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Second Midweek in Advent

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18

James T. Batchelor

Advent 2, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Wed, Dec 10, 2014 

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Much of this sermon comes from the sermon series:


An Advent Sermon Series on 1 Thessalonians

by R. Reed Lessing

Copyright 2014, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, and R. Reed Lessing.

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During my years as an engineer, I often had to travel out of town in order to supervise the installation and testing of systems that I had designed.  Most of the time my travels were set up by the corporate travel agent and things went pretty well.  Once in a while, however, something happened to my travel plans.  Weather delays, mechanical difficulties, and other problems sometimes caused me to change my travel plans at the last minute.  It was then that I found myself stuck in an airport at the mercy of the ticket agent.  Even though I was in possession of a perfectly good business class ticket, I found myself traveling on standby.

When you travel on standby, you must be at a heightened state of alert.  You have to pay attention.  If the ticket agent calls and you dont respond, your seat goes to the next person in line.  Worse yet, you dont even know if you actually have a seat.  You have to wait until all the passengers with reservations for that particular flight have been seated and then the ticket agent will fill the remaining seats with standby fliers.  You dont know if you will soon be winging your way home or if you will wait for hours until the next plane departs for your destination.

The Apostle Paul was writing about much more important reservations in the epistle reading for this evening.  He was talking about the final journey we all must make the journey that leaves this life.  He was assuring those who heard his words that there was a blessed, holy place for them when they had to make their final journey.

The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write these words to the Thessalonians.  [1 Thessalonians 4:1416a] We believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 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.

The Thessalonians were not only worried about their own departure on the Last Day, but they also wondered what would happen to those who died before the Lord returned.  Would they miss out on the Return of Christ because they were dead?

Paul assured the Thessalonians that those who are still alive on the Last Day will not precede those who have died.  Paul even compares death to sleep.  On the Last Day, Jesus will raise the dead just as easily as a parent wakes a child at the beginning of a new day.  Here Paul follows the example of Jesus Himself who refers to death as sleep (Matthew 9:24).  The Holy Spirit also inspired Luke to describe Stephens death using the word sleep. The Apostle Paul repeatedly referred to death as sleep in his epistles.  In this evenings epistle, he repeated the word sleep three times.

When the Word of God informs us that there is life after death, it is very natural to have questions.  If someone dies before the Lord returns, what happens?  How does the sleep of death work?

At the time of temporal death, the spirit leaves the body.  Our body stays here on this earth. But our spirit goes to be with the Lord.  Jesus said as much when he said to the thief, [Luke 23:43] Today you will be with me in paradise. Paul talked about it when he described temporal death as being [2 Corinthians 5:8] Away from the body and at home with the Lord. He also said, [Philippians 1:21] For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. When believers die their spirits go to be with the Lord in heaven.  And they sleep.  But not forever.

[1 Thessalonians 4:16] 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.  [1 Corinthians 15:52b53] The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.  Its going to be quite a day!  Those who are asleep will wake up!  They will be raised with transformed bodies.  Meaning what?  There will be no such thing as standby on the Last Day.  Those who die in the Lord have reservations.

How different this is from the philosophies of this world.  Aristotle called death, The end of everything. A French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, (JAWN PAUL SAH-tra) wrote, Death removes all meaning from life. Another French philosopher, Franois Rabelais, (Fran-SWAH Rob-LAY) made this his last sentence, I am going to the great Perhaps. There is no confidence in the philosophies of this world.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle to write that [1 Thessalonians 4:16b] the dead in Christ will rise first.  Jesus Himself said, [John 11: 2526] I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Because Jesus lives, we shall also live again.

Christ Jesus came long ago to earn salvation for us by taking on human flesh. | As both God and man, He lived under the law in our place and kept it perfectly.  As both God and man, He took up our sin and carried it to the cross.  There He offered up His life as a ransom for sinners.  His resurrection certifies that His victory over sin, death, and the power of the devil is complete.  His victory over sin and His resurrection assure us that those who die will rise again.

So those who die will awaken just as though they had been asleep, but what about those who actually live to see the Last Day?  The inspired words of the apostle say, [1 Thessalonians 4:16b17a] 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.

The Latin term for caught up is rapiemur. This word is the root for the English word rapture. So rapture is a Biblical idea.  The problem is that some Christians distinguish the rapture of Christs church from the last coming of Christ in judgment for the world.  This is incorrect.  The rapture and the last coming occur simultaneously.  They are the same event.  If you believe and have been baptized then you are ready for the rapture.  There will be no such thing as standby on the Last Day.  You have a reservation.

The Apostle Paul continues with the good news.  [1 Thessalonians 4:17b] We will always be with the Lord. 

Many families have a regular family reunion.  Reunions are wonderful opportunities to see people you love.  But even the best, most wonderful reunion you have ever attended will pale in comparison to this last reunion.  Peoples bodies reunited with their spirits for eternity.  Family members seeing each other for the first time in years as they rise to meet Jesus Christ.  Its part of an incredible reunion.

This experience tops everything.  I can look at every one of you and say with confidence that the most exciting experience in your life has not happened yet.  I dont care what youve done.  You may have skied down the Swiss Alps.  You may have landed that dream job; purchased that dream house; gone on that dream vacation.  You may have skydived again and again. This is not skydiving.  This is the opposite!  We will be caught up to join this joyful and wonderful reunion.

That means no matter what youre going through, you have something to look forward to as a believer in Jesus.  Nothing can take that away from you.  Nothing can steal that from you.  There will be no such thing as standby on the Last Day.  By Gods grace in Christ Jesus your reservation is already in place.

The Son of God came long ago to take up human flesh and earn forgiveness for all people.  He comes to us now to give His forgiveness to us.  He will come again to dwell among His people forever.  Let us [1 Thessalonians 4:18] therefore encourage one another with these words.  Amen

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