Pastor Joel Leyrer - The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, August 23, 2020

Text: 2 Corinthians 5:1-5

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Dear Friends in Christ, He had lived a long and full life, which was now coming to an end. The hospice nurse informed the family that it could be any time. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.  But very soon. The children gathered. Their father – although growing weaker by the hour – was still clear-eyed and alert and able to carry on a conversation. He asked them to call the pastor, who came as quickly as he could.

The pastor had known the man for a long time. From past conversations he knew he had been a star athlete in his youth and an avid outdoorsman throughout his life. He had remained impressively physically fit and active even into his twilight years. But the steady march of time and the relentless attack of disease had transformed him into a shell of what he once was.

This was no time for small talk or surface banter, so the pastor did what pastors do – and what his devout parishioner both wanted and needed:  he read Scripture and let God do the talking. The final selection he read was the portion of God’s Word serving as our text for today:

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Then they talked about heaven, what it would be like, how the Christian’s longs to go home.  And they talked about that word “deposit,” and what it meant; how the Holy Spirit had deposited faith in Jesus Christ within this man’s heart at his baptism and increased it through Word and sacrament throughout his life. They talked about how that deposit was not speculative, but guaranteed, meaning even greater dividends would be coming. And the greatest dividend would be glory everlasting, thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Then they talked about how there was even more to look forward to: how someday this man who once was the picture of bodily health would reclaim the strength and vitality that had been eroded by age and illness. How Jesus would return on Judgment Day and reunite that man’s heaven-bound soul with his same body, but a body that would be changed and glorified and transformed from “the perishable to the imperishable.” Then he would fully enjoy “the life everlasting,” body and soul, in the new heavens and the new earth, the home of righteousness.  

The man listened. He offered the faint smile of a man at peace. They parted ways for what both knew would be the last time on this earth. Approximately twelve hours later his deposit reached full maturity. The angels came and gathered his soul into heaven, where he now awaits

THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY

As do we. 

The details will be as individualized as we are, but today we’ll be considering how this man’s story is also our story.  As we continue our summer sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed,  today we focus on this statement of our faith: I believe in… the resurrection of the body.

Any talk of our resurrection of the body begins with the resurrection of the body that took place on Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Christian faith, as well as the foundation for our own resurrection. So, the place to start on this topic is to remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, which is rightfully referred to as the great Resurrection chapter of the Bible. Let’s go there.

Here’s the context. Apparently, some people in or connected to the church in Corinth were having difficulty with the whole concept of a physical resurrection from the dead. Paul addresses that concern in this chapter. The point he makes is that if there is no resurrection from the dead – that is, if it is just a complete impossibility – then that statement would also have to apply to Jesus. 

Furthermore, Paul says if Christ did not rise from the grave – as he himself said he would and the Old Testament Scriptures prophesied – Christianity is false. If that is the case, then all of Jesus’ followers are to be pitied because in their delusion they have expended a lot of energy and gone through a lot of mistreatment for essentially following a fraud. 

However, Paul makes it clear this is not the case. So, he makes this great Easter proclamation:  “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Firstfruits is an agricultural term meaning the first harvest of a crop, with the understanding that more will follow. What that means for us is that Jesus was first to rise bodily from the dead, but our time will come when Jesus returns on the Last Day.

Paul goes on to tell us a little more about the Last Day. “Then (i.e., on the Last Day) the end will come when he (Christ the King) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  

Judgment Day will be the last and final act in human history – then the curtain will fall. On that day, as Paul tells the Philippians, every knee will bow at the name of Jesus and every tongue confess that he is Lord. There will be no unbelievers on the Last Day in the sense that everyone will know Jesus for who and what he is.

Graves throughout the world will empty out and believers will rise to eternal life as their bodies join their souls in heaven. When that happens, says Paul, it will be apparent for all the world to see that Christ is King, and that Jesus has indeed conquered and destroyed death --  

Two inevitable and intriguing questions often come up with our statement of faith that we believe in “the resurrection of the body.” The first is this: Is there a lapse in time between when our souls go to heaven and our bodies are raised? And the second is this: What will our resurrection bodies be like? 

The answer to both is the same. We don’t know. Or to elaborate on that, we can’t really say anything with absolute certainty, because God in his Word only gives us so much information.  Out of curiosity we’d like to know more, but we can only go as far as Scripture tells us. 

Nevertheless, there are some things we can learn from Scripture. 

As to the first, is there a time lapse between when our souls enter heaven and Jesus’ Second Coming? Some Bible scholars have suggested no; that the moment we close in our eyes in death time will compress and we will simultaneously and immediately experience Jesus’ coming on Judgment Day and be both soul and body in heaven forevermore. But, of course, that is just conjecture, and there is really no solid Scriptural support for such a position.

Other reputable Bible scholars suggest that there is a time lapse – sometimes referred to as an “intermediate state” – between when our souls enter heaven and when Jesus comes again. This is largely based on a passage in the Book of Revelation where the souls of believers indicate a sense of time. While they experience the joy of heaven, they also recognize an incompleteness which will only be ultimately fulfilled when soul and body are joined on Judgement Day, and they express their desire for that day. 

To this end, in a common prayer used at graveside committal services we offer thanks to God for saving us eternally through the Gospel message of Jesus,“so that all who die in him abide in joy as to their souls and in hope as to their bodies…”

The bottom line is that while we don’t know all the details as to sequence and timing, what we do know for sure that on the Last Day the very same body we are inhabiting right now will rise from our grave or be reconstructed from our ashes. Meaning we can proclaim with the same confidence of Old Testament Job: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”

Or if the Lord, chooses to come in our lifetime, these words from Paul’s great Resurrection chapter will apply to us: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed… for the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.”

Which leads to that second question of our curiosity: what exactly will our resurrected bodies look like and be? To the Philippians, Paul writes: “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior 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.

Terms like “immortal”… “imperishable”… “transformed”… “glorious.” Again, the question:  what will we look like when Jesus comes again?

Endless speculation. Will we suddenly revert to whatever for us was the high point of health and vitality? The church father Augustine kind of thought so; he suggested that everyone would be a youth in heaven. A prominent Lutheran theologian from centuries back though everyone would rise in whatever form they entered heaven ranging from glorified infants to glorified senior citizens and everything in between. Luther suggested that whatever our bodies might be we will no longer require food, drink, or shelter like we do on this earth…

Nobody knows. And we won’t know until we get there. But of this we can be sure (again, the words of Paul): “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – but God has revealed it to by his Spirit.

And that is an appropriate thought to end on, and takes us back to the beginning of this sermon.  Think of the exchange between the pastor and the dying man and how the same truths apply to us right now, regardless of our age.

God the Holy Spirit has applied the work of Jesus Christ to our lives and deposited faith in our hearts. That faith comes with certain guarantees that will not just last a lifetime, but cover an eternal lifetime. Because that guarantee allows us to declare with conviction and confidence: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

So, whatever kind of day you are having; whatever stage you may be in life; whatever the Lord may be asking you to endure at this point in your life…

This is the declaration that provides us with perspective. Because this is the declaration that one day all will be right in a new and glorious way that exceeds our wildest expectations.

How blessed we are. Amen.