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TEXT: Acts 26:8
SUBJECT: Apostles' Creed #10: Resurrection, Life Everlasting
About a year ago, I began a study of the Apostles' Creed that I never quite finished. In fact, I left it at the worst possible moment-with the forgiveness of sins.
Don't get me wrong, we prize the forgiveness of sins, and if it was all the Lord had for us, we would be mighty grateful for it. But it is not all He has for us. Forgiveness is the grace He has for us now. But in the future, He has even more grace to give. While never taking our pardon away, God is not content that we be forgiven only! He wants us more than forgiven. The word we're looking for is glorified!
This brings us to the last article of the Apostles' Creed. After confessing the Church's belief in the forgiveness of sins, it goes on to affirm our faith in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.
What is the Resurrection? The word means 'a rising from the dead'. As a figure of speech, it stands for the work of God in the soul by which the unbeliever, who is dead in trespasses and sins is quickened (or made alive) in Christ. There is a spiritual resurrection, and without it, you cannot be saved. Unless God raises your soul from the dead, you cannot enter life! Using a slightly different figure of speech, our Lord told a deeply religious man, Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Not even the greatest teacher in Israel can enter the kingdom without the New Birth, without the Resurrection of his soul.
When applied to the body, however, the Resurrection is not a figure of speech. It means, quite literally, and in the ordinary sense of the words, the dead body comes back to life. Not the spirit lives on after the body dies (which is also true), but the body that used to be dead isn't dead anymore.
Think of Lazarus, our Lord's good friend. While waiting for the Lord to heal him, the poor man dies and is buried. Four days later, Christ comes to Bethany and is soon met by Mary and Martha who know He would have saved their brother, if only He had come earlier! But now it's too late for healing, for Lazarus is dead. But our Lord goes to the cemetery where His friend is buried, and there He weeps over the dear man's death, and does it so loudly and sincerely, that others say, Behold, how He loved him. Yes, He did love him, and will keenly miss him. But not yet. A command is given: Roll back the stone. Martha is horrified because her brother is decaying. Yet the Word stands and the stone is rolled away from the door of the tomb. Then, with a loud voice, our Lord issues a command that bears all the marks of Divinity, Lazarus, come forth! Which he does, alive and well.
This is a Resurrection of the body. Not the Resurrection, thankfully, but a Resurrection nonetheless, one that's amazing as it is, but will soon be improved on!
The Resurrection of the Dead is promised in the Old Testament. Last week I told you it's not limited to a verse here, a type there, and so on, but is woven into the whole history of Israel. In a word, it's what the Story is about. In Genesis 3, man falls into death, and from Genesis 4 to Malachi 4, God is at work raising the dead. The Exodus is a kind of resurrection, the return from exile is another, but I covered all that last week, and I won't say any more about it for now.
But I will point you to a text on which the Pharisees based their doctrine of the Resurrection. The passage is Daniel 12:1-4a
At that time, Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as there never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time, your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the Book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like stars forever more. But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book until the time of the end.
The formal doctrine is found in the second verse where people are said to sleep in the dust and to awake from it. To sleep is a polite way of saying, 'die'. To sleep in the dust means 'to be buried' at least, or more likely, to 'return to the dust from which we came'. These are not figures of speech! The people are physically dead, tortured and killed by the pagans because they would not worship their gods or conform to their evil ways.
Then they awake to everlasting life. This can only mean the Resurrection, for the waking does not take place the moment they close their eyes in death and go to heaven, but it occurs at the time of the end (v.4), when the persecutors also get what's coming to them-everlasting shame.
As far as they went, the Pharisees were right in their doctrine of the Resurrection, and their belief in it did something for them. Unlike the careful, conservative, compromising Sadducees, the Pharisees were ready to stand up to the pagans all around them because they knew that if the Romans killed them for their faith, God would raise them from the dead, and they would
Shine like the brightness of the firmament and like the stars forever and ever.
This was the hope of Israel, the hope of the Pharisees, and in particular it was Paul's hope-before he became a Christian, and afterwards too. They, too, believed
In the resurrection of the body and of the life everlasting.
If Paul's whole ministry was about the Resurrection, and if the Pharisees shared his belief in it, why did they hate him so bitterly and take vows to not eat until they assassinated him?
What was the issue that divided them?
It would be easy to say Paul truly believed in the Resurrection and the Pharisees didn't. But this is not so; they believed it as firmly as he did, and like Paul, they were willing to die for it. The next generation, in fact, did just that-they stood up to the Romans and were slaughtered in the hope of the Resurrection.
What then, was the issue?
The Pharisees believed the Resurrection was an end-time event. Paul agreed with them, but he went on to say, the end-times have already come. In other words, the Resurrection is not one event, but two.
Like all pious Jews, Paul believed the righteous would rise from the dead and live forever in the full light of God's countenance. But, unlike his kinsmen, he believed the Righteous One had already risen from the dead and was even then living forever in the full light of God's countenance. The Righteous One he had in mind, of course, was the Man he saw on the Road to Damascus-our Lord Jesus Christ!
What did Paul see in his heavenly vision? That's a trick question, because it was not a vision he saw. He didn't see a spirit or a radiance or a symbol, he saw a man, a real live man in a real live body. The man he saw was the Man Christ Jesus-not lowly as He had been on earth--but exalted and glorified at God's Right Hand. But the same man! To quote the angel,
This same Jesus.
When our Lord died on the cross, His spirit went back to God and His body went into the tomb. In the tomb, it was a dead body, as dead as the bodies of the two men who died alongside of Him. But the next Sunday morning, His spirit reentered His body and the whole Man came back to live.
The first people to see the resurrected Lord were His dear friends, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other ladies. Later that day, seven disciples saw Him, though not Thomas who thought He was still dead. Not long afterwards, Thomas saw Him, then others. In the next forty days more than 500 people who knew the Man, knew what He looked like, recognized His voice, and His manners saw Him alive. Finally, about three years later, His bitterest enemy saw Him and became His best friend.
Not one of these people was looking for Him, hoping for Him, expecting to see Him till the Last Day. And one of them lost everything he had built up over the years by seeing Him. Yet they saw Him, heard Him, touched Him. They handled the Word of life-both before He died, when He was dead, and when He came back to life! Peter says he and his friends were not passing along cunningly devised fables when they made known to us the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus, but were eyewitnesses of His Majesty.
Luke says He showed himself alive by many infallible proofs. Not a hint here, an inkling there, a passing shadow, a pretty thought, a sense of the Divine-none of that! Five hundred people looked at a man who used to be dead, but wasn't any more. And some of them saw Him rise to a higher life, the full life of the Resurrection.
THE LIFE OF THE RESURRECTION
Speaking of which, our Lord's resurrection was more than coming back to the same life He had, only to die again, this time of old age and disease.
When Christ rose from the dead, He entered the fullness of life, He got into Eternal Life-not just eternal in length, but in the kind of life it is. It is a heavenly life, a life lived in full communion with God, and what goes with it, maximum love, joy, and peace.
The Resurrection of Christ, Paul says, is a kind of firstfruits. This is a word farmers know, and especially Jewish farmers, because they had an offering called Firstfruits. The first crops that ripened belonged to the Lord. They were brought to Him in obedience to His Law and in hope that He would bless the crops to come.
What these first fruits were to the harvest Jesus Christ is to the Resurrection. He rose first and was devoted to God in a special way. But rising first means others will follow Him. And, by His grace, we are the others! Everyone who repents of his sins and believes in Jesus Christ will also rise from the dead and enter the very same life He got into when He came out of the grave!
This is the Christian's Blessed Hope. It is not going to heaven when we die-though this too is blessed-but the Resurrection of the Dead.
THE SECOND COMING
This will occur at the end of the world, when our Lord comes again to set things all things right. And all things will be set right. The believers' bodies will be raised immortal and incorruptible. And in those bodies-now freed from every trace of sin and weakness-we will know the Lord and serve Him forever.
Speaking of this service, C.S. Lewis said it would be what we all want, but have never had in this life, unimpeded obedience. In other words, nothing will hinder our worship. Not the weaknesses of the body-like sleepiness. Not the weaknesses of the mind-like distraction. And most of all, no sin will take us away from the Lord!
In Romans 8, Paul links the Resurrection of the Body to the renewal of the universe. When our bodies are raised, the curse will be rescinded, and then-with a fullness we cannot imagine-the desert will blossom as the rose, and the heavens will declare the glory of God as they never have before.
The world will be turned upside down, or-to be more accurate-it will be turned right side up. The way it should be, and we there to enjoy it forever.
The happiest moments in life are also the saddest. Because we know they can't last. The first kiss cannot be repeated, and the harder you try to do it, the more frustrated you become. This is because we in time-trapped in time.
But the Resurrection frees us from the limitations of time. There's no deadline in heaven, no pressure to finish one thing so you can move on to the other. This means we can enjoy things-not rushing through the Louvre so we can get to the Eiffel Tower, before jetting back to San Francisco. We have infinite time to enjoy everything.
And most of all, our God, in whose presence is the fullness of joy and at whose right hand are pleasures forever more.
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