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Grieving in Hope

1 Thessalonians 4:13-15
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For 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 word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. (NIVUK)

Death is the last enemy for all human beings (1 Corinthians 15:26). It leaves a trail of sadness even for believers. Loved ones have gone. Their company can no longer be enjoyed, their advice is not available nor can their love be received or reciprocated any more. Grief can be so disorienting; and yet God has provided us with a promise to help us through. It does not eliminate the grief but puts it in context as we look forward to the resurrection of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:42).
The early Christians believed that the Lord Jesus would come back soon. They expected His return in their lifetime (John 21:22-23), but some had already died. What would happen to them? Would they be ignored or left behind? The Lord Jesus had specifically instructed Paul how to teach about this situation. Death is no mystery to Jesus; He has been through it and been raised to life again. In the same way all believers will also be raised when Jesus comes again (John 6:40).
But what about those believers who have already died before He comes? Their bodies decay but their spirit is safe with Christ (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). They will also be raised to new life in a new body when Jesus comes again. That will happen first, before the Christians who are alive are given their new bodies. So although the grief we feel, about our loved ones who have died in Christ, is real, it is not hopeless. The 'hope' (confident expectation) of the church is that all who belong to Jesus will be with Him when He returns (1 Peter 1:13).
And so grief must not be allowed to cause Christians to despair, even when the believer's death is unnatural or untimely. Nor should uncertainty rob us of confident faith. The instruction is clear. There will be inevitable sadness because of separation, but Jesus has personally promised new life in a new body for all eternity. Yes, we weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15), as Jesus did (John 11:35), but we do not allow the sadness to crush us because of the hope ahead of us. And when we forget the promise we need other believers to remind us (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

God of hope. Thank You for giving this promise to Paul, to pass on to Your church. Forgive me when I either trivialise death or make it to be an unbeatable monster. Help me to trust Your promise of a bodily resurrection and to live courageously knowing that whatever happens, death is not the end. May I be an encouragement to those who grieve as I pass on this message. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams