Summary: God’s people remain steadfast because of the assurance of the victory.
The family sat down at the table and dad asked his young son to “say grace” over the meal. While the family waited, the little boy quickly eyed every dish which his mother had prepared; then he bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, I don’t like the look of it, but thank you — I’ll eat it anyway.”
People could say something similar to the Apostle: “Look at your life, Paul. I don’t like the looks of it. What has following Jesus gotten you, other than trials, troubles and tribulations? You speak of victory, but I see no light at the end of your tunnel — all I see is the grave. Where, Paul, is your victory?”
As we go home tonight and gather in our various places tomorrow, we will speak much of thankfulness. As is proper, we will dwell on temporal blessings, on our relative ease when compared to Paul’s great burdens. We can be thankful for dry homes, clean water, good friends, a free country and countless benefits of living in this time and place.
But two small questions may threaten to pop our bubble of happiness. First, we may wonder, “Is this all there is? Yes, of course, I am thankful for a bit of comfort, a spot of tea, and warm fire. But is that enough to satisfy my soul?” And then, second, “What about those who lack what we take for granted, a safe house, a good meal, a loving family, health and ease? For what are they to be thankful?”
Paul endured exhausting difficulties — beaten a shade short of death, stoned to a bloody pulp, starvation, hypothermia, attack and abuse — such was the treatment of the greatest apostle. He knew none of the comforts for which I will be thankful over turkey tomorrow. Those are all good — yet none is sufficient. If we have them, they lack sufficient power to satisfy the soul; if we lack them, their absence is not sufficient to destroy thankfulness. At least it was not for Paul. Why not? His thankfulness come from meditating on the final victory of Jesus. Here alone is cause sufficient for every soul. Paul is thankful because…
1. He Knows We Will Rise Fit For the Kingdom
At the Creation Museum and were shown the relative size of some of the larger stars in the universe. The earth is 93 million miles from the sun, but some of the stars which God made are larger than that. If one of those stars were to replace our sun, the earth’s rotation would be inside it! Now suppose I said to you, “That would be great. I would like to live inside the surface of the Sun. What a great way to get a tan!”
You would know that I was crazy, because this body cannot live in those temperatures. Well, in a similar way, this body cannot live in the new kingdom. “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God…. Perishable does not inherit perishable…. Your mortal body must be made immortal” in order to live in the kingdom. Heaven is such a completely different level of existence that the bodies we have now cannot survive there.
The changing room is the grave. Death is not proof Jesus lost; it is the passage to Christ’s victory party. Paul is also thankful because…
2. He Knows We Will Rise At the Perfect Time
Westminster Catechism Question 37 asks: “What benefits do believers receive from Christ when they die?” The answer is: “When believers die, their souls are made perfectly holy and immediately pass into glory. Their bodies, which are still united to Christ, rest in the grave until the resurrection.”
I love gardening. For me, it is a great hobby. But no matter how many years we have done so, the feeling of helplessness remains when we cover dried seeds with dirt. How are we supposed to get anything back from that? Maybe some of us, like a little child having just helped dad cover the seeds with dirt, would ask our Father, “When will the millions of bodies which have been planted in the earth finally spring out as new, resurrected lives?”
The Father says, “Patience, my child. The day will come. When the time assigned to this age is complete, in a split-second, in the blink of an eye, they will all sprout.” God is the grand gardener. He plants seeds in the graves which will yield glorious crops.
Paul is also thankful because…
3. He Knows We Will Rise Free From Sin and Death
No longer will the law wield power over our sin nature. No longer will obedience provoke pride, nor disobedience result from rebellion and lack of faith. No longer will we be angry at the commandments and jealous of other’s willing obedience. No longer will sin tempt you until the moment you give in and then effortlessly begin to mock your faithlessness.