Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

Text: 1 John 3:2b
We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him.

“We shall be like him”

Heaven - what will it be like?  That’s a question that’s been asked across the centuries and people of different cultures and religions have pondered this question and come with all kinds of answers.  It’s a question that I am asked by school children and adults alike. 

What will it be like to live in heaven? 
Will we have bodies and will they be so perfect that the people we love won’t recognise us and we won’t recognise them? 
Will I be able to recognise my granny whom I only knew as an old lady? 
What will we do in heaven? 
Will there be food in heaven?  Will we have a glorified digestive system that will allow us to eat anything and never get sick? 

We have so many questions about what it will be like in heaven.  Let’s start at the beginning and find out what the Bible has to say about heaven but before I do that it needs to be said that a lot of our questions about heaven are a matter of wait and see.  There are so many things that absolutely defy description when it comes to describing what heaven is like or what it’s like to travel from this life via death into heaven.  The most brilliant theologians have to stretch language to its fullest in their attempt to express the certainty yet the mystery and wonder of eternal life. In the end they have to admit that there are no words that we have in our earthly language that adequately describes what is beyond this life.

But let’s go to what we know and the best place to start is with Easter and the appearances of Jesus.  Cleopas and his friends had just told the disciples about their amazing encounter with a stranger on the road to Emmaus.  With excitement they told the disciples how it suddenly dawned on them that the man who had been walking with them and talking to them was Jesus whom they had thought was dead.  While they were swapping stories about what had happened that first Easter Day Jesus was suddenly standing there among them.  They were frightened, not sure what to make of all of this, they stepped back in alarm wondering if this really was Jesus.  Jesus invited them to look at his hands and his feet; to touch him and to sit down and have a meal with him. 

What are we to make of this appearance of Jesus?  After all Jesus had died and had been placed in a tomb and by now his body should have started to show signs that he was well and truly dead.

In some ways the Jesus who was placed in the tomb is quite a different person when he appears with his resurrection body.  He went into the tomb lifeless, a corpse, an empty shell, if you like, of his former self.  He came out very much alive – as alive as you and I at this very moment.

On the other hand, after the resurrection he was much the same as he was before.  He had the scars on his hands and feet.  He ate and drank as before.  He could be touched as before; I’m sure he embraced and shook hands with his disciples as before; he talked to his friends and taught them as before.  He rose from the dead not as a spirit or a life-force or a ghost but he rose again with a body.  He says, “It is I myself. Touch me and see” (Luke 24:39).

Our bodies are miracles of God.  Our bodies have been designed and created by God.  They are the work of a genius.  Just think of what our bodies can do, how complex and balanced, how strong and yet how capable of fine control.  Just browse through a book about the human body for a while and you soon realise that there is only one possible way we are who we are – and that’s by the hand of the Creator.  We are made in the image of God by God.

The psalmist says, You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother's womb: (Psalm 139).  His creation of our bodies is truly wonderful and amazing even though we are marred and disfigured by sin.  It wasn’t God's plan when he made the first people that they be in pain and difficulty and then wear out and die.  God made people so that they would live forever.  It was sin and disobedience that messed up God's plan for the happiness and great life that he wanted for humanity.  Sin has caused wars and sickness and suffering and death in our world and that was so far from what God intended when he created Adam and Eve. 

It should come as no great surprise that one of the chief reasons for Jesus’ death on the cross was to save our bodies.  That’s why we say in the creed each Sunday – ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body’ – yes my body, your body, the body that God created, saved on the cross, will rise from dead and live forever.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was a bodily one and the New Testament tells us that our resurrection too (following the pattern set by Jesus) will be a resurrection of the body.  The Bible says that when Jesus is revealed on the last day and the dead are raised “we shall be like him” (1 John 3:2). The body so wonderfully created by God is redeemed in and through the body of his Son on the cross.  Our eternal life involves the total person and that includes our bodies.

Paul says that Jesus “will change our weak mortal bodies and make them like his own glorious body” (Phil 3:21).  Death is not the final “Amen” of our life.  We will rise again to life not just as a ghost or a spirit, but we will rise and enjoy eternal life with a body that no longer has the weaknesses and blemishes that it had in this life. 

Our old body that is now so riddled with faults will be made new and perfect and eternal and beautiful and healthy and strong in every way.  Not only the mechanical bits – also our personality, our character flaws, our selfishness and all the dark blots that spoil and hold us back, that trip us up here in this life where sin still hangs on to us. All these things too will be put right and we will finally be what God has always wanted us to be. We will be the beautiful and lovely person God intended us to be from the beginning.

This teaching about the resurrection is special to the Christian faith.  This is not about reincarnation where we swap one body for another in an ongoing process of overcoming evil and corruption and evolve into some higher form of life.  Some so-called Christian groups have dressed this up to make it so appealing but it is not from the Bible.  It is a lie. 

We believe that this corrupted and weak clay pot of a body will one day be transformed into the body that God created it to be and change it to the likeness of the perfect and eternal Son of God himself, nothing less. Yes, we will be like his own glorious body (Phil 3:21)”.

The question that now arises, “Is what kind of body will this be?  What will it look like?  What will it be able to do?” 

I’m afraid these are questions that we will have to wait and see.  In a way I’m glad it’s that way.  If I knew now the answer to these questions it would take away the element of surprise and wonder at how marvellous the body is that God will give us in the resurrection. 

Paul has to resort to nature to describe this new body and even then he realises that these pictures are really inadequate. When we look at a daffodil bulb it doesn’t look very interesting, in fact it’s quite ugly.  But when the bulb is planted, it grows has the most wonderful flowers.  At this time we are the bulb with all of our imperfections and weaknesses but one day we will rise to be like the flower, more beautiful, and attractive than we could have ever imagined.  

Or look at a caterpillar and see how ugly and hairy it is.  After a short time entombed in a cocoon we marvel at how its body has changed and how beautiful it has become.  So it will be for us when we leave this life and are raised to eternal life.  To use Paul’s words, “This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. When the body is buried, it is ugly and weak; when it is raised, it will beautiful and strong (1 Corinthians 15:42.43). 

As we struggle with aging and illness and our own bodies give us grief;
as we come to terms with the untimely death of child;
as we come to terms with a teenager crushed in a car smash;
as we visit those in hospital or aged facilities whose time with us is limited;
as we stand at the grave of someone dear;
the knowledge that death is not the end of the believer is a great comfort to us.  Death is a part of the journey from the imperfection of this life to the perfection that Christ has achieved for us through his death and resurrection.
This is great encouragement and comfort for us when we think about the day when we will have to take that walk from this life to the next when we die.

Without a doubt this past week for many of us has been a difficult one.  A number of you in our church family have experienced the loss of a family member or a dear friend.  Some of you have already attended funerals this past week and tomorrow we have Russell’s funeral here at this church.  We can’t help but be saddened by the loss of someone who is dear and special.  That’s ok.  We are sad because we are looking at the person’s departure from us from our perspective.  But let’s also look at it from the perspective of the person who is now enjoying a life without illness or sadness, in perfect physical and mental and emotional wellbeing, with no shadow of fear, with no tears, no hospitals.  That person’s death is his/her birth into a new life in heaven where “we shall be like him”.

We don’t understand everything about the resurrection and especially about our own resurrection.  We are all heading toward that day when we will leave this life.  What our bodies will go through on the way we don’t know, but in the words of the apostle Paul, “Christ will change our weak mortal bodies and make them like his own glorious body” (Phil 3:21). 


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
22nd April 2012

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