Scriptures: Acts 23:1-10; 1 Corinthians 15:49-57
What is a Resurrection?
We are in Eastertide, and as I noted last week, Eastertide is a period of celebration. In particular, Eastertide is a period of time when we focus on and celebrate the resurrection, and what Jesus did during that forty-day period before he ascended, which is to focus on celebration and on signs of the resurrection.
Because that's what Jesus spent a lot of time doing. This is something that we need to have in our bones, almost, you might say. The idea of the physical resurrection is the basis for our hope, and we'll talk about that in future weeks. But first, I think, we need to define what a resurrection is. You might say that's a sort of a no-brainer, especially if you grew up in the church. But it's not as obvious to everyone outside of it.
When I looked up Merriam-Webster online, they had this definition of resurrection. If it's capitalized, it's the rising of Christ from the dead. If it's not capitalized, but it's in the Bible, it is the rising again to life of all human dead before the final judgment. And when used in that same context, it can be the state of one risen from the dead, which we're going to have to differentiate, and I'll talk about that later.
The second definition was a resurgence or revival. And then Christian Science had its own take on it: “a spiritualization of thought: material belief that yields to spiritual understanding.” That's important for us to know, because that's very similar to what the pagans used to think, and so we're going to go through that.
The dictionary has a good definition. But despite that, many people do not really understand the nuance of the word for Christians, even though it specifically mentions Christians. Many treat it as, for instance, synonymous with resuscitation, even though the dictionary definition is different.
Resuscitation, the dictionary says, is an act or process of resuscitating someone or something, or in medical terms, the act or an instance of reviving someone from an apparent death or from unconsciousness; or the act for an instance of restoring someone or something to an active or flourishing state.
What neither explains is what we believe to be the fundamental difference in our bodies when resurrected. And this is only part of what makes the Christian concept of resurrection unique – and it is unique. It's unique in history. It's unique in current times. It's unique theologically. Today we're going to take a look at what the ancients thought, what the pagans – mostly Greek and Egyptian – thought, and what the Jews of Jesus' day thought when they used the word.
This may seem boring to some of you, and more fit for Bible study (which it probably is, and I wish everyone would go to one so that we could have it done there). But it is critical for you folks to understand what you mean when you use the word. Every time we say the apostles creed, we mention it: “I believe in the resurrection of the dead.”
Also, if you actually try to share the gospel, you may find many who will dispute or mock the concept. So you must be firm in your understanding. And in fact, Scripture says the cross and the resurrection are both, in various ways. stumbling blocks for people to believe. The cross, because it means that someone had to die for us – the substitutionary atonement, which some people just find too unpalatable because of their pride. But then the resurrection is just impossible to them.
The pagans believed that any life after death was spiritual only. Now there were various understandings of that spiritual only, whether it was a life of the spirit that somehow was still within the confines of heaven and hell and earth. Or, in much of the Greek thought, the Gnostics in particular, you shed all of the physical body to become pure spirit.
When you were able to do that, then you would have this enlightenment and you would be able to move away from the material realm to a another realm – and they had a whole bunch of them, they called them aeons – another realm that would be pure spirit.
We even see in the Egyptian myth of Osiris, which I mentioned last week, one of the most elaborate and influential stories in ancient Egyptian mythology, concerning the murder of the god Osiris, who was a first pharaoh, and its consequences.
In that particular story, Osirss rules Egypt, having inherited the kingship from his ancestors, stretching back to the creator of the world. His queen is Isis, who along with Osiris and his murderer Set, are children of the earth god Geb and the sky goddess Nut. We don't need to remember all these names. I mentioned it mostly because you have somebody who was their lineage back to the creator, but apparently was the child of gods who were the children of gods, who were the children of gods, so they have this line that they've created.
The goddesses find and restore Osiris's body, often with the help of other deities, depending on the story you read. The most consistent one is that he was cut up into pieces, spread throughout Egypt, and they went and they got them together, and they bind all of his parts together. He becomes the first mummy, and the gods' efforts to restore his body are the mythological basis for Egyptian embalming practices.
Then, once Osiris is made whole, somehow he and Isis conceive their son Horus. But Osiris's revival is apparently not permanent. After the point of the revival, he is only mentioned as the ruler of the Duat, which is like Sheol for the Jews or Hades for the Greeks – the realm of the dead.
So even though he was considered a god, he apparently died twice. And even though he was revived, obviously that wasn't a resurrection in the sense that we have it, and he never came back. Instead, he ruled the underworld. So there are a lot of differences in those things, but this is what the pagans thought.
Now the Jews did believe in a physical resurrection, but only on the last day, sort of a life after life after death. When you died, you went to Sheol, the place of the dead. When it talks in the Psalms about the pit, or it talks about Sheol, it's talking about the place of the dead. Rabbinically it was seen as a sort of a gray, dull, depressing place – which I suppose it would be if everybody was dead. You can consider it a kind of holding tank.
Then on the last day, the day of judgment, the day of the Lord, they would all be resurrected. They would be raised from the dead, and then each one would come before God's throne for judgment. Then they would go on to their eternal reward, or eternal damnation, depending on how well they kept the Law. But they did believe in a physical resurrection, going into a new plane of existence, if you will, a new heaven and new earth, as it were.
Now the Christians threw everything out of whack with that, because they said the physical resurrection is now, beginning in Christ. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 15, in verses 3-8, it says
For I handed down to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day, according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom remain until now, though some have fallen asleep. He then appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared to me also.
The resurrection had already occurred. There is a new spiritual life now, while you're still alive, and a new physical life to come, when Christ comes back. But note that it is not dependent on us dying, so much as on Christ and our relationship with him, as it talks about in Romans 6:5-11, which I believe I included as one of the extra readings.
So it becomes dependent on Christ, who is called the firstfruits. His resurrection sets the basis and the template for ours. And his resurrection did not occur only in heaven. In fact, he still had to ascend.
Scripture also says that Christ came in part specifically to defeat death and to release us of our fear of it, in Hebrews 2. The biggest thing, the reason why this subject was such a discussion among the pagans and the Jews and the Greeks, and even today, is because we fear death.
What happens after we die? Is that it? Your modern-day materialists would say yes. That's it. It's only now, this is the one life. So you might as well do everything you can, gratify yourself right away.
We do not believe that, and we shouldn't fear death. Oh, sometimes we might fear the way that we die. Some forms of death are more painful or tougher than others. My mom's colon cancer was an example of that. I know that folks who have parents with Alzheimer's always talk about the dying by little bits and how difficult it is. But we shouldn't fear death itself, because Christ has conquered death, as our liturgist read. The grave has no victory. The grave has no sting for us. Instead, it's a transition to a new life with Christ.
Now, I'm not going to carry on at this point about whether or not we go immediately to be with Christ or whether we stick around and things like that. There are arguments on both sides. Christ said to the thief, “Today you'll be with me in paradise.” Paul himself, though, talks about death as sleep, which some understand to mean what is called “soul sleep.” And of course it's been two thousand years.
I tend to bypass all of that by talking about eternity, that God is outside of time. I'll be happy to explain that to you, outside of our worship service sometime, if you have questions. Those of you who have been to my Bible study know that I have discussed this before. Regardless of what you think about what happens afterwards, we don't need to fear it, because we will be with Christ.
In the passage from 1 Corinthians that was read today, we see the idea of corruptible versus incorruptible, or transient versus eternal, depending on your translation. It makes it very clear that what we have right now is not eternal, not perfect, is fallen, is corruptible. We decay. We die.
But when we are resurrected, we will put on what is incorruptible, what is eternal. We will be the way that God always has intended His children to be. Some people say that we will be like Adam was before the Fall, with a physically ageless body. I don't know what it's going to look like. I really don't know what is going to feel like.
There are things in Scripture that suggest we won't have to eat, we won't have to breathe, we won't have to procreate. There won't be any giving in marriage, since procreation was the primary purpose of marriage. It's why Adam and Eve were married – they had to multiply and fill the earth.
But just because we don't have to eat doesn't mean we won't. God gave us the five senses, and they're wonderful. Food is good. Jesus was always talking about heaven in terms of banquets and parties. I can't believe we'll have a party with no food. And just think – all that food and no calories!
Our bodies will be eternal. They'll be sinless – that's the incorruptible. They'll be ageless – that's the eternal. So they will be changed. And we will not be resuscitated. I mention that because we see resuscitation when the prophets raised people from the dead, when Christ raised the son of the widow of Nain or Jairus's daughter.
In John 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the grave. He had been dead for four days, because the Jews believed the soul could stick around for three. That made it clear that by every standard they had, Lazarus was dead. In fact, as Martha said, “he's probably begun to stink.”
But you know, even though Lazarus was raised from the dead and unwrapped from the grave clothes, he died again. There's no indication in Scripture that he lived forever. And he wasn't taken up like Elijah or Enoch. You might say they never died, but they didn't come back. They weren't resurrected, they were simply taken up.
So resuscitation is not what we'll experience, because we will be eternal. And in the process of the resurrection, it says in one of the letters of Peter, we will partake of the divine nature. This does not mean we become God, or gods, as certain religions believe. What it does mean is in order to be sinless, in order to be perfect, in order to be eternal, we have to partake of those aspects of the divine.
Just think – you will have part of the nature of God. That should be exciting. Of course, the fact of the matter is, because Jesus was resurrected, we can do that now. It's just going to be a whole other level. Because you see, we have the Holy Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit regenerated us, so that we can accept the good news of the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead, as Paul said in the verse that I read.
We partake of God's Spirit, through the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. But it will be much stronger in that future day and age of the resurrection. And I hazard a guess, because I love science fiction/fantasy stuff, that we'll have cool powers. I mean, Jesus was able to appear in a locked room. That's what's known in my circles as teleportation. No more having to drive or walk anywhere. Just think it, and you're there.
We would be able to do many things beyond that, because we will have a glorified body. That glorified body, after the resurrection, again, is not something that we can easily imagine. I just know it's not going to be like this [points to self]. No more diabetes, no more ulcers, no more weight problems, all those kinds of things.
And people who see us might not recognize us. Because it notes in Corinthians, we will be changed even if we are not dead. The dead will rise first in Christ, but then we will be changed even if we are alive. And Christ was not immediately recognized by the people closest to him. That was very consistent. Not by Mary, not by Peter, not by the disciples on the road to Emmaus, not by the disciples in the upper room.
Something had changed. Something that was not the same as his Transfiguration, when he actually showed part of his divine nature and overwhelmed the three disciples that came with him. He was still relatable. He was still touchable. He still ate. But he was changed.
Physical resurrection. Not reincarnation. Not spiritualization. Not mere revitalization. But resurrection. Do you see how radically different this concept is from all those other things that are in the world? No endless cycle. It's only going to happen once. And then we get to be with God in eternity.
No more worrying about age. No more worrying about our children, or our parents. It's all going to be taken care of. In Revelation it promises no more sickness, no more tears. In the context of it, I think that that's the tears of morning. I think that it would be perfectly okay to should tears of joy.
This is at the root of our hope. If we don't believe that is coming, why – and now I'm getting into next week's sermon, oh well – why should we care? So understand the resurrection, to the marrow of your bones, to the core of your spirit. And hold on to that concept.
Because the world will assail you and try to take it away from you, to belittle it, to diminish it, to say it's impossible. Or to say that it's everywhere else, so it's common, it's not really anything special. But it's been enough to get us persecuted, ever since Christ came, because it is so different from and humans expectations.
So what is the resurrection? It's a physical, glorified state of our body. It is the basis for our hope of an eternal future. Carry that with you, that you might celebrate what is to come. Because it's begun even now.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.