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What happens to you after you die? What happens to your soul? What happens to your body? Where do you go? These may sound like the kind of dreamy, ethereal questions that are nice to ponder but aren't all that practical. Our minds are so filled with the practical questions of getting through today and on to tomorrow, that we hardly give any thought to our life after death.
C.S. Lewis, in his "Mere Christianity" made the insightful observation that "when you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one." (Mere Christianity. Chapter 10).
If you can't answer these questions about your life after death, your life will be swallowed up by hopelessness and despair, and the only meaning and purpose and direction that makes any sense will be to 'eat, drink and be merry' while you have the chance.
The Bible has much to say about your life after you die. And it's all focused in on the life and death and life after death of Jesus Christ. What happens to Christ happens to all who are in Christ.
And if you believe that, it will powerfully shape the meaning and purpose and direction of your life before death. The philosopher Pascal once said, "I have learned to define life backwards and live life forwards." By that what he meant was that he first defined the meaning of his life by looking back upon the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ, and then he let that determine the way he lived his life forwards.
In our epistle reading from 2 Corinthians, 5, St. Paul tells us about the sure and certain hope that we have been given about our life after death. He begins by showing us what our life after death is going to be like, and then he concludes by showing us how that sets the purpose and direction our life in this world saying, "And so we make it our aim to please God." Let's look closely at his inspired words.
Vs. 1: "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
Paul compares our physical body in this life to a tent. Paul knows something about tents being a tentmaker by trade before he became an Evangelist. Tents are meant to be temporary living quarters, not permanent. As tents get older, the canvass stretches and sags and doesn't hang on the poles the way it used to. Sometimes, tents get holes in them and they leak. Sometimes they fall down. I think the points of comparison to our physical body are obvious enough that we don't have to point them out.
Tents are made for people on a journey. When the Israelites were on the move from Egypt to the Promised Land they lived in tents. They even worshiped God in a tent. It was called a 'tabernacle.' Literally, a 'skin tent.' That's the word that Paul uses here for our body, a "skaynei,." a skin tent.
Once you reach your destination, you don't want to live in a tent anymore, you want something permanent. Paul compares the body that we will have in heaven to a building. A building "not made with hands."
Every building, no matter how majestic and well built will eventually either fall down or be torn down. As they came out of the Temple in Jerusalem, one of Jesus disciples said to Him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what magnificent buildings!" "And Jesus said to them, 'Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down." And later He said, "Destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands." (Mark 13:1-2, 14:58). And John tells us that the Temple Jesus referred to, was His body. (John 2:22).
The body of Jesus Christ is the building from God, 'not made with hands,' 'eternal in the heavens.' So when St. Paul tells us that when the tent that is our earthly body is destroyed, "we have a building from God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens," he is comparing our body in heaven to the resurrected and glorious body of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Make no mistake about it, when Jesus rose from the dead on the 3rd day, He had a body. But His resurrected body was not the same sort of body as the one born of Mary and crucified on the cross for our redemption. With His resurrected body, He walked right through the stone that sealed His tomb and doors that were locked. He walked along the Emmaus Road with his disciples, but they didn't recognize Him. His resurrected body ascended into the sky, above the clouds and into heaven without wings or propellers.
And yet, His resurrected body was still a physical body. It bore the holes from the nails and spears into which Thomas could put his hands, and by those wounds recognize Him to be the same One who was crucified, died and buried.
This is the kind of body that we will have in heaven after this body that we have now is destroyed.
Can we begin now to understand how awesome it is that even now, before this earthly tent of ours is destroyed, Jesus Christ gives us His resurrected body to eat and drink as a foretaste of the body that we will have, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Already, even now, Paul says, you are the 'body of Christ and individually members of it.' (1 Cor. 12:27).
So, how do we live our life in this body until we receive our new body? Paul is no idealist or dreamer. He tells it like it is. Vs.2 – 3: "For in this tent, we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked."
Paul's words here have a primeval ring to them. In the beginning, God made a human body out of the dust of the earth and into Adam's body, God breathed His breath and the man became a living being. From the beginning man's life is made up of this divine union of body and soul. In the beginning, when the entire history of the world consisted of just six days, Adam's body was a glorious body. Perfect in every way, made to last forever, a building not made with hands, meant to be eternal. Eve's body taken from Adam's was just as glorious. They were both perfect 10's. And they were both naked and felt no shame. The word 'shame' hadn't yet even been invented yet. It had no meaning.
But then the man and woman used their glorious bodies against their Creator. With the eyes that God made, they looked at the forbidden fruit. With the hands that God made, they grabbed hold of it. With the lips and the teeth and the mouth that God made, they ate it.
And suddenly, they realized that they were naked and they tried to hide their bodies from each other and from the God who made them. "Adam, where are you?" called God. 'I was naked and I hide myself' replied Adam. "Who told you that you were naked?" God asked. The guilt of Adam's sin told him. Adam's God given conscience screamed at him. And Eve's did the same.
Suddenly, a whole new vocabulary had to be invented to express their life in this once glorious body. Words like 'pain' and 'sweat' and 'groaning' and that most vulgar of all curse words, 'death.' God's curse for their sin was inflicted upon the glorious body that they had used against Him. To the woman God said, "I will multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children." And to the man God said, "In pain shall you eat of the ground all the days of your life. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread." And "to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:16-19). Your earthly tent will be destroyed.
Ever since then, men and women have been groaning under the curse of sin on account of Adam, an account into which we have deposited large contributions of our own sin. To the Romans, Paul writes, "for we know that the whole creation has been GROANING together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, GROAN inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption OF OUR BODIES." (Romans 8:22-23)
We groan under the consequences of our sin and guilt. Our bodies groan with cancer and multiple sclerosis, heart attacks and diabetes, arthritis and sore knees, swine flu and common colds. "In this tent we groan."
And God, in His great mercy, heard their groaning just as He hears ours. Ashamed to stand naked before their Creator, God clothed their bodies. "Now the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them." (Gen.3:21). The BODY of an innocent animal was killed to cover the guilty BODY of Adam and Eve. And although the Bible never says just what kind of animal it was that was killed to cover Adam's sin, I, for one, would bet everything that it was a lamb.
The daily groaning we experience in this earthly tent makes us long to put on our heavenly dwelling, the building made with out hands, eternal in the heavens, the body of Christ, who covers our guilty body with His precious and holy body so that we would not be found naked before God.
Vs. 4 – 5: "For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee."
The animal skins that God cut for Adam and Eve were temporary. In time, God would cut a new covering for His people out of the body of His only begotten son. In Christ, we are "further clothed." And Paul has his heart set on that day when through death, his body will be swallowed up into a new body, a better body, a glorious body, a resurrected and living body.
Paul is simply repeating what he had said so memorably in his 1st letter to the Corinthians, "When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (1 Cor. 15:54) "What is mortal is swallowed up by life."
Even now, in your baptism, God has given you the guarantee of this by giving you His Holy Spirit who has already made your body His holy temple.
Vs. 6-8: "So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord."
Here we are in this tent that is being destroyed. This is not paradise. We are foreigners and aliens here, temporary residents. Yet, we know, with absolute confidence where we're going and what lies ahead. Heaven is our home and we long to be there. But for now we live as in exile.
The 1st Adam was cast out of paradise because of his sin. And because we sin, we are also live in exile. But the 2nd Adam has opened the gates of paradise again and has gone to prepare a place for us in it.
So for now, we live by faith and not by sight. We "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (2Cor.4:18).
Vs. 9 – 10: "And so we make it our aim to please Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil."
So, fix your minds on things above, not on earthly things. Make it your aim to please God with your life while you can. Adam and Eve had to stand before God who required them to give an account for their actions in the body. "What is this that you have done?" It'll be the same for us.
This is not the judgment between the living and the dead. Your salvation and eternal life in heaven is solely by the grace of God through faith alone for Christ's sake alone. But we will still be held morally accountable for our actions while in the body that God has given us in this life.
But even this judgment, we face with "good courage." For we will not be found naked before God. We know that will be swallowed up by life, clothed with the guiltless, sinless body of Christ, a building not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.