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Not Only for This Life!
1 Corinthians 15:19


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany—January 31, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Several years ago Time magazine had a cover story entitled “Is Heaven Real?”  It described the declining interest in heaven even among some ministers and theologians, because they have a hard time relating the doctrine of heaven to everyday, practical concerns of people like you in our modern world.  It seems many people want to hear sermons only about practical subjects, like time-management and personal finances, not about something as abstract and other-worldly as heaven. 

What a sharp contrast to Paul’s attitude in today’s Epistle Reading: “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  Is our faith, our hope, only for this life?  Do we look to Jesus Christ only for help on this side of the grave?  Paul says, if that’s the case, if it’s only for this life that we have hope in Christ, it is very sad.  We are to be pitied more than anyone else.

Of course we do have hope in Christ for this life.  And what a blessing it is for us to be able to count on God to be there in times of trouble.  As he promises in the Psalms, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you”; “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore will not we fear . . . The Lord Almighty is with us.”  Yes, our heavenly Father does care about our everyday, practical concerns and problems, even to the point that Jesus says “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  It is good to know that if we are sick, if we would lose our job, or have tough family problems to deal with, even if no one else seems to care, our God will never leave us or forsake us, Christ is with us always, our refuge and strength in times of trouble.  Yes, we do have hope in Christ for this life.

But if that’s all the farther our faith can take us, if it’s only about mundane things like time-management and personal finances, if our faith is only about getting through this life successfully, Paul says, it is very sad.  We are to be pitied more than anyone else.  Why?  Because the reason for our faith as Christians is so much more than just getting through this life. The reason for our faith as Christians is to have hope for the next life.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” The everlasting hope that is ours in Christ is not a momentary hope that is lost when this life is over.  It is a hope that extends beyond this life, beyond the grave, a hope that is fulfilled in glory and victory as we depart this earthly life and enter eternal life.

In Christ you have the hope of forgiveness, the hope of resurrection, the hope of eternal life, the hope of reunion in heaven.

Paul writes in Romans, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Because of our sin we deserved God’s wrath, we deserved the punishment of death and damnation. But God’s own Son suffered God’s wrath for you.  God’s own Son suffered the punishment of death and damnation for you, on the cross.

John says, “This is how God showed his love toward us: He sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live through him. . .  he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  Your sins are all forgiven because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for you.  Hebrews puts it this way, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  In Christ you have the hope of forgiveness.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus.”  Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, you and all who trust in him will also rise to eternal life in the resurrection at the last day.

Jesus says, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . .  Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear [the voice of the Son of God] and come out.”  The same body you have now will be raised up, reassembled, and restored to life.  How is this possible?  Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.”  And in Romans, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”  In Christ you have the hope of resurrection.

Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies.”  Death is not the ultimate end but the ultimate beginning.  Even though you die, you will live forever in the paradise of heaven.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  In Christ you have the hope of eternal life. 

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, “Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”  What peace we have in the hope of reunion in heaven!  There we shall find our loved ones again.  The separation of death is only temporary.  Some day, some blessed day, all who have died in the Lord will be together again.  What a wonderful celebration that will be!  What sweet comfort to know that we will see our loved ones again.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says.  “Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me.”  Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  And so we shall be forever with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.”  In Christ you have the hope of reunion in heaven.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”  Is our faith, our hope, only for this life?  Do we look to Jesus Christ only for help on this side of the grave? 

We do have hope in Christ for this life.  And what a blessing it is.  But the reason for our faith as Christians is so much more than just getting through this life. The reason for our faith as Christians is to have hope for the next life.

In Christ you have the hope of forgiveness: “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.”

In Christ you have the hope of resurrection: “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

In Christ you have the hope of eternal life: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even if he dies.”

In Christ you have the hope of reunion in heaven: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  And so we shall be forever with the Lord.  Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

Forgiveness, resurrection, eternal life, reunion in heaven, that is your hope in Christ—“Not Only for This Life!”

Amen.

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