Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Paul says, “Encourage one another with these words.” Encourage one another in the midst of a crooked generation. Encourage one another in the midst of a world where people continue to do horrible things to each other. Encourage one another with these words when people die, whom you love and who love you. I don’t want you to be ignorant, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep. Sleep is what the New Testament calls it when people die in the Lord. Because it’s as easy for Jesus to wake up the dead as it is for you or me to wake up someone who is sleeping. When Jesus is confronted with the death of that 12-year-old girl, He asks the mourners why they are weeping. He says, she isn’t dead; she’s only asleep. They laugh at Him, but He goes in and says, “Little girl, I say to you, get up.” And she does, just as if she were merely asleep.
So do not be ignorant about those who are sleeping. They are not forgotten. They are not gone. They are not annihilated. Death is not the end. Their souls are with the Lord. Thus, He will bring them when He comes to make all things right. Neither are you and me—the living—forgotten. At the same time that the souls of those who have died in the faith are crying out, “How long, O Lord?” the Church on earth prays the same prayer: how long, O Lord? Have you forsaken us, forgotten us, abandoned us? No, Paul says. Do not be ignorant of the Lord’s work. As Peter says, He is not slow in keeping His promises, as some understand slowness. He does not delay, except in the minds of those who are waiting. He is the God of the living and the dead, but all live to Him. Because Jesus is alive, all those who are in Him are alive.
And we will see Him. He will come with the sound of God’s trumpet, the shout of an archangel, and a cry of command. Every eye will see Him. And when He comes and brings with Him those who have died and are His, if we are still here, we will not be transformed without them. They will receive back their bodies, resurrected and glorified. He will wake up all the dead, as if they were simply sleeping. When He speaks, it happens. He will say, as He said to the sleeping girl, I say to you, arise! He will say, as He said to Lazarus, Come out! And they will, all of them. And whoever is alive when He comes will be transformed, their lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. As He said to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, he will live. And whoever, believing in Me, is alive, will never die.”
He will gather all His own living ones to Himself. We will meet the Lord in the air, Paul says. The cry goes out at midnight, “The Bridegroom is here! Come and meet Him!” We will meet the Lord, He will renew all creation, and we will go in to the wedding feast. We will go to the new earth, under a new heavens, and God will dwell with His people there in the eternal feast. And thus we will always be with the Lord.
Encourage one another with these words. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We suffer, but not as those who have no hope. We die, but not as those who have no hope. What does it look like to have no hope? We saw it on full display this past week. Last Sunday, a murderer walked into a church in Texas and killed half the congregation. And immediately there were people on the internet saying that they didn’t want to hear anything about prayers for those families. They wanted something done. They wanted the government to do something about people being able to get guns out of the hands of people who do such things. And then they said that, obviously, prayer doesn’t work because these people were actually praying when they were killed.
They assumed two things: that the worst thing that can happen to a person is the death of the body; and that prayer is only answered if people don’t die. But, as Psalm 116 says, “Precious in the sight of Yahweh is the death of His saints.” It doesn’t say, “Precious in the sight of Yahweh is death,” but “Precious in the sight of Yahweh is the death of His saints.” Because death is not the worst thing that can happen to you. And no matter how much you pray, unless the Lord comes back first, you will die as all the Christians before you have died. But because Jesus died and is risen, death is not the end, not the last word. He has already washed, named, and gathered His own. He knows them. Because He’s alive, they live, even if they die. If hope only lasts until you die, it’s a pretty worthless thing. But Christian hope is hope precisely in Jesus, who is alive.
That’s why we should encourage one another with these words. Because it is the hope of the resurrection that can sustain you, no matter what else happens. Whatever you suffer, whatever anyone can do to you, they cannot take your hope, because your hope is safe in Christ, who cannot be die anymore. You live not because your body continues to work, but because you have already been buried with Christ in His death, which means that His resurrection is already yours. So encourage one another with these words, when those they love die, when they themselves are on their deathbeds, when you are. The Lord will come. He will speak. The dead will rise. Those who are alive will be transformed. And thus we will always be with the Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/11/17