Last Sunday in Trinity November 22, 1998
2 Corinthians 5:1-9
24, 609, 660, 616
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, Who said, “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also,” Dear Fellow Redeemed:
“Have you been home recently?” That’s a question that might bring different thoughts to different people, especially at this time of year. This is one of the most heavily traveled seasons of the year, because there are so many people who want to get “home for the holidays,” and that “home” may not necessarily be the place where they live. “Home” can mean the place where we grew up, or the place where our parents or other family are living. It’s the place where we feel the most comfortable; where we can just be ourselves.
I guess the old adage is true: “home is where the heart is.” It doesn’t really matter what building we live in, it doesn’t matter what part of the country or world we live in, “home” is the place where we long to be, where we feel at home. If we spend too much time away from home, it often happens that we become homesick, distressed and anxious because we want to be home so badly. In our text for today, the apostle Paul talks about a kind of homesickness, but it’s not a longing to be at a certain place here on earth. Rather, it is a strong desire to be at our final resting place, our home in heaven. Let’s look today to the direction that our hearts are pointing us. Because, for the Christian, the words of our theme are doubly true:
Have you ever noticed how some houses look a lot more permanent than others? Some are made of brick and stone. They may have been around for decades, and look like they’ll be around for a long time to come. Some are cheap wooden frame types that we’d be surprised to find standing in twenty years.
The fact is, though, that all of them are temporary. They’re all breaking down; some are simply breaking down faster than others. In fact, everything in the world is temporary, disposable, and breaking down around us—including our own bodies. It reminds me of a certain children’s nursery rhyme: “Doctor, Doctor, will I die?” “Yes, my dear, and so will I.”
In point of fact, we’re all dying right now. Just like houses, some of us break down before others do, but it’s just a matter of time before the common fate of all catches up to us. The youngest child is on that same path as the oldest senior citizen. Of course, it’s not as apparent in children. They are still growing and getting stronger and stronger. But it isn’t very long after adulthood is reached that signs of decay start to show. Strength ebbs, senses become dulled, aches and pains become more frequent. Our minds may try to ignore the fact that death is coming, our bodies may fight for life to the last gasping breath, but it’s no use. Finally, this body that we live in, what Paul calls the “earthly tabernacle” is torn down; it dies and returns to the earth.
It’s no wonder that our minds and our bodies try to put off death as long as possible; after all, we were not originally designed to die! God made the world, including the world’s first people, perfect, without aches, pains, disease, or death. The human body was designed to be self-renewing and immortal. But when our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, they suffered the consequences of their sin. They introduced the curse of death. Death is the direct result of rebellion and sin against God. Sickness, aches, pains, and death are unnatural. They are a terrible burden which Paul speaks of in verse 4 of our text: For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Paul says that living in our earthly, physical bodies is like wearing a coat. At first the coat may look nice and new, but as time goes on it becomes threadbare. We long for something new and better, but at the same time we are apprehensive about giving it up. And so we live our short lives with our earthly bodies becoming more and more of a burden, a burden that was brought on because of the guilt of sin.
And you know what? Physical problems are not the only “burden!” There are other reminders that we are not in our permanent home. A feeling of incompleteness and lack of purpose in this life is something that many people feel from time to time. Did you ever get the feeling that time is passing you by, that you’ve been working very hard and you don’t have very much to show for it? I would venture to say that most everyone has lain awake at night and wondered what the purpose of it all is. There are missing pieces to the puzzle; we yearn for something—something that we just can’t put our finger on.
These are all symptoms—symptoms of spiritual homesickness. Our hearts tells us that this “home,” the body, is temporary, that it’s gradually falling apart. How can we be at peace with that? As Paul says, we want better clothing; we want the mortal to be swallowed up by life. Our hearts tell us that there must be something better.
Our hearts are right—there is something better! But what that something is we would never be able to discover ourselves, as Paul writes in First Corinthians: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” And what is it that God has prepared for us? The first verse of our text this morning tells us: For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Our “home” in this life is the frail, imperfect body that we live in. It’s temporary, and that’s why Paul calls it a “tabernacle”, or a tent. What we have waiting for us is a new, glorified, perfect body, an eternal house that God Himself has prepared for us. What a glorious “homecoming” it will be! In the resurrection, we know that we will still be ourselves, but we will be changed, and we will take up residence in our new, permanent home as we read in Philippians chapter 3: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body!”—Philippians 3:20-21.
On that day, we will shed this old tent, and put on instead the palace, the glorified body that God has prepared for us! There will be no more failure, no more aches or pains. God will wipe every tear from our eyes, and our triumph and joy will be eternal.
What a prize—what a goal! What would make God want to give us this glorious home? After all, you and I have all broken His law. We have neglected to worship Him as we ought to. None of us have behaved in a way that would make us worthy of any kind of reward, much less immortality in a perfect body. In fact, our hatred, rebellion, lack of concern for God and our fellow human beings makes each of us worthy of eternal death, not eternal life. In order to qualify for heavenly glory, we need the wisdom to fear God and serve Him only—but instead we have been foolish and self-serving. We need to be 100% right with God—but instead we have repeatedly turned away from Him. We need to be completely holy and sanctified, but we have compromised with the world and our sinful flesh and polluted ourselves. We don’t qualify at all; we are in desperate need of someone else’s help. We need someone to buy us back from the sin into which we have sold ourselves.
The answer for all of these needs that we lack, the wisdom, the righteousness, the holiness, and the payment for our past sins are all found in Jesus Christ, for the Bible says in First Corinthians 1: “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God; and righteousness and sanctification and redemption; that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.’”—1 Corinthians 1:30-31.
Christ became all those things for us! He did it by living a perfect life in our place, and by giving up that perfect life on the cross of Calvary. He died for us and rose again. And He has promised that we will also eventually rise, and go home to be with Him in heaven. And in case we forget, our text for this morning reminds us of exactly who it is who did the work and gets the credit for that. It says, in no uncertain terms, He that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God. God is the one who has paid the full price, by the blood of His Son Jesus; God is the one who has redeemed our souls.
Your salvation has been 100% accomplished by God—0% remains to be done by you. What a wonderful truth! What freedom and confidence that inspires! Now all you have to do is wait for the final redemption of your body. So you wait—and time passes—and you wait some more—Well, how long do we have to wait anyway?! And why doesn’t the Lord just take us home right now? I’m sure we all feel the same way about it that Paul does when he says, “We prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” So what’s holding things up?
Our text this morning offers us some advice for our impatience, and some consolation in our homesickness. “Home is where the heart is”—not this earthly home, which is temporary, but our heavenly home, which is eternal. In the meantime, while we wait, the Lord wants us to be content with the fact that the Holy Spirit has made His home in our hearts. Our text says: Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.
Most everyone here is familiar with the concept of earnest money, especially since we’ve recently been trying to acquire property for our church. If you want to hold a property off the market until it’s time to close the deal, you pay the seller some earnest money. It proves that you’re really “in earnest;” it guarantees that you’ll make good on your promise to pay the full amount. Well, the Lord has given us the same sort of thing—a payment of “earnest”, which guarantees that He will make good on His promise to take us home to heaven. That earnest is the Holy Spirit, who lives in our hearts by faith. This is described in Ephesians as “The Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” God has placed the Holy Spirit in your heart, and His presence there by faith is your down-payment—the guarantee of your eternal inheritance!
For the present, we “Walk by faith, not by sight.” Because when you think about it, we really have no concrete evidence of a resurrection from the dead, do we? No proof of the existence of heaven or hell, no videotape of Jesus ascending into heaven and promising that we will follow Him there someday. What we DO have is God’s Word, and the childlike faith that He has created in our hearts—that’s the “guarantee” of the Holy Spirit.
We also have instructions. We are not to wait idly for the day of our homecoming to arrive. We are rather to be busy with the work that our Lord has given us to do: to make disciples of all nations—to spread abroad the Good News of Christ crucified for sinners. That’s why Paul in our text repeatedly stresses the idea of confidence and courage. It takes courage to bear up under the aches and pains, the sorrows and imperfections of this “tent.” It takes courage to proclaim the Gospel to a world that is hostile to God. But it is that Spirit of God dwelling in us that enables us to wait patiently and to do the work that the Lord has put before us.
There may be times when you think to yourself, “There is so very little that I can do; why doesn’t the Lord just take me home now?” But, my Christian friend, don’t underestimate what God can accomplish through you! By the example of your life, by what you tell others about your hope for eternal life, God can work miracles of faith in the people around you. And our Scripture text offers us another challenge, something else that the Lord wants us to be busy with: Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.
You know, being a good example and a good ambassador for Christ is important; we Christians should present our best behavior to the world at all times. But it shouldn’t really matter whether someone else is watching or not. Our goal ought to be to strive to please God by our thoughts and actions—not out of selfish interest but simply as a way of saying “thank-you” for the great things God has done for us. It’s really the least we can do, isn’t it, considering everything Christ gave up for us! Let us always join in with Paul in saying: “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”—Romans 14:8. AMEN.
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