2 Corinthians 5: 1 - 5
Of all the fears that plague the heart of man, none is greater than the fear of death. It is our greatest fear, the sum of all other fears. We are afraid to die. We are afraid of what happens when we die. Death is the fundamental human problem.
Life is short and so uncertain. “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4: 14b). Moses said to the Lord - Psalm 90: 5, 6 “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning - though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.”
Does death win in the end? On this side of the grave it’s hard to tell. Left to our observations, we don’t know much beyond the familiar words of Ecclesiastes. There is “a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3: 2). Visit any cemetery and you can’t really tell much difference between the Christian and the non-Christian. There they are, all grouped together, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, famous and infamous, churchgoers and nonbelievers. Or so it seems.
Death is not the end of the story for those who know the Lord. The Bible tells us what lies ahead for those who know Jesus. Here we discover wonderful truths that give us hope as we face death with all its dark fears. Paul tells us in very picturesque language that we have nothing to fear, that no matter how we die or when or where, and no matter what may be our physical condition at the moment of death, we have a promise from God that death itself cannot break.
1. The Certainty of the Resurrection Body v. 1
The most important part of this verse comes in the first 3 words. “Now we know.” Death itself confronts us with many mysteries. No one can say with certainty how much longer they will live. Every single breath we take is a gift from God. I am not guaranteed another day, much less another year.
As to what happens after we die, science has nothing useful to tell us. The great researchers have no certain knowledge about what happens a minute after we die. We will not get the answer from philosophy or from history. If you visit a cemetery, all you know for certain is it is full of dead people who once were alive. You cannot divine from studying the dead what happens when we die. There is speculation, and then there is revelation.
There are some things we can know with certainty.
A. We live in a tent.
Our bodies are like tents. They wear out, they sag, they expand, they wrinkle, the joints get creaky, the arteries harden, gravity pulls everything downward, the heart slows down, the eyes grow dim, the teeth fall out, the back is stooped and the arms grow weary. Our bones break, our muscles weaken. The body bulges in the wrong places. We brag about our strength but a tiny microbe can kill us. Sooner or later we grow old and our bodies begin to break down. Eventually they stop working altogether. No amount of Vitamin C or Ginseng can change that fact. At best, we can only slow down the aging process; we cannot delay it forever.
As we age, we pay more attention to things like diet and exercise. We’ve got Weight Watchers and Virgin Active and Curves and we’ve got runners and bikers. Now all of that is good. Exercise is good and good nutrition is even better and it would help all of us to get in shape and stay in shape. But I have a bit of news for you. Your body won’t last forever. You can eat all the low-fat ice cream you want, but your body will still fall apart in the end. Did you know your body disintegrates all the time? The cells of your body are actually programmed to die – apoptosis - each day the average adult loses 50 - 70 billion cells. That’s 350 billion cells a week. No wonder you need to lie down and rest. You’re falling apart even while you listening to me.
B. We will trade in our tent for a building.
Think about the difference between a tent and a building. Tents are temporary and flimsy, easily torn and meant to be replaced. A building is strong, built on a foundation and not meant to be moved. Someday we will give up our tent and replace it with a building made by God himself. That one fact tells us something important about death.
Death is not the end. Death is not reincarnation. Death is not evaporation. Death is not annihilation. Death is a trade-in. One day we will trade in our broken down bodies for a new body. Look what Paul says about that new body. It is from God. It is not made with hands. It is eternal. It is heavenly, not earthly.
That’s what Paul means when he says, “We know.” Lots of things we don’t know about the future, but this much is certain. We won’t have to live in tents forever. Someday our “tent” will be replaced with a “building” made by God.
2. The Nature of the Resurrection Body v. 2 - 4
What will the coming day of resurrection be like? We can find 3 answers in these verses.
A. It is like putting on a coat.
When Paul says we long to be clothed, he uses an unusual word that means something like “to be clothed upon.” It has the idea of putting on a coat over the body. Paul looks forward to the day when Christ returns and thinks to himself, “I can’t wait for that day to come because I will put on my new resurrection body like I put on a coat.”
B. It is the answer to our groaning.
We groan because of a job we hate. We groan because of unfulfilled dreams. We groan because our bodies break down. We groan because our marriages break up. We groan because our children go astray. We groan because our friends disappoint us. We groan because we live in a fallen, mixed-up, messed-up, broken-down world and we ourselves are broken down. So we look for a better day and a better place, and we dream of a better world where there is . . . No more cancer. No more abuse. No more hatred. No more crime. No more sadness. No more night. No more sickness. No more death.
C. It removes our deepest fears.
Among all the fears associated with death, one of the greatest must be that we will die alone and forgotten. As sad as death seems, how much worse it must be to die in some distant place with no one around to give you comfort. How blessed we are if we can die with our loved ones gathered by our side. Oftentimes that is not possible because death comes uninvited to our door. We may end up dying in some lonely place despite our best plans.
What is the current condition of believers who die before Jesus returns? The clearest thing we can say is that they are “with Christ” and “with the Lord” in heaven – v. 6 – 8. We don’t have to worry about our loved ones who died in Christ. They have passed into the presence of the Lord Jesus himself. That, I think, is all we can know for certain, but it is enough.
When we die, we will not die alone because we will be with Jesus forever. If we should live to see Christ return, we will receive our resurrection body at that very moment. Either way, we have a hope that death cannot shake. One question remains. Paul, how can you be so sure?
3. The Guarantee of the Resurrection Body v. 5
A. We were made for something better than this
Sometimes we look at the world around us and wonder, “Is that all there is?” Paul answers a resounding, “No!” We were made for something better than the sadness we see in this world.
We will have a new body - not the same as before. We will have a new body - not just renovated or reconstructed. We will have a new body - but our identity will not change.
We are made for a new life and a new body and a new existence with the Lord. God himself has made us for this very purpose. Our future does not hang on our own desires but on the eternal purpose of God who called us to be his children. We are saved by an eternal love that will not let us go. Not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
B. God has guaranteed our future resurrection
Here, then, is a hopeful thought for anyone who has buried a loved one who died in the Lord. How do we know that we will see them again? The answer - it all depends on where we look. You can go to a cemetery and wait as long as you want. You’ll see lots of death because that’s what cemeteries are all about. Lots of people being buried; not many being raised from the dead. In fact, the last resurrection took place 2000 years ago. So how do we know there is a coming day of resurrection? There are 2 solid answers to that question.
i. He raised his own Son.
God raised his own Son from the dead. This is the objective ground of our faith in the coming day of resurrection. If God would not leave his Son in the grave, he will not abandon those who trusted in his Son. Death cannot win in the end because our Lord conquered the grave.
ii. He gave us the Spirit as a sacred deposit.
v. 5 - God gave us the Spirit as a “deposit.” Some translations say “down payment” or “earnest.” When you buy a house, you put down a deposit. It’s a small amount that legally binds you to pay the full amount later. That’s what God has done through his Holy Spirit. The Spirit who indwells us is God’s “deposit” on our future resurrection.
God signed on the dotted line and said, “I will raise from the dead all who have trusted in my Son.” It’s as good as done. It’s going to happen. You can take it to the bank.
What should this truth do for us today?
This changes the way we look at death. We have it all wrong.
We think we’re going from the land of the living to the land of the dying.
But that is not true.
We’re going from the land of the dying to the land of the living.
Someway, somehow, someday we’ll die. Then they will take us in for the funeral service where someone will say some (hopefully) nice words, people will remark on how they miss us, they will sing a bit and say some prayers. I say that not to alarm anyone but to state the simple fact. The man who wrote this wonderful passage in 2 Corinthians 5 returned to the dust of the earth a few years later. Every Christian who has ever lived has died eventually. So far that’s the report from the cemetery.
Bright and Cloudless Morning
On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of his resurrection share;
When his chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
That is our ultimate hope. We’re not looking for some hazy view of heaven where we float around on clouds all day. We’re looking and waiting and longing for that “bright and cloudless morning” when the Lord returns and the dead in Christ shall rise. It’s going to happen. You can bet your life on it. God has promised it.
There will be victory on the last battlefield. Life is a series of battles for all of us, and we all “take it on the chin” sooner or later. But in the last battle, the struggle with death, there is victory for the children of God.
Death will not have the last word for Jesus has conquered the grave. Because he rose, we too shall rise. In that faith we take courage to live for Christ with reckless abandon because death is not the end of our story.