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Every day we are faced with the reality that people die. I know that’s probably not a good way to start off a post, but I have to believe that the best way of dealing with reality, bad or good, is to face it head on.

The Lie

I have become increasingly disheartened with how people respond to the death of others, whether it be those of a “high-profile” nature or family members. I have found that the common coping mechanism for death is false hope. Here are a few phrases that have become increasingly popular these days:

“I now have a guardian angel, [insert deceased person’s name], to watch over me.”

“God must have needed an angel.”

“He/she is in a better place now (regardless of how the person lived).”

“He/she left such a lasting legacy of good words and deeds — surely our loss and heaven’s gain.”

The list goes on…

However comforting or soothing these words sound, they are, for the most part, built on lies and unfounded in Holy Scripture. At best, they only provide false hope. The worst part is that as I scroll down my Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram feeds, these words emanate from the hands and mouths of professing Christians. Christians, who claim to have the Spirit of God in them. Christians, who pledge their allegiance to the One who declared Himself to be the Truth (John 14:6), yet perpetuate lies to temporarily ease the pain caused by grief and loss. It is evidenced by statements like these that many ignore sound doctrine or aren’t being exposed to it as they should. As a pastor, it pains me that instead of offering and communicating true hope in Christ, we settle for lies — lies that do more damage than good.

So then, it is my responsibility in Christ to point to the truth. To do this, I turn to the one place where the truth remains unchanged: the Bible.

The Truth

In a world where we experience gut-wrenching pain of loss and grief, we find these words in Scripture:

13 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14 Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15 For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, HCSB)

The Apostle Paul wrote to a church that had experienced great loss, yet did not know how to cope with loved ones who died. Although they may have believed in the coming of the Lord, they thought those that died before the great Day were hopeless. It was obvious this young church was in a vulnerable state and possibly under the influence of false teaching about death and the “afterlife.” Paul writes this letter not only to counter the lies that were being fed and digested, but to provide real, life-giving hope — the hope of Christ.

Friends, I cannot stress this thought enough. Wherever we find ourselves searching and in need of hope, we must always return to Christ. For he is our hope, he is our life! (Colossians 3:1-4).

This is what Paul did in this letter (and is the aim of this post). He pointed his readers back to Christ. As such, there are four truths that I see in the aforementioned passage:

  1. Death is real
  2. Grief is real
  3. Hope is real
  4. Comfort is available

Death is Real

Paul wanted the church of Thessalonica to know that death is a reality, a reality that many people will face. It should not be something we try to escape or try to cheat because it is a natural part of our earthly existence. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in the projects or in a penthouse, death is the great equalizer. Job fell down and worshipped in Job 1:21 saying:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of LORD.”

Death is a part of God’s plan of redemption. Though we may not always understand it, we must be aware that it is a reality and our lives should be governed in such a way that we would be ready to meet our Creator.

Grief is Real

Paul not only stated that death is a reality, he also acknowledged that grief is appropriate. He told the church that it is okay to grieve, it is okay to mourn. These are natural responses to loss. It is not un-Christian to feel pain and sadness during the loss of a loved one. However, he said something very crucial in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. He said it is okay to grieve, so long as you do not grieve as the world grieves: without hope. He wanted them to be aware that although grief is natural and is common, what sets the Christian apart is that when we grieve, it is accompanied by hope.

Hope is Real

Hope is one of those words that can often be misunderstood and misused. To Paul’s audience and for us today, the word simply means “the desire of some good with the expectation of obtaining it.” Paul wanted the Christians in Thessalonica to know that even in the midst of pain, loss, suffering, and even in the midst of tears, that there is good that our hearts can yearn for and can expect to obtain, namely eternal life in Christ.

The church in Thessalonica thought that when a person died, the deceased would miss out on the blessing of Jesus’ return. They thought death was final. And if that were the case, I could see how they could be hopeless. This is not so for the Christian. In fact, death is something God uses to usher us into eternal life. Paul takes it a step further and says regarding our loved ones who die in the Lord, their bodies are merely “asleep,” awaiting Jesus himself to come and raise them up and clothe them with bodies that will never grow old, hearts that will never fail, and imperishable, perfect bodies. This is possible because Jesus died, to cleanse us from sin; to take our punishment. But He rose again, so that He might defeat death and give us eternal life. He rose again so that death would not be the end.

The hope we can have in the midst of grief is that even in death, we have victory in Jesus. He holds the key to life and death and has promised that if we trust him, we will live, even if we die. He’s coming back one day and all of us who have trusted him will meet and greet in him in the air.

Comfort is Real

The promise of Jesus’ return is real. God is faithful, which means “God will always do what He has said and fulfill what He has promised” (Wayne Grudem). There is hope for the Christian. True strength is found in the truth of God and hope of Christ.

What shall we do with this then? There are two appropriate responses:

1) Spread the gospel and the gospel alone. It is the gospel that points us to our only hope in this world and the world to come: Christ alone.

2) Rejoice in knowing that those who have died in Christ are not lost, but are merely sleeping. Their hope is also ours: Christ alone.

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