1 THESSALONIANS 4:13-18
YOU HAVE A HOPE THAT IS GREATER THAN DEATH.
In the name + of Jesus.
St. Paul does not waste any time getting to the promises and comfort Jesus gives us when we are staring death in the face. He says to the Christians in Thessalonica, “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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) And you should not be uninformed about this either.
When you are grieving at the loss of a husband, a father, a grandfather, or a friend, feelings rule. You feel the fondness you have for one so dear to you, and you share the memories of traveling, of photographs, and of the stories that make you smile and laugh. It is good the share those memories. You love your loved one for a good reason. But you also feel the pain of separation. You feel the helplessness of wanting to restore what has been broken. You are saddened by what death does, and it feels much worse when death takes a loved one.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep...” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) The reason death comes to all people is because all people are sinful. No one is perfect, no matter how much you love them. God does not demand that we be good enough; he demands holiness. Close enough does not work in our world either. Reinhardt loved trains. When he put together a model, the tracks had to be precisely the right width. You can't stick an N-scale train on HO-scale tracks. And if we are talking about a regular train, imperfect tracks will mean a derailment. If it isn't perfect, it fails. So it is with all people. God demands that we be perfect, and no one is. We are not even close enough. Therefore, sin claims us all as the Bible teaches: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) That is why all people end up dying. While you may feel sad and helpless, you are not without hope.
You have a hope that is greater than death. St. Paul explains why: “For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14) We believe Jesus died, and that matters only because we know why Jesus died. As we said before, sin is the reason people die. But God loves his creation. He is not willing to see us subject to death and hell. Therefore, he sent his Son into the world to save sinners. Jesus came to take our sins upon himself—to suffer what the guilty deserve and to die a cursed death in our place. Jesus did not die for any sins he had committed; he was pure and perfect. But he took credit for our sins and died for us, so the wages of sin have been paid. In exchange, Jesus has given us the credit for his pure and holy obedience.
This is what Jesus gave to Reinhardt when he was baptized. Baptism washes away sin and bestows the righteousness of Christ. You should not be uniformed about this, for this is the comfort and security Reinhardt had and which is yours, too. Neither he nor you have to invent ways to prove that he good enough to set foot in heavenly dwellings with Jesus. Salvation does not depend on us. Our feelings don't determine anyone's admission into heaven. Only the Lord of heaven can do that. And he does! The perfection that Reinhardt needed to enter heaven Jesus has supplied in holy baptism. This is the hope you have which is even greater than death. For death cannot undo the promises of God.
I had seen in Reinhardt's obituary that he was known for having a camera with him all the time. (Actually, I think I mirror his obituary pretty well.) Reinhardt documented the places he had been with photos. Photos show you the beauty of the places you've been and the faces you've seen. Important occasions are marked and then remembered through the pictures. It is not the same as being there, but at least the photos give you an idea of what to expect. In the same way, the Bible tells us what we can expect in regard to those who die in the Christian faith. The Bible does not say we will not grieve. Our feelings still come out. Rather, the Bible assures us that, no matter how bad or sad or even made we feel, we still have our hope.
You have a hope that is greater than death. And your hope is what St. Paul declares: “Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord… 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.” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-16)
The Lord Jesus who died to pay for our sins has risen from the grave. He has conquered death and lives forever. As our living Savior, Jesus, holds the power over death and the grave. Therefore, those who have been baptized into Christ not only receive his forgiveness and his righteousness, we also will partake in the resurrection of the body to live forever with Jesus. What we see pictured in Jesus' resurrection is what we can expect for Reinhardt and for ourselves. Just as Jesus rose from the grave and lives in glory, so shall we. Jesus does not forget those who are his redeemed. He will come again on the Last Day to raise up all the dead and give eternal life to all who believe in him.
You have a hope that is greater than death. Although we use today to say, “Goodbye,” to Reinhardt, we will get him back. The grave will have to give us all back, too, when the Lord returns with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God. Our hope is not merely that we live again; our hope is that we live in glory. The Bible reminds us, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body....” (Philippians 3:20-21) In other words, Reinhardt will not be reincarnated to come back to a world of oxygen masks, bone cancer, intensive care units, pain, sorrow, and death. He will be raised up with a glorious body which is fit for eternal life in the heavenly kingdom. He will be raised up body and soul incorruptible and imperishable. That means he will live without sin, without disease, without pain, without sorrow, and without end. The very things you prayed he would receive, he will. And whoever believes and his baptized will receive these things as well.
This is why you have a hope which is greater than death. Death has done its worst to Reinhardt, but death does not have the last word. Jesus does. Jesus, who destroyed the power of death by his resurrection, will raise him up to live in peace, purity, and perfection forever. This is the Christian hope. Not even death can take it away from you. “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:18)
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.