Monday, February 15, 2010

Sermon: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 Godly Grief

I want to show you some pictures, to see if you know what all these celebrities have in common: [Picture mosaic of Wendy Richards, Jade Goody, Michael Jackson, Bobby Robson, Brittany Murphy, Patrick Swayze, David Carradine and Stephen Gately] What do they have in common? All these celebrities died in 2009.

Tonight we’re thinking about death. I know this might be a tough evening - particularly if you have recently lost a loved one. Maybe a family member, or someone in your school. Or maybe you’ve never been to a funeral, never encountered death. The thing is that you will at some point.

You see, no matter where we are, the shadow of death is never far away. Statistics suggest that 107 people across the world die every minute. Every minute, another 107 people have died. More locally, 14,900 died in Northern Ireland in 2008. The average age at death was 71.8 for males, and 78.5 for females - but you’re not guaranteed to live that long. 149 young people aged between 0 and 14 died, and another 94 who died were aged between 15 and 19. Ultimate statistics show that 100% of people die at some stage.

So I want to ask you - what happens when you die? What do you think happens? Let’s discuss it for a minute or two.

Related to that, have you hope for the future? As you face your death (at some stage) are you confident in where you’re going?

I want to read a few verses from the Bible to you that help us to see what death means for the Christian. Paul is writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, and they were worried about some of their brothers and sisters who were dying before Jesus returned. Were these dead Christians missing out?

13But 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. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For 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. 16For 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. 17Then 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. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.

In this passage, Paul describes Christians who have died as having ‘fallen asleep’, and being asleep. Their bodies are still, it’s as if they are asleep, but their souls are with Jesus in heaven. Death holds no terror, no fear, no dread for Christians - because they have hope in the face of death. Do you see what he says? ‘that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.’

Some people grieve (mourn/cry/are sad) because they have no hope. Death is the end for them, life is over, they don’t see the person any more. There’s no guarantee of seeing them again, of any future reunion.

But Paul is saying that Christians don’t have to grieve like that - Christians have hope in the future. What is hope? It’s not like saying ‘I hope it’ll not rain tomorrow’ or ‘I hope it’s a nice day’ - we can’t control these things, but when we see hope here, it means being certain and sure about the future. Christians have hope - confidence when facing death.

Why can we be sure? Why do we have hope? Paul says it’s because of what has already happened to Jesus. ‘For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.’

We are confident about the future because of what happened in the past. Jesus died on the cross. Fact. But that wasn’t the end of the story - Jesus rose again - on the third day, on the Sunday morning, Jesus left his grave and was alive. Jesus is still alive now, sitting in heaven, waiting for the last day when he will return to earth.

Because Jesus lives, then Christians will live with him. So when Jesus returns, it doesn’t matter if you’re dead or alive - the end result is the same - we will always be with the Lord.

Right at the end of the passage, Paul writes ‘therefore encourage one another with these words.’ When we’re facing death, or worried about the future, or think about loved ones who have died, then we can remind each other about what happens when we die as Christians, who love the Lord.

There is nothing to fear: death is just like being asleep for the Christian - their body is ‘sleeping’ while their soul is with the Lord. We have a sure hope for the future, and we will always be with the Lord.

These are the things that are guaranteed for the Christian. What about you? Have you got a hope and a future? Jesus is the only person who can give us hope for the future, because he is the only one who has passed through death and is alive and reigns. The prophet Mohammed is dead. All those celebrities we saw at the start are dead. Jesus is the only one who can give us life and hope. Have you got hope?

This talk was presented at SET (St Elizabeth's Teens) on Sunday 14th February 2010.

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