The ancient world had no interest in the resurrection from the dead.
Some said, When you’re dead, you’re dead, and that’s that. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.
Others said, The body dies, and that’s good. The soul is freed to then fly off to other world of bliss and beauty.
The ancient world had no interest in resurrection.
But not so the Jews.
Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead - at the end of time, when the final trumpet is sounded, the dead shall be raised - with a new heaven and a new earth,
creation restored, and all made new.
Remember the debate between Jesus, the Pharisees and the Sadducees?
The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead at the end of time, and so did Jesus.
The Sadducees rejected the idea … posed to Jesus the question about a wife who had married seven brothers, each of the brothers dying in turn.
What a wife - what was her secret?
Not so far off the mark - after my father’s death, my mother was married twice thereafter, and each of those husbands died as well.
The Sadducees ask Jesus, Who’s wife will she be in the day of resurrection?
Jesus answers dismisses their question as irrelevant - we can read about it in Luke 22. But the point is clear: Jesus believed in the resurrection of the dead.
When Lazarus died, and Jesus finally came by.
He says to Martha, Your brother will rise again.”
Martha replies: I know … I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.
When Paul the Apostle writes about the resurrection, he makes it clear to the Corinthians … resurrection was always a part of God’s plan … if there is no resurrection of the dead, says Paul, then Christ cannot be resurrected either.
Christ did not establish resurrection - Christ is the first part of what God has planned - the resurrection of the dead, God’s way of finally dealing with death.
When the early Christians saw Jesus after Sunday morning, they were stunned! Yes, the believe in the resurrection for the last day. But to have someone in mid-course rise from the dead? This was something new.
So they did their homework.
They turned to their Bibles.
What does it say about resurrection?
The early Christians found it in David.
David foreshadows the resurrection.
It was there all along.
In our Bibles, says Peter.
We just needed a little more light to see it.
And with Jesus, we see it now.
This Jesus, whom you crucified, says Peter.
Was raised from the dead.
Peter preaches on Pentecost Day … he proclaims the resurrection of Jesus from the dead - the flesh and blood Jesus … a bodily resurrection … a body with all the scars, but now a spiritual body … able to move about freely … a body that can be touched and seen … a body now on the other side of death.
The boy that Elijah restored to life still had to die as some later date … Lazarus, brought forth from the tomb, still had to die at a later day.
But not so Jesus.
Jesus is not restored.
Jesus is raised from the dead.
Jesus is resurrected … flesh and blood transformed … still flesh, with all the scars … still a human being, recognizable and tangible.
He invites Thomas to touch the wounds.
He builds a campfire on the beach and roasts fish … and eat with the disciples.
He restores Peter to the fellowship of faith and recommissions him.
Jesus is the first fruits of God’s mighty harvest - the first moment in the final plan to redeem flesh and blood, to make creation anew.
The crowd rightly asks of Peter, What should we do?
Peter spells it out:
Change your hearts and your lives.
Each of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins.
The transition is revealed, a new day dawns, a new world emerges out of that tomb.
A new means of forgiveness … no longer through the temple sacrifice, but now through Jesus who is the temple, the priest and the lamb, all rolled up into one mighty act of love.
When Peter proclaims baptism in Jesus as the means of forgiveness, Peter shatters a thousand years of history and faith …
And to top it all off, says Peter: You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The people immediately think of the Prophet Joel, through whom God declares to Israel: I will pour out my spirit upon everyone; your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days, I will also pour out my spirit on the male and female slaves
This promise, says Peter, is for you, your children and for all who are faraway - as many as the LORD our God invites.
The promise of the Spirt … the promise of the resurrection … that which is to come - not that we’re raised from the dead right now … that remains to happen.
But happen it will, so that even now, on this side of death, we direct our loyalties to that which is true and good and right and everlasting.
Peter continues preaching … encouraging … Be saved from this perverse generation.”
A generation blind to the possibilities of God’s new day.
A generation stuck in the past, hoping that God would restore Israel’s former glory, military might, national power … a generation looking backward to the glory days of David and Solomon … looking backward like Lot’s wife looked backward … turning into a pillar of salt; immobilized, stuck in time, unable to move ahead.
Jesus describes the disciples as a perverse generation for want of faith … and then Jesus says, If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you could tell a mountain to fly.
Not everyone welcomes the resurrection!
Pilate didn’t want resurrection - an affront to his power, and ordered the tomb sealed.
Rome didn’t want resurrection - it called into question every value of the Empire - ruthless power, love of wealth, reliance on military might, disregard for women and children … Rome relied on death to win the day; death was Rome’s ally … and anyone who’s raised from the dead is a threat to the powers of Empire.
Religious leaders didn’t want resurrection either - it shifts the light from their power to the power of God, so they spread a rumor that the disciples stole the body of Jesus.
The 19th Century writer, Oscar Wilde, captures it well in his play, Salome:
When Herod hears reports that Jesus of Nazareth has been raising the dead, he says: I do not want him doing that. I forbid him to do that. I allow no man to raise the dead. This man must be found and told that I forbid him to raise the dead.
Where is this man?
Herod’s courtier replies: He is in every place, my lord, but it is hard to find him.
What does it mean to live for Jesus? Not for Herod?
To live for the power of God, not the powers that be?
To live a resurrection life?
We turn to the Book of James for the month of September … no better place to see a life lived for the Risen Christ.
Please read James this week, and read it once a week during the coming month of September.
Together, we’ll learn more about the Christian life.
Amen and Amen.