“From Our Earthly Tent to Our Heavenly Home” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18; 5:1-10)

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2021

“From Our Earthly Tent to Our Heavenly Home” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18; 5:1-10)

As some of you know, my older brother Jim recently was put on hospice with an inoperable brain tumor. He doesn’t have long to live–any day now, it looks like. So I wanted to talk with him while there was still time. He had retired to North Carolina, so we had to do this by video chat, and at a time when he was awake and alert enough to do it. Well, we talked a couple of days ago, on Thursday. His family was there with him to make it happen.

It was tough seeing Jim in the condition he was in. It was hard to hold back the tears, knowing this might be the last time I talk to him. Jim wasn’t able to talk much, but he could hear what I was saying. I shared some memories with him. I told him I loved him and have always looked up to him. And I shared a Bible verse with him. It was from last week’s Epistle reading, 2 Corinthians 4:16, where it says, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”

Now why could I say that? How could I say, “we do not lose heart,” when what I was seeing on the screen was so heart-breaking? Here’s why: Because I know, and I know Jim knows, we will be going “From Our Earthly Tent to Our Heavenly Home.”

An earthly tent. A heavenly home. That’s the imagery St. Paul uses in our Epistle reading for today from 2 Corinthians 5. The earthly tent is where we are now, in this body, in this life. The heavenly home is where we’re heading, the eternal dwelling waiting for us.

First, the earthly tent: Paul refers to this 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.” The tent that Paul is taking about is our body, this flesh-and-bone body in which we live in this world.

I’m guessing that most of you, if you’re like me and you’ve been using this tent for a good long while, you’ve done a little groaning. Maybe you’re feeling the burden. The wear and tear on your tent has been adding up. The fabric is getting worn out. The tent poles are rusty. It’s getting harder for the tent to stay upright. In other words, the aches and pains of your body are taking their toll. Now if you’re young, and your tent is still relatively new, you’re wondering: “What are you talking about? There’s no problem. I’m young! I’m invincible! There’s nothing wrong with my tent!” Well, just wait a while. A few decades of camping out, and your tent won’t work so well, either.

“Our outer self is wasting away.” It’s not going to last. You can watch what you eat, you can go the gym, but still your body will wear out and waste away. You can feel it in your bones, literally. Maybe you’ve made it to 70 or 80, but the time of your tent is limited. Heart disease, cancer, brain tumor–something is going to catch up to you in due time. And that time could come anytime. Even if you’re young, and you feel invincible, you aren’t.

When Paul says, “if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed,” that “if” is more like a “when.” It will happen. This earthly tent will be destroyed. Death will take it down, and then where will we be? Good question. Where will we be? Do you ever wonder about that? Where you will be when you die? We know the body we’ve been living in will be lifeless. We see it in the coffin. We bury it in the grave. But is that all there is, my friend?

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

This earthly tent will not last. It will be destroyed. And that actually is a good thing. The thing about a tent is that it is temporary. It’s not your permanent lodging. Now, while you’re on a journey, a tent will do. But the goal is to get to your destination, to reach home.

That’s what we’re looking for. That’s what we’re 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.” Our earthly tent will be destroyed, but we have a heavenly dwelling that is eternal. That life is what we’re looking forward to 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. It will be dead and buried and return to dust. But notice, Paul adds that by putting on our heavenly dwelling we will “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.” Here Paul switches metaphors, going from the image of a house to the image of clothing. 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 will last for life, eternal life. “So that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.”

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. All creation, including our bodies, will be wonderfully restored, better than ever. “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 Jesus Christ. You, dear Christian, you are baptized into Christ’s resurrection! You will share in it, a physical, bodily resurrection.

But what happens between now and then? Between the time we die and the day when 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 situation between 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.

There are a couple of other Scripture passages that tell us about the intermediate state. Like when Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” That’s pretty good! Or Philippians 1, where Paul writes, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” So, 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. When that day comes, our Lord Jesus will raise up our dead bodies and give us glorified bodies, like his, fit for eternity. With soul and body reunited, 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. That will be the heavenly home in which we will dwell. That glorified body will be the new clothing we will wear.

From our earthly tent to our heavenly home. But how do we get there? Through Christ, of course. Our Lord Jesus Christ will get us from here to there. Because Jesus offered up his body for us on the cross, bearing the burden of our sin, a burden we could not bear. By faith in Christ, we are freed from that load. And that lifts the load of death from off of us. The stone has been rolled away. Christ Jesus 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 for us and the righteousness he bestows on us, you and I will be able to stand at the judgment seat of Christ. And the judgment will be “Not guilty.” We will receive eternal life as God’s gracious reward. The Lord will welcome us into our heavenly home and clothe us with our spotless garment, a resurrected body made glorious.

The groanings and burdens of this life are transient, temporary. They cannot compare with the glory to come, which will be eternal. But at the moment, the groanings and the burdens can seem overwhelming. If you, dear friend, are feeling that burden right now, we don’t want to dismiss that. The groaning is real, the burden is real. But God loves you and cares for you, and he will help you through it. As great as the pain may be, so much greater by far is the joy in store for you in Christ. This gives us real hope and real courage to endure.

“So we do not lose heart.” “We are always of good courage.” Yes, friends, we are of good courage, for Christ our Savior will take us all–you, me, my brother Jim–he will take us from this earthly tent to our heavenly, eternal home.

Published in: on June 12, 2021 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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