There was controversy brewing in Thessalonica. Word was traveling that the teaching in the young church was wrong. Paul, the traveling preacher, had spread the word that the recently deceased Christians would be raised from the grave one day. Now, some of the established leaders of the Jewish faith were trying to put down this teaching. They said there would not be a resurrection of the dead. You got this life and no more. No wonder they called on the people to live their best life now.
It didn’t take long, though, for word to spread to Paul. So, to help reestablish the power of Jesus Christ and, to clarify his teaching, he wrote to the church in Thessalonica what we read in 1 Thessalonians 4,
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.
In a matter of a few lines, the Apostle clears up the misconception that was being stirred up. He does so in a way that causes these young Christians to look at more than just life and death, but to gaze deeply at the very power of Christ. There is much more in these sentences than just a statement of fact or an equation for resurrection…there is hope. The last verse tells followers of Jesus what they should do with this hope of resurrection. They are to use it for encouragement. It is not a doctrine that should be debated in academic circles only. It is not the fourth part of a sermon outline that finishes a sermon and then is then tucked into a Bible. Paul offers us this hope so that we may put it into practice and draw hope from it.
Recently, we were moving through the line that passes beside the casket as folks speak to family members at the conclusion of a funeral service. I am always intimidated as I try to think something to say in those moments. That day I decided that I would use this verse in what I was going to say to the family. The man that had passed away was a strong Christian and we had a great assurance that he was now with Christ. When I approached his mother and father, I looked them square in the eyes and said, “Remember, we do not grieve as those without hope.”
This broken-hearted mother just looked at me.
For a moment I thought I had made a serious mistake.
Then she asked, “What did you say?”
So I repeated my bold sentence. “Remember, we do not grieve as those without hope.”
In an instant, her whole face changed and as tears filled her eyes she offered what seemed to be a heart-felt thanks.
Since Benjamin passed last year I have often clung to this hope. When I think about the sadness and pain of his death, my heart and mind are immediately filled with the hope offered by an empty tomb and a resurrected Savior.