2 Corinthians 5:1-5 “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. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
Brigadier Stephen Saunders, 52, Britain’s defence attache to Greece, was driving to work through Athens in June 2000 when he was shot dead by the left-wing terrorist-group which call themselves ‘November 17.’ So “the earthly tent” he lived in was destroyed, not by age and decay but by unspeakable murder. His wife Heather will be going back to Athens on the anniversary of his death and will read a passage from the Bible that is helpful to her. Stephen and Heather had bought a fantastic rambling Dorset mill house “built by human hands” for themselves and their two teenage daughters. He had loved it and they were looking forward to spending the rest of their lives in that house before that hope was destroyed by four bullets from a 3ft G3 semi-automatic assault rifle shot at close range into the Rover 820 which Stephen was driving along a busy city street. Heather talks about that mean and reprehensible murder and says that it has completely changed the person she was: “I am never going to be Mrs Heather Saunders again. They have taken my future” (The Times, March 22, 2001). Stephen Saunders was destroyed and the house of their future life together seems too big for Heather and the girls.
What do we say about death and the hope which a Christian has when we live in such a rotten world? To all of us death is going to come as the great destroyer. It will not spare a single person. It kills some in the womb, while others who have lived for a hundred years have no grounds to imagine that they have escaped him. Death is biding his time. It will come to very few as brutally as it came to Stephen Saunders, but come it will. For most of us our experience will be infancy dying, then childhood dying, then youth dying, then manhood dying, then old age dying. Sometimes we too have been driving in a car when we’ve felt death was suddenly upon us, then we regained control and we are here today. ‘A brush with death,’ we call it. But one day, I say, it will completely clean us up. The merciless destroyer is going to terminate the lives of each one of us without any exceptions. The longest life is merely a more lingering anticipation of that appointment. My talking to you today about death will not bring it a moment nearer.
“Three centuries ago a story went round about a student visit to Thomas Goodwin, the Puritan president of Magdalen College, Oxford. In the dark study Goodwin opened the conversation by asking if his visitor were ready to die. The lad fled. The story was told for laughs then, as it would be now; but it ought to be said that if it really happened, Goodwin was asking a proper pastoral question that should not be made fun of, whatever we might think of his technique. For however old or young you are, one secret of inner peace and living to the full is to be realistically prepared for death – packed up, we might say, and ready to go. It is not absurd for us to remind each other of that fact” (J.I.Packer, “God’s Words,” InterVarsity Press, 1981, p.213).
How does the Christian look at death? That is the theme of our text. You see its context? Paul has been saying things like this, that “outwardly we are wasting away” (4:16), and that all that our eyes look upon is a temporary phenomenon. These mortal bodies are temporary. Our marriages and friendships are temporary, and even this vast universe itself in its present form. Yet there is something permanent. Paul says, “inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (4:16), and our “troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory” (4:17). The sky not the grave is our goal. Not putrefaction but the heavenly realm is what we fix our eyes upon. That is the context of this particular teaching. He is talking about that which can transcend death. What is the nature and destiny of our mortal bodies? That is the theme of these verses.
“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” (v.1). We know this, Paul affirms. He identifies himself with those members of the Corinthian church to whom he brought the gospel and whom he is pastoring. He is saying that we are not ignorant about death and resurrection, and that we know what lies before us because we have had the apostolic teaching. What they know and what Paul knows is one united knowledge. In other words, these words are written by a Christian to Christians, and to those exclusively – “we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” ‘If” this happens, Paul says, that is, if Paul should die before Christ returns he will have this building from God. If Christ returns before we die we will be caught up into the air to meet him and we will be changed immediately. But if the second coming is delayed and “the earthly tent we live in is destroyed,” – do not fear – “we have a building from God” – and we most certainly know that this is so.
Let me make sure you know of whom these verses are speaking. They are not addressed promiscuously to all men, but to the twice-born. Let me give you an example of one such man and how he was reconciled to God. I was reading this week the story of the first missionary of the Irish Evangelical Church, Dr Harold C. Lindsay. In 1932 during his college years he was converted. Before that he had gone through five years of rejecting the faith of his parents. “I wandered into the far country,” he confessed. Then one day, quite sovereignly, “there came a yearning for the old paths.” He asked himself, “Could the Bible possibly be true? Did Christ really exist? These were questions which arose in my soul. Being prompted by the Spirit I went quickly to my room and kneeling down to pray for the first time for years I asked for a conviction that Christ existed. A cry, born of a sense of need, no matter how faint and feeble it may be, will yet pierce the high vault of heaven and bring down a ready response. ‘Before they call I will answer, and while they are yet speaking I will hear,’ (Isaiah 65:24). There and then I was given a fresh love for my Redeemer, a reverent belief in God’s Word and a deep longing for the fellowship of those of the household of faith.” I want you please to know that this is a distinct possibility for every one of you. In other words, conversion is not something that happens to others, to distinctively religious sorts of people. Every kind of person, coming from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of needs, can be and has been converted by the grace of God, through believing the truth and casting himself on the Lord. Within five years Harold Lindsay was a missionary in Peru where he spent the rest of his life. You don’t have to become a missionary, but you have to become a true Christian. This is the sort of person Paul is writing to and standing alongside saying, “we know” these things. They are all people who have become Christians, whether suddenly or over a long period. We are talking about men like those two who are about to be baptized on profession of their faith tonight. In other words, these words of Paul do not apply to those who are without Christ. They are without any such hope. What does the apostle say in these verses?
1] OUR PRESENT BODIES ARE LIKE EARTHLY TENTS.
Paul was a tentmaker. He repaired tents. He was familiar with the way they became worn and frail. He himself was becoming worn and frail. He thought that the symbol of a tent was a great picture of the human body. The apostle Peter also used this picture: “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside” (2 Pet. 1:13&14). The children of Israel lived in tents for forty years as they were wandering in the desert. They were pilgrims in this world. Once a year they were reminded about that at the Feast of Tabernacles when all the people of God should have moved out of their fine houses and gone to live for a week in primitive dwellings made of woven branches. Through this temporary impoverishment God was saying to them, “Remember that this world is not your home. You are not here permanently. You are pilgrims who must soon be striking camp and going home.” So our very bodies are like tents. They are temporary dwellings. I ask you, “How is the tent this morning? Getting a bit threadbare, and unsupple, and stiff?”
2] OUR PRESENT ‘TENTS’ ARE GOING TO BE DESTROYED.
This tent of ours is going to be dismantled. It may be made of pure silk or gold lame or a space-age super metal. It makes no difference because in the end it is going to be taken down. However you seek to preserve your body by exercise and diet and plastic surgery, in the end it is going to be destroyed. In 1997 Dr James Dobson, the man who has written so much about the family, toured the Graceland mansion, the former home of Elvis Presley in Memphis. He says, “I was struck by the utter insignificance of the stuff Elvis left behind. It led me to ask, so what? So what if there are hundreds of tarnished gold and platinum records hanging side by side in the mansion. So what if RCA gave Elvis a trophy nine feet high and designated him as the greatest entertainer of all time? So what if he received gushy letters from the world’s celebrities and had his photo taken with President Nixon? So what? It is all ‘wood, hay and stubble’ now (I Cor.3:12).
“It is equally true of my own life. So what if I leave a similar legacy to those who come after me? Who cares, in the end? What difference does it make if trophies hang on the walls of my last home or if powerful and influential people knew me? It is of no consequence even worth mentioning” (“Family News from Dr James Dobson,” August 1997). The lesson is clear for all of us. In the end every one of us will fill one wooden box and this ‘tent’ will be destroyed in the ground or by the elements. When Elvis Presley had been in a coffin three months and when I will have been in a coffin three months there is nothing to choose between our decaying. We will both stink, and that is our inescapable destination. We can as soon run from ourselves as run from death. So our present bodies are going to be destroyed.
3] OUR PRESENT ‘TENTS’ WIL BE REPLACED BY HEAVENLY DWELLINGS.
This is the heart of this passage: “We have a building from God, not built by human hands” (v.1). The houses we build for ourselves and our families may, at their best, be a shadowy foretaste of a more permanent heavenly home. Across every dream home in this world the words are written, “Till Death Us Do Part.” There is a glorious dwelling awaiting all God’s people. Someone overheard a conversation between a wealthy woman and a boy from a council house. He was staring at a some luxury new homes one of which belonged to her, and he said quite artlessly to her, “Is it those council houses you live in?” She was horrified. How could anyone describe her million pound home, designed, built and furnished so exquisitely, as a ‘council house’? It is just as hard for people in the world to believe that in comparison with what God is going to do in eternity for his own our present dream houses are like threadbare tents soon to be destroyed. However magnificent they may seem today they are a shadow of the reality that is yet to be for the children of God. When the Christian’s tent is pulled down in death then he will move to a house. Our refugee status will come to an end. We will no longer be pilgrims constantly on the move. We will be home at last. We will exchange a tent for a house. Almighty God, not an alleged evolutionary process, will be its maker. Our new bodies will not be the result of the combination of forces and potencies within man himself, because all of that will be moribund dust and ashes. This new home will not be the creature’s achievement but the Creator’s handiwork. He will arise and set to work, and he will use his omnipotence, and all his creative skill, and his sense of beauty, and we will have “a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands” (v.1).
Paul is so certain of this being done that he uses the present tense: “we have” it! If your own home might be in Cornwall while you are temporally in residence in Wales you would say, “we have our home in Cornwall” even though you are living at the moment hundreds of miles away. The old Negro spiritual song says, “I have a home in glory that’s brighter than the sun,” captures this conviction. “Temporally I am now living in a slave’s hut, but my house is in heaven, every bit as glorious as my master’s.” So, the Christian at death anticipates entering his prepared home.
This is not the conviction of these Corinthian verses alone in the Bible. Consider the final verses of Philippians chapter three: “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phils. 3:20&21). It is the same contrast as in our text between a present lowly body and a future glorious body, a temporary tent which will be transformed into an eternal house designed and constructed by the Lord himself.
Paul in that Philippians’ passage declares that our heavenly bodies will be like the Lord Christ’s glorious body. How was Jesus’ resurrection body? Unspooky. Unghostlike. Unmystical. The body was obviously as physical as the disciples’ bodies. He bore the marks of his crucifixion. There were the wounds in his hands and side and feet. He ate a meal with them, and invited them to touch and handle him. He spoke often with them and answered their questions. There was continuity to Jesus’ appearance and thinking and teaching and personality and affections before the cross and after the resurrection. It was the same bodily Jesus. But it was different too, in that immediately they did not recognise him, as if he had been on a long journey to a terrible place and had suffered indescribable and unalleviated torment so that when he came back it had altered him greatly, and you had to look and ask, “Is that Jesus?”.
My room-mate at Westminster Theological Seminary was a Canadian called Donald MacLeod. His parents were C.I.M. missionaries and his father was captured by the Japanese and put in a prisoner of war camp for the duration of the war. His mother spoke often to Donald about his father through the six years of the war in their home in Philadelphia and showed him photos of their wedding day of this young man and his bride. Then the war ended and finally his father came back to the USA and travelled by train to the station in Philadelphia. Donald and his mother went to meet him. His days that were different from other children’s as a fatherless child were going to end. “Daddy’s coming! Daddy’s coming!” The train pulled in and stopped. People alighted and he looked at various young men, but they were not his father. Finally this old man clambered down from the train, and after a moment his mother recognised him as her husband. The marks of the Japanese concentration camp were on him. His son Donald did not recognise him from the description of his mother or from the photos of his father which he had looked at for six years. It was indeed his father, but all the pain that he had endured had drastically changed him.
So it was with Christ. He had entered the anathema of God. On Golgotha he had been in the lake of fire. He had been in outer darkness where the worm does not die and the fires are not quenched. He had gone through that, enduring so much and he was fresh from the reunion of body and soul in resurrection. Little wonder that his disciples did not recognise immediately the Nazarene. Surely you would expect that? If Golgotha was a serious business, if cosmic guilt were being dealt with, if there were a real condemnation for our sinfulness which he voluntarily chose to endure, if the sight of the cup brought from his lips an earnest request that there might be another cup, surely you would not expect the Lord to take it all in his stride and emerge from death sun-tanned and smiling? Climbing Golgotha was not a breeze.
You must also remember that all this was before his ascension and glorification. It was a very different impression the same risen Lord later made on Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road or on the apostle John on Patmos. This same Christ had by the time of those encounters been glorified by God in body and soul. It is that glorification of the Lord Christ which is the pattern of what God will do with us, not the pattern of Christ’s resurrection described in the last chapters of the gospels. But Paul’s point is that it is the same person who was Mary’s boy-child who is resurrected, appearing to his disciples and then glorified.
One more passage that casts light on what Paul is saying here, contrasting the present body and the resurrection body is I Corinthians 15:35-55. Let us read it in full because it is the key biblical passage to understanding this subject:
“But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come? How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendour of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendour of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendour.
“So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven. I declare to you brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?'” (I Cors. 15:35-55).
What can we say about this declaration of extraordinary hope and triumph? Three things:
i] A seed is sown in the ground and germinates bringing forth fruit. That familiar sight is like the connection between the body in its coffin lowered into the ground and the future resurrection body. There is an enormous difference between a sown grain of wheat in early spring and the tall summer stalk with its head of wheat, but that seed and that fruit are one kind. So too the resurrection of the body is the resurrection of one distinctive human being with a unique name, with a personality and face and dimensions. The Christian body to be raised will be new and changed, but it will be the resurrection of a special human being with a name – as the angel said to the disciples, “This same Jesus” will come again (Acts 1:11). The Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that “the dead will be raised with the self-same bodies, and none other, although with different qualities” (32:2).
ii] There is a natural or earthly body, and there will also be a spiritual or heavenly body, and a number of such contrasts are mentioned concerning what our bodies were and what our bodies will be. When Paul speaks of a ‘spiritual body’ he is not referring to a non-material and ‘spooky’ body which is virtually a ghost, but a body controlled and filled with the life of the Holy Spirit. That is what ‘spiritual body’ refers to, not our spirits but the Holy Spirit. One body is necessary at this present age; another body will be necessary in the age to come. When God has finally conquered death and sin and its consequences, and lifted the effects of the curse from the earth then we will need another body which reflects that deliverance. The resurrection body will be enduring and indescribably powerful. They will still be human, but our bodies will be very different from these bodies that sit in the pews on Sundays, and don’t hear everything I say when I drop my voice; bodies that itch, and sneeze, and are conscious of a heart beating irregularly; bodies that get stiff. You new bodies will be as different from them as an orchid in full bloom is different from an orchid bulb. Those new bodies will no longer be ravaged by sin and its consequences but will be fit to survive in the holy presence of God and gaze and gaze at him.
In a sense that is a normal human relationship with Jehovah. The new body is one of the regained blessings that our father Adam lost. He ate the fruit and began to die immediately. Mortality came upon him and his seed. The beautiful house that God had made his body from the dust of the earth became a decaying tent. But in Christ the beautiful house is restored and utterly renovated by the Designer of the universe himself. It will be a greater blessing than our father lost. Scott Oliphant and Sinclair Ferguson tell us, “We have a friend who went to his physician complaining of an ongoing sense of general physical lethargy. In the course of some tests his doctors discovered that he was not breathing in an adequate supply of oxygen when he was sleeping. He thus had to sleep wearing an oxygen appliance that enabled him to inhale an adequate supply of oxygen. At first he found this uncomfortable, but the transformation in him was remarkable. The lethargy disappeared. He had actually begun to feel that his lethargy was normal. Now he comments, ‘I can’t believe how great normal life is!’
Oliphant and Ferguson comment, “In some ways resurrection life will be like that transformation. The resurrection body will be full of power and energy. Today, living in the Spirit, so that our still-sinful and weakened bodies serve as his temple, is a struggle for us. We have to battle against sin and Satan. Some of us struggle with depressing, long-term physical disabilities. We long to be set free. But then, in a body that is adapted completely to a life of holiness and fellowship with God through the Spirit, obedience with be natural. Indeed it will be easy!” (K Scott Oliphant & Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Hoping for Heaven,” p.81, Crossway Books, 1995),
iii] Paul also brings in Adam and Christ as the two federal heads of the old humanity and the new humanity. These present feeble dying bodies of ours reflect the reality that we are joined to our fallen father Adam. The new resurrection bodies which one day we will have reflect our being joined to our risen God Jesus Christ. The first body is under the liability of sin, weak and dishonourable, while the second is under the dominion and blessing of Christ’s redemption. It will be so conformed to the image of Christ that no vestige of the destructive powers of sin will remain. There are just these two states, two destinations and nothing more for every Christian. From the earthly tent on earth to the eternal house in heaven. There is no other place that we call into on the way, no vestibule to heaven to stay for a few thousand years getting prepared for our eternal house in glory. In other words, nowhere in the New Testament is there any place for purgatory, for some intermediary state of expiation or purification after death. To the repentant dying thief Jesus said nothing of purgatory to purge away the guilt of his wicked past. The Lord said, “Today thou wilt be with me in paradise.”
So the Christian has the hope of his body becoming an eternal house in heaven which God in his love is going to make. That was our Lord’s own hope. Jesus once was speaking to the Jews and he said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews did not understand him. They thought that he was referring to the temple that Herod had built in Jerusalem which Jesus was claiming he could rebuild single-handed in three days, and they shouted, “‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19-22). If our own heavenly bodies will be like wonderful houses, then the body of the Son of God will be like a glorious divine temple, because in all things he must have the pre-eminence.
4] WHILE WE ARE IN THIS EARTHLY ‘TENT’, WE ARE GROANING FOR THAT ETERNAL HOUSE.
“Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life” (vv. 2-4).
The mark of every true Christian is that he groans. Consider the words of the eighth chapter of Romans, one of the greatest chapters in all of holy writ. Paul writes, “We know” – there it is again – “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rms. 8:22&23). Don’t you groan as you see scenes of the slaughter and burning of thousands of animals in this Foot and Mouth epidemic? Don’t you groan at the murder of Stephen Saunders? This is a rotten world. But more than that, don’t you groan at your own follies? Your foolish tongue running away with you and hurting people, giving bad advice, stirring up strife? Don’t you groan that the sins that were defeating you forty years ago are defeating you still?
But Paul is speaking about a groaning whose focus is a “longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.” There is a time coming soon when there’ll be no more pestilence, no murder, no foolish speaking, no hatred of one for another, no strife or any such thing. We know that this is going to happen to us soon and we groan that the time will come quickly when we are clothed with our heavenly dwelling. Paul talks about the possibility of being found naked, and by this he probably means his hatred of the idea of being a disembodied soul. He hated the idea of a ghost-like being without a body. “I don’t want to be found like that,” he says. So while he lived in this tent he groaned and was just weighed down for the time to come when he would be clothed with his heavenly home, his resurrection body. He wanted that beautiful home to be his own, and completely take over this feeble little tent and swallow it up, so that the mortal would be swallowed up by life. You lay your loved one’s body in the grave, but on the great day of resurrection the Prince of Life will appear, and the trumpet will sound, and those mortal remains will be swallowed up by life.
Why then did Paul and the early Christians groan while we groan so little? How is it that we fall so far behind them in living the Christian life? Why has this spirit come into the contemporary church that virtually hates the doctrine of the Christian groaning for the glories of heaven?
The first remark we make in answering our question is this, that we cannot enter into the experience of the early church and share their exultant longings for heaven unless we labour as they did. If we are strangers in abounding always in the work of the Lord, and if we are never weary in the God’s work because we so rarely do it, then why should we be groaning for the rest which heaven gives? Do we know what this particular beatitude is in our own experience? “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10). If no one ever criticises us for being too religious then we are not likely to be people aching for heaven. We who have access to a tap and a glass of cold water whenever we want one can have no idea of the intense longings of those who wander around a desert under the blazing sun, dehydrated and perishing from thirst. We read a psalm like Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul longs for God, for the living God.” We wonder at language like that, and we try to work ourselves up into that panting groaning frame of mind, but we can’t do it. It is utterly impossible while we are not living as we should be living for Jesus, and are not working tirelessly in the Lord’s work as we should be. Groaning for our resurrection bodies in heaven is impossible while we are at ease and satisfied with our lives. We must know trials for Jesus if we would rejoice in Jesus.
The second remark we would make is this, that this groaning need not be from the lashings and stoning and shipwreck and imprisonment and bloodshed that Paul knew. The groaning can come from inward conflicts, our own stupidity, our pride, the burden of our sin, our regrets, our laziness, our sins of omission, how we have hurt those who love us the most and whom we are so dependent upon. Paul felt burdens like that and he cried, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” The great truth is that we cannot have strong aspirations after holy living, and long for our heavenly home and a resurrection body and joy in the presence of God unless proportionately we experience the evil of sin and the dissatisfying nature of everything that mere creatures can offer us – be they our children, our spouses, our achievements at work, or whatever. None of those things can deeply satisfy the heart of man. God has made us for himself and not for anything else.
The third remark we would make is this, that even we 21st century disciples who limp and stumble along at such a low level of Christian living, can yet gain great comfort from this text. Let me use that illustration again: we may not drink a glass of water with the same relish as a thirsty man who has been wandering for hours in a desert, but for us water is a constant and indispensable refreshment. Everyone has enough to make them certain that they can’t survive without it, and all look forward to their next drink. So it is with this theme we are considering. I have made you think about your own death, and you can look at it as Christians without terror as though it were some place of utter darkness. It is for you a blessed hope, and even if we do not appreciate it and long for it as we should, still the doctrine of the resurrection of the body and the hope of everlasting life is our only comfort in life and death.
The fourth remark we would make is this, that the hope of our having this house not made with hands eternal in the heavens is given to us in order to wean us from this world. God has spoken to us and said to us, “I want you Christians to realise deep in your hearts what lies before you immediately you die. I am talking about an event just a few brief years ahead. Straight away you will be with me, as holy as my blessed Son, with a resurrected body just like his. That is where you are heading. One of the reasons I have told you this today is that you stop being as worldly-minded as you are. If you set your affections below it will degrade you, and take you away from me. If you set your affections on things above then you will purify yourselves as I am pure.”
What is it to be heavenly minded? It means having our future hope of heaven constantly present to our minds as an object of thought and desire. Richard Baxter every day of his life would spend some time considering heaven. Heavenly-mindedness also means encouraging within ourselves thoughts and feelings and affections which are congenial with heaven. Then we are approximately like those who are now in heaven, and what we ourselves will one day be.
Dr J.I.Packer has some wise Puritan-like exhortations at the close of one of his fine essays, this one being on death, and how we can prepare ourselves for our eternal house in heaven: “Be wholly committed to Christ’s service each day. Don’t touch sin with a barge-pole. Keep short accounts with God. Think of each hour as God’s gift to you, to make the most and best of. Plan your life, budgeting for seventy years (Ps.90:10), and understanding that if your time proves shorter that will not be unfair deprivation but rapid promotion. Never let the good, or the not-so-good, crowd out the best, and cheerfully forgo what is not the best for the sake of what is. Live in the present; gratefully enjoy its pleasures and work through its pains with God, knowing that both the pleasures and the pains are steps on the journey home. Open all your life to the Lord Jesus and spend time consciously in his company, basking in and responding to his love. Say to yourself often that every day is one day nearer. Remember that, as George Whitefield said, man is immortal till his work is done (though God alones defines the work), and get on with what you know to be God’s task for you here and now” (J.I.Packer, “God’s Words”, InterVarsity Press, 1981, p.214).
None of that is easy; we groan because we can be so enthusiastic about trivia and fleeting worldly pleasures and we banish from our minds serious thinking of death and heaven. What phantoms we are! Little wonder we are burdened, but not enough so.
5] GOD STRENGTHENS US AND ASSURES US OF THIS ETERNAL HOUSE.
“Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (v.5). Then we are without excuse for not being heavenly minded. Not only is there divine revelation, inspired by the Spirit, telling us infallibly of what happens after death, but God has made us for this very purpose. That is why we have been elected, justified and preserved by grace that we might go at last to heaven saved by his precious blood. Think of the catechism. Who made me? God made me. What else did God make? God made all things. Why did God make all things? For his own glory. Then I slip in this question: what is God’s purpose for me? And I answer, that I might be clothed in my heavenly dwelling, and the proof-text is, “It is God who has made us for this very purpose.” Not that I might have health, and not that I might have riches. They were not God’s purposes for the church or she would be endowed with them, but that we might have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. This is why God made us, and to miss out on this is to lose your chief end in life.
But more than that, for this same purpose God has given us the indwelling Spirit as a guarantee. The word was used in the business world of the apostle’s day as a deposit made by a buyer to the seller guaranteeing that the full amount would be paid over at the proper time. Paul uses it of God the Holy Spirit who has been given to every Christian as a confirmation that they will fully participate in the promised glories of the age to come. God desires us to know that this wonderfully permanent home in heaven will be ours. He has not only told us about it very clearly in the Scriptures but he has experientially entered our hearts and by the Spirit convinced us that this is so. Why does every Christian believe in heaven? Because it is revealed so clearly in the Bible and because the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirits that after death is the sure and certain hope of glory. We know that we shall be raised up and clothed with a resurrection body because of the inner witness. He has begun the good work in us; will he not complete it in the day of Christ?
It is extraordinary grace. To save us God gave his Son for us. To assure us of the glories of this salvation God gives to us his Spirit. You would expect some ten percent deposit of glory, some little experience or foretaste of it. You might expect God to make the promise spectacularly clear in the Bible. These things he does but much more. He gives us 100%. God gives God to us – as a deposit. Some deposit! “I have given you God, then I will surely give you a resurrection body in heaven!” If having the blessings of God are great now, what will the presence of God be like?
How do we show that this guaranteeing deposit of the Spirit is truly in us? In our groaning longing for heaven. Not merely that we groan at the foot and mouth epidemic, and at the murder of a young husband, shot in his car on his way to work, and groan at the grief experienced by a widow and two teenage daughters. Let us groan with them at that, but that is not an evidence that God has given us the Spirit. We groan for our home in heaven, for likeness to Christ with new resurrection bodies, for the completion of our redemption. When shall we come and appear before God?
So groan on until that coming day when all our groaning will be over.
26th March 2001 GEOFF THOMAS