James Merritt - Forever Right
Today, I wanna talk about not just how to live right and how to die right, but how to make sure you make the right turn after you die. What we said quite frankly, unapologetically, is that only Jesus can help you do both. If you live right, you'll live for Jesus. If you die right, you'll live with Jesus. And if you live right and die right you will be forever right. Now, let me just go ahead and get the elephant in the room out of the way. I understand, I'm begging the question to begin with. I'm begging the question about life after death 'cause I'm actually talking about a question that is old as civilization itself. You may not realize this but Bible scholars believe that the oldest book in the Bible, the first book that was ever truly written, was not the book of Genesis.
Bible scholars believe that the oldest book ever written was the book of Job. And we know that many, many years ago, people were already asking this question: "If someone dies, will they live again"? I mean, that's the question philosophers have asked and thanatologists have asked, people who specialize in death. And just ordinary run-of-the-mill people like you and me, from the time we begin to realize we're going to die and this life is not all there is, we begin to wonder. "Well, is this life all there is or is there something more" is one of the top philosophical questions of all time. Because we know that we live, everybody's got that down, and we know that we die. We witness that every single day. But what we want to know is, is there life after death? Is death a period or is death a comma?
And that's such an important question because there are two things that every life has in common with a street and a book and a movie. That is, they all have beginnings and they all have endings. Your heart only has so many beats and it'll beat no more. Your lungs have only so many breaths and then they will breathe no more. So the question is this: "When there is no more to this life, is there more after this life"? "When there's no more to this life, is there more after this life"? Now, the answer is deep, but the answer is really very simple. Because think about it, there are only two possible answers to the question, right? Yes or no. Either there is life after death or there is no life after death.
Now, on the one hand, some people agree with the late scientist, Stephen Hawking, who said this. He said, "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that's a fairy story for people afraid of the dark". On the other hand, the vast majority of people in this world including me are people who believe in life after death. And by the way, let me just say this. If you don't believe in life after death, we're all going to find out one second after we die whether there is or not. As a matter of fact, the Christian world view holds to this view that there is such a thing as eternal life, that life does not end with death. As a matter of fact, I actually believe and we really believe life truly begins with death. In a sense, it really begins after death.
Now, here's what I want you to hear. Christians get two opportunities to live on earth, not one. You do get two. The first one begins and ends, okay? It is just a dot. So this is your life. It's just real brief, it's real short. Now, that dot may be 30 years, 40 years, 100 years but, really, in the grand scheme of things, it's just a dot, okay? We all get to live in that dot. That's the first opportunity. However, the second opportunity is an infinite line that goes on forever and ever and ever for all eternity. All right, here's what I want you to understand. Too many people live for the dot when we ought to be living for the line. Too many people put all their eggs in the life basket when you better make sure you've got your eggs in the life after death basket.
So here's the question: "What is the biblical answer to the question"? How can you wind up forever right? Not just live right, die right, but I mean be forever right. Well, there was a man named Paul and he wrote a letter to a church in a place I've been many, many times. It's a great place to go. It's in Corinth, a place called Corinth. And it carefully spells out in detail how a believer in Jesus can be forever right. And if you have any interest in being forever right I invite you to study this passage along with me. It's in a book called Corinthians. It's actually a book called 2 Corinthians which ought to clue you in. It's after 1 Corinthians. It's in the New Testament. We're in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and what Paul says, when you think about it, makes perfect sense. And it is a great comfort on how we can make the right turn forever.
Here's what he tells. He tells us three simple things; one we already know, all right? First of all, in death we leave physical life. Well, I mean, we know that, right? In death we leave physical life. Now, listen to what Paul begins, how he begins in chapter 5, verse 1. Paul says, "For we know 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". Now, it's very interesting to me to know that Paul describes the body that we live in as an earthly tent. I mean, for example, right now when I look out at this crowd, I'm looking at a campground. I see some small tents, I see some big tents. I see some beautiful tents and I'm looking at a few worn-out tents, okay? But to me, let me tell you something, that is a great metaphor for this reason.
Let me tell you why I think that's such a great way to put this body. Because you don't permanently live in a tent, okay? That's not a permanent residence. You camp out in a tent. Tents are not built to be lived in. They are put up to sleep in, camp out in, and then to be taken down. And by the way, just a little aside, you may not know this. But Paul, who wrote this letter, happened to be a tentmaker. And I kind of have an idea since this is what he did for a living, I kind of had this idea that every time Paul made a tent, he would always think about his body and your body and our bodies and every time Paul would make a tent, Paul would think about just how temporary the tent is and how this tent is a picture of the human body 'cause I want you to understand something. We were never meant to live forever in this tent.
Now, we ought to take care of the tent. We'll talk about that in a moment and we ought to, you know, we thank God for the tent but it's just a tent. As a matter of fact, I'll tell you something fascinating. I didn't know this. But one of the 12 disciples named John, he was describing how Jesus Christ became a human being and he puts it this way. He said, "The Word," he's talking about Jesus. "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us". Now, you see this phrase, "He made his dwelling"? The interesting word there, that literally means to live in a tent. In other words, the first body that Jesus lived in was a tent, just like yours and just like mine. It was a temporary dwelling. That's why that body could be crucified. That's why that body could be put to death. But his resurrection body became a house where he lives forever.
Now, I'll tell you, when you go to the Old Testament you kind of realize how God drew a picture of this many, many, many thousands of years ago. If you don't know the story, let me just kind of refresh your memory. When Israel was freed... they used to be in bondage to a nation called Egypt and God freed them. But for 40 years they wandered in the wilderness because they disobeyed God. God wanted to take them to the Promise Land, but they didn't believe God. They disobeyed God so God judged them. And so they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Well, while they were wandering in the wilderness, God gave them instructions on putting up a tabernacle. This was the place where they would go when they worshiped God. Well, the tabernacle was this, it was a big tent. And so they would travel somewhere and they'd camp out and they'd put up the tent and they'd take it down and then they'd put it up and they'd take it down.
And so they did that for 40 years. That's it, they'd worship God in this tabernacle. However, when they got to the Promise Land where they were meant to live and stay forever, God said to them, "Okay, the days of the tabernacle are over. No more worshiping me in a tent. Now I want you to build me a house," and what was that house called? That's right, it was called the temple. So the tabernacle which was a tent became a building or a house called the temple. Now, the reason I tell you that is because our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit of God. But even though it's a temple, even this temple in a sense is still a tent and one day we're gonna receive a permanent body. We're going to receive a permanent temple, if you will, a house that will never be torn down and a house that will never ever be taken away.
See, the problem is we look at our body like it's a house. We think it's a house. But the problem is houses decay and houses grow old and the paint begins to fall off and the roof begins to sag. So what do we do? Well, we repaint the house and we refinish the house and we refurbish the house and we hire trainers and we hire plastic surgeons to, you know, to help us do that work. But even after they're all done with their work, what happens to the house? It continues to decay. You know why? Because God built decay into the tent. God built decay into the body. You can maybe slow down the process; you cannot stop it. And the reason is very simple. We were never meant to live in this body. We were never meant to live in this tent. It's just a tent. And when you die the tent is taken down.
As a matter of fact, scientifically I can prove this to you. Doctors now tell us that every three years all of the cells in our bodies die. Did you know that? They're replaced by new cells. In other words, in essence, you and I, whether we realize it or not, we get a brand new body about every three years. Old cell dies and new cells come over. There's a turnover in cells, okay? But even that lets us know something. Even the very cells that make up this body, they're all temporary. They live for a brief while and then they die. But you know what's gonna happen? One day, the day's going to come when the old cells are going to die one last time and they're not going to be turned over. They're going to be turned under. And this body is going to be buried. And this tent is going to go back to the dust from which it was made.
And when death strikes the tent, when death takes down the tent, we move out of the tent and we leave physical life, all right? And I know you know that, okay? In death we leave physical life. But now, Paul, talking to believers now, talking to followers of Jesus, he says, "Okay, that may be the bad news, but here's the good news". He said, "Through death we look to spiritual life". By death we leave spiritual life, but through death we look to spiritual life. Now again, I wanna say this. It is important that you don't confuse your tent or your body with you. Your body is not you. I want you to listen to me now. Your body's not you. Your body is just a tent you live in. So let me say something and maybe you'll get the point of what I'm trying to make. In a real sense, you will never get sick. Your body will get sick. You never get sick.
I got some good news for you. You never grow old. Your body grows old, but you never grow old. Because your body is not you. It is just the tent you live in. Because when you leave your tent behind, you're not left behind with your tent because you're not your tent. So let me kind of put it to you this way. You will never be buried. As a matter of fact, can I let you in on a secret? There is not a single person buried in a cemetery anywhere. Their tents are buried, their bodies are buried, but their spirits have moved into eternity. Your body has an expiration date and your spirit has a moving date. And one day, your tent is going to expire. It's going to be taken down, folded up, and put away, but let me tell you this. By the time your tent's taken down, folded up, put away, and buried, you will have moved out of that tent a long time ago.
So that raises the question. "Okay, so what happens after we move out? So when the tent's taken down, when the tent collapses, when the tent is no more, and the tent is buried, what happens to us"? Well, this is what biblical scholars and theologians call the intermediate state. You know what intermediate means. It's not the beginning, it's not the end. It's kind of in the middle. And that intermediate state is when the spirit of a follower of Jesus goes to be with the Lord. Now, you may remember that when Jesus Christ died on the cross his body drew its last breath, the tent collapsed, the tent was no more, his body died, but if you remember, as his body was dying, here's what Jesus said. He said, "Father, into your hands I commit my," say that word with me, "spirit". Not my body. My body's being left behind. Not the tent. My tent's been folded up. "Into your hands I commit my spirit".
So here's what I want you to get now, ready? Your body is the tent. You, your spirit, is what lives inside the tent. When the tent is folded up, the spirit moves out. When the body dies, your spirit immediately goes to be with Jesus, which is exactly what Paul said in verses 6 through 8. He said, "Therefore we are always confident and we know that as long as we're home in the body," that is as long as I'm camping out in the tent, "we're away from the Lord. For we live by faith, and not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body," that is, I'm ready to get out of the tent, "and be at home with the Lord".
So look in the mirror and remember this, okay? The next time you look in the mirror, I want you to remember this. This body is not your home. You literally, I'm not trying to make up a song here. You're literally just passing through. You're literally just passing through this body. And one of these days, you're going to receive a brand new body. It will be immortal. It will be incorruptible. It will be invisible. It won't have to go to a doctor for a check-up anymore. It won't have to have blood work anymore. It won't need surgery anymore. It won't take vitamins anymore. It will be an absolutely complete and perfect resurrection body because contrary to popular beliefs and some Platonic thought, we're not just gonna be invisible ghosts hovering around eternity like Casper the, you know, the friendly ghost. God is eventually going to clothe our spirit with a new body that's going to last forever.
When your tent is destroyed, when your body dies, God leaves it here because he has no more use for it and neither do you. But he has a new body for the new you that enters into eternity. Look, you can't be in two places at once, right? So here's what Paul says: "When our spirit is at home in the tent," when our spirit is at home in the body, "it is away from the Lord. But when our spirit leaves our body it goes to be at home with the Lord". So Paul said, "It's true that in death we leave physical life". That is true. However, he says, "Through death, we look to spiritual life". But then he tells us the best news of all. He says, thirdly, "After death we live in eternal life". You got it? In death, I leave physical life. Through death, I look to spiritual life, 'cause I'm really a spirit being, not a physical being. And then he says, "After death", this is so good. He says, "After death we live in eternal life".
Now, something all of us has to keep in mind, okay? This is very, very important. You've gotta keep this in mind. What the apostle Paul is saying and what he's writing is not applicable for everybody and I'm not talking to everybody. I'm not talking about everybody, though I wish I were talking for everybody. Paul is not talking to everybody. He is addressing believers in Jesus. He's talking to people who are followers of Jesus. He's talking to people who have lived right because they've lived for Jesus. They have died right because they've died in Jesus, and now they're going to be with Jesus.
And in one sense, he makes it perfectly plain what happens when we leave this temple because so many times as a pastor, I've been asked this question about people who are dying. I've been asked people by this who are on their death bed: "Pastor, I'm not afraid to die, I'm not. But just tell me again, so what's going to happen? I mean, the moment that I close my eyes, the moment my heart stops beating, and my lungs stop breathing, and my life is no more, what happens at that exact moment"? Again, Paul leaves absolutely no doubt. He says, "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord".
Now, let me give you some good news. Death is a fact that we all have to face. One out of one people die. Everybody dies. Death is a fact we have to face. But death is not a fate that a Christian has to fear. You got it? I have to face the fact of death. I don't have to fear the fate of death because, for the believer, death simply means I'm absent from the tent and I'm present with the tentmaker. I am absent from the body and I am present with the Lord. You just change locations. That's why, by the way, we should never, ever, ever fear death because Paul makes something very clear in verse 5, all right? Listen to what Paul says: "Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come".
Now, here's what Paul said. For those of us who truly know Jesus from the time we draw our first breath, God was preparing us to go to eternity to spend all forever with him. He has made us what we are now so that he can remake us into what we ought to be. Because, by the way, the word there for fashion, the word there for fashion, it literally means to be prepared. It means to prepare. And that word is huge 'cause I've said this before and Paul was just backing me up. You are not prepared to die until you're prepared to receive what God has prepared for you after you die. I'm gonna say that again. You are not prepared to die until you are ready to receive what God has prepared for you after you die.
Now, this is the place where eternity is decided. This is the place where decisions are made. This is the place where character is formed, but this place is temporary and God never made us for this body or for this earth or for this tent. He made us for a new body and he made us for a new earth, okay? So we can draw a real clear conclusion from all we just read and all we just heard. Here it is, real simple. When you die, you will either go into the presence of God or you will go away from the presence of God. So that's just real simple. When you die, you'll either go into the presence of God or you'll go away, out of, the presence of God. Everybody is going to spend eternity somewhere and when you die here's what happens. Your soul will be separated from your body. Your spirit will be separated from your body, but at that moment then your eternal destiny will be determined.
Every spirit that dies, every spirit that leaves the body, every spirit that leaves the body, they come to a fork. One goes out of the presence of God, one goes into the presence of God. You don't have to consult a fortuneteller or a ouija board or an astrologer or a deck of cards to find out what lies on the other side of death. God's already told us. He's already told us all we ever need to know. He has made it plain and it all comes down to this: You have to make the right turn. You've gotta live right, die right, and then you'll be forever right. You live right, you live for Jesus. You die right, you die in Jesus. And then you forever are with Jesus.
Now, here's my question to you. Are you right, I mean, right now? Are you right in your life? You don't have to wonder where you're going. You never have to give it a second thought. That's why Jesus came. That's why Jesus lived. That's why Jesus died on a cross. That's why Jesus came back from the dead, to give us confidence and to give us courage that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Listen, the one who came for us the first time so that we might live for him will come back for us another time so that when we die we might live with him. And when he does, we will be forever right and we will live happily ever after.