2nd Corinthians – Wayne Barber/Part 19
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2006
|Conquering the Fear of Death – Part 2When we as believers do what we’re supposed to do, when we allow God’s Word to renew our minds, it completely changes our way of thinking. Then that which we cannot humanly understand is divinely revealed to us by His Spirit and His Word. You see, we fear what we do not understand and so many people do not realize that if they’ll just get in the Word with a yielded heart, God’s Spirit will reveal truth to them that will dismiss their fear.
The Great Departure
We are in chapter 5 now as we work our way through 2 Corinthians. Now let me get you into this. When we as believers do what we’re supposed to do, when we allow God’s Word to renew our minds, it completely changes our way of thinking. Then that which we cannot humanly understand is divinely revealed to us by His Spirit and His Word. You see, we fear what we do not understand and so many people do not realize that if they’ll just get in the Word with a yielded heart, God’s Spirit will reveal truth to them that will dismiss their fear.
You see, if you know Scripture today, you’ve studied Scripture, you know that death is no longer anything to fear. It is not the enemy of the believer. Death is just a departure from here to there: it’s graduation day for the believer to be in the presence of God. Paul talked about this in 2 Timothy 4:6 and he’s about ready to be martyred for the faith, if you know anything about the apostle Paul. And he says in verse 6, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” There’s a departure here. When we walk by faith in what the Word of God says, then we will be pursuing the eternal instead of the temporary which we looked at last time.
In our text of 2 Corinthians, coming out of 4:16, Paul says that in the face of hostility—and there were a lot of hostile people around him—Paul says, “I’m delivered over to death every day.” Somebody was threatening his life and ultimately one day he would be martyred for the faith, but he said, “When I’m in the face of that hostility, I’m not going to turn coward. I’m not going to quit and run back.” He said absolutely not. “I’m not going to lose heart.” That’s what the word means, to turn back, to doing it other ways.
He says in verse 16, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying,” Paul knew something else was going on, “yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” Now what does he mean by that? Well, the outer man is dying; he knew that. He knew that the outer man was dying every day. His earthen vessel in which the treasure had come to live; Paul knew that it was dying. If they killed him, so what? That was just bottom line. But Paul also knew that something else was going on: in his inner man was being renewed day by day.
You see, all of the adversity on the outside was just squeezing the life that was in him so that people could see it outside. Paul knew this. The term “inner man” is synonymous with the spiritual heart that every believer has where Christ comes to live in the person of His Holy Spirit. He says in 2 Corinthians 1:22, “who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit,” that’s the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, “in our hearts as a pledge.” The inner man is also synonymous with our Spirit. Romans 8:16, “The Spirit Himself bears with our Spirit that we are children of God.” It is in the inner man where the Treasure, who is Christ Himself, has come to live. It says in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.”
It is in the inner man, in our spirit, in our spiritual heart, where we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit of God. He says in Ephesians 3:16, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” So it’s in the inner man where our spiritual heart beats with His heart. This is where we want to do His will. He says in Romans 7:22, “For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.” So the inner man is being renewed day by day. This is where God has come to live. This is where the life of Christ is.
Paul lived in this world but because of Christ living in him, he didn’t live for this world. Faith had lifted him out of the obvious, out of the realm of the eternal. Faith had enabled him to live in the realm of the actual, the eternal. He looked for things that were not seen instead of the things that were seen. He saw clearly that the pain that this earthen vessel has to go through and that might suffer in this life was only momentary compared to the eternal weight of glory it was producing in him. And again, that’s the life of Christ being seen in him. The very life of Christ was being manifested in Paul day by day regardless of the pressure that came upon him.
And in verse 17 he says, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Paul had learned to focus his life on the unseen, not the seen, as we said a moment ago. Verse 18 says, “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” So to Paul death was a piece of cake. I mean it was no big deal. It was just from here to there. And today we’re going to see how this truth can encourage and help each of our lives. How God has prepared us for the moment of death, the moment of departure when we depart these bodies and go to be with the Lord Jesus.
Second Corinthians 5:5 says, “Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us His Spirit as a pledge.” Now what we’re going to do as we look at the text, we want you to get ready, strap your seatbelts on. We’re going to look today at what happens at the moment of death, how Paul pictures death, and what it is, and all the glorious things that the believer has in store for him when that death occurs. So, as I said, strap your seatbelts on. None of us have experienced this. How do I know that? Because we’re all sitting here today. We haven’t been there yet but every one of us is headed that way. So how do you conquer that fear of death? I think it will be a blessing and a challenge to your heart.
The purpose of our departing
First of all, we want to see the purpose of our departing. Why is there the departure? Verse 1 says of chapter 5, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God…” Now the word “know” there in the phrase “for we know” is the word eido. Now eido means “intuitive knowledge.” Now that’s something that’s different from knowledge that you have to go to a class to learn. This is something that is built in. It’s a knowledge that doesn’t have to be taught to those who live focused on the unseen.
I want to tell you something. If you’re not letting your minds be renewed by God’s Word, if you’re not living in the eternal instead of the temporal, if you’re not living in the unseen instead of the seen, you have no clue what we’re talking about right here. But a person who lives that way and a person who grasps that Christianity is moment by moment, breath by breath, then he has a knowledge, a built-in intuitive knowledge. For we know something. And we live with this intuitive knowledge.
Paul uses another contrast in this verse. And he says, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God.” Now he contrasts a tent with a building. And that’s a beautiful way of teaching truth. He wants us to understand that anything we have in this life is temporary but what we have in the next life is eternal. A tent is a temporary dwelling. It is made for a person on a journey. It is not meant to be a permanent residence.
When I was in church youth and recreation I became an instructor in the American Camping Association. And we had to do a survival training in the mountains of the Ozarks in Arkansas. And they put two of us, on purpose, they put two of us in a pup tent and both of us were very large people. The other person was a guy who was All-American at Mississippi State University in basketball. He was 6’8” and his shoulders were at least twice the size of mine. And they had the cameras ready the next morning when we tried to get out of that tent. Getting into the tent was bad enough, but getting out of the tent and especially at the same time, we liked to have torn that tent all to pieces. We learned real quickly that a tent is not designed for a permanent dwelling. Anybody knows that.
And they knew that in the days of Paul. The nomadic people would live in tents and move from place to place. However, a building, a building, is a lasting structure and it’s built to remain. So once again Paul shows us in a figurative way the difference between the temporary and the eternal. You want to talk about it? Listen, the body you’re living in right now is a tent: it’s a temporary dwelling. But you have something on the other side that is an eternal dwelling. It’s called a building, not a tent. Paul says that our human bodies are earthly tents. They are our temporary dwelling. They are our house in which we live in on this earth.
Now death is described as our tent being torn down. He says, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down.” Now, what a picture Paul draws of what physical death is all about here on this earth. It’s our tent being torn down.
The word translated “torn down’ is kataluo. It means “to be loosed.” It has the idea of striking a tent, when you take it down; breaking camp. I mean if you’ve ever been camping, breaking camp, striking the tent, taking it down. And the whole idea in this is you are moving on. That’s the implicit truth that’s in this. Death is for us like taking down a tent, breaking camp and moving on from here to someplace else.
“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down.” Now the “torn down” is aorist passive. The aorist passive tense tells us a lot of what’s going on. First of all, the aorist tense says it’s an instantaneous event. Even though we’re dying, death is an instantaneous thing, just like birth, death is an event. It happens at a specific time. It means, by the passive voice, that something or someone is causing this to happen. Physical death is brought about by something, either illness, violence, you get worn out, or whatever. Something is causing that death to happen.
But we learned last week in our message that God determines when and where this event takes place. At the very moment of death our spirits depart. If you’ve never been with somebody who has gone on to be with the Lord, then you don’t quite grasp what I’m talking about. I’ve seen this. It’s incredible. One second they’re breathing and fighting for life and the next second, just the next instantaneous second the spirit leaves. You can sense it. It’s almost as if you had a more visual way of looking at it: it just departs that whole room. The spirits depart.
Verse 8 tells you where they go: to be in the presence of the Lord. Look down in verse 8 of chapter 5. He says, “we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” So the purpose of our departing, of our earthly tent being folded, of the camp being shut down and the camp being broken up and we move on, is so that we can be in the literal, visual presence of God. Death must occur or Christ must come for His church to ever be in His visual presence, to where we can see Him.
Now this brought quite a dilemma to the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul wasn’t so sure which he wanted more: whether to live here or to go on to be with the Lord. Really, that’s what was really pulling him. And he says in Philippians 1:21-24, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Now you understand why he’s saying this. He says, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.” If I had a choice to make, I’m not so sure which one I’d choose. “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”
And you can see that dilemma. He understood what death would do. Death was necessary to get him into the visual, literal presence of Christ. We have to die in order for that to take place, or He must come for His church. So the purpose of this departure is to be with God. That seems so exciting to the believer: to be with God. I remember when my Mama died, I was doing her funeral. She asked me several months before she died. She said, “Wayne Allen,” that’s what she called me when she was serious about something. She said, “Wayne Allen, I want you to do my funeral.”
And I remember really struggling with that, because my Mama and I were really close. You talk about a Mama and her son; we were very, very close. And I remember at that funeral I walked into the chapel where her body was in the casket, nobody else was in there. I’ve done hundreds of funerals, I’ve never done this before, but I walked over and I laid my hand down on my Mama’s head. It was just a tender moment for me. And I don’t know why, I guess it’s the way they preserve the body or whatever, but it was ice cold and I jerked my hand back and it was like the Holy Spirit of God was in that room and He said, “Wayne, what are you doing son? She is not in there, she’s with me.” And it overwhelmed me.
All of a sudden I was grateful for the fact that death had finally taken her into the presence of God. You see, believers live that way. This world doesn’t live that way. They get all they can, can all they get, save the can and poison the rest. They’re living for this world. That’s all they know. They’ve got so much invested in this world that death scares them half to death. It does not scare a believer, a believer who lives in the unseen, a believer who lives in the eternal instead of the temporary. That kind of person understands that death is necessary for him to finally be in the literal, visual presence of God.
The prize of our departing
So what’s the purpose of our departure? To be with God. Not bad, huh? Secondly, the prize of our departing. There’s something that we have waiting on us. The moment death occurs, the moment our earthly tent is taken down and we depart to be with Christ, Paul tells us we have a building from God. “A house not made with hands,” a house meaning a body, “eternal in the heavens.” Now this is the prize. This is that “building” we’ve been talking about. The temporary residence that we have on earth, that tent, is now contrasted with a building we have from God. “A house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
Paul, by using the term “house not made with hands,” is talking about a resurrected body. You say, “How do you know that?” Because Jesus Himself used those terms in Mark 14:58. He says, “We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands.’” And He’s not talking about a physical building; He’s talking about a resurrected body. So when our earthly body dies, our earthly tent is taken down, camp has been broken up and we’re moving on. We have another body, a heavenly body, for a covering that is permanent. Paul is summarizing what he said to the Corinthians already in his first epistle to them, 1 Corinthians 15:34-54. But let me read 1 Corinthians 15:42-44.
He says, “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body [there’s your glorified body] it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” So we understand that there’s a permanent dwelling waiting for us.
Now we must be real careful here. The context of 2 Corinthians 5 and of 1 Corinthians 15 specifically refer to the eternal covering, that permanent body that we’ll have one day; our resurrection body. Chapter 5:1 again says, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” The phrase “eternal in the heavens” is clear enough; it speaks of the permanent spiritual covering we will have in that day.
Now let me see if I can explain this. This is the bodies that we have here being resurrected and glorified and changed. In 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 he explains much more of this. He says, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Now why is that? Because where we’re going our bodies are not fit for that place: “nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep,” and that word “sleep,” when it’s referring to death, has to do only with the body, “but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Boy, there are some powerful verses there.
I have a good friend whose son was killed tragically in a car wreck and I went down to his funeral. We all knew the boy that was killed; he was 26 years old, only been married seven months. It was going to be a tough funeral because even though everybody was rejoicing, it was so sudden. And Fred Wolf, the pastor at Cottage Hill at that time, stepped out to do the message that day. And I didn’t know what he was going to say and oh, how he excited my heart.
He came out and he started talking to death. It was almost as if we weren’t even there. He said, “Oh, death, where is your victory? Oh, death, where is your sting?” And his whole point was there is no sting of death, there is no victory in death to the believer. We’ve already seen it conquered in the Lord Jesus Christ and death is not an enemy to us.
Now when this happens, when the Lord Jesus comes for His church—now some of you don’t believe in the rapture of the church. That’s okay, like I’ve said many, many times; I’m not going to argue with you. You stay here; I’m going on with the first bunch. Send me a postcard if that’s the view you want to hold on to. It doesn’t bother me—but there’s an order in which we’re going to get our resurrection bodies. They’re not going to happen until He comes for His church. That’s when we’re going to get the resurrection body, the permanent, eternal, spiritual covering for the body.
Now, there’s an order. Jesus was the firstfruits. He bodily resurrected from the grave, 1 Corinthians 15 says if you don’t believe that, you don’t even believe the gospel and you’re not even saved, because He set the pattern. The second thing is that the dead bodies of the righteous dead, those who departed, have gone on to be with the Lord, then they will be raised from the dead. And then thirdly, those who are living at the time He comes for His church will be changed.
You say, “How do you know that?” In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, that’s what he’s dealing with. They knew that death took them into the presence of God, but they were worried about the bodies in the ground. Has that ever bothered you? And it was bothering them. So Paul explained it. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 he says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep [remember, it’s not talking about their spirits if they’re with the Lord; it’s about their bodies], that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”
Now wait a minute. I thought they were in the ground. No, remember there was a departure. He brings their spirits with Him. “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, they’re going to be raised first. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air [and by the way, I don’t see how in the world people get around that that have other views] and thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.”
Christ set the pattern. His resurrection from the dead, His bodily resurrection, His glorified body and we know that from Scripture. Then those that are dead, their bodies are in the ground will raise up, and then we as believers who are living at that time shall in an instant be changed. I love the skeptics that are always hanging around. And they say, “How in the world is God going to raise a dead body. It’s already turned back into ashes. Or maybe one that was in a plane crash and blew up in the middle of the plane crash. Or maybe somebody took a grenade in a battle and it blew him to smithereens. How is God going to raise that kind of body?”
Don’t you love skeptics? They’re everywhere; they’re a dime a dozen. You know what my answer is? The same God who stepped out on nothing and spoke and created everything is going to raise those bodies from the dead. Any questions? See, this is where people are. They don’t believe. They don’t believe in creation, they’ve got to come up with some humanistic formula and that’s why they can’t understand death. They can’t understand the promises of God. Only the people that live in the unseen can even begin to grasp what he’s saying right here.
But then he’s saying that there’s an eternal, spiritual covering. That’s our prize. Where we live in an earthly tent down here that can be folded at any moment when God chooses, and camp be stricken and torn down, and camp be broken up and we move on, when we see Him, we shall be like Him. We shall have a permanent body. But you say, “There’s something missing here. The Lord Jesus has to come for His church before this permanent body can be given. So what happens at the moment of death for a person when Jesus has not yet come back?”
Paul seems to suggest in this passage—and I’ll show you why I believe this and I’m not the only one—that there is a temporary, immediate covering a body gets until that event takes place down the road. The moment you and I die there’s a temporary covering for our spirit. Look at verse 3, “inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.” Being unclothed, meaning without a body, the spirit being just a free-floater. The term “inasmuch” is the Greek word “if indeed it is something that is to be taken for granted.”
Paul says, “inasmuch as we,” meaning “it should be taken for granted,” “having put it on, will not be found naked.” But why, why did he add the phrase “we will not be found naked” or unclothed? It seems to me, and like I said, I’m not the only one who thinks this way, it seems to me Paul is saying that our spirits, now listen carefully, are never to be left unclothed. They don’t just float around after death like Hollywood would have us to believe. You know the Twilight Zone song. “I was riding down the road the other day and somebody’s dead spirit came floating through my car window.”
You know, people who think that way probably had pizza the night before. That’s not it. Good grief, we get our theology from Hollywood instead of from the Word of God. It seems apparent that spirits are not to be left free-floating. If you’ll think about something, even evil spirits, when Jesus cast the Gerasene demoniac out, where did He cast him into? To the swine. Why did he cast him into the swine? Why didn’t He say, “Shoo, shoo, shoo, you all get out of here, just float around somewhere?” He put them in a body, and so the idea then is that the moment we’re dead, the moment our earthly covering is shed, there is some kind of covering so that our spirits would never be left unclothed.
Even though it’s not as clear as we’d like for it to be, we’ll find out the day that we die. It should be taken for granted that the spirit is not to be left unclothed: “inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked.” We also know from Scripture that whatever this covering is, the moment we die, it’s identifiable. And that just comforts my heart. It is recognizable. You say, “How do you know that?” It’s easy, I told you, Scripture tells us. Luke 16:19-23 it says, “Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.”
Now some people say this is a parable. No sir. In parables no names were given. This has to be a little story. “And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.” He recognized Abraham and he recognized Lazarus. In Luke 9:29-31, “And while He [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming.” This was on the Mt. of Transfiguration. “And behold, two men were talking with Him;” two men, they were identifiable as men, “and they were Moses and Elijah, who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”
So just in those two contexts, Lazarus, Abraham, Moses, and Elijah, all were recognizable. So what do we know then? What can comfort our hearts? First of all we know that one day when Christ comes for His church, our dead bodies will raise up from the ground, be glorified, changed, and clothed in our immortal spirit. But we also know there has to be a temporary covering that is identifiable, recognizable the moment that we die because the spirit is not to be left unclothed.
Our prize then is an identifiable covering of our eternal spirit. There is a departure at death. What is the purpose of it? That we might be in the presence of God. But there’s also a prize. There’s an identifiable heavenly body waiting on us. I tell you what, that comforts me. How many of you have people more on the other side seems like anymore than you do on this side besides me? Doesn’t it get good after while? And just think about it: you will recognize them immediately. I don’t know how that happens but they are recognizable, and that should be a comfort to each of our hearts.
The problem of our departing
Well, thirdly, the problem with our departing. You say, “What could be the problem with our departing if we’re going to be with Jesus and we’re going to have a heavenly body, what could be the problem?” Well, listen, to be unafraid of death does not mean that all of us look forward, now listen carefully, to the act of dying. You catch the difference? To be unafraid of death does not mean that all of us look forward to the act of dying.
Verse 4, “For indeed while we are in this tent [this is our earthly body] we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” So Paul says while we’re in this tent, he’s saying, while we’re in this earthly body, we groan. The word for “groan” there is stenazo. It means “to sigh, to groan.” Now many people think that he’s talking about the suffering that the body has to go through, the pain, and possibly, but that doesn’t seem to be the meaning here. It seems to be he’s referring to the fact that he’s groaning because he so wants to be in that heavenly body. You see this in all of his epistles. He so wants to be in the presence of Jesus. It makes much more sense to read the text that way.
He says, “For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan,” we’re so longing to be in that heavenly body that God has for us. But then he mentions “being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed.” Now this is intriguing to me. The word “being burdened.” When I got hold of it I said, “Wait a minute. He’s groaning because he wants to be in that body, but what’s he burdened about?” The word for “burden” there is the word bareo. It means to be “weighed down, to be heavy.” What’s he referring to? I think the answer is in the word “unclothed.” He says, “because we do not want to be unclothed.” Being unclothed is the act of dying. Remember, it’s the folding of the tent; it’s the taking off of the earthly garment. Paul says we do not want to be unclothed, the act of dying, but we really want to be clothed. We want to be in the garment that God has for us.
I believe what Paul is saying is that “I long to be clothed in that body, but I don’t look forward to the experience of having to die.” You know, that to me puts him on a relationship that I can understand. None of us have been through that experience yet and so therefore most of us are a little bit intimidated by it. We’re not afraid of death; we know what’s going to happen.
Again, Paul wasn’t afraid of death, but I don’t think he particularly relished the process of having to die. Paul wanted to be living when Christ came for His church so that he could skip the whole act of dying. Now, I totally agree with that. How many of you agree with that? Wouldn’t we like to skip the act of dying because we don’t know how we’re going to go out of here? I’d much rather Him come and when I see Him I’ll be like Him and I’ll have my permanent heavenly body forever and ever and ever and not have to worry about any of this. I think that’s what Paul is saying.
He would probably die; he knew that he wouldn’t die in his sleep, delivered over to death every day. He knew he’d probably die a terrible death which by the way he did; he was martyred at the hands of those who hated Christ and the gospel that he so boldly preached. But I believe what he’s saying is that “I’d much rather just skip dying and be clothed in that heavenly body.”
The phrase “so what is mortal may be swallowed up by life,” is just saying the same thing he said in 1 Corinthians 15:54-55. It’s a quote from Isaiah 25:8. Let me read Isaiah 25:8-9. He’s quoting it. “He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day, ‘Behold, this is our God for whom we have waited that He might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.’”
I believe that the apostle Paul is no different than you and I in the sense that he was a mortal human being and he knew the truth, he knew the Old Testament Scriptures, he knew that God would conquer death, he knew that Jesus conquered it on the cross, he knew that the moment he died was nothing more than the folding of an earthly tent, he knew that there was going to be a heavenly body waiting on him, but oh, if he could just have it his way. “Oh, God, come Lord Jesus, come right now and I can skip the whole thing and be in that heavenly body and live with you forever.”
By the way, has anybody else thought that recently besides me? Wouldn’t it be nice sometimes? Just, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Wouldn’t it be great? I’d like to be on an airplane, taking off. And have that thing just go on up and up and up and up and he’s trying to reach that altitude and all of a sudden the Lord Jesus says, “Come on,” and just keep right on going, just right on up and meet Him in the air like Thessalonians talks about.
Paul knows that God will accomplish all of this. Paul knows that there’s a purpose in departing: to be with the Lord Jesus. He knows that there’s a prize: there’s a heavenly body. But I think the only problem and struggle he has, he was burdened way down, was that he didn’t particularly relish the act of dying: how you have to go out.
The preparation for our departing
Well, the final thing is the preparation for our departing. You see, God has already prepared us for this. He says in 2 Corinthians 5:5, “Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” Now the phrase, “Now He who prepared us for this very purpose,” is very clear. The word “prepare,” katergazomai, means “he who worked this out; he that has accomplished this for us.” Jesus, when He went to the cross, by dying and resurrecting from the grave, accomplished every bit of this for us. He knew that. And to document it, to document it, God built into Paul and each one of us an eternal guarantee.
Who prepared us for this very purpose is God, “who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” The Holy Spirit living in you and living in me is His eternal guarantee that death is a piece of cake. All of this has been taken care of. When we die, we’ll be immediately in His presence and we’ll have a heavenly body. All of this has already been taken care of. A down payment, the word there is “pledge” is the word arrahbon, and it refers there to “earnest money” or a down payment, if you please. And a down payment is that which guarantees full payment is coming later on.
Though we’re not to be afraid of death, we’re not told to look forward to the experience, and nobody said that. But when death occurs, we will depart this body. There will be a departure. And there will be a heavenly body waiting for us. It is identifiable and one day our earthly bodies will rise incorruptible, and we’ll clothe our immortal spirits forever. And the guarantee that this is going to take place is that the Holy Spirit of God lives in us right now and He is God’s down payment that everything has already been accomplished.
I tell you what, when I die, if you make it longer than I do, I just want you to remember some things. When you have the funeral, don’t come in here with a long face. I want people to celebrate because, man, that’s homecoming. “Wayne’s gone home.” If you shed a tear or two, that will be okay because I want somebody to remember me that way. But don’t be too broken up.
You have eyes and if you’ve had anybody go on to be with the Lord, that if you could get into heaven and talk to him and say, “Listen, God, can you let him come back for 25 years? We miss him so badly.” Do you know what they would tell you, even if God gave permission? They’d say, “No way. I’m where you’re supposed to be. Now get with the act and come on up here with me.”
Death initiates the eternal process of us being with Jesus forever and ever and ever. Now don’t discount this life, because He has us here for a purpose. And don’t miss that purpose. Just don’t get so hung up in it that the tail wags the dog. Don’t live for this earth; live in it, but not of it. But remember that death has already been accomplished by what the Lord Jesus has done for us. And it’s a departure and we will have a heavenly body and we will be with the Lord Jesus forever.
Dwight L. Moody is one of my favorite people to read about. Realizing that he would soon be gone from this world one day, Moody said to a friend, “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone higher, that is all. Out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint. A body fashioned into His glorious body. I was born in the flesh in 1837. I was born in the spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die, but that which is born of the spirit will live forever.” I love that.
What happens to a believer at death, if we just understood it, we would not be afraid of it. We’re afraid of what we don’t understand.