Tuesday, April 29, 2008
WE DO NOT LOSE HEART WHEN WE FACE DEATH
Entertainer P.T. Barnum’s last words were, “How were the receipts at Madison Square Garden?” “I should have never switched from Scotch to Martinis” were uttered on January 14, 1957 by actor Humphrey Bogart moments before he passed. The writer Oscar Wilde looked blankly at the wall in his bedroom and said, “Either the wallpaper goes or I do.” He went the wallpaper stayed. Winston Churchill slipped into a coma and died nine days later with these words, “I am bored by it all.” And, William Saroyan the Pulitzer Prize winner telephoned these words to the Associated Press just before his death in 1981, “Everybody has got to die, but I have always believed an exception would be made in my case.”
A preacher and a song leader were both avid cricket fans. These guys didn't just like cricket, they lived, breathed and ate cricket. What time they weren't about church duties, they were attending a game, watching a game on the tube, or coaching a cricket game in the park. One day, one of them mused about whether there would be cricket in heaven and quite a conversation ensued. Every thing is perfect in heaven, isn't it? We will want for nothing in heaven, will we? Surely there will be cricket in heaven! They finally made a pact that whichever one got to heaven first would somehow try to contact the other and let him know for a fact whether they had cricket. As it turned out, the preacher died first. A week later he appeared to the song leader in a dream and said, "Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, there is indeed cricket in heaven. The bad news is, you're scheduled to bowl this Saturday."
You and I have an appointment with death. It might not be as early as Saturday, but it will come. Whenever it does, it will not be one we can skip. C.S. Lewis once remarked that the statistics on death are very impressive -so far it's one out of one
"Three centuries ago a story went round about a student visit to Thomas Goodwin, the Puritan president of Magdalen College, Oxford. In the dark study Goodwin opened the conversation by asking if his visitor were ready to die. The lad fled. The story was told for laughs then, as it would be now; but it ought to be said that if it really happened, Goodwin was asking a proper pastoral question that should not be made fun of, whatever we might think of his technique. For however old or young you are, one secret of inner peace and living to the full is to be realistically prepared for death - packed up, we might say, and ready to go. It is not absurd for us to remind each other of that fact" (J.I.Packer, "God's Words," InterVarsity Press, 1981, p.213).
How does the Christian look at death? That is the theme of our text. You see its context? Paul has been saying things like this, that "outwardly we are wasting away" (4:16), and that all that our eyes look upon is a temporary phenomenon. These mortal bodies are temporary. Our marriages and friendships are temporary, and even this vast universe itself in its present form. Yet there is something permanent. Paul says, "inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (4:16), and our "troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory" (4:17). The sky not the grave is our goal. Not putrefaction but the heavenly realm is what we fix our eyes upon. That is the context of this particular teaching. He is talking about that which can transcend death. What is the nature and destiny of our mortal bodies? That is the theme of these verses.
If there's anything that should cause you to become ultimately discouraged or to lose heart, it would be to face death every day; to realize that even though you may have been healthy, that this could be your last day; even though you had great plans and you felt like there were things to do and there was some measure of necessity for you being around, and there was the possibility of some pain and some suffering and the infliction of some severe wounds, et cetera, that could cause your death -- to be able to look death in the face and say, "We do not lose heart," is to have ultimately conquered the greatest enemy. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 2 that Satan holds men bondage to the "fear of death" all their life long. It is the greatest fear. It is the ultimate fear. And when you come to the place where you have conquered that fear, you have conquered the ultimate enemy. And the apostle Paul could say that: "We do not lose heart." 1 Peter 1:13 and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;
"We look not at the things which are seen; but at the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." Now, the way you ultimately conquer death, the way you ultimately triumph in the face of death, the way you ultimately do not lose heart in facing death is to see it not from a physical perspective, but from a spiritual one. Right? It's to see beyond what is visible to the eye and perceive the great spiritual reality.
1. We do not lose heart because we see an Eternal Body
We also "do not lose heart" because we see an eternal body. He says in the next verses beginning in Chapter 5: "We know that If the earthly tent which is our house," this body, "...is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands," that is, not in the normal human way, "...eternal in the heavens." "In this house," this body, "... we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven." And, folks, I can look across and see a lot of gray hair here. And the longer we live, the more we groan. It's the many burdens that you carry. You know, you thought when you got married all your problems had ended, and then you found they didn't. And you -- you just married somebody else with a whole pile of problems, and now you got two sets.
And there's a groaning in this life, and a longing to be delivered from sin and the debilitating power of temptation and fallenness. And so, Paul says: "We groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven." But we -- as long as we're in this tent, "groaned" being burdened. And there are all kinds of burdens; the physical burdens, the burdens of age, the burdens of illness, the burdens of disappointment and unfulfillment and unconverted children and grandchildren, and all the issues of life. There are all those burdens. And it's not that we want to be unclothed, Paul says, but we want to be "clothed" in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. We want that immortality. We want that glorified body, that glorified environment.
Because what we see is not the end of life, but the beginning of life as we would really like to live it, right? And what awaits us at the great resurrection awaits all of us who know Christ. And that is a glorious body like unto the body of Christ, the same as his resurrection body; a body free from sin, a body that can eternally live and traverse the glories of the eternal heavens and earth as they will be recreated in the future. So we -- we see the decay of one body. Body goes into the ground; dust to dust, as scripture says. But at the same time, we see a glorious new body; without illness, without sorrow, without sadness, without tears, without crying, without sin, without temptation; a body suited to praise and honour God forever and ever. And that has been prepared for all those who love Christ.
Have you noticed how people try desperately to put off the effects of aging as long as possible? Diets, exercise programs, tummy tucks and face-lifts are the rage. Why do we fear getting older? Why do we cling so desperately to youth? Why? I think the answer lies in man's pride. As a person grows older, he grows weaker. He relinquishes his control. Eventually he relinquishes everything in death. Aging smacks at our pride.
A Country farmer and his boy ventured to the big city for the first time. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his father, "What is this father?" The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, "Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life, I don’t know what it is." While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, an old lady limping slightly with a cane slowly walks up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady walks between them and into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched, small circles of light with numbers above the wall light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful 24-year-old woman stepped out. The father said to his son, "Boy, Go get your Mama.”
We are not going to spend eternity as floating spirits, God is going to clothe us with new clothes. Vs 3 says we will not be found naked. God is going to clothe us with new bodies, glorified bodies, but tat will not happen until Jesus Christ returns and our bodies are resurrected. Just as Jesus received a resurrected body so shall we. Remember how for 3 days His body laid in the tomb. His spirit wasn’t there, we are told it went to Hell to preach to those who never heard, but on the third day He rose from the dead. His spirit was reunited with His body and He was given a new glorified body. When we die, our spirits go immediately to be with God. We’re alert, we retain our personalities, and we’ll be joyful, but our eternal existence is not complete until the resurrection of our bodies. On that day our bodies shall be reunited with our souls.
I don't mind growing older. With age comes wisdom. With age comes insight and patience. As I grow older, I find the struggles I used to have with my flesh easier to win. The other day I read something J. Vernon McGee said shortly before his death,
"It is a wonderful thing to know that every passing year brings me closer to Him. I am going to see Him someday; I am going to see the face of the Lord Jesus, the One who loved me and gave Himself for me. I rejoice in that prospect. I don't have as much conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil as I used to have. I think they've given up on me."1
President John Quincy Adams was once asked late in his life how he was doing. His response reveals he had a biblical perspective of life on earth. He said: "John Quincy Adams is well, sir, very well. The house in which he has been living is dilapidated and old, and he has received word from its maker that he must vacate soon. But John Quincy Adams is well, sir, very well."
Look at verse 2, "For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven." I like that verse. My wife doesn't think so, but I know it is biblical to "groan." I don't have to explain this verse. We "groan" with pain because our bodies are wearing away. We "groan" with grief as we face the devastating result of sin in this world. We "groan" with all the worries, trials and sufferings that plague this fallen world. Romans 8 parallels this thought: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God..." (Romans 8:18-19).
"For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:22-23).
In place of the metaphor of a tent, Paul speaks of being "clothed." Verse 3 says, "having been clothed, we shall not be found naked." Verse 4 says "For we who are in this tent [these physical bodies] groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed."
The Bible describes two resurrections. Paul said in Acts 24:15, "...that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." Jesus spoke of this in John 5:29 when He said the dead will "come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation."
When unbelievers are resurrected and stand before God they will be naked and ashamed. Jesus had some hard words for some in the church of Laodocia in Revelation 3:17, "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked." Yet those of us who are genuine believers will not be naked or ashamed. We will be clothed with His righteousness. Isaiah 61:10 says, "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness."
So as our bodies decay, we are reminded that one day we will be housed or clothed in heavenly bodies and then "mortality may be swallowed up by life" (v.4).
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Phils. 3:20&21).
2. We do not lose heart because we see an Eternal Purpose
Verse 5 of 2nd Corinthians 5. He says: "Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge." Sometimes people -- and I think typically in the world -- they think that when you die, that's the end of any meaning in your life; that you've got to cram this temporal life with everything 'cause this is all there is, right? That is the typical humanistic perspective. Well, we know better than that. Frankly, the human part of our life, life in this world for a believer, is incidental. It really is incidental. It isn't the purpose of God. And that's what Paul is saying. "He who prepared us" for this immortality, for this new body, for this eternal glory, "...is God." He prepared us for this very purpose.
So that we can say that when a believer dies, they have achieved the end for which they were originally created. We can even go back further than that. We can say that they have reached the goal for which they were originally chosen by God before time began, and had their names written in the Lamb's book of life. When God wrote our names in the Lamb's book of life before the foundation of the world, he wrote that we would live how ever many years on earth, and he wrote that we would live eternally in the presence of Christ, didn't he? So when we look at the death of a believer, we don’t see the end of His purpose. That's the eternal perspective. From the vantage point of the world, it looks like the end. But from our vantage point, it's just the beginning; eternal glory and eternal body and eternal purpose.
3. We do not lose heart because we see an Eternal Fellowship
6: "Therefore, being always of good courage, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord." And further, he kinds of turns it around and says he prefers, rather "to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord." Now, there is the perspective of a Christian.
We're not at home here. We're really absent from home here. We make a home here. We have a family; we have marriage; we have children and grandchildren, and friends and associates, and we enjoy a certain measure, particularly Christian people, a certain measure of what heavenly fellowship will be like. But we are absent from the Lord. We are absent from His presence, and from our eternal home whichis being prepared for us even now. John 14. So this is not where our home is. We are just passing through. Our home is there; our Father is there; our Saviour is there. Our name is there; our inheritance is there. Everything that is ours eternally in the purposes of God is there. The presence of the Lord, "at home with the Lord." Often, I have been asked: When we get to heaven, are we going to know our spouse? Are we going to know our family? Are we going to know our friends? Of course. You're going to know everybody. And people sometimes get focused on reunions in heaven. But the greatest fellowship of heaven isn't going to be with believers. The greatest fellowship in heaven is going to be with the Saviour.
“Forever with the Lord!” Amen, so let it be!
Life from His death is in that word ’Tis immortality. Here in the body pent, Absent from Him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent A day’s march nearer home
My Father’s house on high, Home of my soul, how near At times to faith’s foreseeing eye Thy golden gates appear! “Forever with the Lord!” Forever in His will, The promise of that faithful word, Lord, here in me fulfill.
So when my latest breath Breaks through the veil of pain, By death I shall escape from death, And life eternal gain.
That resurrection word, That shout of victory: Once more, “Forever with the Lord!” Amen, so let it be!
4. We do not lose heart because we see an Eternal Fulfillment
9 Paul says: "We have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him." My ambition as a Christian is to please the Lord. The real struggle comes when you recognize that you can't do that. I am the greatest disappointment in my own life, because I had much higher hopes for myself than I am able to deliver. If you asked me what's my purpose in life, I will tell you: To glorify God is my purpose. If you ask me what is your objective, what do you want to do, I could say with the apostle Paul, my "ambition, whether at home or absent, is to be pleasing to Him." My ambition is not to be successful in the world, or to build a reputation, or whatever. My goal in life is to be pleasing to Him. That is a goal that is always out there and never is achieved, because you always fall short. And one, of course, of the great realities of death and entrance into heaven is now you can achieve that goal. You have achieved that goal. So we can say that there is eternal fulfillment. That which was in the heart of any true believer is a desire to please the Lord.
5. We do not lose heart because we see an Eternal Reward
10: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether it is good" or worthless. There are things we've done in this life that are worthless. There are things that don't have any eternal value. But there are some things that have eternal value. We will receive an eternal reward. And I dare say that only God knows the reality of that. Because praise is part of that; faithful prayer is part of that; a pure heart in terms of motivation is part of that. And who knows that but God?
So we come to an occasion like this and we don’t lose heart, because we see what is eternal. We see what can't be seen with the eye, but it can only be perceived through an understanding of the word of God. We see eternal glory, an eternal body, eternal purpose, eternal fellowship, eternal fulfillment and an eternal reward. And we do not lose heart. In fact, just the opposite. We rejoice and we thank God for this wonderful life, and for God bringing this life to its great coronation, because that is what has happened in heaven.
1 Corinthians 15: 54 Now when this corruptible is clothed with incorruptibility, and this mortal is clothed with immortality, then the saying that is written will take place: Death has been swallowed up in victory.
55 O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?56 Now the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 58 Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Paul looked forward to a crown of glory 2 Tim 4: For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time for my departure is close. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 In the future, there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing.
Revelation 5:8 When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals; because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation.10 You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,and they will reign on the earth. 11 Then I looked, and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and also of the living creatures, and of the elders. Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands. 12 They said with a loud voice: The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! 13 I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them say: Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!
Rev 4:10 the 24 elders fall down before the One seated on the throne, worship the One who lives forever and ever, cast their crowns before the throne, and say: 11 Our Lord and God,You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power, because You have created all things, and because of Your will they exist and were created.
John Wesley and George Whitefield had a falling out over the issue of election and predestination. One of Whitefield’s supporters asked him:” Do you think we shall see john Wesley in heaven?”
“Alas no.” Whitefield replied. John shall be so close to the throne that we shall not see him, for he will be overshadowed by the glory that surrounds the throne.”