Sermon – A Sign of Things to Come (1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 4:18) – Cornerstone Church Kingston
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A Sign of Things to Come

Tom Sweatman, 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 4:18, 4 April 2021

In our Easter evening service Tom takes us through 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. This passage helps us understand the nature of the relation between Jesus' resurrection and the resurrection to come for us.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 4:18

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since 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. And 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, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.


Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

Well, we got a number of readings this evening. And 1 of them is in the old testament, which is exodus, and chapter 23 and then verse 14 to 19. And then the next reading that I'm gonna do straight after is in 1 Corinthians and it's chapter 15 and it's verse 12 to 26. So if you can shove a finger somewhere in those so that you and be ready to read them. They will come up on the screen as well, I think.

So it's Exodus 23 and verse 14. And then 1 Corinthians 15 and verse 12. So going right back to the old testament. And I'm read and Tom will explain why he's reading all of these verses in just a moment, but Exodus's 23 verse 14. So God is speaking to the people of God.

3 times a year, you are to celebrate a festival to me. Celebrate the festival of unleavened bread. For 7 days, eat bread made without yeast, as I commanded you. Do this at the appointed time in the month of Aviv. For in that month, you came out of Egypt.

No 1 is to appear before me empty handed. Celebrate the festival of harvest with the fruits of the crop you sow in your field, celebrate the festival of in gathering at the end of the year when you gather in the crops from the field. 3 times a year, all the men are to appear before the sovereign lord. Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to me along with any think containing yeast. The fat of my festival offering must not be kept until morning.

Bring the best of the first fruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God, presumably Tom will be explaining what that means. We're going to go to 1 Corinthians in the New Testament part of the bible this time, and it's 15, a very, very famous chapter on resurrection and all kinds of things about the resurrection body and so forth. And we're gonna start right in the middle of of of of of his argument. Paul's argument about the resurrection and it's verse 12. But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, We are then found to be false witnesses about God for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But if he did not raise him, if in fact the dead are not raised, and he did not raise him if if in fact the dead are not raised, For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile.

You are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life, we have hope in Christ We are of all people to be most pitted, but Christ has indeed been raised from the dead the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made a lot made alive.

But each in turn, Christ the first fruits, Then when he comes, those who belong to him, then the end will come when he hands over the kingdom of God to God the Father after he has destroyed all Dominion authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 thessalonians, and chapter 4 is our next reading. And then after this, Tom is gonna come and open these these passages up to us.

So 1 thessalonians chapter 4 and verse 13. Here is Paul writing to a group of Christians in the town of Thessalonica, and he's describing what happens to Christians when they die. 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 were 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 1 another with these words. Thanks for reading all of those passages, Pete. And I'm not going to attempt to weave together every single theme that is introduced in all of them.

But hopefully, we're going to see the connections as we as we open them up together. It would be most helpful, I think, if you could keep 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 open, because that's the 1 we're gonna be spending most of our time in time in this evening. If you're if you don't know me and you're new to the church, my name is Tom, and I'm the assistant minister here. And it's great. It's great to have you.

Welcome to those who are joining us at home, and welcome if it's your very first time. I know there are some new faces with us this evening. And it's it's great to have you and we trust you feel welcome amongst us this evening. Let's let's bow our heads, let's pray, let's ask the risen lord, that he would speak to us by his spirit through his word now this evening. Father, we do thank you for the things that we have just sung about the Lord Jesus Christ.

We thank you that he is the lamb who reigns upon the throne. We thank you that he has crowned the son of God before the worlds began. We thank you that he is lord of love, lord of life. We thank you that he loves us. We thank you that life is on offer to us in the gospel.

We thank you that Jesus came and died for us. We thank you that he rose, that he is victorious. We thank you that he will return 1 day to gather his people to himself, and we will be with the lord forever. We thank you that these are such encouraging words. These are strength giving truths.

And we pray that you would strengthen our hearts to us and speak to us. We pray if there are any here who perhaps are still looking into Christian things and don't don't know you yet. That you would speak to them. We pray in Jesus' name. Oh, man.

Oh, man. Well, hopefully, you've enjoyed this this afternoon that we've had. It's a beaut it's a beautiful afternoon, wasn't it? And the sun came out. And it's just been it's just been so nice, hasn't it?

To see evidence of life again? And to see the the blossom on the trees and the greenery flourishing and to see the flowers again and Even my apple tree, which we planted last year, which I was convinced was dead. Even that has started to but and so it's been very, very encouraging. And what is exciting about these early signs of of life? Is that they are symbolic of what's to come.

They represent what's to come. Because in 1 sense, If we just saw for a couple of weeks, these initial signs of life and growth, but then we were plunged into another winter for the next few months and it was all gone, then it wouldn't be as exciting as it is when we know that what we see is symbolic and representative of a whole to come. There is a whole harvest, a whole life, lots of fruit, lots of greenery coming we we trust. What we see at the moment, what we've seen in the last few weeks is like the first fruits of what is to come, and therefore we are we are thankful we are thankful for it. And in our exodus reading, we were introduced to this festival of the first fruits, where God commands that his people celebrate 3 key festivals, and 1 of them is to be the first fruits.

And the idea there is that whatever was being grown in the society, whether it be, you know, wine or cattle or grain, The first fruits were for the Lord. They were to be offered to the Lord, not just for their own sake, but because they wrecked present the total harvest and the whole crop and the entire herd. The first fruits were like a token of thanks for the whole that God had given, that God had provided for his people. And this idea is picked up in a in a number of different places in the new testament. So if you have a look at this verse from Romans 16, this is from an old translation because the modern English translations lose the word firstfruits here even though it is is the word.

This is from the end of Romans, and it's is greet my beloved eponetus, who is the first fruits of Asia to Christ. Is the first fruits of Asia to Christ. And the idea there is not just that he was probably the first convert to Christ, and therefore we can be thankful for him, but that he represents a whole gospel carving that is to come in Asia. He is the first fruits. He is a sign that the Lord by his spirit through his son is gonna gather a load of people to himself in Asia.

He is the first of the gospel harvest that is that is coming. And this idea, again, is perhaps most famously picked up in our second reading, 1 Corinthians 15. And I hope as we were reading the 2, you you 1 of the similarities you noticed was the word, first fruits. And that is not accidental It is not a coincidence. That word is deliberately chosen by Paul as he talks about the resurrection.

And what he wants us to know this evening is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday is the beginning of the resurrection harvest to come. He is the first fruits, the first born from among the dead, and he represents a resurrection harvest that will come through him. Here's a quote from 1 chap who wrote a book about resurrection and redemption. And he says this, his Jesus' resurrection is not simply a guarantee, it is a pledge in the sense that it is the actual beginning of the general event. In fact, on the basis of this verse and he's talking about 1 Corinthians, it can be said that Paul views the 2 resurrections not so much as 2 events, but as 2 episodes of the same event.

Not 2 events, but 2 episodes of the great resurrection event. And you see him arguing like that all the way through 1 Corinthians 15. If the dead are not raised, then how is Christ raised? If it is preached that Christ is not raised, then how were the dead raised. There is this organic connection between the resurrection of Christ in history and the resurrection to come.

They are organically linked just as the first fruits and the general harvest were linked. And just by way of application this evening, I wonder if you you know, you've conceived you've thought about the resurrection like that before. That Easter Sunday and what we have spent time looking at today is not just history, it is history which guarantees future. It's history that guarantees your future if Christ is risen we will rise again. He the first fruits, we the harvest.

He the first fruits, we the harvest. And as we see, 1 Corinthians 15 and in 1 Thessalonians for this this just makes a massive difference. This makes a massive difference to our lives now, and there's no time to show you everything in both passages, even in 1 passage. But I just want us to look at 1 thessalonians 4 and to to explore what this organic connection between Christ's resurrection and the resurrection to come really means for us today. And as we come to 1 the Thessalonians for, it is worth knowing that, you know, a point of context, really, that Paul is writing to encourage these believers as a pastor because there were some people in the church who had either misunderstood Paul or have got very confused about the resurrection, and some of them seem to believe that all Christians would stay alive until Christ returned, that if you had become a Christian, you would be alive you would be alive when Christ came.

But then, some of them died. Some of the believers in the church died and they were clearly thinking, oh, no. You know, I thought we would all live to see the return of Christ. And so some of them are clearly thinking, what is gonna happen to these believers? Have they missed the boat?

Are they gonna take part in the resurrection, where will they be when Christ comes again? Paul is responding as a pastor to that confusion about the resurrection. And there are 2 things well, there's lots of things, but there's 2 things that we're gonna look at from this passage. The resurrection of Christ, 2 app 1 2 episodes of the same event turns death into sleep. That's the first thing.

The resurrection turns death into sleep. So that is the key context question What is gonna happen to these believers who've died? Have they been overcome by death? Will they miss out on what is to come? We'll see what he says in verse 13 to 14, brothers and sisters.

We do not want you to be un formed 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. And you notice how in 1 Corinthians 15 and here, death is described as as sleep. Actually, Jesus himself in John chapter 11, if you remember the the scene with lazarus, He actually says our friend, lazarus, has what? Our friend, lazarus, has fallen asleep.

Meaning he's died. It's in 1 Corinthians 15. It's in 1 Thessalonians 4. Now why why is death been turned into sleep. What is the key difference or 1 of the key differences between death and sleep?

Well, sounds pretty obvious to say, but death is permanent. There's something permanent about death, but sleep is temporary. You wake up again when you go to sleep, and Paul is using that phrase to describe a Christians death. That is a wonderful thing, isn't it? It's a wonderful thing to think that a believer when they die is simply falling asleep.

They close their eyes for a moment, and then they wake up to be with the lord forever. To describe death as a falling asleep, pulls the the horror and the sting and the finality out of death, doesn't it? To describe it, sleep pulls the finality away. It's just a temporary before we wake up with the Lord. And that is why I think we're told that Jesus died in this passage.

It's interesting, isn't it? Why doesn't it say in verse 14 for we believe that Jesus fell asleep and rose again? If death is sleep, Why is his death not described as sleep? Well, for exactly that reason, because Jesus died for us. Jesus took the finality, the horror, the sting, the curse of death on himself in order to transform our death into sleep.

That is a wonderful thing, isn't it? It's wonderful news for a world that is living under a shadow of death which is so final if they haven't got anyone to turn it into sleep for them. Chad called Ervin Yalom, who's Not a Christian. He's a he's a secular psychotherapist. He he wrote a book called Love's Execution.

And in this book, he describes the 10 most interesting cases that he ever dealt with. And in the introduction, he spent some time describing the most common problems that he seeks to counsel people for. It's a fascinating honest introduction, and you can hardly believe it's written by a non Christian. But this is 1 of the quotes that he he he he write. 1 of the things that he writes.

It's a little long, but I just want you to try to try to hear what he's saying here. He says, I have found that 4 givens are particularly relevant to psychotherapy. The inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love, The freedom to make our lives as we will, our ultimate aloneness, and finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life. Of these facts of life, death is the most obvious, the most intuitively apparent At an early age, far earlier than is often thought, we learn that death will come and from it, there is no escape. And then he says, at one's core, there is an ever present conflict between the wish to continue to exist and the awareness of inevitable death.

And you see, that is the conflict that the world cannot answer. He sees that inside we long for life, we want to go on living, We don't wanna have life cut off. Relationships cut off. We cannot imagine non existence. Life is so important for us.

But death is coming, and death is inevitable. The world cannot answer that conflict. But we can. Death is coming, but it's not the end because Christ has risen. And there is now an escape in him.

He turns death into sleep. I remember some years ago, preaching this This text won Thessalonians 4 at Ashoch's funeral. Then if any of you members remember Ashoch, he was remember for a long time, and he died a few years ago. And I preached this passage at his funeral, and it was a it was a delight to be able to share this passage with the people there. Because you notice what Paul says here, he doesn't say do not grieve, does he?

Bothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve. There's no full stop there. Grief is a proper thing for Christians. Grief is a godly thing in this broken world. But what he does say is we do not grieve like what, like the rest of mankind.

Who have no hope. The resurrection of Jesus changes the shape of our grief. It changes what our grief looks like. If you are here today and you trust in Jesus Christ, You are not 1 of Ervin Yolom's patients. You are a Christian.

You are a Christian person. And the resurrection of Christ has altered you in so many different ways. You are alive now. You will sleep 1 day, and then you will rise to be with the Lord. Paul is saying, brothers and sisters do not worry about those who have died.

Christ is risen. They are sleeping, and they will rise again. Why will they rise again? Because they were part of the resurrection harvest. They are already taking part in the resurrection event that began with Jesus.

And will reach its fulfillment 1 day. Only Jesus Christ can transform death into sleep. Secondly, more briefly, The resurrection turns fear into hope. The resurrection turns fear into hope. And as I've said, the thessalonians here were very afraid.

Seems like they were. Were these believers who had died get a miss out on the glorious future, a thousand times no. Thousand times no because the resurrection of Christ in history turns fear into hope. Look how he puts it in verse 15. 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. And 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. And the key thing here is not to worry so much about the order of events, what will happen when and to who, because this passage is not basically designed to teach chronology in the order of events is passed it's a pastoral message. Will these believers who died share in the Lord's return.

A thousand times, yes, they will. When the Lord returns, Those who are dead in Christ, AKA, those who are sleeping, will rise first but then you living ones will be taken up and transformed for resurrection life forever. Turns fear into hope. Urban Yolom says later on in his introduction, to adapt to the reality of death, we are endlessly ingenious in devising ways to deny it or escape it. And he's absolutely right, isn't it?

We are so creative when it comes to denying or trying to escape death. You get folks who obsess so much about their diet and their exercise and their health. In order try to delay and escape death for as long as they can. You get people who obsess about the way that they look and how they come across in their appearance as a way of trying to fight off the oncoming death and to deny it. You get folks who focus so intently on their careers because if they can just make a name for themselves, then they might be able to survive their own death.

They might be remembered for a few years. Or you get people who just want to desensitize death by watching it on telly all the time with warm buttered popcorn in order to try to take the sting out of it, to bring it home. It's interesting, isn't it? Me and Laura have been watching some of this sort of real CSI stuff. And as I was preparing this sermon, I was reflecting on on that, you know, just just death, hours of death in my front room with a cup of tea, What does it what does it do to how we think about death?

What does that do? It can't do nothing, can it? It can't do nothing. There are so many ways that we can try to deny or escape, but a Christian doesn't need to do that. Death is scary, and it is sad, and we are commanded to grieve, but we don't live in fear Why?

Because verse 16, we will rise again. Death will not have the final say over the Christian. And that is our hope. It's remarkable to think of it, isn't it? That the resurrection of Jesus Our resurrection is as certain as the resurrection of Jesus.

If you've thought about that, The connection between them is so strong that your resurrection is as certain as the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And that is why we find this application in verse 18, encourage 1 another with these words. Think of a man in the church who lost his mom recently. And couldn't spend much time with her because of all the restrictions, but she knew the lord. She knew the lord.

For her, death has been turned into sleep, we will see her again, and she will rise to be with the Lord forever. Think of a lady in the church who lost her dad recently. Encourage 1 another with these words. He knew the Lord Christ was the first fruits, he will be part of the harvest. Think of others members that have gone on to be with the Lord, in the past year, encourage 1 another with these words.

What will happen to the members of our church who died in the past year? Will they miss out? Will they be part of the resurrection future? They will. They are sleeping in the lord, and they will rise to meet him 1 day, encourage 1 another with these words.

Christ the first fruits, we the harvest. That is our hope. And if you're not Christian here this evening. And some of this is all perhaps passed you by or you're still thinking about these things. Let me just leave you with with this thought.

Let me leave you with this to think about. Here's a a quote, 1 last quote. I read a very interesting article this week. Really interesting article by a chap called John Harris who'd written the piece called How do faithless people like me make sense of this past year of COVID. So that's as a title, that just grabs me.

How do faithless people like me make sense of this past year of COVID. And in the article, he's trying to reconcile his worldview with what we've been facing this year, and this is what he says. Like millions of other faithless people, I have not even the flimsiest of narratives, to project onto what has happened, nor any real vocabulary with which to talk about the profundities of life and death. That is an amazingly honest thing to say, isn't it? Not even the flimsiest narrative.

Not even the beginnings of a story that could try to explain what we've been going through. No language, to describe the horrors of death and what it does to people. No vocabulary to explain why life is so important. No words no language, no opportunity, no community with which to reflect on these things, not even the flimsiest, paper thin narrative, to read on to what has happened, but we believe that Jesus died and rose again. And that changes everything.

Because that is not a flimsy narrative. That is not crossing your fingers and believing, believing enough. And so it might be true. This is this is this is anchored in history. Christ has died for your sins.

He has risen again, he will come back. And if you repent of your sin and take him to be your Lord, you will join in the resurrection harvest to come. We do not have a flimsy narrative but a solid story of life, triumphing over death, of Christ, triumphing over evil. And bringing with him all those who trust in him. And so if you're not a Christian, the question for you is what what what what narrative do you want?

What stories do you want? Do you want just flimsy, paper thin, death denial, focus on something else, warm buttered popcorn, detoxify it. Don't think about it. Would you want a narrative like this? Jesus died and rose.

Only he can transform, death into sleep, and fear into hope. In both of our services today, we decided that we wanted to give people who may not yet know Jesus, the opportunity to respond to him. This morning, we had a great song about Jesus holding out his hands and inviting us to take them. And this evening, I've just got a prayer which I'm gonna put up on the screen. There's nothing special about these words.

There's nothing magical about them. This is not a formula, that these are the kind of things that someone would say if they realized they wanted to be part of a solid story and to ask Jesus to be their lord. And so I'll give you a moment just to read them, If you'd like to, you can say them in the quiet of your own heart and then I will pray them for us, for us all. Heavenly father, I know that I'm not worthy to be accepted by you. I don't deserve your gift of eternal life.

I'm guilty of rebelling against you and ignoring you. I need forgiveness. Thank you for sending your son to die for me, that I may be forgiven. Thank you that he rose from the dead. To give me new life.

Thank you that he can change death into sleep and fear into hope. Please forgive me and change me that I may live with Jesus as my king. Amen.

Preached by Tom Sweatman
Tom Sweatman photo

Tom is an Assistant Pastor at Cornerstone and lives in Kingston with his wife Laura and their two children.

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