“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” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Like the psalmist, I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” That is, to say, I was glad to hear that the visitation yesterday and our service today would be here at St. John’s. It is good and right that we should be at this house of the Lord. Every time that I would visit him, he would ask: “How are things going at the church? How was attendance last Sunday? Was Jeff there? Bryan? Got many kids in Sunday School?”
It’s easy to understand why this house of the Lord would be important to Paul. This was the place in which he was baptized, confirmed, and married, Paul’s children were baptized and confirmed here at St. John’s. Paul served as a Sunday School teacher, church officer, and elder for many years in this place. Here in this place, Paul joyfully and heartily sang the praises of God. Here, week after week, Paul heard God’s Word proclaimed and received Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of his sins and the strengthening of his faith.
But today we’re not going to focus on this place, this house made with human hands. I want to spend more time talking about a “building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” and the place that Jesus has prepared for His followers.
St. Paul describes life now in this body as a tent—“the tent that is our earthly home.” It’s fading. It falls apart. It’s damaged by time, elements, and toxins. Really, the problem is that it’s a victim of the wages of sin. For a while, it’s a source of groaning. Eventually it is destroyed because the wages of sin is death.
So your body preaches sermons to you all the time—sermons of law. The sore throat and stuffy nose of a cold. The ache of arthritis or overtaxed joints. Toothaches. Allergies. The heartbeat that flutters now and then. Cataracts. We’ve each got our own list of pains and maladies: all of them preach that far from indestructible, we’re fragile and vulnerable. All of these remind us that the tent doesn’t last forever. And while that is a sad fact to contemplate, it is a very necessary lesson.
You see, you and I are, by nature, very much materialists. I don’t mean that we love material things more than we should, even though that’s often the case. Rather, I mean that we believe that material things are more real than immaterial things. In this case, your body is the material thing: you can see it, feel it, suffer its pains, enjoy its exhilarations. Because of that, you’re tempted to believe that your body is far more real than the soul—which you can’t see, feel, suffer, or enjoy.
Because you’re so much more aware of, and attuned to, your body, you’re then tempted to judge life and God by how well your body’s doing. If your health is good and your body is in good shape, then life is good and God is good. But if your health is bad and your body is failing, then life is bad and God is failing you. It’s easy to fall into this way of thinking for materialists like you and me. We tend to think of ourselves mainly as bodies that also happen to have souls.
But I propose to you that we are more souls that have bodies than bodies that have souls. We are souls with bodies—the soul is real and the soul is important. We can’t see it, but that doesn’t diminish its worth. In fact, it is more valuable than most of those things we can see. Jesus says in Mark 8:35: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” If your body is in great shape but your soul is stained with sin, you’re condemned. If your body is in poor shape but your soul is cleansed by grace, then heaven is yours forever.
It’s an important point, but there’s another danger lurking here: scorn for the body. Various false religions, as well as some within Christendom, have come to view the body as a prison for the soul. Death to them means release from prison, and an afterlife as a naked spirit free from bodies. That’s going too far in the other direction. The fact is that both bodies and souls are gifts of God.
God created Adam and Eve with both bodies and souls before the fall into sin. That sets us apart from all other creatures. Jesus honored our bodies by becoming flesh Himself in order to redeem us, body and soul. He subjected Himself, body and all, to God’s wrath on the cross so that we might be spared. Buried in the tomb, He sanctified our graves with His body which did not see corruption. Then He rose from the dead, body and all—and ascended into heaven, body and all. So if the Lord created your body and redeemed your body by His death and resurrection, it is not be an object of scorn. It remains your tent for as long as you remain in this world. It remains a temple of the Holy Spirit, for you are a redeemed child of God.
This can be a difficult truth. I think of Paul, who suffered from health issues for many years, the last twelve at Good Samaritan. At times, I’m sure, his body seemed a prison from which he wanted to escape. And in a sense, though there is grief at his death, there is a sense of relief when Paul was finally delivered from his afflictions. But I think it is important to make a distinction: his body wasn’t the problem—the affliction was. Similarly, his life was never a burden—the affliction of his body was.
I think that distinction is important: if you regard your body as the problem, then you will despise the body that God has created for you, perhaps even curse it. But if you regard the wages of sin as the problem, then the toll it takes on your body will lead you to ongoing repentance of your sin and trust in Christ—Christ who by His forgiveness delivers you from sin and death into life everlasting.
This is what St. Paul is getting at in our epistle: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building with God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Your tent—your body—here is going to fail and fall apart unless the Lord returns soon. But that is not the end: you have eternal life in heaven, and you have a building from God. A building—not a temporary tent, but a building. Your body, just better—perfect, in fact. Better than it ever has been here. Free from corruption. Forever.
St. Paul goes on: “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. 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.” Your body in this world is going to make you groan—it takes a beating and it falls apart. But you don’t groan to be released from a body—you eagerly await to be released from the burden of sin on your body. Heaven isn’t being unclothed so that you’re just a naked soul or spirit, but it is being further clothed in an incorruptible body that lasts forever.
Why is this so? St. Paul tells us: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” That’s quite a verse right there: God the Father has created your body, God the Son has redeemed your body, and now God the Holy Spirit is given to you as a guarantee that eternal life in an eternal body with eternally good health is yours. All three persons of the Holy Trinity are at work for you—soul, spirit and body.
And if the Triune God is at work for you, no wonder St. Paul can go on and say, “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.” For now, you don’t see the Lord. You see the pills you have to take, the hearing aids you have to wear, the cane or wheelchair you have to use, the smudge on the MRI that means trouble. You see the casket at the foot of the sanctuary that bears Paul’s earthly remains and it reminds you that one day it will be your body in the casket and your family sitting in the front pews. But you are still of good courage, because you know that he and you are fully redeemed by Christ.
And so now, by faith, you know though he is away from the body, St. Paul, your dad, grandfather, relative, friend, neighbor, our brother, is at home with the Lord. He has gone to the place that Jesus prepared for him with His perfect, obedient life, His sacrificial death, victorious resurrection, and glorious ascension. He rejoices with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven in the New Jerusalem, where there is no more weeping and distress, no disease or death, awaiting the day of resurrection and the new heavens and the new earth.
And as for you, you live in this tent—and you groan and you grieve. But walking by faith, you know this: you are among those for whom Christ died. Solely for His sake, this tent of body and life are not the end. Only by His grace, the heavenly home is yours. Take heart, dear Christians, and be of good courage in suffering and grief: the day of the resurrection lies ahead. Your mortality and groans will be swallowed up by life everlasting, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.