As the plane I was on descended toward O’Hare International Airport, I looked down upon one of Chicago’s many large cemeteries and thought to myself, “That’s life—or at least that is the inevitable outcome of life—death.”
The thought triggered memories of loved ones lost, consoling grieving family members, repressing grief of my own—only to deal with it at a later date, and then… the painful realization that I will one day feel death’s sting again.
As my plane touched down, I pushed the dark thoughts from my mind and gathered my belongings in preparation to run through O’Hare to catch my connecting flight. I had been gone over a week and was anxious to return home to see my wife and kids. As the plane unloaded, I weaved between passengers and hustled to the nearest monitor only to read the dreaded word… DELAYED. The inconvenience filled me with frustration and concern, “How long will I be stuck here? When will I see my family again?”
In the first century A.D. at the church in Thessalonica, the followers of Jesus Christ wept and mourned as if they had no hope. They had been taught the doctrine of the resurrection by Paul and Silas, but they feared that those who died before Christ’s return might be lost to the grave forever. Thoughts of doubt filled their minds, “Will we ever see our loved ones again? Why is Christ delayed in his coming?”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
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 of mankind, who have no hope. For 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 until 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.
The believers in Thessalonica were failing to properly apply the doctrine of the resurrection to those who slept in death—they were failing to grasp the great magnitude and scope of Christ’s power. It is one thing to believe that Jesus can grant eternal life to those with breath in their lungs and blood in their veins. It is altogether another to believe that he has the power to raise our lifeless bodies from the dead.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we struggle when we see death assault humankind. The tyrant shows no mercy to those who are young, nor any respect for those who are old. Even creation is subject to it. The trees of the forest, the birds of the air, the beast of the field—all eventually are claimed by death. “That’s life—or at least that is the apparent inevitable outcome of life—death.” But that is only how it appears.
There is One with the authority to lay down his life and to take it up again. There is One who stepped into death and stepped out again—it is Jesus Christ. In Christ alone we see death defeated.
In this life, we cry out, “How long, O Lord? Why are you delayed in your coming?” But Scripture has already given us the answer; Christ is patient, not wanting any to perish (2 Peter 3:9).
The suffering we experience in this life cannot compare with the glory that will be revealed in us when Christ returns. Though we experience death now, we do not grieve like those who have no hope. In Christ, death has been defeated, and its sting removed and replaced by the promise of a glorious reunion in the presence of God.
That’s life, for all who believe in Jesus Christ, resurrection is inevitable.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.