Friday, April 22, 2016

A House Not Made with Hands (Psalm 19:1-4; II Cor.5:1-5) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A church member writes:  Our pastor on occasion goes on a personal retreat to the mountains, to be alone with the Lord, to pray and seek God's direction for his ministry.  Someone called the church and asked, "May I speak with the pastor?"  The office manager replied, "I'm sorry, he's gone up to be with the Lord."  There was sudden gasp at the other end of the line, and realizing what she said, she quickly followed up, "Oh, but he'll be back next week."

The prospect of life after death.  Sometimes Christian faith focuses exclusively on living beyond this earthly life.   Believers dwell on and are consumed by their future life with God in heaven.  They spend all their time in prayer, meditation, reading the Bible, and worship.   I think this is an escapist faith, which can and has historically, become a flight from responsibility in our earthly life.   This violates Jesus' teaching about loving one's neighbor, about ministering to the poor, the oppressed, the forgotten and sick, and the lonely.

On the other hand, faith can focus exclusively on being involved in social issues, working to eradicate hunger, homelessness, and peacemaking, with no vision of a promising future.   Christian faith must be a balance between heaven and earth.  Jesus said “feed my sheep,” but Jesus also taught about heaven, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus and his prayer - “Our father who art in heaven.”   True biblical faith is a balance of both loving others in the name of Jesus and maintaining a vision of hope for the future. 

In the Old Testament Job asks the question: “If a man die, shall he live again?”  It's an age-old question.  Have you asked it?  I think there are two important questions in life in light of our Christian faith:  “What is my purpose on earth?”  “And what happens after I die?”  

People have different perspectives when it comes to thinking about death and life after death.   Some are caught in a materialistic world view and have no room in their thinking about anything except this physical and earthly life.  They believe that life is extinguished at the grave.  For others, death is something that they are waiting for, longing for; it’s seen as a blessing, a relief from suffering.  For some death is an unknown to be feared and fought against with every fiber of one's being.    Other people find comfort in the idea of reincarnation, that they will live on in another form of life.  For still others, death is seen as an entrance into heaven, into a new and awesome existence.

Do you believe in heaven?  Do you think it makes a difference in how you view life and live your life?  I do. I believe in heaven.   We read in the book of psalms: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”  I agree with the apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians when he writes:  “If we only have hope in this life in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

What is heaven like?  Heaven is not simply wishful thinking.  It is not a fantasy or empty dream.  I like the way one Christian author put it:  “Heaven is like a bud bursting into an eternal bloom, like a blossom ripening into an eternal fruit, like a train emerging from a dark tunnel into a glorious alpine valley.  Heaven is the reality in which we find the kindly, humble, fine, noble, courageous, understanding, caring spirits whom we have loved on earth.  Here we find fulfillment and consummation.  This is home.”

Yes, heaven is a reality where we shall experience acceptance, mercy love, comfort, strength, and know the utter joy of being with Jesus and an intimate part of the family of God, the communion of saints. The Bible gives us visual images of the after-life: a new heaven and a new earth, a new Jerusalem, the holy city, the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body, a house with many rooms. 

Jesus promises: “Believe in God.  Believe also in me.  In my father’s house are many rooms, I go there to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so.  And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.”     

Scripture says in heaven you and I shall meet Jesus Christ face to face.    The letter of I Cor. says: “Now we see in a mirror dimly, then we shall see face to face.  Now we know only in part, then we will know fully, even as we are fully known.”  It says: “God will dwell with people as their God, they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them.”

The Bible teaches that in heaven we will receive a new body.  No more treadmills or stationary bikes.   Would you like a new body?  We will not at death be reabsorbed into the universe, like a drop in the ocean.  We shall not merely enter into oblivion.  Our individual identity, our uniqueness, created by God, will continue.  I Corinthians says:  “Some ask, with what kind of body will I come to heaven?  What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable, what is sown is mortal, what is raised is immortal, what is sown is physical, what is raised is spiritual.  What is sown in dishonor is raised in glory.  What is sown in weakness is raised in power.  If it is sown a physical body, it is raised a glorious body.”   We will be clothed with a heavenly dwelling.

II Corinthians says the same thing in a different way: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”   This earthly tent we live in now comes to an end, the lease expires, and God gives us a new body, a building from God, a house not made with human hands but the hands of God, one that is eternal in heaven.

Heaven will also be a time of rest we are told in the letter of Hebrews, like God’s resting on the 7th day.  Does anyone here need rest?   Further, heaven is a reality where you shall be rewarded for your faithfulness to God and your obedience to Jesus Christ here on earth.  I know some people have trouble with this idea of being rewarded.  But Jesus says:  “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.”

In heaven we shall be reunited with loved ones.  You will recognize loved ones and enjoy eternity with them.  The Bible speaks about the communion of saints, a great cloud of witnesses living in heaven.    

The final verse of Psalm 23 is: “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Heaven in the Bible is portrayed as a house where we shall live forever with the Lord. 

Romans 6:23 reads:  “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”  We don’t have to be anxious about our future.  Heaven is a gift of God’s grace.  Heaven is a promise of Jesus our Lord.  In Romans 10 we read: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”   This is the promise which gives us confidence that our future is secure in God.

Recall the wonderful words from the New Testament letter of I Peter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  By his great mercy, he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading kept in heaven for you.”  

I remember when my mother died in 1988.  She was 73 and I was 40.  She was a wonderful mother.  She was a devoted Christian, a loving mother and wife, she had a good sense of humor, she worked full time as a school secretary for the city schools, and she was active in our church.   She died after suffering from pneumonia and the crippling effects of Parkinson’s disease.  In a dream about a month after she died, I saw her in heaven.  Her face was radiant.  Her body was whole and healthy.  She was walking through a sun-lit field saying “Alan, everything is alright, I’m fine.”   I believe God sent me a picture of my mother in that dream to help me in my grief.

My friends, remember our earthly existence is the warm up act.  It is the prologue for the main event where you’re going to spend all of eternity.  You might even spend a 100 or more years of life here on earth.  But life in heaven is everlasting. 

I believe in heaven because Jesus believed in it.  Jesus taught about it and preached about it.    He spoke about heaven as a realm where God’s will is being done and where angels rejoice in every sinner’s repentance on earth.   Jesus preached:  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”    “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”   Jesus made a glorious promise: “Because I live, you shall live also.”

I close with a quote from the great evangelist Rev. Billy Graham:  “When I arrive at heaven’s Gate, God will not be impressed by the many crusades I have conducted.  God will not be impressed that I spoke to more people than anyone in the history of the Christian Faith.  I come to the Gates of Heaven like anyone else—in Jesus Christ and His all sufficient, sacrificial, substitutionary death on the Cross for my sins.  We will be in heaven by the stripes on the back of Jesus Christ, not by any stripes, badges, medals or honors that we have been awarded.” This is the good news of this Easter season.  Amen!

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