November 7, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NRSV)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.
Today, hear this encouragement from Paul: whatever you sorrow over today, know that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Christ has defeated sin and death, and his reign of justice will ultimately cover all the world.
By necessity, I am writing this devotion and the one for tomorrow before all the votes have been counted for the 2020 election. By the time you are reading this, you may have a better idea of the actual winner. Regardless of the way it turns out, it’s clear from the data so far that the U.S. remains a very divided place.
Every time we have a general election (including the Presidential elections that come every four years) it arrives near the end of the liturgical year. While the secular calendar begins on January 1, Christians have historically begun their calendar with Advent, the season of the expectation of Jesus’ coming, starting four weeks before Christmas.
And, in the last weeks before Advent every year, the lectionary begins to remind us not of Jesus’s first coming, but his second coming at the end of time. This theme will carry on into Advent, which begins not with images of a sweet cozy baby in a tasteful nativity set but with images of apocalyptic devastation and desperate hope for deliverance. I don’t know about you, but the current mood around me seems far more apocalyptic and desperate than it does sweet, cozy, and tasteful.
All of that brings me to today’s and tomorrow’s Scripture passages. Both face head-on the reality of devastation and longing. In today’s passage (you can read the full chapter here), Paul is talking to the Thessalonians about what will happen when Jesus comes back. His assertion that “the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16b-17) has created a lot of speculation on exactly what that is going to look like and how it will happen.
That speculation is not my point here. Rather, I want to dwell on what Paul intends his picture of the end of days to do for the Thessalonians. It is clear, both from the end of chapter 4 and the beginning of chapter 5, that this somewhat alarming apocalyptic passage about Jesus coming back is intended by Paul to encourage the Thessalonians in the face of great trials, and to encourage them to encourage each other.
And key to that encouragement is the creedal affirmation at the core of our faith: our trust that Jesus died and rose again – and because he did that, we will too. In that, and that alone, we can place our hope.
Other passages of Scripture make clear that the impending arrival, someday, of the New Creation does not mean that this creation does not matter. It does, and we may feel, this week in particular, that it matters very acutely. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.
But today, hear this encouragement from Paul: whatever you sorrow over today, know that we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Christ has defeated sin and death, and his reign of justice will ultimately cover all the world.
What are you sorrowing over today?
Where do you see hope?
1 Thessalonians 4:16 in fact stands behind the ringing affirmation in the last verse of the hymn “It is Well With My Soul:” “The trump[et] shall resound and the Lord shall descend—even so it is well with my soul.” Listen to that hymn today and let it encourage you, just as Paul’s words encouraged the Thessalonians. Here’s one version by Sovereign Grace Music and another version by the Metropolitan Baptist Church.
Lord Jesus, today I am weary. But I trust in you, and I do not grieve as those with no hope. Encourage and strengthen me for the road ahead. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Working Faith, Finishing Up, and Keeping the Faith (1 Thess. 1:1–4:8; 4:13–5:28; 2 Thess. 1:1-2:17)
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
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