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Third-Last Sunday in the Church Year
“We Have the Hope of Resurrection in Christ”
Seminarian Paul Norris, Vicar
St. Matthew 24.15-28; 1 Thessalonians 4.13-18
07 November 2021
Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
During these last three Sundays of the Church year, we will focus on the return of Christ and the Church triumphant. This past Monday the church celebrated All Saints Day. We remembered all those who have gone before us in the faith. The memories of those who have died in Christ are still fresh in our minds. For some, their deaths may have been recent, or for others, perhaps years have passed. But the grief we feel over their deaths still hurt us. There is not a person here today who has not been touched by death, and we will not escape it. Death will take all of us unless the Lord Jesus Christ returns before we die.
Among us, we have experienced the deaths of our spouses, parents, grandparents, children, and cherished family members, and death wounds us deeply. God did not create human beings to experience death. In God’s perfect creation the earth did not know death. But, from the moment Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden, death staked its claim on all of creation. The curse of sin fell upon all mankind, and now death stalks us all like a voracious beast. The cost of sin, death, remains. For the wages of sin is death (Rom 3:23). This is why death is so painful to the world and even to Christians who know the truth and promises of God’s word. Death is the epitome of sin. There in casket and grave, before our very eyes, the Law shouts at us without even a single word being said.
The early church in Thessalonica struggled with grief as well. It had only been about 19 years since Jesus had ascended and returned to the Father. They know of Jesus’ promise to return. As they waited for the Lord to return, many of the believers in Thessalonica died in the faith. Those who remained were afraid that those who had died in the faith had missed out on Jesus’ promise to return and would not be with Christ.
St. Paul addresses their fears in his letter to them in our epistle reading. He reminds them of their hope in Christ. On the last day, Jesus will come down from heaven. With the shout of an archangel, He will call the faithfully departed to rise from their graves. At His command and the sound of the trumpet, all who are dead in Christ will rise bodily first, and then Jesus will call all who are alive in Christ to Him. The Son will lead home His bride the Church, that all who have faith in him shall unite with him forever. Jesus is returning for his Church.
But Without Jesus, there is no hope. Those who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ, have no hope. The unbelieving world views death as the ultimate end, and they fear it. Some believe they will be reincarnated to return as a plant, an animal, or another human because of their good deeds. The atheist says that this life is all there is. You live your life, and then you’re gone.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has theorized that our entire existence is just one of billions of computer simulations. We are not real, but a consciousness living in a computer simulation where everything we know or do is stored in a database comprised of ones and zeros. He even believes that someday we will be able to upload our consciousness to a computer and save it, thus living eternally and communicating with people in the future… or at least until that computer crashes! Some companies are even working on medical procedures with artificial intelligence to slow down the aging process and, they believe, even cure death.
Even now we witness the fear of death consuming the world during the pandemic as governments and leaders try to legislate death out of existence. But death cannot be defeated by any human or technological means. The impending threat of death terrorizes the unbelieving world so badly they believe they can be their own god and beat it.
This is the lie that was told by the serpent in the garden when he said, “You will not surely die.” (Gen 3:4) Old Adam does not want to trust in God, and he desires to be his own god. Old Adam believes he can exert godlike power over himself, even in matters of life and death. We are tempted by Satan to forget the promises God has made to us in his Word. Sometimes we let the fear of death grip us so tightly that we doubt the resurrection of Jesus and His promise to return for the Church which is promised to us in Scripture. God’s judgment will fall swiftly upon those who worship the false god of self, or the false god of science.
But Christians are different from the unbelieving world because we have hope. This hope is in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As believers in Christ, you do not mourn like unbelievers with no hope. On the Last Day, the Lord Jesus will gather all who believe in Him with Him. St. Peter writes, “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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you”. (1 Peter 1:3-6) Do you know what this means? Resurrection belongs to you! On the day of resurrection, Jesus will return for his church. All who died in the faith and all who are alive in Christ will be gathered in glory with the Lord. The day of resurrection is a day of judgment for the unbeliever, but for you, the believers in Christ, it’s a day of great joy! There is only one hope for you and for those who die, and our Lord Jesus has not left us uninformed.
Verse 14 of the epistle reads, “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” This is not a question; it is a statement. Paul reassures the believers in Christ in Thessalonica, and it applies to you today as well! You believe Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. You believe Jesus died on the cross and rose again, and He will raise you from death to everlasting life on the last day.
When these sinful thoughts of doubt creep into our minds, fear not! Jesus carried our sin of doubt and unbelief to the cross. When we don’t trust in God as we should, Jesus bore that sin on the cross. Maybe we said unkind words to a loved one we wish we could take back and we never had a chance to reconcile with him before he died. Jesus carried those sins to the cross. You are forgiven!
Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, ALL your sins are forgiven, and by His resurrection, Jesus conquered death forever. Only Jesus Christ has stepped into death and stepped out of it again. St. Paul writes, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:5) Because of Christ’s resurrection, you can hold fast to His promise of your resurrection which was poured upon you in your baptism. With this hope, we also encourage one another. God’s promises are a source of reassurance for you in your time of grief and they are a source of hope for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Notice St. Paul does not say you won’t grieve. Instead, he says our grief is different. Grieving the death of a loved one is good. Grief is the human reaction to unnatural death that God did not intend for you. Our Lord Jesus knows this grief. Even though he knew He would resurrect him, Jesus, both God and man, shed tears at the death of his beloved friend Lazarus. But the hope of the promise of resurrection is what separates us in our grief from the unbelieving world.
In the Apostles Creed, we confess that we believe in the communion of saints. Jesus promised to be with us in His supper with His true body and blood. Listen closely today as Pastor prays the Proper Preface before the Lord’s supper; “…With angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying:” Then we, the faithful church on earth, will join with all of heaven as we sing “Holy, Holy, Holy.” When you gather at the altar and receive the true body and blood of our Savior, you gather with all the Church throughout the world, past and present, and with all the company of heaven. This includes all who have gone before us in the faith and who are now in heaven with Christ. For where Christ is, there also is heaven. Today, we participate in the ongoing eternal heavenly praise before the throne! Gathered in the church, while we patiently wait for the Lord, we are a living illustration as we get just a foretaste of the great marriage feast of the Lamb to come!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Death is bittersweet and tough for the faithful who remain here on earth. We endure many hardships and pain during this life, and none of them hurts quite as bad as suffering through the death of someone we love. But you have hope! In your baptism, you were buried and resurrected with Christ. Jesus claimed you and marked you as his own. As you cross yourself, remember your baptism. Remember that you are baptized into Jesus’ death and the promise of His resurrection.
For Jesus’ death on the cross paid the full and final price of your sins, and by his resurrection, He has won the eternal victory over sin, death, and the devil. He promises all who believe in Him will be saved. We rejoice because God’s Word comforts us with His promise, that on the day of resurrection we will be gathered with his whole Church, the dead, and the living in Christ to be with Him in glory.
We have no cause to mourn or weep:
Securely shall this body sleep
Till Christ himself shall death destroy
And raise the blessed dead to joy.
On the Last Day, our faith will be turned to sight at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hold fast to God’s promises, for He always keeps them, and He will never forsake or forget you. Let our ongoing prayer always be, Come Lord Jesus!
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.