Sunday, May 22, 2011

Christ's Resurrection and You: A Building Not Made with Hands

Texts:  2 Corinthians 4:13 - 5:10; Luke 24:36-49

    ON THE WHOLE, I'M GLAD the rapture of the saints didn't happen last night at 6:00 PM.  There's  so much more on this earth I want to see and do and accomplish.  But if Harold Camping had been right, and even now we were standing in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, I would possess something I so grievously lack right now.  And that's a full sense and knowledge of the splendour, the goodness, the graciousness, the beauty, the holiness, the indescribable greatness of what my great God and Saviour did for me when He died on the cross and rose again for my sake.

    To know Jesus Christ and the life-giving power of His resurrection is the most marvellous, desirable thing you and I can ever experience.  There is no end to the benefits we derive from Him!  We've seen these past weeks how Jesus' resurrection enabled us to be adopted as children of God.  How by it we are brought into His new covenant and brought into the nurture of our mother, the Church.  How Jesus rose again to strip off our old filthy sinful natures and clothe us instead in our new selves, which is the shining glorious garment of His righteousness and love.   How amazing is Jesus Christ our Lord, who was crucified for our sins and rose that we might live His life forever!  How glorious and splendid are all His gifts to us!  Just thinking about them, we should be in a continual state of rapture all day long!

    But you know how it is, and so do I.  The good things of this world, and its troubles as well, hang like a curtain between us and the jaw-dropping vision of Christ and His resurrection benefits.  It's not that we don't believe that Jesus rose again, it's just that other stuff is so present and so pressing, His resurrection and what it means to us isn't something that we consciously dwell on day after day.  It's for Easter Sunday, and maybe a week or two thereafter.  Good to know about, but not exactly relevant to what we're dealing with now.

    At least, that's how it seems.  It seems that way too with our own resurrection, the one St. Paul so eloquently writes about in 1 Corinthians 15.  That's for the future, sure, for the day when Jesus really comes back.  But that doesn't seem to be happening real soon. And in the meantime, I'll wager that none of us goes around with a secret smile and a little skip in our step because we, too, someday will have a glorious immortal body like the one Jesus Himself rose in.  I don't say this is the way we should be; it's just a fact of our human nature that it's woefully easy for us to get distracted from heavenly things and forget what we have and Whose we are.  It's especially easy when the distractions have to do with poor health, or poverty, or advancing old age, or the approach of death, for ourselves or those we love.  Who can think of their bodily resurrection when we have so much on our minds?

    But in the fourth and fifth chapters of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul-- speaking by the Holy Spirit-- reveals that those very everyday difficulties and distractions should be signposts and reminders that point us ever and again back to our blessed hope of personal resurrection through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Not only that,  but our very weakness serves to show the great power of God in Christ.  As Paul says earlier in chapter 4, we carry the magnificent good news of Christ died and risen around in clay jars, "to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us."  And so, as our Epistle reading today begins, "‘I believed; therefore I have spoken.'" This is a quotation from Psalm 116:10, where the psalmist has been lamenting his neediness, his trouble, his nearness to death, and what he speaks of in this quoted verse is of his great affliction.   He brings his distress to God in faith that God is One who hears and heals and restores.  And so Paul evokes that same spirit of faith in us, but we have an even greater reason to hope in God than the psalmist did.  For we know that He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and He'll present all of us together to Himself, in His very presence.

    This is our resurrection hope!  This is the gospel grace that even today is reaching more and more people, that thanksgiving may overflow to the glory of God!

    We hold this hope in light of-- perhaps I should say, in contrast to-- the very unhopeful situations we find ourselves in day after day.  Because we trust in the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead, because we trust that He will also raise us with Him, we do not lose heart.

    And it can be so easy in this world to lose heart.  We don't have to be suffering persecution for our faith; ordinary ageing and illness will do it.  We look in the mirror and see the wrinkles and we think, "Wait a minute, when did that happen?  I don't feel that old!"  Or worse, we gaze upon the pale form of a sick loved one languishing full of tubes in a hospital bed, and we know how true it is that our outer nature, our present physical bodies, are indeed wasting away.  But the resurrection life of Christ is even now working its revival in you and me, if indeed we are trusting in the One who raised Jesus Christ from the dead and who will also raise us.  Even now, He is renewing our inner nature, the new self in Christ, day by day.

    We might want to say to Paul, "Hey, you call what I'm going through a ‘light momentary affliction.'  What do you know about the cancer I'm suffering?  Paul, how can you minimize my parent's congestive heart failure?  Paul, people are calling me a hatemongering bigot for standing up for traditional gospel truth.  How can you call that kind of affliction ‘slight'?"

    Oops, scratch that one.  Paul knew a lot about being afflicted for the sake of Christ.  In fact, go back to verses 8-12 of chapter 4 of 2 Corinthians, or skip over to chapters 11 and 12, and you'll see that if any one had sufferings and afflictions, if anyone in Church history knew what it was like to have his outer nature wasted away, it was the Apostle Paul.  But he kept his eyes on the resurrection we're all promised in Christ Jesus.  And therefore he could say that if our present bodily troubles were put in a scale with the glory that will come to us in the resurrection, the glory that's coming to us will far outweigh them all.

    In fact, our present troubles go to contribute to the glory that is to be.  How can this happen?  Disease and trial and suffering aren't virtuous in themselves.  But as we set them in contrast to the resurrection that is to come; especially, as others see our resurrection hope in contrast to what we're going through here on this earth, we glorify our risen Lord, who has promised to share His glory with us.  So, as Paul says, our focus is no longer on how we see things to be in this troubled world; rather, we fix our eyes on what is unseen and eternal. 

    That is, what is unseen for now.  The unbelieving world may say, "Yes, you're looking at what's unseen, all right, because there's nothing there."  We reply, "No, there is something there, beyond the curtain of this failing earthly life.  There is Someone there, who walked this earth and lived and died and rose again for me, and one day I will see Him face to face and know that He is realer and solider and more weighty than anything that can be looked upon in this temporary world."

    Now, I need you to bear with me for a moment, because I'm going to inject something personal, and I don't want it to take away from the glory that belongs to the Scripture or to Jesus Christ, the Lord of Scripture.  It's just that I find it ironic-- or maybe appropriate-- that this passage speaks of looking and seeing.  You know about my eyesight, how I often have to wear two pairs of cheaters to read.  That's annoying, but I manage.  But in the past couple of days I've noticed some symptoms that may have serious implications for my eyesight, that may even require surgery.  I tell you this by way of confession, to admit that when I found this out I didn't feel too full of thanksgiving.  It can be really hard to keep your focus on things eternal when your imagination is telling you you might not be able to see things earthly for much longer.

    It's been said that the preacher can't preach to him or herself.  Maybe not, but the Apostle can preach to the preacher, and Paul has preached to me that whatever happens when I go in to see the eye doctor, the renewal of Jesus Christ is still taking place in me day by day, whether I feel like it or not.  And age-related things like this only go to remind us that this body we live in is like a tent.  Paul was thinking of the dwelling tents of the wandering Bedouins of the desert; we might think of a tent on a camping trip.  Either way, there comes a time when those things get wet and waterlogged and worn and full of holes.  There is no way they can be compared with our own solid house at home.  In the same way, our present bodies are wearing out.  But by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ, God Himself has prepared for us an eternal house in heaven, a building not made by human hands.  Of course it's not made by human hands!  For our eternal home, our resurrection bodies, are established on the foundation of Christ's resurrection itself, and no mortal had anything to do with that.

    The Scripture says that now we groan, longing to be clothed with our permanent heavenly dwelling.  We have to understand that that is truly our longing.  Some people, even Christians, think the goal is to get rid of this earthly tent, our physical bodies, and just fly away as a spirit, naked and free.  That may be great Greek philosophy, but it is not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  No, we do not want to be found naked before God.  We must not stand before Him as bare unclothed spirits.  In fact, we can not.  We must be clothed with the heavenly dwelling that God has prepared for us for us, in order for us to know the eternal life that swallows up our mortality.

    Because, brothers and sisters, that is why God made you-- so you might be clothed, surrounded, protected, and made at home in the resurrection body He has prepared for you.  No matter what happens to you in this life, that new and heavenly body will be yours; you can believe that because God has given you the Holy Spirit as a guarantee on the purchase.  He witnesses to our hearts through the Word that Jesus Christ truly did die for us, that His resurrection was for us, and that we can take Him at His word when He promises that where He is, we will be also.

    And so, Paul says, things are actually switched around for us.  Our earthly natures say, "Give me as much time here on earth in this body as possible.  I'm in no hurry to go!"  But the Spirit keeps us looking towards what we don't yet see, and He makes us eager to see it.  He makes us long to move out of the temporary home of this tent and move permanently into our forever home with the Lord.  The Spirit of God makes us confident that we shall indeed some day be forever at home with the Lord, clothed in the glorious bodies He has prepared for us.

    Does this confidence give us the right to be so heavenly-minded we're no earthly good?  Not at all.  Here on this present earth or later on in eternity, our aim and pleasure should be to please Him who did not please Himself, but gave Himself up to save us all.

    Does our future hope lead us to conclude that this present life is meaningless, just a waiting room for heaven, as it were?  No, because we do have our future hope, we strive so that when we appear before the judgement seat of Christ, the things we have done in this present body will please Him and earn us His favor and reward.

    Jesus Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.  Not as a ghost, not as a disembodied spirit, but as a gloried Man of touchable flesh and bone.  And we will be like Him, on that day when He truly returns and gathers His saints to rejoice with Him around His throne. 

    That day is coming.  Someday we will be there, and we will at last feel the glorious weight of the splendor and majesty of our Lord Jesus and His finished work for us.  Whether the time is long or short, do not lose heart.  Make it your goal to please Him. And whatever you may be going through now, whatever now causes you to groan with longing or grief, keep your eyes focussed on Jesus Christ, the one who was dead, and see, He lives again.   He is your resurrection, He is your life, and in Him you will live and find shelter forever more.

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