One day a hospital teacher received a call asking her to visit a boy. She took his name and room number and talked with his teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the teacher said, “and it would be great if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”
The hospital teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had told to her that he’d been badly burned and was in a lot of pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.
The next day as she went onto the ward, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher worried she’d done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about him, but since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he had a simple realization. He said: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”
Hope matters. And in this series we’ve seen the distinctiveness of Christian hope, hope not just in this life but of eternal life, hope not just in heaven for those who die but of Christ’s return and the renewed recreated creation marked by the glory of God. We’ve seen that Christ’s coming again and the promise of a new creation give us hope for living now with suffering and death in perspective. But what is our response to these truths, where does the rubber hit the road? That’s what we want to look at tonight, we’re going to begin by exploring this passage before looking at some others.
In Thessalonica there was a problem, **what was it? They were worried about those who had died before Christ’s return; will they be resurrected, have they missed out?
Paul writes to encourage them to think rightly about death, the resurrection and Christ’s return. It is a response that is counter cultural; a typical inscription on a grave in Thessalonica would read: I was not, I became, I am not, I care not. But Paul wants these believers to know the truth and to live out their hope because of the promises of God!
1. What we believe gives us hope.(14)Paul uses the phrase “We believe...” and then explains the implications of that belief. **What is it that Paul says we believe? “We believe that Jesus died and rose again...” Our hope is founded in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a death that pays the wages of sin for us, and a resurrection that guarantees we’re made right with God and death is conquered.
Paul is quoting an early church creed which summarised their beliefs, similar to that used in 1 Cor 15: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.”
Christian hope is not a vague wish it’s an historical certainty, anchored in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And he goes on to point out the implication of that historical belief, because we believe that we also believe that he will come again, bringing with him those who have died in the mean time. Your friends haven’t missed out, those who die ‘in Christ” – believing and trusting in him are secure in him. They are in heaven now awaiting his return.
When Jesus returns the dead in Christ will come with him from heaven, their bodies will then rise – not as zombies but patterned after Christ resurrected physical body, the dead in Christ will be given their resurrection bodies(16), before the living are changed and united with our Saviour and them.
Again we see that it is Jesus presence that marks out these events, the dead are in Christ and with Christ, they return with him, and we are changed and caught up to be with the Lord, then and forever.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians of what the bible teaches about death, heaven, the last day and eternity. The dead are secure and with Christ now in heaven, and they w ill not miss out; they will return, and share in our ultimate hope in new physical resurrected bodies in a new creation with Christ for eternity. Doctrine matters! Knowing what the bible teaches matters because otherwise we’ll be like the Thessalonians uninformed, doubting and responding to death and living life wrongly.
2. Hope appliedPaul applies the doctrine he has reminded them of here – doctrine – truth is never the stuff of academia in the bible it is truth to set your living by. Here we see it in two main applications:
a. Grieve differently**How does the world grieve? Like all is lost, without certainty. But not you says Paul, believers grieve differently, why? Because we know what we believe and Christ’s historical resurrection means we know there is life beyond death, it means we trust God’s promises. Notice it does not say that we do not grieve – but that it is distinctly Christian grief, resurrection grief.
b. Encourage one anotherSecondly he says we encourage one another. **What is it we encourage one another with? (18)”these words”. The truths he has just reminded them of; not vague niceties about going to a better place but the concrete realities of the death and resurrection of Jesus our Saviour and its implications for those who trust in him. We remind each other of the basis of our hope and the certainty of Christ’s return, and the nature of death for the believer – they have “fallen asleep in him.”
We need to grasp that – we are never short of something to comfort and encourage those have lost a believing son, daughter, father, mother, sister, husband, wife or friend with.
I want to draw out some other implications of our hope which have to affect our living.
c. We wait faithfully(5:1-4)We saw in 2 Peter a few weeks ago and it is repeated again here that Christ is definitely returning though we do not know when. That certainty means we are to live faithfully, we live life now knowing that Jesus will come.
d. We live with a purpose (Philippians 3:12-21) Paul talks about straining towards what is ahead, pressing on to win the prize for which Christ has called us. We know Christ is coming and so our goal in life is to please him, as we eagerly wait for his return. Our hope gives us a reason to live differently, it does not make us of no earthly use, but spurs us on to live now pleasing Christ.
e. We endure suffering(Rom 5:3-5)It liberates us to glory in our sufferings(3), not because we are masochists, or because we can keep a stiff upper lip, but because we know that it is not pointless, that suffering is not hopeless. Suffering produces perseverance which produces character which produces hope. Suffering weans us from loving the world and putting our hope in the world and is used by God to enable us increasingly to boast in the hope of the glory of God. It makes us long for our glorious future where God rules and reigns, which will make our suffering seem like merely the dust on the scales. And as we fix our hopes less on the world our faith is proved and tested, and we are refined and fitted for our glorious future.
f. We are liberated from the fear of death (2 Cor 5:1-10) Our hope gives us confidence of live beyond death with means the fear of death does not paralyse us. In this life we will experience outward decay, persecution, hardship, trouble, illness and death, it is normal Christian experience because our hope isn’t in this world but the next. Instead it produces a people captured by the prospect of their glory so wonderfully secured by God’s grace in Jesus that they live out their hope even in the face of suffering and liberated from the fear of death!
g. We live assured by the Spirit (Eph 1:13-14)We hope and look forward to God’s glory not dependent on what we do but on what Christ has done and with his Spirit within us as a deposit guaranteeing our adoption. The Spirit is the first instalment of our new life and new relationship with God in all his glory. So we are not uncertain but assured and look forward to the future, cooperating with the Spirit now sealed in him for Christ return.
h. We hope in the glory of God (Rev 21)
Our hope is God in all his glory; an intimate, unalloyed, unbreakable relationship with the God of glory in all his splendour, holiness and majesty where every moment of every hour for eternity is bathed in his glory and we are transformed to perfectly reflect and irradiate his glory. That is our hope! It means now we will want to investigate, to dig into, to unearth, to mine the truths of God’s glory through his word so that we increasingly desire his coming, so that we pray “Come, Lord Jesus”, so that the joy of the gospel hope that is ours by grace inform our joyful living looking for our Saviours return.