“We don’t like to think about death; yet, worldwide, 3 people die every second, 180 every minute, and nearly 11 000 every hour…As human beings, we have a terminal disease called mortality. The current death rate is 100%” – (R.Alcorn)
Many cultures in the world shun speaking about death for superstitious reasons. However, it is ludicrous to think that we can avoid thinking our mortality since it is both personally inevitable and also impossible to avoid since people die every day and in time, people close to us will die.
Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, death has been the normal experience of all of humankind; however, that doesn’t make it natural! Death is unnatural since God created Adam and Eve for eternal life in the Garden. And because it is unnatural, we wrestle with this horrible intrusion into our human experience which tears beloved people apart and brings great sadness and loneliness.
We need to talk more about death, not less. Not talking about death is non-sensical. No one would approach a monumental moment or an epic life-changing trip to an unknown place without some thoughts of preparation. It is normal for travellers to do some fact-finding and engage in discussions with others to find out more about the experiences they are about to have when planning a trip. We all have a date with death. It’s a date we can’t change, can’t be late or early for and one that we cannot change or reschedule! Therefore, surely it is normal to talk about death with others, to ask our questions and to find the answers in Scripture.
Because Paul’s time in Thessalonica was rushed & was brought to a premature end as he had to leave for his safety. It seems as though he hadn’t managed to get to teach the new believers at Thessalonica about death and what will happen when we die. So when some of their congregation died, they naturally had questions about what happens to those who die. And so now as we read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 we get to listen in as Paul assures them by teaching them what will happen when we die as believers.
1. Don’t be uninformed about those who have died are ‘asleep’ (vs13)
Being naive about life and death and eternal life is very unwise. It will leave you either unprepared or unnecessarily worried about things you don’t need to be concerned about. Those who have died are in a state of waiting what theologians sometimes call the ‘intermediate state’ a transition between this life & eternal life. Here, Paul describes them as being ‘asleep’ waiting for a new dawn, the day when Jesus will return in glory.
2. We don’t grieve as others do, who have no hope (vs13)
Because of what we know (which will be expanded on in the verses that follow), we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope because they have not believed in Jesus. What we know gives us peace and hope both for ourselves and for those we love. Note, however, how Paul does not say; ‘don’t grieve’! We do grieve as believers. We grieve because death is a terrible, unnatural, intrusion in our lives and relationships. Death is our enemy that Jesus came to destroy and overcome, but that victory will be only fully realised at Jesus’ second coming. So in this life, we do grieve, we suffer the pain of separation, but we do so with that pain limited by hope!
3. Our hope is rooted in our belief that Jesus died and rose again (vs14)
Jesus rose again victorious from the dead, and so we know that we too will rise with Him (Romans 6:4). As Rick Warren said; “Death is therefore not your termination, but your transition into eternity.” Famously DL Moody supposedly said; “Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before.” And as PJ Smyth says; “Do you best death – all you do is promote us!” This is why we do not grieve as those with no hope do.
4. The Great Reunion! (vs14-17a)
We know that at his glorious second coming Jesus is going to bring with Him all those believers who had fallen asleep before that moment. They will rise from their state of sleep and will meet with us in the air with Christ! What a day, what a reunion! I am sitting writing this in an airport. I love airports and watching some people both crying and as they hug good-bye, aching for the moment they will be reunited and then also others crying with the joy of home-comings, reunions of loved one. Imagine for a moment all the married couples being reunited, parents and children, best friends. Can you hear the excited chatter? Can you feel the relief and the intensity of the hugs, can you see the Father’s joy?
5. Together Forever (vs17b-18)
Paul goes on to complete this thought with the words; “and so we will always be with the Lord”. This reunion of believers never ends; the joy will never subside or be replaced by a new sadness. This is the era of unhindered & unending proximity to Jesus and one another. The best you’ve ever experienced of the joy of relationships in this life is the worst you could imagine in the new heaven and the new earth because even best things are tainted by sin in some way or end through our mortality. The best is yet to come! So, encourage one another with these words (vs18), speak about our glorious future and allow that certain future to shape today.
Lastly, maybe contemplating these things will also cause you to have the courage to reach out to someone who doesn’t yet believe in Jesus Christ so that they could be with you in eternity – share your life with them, share the good news of Christ with them, bring them to church.
“It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our final day” (Matthew Henry)
What types of things get your joy-juice flowing?
And what form does your rejoicing take?
In popular culture, the most common public expressions of joy are often supporters arms aloft, jumping, hugging strangers and yelling because their team scored.
I have the joy of serving with a fantastic fellow elder, Sibongiseni Dlamini who simply cannot contain himself in certain moments in church life. He can not stop his feet and arms from doing a little high-speed mini-dance at certain times. Like when he sees God at work in someone’s life, or that moment in one of our church services (www.recroadchurch.co.za) when a diverse crowd of Christ followers is passionately worshipping God’s name all in unison or when someone comes to faith in Christ – pure joy!
What do you rejoice in?
In Romans 5:1-5, Paul mentions two but lists four things we rejoice in as Christ followers.
1. We are at peace with God
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God
May we never tire of rejoicing in the wonder and goodness of our salvation – that God has justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We were saved FROM the consequences of our sin, but we were saved FOR relationship with God and access into His presence continually.
Those who have been declared righteous by God because of their faith in Jesus now are in a position of ‘having peace with God’. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), but now we have been reconciled to a right relationship with Almighty God.
More than this as we will discover in later in Romans 8 we are granted the privilege of being adopted as the children of God because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12) and therefore we have free access into the presence of the Holy God, calling out “Daddy” as we come to him (Romans 8:14-17).
When they were young (and to some degree still today) my children never asked if they could please interrupt me by bashing open my office door or bedroom door! If they wanted me, they came in without hesitation. They were confident and secure that whatever I might have been focused on was not as important as they were.
Come like that, rejoicing that you are at peace with God because you have been declared righteous (justified) by the grace of Jesus. Come knowing this is where you belong.
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
We rejoice knowing that we are not what we once were (‘sinners’ & ‘enemies of God’) and that we are not all that we will one day be! The best is yet to come. Although we have access into our Holy Father’s presence already, there is greater unlimited access & proximity to come in the new heaven and the new earth when this will happen;
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new..Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 21:1-5 & Revelation 22:20)
This is our hope. Unrestricted eternal access in the presence of God living in a new earth where all of the damage of sin and death and suffering has been eradicated! It’s hard to imagine, but it is our eternal and sure hope which we rejoice in. The future is very, very bright for the believer in Jesus.
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
Oooooh. This seems to be the odd one out. Seriously is there not a typo here? The most challenging word here is the word “knowing” in verse 3. Paul expects the believer in Jesus to rejoice in sufferings because they know something. Do you KNOW it? You need to KNOW it before you’re in it because once you’re in some suffering/pressure/hardship that will not be the right to try to get to KNOW this thing that Paul assumes you KNOW.
We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;
1. That although in this age we suffer because of the sin of others, and because of the effects of the fall all around us in our bodies, creation & society around us. We know that Jesus is both with us in it, and ultimately is coming back to make all things new!
We know that; “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
2. We also rejoice in our sufferings in that we know that they are not outside of the loving, sovereign control of our Heavenly Father who will use even the worst things, even sinful things to shape us more and more into His likeness and show us His love for us. We KNOW that suffering with a right perspective (Hebrews 12:10-11) results in us developing the muscle of endurance. A muscle which can only grow with the resistance training of hardship. We also KNOW that endurance produces authentic character in us, Christ-like godliness, which is only formed under pressure. And lastly, we KNOW that godly character results in a view of the world that is filled with hope because we are convinced of what Scripture says about the future coming age of Christ.
It is only possible to rejoice in sufferings if you KNOW God is still in control, if you KNOW God loves you, if you KNOW your loving Father is able to work through all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), if you KNOW that this suffering has some purpose & that it will end and be swallowed up by eternal life to come and superseded by glory!
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
We rejoice because God the Father loves us with a love that is purer, deeper and more powerful than anything else in all creation. And we rejoice because this love has been given to us, not in some small measure, it hasn’t been rationed to us, it has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! So rejoice, that you get to drink deeply of the love of God, by at any time inviting the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again and again with the fullness of God’s love.
We have so much to rejoice in!
There were many instances in the Old Testament when the prophet of God spoke in harsh words of God’s righteous judgement against a foreign nation or king for their rejection of God or injustices.
Many times, the subject of the prophecy wasn’t in fact in earshot of the words of God, but God’s people were. And because of the way God’s word works and always accomplishes that which God intended it to (Isaiah 55:8-11), it didn’t even matter if King Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar or Pharoah could hear God’s word of judgement. Nothing could stop what God had proclaimed against them (Isaiah 43:13).
When God spoke through the prophet against the wickedness of a foreign king, within the earshot of God’s people, they had the opportunity to hear who God is, what God is like & what He will not leave unpunished. And so when they overheard God’s judgements of foreigners, they had an opportunity to reform their ways, adjust their lives & thinking to God’s revealed will.
But what does that have to do with James 5:1-6 though I hear you ask?
Well James is a little like an Old Testament prophet at times, he speaks the truth in agitated and urgent ways, his words cut to the heart, not to hurt but expose our hearts to reform them.
And just like the Old Testament prophets sometimes spoke in terms of judgement towards those, not in the room. Similarly, James here is writing to Christians speaking in judgement to unsaved people who will face the wrath of God for their wicked ways.
I say this because we who are Christ Followers will not face the wrath of God for our sin because Jesus paid for our sin. The believer has no fear of punishment to come – we will regret that we did not respond more wholeheartedly in this life to God’s gift to us but ought not to have any fear of condemnation – Romans 8:1.
But as we listen in to James scathing pronouncement of the judgement of God on those who have not put their faith in Jesus – we can learn about God, we can be sensitised to the things that please and displease our Father in Heaven (Ephesians 5:10). And because we listened in, we can repent if any of these things are still resident in us so that we can change to be more pleasing to God our Father.
So what can we listen in on, to find out what pleases & displeases our Father in James 5:1-6?
1. Humility (vs1) – wealth tends to pride (1 Timothy 6:17). Trust in self. Here James calls for humble contrition & reflection. May we be humble, contrite & thinking about today in light of eternity!
2. Temporary vs eternal, hoarding vs investing (vs2-3) – the things of this life are passing away, are not eternal. Thinking short and not long is foolishness in the extreme. Jesus advised us to store up for ourselves riches in heaven where moth and rust can’t destroy them (Matthew 6:19-24). We are not to hoard wealth for ourselves here on earth; we are not to functionally be putting our trust in our wealth, which is so uncertain but to be ‘rich in good works’, ‘generous & ready to share’ thus investing for ourselves treasure for eternity! (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
3. Injustice (vs4&6) – God hates injustice. God always sides with; God will defend the marginalised, the abused & the downtrodden. Wealth = power in this present life and the rich use their power to control people, use their power to use people to enrich themselves further. Here James warns us strongly about such injustices as not paying proper wages to those who work for us – the Lord of hosts hears the cries of injustice from the poor and the righteous (vs6), and He will act on their behalf. So, how are you treating anyone who works for you? The Lord of hosts is watching, sees everything. Does anything need to change?
4. Self-indulgent Comfort (vs5) – the god of this age is comfort. So much of our technology serves our god of comfort and convenience. We live in an age where food is no longer primarily about nutrition but has been turned into art & recreation & entertainment we watch! Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 warns us about living self-indulgently while ignoring the plight of those around us.
In South Africa, these verses are even more relevant than in some other contexts. We have a dark, sad history of injustice and oppression of disempowered people and the lingering legacy of that corrupt system of Apartheid. And we have a continuing story of injustice and corruption with the widespread abuse of power for personal gain at the expense of the poor, that we have witnessed since 1995.
If you are a believer, have you truly repented of the sins of our nation and have you acknowledged how you might have benefitted from that injustice and still benefit today? Do not the cries of the poor in our nation with its excessive levels of inequality come before the Lord of hosts?
Are you using whatever wealth or possessions you might have in such a way that results in much good to others, are you rich in good works, are you generous and ready to share? (1 Timothy 6:18)
If you are, you are godly & you are thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).
May I urge you to listen in, to James’ scathing rebuke of rich ungodly wicked people, and in so doing may you and I know more about what matters to our Father who is in heaven, and may we live to please Him in these things.
The Gospel explained in three verses. Verses 16, 18 & 36 of chapter 3 of John’s gospel present a full and clear picture of the Gospel hope that we have in Jesus and the desperate situation of those who reject Jesus.
‘For God so loved the world’ (vs16)
The good news Jesus introduces here is news that would have been radical to the Jewish hearer – that God so loved, not just Israel but the whole world. God had foretold of this widening of His blessing to encompass the whole world when He covenanted to bless Abraham and that Abraham in turn would bless all the familes of the earth. The prophets had prophesied about this too like when Zechariah prophesied about the future incarnation of Christ and the impact this would have on the nations not just Israel;
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. (Zechariah 2:10-11)
‘that whoever believes in Him’ (vs16)
The offer is as wide as can be, it is to anyone, to whosoever. But the offer is not without condition. The condition for all people, whoever they are, is that they must believe. They must have faith in or put their trust in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
‘should not perish but have eternal life’ (vs16)
The result of believing in Jesus is that the believer can be assured that they will not be die/perish or be destroyed in the judgement to come but will enter into perpetual/eternal/everlasting/forever life!
‘Whoever believes in Him is not condemned’ (vs18)
All those who believe in Jesus are not and will not be condemned. They will not be judged or damned by God the righteous judge.
‘but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God’ (vs18)
In sharp contrast is the current and future position anyone is in who does not believe in Jesus. There is no nuetral ground here. Our post-modern pluralistic world likes to make space for and validate every perspective but that is not the teaching of Scripture. As inclusive as the ‘whoever’ is positively in vs16, that same ‘whoever’ is now inclusive of all who do not believe.
All who do not believe are at this very moment condemned by God! They are in the most dangerous position imaginable right now and will be into eternity if there is no change. They will be damned by God because they rejected God’s only Son whom God lovingly sent to save them from their sinful condition and consequences.
‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’ (vs36)
Re-iterating what He has already said, Jesus repeats the wide offer that anyone may believe in Him and that those who believe already have in this life entered into the eternal life only He can give us. The Christ follower is not waiting for something that is only future but enters into real life now in this present age already.
However, again in sharp contrast whoever disbelieves/not believes/is disobedient/obeys not/is unbelieving will not experience this life that’s possible now or into eternity because their position is that the justifiable righeous indignation of the Holy One remains on them now and forever.
All are invited to believe, all who believe will be forgiven and be given life eternal now and forevermore all because of Jesus’ life, death & resurrection, because of the love of Father God. And yet not all will believe, and those who reject Jesus are right now in this present moment condemned already and have the wrath of God focussed on them.
May we who have already believed, tirelessly take this kind offer God’s made to ALL so that whoever believes will be forgiven, saved & will receive everlasting life now and forever.
Consider for a moment the interaction between the young ruler and Jesus and what God is saying to you from it.
Who is Jesus?
The young man addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher” as he asked his question. Jesus, however, resisted. Wouldn’t let the man limit to his own ‘little box’ he’d made for Jesus. Jesus is the majestic Lord of all, almighty God, ruler & creator of the universe, Lion of the Tribe of Judah… You can’t just choose yourself who He is in your life.
You see, Either Jesus really is God or He is not. If He is God then it follows that we MUST SURELY obey Him explicitly in ALL of life. However, if He isn’t God then really don’t bother with anything about him ever again.
Good news not good advice
The young man’s question exposed that he didn’t understand the gospel, he was legalistic and religious. He wanted to know what more he could DO to inherit eternal life. He was focussed on his moral performance thinking that was what God required from Him. He was looking for GOOD ADVICE from Jesus, ‘what more can I DO to please God enough to earn eternal life?’.
Jesus’ response was designed to expose the futility in that thinking. Go and keep all the commandments, and then give away everything you have to the poor! With man this is impossible, Jesus said later on. It is impossible to obey all the commandments fully and to have the right heart that God requires – no one can do it (Romans 3:10-12), no one. That’s why Jesus came to earth, to do what we can’t do!
That’s why the gospel is GOOD NEWS not GOOD ADVICE. It is not information about something we should DO, or something more we should DO (which is what the young man was asking). The gospel is the GOOD NEWS of what Jesus has already DONE for us in our place because with us this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
Thank you Jesus for the good news of the gospel!
Letting go to lay hold
Lastly from this passage we see that the young man sadly could not loosen his grasp on his possessions and money, couldn’t let go of what his security and pleasure was founded on and so went away – ‘disheartened’ (Mark 10:22).
You, can’t hold onto Jesus truly unless you let go of what you’re holding onto first! We can’t simply add Jesus to the rest of our lives, following Jesus means laying down of everything in our lives at a heart level – giving it all up to lay hold of Jesus, trusting that Jesus is worthy of that level of devotion and trusting that Jesus is good and will reward those who do lay it all down for Him.
Paul has been boasting about these Thessalonian believers to other churches. He has been encouraged by their growing faith and love, and also by their steadfastness and faith in the midst of the persecution and the affliction they have had to endure because of their faith.
“Faith under fire becomes faith refined by the fire.”
But what comfort is there for those who are being treated unjustly, persecuted because of their faith in Christ?
“…indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven…” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)
What comfort is there? Scripture answers that God is just. Implied here is that our Father God who is the righteous all-knowing judge of all sees everything that is done and that which is not done that ought to have been done. God is just, because God will afflict those who have afflicted His children.
And so the knowledge that God is just gives relief/rest to one who has been unjustly treated or who has seen their loved ones unjustly treated.
We are often tempted to make premature assessments, in this life. It can and does sometimes look like the unjust go unpunished, seemingly unaffected by their sin and seemingly free from consequences despite the despicable things they have inflicted on others. Our systems of justice often let people down as the justice they deserve slips away into the cracks of our sin-broken societal systems of justice.
But for those who call God ‘Father’ there will be justice. Our Father will act on our behalf and knowing this relieves us of any need to attempt to ‘repay evil with evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
Rather, we can and should forgive people. As we do, we are stopping that thing they did from continuing to rob or hurt us into the future. Forgiving people sets the forgiver free, and leaves the forgiven before the God of all the earth – who is just.
Ask Father God right now. Is there anyone I need to forgive?
Choose now to set yourself free, choose now to stop allowing that thing from continuing to impact your life. Thank your Father that He is just.
When though? You might say, well I haven’t seen God being just yet!
I believe there are times when we do see the justice of God in this lifetime come upon people, but this passage is very clear that the time everyone will know that God is just is on the day when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with attending angels and flames of fire (vs7-8).
On that day God the righteous judge will ‘inflict vengeance/retribution’ (vs8) on those who wronged his children (implied by the context) and specifically on those who rejected Jesus Christ.
Note how God is the active agent here, God the righteous just judge is the One inflicting retribution. This clear teaching in Scripture confronts the unbiblical popular notion that the God of Scripture is some wishy washy dispenser of ‘love’ or that it is loving to the victim to let the wicked go unpunished for the sin done to them!
And yet on this same day that Jesus comes back in all His glory, on this day when the unrighteous who rejected Christ will face the punishment for their sin (vs9) and will be shut out from the presence of God forever and ever, on that same day those of us who believed in Jesus will be glorying in Jesus, will be marvelling at Jesus in all His revealed splendour and majesty (vs10)!
May, you believe, may you ask Jesus Himself to forgive you of the wrong you’ve done before that Day. May you and I reach out to EVERYONE we can while we still can with the good news that anyone can join that happy crowd (vs10) if they will only bow the knee now and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and ask Him to forgive them of their sin.
For if you do accept Jesus, God is just, and so will forgive you of your sin, you will not face any punishment for whatever you did, because God already punished that sin when Jesus died on the cross in your place for your sin, and so God will be just to save you and welcome you into a glorious eternity with Him.
Have you crossed the line of faith and put your faith in Jesus and asked Him to forgive you of all your sin?
Ask the Holy Spirit now to put people on your heart who don’t yet believe in Jesus, pray for them and DO ANYTHING the Holy Spirit leads you to do…
‘The day of the Lord’ – (vs2) is the great and the terrible day spoken of all through the Old Testament when Yahweh will come to save His faithful ones and will come to punish the those who rejected His kind offer of forgiveness through His Son.
It is a day with two distinct perspectives depending on one’s faith trajectory. For some, it’s a great day, a day to be longed for and anticipated, and yet for those who rejected God’s Son as their Lord & Saviour, its a terrible day.
This day will come suddenly, will come when people aren’t expecting it (vs3). To some the suddenness is negative & not welcomed – ‘like a thief’. Yet for others the suddenness is positive & welcomed like a pregnant woman suddenly going into labor. (vs3)
These contrasting ‘suddenly’s’ refer to the contrasting experience on ‘the day of the Lord’ depending on ones state of faith.
But this coming day in all our futures isn’t to be feared for those who are God’s children, ‘children of the light’ (vs4-5), for we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into Jesus’ kingdom (Colossians 1:13) which is the kingdom of light as Jesus is Himself, the light of the world (John 8:12).
Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to be at peace with our future, and helps us to stay alert, awake, sober ready for Jesus’ return. (Vs6)
Knowing these things, believing these things helps us to choose to keep putting on the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet of the hope of our salvation to protect us until that day (vs8).
We who have believed in Jesus Christ, we are not destined for wrath but for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who died in our place for our sin so that we might live forever with Him (vs9).
So let’s encourage one another and build one another up!
And let’s reach out to all we know with the good news that those who put their trust in Jesus, those who ask Him to forgive them of their sins, will be forgiven and then this THAT DAY will be the first of an eternity of GREAT DAYS.