Friday 2nd September 2022

2 CORINTHIANS 5

If you are a Christian – or indeed any kind of human being – then you are a seasoned camper!  So says the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10.  He compares a person living in a tent to the human soul inhabiting its mortal body; and it is a very apt comparison too.  Tents are temporary and flimsy places to live in, with not much protection or security; similarly, human bodies last only a short time, are insecure and prone to breaking down without warning, and cannot easily be defended from attack (see also 2 Peter 1:13). 

The implicit teaching is that the soul or spirit lives forever and does not require the body to maintain its existence.  We therefore might consider that the human brain is not necessarily the root source of our thoughts and insights but might just be the ‘interface’ between body and soul – in rather the same way that the CPU of a computer does not really ‘think’ but simply processes thoughts between software (= ‘soul’) and hardware (= ‘body’). 

Back to camping!  If our mortal body is destroyed, we carry on existing and are (as Paul puts it) ‘naked’ or ‘unclothed’ – in other words we (the real ‘us’) can exist separately from our bodies.  Paul takes this further and says that we are genuinely impatient to get rid of this decaying (yes, even now!) body, so that we will sooner be re-clothed in our permanent, strong, everlasting, secure, beautiful, and powerful heavenly version of the body.  We don’t want to be disembodied souls, but this is the ‘birth canal’ into a new and infinitely better physical existence, that starts when Jesus returns to end this present age and to begin the age to come.  So, whisper this quietly, and be careful whom you tell, but we Christians do believe in re-incarnation – of a kind!

“…What is mortal will be swallowed up by Life” (5:4).  It used to be said that ‘Death’ and the grave swallowed up everything of beauty and value, but Paul reverses this and says that Life swallows up death – rather in the same way that Aaron’s serpent swallowed up those of the Egyptian magicians!  Isaiah 25:8 and 1 Corinthians 15:54 continue this triumphant theme.  We know that we have been created for an eternal heaven-on-earth existence in the presence of God, because we already have his personal guarantee: the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives and bodies.  One day, the whole Trinity will come home to Earth and will set up the Eternal Kingdom; and we will be transformed physically to have a body rather like Jesus’s.  See Philippians 3:21 and enjoy that thought!

Paul then debates with himself whether he wants to make that journey now or a little later – at home in this mortal body (living by faith) or at home with the Lord (living by sight) – and admits that he would prefer to get going now!  In Philippians 1:21-26, Paul continues this personal debate and concludes that it is not yet the right time for him to die, since he has unfinished work to do.  It is almost as though we have a personal choice before God (to some extent, anyway) and one factor is whether we have fully accomplished the tasks that he has set us to do in life; if not, then perhaps we have a legitimate reason to say: ‘not yet, Lord’.  But whenever we do ‘fall asleep’, we do know that He will be waiting for us – the God who is Love – and that there will also be a ‘Lifetime Appraisal’ to be undergone; this is also known in 2 Cor 5:10 as the ‘Judgment Seat of Christ’!

We are already a ‘New Creation’, since we have been born again by the Spirit of God; most of the ‘old’ has already gone from us.  Our task whilst still on this present Earth is to represent our Jesus to those who are not yet part of God’s Kingdom, imploring them to be reconciled with God whilst it is still not too late!

What is our motivation for reaching out to others?  Firstly, the ‘fear of the Lord’; not an irrational panic or phobia, but rather a reverent respect for who God is (v11).  Secondly, the love of Christ inside our hearts ‘compelling us’ (v14) – pray that your heart will be a canvass upon which Jesus paints his passions!  Thirdly, a new regard for every human being alive, as having a precious eternal soul that needs rescuing (v16).  Fourthly, a vision for our own role, that of an Ambassador of Heaven, representing the King of Kings to all other kingdoms (v20).

We have already learned for ourselves that an amazing exchange has happened in our lives:  He took our sin on the cross, he became sin on that cross, he was fully punished for that sin then, and he gave us his righteousness instead (v21).  Could there be any better news to share!

ISAIAH 1, 2, 3 and 4

o Isaiah is regarded as the greatest of the ‘writing’ prophets; his book is the longest, the most quoted in the New Testament, and contains more prophesies about the Messiah than any other.  It contains the most beautiful language, the most stunning imagery, and the deepest visions of all.

o The book is a bible in miniature: 66 chapters in Isaiah compared with 66 books in the bible.  The first 39 chapters relate to the Judgment by God – analogous to the 39 books of the O.T., and the last 27 chapters relate to Comfort from God – similar to the 27 books of the N.T.

o Isaiah, the man, lived from 760 BC until about 690 BC (fifty years), prophesying to Judah during the reigns of its kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.  He warned Judah not to copy Northern Israel’s rebellion against the Lord – which led them into exile by Assyria.  He was married and had at least two sons, and was a poet, a statesman, an orator and, of course, a prophet.  Tradition tells us that he was killed by being sawn in half on the orders of the wicked king Manasseh.  Hebrews 11:37 and 2 Kings 21:16 hint at this kind of martyrdom.

o Isaiah’s message has four themes:  Warnings about his own time; Captivity of the nation; The Coming of Christ (Messiah); and the New Heavens and Earth (the ‘End Times’) see 65:17

Today, it is the first four chapters.  Chapter One begins with God rebuking his wayward people:

“Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
    For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its master,
    the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.”

Woe to the sinful nation,
    a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
    children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord;
    they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
    and turned their backs on him.

What is it about false religions, that their adherents do not seem to backslide or lose interest, whereas the true faith has to work so hard to retain its faithful from erosion of their zeal?

Verses 5, 6, 18-20 stand together and bring a rather different interpretation to verse 18 than the usual evangelistic explanation:

“Why should you be beaten anymore?
    Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
    your whole heart afflicted.
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
    there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
    and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
    or soothed with olive oil.”

“Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Sins are represented as ‘like scarlet’ and later becoming ‘as white as snow’ – a reference to leprosy, which starts with open sores and, as the flesh becomes more dead and unresponsive, it becomes white and beyond cure.  The analogy is that God has placed a time limit upon Israel’s sins; repent now or else you will reach the point of no return!  Several other verses in the Old Testament use the metaphor of ‘snow’ to represent end-stage leprosy:  Exodus 4:6;  Numbers 12:10;  2 Kings 5:27.  You might counter this argument with Psalm 51:7 “Wash me and I will be whiter than snow”, but the critical difference is that the Isaiah passage refers to our sins, not us

Also in Chapter One, Jerusalem is referred to as ‘Sodom’ and ‘Gomorrah’ – which is a theme further taken up in Revelation 11:18 – and chided for bringing meaningless offerings and observing pointless festivals.  God says in no uncertain terms that he is ‘bored’ and ‘weary’ of them!

The mood changes in Chapter Two where a future hope of a new age is presented.  The nations will be attracted to the Lord and his people – possibly His Church – and will become teachable again and willing to learn how to apply kingdom principles to society’s needs.  The Prince of Peace will bring peace on earth and the weapons of war will become redundant.  For those who reject the word of the Lord, there will be harsh punishment and no escape from judgment.  The so-called ‘Branch’ of the Lord – Jesus himself – will occupy the place of honour and will usher in an eternal age of joy and peace.

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