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TEXT: I Thessalonians 4:13-14
SUBJECT: Bertha, Asleep in Jesus
At three o'clock last Friday morning, our dear sister, Bertha Wiley 'fell asleep in Jesus'. I might have said, 'she died', but I didn't say that because-for the believer in Christ-there is no death. Our Lord said so Himself. Nearing the tomb of His old friend, Lazarus, He was met by a heartbroken sister who sobbed-
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!
There was strong faith in her words and deep disappointment. The Lord, however, does not apologize for being late. Instead, He challenges Martha to remember who He is, and what He is to all who believe in Him, living or dead-
I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?
What about you? It is easy to believe in Christ when our faith is not being tested. Today it is being tested. Is the Gospel a fairy tale we put our kids to bed with? Or is it true? I mean true in the same way that 'water freezes at 32F' is true?
If it isn't true, the dead in Christ are dead-food for worms, and nothing more. But, if it is true, the dead in Christ are not dead at all.
I say they're not dead! I say our dear sister is as alive today as she was last week, in fact, far more alive now than then. For then, she was still subject to the former things-John calls them-things like tears, death, sorrow, crying, and pain. But not any more! She's free of these things now-not because she has left Life, but because she has entered it! A few days ago, a man said, 'It looks like she's checking out', but he got it wrong. She was 'checking in'.
ASLEEP IN JESUS
If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive! And so is our dear sister, and all who have 'fallen asleep in Jesus'.
This wording-I think-has got to be among the Bible's most beautiful and charming. Paul is writing to people eagerly waiting for the Second Coming of Christ. When they first heard the Gospel, they learned the Lord was coming again, and they took this mean: coming right away. Of course they were wrong. He didn't come right away-and He still hasn't. During this time, some members of the church died, and the ones who survived them were worried sick their friends would have no part in the Resurrection, that they had gone out of existence, that they 'weren't there' anymore.
Paul says their worries are entirely groundless. In fact, rather than being 'worse off' than living believers, the dead in Christ are 'better off', for when the Lord comes again, they've got dibs on Him! They see Him first!
This is wonderful for the future, but what about the present? What became of the dead Thessalonians? What has become of our sister? What does it mean to be 'asleep in Jesus'?
Some think it's nothing more than a nice word for a bad thing. Instead of saying the harsh, 'They're dead', Paul prefers the gentler, 'They're asleep'. Don't you believe it! Paul was a master of words, and had he wanted to say 'dead', he would have. But he didn't say 'dead', he said 'asleep'. And not just 'asleep', but 'asleep in Jesus'.
This opens up a rich vein of meditation.
We start with the words, 'in Jesus'. Most English Bibles use that wording, and it doesn't mislead us. Other places in the New Testament teach that very thing. But here, the word is not, 'in Jesus', but 'through Jesus'. What does this mean? It means He put them to sleep-not cancer, not a car wreck, not the doctors-it is Christ who puts His people to sleep.
This gives us a new perspective on our lost loved ones. We don't have to be angry or confused or feel we've been cheated. Not when it is the wise and loving Lord who puts them to bed.
The more you think about it, the more you fall in love with this image of Christ. I think of a tender and patient mother putting her little ones down for the night. The children don't like it; they get mad and they squirm and cry and fight, but the dear lady holds on tightly, keeps rocking them, keeps patting them, keeps kissing them, and, at long last, they nod off.
Paul borrowed the picture from the Old Testament, from the little book of Zephaniah, near the end-
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you in His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.
Here God Almighty-Infinite, Eternal, and Unchangeable-becomes an adoring mother, singing lullabies to her baby till he falls into the sweet and untroubled sleep only babies can enjoy.
This is who put our dear sister to sleep last Friday, at three o'clock in the morning, the Lord Jesus Christ, her Lord and ours.
Loving mothers can put their little ones down, but they cannot assure them of a good night's sleep. The children may toss and turn, have nightmares, become sick, and worse. But what loving mothers cannot do for their little ones, the Loving Lord can do for His-and He does do it, for every one of us without exception.
There is no purgatory to trouble the believer's sleep in Christ. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord immediately. When the thief on the cross sought a place in His Kingdom, he got it-not after his crimes were scrubbed off him by a few centuries of pain-he got it that very same day-
Verily I say unto you: This day you shall be with Me in Paradise.
The believer's sleep is sweet beyond words because it is 'in Christ' as Paul says in v.16 and elsewhere. Even on earth, the Lord's company cheered the people who had it. I think of that wee little man, who lived for money and found-as the saying goes-it did not buy happiness. Happiness came to him as a gift-
Zacchaeus, you come down,
For I'm going to your house today.
Freed from his slavery to money, the little man knew joy for the first time in his life. And all because he was with the Lord. And so is our dear sister this morning-and so are all who have died in Christ.
If the Lord's Presence did this for the people He met on earth, how much more will He cheer the souls of those who see Him in all His glory? The believer's sleep is a happy one.
It is also a restful sleep. Have you ever gotten up in the morning more tired than the night before? You went to bed worried or angry or sick, and, even though you slept some, it did you no good? We've all had this experience, because even sleep in this world is under the curse, and not what it was meant to be.
But the sleep our dear lady is now enjoying is what it was meant to be. Where she is, there are no nightmares, no fears, no hard feelings, no bad memories, no loneliness, no sickness, nothing to disrupt the Complete and Eternal Rest to which the Sabbath is only a pointer.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.They rest from their labors and their works follow them.
When the Bible says the dead in Christ rest from the labors, don't think idleness. Doing nothing is stressful, and there is no stress for those who 'sleep in Jesus'.
The rest they have is rejuvenating. Unlike lounging around all day, it doesn't make them less fit for life, but more. Where do dying Christians go and what do they do there?
Where they go is to the Lord and to His People. This has got to be a bracing experience, it provides a life to which the liveliest life in the world is dead by comparison.
In Psalm 43, David is harassed by his enemies and deeply discouraged. But his sorrows and weariness will soon be shaken off-not because he's going to change his diet or quit smoking or exercise more-but because he's going to the Lord-
Then will I go to the altar of God,
To God my exceeding joy;
And on the harp I will praise you,
O God, my God.
While the Lord Himself is our only source of encouragement, it often comes to us by way of His people. Even in this world, fellowship is good for the soul. Psalm 133 compares it to the anointing oil that ran down Aaron's beard and made his priestly garments smell like heaven. In less poetic language, Paul on his way to Rome and death, meets brethren at the Three Inns, 'thanks God for them and takes courage'. They weren't lawyers promising to get him off with Caesar; they were Christians through whom joy and comfort of Christ was flowing to a tired and beaten down man.
Think about it: If meeting God through several walls and curtains made David rejoice as he did, and if meeting brethren who were no more sanctified than we are made Paul thankful and brave, what will it be to see the Lord face to face and meet the brethren who are not the spirits of just men made perfect?
The rest we enjoy on the other side is a rejuvenating rest. It is charging our batteries for something even better.
Is there anything better than going to God and His People when you die? There is. As happy as disembodied souls can be they will be even happier when the souls are once again embodied. This will occur-Paul makes clear-when Christ returns, raises the bodies of His people, renews them with the Life of the Resurrection, and reunites them with souls that are now fit for Eternal Life.
This is the best news of all. The believer's sleep is temporary. We don't put a child down and tell him to sleep forever; we tell him to sleep till morning. That's what the Resurrection is, the morning of the New Creation.
Let us be sad this week, for our dear sister is lost to us for a time. But let us not be sad as others are-the ones who have no hope. We have hope, and the hope we have is based on optimism or wishful thinking. It used to be based on a Promise only, and because it was God's Promise, the saints died in hope. But we have more than they did, more than a Promise. We have a Fulfillment. The Promise God made to His People has been kept. The earth has given up its Dead. Jesus Christ is risen, and His Resurrection is only the firstfruits of a great harvest.
Of which Bertha Wiley will be a part, and not only she, but all who love His appearing.
Behold I come quickly;
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
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