Christianity Explored :
The Hope of Resurrection - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

What are you hoping for? Long life? Happy marriage? Grandchildren? Secure future? Lisa Beamer, expecting her third child in January, made a plane journey on Friday from Newark to San Francisco. She was retracing the last journey of her husband Todd who helped to bring down flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania on the morning of the 11th September, the only one of the four hijacked aircraft that did not strike a terrorist target. Over the past few weeks we have heard how passengers used their mobile telephones to make a final connection and say goodbye to loved ones. Todd, along with three other passengers, decided to do something about the evil men who had hijacked their plane. Todd was a graduate of Wheaton College, a committed Christian whose faith was his main priority in life. "I know we are not going to make it out of here" Todd calmly told Lisa Jefferson, a GTE-Airphone supervisor. He asked her to pray the Lord's Prayer with him. In prayer he also asked Jesus to help him, and to forgive the terrorists for what they were doing. He asked her to tell his wife Lisa that he loved her and their two sons, and that he and his colleagues were going to try and retake the plane. His last words were "Are you guys ready? Lets roll."

When his wife was told this she said,
"As soon as I heard him say "Lets roll", I got a smile on my face. Because I knew it was Todd's voice. We use that phrase all the time with our boys. Its kind of hard to corral little boys sometimes. But when we say, "Let's roll boys," they head for the door and they start to get ready, get ready for the next thing we are going to do. And he said "Lets roll" - just like he did so many times in our house. Todd was gentle in nature, he was also very competitive, and he wouldn't stand for anyone being hurt. Knowing that he helped save lives by bringing that plane down... It brings joy to a situation where there isn't much to be found."

Instead of being paralysed by fear, God gave Todd the courage to act in a selfless way. We will never know this side of eternity how many lives in Washington or Camp David were saved because of his selfless courage. From where did it spring? Hope. At the heart of the Christian faith is hope. Hope of the resurrection from the dead. Death is not the end of life - we were created for eternal life. The first words spoken at every funeral service are probably the most important words ever spoken on the face of the earth.

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26). Jesus was standing before the tomb of his friend Lazarus, when he spoke them.
Then Jesus turns to Mary and asks her a question, "Do you believe this?" Just before he is about to raise Lazarus back to life, he asks her, "Do you believe that I am the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that even though Lazarus has died, if you believe in me you will never die?" Do you believe this? That is my question to you this morning.

Do you believe this? Do you have this hope and on what is your hope founded? Todd's act with selfless courage demonstrated in deed his answer. And that hope is infectious every time someone demonstrates it as Todd did a few weeks ago, and as his wife Lisa did on Friday when she completed that journey. At the heart of the Christian faith is hope - hope of the resurrection from the dead. And this hope is tested every time we face a tragedy, suffering or bereavement.

My father died 19 years ago when Rachel was just a few months old. Joanna's father died just a month later. At the age of 28 I became the oldest man in either family. Dr Leighton Ford, the Canadian evangelist saw his own son Sandy die at the age of 21. He wrote, "The struggle is to bring our faith and our emotions together. When you love deeply, you hurt so deeply".

Bereavement also raises questions in our minds about the loved one. What has happened to them? Are they all right? Shall we see them again? These questions arise partly from natural curiosity, partly Christian concern for the loved one, and partly because their death reminds us of our own mortality and can undermine our security. Many of our questions must inevitably remain unanswered until we see Jesus face to face. These feelings were as common in the first century Church as they are now. This is why Paul was inspired to write in his letter to the Thessalonian church, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope." God does not want us to be ignorant. God does not want us insecure. God wants us to have hope. A hope that will withstand. These verses show us where to find that hope. They assure us of three things:

1. Because Jesus rose we also will live (4:13-14)
"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 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."

The Christian hope is founded firmly and securely on the resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus rose from the dead there is life after death for those who believe and trust in Him also.
Apart from Jesus Christ there is no hope. Our hope has nothing to do with the gloomy despair of the unbeliever. "Will we see him again?", "Well... I hope so..." No, Christian hope is more than wishful thinking. By hope we mean a joyful and confident expectation of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The word the Bible uses to describe death is "sleep". This shows that death is temporary. Just as sleep is followed by an awakening, so death is followed by resurrection. To the thief on the cross Jesus said, "This day you will be with me in Paradise." The last words of Jesus from the cross were these, "Into your hands I commend my spirit". The prayer Jesus would have prayed many, many times before since childhood. Every Jewish child prayed this prayer before going to sleep. That is why it is appropriate to describe death as a sleep. Death should hold no more terror than the thought of going to sleep. Living or dying we are safe in God's hands.

2. The Dead in Christ will Rise First with Him (4:15-16)
"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, and the dead in Christ will rise first."

How do we know this will happen? Because Jesus said so, and that's good enough. The Christian hope centres not only on the resurrection of Jesus but also on the return the Lord. It is at the return of Jesus that the pain of separation which death brings will be removed for ever. It is this painful separation which the Scriptures reassure us is neither real nor permanent. That is why we look forward to the return of Jesus. Death is unable to destroy this confident hope. Furthermore, Paul is stressing that just because some have died they are not forgotten, they are not left behind or disadvantaged in any way. They will be raised to new life first. Believers are safe in Christ's hands. They will be raised first.

3. Believers will be together with Christ Forever (4:17-18)
"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. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words."

About a hundred years after Paul was writing this letter an Egyptian lady was writing a similar letter to a bereaved friend whose son had died. She was not a Christian.
Her name was Diana and her letter was discovered by archaeologists in 1906. "She is very sorry", she says, "and weeps over her friends lost relative, as she has herself recently wept over the loss of her own dear husband." She and her family have done everything they could in the circumstances, "but nevertheless", she concludes in despair, "against such things one can do nothing. Therefore comfort one another. Farewell." How deep the despair of those who have no sure hope for the future. If Diana were alive today 2000 years later I would want to ask her what she meant by the words "comfort one another". Comfort with what?

Fading memories of the past? We are given here in these verses a clear programme of what is going to happen one day soon. Christians look not only to the past but to a sure and certain future. Jesus will return, the dead will be raised, the living will rise to meet Jesus when he comes again in glory with His powerful angels. We shall be re-united in eternity in the presence of God our Father. What a prospect. Living or dying we are safe in Christ's hands. We will be raised when Christ returns. Believers will be together with the Lord forever. Therefore, encourage each other with these words.

Let us pray using the prayer the apostle Paul prayed for some of the Christians in Ephesus who were not sure about the future. "I pray... that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." (Ephesians 1:18)