Summary: While our souls do indeed go to heaven when we die, this is by no means the end of it. The ultimate goal is the resurrection. This is what scripture teaches. Why has the church drifted from this teaching? This sermon seeks to answer that as well as
Sometimes, In these later years especially, I think that we Christians have spiritualized what we believe a little too much. What I mean when I say that is that we look at the promises of God only insofar as they have to do with our spirits, or our souls. For example, when you think of your ultimate goal as a Christian, what would you say that that is? Nine times out of ten, the Christians of today will say “go to heaven!”
This differs from the Early Christians, that is, the apostles and the people they instructed. Ask them what the ultimate goal is, and they’d say It was the resurrection (1Cor. 15:12-28; Phil. 3:11; Acts 4:1-2; 2Cor. 4:14; Rom. 8:11; Matt. 22:23-32 ). While it is true, our souls do go to heaven when we die (Luke 23:46, Phil 1:23), that’s not the end of it. In fact, the scriptures teach that the same bodies (Job 19:25-27) that we have right now, albeit free from corruption (1Cor. 15:52), will be ours. We will walk, we will talk, we will see, we will hear, we will touch, we will feel. We will be ourselves again! But even better then that. We will be ourselves again in a world made new (Job 19:25-27; Rom 8:19-21; Rev. 21:1-5).
Jesus referred to the eternity as paradise (luke 23:43). He said in Revelation that the world will be made new (Rev. 21:5). Paul says In Romans that “Creation waits in eager expectation....” (Rom. 8:21) Right now there are thorns on the ground (Gen. 3:17), but the thorns will be removed. Our Christmas Song, “Joy to the world” which we sing to recall the entrance of Christ in the world and what effects he will ultimately have “No more let sin or sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground, he comes to make his blessings flow far as curse is found.... In other words, He’s not only going to fix us in the resurrection, but when he does he’s going to fix the earth as well. So as we walk, talk, breath, smell, see, and hear, we will do so in a world which is restored to its intended and original luster (Rev. 21:1-5). And people ask, “what shall we do in eternity?” We will not only enjoy our creator as we have never enjoyed him before, we will enjoy creation as we have never enjoyed it before (Matt. 5:5); we will enjoy each other as never before.
Why have we, at this juncture, begun to forget this? A lot of it, I think comes from the the influx of gnosticism and also the eastern religions. Both of which assume that that the soul is perfect....and it’s the body and sometimes also matter that hold’s it back...... And salvation according to those who teach this is for the soul to escape the evil material world and the evil body.
But this is not what we believe. Remember....At each step of creating the material world God paused and said “This is good”. And even a cursory examination of human history reveals that evil does indeed infect the soul and that is therefore not perfect. Both the body and the soul of every man has suffered the effects of sin and therefore both the body and soul need to be redeemed. That’s why Jesus came to us in body and soul, to suffer in body and soul so that he could redeem our souls and bodies.
In today’s gospel lesson, with the raising of Lazarus, Jesus gives us a taste of the kind of thing he ultimately came to do. He didn’t merely come to take our souls and lead us on a great escape from the material world, he came to defeat death and give us resurrection from the dead. If we listen to what the people who were there said in reference to the death of Lazarus, I think we will begin to get an idea of what has happened to our understanding of eternity and why it has been somewhat stunted.
The first person we meet is Martha, a sister of Lazarus. The first thing she says to him is “Lord, If you had been here my brother would not have died”. To which Jesus replied “Your brother will rise again” And then Martha says something rather telling. She says “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” In other words, she qualifies and corrects what Jesus says. Yeah, she had thought of the possibility of the resurrection, but that was such a long way off that it didn’t even deserve consideration at the moment.
Maybe that’s what has happened to us: We actually do believe in the resurrection, but its such a long way off we are not comforted by that now. Instead, we seek to comfort ourselves by trying to imagine what the souls of the departed loved ones are doing right now. “Grampa’s looking down at us from heaven” Really? “Uncle Billy Bob is still with us in Spirit” really? Grandpa’s playing baseball right now with the angels” Honestly.... Where in the bible do we learn any of this?