I recently officiated a funeral. In doing so, I spent a few days in deep reflection on the following passage:
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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 one another with these words.
1 Thessalonians 4:13~18
I read this passage and three things comfort me:
One: Believers have hope rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our hopeful view of the future is not based on wishful thinking or wild speculation but our hopeful view of the future is grounded in our knowledge of the past. We have hope because Jesus died and rose again. The Bible tells us the story. The early church witnessed and proclaimed the story. And the church has been proclaiming the story ever since.
Two: Believers have hope rooted in death as a transition into the presence of Jesus. In view of God’s resurrection of Jesus, the death of a believer must be viewed not as an end to life, but as a transition into the presence of the Lord. This does not minimize death. The loss of a loved one causes heartache and provides reasons to grieve. Yet, Christians don’t grieve like the rest of mankind. We grieve with hope ~ hope that only comes from a future in the presence of Jesus.
Three: Believers have a hope of the future that determines how we live now. The Apostle Paul doesn’t want the church to be uninformed. Rather, while facing a world that includes death, he wants the church to be rooted in the truth of Jesus. This knowledge of the truth should provide encouragement right now. He exhorts the church to take the truth of hope in Jesus Christ and “encourage one another with these words.”
Believers ~ cling to Jesus and grieve with hope. Those who have not trusted your life to Jesus Christ ~ do so now.
Thank God for the grace we find in Jesus Christ. Thank God for hope.