The Resurrection of the Body and Life Everlasting - Learning to Put Last Thiings First (Continued)
Sunday, May 31, 2009 -
“We believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hades; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen”
Last week we continued our study of the last two central ideas of the creed - “...the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” That’s where the writers of the creed finally said “Amen.”
They didn’t finish the creed at that point simply because they ran out of good ideas. The life everlasting is the natural, proper place to say “amen.” That’s because everything else in the creed finds its fulfillment and completion in the life everlasting. The life everlasting is what makes the Christian faith so important. Who among us would bother with the Christian life if there was absolutely no existence beyond the grave? Why would we care about the forgiveness of sins? Or what would be the importance of the communion of the saints were it not for the life everlasting?
Some people might be helped psychologically by being able to deal with their feelings of guilt a little better with the notion that somehow God has forgiven them, and some people might find life a little more manageable with the support of a fellowship of friends, but they certainly would receive no more help in the church than they could find in a dozen other community based, self-help organizations that dot the landscape of our culture.
Christianity deals with the life everlasting. It’s the life everlasting that makes everything else in the creed important. That’s why the sub-title of this message is “Learning to put last things first.” Life finds its meaning in its destination. It’s like taking out a map and planning a trip. One of the first things you do is find out where you are and then mark where you are going. A map is really useless if you don’t have any destination in mind. It’s the destination that determines the route you will take. This is the same with our spiritual lives. It’s the destination that determines the nature of the journey. That’s why I said last week if you take away the life everlasting, the Christian life may be interesting, but it isn’t very important.
I want to wrap up this series on the Apostle’s Creed on a very basic point of practical application. As we think of the resurrection and the life everlasting we need to understand that these aren’t just points of sound doctrine (though we looked at the theology of these two points last week). The Bible refutes the contemporary cliche that to be “heavenly minded is to be of no earthly good.” The Scriptures deny this popular myth flat out. In fact, they teach the exact opposite. Paul teaches if our thoughts and hopes are limited to this earthly life our Christianity is going to be pitiable and powerless: 1 Corinthians 15:19 - “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
If there is nothing beyond this earthly life - nothing beyond death to which we are passionately anchored - then there is nothing but pity to be extended to us. That’s Paul’s way of saying we are going to experience a very pathetic, empty, powerless spirituality. In fact, what I want to show you today is the way Paul strives to incline our hearts, not less toward the hope of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, but more. I want you to see that, in Paul’s mind, the more a person treasures the joys of eternity over the joys of this present age, the more that person will be empowered to serve the Lord with excitement and strength. Also, he will be more enabled to be free from the downward pull of self-centeredness, and disentangle himself from the sting of sinful habits and regret and worry. Here’s our primary text today:
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 - “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,  as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Let me try to unfold some of the basic truths of these verses in a way that will help motivate us to treasure more deeply the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We’ll study one point this week and two next:
1) WE NEED MORE THAN PHYSICAL STRENGTH AND WILL POWER TO MOTIVATE AND EMPOWER OUR WALK WITH THE LORD IN THIS WORLD
This is what Paul is talking about in verse 16: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” The inner man - the real you inside your skin - is in need of constant renewal. We all know the truth of this. We all know that whatever vitality we possess isn’t a permanent or automatic feature of life. Strength comes and goes. Life is not static. It has it’s ups and downs. We all live life in seasons. Life is usually up, then down, then up again. We receive energy. We expend energy. Then we receive it again from God’s hand. And so life goes.
Paul tells why this is so. We all have a common problem. Paul says our outer man (or woman) is decaying. This is where we start to see Paul zeroing in on the need for resurrection bodies. These present bodies are decaying. They’re wearing out. And there is nothing we can do about it.
Now, people don’t think about his fact all the time. If you’re in good physical health and full of strength, you may have a hard time relating to what Paul says about these present, decaying, physical bodies. Or, if you’re very young, and your energy levels never seem to deplete, you too may feel miles away from what Paul is saying in these verses.
This is why young people sometimes have a hard time thinking as seriously about spiritual things as they should. All your future potential seems to thrive in this world. You find it hard, right now, to think of yourself as even being mortal, let alone decaying and in need of spiritual renewal. You’re not held back by arthritis or bad hearing.
This is why the Scriptures have a special warning, geared directly to the kind of foolish deception that young, strong bodies are particularly vulnerable to: Ecclesiastes 12:1 - “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, "I have no pleasure in them"
One of the wisest men who ever lived tells us that youth is the time of life to remember God because youth is the time it’s so easy to forget God. Very few people forget God when they’re on their death beds. But it’s harder to remember God when you just get married, graduate from college, or buy your first car, or get your first home or apartment. All your hopes and dreams and goals are so tightly tied to your future in this present world. Everything about your future life here on earth seems so vast and promising and unstoppable.
This is why we need to hear Paul’s words about how all of this changes so quickly. No doubt Paul could see the rapid changes taking place in his earthly body as time flashed by. Probably, even as he pens these words he realizes he can’t see as he once did. There were no glasses in those days and the oil lamp doesn’t seem to light things up the way it used to. He can’t hear the way he once did. He doesn’t recover from beatings the way he used to. His joints are all swollen and sore and arthritic. And there is no such thing as Tylenol. His strength doesn’t hold up walking from town to town the way it used to. His memory isn’t as sharp as it once was. In other words, Paul knows what the rest of us all know too - he knows he is gradually dying. His outer man is decaying. And his lifestyle hasn’t made this process any easier - See 2 Corinthians 11:23-28!
You can almost see Paul, perhaps the last time he was beaten half to death by robbers as he walked the road alone at night, when suddenly he has this immediate, deep flash of insight - “You know, Paul, you’re just not as young as you used to be. You don’t bounce back as quickly anymore!”So how does Paul cope? This is more than an academic question. You and I both need to know the answer. Life can beat you up sometimes. You can take a pounding - physically, financially, relationally. You can come to times when you wonder whether or not it’s worth it. You and I need to know Paul’s secret of inner renewal and joy and strength for the journey. We all need inward renewal because the outward strength of the body will never carry us all the way through to glory. It was never intended to.