II Corinthians 5:1-10
I have a tent which was brand new when my parents bought it in 1957 in order to go on a camping trip to the Black Hills in South Dakota. I remember going on that trip, even though I was only 5 years old. How exciting it was for my parents to have that new tent. We used it for a week or two while we were on the trip and many times after that on fishing trips and summer vacations. After using it, no matter how much fun we had, we were always glad to get back home. I still have that tent, but we don’t use it any more. Our children used it a few times to sleep in the back yard, but only on nights when they were sure that there would be no rain and few mosquitoes. There are two things we understand about tents. They are intended for temporary shelter. We use them on camping trips, but are quite glad to get home and sleep in our own beds. The other thing is that, as you can see, they don’t last forever.
As I think about the temporary setting of a tent, I can’t help thinking about Israel. Can you imagine what the tents of Israel might have looked like? If I consider the condition of my tent, which after forty years was pretty much worn out, I can’t imagine the condition of Israel’s tents after 40 years of wilderness wandering. How wonderful it must have been for them when they entered into the promised land and were finally able to build permanent homes.
The other day I participated in a study of pastor’s at mid life. One of the questions, on the survey, made me realize that when I was young, I never thought about how many years I have left to be involved in ministry. Now, at mid life, I have thought about the fact that I have only about 17 years of ministry left until retirement. I have thought about how I will use those years. Have you ever felt that life is like living in a tent - temporary and short lived? How do we handle the realization that life is short and our bodies are wearing out?
The average life span of people in Psalm 90 is suggested to be about 70 years and that some who are strong are able to add another ten years to that and live to be 80 years old. Someone told me the other day that for men in Canada today, the expected life span is about 78 years and for women about 83. So if you want to live longer, you should make sure that you are born a woman. What does that mean for me?
78 years is 28490 days.
When I was 20 years of age I had used up 7305 days and had 21185 left.
Now I am 48 years old and have used up 17809 and have 10681 days left. I have less left than I have used up.
At 65 years of age that is 23741 used and 4749 days left.
One time we were going to Winnipeg and had a friend with us. I pulled out to pass and although there was a vehicle coming from the front and I had lots of time, our friend yelled out “we’re going to die!” Well, we didn’t die that day, but the statement is totally true, we are all going to die.
We can understand why Paul might have used these metaphors. He was a leather worker and a tentmaker before he became the apostle to the Gentiles. Tents were made out of animal skins. They were temporary dwellings, erected with the help of poles, and made to be easily moved. As he was writing this letter, Paul may have recalled a time when someone brought him a tent in need of repair. It had begun to tear and leak; it was cracked and weather-beaten. Paul's job was to repair or replace such it.
Now, as he contemplates his own body wearing down, just like worn-out tents, the frame that he had been given for his lifetime was wearing out. The person on the inside has a lot more to live for, while the person on the outside has a lot less responsiveness.
I found statistics for 1997 that 27 out of 100,000 people died that year of accidents, 182 out of 100,000 died of cancer, 173 out of 100,000 died of heart disease. As we read those statistics, we always hope that we will not be one of those numbers, but with each passing year, we become aware of the knowledge that our bodies are getting worn out. As I played hockey last weekend, I was quite aware that those younger legs had a lot more to give than I did. Each day, our body forces us to realize that it will not last forever. It is a step on the path that each year makes more and more clear the reality that 100,000 out of 100,000 people will die.
My father was 41 years old when he got cancer and within 3 months, he died. A fellow I know was healthy and strong and one day when he was driving down a country road, he ran into another driver and both of them died in the accident. I did a funeral for a lady who was over 100 years old. For many years, she was virtually a vegetable in an old folks home and finally she died. A while ago, they showed on TV a story about a man who was quite old but still very spry. He had managed to prolong his life but He also will die.
II Corinthians 5:1 says that “if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed.” The only reason for using the word “if” is that Jesus could come back first, but if he does not, we will all die. This earthly tent will be destroyed. We are mortal.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t like that thought. Last week, Menno said that no matter what, death is not a pleasant thought. That is so true.
The unpleasantness of that thought is what causes us to groan while we live on this earth. We don’t want to die and we don’t like it when others die. We groan under the burden that our bodies will wear out. We groan with the thought of death which looms large before us.
But that is not our only choice. If we had no other choice, we would soon despair and give up hope, or live to the full and enjoy every moment because this is all there is anyway. But that is not the case. There is another reality which allows us to look beyond the awful reality of death.
Two weeks ago, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. When we did, we learned something about ourselves as well. We learned that Christ is the first fruits. Because he rose from the dead, we will also rise. As in Adam, all die, in Christ, all will be made alive. Adam changed the course of history when he sinned and plunged the world into death. Christ also changed the course of history he died for sin and rose again and so plunged us into life.
Paul says in verse 1, “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”
Before we moved to Rosenort, we lived for 7 months in a side-by-side in Winnipeg. The living room carpet was greenish-gold, one set of living room curtains was pink and the other green. The downstairs bathroom had a green toilet and pink tiles on the wall. When Jonathan came home, that Christmas, we stacked some boxes in the basement and that was his room. We lived there for a while, but we were looking forward to the day when we would again live in a house that we could make our own. When we moved to Rosenort, we rented our house for the first 10 months, with the hope of buying it. We looked forward to the day we would own it and we could develop it the way we wanted. Now it is ours and we are doing just that.
Now living in the tent of our body which is wearing out, but because of the resurrection, we are awaiting another reality - we are awaiting a building from God, not built by human hands. A place that will be perfect for us and that we won’t have to fix up, but will be perfectly suited for us and made by God Himself. We anticipate an eternal body. We await something beyond death, something in which death will no longer be a factor. We are looking forward to life eternal.
What will that building be like? This eternal house is made by the one who is eternal and the one who built this world in the first place. As we look at the beauty of what we have on earth and realize that in heaven, it will be perfect, we have a lot to look forward to.
In I Corinthians 15, Paul talks about this heavenly body that we will put on. He describes it as “imperishable,” “glorious,” “powerful,” “a spiritual body,” “like Jesus resurrected body.” The Bible has many metaphors for heaven. Sometimes we think far too small about these pictures. They are not to be taken literally in the sense that heaven will be a square box with sterile gold streets and little else. The Biblical metaphors for heaven are pictures of a reality that is beyond our understanding. They use earthly images to speak about something that is far beyond what we can understand. When a city is spoken of, it is the best kind of city that could be imagined. Safe, perfect, a city planners dream city. When natural images are used, such as the trees that will be there, the best kind of tree is spoken of - one that has fruit every season and one that has leaves that are useful. It is perfection multiplied beyond anything that can be imagined. I think that our impression of heaven is too small. We need to recognize the best of what we have learned about God’s creation here and recognize that it will be beyond that. The same will be true of our bodies. The temporary and fallible body we have now is nothing compared to what we will have in eternity. This body will not grow old. This body will not suffer pain or illness. This body will not get Alzheimer's disease or cancer or heart trouble. This body will have no back pains or arthritis. This body will have no mental or physical handicaps. This body will be perfect in every way imaginable. It will not be afflicted with a forgetful memory, poor eye-sight, clumsy coordination, or a failing and faltering heart. It is a perfect, glorious, wonderful body that will last throughout all eternity.
But if such a radical change will take place, will we still be ourselves? “Will others be able to recognize us?”
This question is answered in verse 2. Not every translation reflects the answer, but it is in the Greek. If you are using the Good News Bible, the phrase is, “And now we sigh, so great is our desire that our home which comes from heaven should be put on over us…” Notice that it says, “put on over us…” That is an accurate translation of the Greek, which conveys the idea that the eternal body which we will be given is “put on over” the earthly body which we have. What does that mean? It means that the body we will receive in heaven will have continuity with the body we have now, but it will be transformed. It will be put on over the body we have now and so the person we are, will still be recognizable as ourselves, but it will be a transformed body. We will be recognized as the person we are, but all the deformities and all the problems and limitations which we now have will be removed. We will be perfect and eternal in the person we now are.
This is our great hope and we look forward to it, but we still don’t look forward to the experience of death that precedes the fulfillment of this hope.
My mother-in-law is 88 years old and when she was out last weekend, we talked about death. Menno had said that death is not a pleasant thought. Even for my mother-in-law who is into bonus years according to the average and whose body is failing, she groans and does not look forward to death. How do we reconcile our glorious hope with the reality of our fear of death?
You know when you go to the doctor for certain types of exams. They put you in a room and ask you to put on this flimsy little cover up. It has gaps in all the wrong places. You aren’t exactly naked, but you feel like it. You hate the process of becoming naked in order to be examined, but you bear it because you want to know have the help that is offered by the examination. So you put up with the near nakedness and the discomfort but you don’t like it.
Death is spoken of by Paul as being unclothed and he says in verse 4 “we do not wish to be unclothed.”
I heard about someone whose spouse died. They tried to be focused on the eternal promises and insisted that the funeral of their spouse be a celebration. They determined within themselves not to cry, but to rejoice. This kind of an approach is neither realistic nor healthy. The Bible describes death as punishment and even in the New Testament, describes it as an enemy. Nowhere in the Bible does the Bible say that we should look at death as nothing. It is a process of becoming naked and we do not want to become naked. Whether it is our death or that of a loved one, we sorrow and will always face death with a certain amount of fear.
But we do not groan without hope. We do not walk through it without the possibility of peace. The power of Christ’s resurrection promises that we also will rise. We can face this being unclothed with calmness in our heart because what has been promised is sure.
We know it is sure because as Paul says in 5:5, “…it is God who has made us for this very purpose…” God is the God of life. He always moves towards life. God is not the death making God, but the one who creates life and has made us for life. In other words, by the grace of God, through faith, we are destined for life.
The assurance that these things are so is already within us. The life principle lives within us because of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. We read on in verse 5, “…and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” God has made us for life and the Spirit within us is the evidence that the God given, resurrection life is within us. The presence of the spirit is not a “static deposit” but the life power which raised Jesus and will raise us.
So, since we are looking forward to a permanent house, how do we live?
Many years ago Euripides wrote, “Old men’s prayers for death are lying prayers, in which they abuse old age and long extent of life. But when death draws near, not one is willing to die, and age no longer is a burden to them.”
John Milton wrote, “I fled, and cry’d out, DEATH! Hell trembled at the hideous name, and sigh’d From all her caves, and back resounded, DEATH!”
In one of his poems, Robert Burns says, “But, oh! fell death’s untimely frost That nipt my flower sae early.”
Each of these writers express the fear and loss of death. In contrast, Paul says, “Therefore we are always confident.” What a contrast.
Why such confidence? Because life is within us and life is our hope. There is nothing that can separate us from the life that is ours. We can confidently serve God in leprosy camps, AIDS hospitals, violent neighbourhoods. We can live by the knowledge and hope that we are looking forward to something better. A hope that has been demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ allows us to live with confidence instead of fear.
Do we live in such confidence? The only way we can live in confidence is if, by faith, we trust God’s word that beyond death, is life. It is only as we put before our eyes the understanding that eternal life is real. Are we keeping our eye on the old tent that is fading away, or are we keeping our eyes on the permanent building that will last for all eternity. If we keep our eyes on the permanent building, we will be able to live with confidence.
If we are living with the understanding that this wearing out tent is all there is, we will live a life that has this earth and the things of it as the primary goal of our passion and pursuit. If this crumbling tent is all there is, we might as well embellish it as much as we can and invite everyone to the part, because when it is folded up, there is no more.
But, if we understand that this tent is going to be folded up in order to move into the eternal building from God, suddenly how we live changes completely.
Paul says, “So we make it our goal to please him…”
In order to understand why there is such a significant connection between our life now and the eternal life to which we are looking forward, Paul goes on to remind us that “we will all appear before the judgement seat of Christ.” What kind of judgement is spoken of here? Because some want to avoid every thought that we are made righteous by our deeds they have suggested that it is only a judgement of reward for faithfulness, but that does not do justice to the passage. We are going to be judged for eternity according to “while in the body.”
James helps us understand what Paul is talking about here when he says in 2:17, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” We are saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. But, that salvation results in change. If there is no difference in us, can it really be said that we are saved? That we have received Christ? Where genuine faith exists, it is demonstrated by the deeds that follow. The one who has hope in Christ is forgiven and the Spirit of God comes to live in that person. When the Spirit of God is in that person, a new lifestyle follows. If your life is no different than it was before you were a Christian, have you become a Christian? Have you received the Spirit? Is the Spirit making you different?
That is why, if our focus is on the permanent home we are looking forward to, we will live now pleasing the one who is preparing that home for us. Last week, Menno explained some of the ways in which we must live as we look forward to resurrection.
The issue of death became personal for us this week. The 21 year old son of a friend of ours died in very tragic circumstances. As I thought about this, I was sorry that a life was snuffed out so early. I thought about the pain that the parents, siblings and grand-parents are going through. I had to remind myself that this grief is natural because we do not want to be naked. Death is an enemy! But I also thought about the hope of resurrection and the mercy of God. I realized that this earthly tent is wasting away and that we are looking forward to an eternal dwelling. I also thought about how I am living my life.
And so as I think about these things, I also ask you, “How are you living?” Looking toward the heavenly house? With confidence? Pleasing Him?