s will convinces us that we in no way deserve heaven based upon our own merit. Based upon the black marks on our record, our imperfections remind us of how unworthy we are. For us to come to God boasting of our good deeds and accomplishments is of no avail. Trying to patch our lives of sin with our good works is something like trying to patch a blown truck tire with bubble gum. It just isn’t good enough.
But the good news is not based upon what we have done, but what Jesus Christ has done for us. When we come to him in faith, we know that he will take our lives broken by sin, and completely restore them. Through faith in him as our Saviour, he makes us acceptable to God in heaven, and therefore fit to inherit a mansion in heaven.
When Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” he gives clear instruction that there is no other way to heaven. People may try to seek other ways, but there is never any hope or certainty in the meaningless platitudes of men. The knowledge of truth as Paul describes sees only our Saviour, what he has done, and what he has promised. For us, this hope is sure and certain.
I’d like to share a story with you about something that happened when I was very young—as near as I can figure it, I was probably just under two years old. Because of this, my memories of this event are rather wispy, but with the help of others, I have been able to kind of reconstruct things.
My mother was pregnant with my brother at the time, and my parents decided to take a vacation to the eastern part of the United States. They decided to take me from Nebraska as far as Rockford, Illinois where I would stay with my Uncle Ralph and my Grandmother, and they would continue on with their trip.
One morning, I woke up only to discover that my mother and dad weren’t anywhere to be found. I was in a place that wasn’t home to me, and I was with people I didn’t know very well. I was scared and confused. I didn’t know what was going on. And so I reacted in about the only way I knew how—I rebelled, and I let everyone around me know that I wasn’t very happy. I understand that I was an absolute holy terror for the entire time my parents were gone.
Now I had been with baby sitters before without any problem. I never had a problem staying at other people’s homes. But all of this was completely new and foreign to me; and without mother and dad there to give some stability to the situation, it was like I had been deserted without any hope. I wanted my parents and I wanted my home, and I didn’t have it.
I’m sure that everybody breathed a sigh of relief when my parents returned, and things returned to normal. But for that time of uncertainty, my life and the lives of those around me weren’t very pleasant.
Separation from loved ones is never pleasant; and when that is coupled with uncertainty, then it gets even worse.
Today we are celebrating the festival of All Saints. The definition of a saint is someone whose salvation is certain through faith in Christ. All true believers are saints, whether it is you and me and other Christians alive today, or someone who has lived on this earth and has now entered into life eternal.
The theme of All Saints carries with it a sense of certainty and reliability. The Bible gives us words that we can trust.
Going through life without any certainty and hope of the future can only lead to a bleak outlook. Death is never a pleasant topic of discussion with an unbeliever, because for them, eternity is nothing but a big question mark.
At the beginning of this sermon, I talked about that 8 year old boy who was dying in the hospital. He coped with the situation the only way he knew how. He said he wanted to go to the cemetery in an ambulance with the lights and siren so they would know he was coming. Even though he had no real faith, he knew there was something beyond the grave. He just didn’t know what it was.
Can you imagine how comforted that little boy would have been had he known Jesus? Can you imagine the difference a few words of the Gospel would have meant to him? Can you imagine the comfort the parents would have felt knowing that their little boy was safe in the arms of Jesus?
Death has touched each and every one of our lives in different ways. We’ve all experienced the death of friends and family. And we’ll all have to ultimately face our own death someday. What kind of confidence do we have?
Satan my try to get us to look at the future with a big question mark, but as Christians we know better. We know that Jesus has come to save us from our sins. Jesus came, so that through faith in him we would be saints. We shall then receive the reward of saints, which is an eternity in heaven. This hope is ours, most surely and certainly.
And as we remember those faithful saints who have gone before us, we can be assured that they have received their reward, and that they are safe with God in heaven. One day when we are called from this life on earth, we shall be with them and we will spend an eternity together.
In the final verses of our text for today, Paul writes in verses 17 and 18: “…And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage each other with these words.”
Indeed this is true Christian encouragement. Paul encourages the congregation at Thessalonica to talk about these facts so they might encourage each other in times of bereavement. The believers could speak about the absolute certainty of Christ’s resurrection and his victory over death; and that his victory would be shared by all the believers. Even though death would part them for a little while, ultimately they would all be together with the Lord for eternity. There would be no question marks for the future here, just reliable facts and words that could be trusted.
Today, we can give thanks for the lives of those saints who have gone before us. We can be especially thankful for the faith God gave them, and for the influence they had during their life on earth. Certainly God has blessed us through the lives of his saints.
As we live our life on this earth as God’s living saints, we do so with the real hope that is before us. And so we can faithfully say as did the hymn writer James Warwick Montgomery in his hymn “Forever with the Lord:” “Here in the body pent, absent from him I roam, and nightly pitch my moving tent, a day’s march nearer home."