Moving from an Earthly Tent to a Heavenly Home
I spent the first 22 years of my life living in a 3 story corner house in Hamilton. It was my grandparents home, and the place where my Mother had lived from about the age of 3 years.
It was a stately house, with a large veranda at the front, and a good sized backyard, which was protected on the street side with its six foot high white picket fence, and a wire fence on the other side nearest our neighbours. At the back of the yard was a garage. This garage wasn’t like most garages, because it had an old pigeon coup incorporated into the attic. (Evidently my grandfather had once bred a large flock of pigeons there.)
The dominant feature of the backyard was a massive pear tree, which had been planted by my uncle when he was a teenager. By the time I was in my teens, that tree had grown almost as tall as our house.
The first 5 years of my life were spent in that backyard, playing alone or with my mother. So, during those early years, the yard was my whole world. As I grew older, my backyard play became more aggressive. One of my favourite activities was digging (what I thought were deep holes) in a small corner at the very back of the yard, in an area set aside for my play. Occasionally I’d dig up the bones of family pets, long gone. Often I pretended that I was digging down to China.
By the time I was about 10 years old, one of my summer chores was to pick the fruit from our giant pear tree. My mother and grandmother would make preserves from what I collected. I can still remember the smell of those preserves as they were being cooked in the kitchen. I made my first income thanks to that tree. I’d filled quart sized baskets with the fruit, load them onto a wagon, then sell them to neighbours up and down the street.
This was my house. The place I called home for 22 years. However, when I graduated from McMaster University and enrolled at Emmanual College in Toronto, I had to leave that home and move on with my life. In the years following, I returned to my old neigbhourhood and the family home, many times to visit my parents, but I never again lived in the house. / When my Dad passed away and my Mother had to move into long term care, the family home was sold.
Many years later, I decided, to return and see how the old house was doing. I remember the shock and disapproval I experienced upon seeing what the current owners had done to that home. The white picket fence was gone, so too the garage. But the greatest shock was seeing that the pear tree was no longer there.
There were changes at the front of the house as well. The wrought iron railing on the veranda which my Dad (a steel worker) had made, was gone, and the hedge which I’d trimmed so many times in my youth, was no longer there.
The house no longer resembled the home that I’d known and loved. Everything had changed!
That’s what happens in life, isn’t it? Things change over time. As the years roll by, communities we once knew and loved, become different. They’re no longer the way we remember them. Sometimes these changes are for the better. But often they’re not to our liking.
When I was a child, I could roller skate down the center of our street, right through the intersection at our corner, with no fear of being hit by a car. You certainly couldn’t do that today. There’s too much traffic.
However, it’s not just material things like houses and cottages and neighbourhoods that change. We change as well. Our bodies age. Our personalities evolve. And as years fly by, many of us even lose many of the abilities we once took for granted.
I used to love throwing a ball when I was young. I spent hours, pitching balls against the brick wall on the side of our house, then catching them as they bounced back. That wall towered two stories high, and fortunately only had windows off to one side. As far as I can remember, only once did I break the bay window of our dining room.
As a teenager, I played baseball in an organized league. I prided myself in how far and how accurately I could throw a ball. Recently however, I was shocked to discover what had happened to my throwing arm. I was standing on the shore of a lake, and (as I had done so many times before in my youth), I picked up a flat stone with the intention of skipping it across the water. To my amazement and shock, this time when I threw the stone, it went only a short distance and not in the direction I had intended! I guess, I’ve aged!
But that’s how it is in life, isn’t it. Our bodies wear out over time. Our society changes. Time rolls on. Everything is in flux. Nothing remains the same.
The Apostle Paul must have been thinking about this when he wrote the words of our text. He certainly knew life is fragile and temporary. And so three times in the passage we’re examining this morning, he says our bodies are like tents. Tents are certainly very different from our homes.
Tents are vulnerable to the elements. They can collapse, just like our bodies can weaken and fail with age. And they’re vulnerable to change.
Now if this were the end of the story, it would be pretty depressing. But listen to how the Apostle Paul describes our future. He says:- “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.”
This morning we’re examining Paul’s vision of the changes God makes in the lives of those who follow in the steps of His Son. There are three components in Paul’s vision, so let’s take a look at each.
I LOOK BEYOND OUR PRESENT TRANSIENT WORLD
The first is what Christians should focus upon. Paul says we’re to set our sights, - not on this present, unstable world that is constantly changing and decaying; but rather upon the realm God has prepared for those who obey and serve Him.
Many years ago while I was studying theology, one of my professors declared - that the ‘eternal life’, (often referenced in the Bible), isn’t really a world to come, but rather a quality of life which Christians’ experience here and now.
When I heard this, I was shaken. I’d always believed God has prepared a place for us beyond this earthly existence. But if eternal life was merely a quality of life here and now, I felt cheated.
Since then, I’ve learned that my professor was expressing a very liberal theology; (one which Is popular in many churches even today); a theology which questions many aspects of the Bible because they’re so hard to explain; the Genesis story of creation, for example; or the miracles of Jesus; His Virgin birth and even His physical resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Such challenges were common even in the Apostle Paul’s day, and he dedicated much of his teaching and writing to opposing these false teachings. You see, Paul was absolutely certain that God had miraculously intervened in human history. He knew this for a fact because he’d experienced it for himself, when Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus. That experience had transformed his life – changing him into a dynamic apostle of Christ who was totally committed to preaching the Good News of the Gospel.
Similar transformations have been experienced by countless others down through the ages; men and women who have been personally touched by the power of God; and who therefore, dedicate the rest of their lives to preaching the Word.
There’s no question that those who accept Christ into their hearts, are changed (here and now) by the experience. But as wonderful as such changes are, they’re a mere foretaste of what is to come.
That’s why Paul is so committed to challenging his readers to look beyond this present, ever changing and decaying world; - to the one which God has prepared for them; - a realm that’s free from change and decay.
Paul was very aware of the evils of this world. He’d suffered much because of them. His second letter to the Corinthians describes the many times he had been beaten with rods, lashed with whips, robbed and attached by bandits. So he knew this is an unstable world where selfishness and greed often reign supreme; and where those who focus only upon this world, end up depressed, hardened; and devoid of faith.
So Paul’s message to the Church is – “don’t lose heart,” even though outwardly you are wasting away,” because “inwardly you are being renewed day by day. For our troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. And so declares Paul - fix your eyes not on what you see around you, but on what is unseen; because what you see now is temporary; what is unseen is eternal.
Paul envisions ‘heavenly bodies’ that are real; but not subject to sickness, aging, or dying. Physical bodies that are not ethereal or ghost-like, but have real substance; and yet are very different from the bodies we inhabit now.
We need only turn to the record of Christ’s resurrection for proof that this is true; for after Jesus rose from the grave, His disciples were able to see Him; touch Him; walk with Him; and eat with Him. Yes, it’s true they sometimes didn’t immediately recognize Him, but His presence was real.
It’s Paul’s belief that virtually all human beings harbour deep within them, a longing for a better life; a better body; a better world; one not subject to corruption and decay. As he expresses it: “We groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling”. But in this present life, such perfection is out of reach; we can’t achieved it. And so the Good News of the Gospel is that God promises that our longing will be satisfied in the day of resurrection.
II WE MUST HAVE CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S PROMISE
Paul’s second point, is that while struggling through the hardships and toils of this life, we should never lose confidence in God’s promise. As the Bible declares, we are all living in exile from God. And even if we have faith in God and His promises, we’re still not home where we belong.
Many people find it difficult to believe in things they can’t see. It’s equally difficult to believe in things you can’t prove. Human beings like to have concrete evidence. We like to see results now. not off in the distant future. We seek instant gratification; and we’re not very good at waiting for long term goals, especially when those goals are intangible.
But the consistent message of the New Testament, and of the Apostle Paul, is that it is only by remaining strong in our faith and holding on to our beliefs that God’s promises will come true. So Paul calls us to live by faith, not by sight.
III WE ARE TO PLEASE GOD IN ALL THAT WE DO
Paul’s third point is one that causes problems for many. It’s what Paul says we are to do while waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled?
His answer seems simple enough, we’re to ‘please God’. By that he means, we’re to lead lives that lift us above the norm. We are to love one another as God loves us, but also resist the temptations and evils of the world; and that’s not always easy to do.
The story is told of woman who was tail-gating the driver in front of her on a busy city street. Suddenly the traffic light ahead turned yellow. The driver in front, did what any good driver is expected to do, he brought his car to a stop. But the woman behind him was in a hurry so this infuriated her and she began angrily honking her horn and screaming at him out the window, that he’d made her loose her chance to get through the light.
As she was in mid-rant, a police officer with a very stern look on his face approached her car and ordered to get out with her hands up. The officer then proceeded to take her to the police station where she was searched, finger printed, photographed, and placed in a holding cell.
After a couple of hours, an officer came to her cell; opened the door and escorted her back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting with her personal belongings.
"Madam”, he said, “I'm very sorry for this mistake, but, you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, venting your anger at the guy in front of you, and cussing a blue streak at him. I also noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do' bumper sticker, and the chrome-plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk, and so quite naturally... I assumed you’d stolen the car!"
Have you ever noticed how your behaviour changes when you are wearing an obviously Christian symbol?
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells His disciples that;- “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded;” (Luke 12:48) In other words, much more will be expected of those of us who have had the benefit of hearing the Gospel, than of those who haven’t.
Author Patrick Morley, in his book entitled ‘I Surrender’ - says that the Christian Church has an integrity problem because so many of us can add Christ to our lives, - but we can’t subtract sin. He calls this a ‘change in belief without a change in behaviour;” or - “revival with reformation but without repentance.’
For those who are having difficulty with his advice, Paul adds a rather strong motivator, saying: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (II Cor. 5:10)
I listen to satellite radio in my car. Some of the stations have commercials. One commercial really annoys me. It’s an advertisement for a company that say it can help people get out of debt. The message in the commercial is this: “Credit card debt is not your fault, it’s the credit card companies who are at fault.” Now I don’t know how you respond to a message like this, but my response is – “You’re wrong, it‘s not the company that’s at fault, it’s the consumer who ran up the debt who’s the guilty one! No one forces you to spend money!
As Christians, we need to accept responsibility for our behaviour. We can’t simply blame others. And the Gospel proclaims that message loud and clear. We are responsible for our own behaviour.
But friends, we need always remember; we don’t earn our way into heaven. Heaven isn’t the reward for a good life, it’s the consequence of it.