From the Morning Scriptures

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, 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. According to the Lord’s 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. 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 one another with these words.

—1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (TNIV)

Today we read another of Paul’s great tracts on the Christian’s hope of resurrection. This is one of those passages, along with Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21, among others, that everyone who calls himself a Christian should take the time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Why? Because within these passages is our Christian hope and the love of God is made gloriously manifest.

In looking at today’s passage, we mustn’t get too hung up on literalism, especially when Paul talks about Christians being taken up into the clouds and meeting the Lord Jesus in the air. The Greek word Paul uses for air, aer (pronounced ah-AYR), can also mean the political domain of transcendent beings or powers (BDAG), and the Greek word Paul uses for clouds, nephele (pronounced nef-EL-ay), was also used in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the OT) to denote the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites while they were in the wilderness. God, of course, was in that pillar of cloud. None of this denies a literal meaning of the text; it simply suggests there is much deeper and richer meaning to it.

No, Paul tells us how we should read this passage. He writes us to remind us of the hope that is ours in Christ. We are to use it to encourage one another. Several themes jump out at us immediately in this passage. First, Paul reminds us that we are Christians. We have the blood of Christ shed for us and therefore we are not to grieve like those who have no hope. This does not mean, as some have assumed, that Christians are not to grieve. That is just silly. We don’t spend a lifetime developing a relationship with someone and then not expect to grieve when we lose them to death. Instead, Paul reminds us here that we just lose our Christian loved ones for a season rather than forever as those who have no hope believe.

Second, we notice our final destination. It is not “heaven” where we live forever in a disembodied state, but rather it is with the Lord Jesus in God’s New Creation that he will bring about at our Lord’s Second Coming. You can read more about the New Creation in Revelation 21-22. In God’s New Creation (the New Heaven and New Earth) we will have a resurrected and glorified body that will be similar to our Lord’s. Just as our mortal bodies are fitted to live in God’s current creation, our resurrection bodies will be fitted to live in God’s New Creation. Paul only touches on this in today’s passage but he explicates it in much greater detail in 1 Corinthians 15. Check it out. What we do not want to miss here, however, is that when we get our new resurrected bodies, whatever they may be like, we will be living directly in the Lord’s Presence. Sweet. Very sweet.

Third, we notice the immediacy of all this. Paul uses vivid language that suggests our transformation will be instantaneous and spectacular. No one will mistake the Lord’s Second Coming the way some mistook (and continue to mistake) his First Coming. Paul seems to be telling us that when our Lord comes again in great Power and Glory, the time for decision on our part will be gone forever. We do not know when that day will come but we had better be ready when it does.

All of this should bring you great hope if you are a Christian. To know my Christian loved ones are safe and secure with Jesus is tremendously comforting to me. I know they are alive and well, awaiting their final glorious destiny, not because of who they are but because of who God made manifest in Jesus is.

On the other hand, all this should make unbelievers pause and take stock. There is a somber warning in today’s passage, albeit implicitly. Paul is talking about the destiny of Christians, not everyone. This is why spreading the Gospel is so important. It is a message of life and we who claim to love Christ must also be willing to share his Good News with as many as we can because we do not desire anyone to die or be left out of the eternal party.

This, then, is our Christian hope and destiny. No wonder we call it Good News. Thanks be to God in our Lord Jesus Christ! Do you have the Good News in your life? If so, are you celebrating it each day? If not, what are you waiting for?

Augustine on Reading the Psalms

My God, how I cried to you when I read the Psalms of David, songs of faith, utterances of devotion which allow no pride of spirit to enter in! I was fired by an enthusiasm to recite them, were it possible, to the entire world in protest against the pride of the human race. I trembled with fear and at the same time burned with hope and exultation at your mercy, Father.

Confessions 9.4.8-9

Scripture and Milk

Milk has three forms which can be compared to doctrine, that is, the liquid, cheese and butter. Liquid milk is the literal sense of Scripture, cheese the moral sense, and butter is the spiritual sense. Find a good teacher and you will soon learn these things.

—Hilary of Arles, Introductory Commentary on 1 Peter

From the Methodist Hymnal

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit;
let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
end of faith, as its beginning,
set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray and praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.

Finish, then, thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.

—Charles Wesley (384)

Another Prayer for the Easter Season

Grant, O Lord, to your servants and followers who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake that their conversation may be as becomes the gospel of Christ; that they may stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; that terrified in nothing by their adversaries they may be bold in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him but also to suffer for his sake, who lives and reigns, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Looking for God? Think Again

So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, then we must often lose heart. But it is the other way about: he is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against him. And he knows that and has taken it into account. He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into his arms. So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us a hope of salvation. Our hope is in [God’s] determination to save us. And he will not give in! This should free us from the crippling anxiety that prevents any real growth, giving us room to do whatever we can do, to accept the small but genuine responsibilities that we do have. Our part is not to shoulder the whole burden of our salvation, the initiative and the program are not in our hands: our part is to consent, to learn how to love him in return whose love came to us so freely while we were quite uninterested in [God].

—Simon Tugwell, Prayer

Living as Saints

Everyday things, relationships with other people, daily work, love of our family—all these may breed saints. Jesus at Nazareth taught us to live every hour of the day as saints. Every hour of the day is useful and may lead to divine inspiration, the will of the Father, the prayer of contemplation—holiness. Every hour of the day is holy. What matters is to live it as Jesus taught us. And for this one does not have to shut oneself in a monastery or fix strange and inhumane regimes for one’s life. It is enough to accept the realities of life. Work is one of these realities; motherhood, the rearing of children, family life with all its obligations are others.

—Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert