“From Earthly Tent to Heavenly Home” (2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:10)

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 17, 2012

“From Earthly Tent to Heavenly Home” (2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:10)

What happens to us Christians when we die? And what will happen to us after that? And how will all that be different from what we’re experiencing now? These are questions that St. Paul gets at in our text for today, where I’ve combined last week’s Epistle reading from 2 Corinthians chapter 4 and this week’s reading from chapter 5. Since this pertains to all of us, as well as to our loved ones who die in the Lord, it’s good that we listen to what God’s word has to say about these things. Our theme today: “From Earthly Tent to Heavenly Home.”

“From Earthly Tent.” That is our starting point today, because that is where we find ourselves. In our earthly tent. Paul refers to this tent several times. He writes: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed”; and again, “For in this tent we groan”; and once more, “For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened.”

What in the world is Paul taking about? “Our earthly home”? “This tent”? He’s talking about our body, this flesh-and-bone body in which we live in this world. That becomes clear when later he equates living in this tent with being “at home in the body.”

And Paul says of this tent, our earthly home, the body–he says, “In this tent we groan.” In fact, he says it twice, the second time saying, “While we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened.” I’m guessing that most of you, like me, if you’ve been using this tent for a few years now, you’ve done a little groaning, and you’re feeling the burden. The wear and tear on your tent is adding up. Maybe you’ve got some rips in the fabric. Maybe the tent poles are getting a little rusty, and it’s getting harder for the tent to stay upright. In other words, the aches and pains of this tired old body are taking their toll. Oh, I suppose if your tent is still relatively new, you’re wondering: “What are you talking about? What’s the problem? I’m feeling young and vigorous. Nothing wrong with my tent!” Oh, my young friend, let me assure you: A few decades of camping out in the wilds of this world, and your tent will not work so well, either.

Paul puts it this way: “Our outer self is wasting away.” It’s not going to last. You can have all the plastic surgery and nips and tucks and 50,000-mile tune-ups you want, but still this old body will wear out and waste away. You can feel it in your bones–literally. Maybe you’ve made it to 60, 70, 80 years, but the time of your tent is limited. Heart disease, cancer, stroke–something’s going to catch up to you in due time. And that time could come when you’re not expecting it. Even if you’re young, and you feel invincible, you aren’t. Your body isn’t.

No, when Paul says, “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed,” the “if” there is more a matter of “when.” For it will happen. This earthly tent will be destroyed. Death will take it down, and then where will we be?

Well, good question. Where will we be? Do you ever wonder about that? Where you will be when you die? We know the body that we’ve been living in is lifeless. We see it at the funeral home. We bury it in the grave. But is that all there is, my friend?

No. For the Christian, that is, for those who trust in Christ their Savior and die in that faith–in other words, for people like you and me–for us death is not the end but just the beginning. The beginning of an eternity that is much better by far than what we experience in this life. And this gives us hope and courage even now.

Paul writes: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as 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.”

We don’t see right now what’s in store for us in the future. But we do see those glorious unseen things–as much as God has revealed to us in his word–we do see them with the eyes of faith. We rest on God’s promises, which are sure and certain. God has promised good to us, and we can rely on him to follow through and keep his word. The aches and pains, the groanings and burdens of this life, which are temporary, cannot compare with the glory to come, which will be eternal.

At the moment, the pain and the burden may seem overwhelming, and if you are feeling that pain and burden most heavily right now, we do not want to dismiss the reality of that. It is a real burden, and your brothers and sisters in Christ want to help you to bear that burden. God loves you and cares for you, and he will help you through it. But the point here is, as great as that pain may be, so much greater, by far, is the joy that is in store for you in Christ. That gives us some perspective–and real hope, and courage to endure.

This earthly tent will not last. It will be destroyed. And, ironically, that is a good thing. The thing about a tent is that it is temporary. It is meant to be so. For a while, while you are on your journey, a tent will do. But the goal is to get to your destination, to reach home.

That’s the way it was for the Israelites, wasn’t it? When they were brought out of Egypt, they traveled through the wilderness and camped out in tents. But the goal was to reach the Promised Land, to get there and settle down. The tents were only temporary. So it is for us. God has brought us out of our Egypt, the bondage and slavery of sin. And now he is leading us on our journey, to the Promised Land of the life to come, our eternal, heavenly home. That will be permanent.

So we’re looking for, and looking forward to, something better. Far better. Paul writes: “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. 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. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”

Our earthly tent will be destroyed, but we have a heavenly dwelling that is eternal. That is in the age to come. And it will not be body-less. We will not be disembodied ghosts, floating around. Paul does say that in this body we groan and are burdened, and that this body will be destroyed, that is, it will be dead and buried and return to dust. But notice, he adds, that by putting on our heavenly dwelling “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.” Notice how Paul here switches metaphors, going from the image of a home to the image of putting on clothing. And he says that we will not be naked, we will not be unclothed. That means we will have a body in the age to come. Not a groaning, achy body, subject to death, like the one we have now. But a body that is built for life, eternal life. “So that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life,” Paul says.

God is committed to a physical creation. It was that way before the fall into sin. And it will be that way when Christ comes again, and all creation is wonderfully restored, better than ever–including our bodies. “He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” This is the Christian’s hope, based on the sure promises of God and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But what happens between now and then? I mean, between the time we die and the day Jesus returns? We know that these bodies of ours will be resting in the grave. So where will we be? Our souls, I mean.

There isn’t much that Scripture tells us about the so-called intermediate state, that is, our status between our death and the day of the resurrection. But we do know that we will be with the Lord, and it will be good, better than our life now. Paul says in our text: “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.” So we do know that when we die and our body is laid in the grave, we will be with the Lord.

And there are a couple of other passages that tell us about the intermediate state. When Jesus was on the cross, and the penitent thief said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Jesus replied, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That’s pretty good, I should say! And in Philippians 1, Paul writes: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” See? To depart this life and be with Christ is far better than what we experience now.

But even then, the best is yet to come. And that will happen when Christ comes again at the Last Day. At that time, our Lord will raise up our dead bodies and give us new and glorified bodies, like his, fit for eternity. In soul and body united, you and I will serve the Lord in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, even as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. Our new and glorified body will be the heavenly home in which we dwell. This glorified body will be the new clothing that we will wear.

“From earthly tent to heavenly home.” But how do we get there? Our Lord Christ will get us from here to there. He it is who offered up his body as the sacrifice for our sin, bearing that burden we could not bear, for us on the cross. By faith in him we are free of that load. And that lifts the power of death from off of us. That stone has been rolled away. Christ is the one who empties the tomb, first his own, and then, at the Last Day, ours. By his death and resurrection, by the forgiveness he won and the righteousness he bestows, you and I will be able to stand at the judgment seat of Christ. He will welcome us into our heavenly home and clothe us with our new heavenly garment, a body new and glorious.

“So we do not lose heart.” “So we are always of good courage.” Yes, we are of good courage, for Christ our Savior will lead us safely on our journey “From Earthly Tent to Heavenly Home.”

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Published in: on June 16, 2012 at 10:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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