The Third Sunday After Pentecost June 21, 2009
2 Corinthians 5:1-10
744 [TLH alt, 43], 414, 384, 616
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
In Christ Jesus, who “tented” here for a time that we might live forever with Him in glory, dear fellow Christians:
The walls were thin and not very sound-proof—typical for an aging mobile home. The floor felt a little spongy underfoot. The trailer was drafty in the winter and hot in the summer. The rooms were small, and storage space was nonexistent. It was cramped quarters for friends of ours in South Dakota and their three children. After visiting them, I was all the more appreciative of a solid, spacious parsonage.
It must have been frustrating for the family to live with the shortfalls of their home, and yet they didn’t let the situation get them down. They accepted the limitations of the house, realizing that it would never be their dream home. They were willing to put up with the difficulties for the time being because they were looking ahead and saving for a brand new home. They showed us the site and the plans. They were hopeful and excited for good reason. The mobile home was not their permanent address. The day came when the old trailer was hauled away, and they moved into their new home.
What do you think of your home, not just the four walls in which you have your possessions, but this life on earth? Does it leave something to be desired? Do the cold winds of problems and the heat of stress make your days uncomfortable? Instead of feeling a solid floor beneath your feet, do the things of this earth seem a bit flimsy and shaky? Do you find yourself frustrated by all the flaws you see around you? Cheer up! his isn’t our permanent address.
A trailer home has a limited life span and then it is hauled away and junked. A more substantial home built of brick and steel on a solid foundation will last longer, but one day it too will become unstable and have to be torn down. That is the story for everything on earth. Our bodies are wonderful works of God. David in the psalms says, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). But we know what happens over time. Joints wear out, muscles weaken, and the mind is not quite the steel trap it once was. Wrinkle creams, medications, exercise, and surgery may help the symptoms for a while, but they cannot prevent death. Look at the earth itself with its hurricanes, floods, pollution, and famines. It is showing clear signs of wearing out, like an old tent coming apart at the seams which is dismantled and taken down. Isaiah writes: “All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree” (Isaiah 34:4 NIV).
This earth is an imperfect, flimsy mobile home because of sin. It can’t last. Yet, for many people, that is all they see so they try to fix the problems and patch things up and make the earth better and more permanent. But no matter what is done, a tent is still a tent, a trailer is still a trailer, and the earth is still the dying, temporary, sinful earth. People end up frustrated and frightened, wondering “Is this all there is?” When we feel discouraged could it be because we are looking only at the earth and its imperfections as though this is all there is? If we try to find lasting contentment here we will be sadly disappointed. But cheer up! This is not our permanent address.
Even though all they saw was an empty patch of ground, our South Dakota friends eagerly anticipated and counted on their new home. It gave them hope for the future and a reason to work hard at saving money and planning. We have an even more sure hope in God’s promise of a heavenly home to come. Paul confidently says, “We have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” [v.1] Paul wrote the Romans: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation” (Romans 8:18-19 NIV). Jesus told the disciples: “In My Father’s house are many mansions” (John 14:2). In Revelation John provides a little glimpse of what we have to anticipate: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem…and I heard a voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be His people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” (Revelation 21:1ff NIV).
Can you imagine that? We, who are now living in this sinful, dilapidated world, will one day move into the mansions of Heaven and live in God’s glory forever. Paul says it is like getting rid of an old, threadbare set of clothes and putting on the finest, tailor-made suit. We will be rid of this mortal existence in which death swallows up life, and we will be clothed with the life which swallows up death!
It is so great, so beyond what we see and experience now, that it can seem too good to be true. Do you ever hesitate to count on Heaven for fear that you will never really see it? Even though we do not see our eternal home now, we can be sure of it because, first of all, it does not depend on anything we do. God has done everything to ensure our place there.
As we are by nature, there is no way we could ever enter that perfect home. Sinful people deserve to be destroyed along with a sin-contaminated earth. But God’s love is so great that He sent Jesus on a rescue mission. Jesus “tented” here on earth for a time, that we might live with Him forever. The One who made the holy Law put Himself under it that He might keep it for us and give us the righteousness we need. The One who pronounces, “The soul who sins shall die!” (Ezekiel 18:4 et. al.) suffered that death for all on the cross that all might be justified and be declared “not guilty.” There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Death is swallowed up in Christ’s victory.
Still have doubts? God even gives you a guarantee, or more literally, a down payment, or earnest money. It would be as if someone told you, “I’m going to build you the finest mansion on the perfect site overlooking Lake Michigan and to show you that I am serious about doing it here are the blueprints and the first $1,000,000 of the construction cost. Our guarantee from God is the Holy Spirit. Through the Word the Spirit comes to live within our hearts to give us the down payment of greater things to come. Scripture says, “You also were included in Christ when you heard the Word of Truth, the Gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Ephesians 1:13-14 NIV).
When you are discouraged and the eternal home seems more like wishful thinking than reality, go back to the Word and the Spirit’s down payment. See in the gift of forgiveness and peace with God the down payment of the eternal peace of Heaven. See in the promises already fulfilled in Scripture the down payment of every promise yet to be carried out. Receive the Lord’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper as the guarantee that you are truly a citizen of Heaven and that you will one day see Jesus face-to-face.
That not only gives us hope for the future, it fills the believer with confidence here and now. If God has Heaven waiting for us we can be sure that He will take care of us in the present as well. You can open your eyes to each new day knowing that while there will certainly be trials and problems, the Lord will be there to turn them into blessings. When things like a move to a new home or a different job or something else unfamiliar push you out of your comfort zone, you can trust that the Lord already knows how He will work things out for your good. When you go to bed at night you don’t have to take the sins of the day with you and toss and turn restlessly because of the guilt. Confess them and leave them at the foot of the cross. Let the Lord’s words, “Fear not, I have redeemed you. You are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1), ease you into restful sleep.
Confidence in our heavenly home gives us real purpose here on earth. We have a higher goal than just living for ourselves and piling up possessions. Paul says, “We make it our aim…to be well pleasing to Him.” [v.9] We consider it an honor to be citizens of heaven, and we want to show that in everything we do. Paul sums it up: “To live is Christ!” (Philippians 1:21). We don’t see the study of Scripture and worship of the Lord as a burden, but a joyful expression of gratitude. Having received God’s love to such an overwhelming degree, we want to show love toward people around us, even those who may not be considerate toward us. It is not a matter of keeping a tally of 10, 20, or 50 good works per day. Rather, it is a whole new attitude toward life. “Whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him…since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Colossians 3:17, 24 NIV).
We live in the present with a view toward the future. We know the Lord Jesus will return with great power and glory. Even though we do not know the date, it is already marked on God’s calendar. Every person who has ever lived will stand before Him to be judged. Paul says the verdict will be according to what a person has done, whether good or bad. If Jesus were to judge solely on the face value of what anyone has done on his own, the verdict would be the same for all: “Depart from Me, you who are cursed!” (Matthew 25:41). But by faith we have been clothed with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, and all our sins have been taken away. On Judgment Day the Lord will point to the good works of believers—the fruits of faith—as pleasing to Him and evidence of saving faith in the heart. Eternal life is a reward of His grace, not something we earn. As the hymn verse says: “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness, my beauty are, my glorious dress. Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed, with joy shall I lift up my head.” [TLH 371:1]
Look around your home and chances are that you will see things that are less than perfect. Maybe it’s a leaky faucet or dirty dishes in the sink. It could be shingles that need replacing or a garage that needs a coat of paint. As soon as you fix something, you may see two more problems. It can be discouraging to say the least. Look around at the world and you will see many more flaws—all of which can be traced back to sin. Look within your own heart and sin will be there too.
But cheer up! This is not our permanent address. Christ has paid for sin and reconciled us to God. We are now citizens of Heaven who walk by faith and not by sight. We have a brand new permanent home in heaven to anticipate. It is promised by God the Father, won by Jesus on the cross, and guaranteed by the Spirit in the Word. May the certain hope of that home fill our hearts with joy and our lives with purpose! Amen.
“Forever with the Lord!”
Amen! So let it be.
Life from the dead is in that word,
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.