Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Our Heavenly Dwelling

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 Caroline and I have lived in Ft. Worth and Ft. Wayne and Kingsville and San Angelo and every time we have returned from a business trip or vacation, we say:  I’m glad to be home.
But what we should have said is:  “home for now”—because none of those places were our permanent address.  Maybe you’ve moved around a lot more than the four or five times we’ve moved—maybe you’ve moved around a lot less than we have-- but all of us have at least one more move to look forward to—a move to our heavenly home-- for no place on earth is our permanent address.
Unless the Lord comes first, our earthly lives will come to an end and we will journey on from this world to our true dwelling place in heaven.  The Bible says:
For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 
            No matter how long we live in one place, no matter how attached we are to our own little corner of the world, our lives on earth are like a tent.  I have spent many nights camping out in tents and they serve quite well-- for a time.  But eventually they wear out and get musty and smelly and torn and full of holes and they no longer serve their purpose-- which is to shelter us temporarily.  So it is with our earthly lives.
That is why it is such Good News for us to KNOW that there is another dwelling for us in heaven that Paul says is a building built by God that will last forever
Bible scholars are divided as to whether Paul is speaking of our resurrection bodies that we receive on the last day-- or our heavenly dwelling place in the glory of God.  But there is no contradiction between them—instead, they are complementary.  Our earthly bodies will die and earth itself will be destroyed.  But our resurrection bodies and our heavenly homes will endure forever. 
That this is our future, Paul says we can KNOW.  And so why is he so confident about our eternal future?  It’s because of Christ’s resurrection. 
If ever an earthly tent had been destroyed, it was Christ’s body on the cross.  But he also knew that Jesus had been raised—he met the resurrected Christ and saw his glorified body.  He knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that there was something greater than the best earthly life still to come for the Christian after their death-- and he looked forward to it rather than feared it.  Paul writes:
For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked.  For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened--not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed… 
God created us to live without sickness and disability and death-- but our sin brought that to an end-- and now our earthly lives are marked by frailty-- and they will eventually be destroyed by death as easily as tent pegs being pulled from the ground.
Until that day, our temporary, earthly lives are often filled with groans.  There are aches and pains and illness and disability.  There is the pain of separation when loved ones pass away.  And then there is the burden of our own sinfulness and how far we are from the glory of God.  All of these and more are “part and parcel” of our earthly lives and bring forth groans from our inmost hearts.
And so we long to be delivered from all of it.  Not that we want to die, but we have a deep sense that even the best, most blessed earthly lives are not-- and can not be-- all that there is—that there must be more to life than temporary, fading joys and finally death.  The Good News for us is that there is more—much more.
There is another life to come for us and another place for us to live.  The Bible says that what is mortal is swallowed up by life.
The ancients saw the grave as that which swallowed up life—that no matter how long life was—no matter how successful in earthly terms—no matter how prominent and powerful a person—in the end the grave swallowed life whole. 
As Jesus was laid in the tomb, it certainly seemed as if there was no escaping the grave for anyone-- but three days later the grave suffered its first defeat as Christ rose up victorious—his life swallowing up death itself.  And on the Last Day the grave will suffer defeat after defeat as our bodies are raised from our graves by the same Almighty power that raised Christ from his grave.  The Bible says that:
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage.
            That we have a heavenly home and another life to live when this brief time on earth is over is completely God’s doing—it is the work of his hands.  He has chosen us for this very purpose and has sent his Son to deliver us from sin and death.
But God has done even more.  He has given us his Holy Spirit as a sure sign that this hope that we have of another life and another dwelling place is not just a pious wish but as real and concrete and certain as the physical bodies and homes we live in right now.  Paul calls this gift of the Spirit:  a guarantee-- and for the Greeks this word described a down payment or earnest money that secured a financial deal. 
That you believe in Jesus Christ—that you confess him as your Lord and Savior—that you desire to live a life pleasing to him even though at times you fail—is a sure sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life which is a guarantee from God himself that when you pass from this life you will enter your heavenly home. 
All the things that tempt us to fear:  an unknown future—separation from our loved ones—economic downturns—and our own mortality—are completely changed because we know our ETERNAL future and ETERNAL home.
We long for that day even while we entrust the timing to the Lord and strive to live with heavenly values and priorities and purposes right now.  Paul writes:
We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.  Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 
            One sure sign that we are not yet home is that we live by faith rather than by sight.  We trust God’s promise about our heavenly home even though we cannot yet see its fulfillment.  But there is coming a day for us when we will see it with our own eyes.
Certainly we would like to be home right now!  What a blessing to see the One who has loved us throughout our lives with an everlasting love.  What a joy to see our loved ones who have already gone to be with the Lord!  But we’re not there yet. 
Until that day we make it our aim to please Jesus where we are in life right now.  The word that Paul uses there means that we make it our AMBITION to please the Lord.  Ambition is what drives our life—the goal that is always before us that orders our lives.  Pleasing the Lord in all that we say and do—this is our aim—this is our ambition—this is the goal that orders our lives until the day that we make that final journey home. 
Those who live life on earth yearning for their heavenly homes—those who make it their ambition to please the Lord-- have absolutely nothing to fear on the day when we called forth from this life to stand before the LORD.  The Bible says:
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.
            That we must first appear before the judgment seat of Christ before entering our heavenly home, may cast a shadow on our journey home.  But they shouldn’t! 
Those who trust in Christ for salvation have absolutely nothing to fear in the judgment to come because the One who judges us—has already passed through that judgment in our place.  He was counted guilty of our sins and sentenced to death—for us.  He suffered the pains of hell upon the cross-- for us.  And he died-- for us.  But he rose again and is seated at God’s right hand and he will judge the world.
We have nothing to fear on that day when we journey from life on earth to heaven- for we have already died with him and been raised with him in Holy Baptism-- and God counts his life and death as our own through faith in Jesus.  And because of that, his judgment is actually something to look forward to. Let me explain:
The pictures your children colored in Sunday are probably not great works of art.  There may be color outside the lines or the colors were all wrong.  But they are proud of what they did and as their parent you are proud too—simply because they are your children.  And that picture goes up on the refrigerator and is still probably stored in some box if your wife is like mine.
That’s what the judgment will be for God’s children—an opportunity for us to show God what we have done for him while we lived on this earth. 
And when he looks at our halting efforts—when he sees those times that we didn’t quite get it right—what he really sees is the perfection of his Son Jesus who always got it right—and that makes all the difference in the world as we prepare for that final move to our heavenly home.  Amen.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The First Gospel Promise

Genesis 3:8-15 If you talk to the average American about their relationship with God (assuming they have one at all and that is increasingly rare!) they would almost certainly talk about it in terms of their being the one who is seeking God.  They are the initiators—they are the ones who act—and they are certainly the ones who set the terms for what that relationship is.
That idea has even crept into the church.  Churches have “seeker-services” designed for all those people who they think are on a great spiritual quest.  And those who have gone through some spiritual experience say that they have “found” God. 
Now, please don’t get me wrong—I am thankful to the Holy Spirit for every person he brings to faith—even if that person cannot articulate it biblically.  But God is not lost—we are.  God doesn’t need finding—we do.  We do not choose God—he chooses us.
Baptism and Holy Communion are not acts of obedience, works of our hands whereby we show our faith in God.  Rather, they are acts of mercy whereby God graciously reaches down, makes us his own, and feeds us with the gifts of salvation he gives in Christ’s body and blood.
Now, if you are thinking to yourself, well of course you say that Allan, you are a Lutheran pastor.  You’re right I am.  But I am going to let you decide from the Word of God whether I am right or not.  I am going to let you decide from the Word of God whether your church teaches the truth or not.  Does man seek God or does God seek man?  The Bible says that:
Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
            Immediately before this verse, Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command, tried to cover their own shame by the work of their hands, and fled from God’s presence and hid from him. 
This is the spiritual condition of ALL of us by nature.  This is sinful mankind.  Alienated from God.  Running away from God.  Hiding from God.  Trying with every fiber of our being to hide our shame and guilt by the work of our own hands.  That is what sin has done to man.
So what about all of those promises of Satan, that going our own way and making our own decisions, will make us like God?  Absolute lies! 
Instead of gaining wisdom, mankind who was created by God in his image, as the pinnacle of his work, to exercise dominion over creation and bring forth new life-- flees from the God who is everywhere and hides from the God who knows everything.  Satanic foolishness!
There is no clearer picture in the entire Bible of what sin has done to us—and especially to our natural spiritual abilities—than this picture of Adam and Eve who have (in an instant of sin) lost a right knowledge of God and right relationship with God.  And- so- it- is- for every- one- of- Adam’s- children, by nature, down to this day.  By nature…
There are NO seekers of God among the children of Adam, there are only sinners whose guilt and shame drives us way from God as fast as we can go—whose sin and blindness robs us of any kind of right knowledge of God. 
That’s the way it is was in the garden—that is what sin did to Adam and Eve.  That is the way it is in our world today—that is what sin has done to every one of their children by nature and God could have—with perfect justice—destroyed them and the world with them.
But the God who created them in love, loved them still (just as he continues to love a world full of sinners) and sought them out and called them to return to him.  The Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 
Do you see the incredible act of humility and mercy that is here in this scene—that the almighty, all-knowing, living God of the universe calls out to his sinful, rebellious creatures:  Where are you?  Of course he knows where Adam and Eve are hiding!  He knows all things!  And yet God condescends- in mercy- to seek these sinners and call them to himself so that they can acknowledge their sin and come to him for forgiveness. 
In exactly the same way the gracious call of God still goes out to a world full of sinners who are running away from him as fast as they can, doing their level best to make their own way, and hiding from the truth of who they are just- like- Adam- did. 
Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” [The LORD said], “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
            God created us to live with him in perfect fellowship, to be counted as his children, to receive his blessings in time and eternity and yet sin has destroyed the faith and trust children ought to have for their father and made us terrified of God. 
That is what the Hebrew word means that our Bible translates as “afraid”—it describes someone so terrified they tremble like a leaf.  The Bible says that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  That is what sin has done to us:  made us terrified of God and blind to our own broken condition. 
Adam told God that he was afraid because he was naked-- but he had ALWAYS been naked!  That had not changed!  What had changed was his sin and disobedience and the guilt and shame that goes along with it.  But God loved him—he loved Adam even though he sinned.
What a comfort this is for us!  We fall into some sin and we think that God no longer loves us and so what is the point of returning to him.  We get caught up in some kind of mess of our own making and we can’t figure out what went wrong and we wonder, what’s the use? 
But God loves us in the midst of it and seeks us out so that we can return to him before we destroy our life and the lives of those around us.  That’s what God was doing with Adam—calling to him, questioning him, refusing to let him hide so that Adam could know the truth about his sin and turn to God for help-- for his sake and the sake of those around him.
Adam said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”  Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 
            When Adam saw Eve for the first time in the perfection of Eden he said one of the sweetest things recorded in the Bible.  He saw her and said:  This at last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  His joy in God’s good gift of a wife fairly leaps off the page. 
But look at what sin has done in such a short period of time!  The lie of Satan that their eating would bring blessing, has only brought destruction.  It has destroyed their life with God so that they blame God for their sin.  It has destroyed their life with one another so that they blame one another.  It is has destroyed God’s creation and brought death into the world. 
Adam and Even finally understood this.  At the end of their excuses, their confession was the heart of truthful simplicity:  I ate.  So it must be for us:  Lord, I have sinned.  As dark and as difficult as those moments of confession are, there is a bright beam of God’s gracious love and mercy and forgiveness that also begins to shine as he comes to our rescue.
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life.  I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
            During our meditation on God’s Word this morning I hope that you have come to see the truth about the spiritual condition of mankind apart from God.  But now I want you to see just as clearly the goodness and mercy of God towards sinners—that he is not content to leave us blind and dead—that he does not want us separated from him by our sin—that he seeks us to save us. 
In the midst of man’s rebellion, while he fled from God and hid from God, when he had destroyed God’s perfect creation and brought death into the world, God still loved him and promised that, as dark as that moment was, sin and death would not be the end of the story but God himself would make things right again by the offspring of a woman who would crush Satan.
This is the first Gospel promise in the Bible and it was fulfilled within the womb of the Blessed virgin mother of our Lord Jesus Christ as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity took upon himself our flesh and became man—a Son of Adam—one of us.  The Bible says that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil
And so he has.  Even though it is not in our reading, I want to tell you what happens next.  The Bible says the Lord God made garments of skins and clothed Adam and Eve with them.  Do you understand?  The Lord made a promise of a Savior to come and then blood was shed.  A sacrifice was made.  And God himself covered man’s guilt and shame.  What the first Gospel promise meant, of a savior to come from the Seed of the Woman, began to take on shape.
And so it was that many thousands of years later Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, the Offspring of the Woman, went to the cross and shed his blood to cover our shame and guilt.  The innocent died in the place of the guilty.  Two rough beams of woods became the Tree of Life and three days later, early in the morning, as angels stood by, the restoration of Eden began- and death lost its hold on us and Satan was defeated. 
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  And so it is that everywhere this Good News is told, there the Holy Spirit is at work:  opening eyes that are blind, transforming minds that are at war against God, restoring the image of God in those who believe, laying the foundation for a right relationship between us and others, and giving us new life where before there was only death.     
The Good News for us today is exactly the same as it was for Adam and Eve all those years ago:  not that we seek God—but that he sought us out when we were lost and blind and dead.  Not that we love God—but that he loves us with an everlasting love that our sin cannot destroy.  Not that we made our way back to him—but that Jesus came for us and covered our sin with his sacrifice and restored us to our rightful place in God’s family as his children. 
God grant us his grace and the help of the Holy Spirit to believe it!  Amen.