Hope for the bereaved
pastor C.R. Stam
“that ye sorrow not.... as others which have no hope” 1 Thess 4:15
Why art thou cast down. O my soul/ And why art thou disquieted
within me? Hop in god. For I shall yet praise Him Who is the health
of my countenance and my God” Psalm 43:5
And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said
unto her, Weep not” Luke 7:13
He healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds
“God... comforteth those who are cast down
II Cor. 7:6
“Blessed be.... the God of all comfort”
II Cor 1:3
HOPE FOR THE BEREAVED
The Fear of Death
In the thirty years of my ministry I (CR Stam) have seen many people approach death and have seen a few die.
Some, who knew Christ as their Savior, were ready, even eager, to go to be with Him. Some of these passed from this scene with songs or words of praise on their lips. Others, who had failed to prepare to meet God, died in mortal fear, not merely of death, but of what lies beyond.
These things do not always run true to form, however, for I have also seen the most hardened unbelievers go out of this life joking and seemingly unfraid, while, on the other hand, I have seen sincere Christians cringe with fear at the approach of death. These human reactions did not change the fact that the unbelievers had reason to be afraid, while the believers need not have been.
The Word of God tell us that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment Hebrews 9:27. It is the “after this”that makes men so afraid to die, They fear the truth of Romans 14:12, that “every one of us shall give account of himself to God”
They know in their inner hearts htat they are resposible to God for their conduct and are afraid to be called before Him in judgment, especially since the Bible says that “all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”Hebrews 4:13.
CHRIST'S DEATH FOR US
But wait, I didn't quote the entire passage about death and judgment in Hebrews 9:27-28. The full passage reads as follows:
“And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall he appear the second time withou (apart from) sin, unto salvation”
Note carefully the “as” and so. As it is appointed unto men once to die and then face God in judgment, So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many. This can mean only one thing: that Christ died for us and bore the judgment for our sins. In other words, He died, not merely physically, but suffered for us the pains of the second death, God's terrible judgment upon sin. Thus Hebrews 2:9 declares that “by this grace of God”the Lord Jesus Christ tasted death for every man,” and Verses 14,15 go on to say that he did this “that through His deth he might....deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage”
How these last words describe the feelings of the great majority of people with regard to death! They may joke about death and pretend not to fear it, but actually they go through life constantly fearing death-- “Through fear of death.....all their lifetime subject to bondage”
Thank God, the one who has committed himself to Christ as the Savior Who died for his sins, is not, certainly need not be, afraid of death, judgment or the lake of fire, for he knows that Christ was “offered to bear the sins of many” He knows that by the grace of God He “tasted death for every man” and applied this blessed truth in faith to himself. And thus he is, or certainly should be, delivered from the fear that holds, or should hold, unbelievers in bondage.
THE CHRISTIAN'S CONFIDENCE
The true Christian acknowledges that he is a sinner and deserves the condemnation of God, but he believes “the gospel (good news) of the Grace of God” that Christ was “once offered to bear the sins of many”, that he “tasted death for every man”, and believing this, he has committed Himself in faith to Christ as his Savior. He rests on God's promises about salvation through Christ and rejoices in Scripture passages like the following:
“For the wages of sin is death, but the GIFT OF GOD is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” Romans 3:24.
“For by Grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:8-10
Christ was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for ( Lit., on account of) our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” Romans 4:25- 5:1
There is therefore now NO CONDEMNATION (Lit: judgment) to them that are in Christ Jesus Romans 8:1.
THE BELIEVER'S HOPE
Let me say right here that the word "hope" most frequently used in the New Testament Scriptures does not mean to wish for, but rather denotes eager anticipation or a confident expectation of good things to come. Thus Hebrews 6:11 speaks of "the full assurance of hope" and Vers 19 adds: "Which hope we have as an anchor to the soul, both sure and stedfast....."
With this in mind it is significant that Paul, by the Spirit, wrote to the Thessalonian believers about their departed loved ones, exhorting them not to sorrow "as others which have no hope"
We believers may indiend mourn the loss of Christian loved ones, but we do not mourn their fate, for we are assured of their greater blessedness in the life that follows this. Hear Paul's Spirit-inspired words:
"WE ARE CONFIDENT... AND WILLING RATHER TO BE ABSENT FROM THE BODY, AND TO BE PRESENT WITH THE lORD (2Cor 5:8)
"FOR TO ME TO LIVE IS CHRIST, AND TO DIE IS GAIN" Philippians 1:21.
"TO DEPART AND TO BE WITH CHRIST..... IS FAR BETTER Phil 1:23
The declaration that precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints Psalm 116:15 is more significant now than when it was first written.
The souls and spirits of the Christian dead hae left their bodies to go to be with Christ and are already "far better"off than we, but even this is not all, for we read in I Corinthians 15:51-54:
Behold, I show you a mystery [ Lit. I tell you a secret]; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruptibility an dthis mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruptibility, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, THEN SHALL BE BROUGHT TO PASS THE SAYING THAT IS WRITTEN; DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY"
In I Thessalonians 4:16-18 the apostle goes into greater detail and shows how this is the basis upon which bereaved Christians may comfort one another:
"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and THE DEAD IN CHRIST SHALL RISE FIRST : THEN WE WHICH ARE ALIVE AND REMAIN SHALL BE CAUGHT UP TOGETHER WITH THEM IN THE CLOUDS TO MEET HTE LORD IN THE AIR; AND SO SHALL WE EVER BE WITH THE LORD. WHEREFORE COMFORT ONE ANOTHER WITH THESE WORDS.
This present dispensation of the Grace of God will be brought to a close with the coming of Christ for His own, whether living of dead and so shall we ever be with the Lord" Blessed prospect!
The Apostle Paul, by divine inspiration calls this great event the believer's "blessed hope"
"Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" Titus 2:13
THE LORD HIMSELF
The first and most significant reason why the apostle designates the Lord's return for Hiw own as a "blessed hope," is because "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven to come for us ( I Thess. 4:16).
This terminology immediately suggests both His greatness and His gracious condescension. The story is told of a humble Northern private in the Civil War, who lay in a hospital tent slowly recovering form a serious wound. One day he fell off to sleep, to be awakened again by a gentle stroke on his forehead. As he looked up, there stood the PRESIDENT himself, offering words of comfort and encouragement! No more had Lincoln left that bedside than the lad sat up and wrote a letter to his mother. "To think" he wrote, "that the PRESIDENT of the UNITED STATES wold stop and talk to me! "
This illustration is, of course, a feeble one, for what human anecdote could adequately describe the condescension of our Lord, exalted "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion and every name that is named, in coming personally to conduct us poor, undeserving creatures to heaven?
THE WHOLE BODY
WILL BE UNITED
How blessed to know that the members of the Body of christ, now constantly divided by schiscm, geographical distance and death, will som day be gloriously and eternally united! We shall all be "caught up together" (I Thess. 4:17).
No more separation then, not even by physical distance! We have heard Christian people express their desires to be "right near the Lord Himself", or sit next to Paul, or some other worthy, in heaven, but if this were necessary for fellowship there, heaven would be no improvement over earth.
Now we are limited in many ways. In our present finite condition our senses soon become clogged and confused. We stand on a hillside and our eyes can take in but a limited view, our ears can hear but a few sounds, our nostrils can smaell the fragrance of but a few flowers and our minds can think but a few thoughts. But then thes limitations of our faculties will disappear and , partaking of omniscience, we shall enjoy full and intimate communion with all other believers, just as our Lord can now have intimate personal communion with multitudes of individuals all at the same time.
ANGELS WILL BE
Caught up together.... in the clouds! 1 Thessalonians 4:17
Well does the writer recall his childhood thoughts at the appearance of any dismal, cloudy day. "This might be the day", he thought, "for does not Rev. 1:7 say: Behold he cometh with clouds"
But the clouds in which our Lord will return to earth and into which we will be caught pu when He comes for us, are not rain clouds. Any multitude or host is spoken of in the Bible a s a "cloud". Referring to believers gone before, Hebrews 12:1 says: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us"
When the Lord led Israel through the wilderness, His guiding presence was veiled in what appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This was the Shekinah Cloud, the host of His attending angels.
At His incarnation "the glory of the Lord"shone about the shepherds, and there was with the announcing angel "a multitude of the heavenly host"( Luke 2:9,13) At His transfiguration "a bright cloud overshadowed them" ( Matt. 17:5). At His ascension "a cloud received Him out of their sight" (Acts 1:9). At His coming for us we will be "caught up... in the clouds" to meet Him (I Thess. 4:17). And finally, at His return to earth to reign he will come in "the clouds of heaven"( Matt. 26:64) i.e., he will be "revealed from heaven with is mighty angels" (II Thess. 1:7)
WE SHALL BE CHANGED
"Caught up.... in the air" ( 1 Thess. 4:17)
Does not the fact that we shall be caught up into the atmosphere above us indicate that some great physical change will take place when our Lord comes for us? Will the law of gravitation be suspended? No , it is we who will be changed, and this too is part of "that blessed hope"
In writing to the Corinthian beleivers the apostle says: "Behold I show you a mystery [secret]: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed"( I Corinthians 15:51).
"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruptibility, and this mortal must put on immortality" verses 52,53
"For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned liek unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto Himself"( Philippians 3:20-21)
EVER WITH THE LORD
"And so shall we ever be with the Lord"( 1 Thess. 4:17)
This indicates clearly that the reason our Lord will come for us Himself is because He loved us and wants us for Himself. Yes "Christ....loved the Church, and gave Himself for it", that some day He might "present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle or any such thing......" (Ephesians 5:25-27)
BEREAVED FRIEND, ARE YOU READY?
It may be that thsi pamphlet has fallen into the hands of one who had suffered the truly great loss of a loved one who was not prepared to die. To such we can only say the following:
Seldom, if ever, do we know what goes on in the minds and hearts of the unsaved when the actual time of death arrives. Hence, while we know that God cannot justify men apart from faith in Christ, we also know that He is very gracious and may sometimes reveal Himself to the unsaved in the last moments of their lives.
This however, is nothing to depend upon. The important thing is to be ready yourself.
When the apostle Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self control and judgment to come "Felix trembled, and answered, God thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season I will call for thee" ( Acts 24:25). And Felix didd find at least a few 'convenient seasons, but he evidently never got to the place where he was willing to confess that he was the sinner for whom Christ died. Some historians tell us that he finally committed suicide.
This is why Paul, by the Spirit urges:
"We then as workers together with God, beseech you also that ye RECEIVE NOT THE GRACE OF GOD IN VAIN.
" .......BEHOLD, NOW IS THE ACCEPTED TIME; BEHOLD, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION" (II Cor. 6:1,2)
Don't be foolish, dear friend, and fritter away the precious days and hours. "God is not mocked" but he is gracious and still gives you "now"----this moment to trust in Christ as your Savior and be saved. Why not do it .......now?
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life"
BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST AND THOU SHALT BE SAVED ( Acts 16:31)
Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God, even our Father, Who hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting
consolation and good hope through grace, Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work
II Thess. 2:16,17