Dec. 14, 2014 Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you ever been on the standby list for a flight? You wait to see if someone doesn’t show up or gets bumped because of an overbooking. You are not sure if you will make it home.
Once you are on the standby list there is no peace and no way to relax. Every airport announcement and every conversation the ticket agent has brings on another Maalox moment. Ticketed passengers, by contrast, read magazines, thumb through books, or play games on their phone. They have the peace that passes all understanding. Oh to be numbered with the confirmed. Oh to have your own seat number and departure time. Oh to know on the next flight that you’re going home.
I can’t guarantee that the next time you are on the standby list that you will get a ticket. I can guarantee that you have a seat for the final flight home. Reservations have been made. The fare has been paid. In the immortal words of John, Paul, George and Ringo . . . .
“YOU’VE GOT A TICKET TO RIDE!”
We believe as much from our text. Paul writes, “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 own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till 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.” (vs. 14-16a)
The Thessalonians were not only worried about their own departure; they also were concerned about loved ones who had died in the Lord. Paul assures them, and us, that Christians who die are in fact only asleep. This is what Jesus teaches (Matt. 9:24). That’s how Luke describes Stephen’s death (Acts 7:60). Paul repeats the word “sleep” three times in our text.
When you die, if you die (if Jesus doesn’t come again) are you immediately resurrected? No. Our body, the shell, stays here on earth. But our spirit goes to be with the Lord. Jesus said it to the thief; “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Paul talked about it when he wrote, “To depart from this body is to be present with the Lord.” When believers die their spirits go to be with the Lord in heaven. And they sleep. But not forever.
Christ will return with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God. It’s going to be quite a day. Those who are asleep will wake up. They will be raised with transformed bodies. Meaning what? If you die in the Lord, you’ve got a ticket to ride!
“And the dead in Christ will rise first.” (v. 16b) Aristotle called death, “The end of everything.” Jean-Paul Sartre, the French philosopher wrote, “Death removes all meaning from life.” Another Frenchman Francois Rabelais, made this his last sentence, “I am going to the great Perhaps.” Not Jesus. He exclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies.” (John 11:25) Because he lives, we too shall live.
“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.” (v. 17a) If still alive we will be caught up with Jesus. The term “caught up” in the Latin version is rapiemur. From this we get the English word “rapture.” So “rapture” is a biblical idea. The problem is that some Christians distinguish the rapture of Christ’s church from the second coming of Christ in judgment for the world. This is incorrect. The rapture and the second coming occur simultaneously. They are the same event. If you believe and have been baptized then you are rapture ready. You’ve got a ticket to ride!
“And so we will be with the Lord forever.” (v. 17b) If you have ever been to a reunion you know how good it can be to see friends and family you know and love. But the heavenly reunion is even so much more. People’s bodies reunited with their spirits for eternity. Family members seeing each other for the first time in years as they rise to meet Jesus Christ. It’s part an incredible reunion.
This experience tops everything. I can look out to all of you and say with confidence that the most exciting experience of your life has not even happened yet. No matter what you have done. You may have skied the Swiss Alps. You may have landed the dream job. You may have gotten to sit in A section at the Assembly Hall/State Farm Center in Champaign. You may have made the winning free throws in a basketball game. You may have lounged on the beach in Hawaii. You may have gone skydiving. This is not skydiving – it is the opposite. We will be caught up to join this joyful and wonderful reunion.
Even as some of you live dark days here on earth, as a believer in Jesus you have something to look forward to. Nothing can take that away. By God’s grace in Christ Jesus you most certainly have a ticket to ride! How shall we respond? “Therefore encourage each other with these words.” (v. 18).