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Our Heavenly Dwelling

Sermon passage: (2 Corinthians 5:1-10) Spoken on: August 30, 2010
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 2 Corinthians

Tags: 2 Corinthians, 哥林多后书

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About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve in church as a cell leader in zone ministry.

Sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Introduction – What is heaven like?
When we talked about heaven, what is the image that comes to mind? At the young adults’ cell group, we talked about this at some length. Some believe that heaven is up there, beyond the clouds. We will be like angels, clothed in white with wings, each holding a golden harp in hand, playing music and praising God for all eternity. Some believe that heaven is like a huge library, with endless number of books, and we are standing on these floating ladders, bringing us to any book we want to read. We believe that Rev. Tan may be recreating a mini heaven in his office. Some believe that we are resting beneath a shady tree by a peaceful stream, simply resting in the Lord. All of these imageries are well and good, but is heaven really as described? Let’s take a look at some descriptions of heaven found in the Bible.

Some biblical descriptions of heaven:
In the Bible, heaven is often described as the kingdom of God or kingdom of heaven. It has been described by Jesus as my Father’s house with many rooms (John 14:2). It is also known as a better country or city which has been prepared by God (Heb. 11:16). Heaven is a place of rewards (Luke 6:23), a place where God is worshipped (Rev. 4:8-11), a place where God lives (Matt 10:32, 33). Also, heaven is a place of exceeding joy (Matt 13:44), where there are no tears or sorrows (Rev. 21:4). Treasures are stored in heaven (Mark 10:21). It is also where the Book of Life is kept containing the names of those who are saved (Luke 10:20, Rev. 20:15).

Heaven as unseen imageries
Do you notice that all these descriptions of heaven are only imageries? No one can provide a definitive description of heaven like how we would describe a physical place in church or in a city. Isn’t it odd that God does not provide us with anything more concrete than these mere words and pictures? In fact, when I think about what heaven is like, I am often awe-struck with wonder. Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 4:18, that “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Heaven is eternal, it is unseen, and so it cannot be described factually. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Let us fix our eyes on these things which are unseen.

Understanding of heaven
The word “heaven” actually refers to two things in the Gospels. Firstly, this so called “heavenly dwelling” (v. 2) or “heaven” refers to God’s abode, God’s unique home, a sanctuary. Secondly, it is “the place of eternal habitation for those who obey God and follow Jesus”. In short, it is a place where God is and where Christians will be when they die. By Christian, I simply mean those who are followers of Jesus. It is not my task today to discuss who the Christians are and who are not. Someone wise (John Hannah) said this: “Two things will surprise us when we arrive in heaven: who is there and who is not.” It is best we do not speculate who will be in heaven. That is strictly God’s prerogative and after all, it is not the focus of our passage today.

As God’s dwelling place
Remember in my sermon two weeks ago, I brought your attention to God’s glory and presence with Israel when Moses brought the Law among them. Here, again, Paul reminds us that God wants to dwell with us, humans. To be found naked (v. 3), is to be homeless, to die without an eternal belonging. As a Jew Paul would abhor nakedness, for this would suggest a man “ceases to be truly and properly man”. But for us who have a building from God, we put on Christ, and we are “clothed” with God’s presence. The idea of being clothed with heavenly dwelling is to have God dwell with us. From the beginning of time, God has always wanted to dwell among his created beings. In Genesis, we read about how God walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8). In Exodus, God’s presence was manifested by a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 13:20). When Jesus was born, he is named Emmanuel, which means God with us (Matt 1:23).

Living proleptically, as citizens of heaven
NT Wright tells us that it is about time we rethink our understanding of heaven from a proleptical point of view. What does it mean to be living proleptically? That is to live in the present with an active anticipation of the future. We live today as if we are already in the future. Just as in Philippians 3:20-21, Paul tells us that “our citizenship is in heaven,” and “we eagerly awaits a Savior from there”. This Savior is Jesus Christ, who will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body”. We are not earthly citizens trying to gain citizenship into heaven. Our citizenship is already in heaven, we are already citizens of heaven, living proleptically on earth. Jesus Christ will personally transform our earthly body into an eternal one.

Earthly Body vs. Eternal Body
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 has followed on closely from chapter 4. Paul continues his explanation about our physical bodies, which are like jars of clay, fragile, full of cracks, and weak, but powerful when used by God. We are not the treasures but as jars of clay where God has placed his treasures in. Some say the treasures refer to the Gospel, some say they refer to Christ. We are the earthen vessels which are to be used by God in a powerful way. “The tent that is our earthly home” (v. 1) refers to our earthly bodies. In those days, it is typical for Greek writers, to describe the human body as a vessel, a house, a tent and often as a tomb. You can easily substitute the word, “tent” or “jars of clay” with our human body and by extension; it includes also our earthly life.

Earthly body as temporary and easily destroyed
What is the difference between an earthly body and an eternal body? By describing our bodies as a tent, it conveys two messages: 1) it is temporary, and 3) it is easily destroyed. With this understanding, Paul tells us that when the tent, our earthly home, our physical body, is destroyed, we have a “building” or body from God, which is “a house not made with hands,” but “eternal in the heavens” (v. 1). Unlike a tent, our resurrected body is eternal. It is not temporal and it will not be destroyed. When we die, we will be in heaven, living in eternity with God.

Transformation of our earthly body
The main purpose of Paul’s message here is to tell us that because we have this eternal place with God, a heavenly dwelling place. Now, even when our earthly tent is destroyed, it is not taken away from us. Paul tells us in v.2 that, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling”. Note that we “put on” the heavenly dwelling over our damaged tent! Our body does not disappear, but we have put on an additional outer garment. This is where we talked about our resurrected body as renewal and not as a replacement. The distinction here is between what is “earthly” and what is “eternal”. Our earthly body may be destroyed, but it does not disappear. Our earthly body will be transformed into a glorious and eternal resurrected body. Remember the state of Jesus’ resurrected body when He first appeared to His disciples after his death? He passed through walls and locked doors and showed his nail-pierced hands and feet to them as proof that it is He who is resurrected (Luke 24:39, John 20:19-20)! Jesus’ resurrected body with his nail-pierced hands gives us a good idea of how our resurrected body is going to be like. What was once, a symbol of weakness is now a symbol of strength.

Groaning in anticipation of the future
When we are in this earthly tent, we groan (v. 2), and being burdened (v. 4), we are always longing to be at a better place. But this “groan”, may not necessarily be negative but positive (R. P. Martin, WBC). It is in anticipation for something to come that one groans, not in distress at what is. It’s like how we long for some long sermons to be longer! Our groan is a longing for the future, and less on what is at present. Our human body is prone to illness, injury, harm, “swallowed up by life” (v. 4) and eventually, death. Our eternal body is perfect, without flaws and it will not be destroyed. This is our hope. We groan in anticipation of an eternal heavenly dwelling. That is a good thing. Who is the mastermind behind this master plan for us? Paul tells us that it is God and He has given us the Spirit as a guarantee (v. 5). But “we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” (v. 6).When we continue to be comfortable with our temporal earthly body and life, we will not be eagerly anticipating God’s heavenly dwelling.

Walk by faith, not by sight
In v. 7, “for we walk by faith, not by sight” is the key verse of our passage today. This verse is a refinement of an earlier verse, looking to things that are unseen (4:18). This is one of Paul’s great pieces of wisdom. It sums up Paul’s personal conviction and beliefs. This is how Christians ought to live, walk in faith and not by sight. We learn to look not from our eyes, but from our hearts. We look beyond the surface and we look deep within. When we walk in faith, we rely on God and not by our own strength, God is pleased. When we look at things that are unseen, we see the true meaning of our faith. Imagine if we had looked at Jesus only by what is seen, we see him as a child born out of wedlock; his keeping company with prostitutes, lepers, and tax collectors; and had been murdered in that culture’s most shameful manner (crucifixion). We would have missed out on experiencing God’s dwelling among us, as friend of sinners, and as pardon for our sins.

When we walk by faith and not by sight, we experienced the presence of God in our lives. We experience his comfort in our time of suffering, his power in our weakness, his faith in our doubt. This is precisely why heaven is described using beautiful imageries. The things of God are things that are unseen. This is our groaning. This is our longing, our anticipation in the things that are unseen. Even in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God’s kingdom to come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Our aim is to please God
Paul’s ambition is also our ambition: our aim to please God (v. 9). Paul’s ambition to please God is rooted in his courage during the course of his life. We see how his faith and his near-death experiences are intimately intertwined. It is with full confidence that he encourages us twice in v. 6 and 8, “we are of good courage”. We can be bold in faith, for our confidence and courage is not in our own strength, but in our Risen Savior.

And finally in v. 10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” All of us will be judged according to our works, whether good or evil. But you will not get into heaven because you have done good. Rather, the only judgment we ought to be concerned with is what “clothes” are we wearing when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Is Christ your fashion label? Are you marked with Christ’s name on your hearts? Are you putting on “Christ” or are you still wearing your old body suit? Have you put on God’s heavenly dwelling over your old tent?

If your aim in life is to get into heaven, you might be in for a big surprise at the end. What then is the purpose of life? The Westminster Confession tells us that it is to “glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Is that it? To glorify God and to enjoy him forever? Can there be others? Paul tells us that our ambition is to please God, to walk in faith and not by sight. Some say it is to take up our cross and to follow Jesus. Some say it is to do God’s will. After all, that is also what Jesus Christ did. Jesus sums it up in Two Greatest Commandments: to Love God and to Love Man. All of these are right and complementary to each other. One common thread among these life purposes is really to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Only though him, we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever, to please God, to walk in faith and not by sight. Gal. 3:27, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. And in Rom 13:14, 14Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Only when we put on Christ we can learn to love God and to love Man.

Let me end with a story by James Innell Packer, one of the most influential Christian theologians of our century.

What shall we do in heaven? Sermon Illustration by James Parker[1]
As I get older, I find that I appreciate God and people and good and lovely and noble things more and more intensely; so it is pure delight to think that this enjoyment will continue and increase in some form (what form, God knows, and I am content to wait and see), literally forever. In fact Christians inherit the destiny which fairy tales envisaged in fancy: we (yes, you and I the silly saved sinners) live and live happily, and by God's endless mercy will live happily ever after.

We cannot visualize heaven's life and the wise man will not try to do so. Instead he will dwell on the doctrine of heaven, where the redeemed will find all their heart's desire: joy with their Lord, joy with his people, and joy in the ending of all frustration and distress and in the supply of all wants. What was said to the child -- "If you want sweets and hamsters in heaven, they'll be there" -- was not an evasion but a witness to the truth that in heaven no felt needs or longings go unsatisfied. What our wants will actually be, however, we hardly know, except the first and foremost: we shall want to be "always...with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:17).

What shall we do in heaven? Not lounge around but worship, work, think, and communicate, enjoying activity, beauty, people, and God. First and foremost, however, we shall see and love Jesus, our Savior, Master, and Friend.

Being in heaven, is to be with Christ. This is what we should be longing for. This is our heavenly dwelling!

Let us pray.

[1] James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1986.