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Worship Theme: The Church awaits the final judgement
Sermon Theme: I Know of a Sleep in Jesus' Name
I want you to think of the most tired that you have ever been in your whole life. You were ready to collapse, but for whatever reason you just could not. While you are thinking of your moment, maybe I can share with you mine. I could be wrong, but I think Tricia would probably pick the same night I am thinking of. We were in the first year of our marriage. Some close friends of ours were getting married in Green Bay, about 90 minutes from our Cedarburg home at the time. After a long weekend of being in the wedding party, finally the reception arrived. We stayed as long as we could – maybe a little longer than we should have – still leaving enough time to drive the 90 minutes back home. We decided that we would set out and try to make it, and if we got tired on the way, we would find a hotel and crash for the night. The only problem was the only hotels along the highway were early in the trip, when we still thought we had the energy to make it home. By the time we were looking to stop, we were well past the places to stay. Rather than sleeping in the car on an off ramp somewhere, we decided to press on and try to make it home. We did everything that we could think of to stay awake. We had all 4 windows rolled all the way down so that the cold wind would keep us awake. We had the radio up as loud as we could so that the pounding in the ear drums would keep us awake.
We drove and drove and drove, and finally we pulled into our home town. We were never so glad to see the sign for the Lennox Place apartments. We found the first parking spot that we saw and pulled in. We threw the car doors open and literally ran to our apartment. We unlocked the door and made a beeline for bed. No time for brushing teeth or pajamas, we both slept in the clothes we wore to the wedding, and that was fine. No time, no energy for anything except sleep!! In all my adult life, that might be the only time I have ever slept the whole night with my shoes on. We were so exhausted, so wiped out that we literally collapsed the second our heads hit the pillow. Sweet, soothing, quiet sleep!
Sweet, soothing, quiet sleep is what Paul is talking about in our text from God’s Word for today. But he’s not talking about the quiet comfort at the end of a stress-filled and painful day. He’s talking about the sweet, soothing, quiet sleep of death. For many those two concepts are at odds with one another, but for us believers, we know that death is nothing more than a quiet sleep. We know that death is a rest from the weary tasks of life and the beginning of a new and fresh life with God in heaven. Today we can rejoice and say “I Know of a Sleep in Jesus’ Name.” We can have confidence that death is merely a sleep for us knowing two things: 1) that we will awake 2) that there is a joy-filled reunion in store for us.
We will awake
Do you know what a euphemism is? It is a nice way of saying something that might otherwise hurt or sounds less than desirable. It is a softer, gentler way to speak the facts about something. If you are shopping for a vehicle – it’s not as glamorous to buy a “used car” that’s why most salesmen will point you to the “pre-owned” section of the car lot. It’s not used and abused; it’s gently broken in and ready for you to purchase. Some people say “torture” others say “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Some people who are short prefer to call themselves “vertically challenged.” They feel like that sounds a little better. If you are unwilling to get a hotel room for you and your bride and instead risk your lives driving home at 1 in the morning, that’s not called being cheap – that’s called being economical!
There are probably more euphemisms about death than about any other topic – because people don’t enjoy talking about death. It has a sharp bite to talk about the end of a person’s life or about the end of your own. People try to soften the blow, but no matter what words are used, the truth is still sharp – death is a reality! God doesn’t mince words when he says, The wages of sin is death! (Romans 6:23a). Death is the sad reality that we have earned for ourselves with our disobedient and sinfully self-centered lives. Death is the consequence of sin, and God doesn’t sugarcoat that. He doesn’t soften the blow for us – instead he takes it away through Jesus. That passage goes on. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23). We Know of a Sleep in Jesus’ Name but it is not something to fear, because we will awake.
Paul talks about that reality using these words. 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. Some might think that Paul says those who sleep (in death) because he wants to soften the harsh reality of death. Some might say that Paul is using a euphemism, but he is not. He’s not trying to soften anything, rather he is teaching us something about death. He’s telling us that it is like a sleep, a temporary thing from which we will most certainly awake.
Little Jimmy had terminal cancer. His parents hadn’t told him, but he figured it out. Knowing that it was soon going to be a reality for him, he asked his mother, “What will death be like?” Using every effort, she had to hold back the tears, she began to explain. “You know, Jimmy, it’s like when you play outside all day and you run around with your friends and spend all your energy during the day. Then you come inside and when we are watching TV as a family, you fall asleep. Your daddy picks you up off the couch and puts you where you belong, then in the morning you wake up in bed refreshed and ready for another day. That’s what dying is like. You fall asleep here on earth and then Jesus picks you up and puts you where you belong, and you wake up refreshed and renewed in heaven.” That doesn’t sound bad at all mommy, Jimmy blurted out!” With happy and sad emotions all rolled into one she held Jimmy’s hand and smiled “It’s not sweetie, it’s not!”
As Christians, we can have a childlike faith and therefore a different attitude about death than the one that the world holds. We don’t need to grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. If you’ve ever been to a non-Christian’s funeral, this passage has added meaning for you. For people who have no knowledge of heaven or hope of heaven, this world is what it is all about. A funeral for them is all about remembering the good times in the past, and picking ourselves up by the bootstraps to somehow carry on. There’s no hope of a better life, no hope of seeing that person again, no reason to be cheerful. But a Christian funeral is far, far different. A Christian funeral is filled with hope. It’s a celebration – not of the life a person had lived here on earth, but of the life they are living in heaven. It’s a celebration - not of the good things a person did in life, but of the perfect life that Jesus lived which opened heaven’s doors to them and to us.
Did you know that the word “cemetery” comes from a Greek word for “sleeping place”? The people who are there are truly sleeping. All will rise to live again, and for those who are Asleep in Jesus’ Name, it’s a new and glorious life that they will be blessed to live. It is nothing to fear, because those who Sleep in Jesus’ Name will awake. They will awake to a joy-filled reunion.
A joyful reunion
You’ve heard it said that Christians don’t ever have to say “good-bye” – they say “see you later.” Even if life takes Christians on different paths, the resurrection will bring them back together face to face in heaven. There’s a hymn that we sing from time to time called “God be with you till We Meet Again.” The refrain of that song says, “Till we meet at Jesus’ feet – God be with you till we meet again.” That could be meeting at Jesus’ feet in worship, but it could be at his feet in glory. A friend of mine, when he heard that I was assigned to serve a church in Alaska told me, “Well, I’ll see you in heaven.” Then he broke out into a chorus of “God be with you till We Meet Again.” The things that he was saying were half a joke – but true as well. I don’t know if I’ll see Carl again in this world, but I know for certain that I will see him in a joyful Judgment Day reunion.
We can have the same confidence as we attend Christian funerals or consider our own deaths. It’s a joyful reunion that waits for us. Listen to Paul describe Judgment Day 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. That day will be the greatest family reunion ever. We will gather there in heaven with blood relatives – those who have been made our brothers and sisters through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross. We will gather together with those who have fallen asleep in the Lord and those who are alive on the Last Day. This reunion is not like most - restricted to just 3 or 4 generations, but every Triumphant Saint that has ever lived, that has ever shared in the victory that Jesus’ death has secured. Every person who died in the faith that God gave them will join in the joyful reunion on the Last Day. Whether living or asleep, the Church will be gathered on that day and will begin an eternity of worship and praise to our loving Savior and King.
Think of what that really means. Glory everlasting would be great by ourselves, but it’s better than that. Our family – Great-grandpa about whom you heard stories but you never met, your grandmother who fell asleep when you were young, your spouse who was privileged to go to glory before God was ready for you, the stillborn child who came to faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Those faithful ones in your family will be back together again. But your faith family will be bigger than that. We’ll get to rub elbows with even more saints - Moses, Abraham, David, the Apostle Paul, the list goes on.
But we’ve saved the best for last. Paul says And so we will be with the Lord forever. The Lord Jesus with his perfect life and holy death has forgiven our sins and made us heirs of heaven. He gives us peace here on this earth and confident hope in our lives to come. We will be forever with the Lord. We will be in perfect harmony with God and in the perfect two-way relationship with him that he intended for us. The stains of sin have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. The memory of earth’s pains will be gone forever, our mind will be filled with nothing but absolute joy in the presence of God forever.
And it is more than just wait and see. Paul says, therefore encourage each other with these words. Let these words be a source of comfort for you, and the source of comfort that you can use to encourage others. When the struggles of life have got a friend down, pick them up with a reminder that they are a precious in their Savior’s sight. When a loved one doesn’t know which way to turn, turn them to the Savior who loves them and lives for them. When the sorrows of this world over whelm, remind each other that momentary sorrows will come and go, but eternal joy is in store for those who are in Christ Jesus.
When souls come weary and burdened from the journey of life - whenever and wherever that might be – Christ is there to provide sweet, soothing, and quiet sleep. When we watch a loved one close their eyes in the sleep of death, through the tears we rejoice. Even as God leads us through the valley of the shadow of death, we can live – with confidence, peace and joy! We can rest securely in the arms of Jesus who gives us the faith to believe and to say: “I Know of a Sleep in Jesus’ Name.” Amen.
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