Thursday, September 28, 2006

I believe in the resurrection

I preached the funeral of one of our dear saints two weeks ago -- Ralph Howard. A prince of a man who was passionate about music (both listening to it and performing it), excited about Cincinnati Reds baseball, loved travel, enjoyed his family, and was a consistent encourager. Since I came to this church, I've presided over many funerals of many lovely people. So the resurrection has been on my mind.

I Corinthians 15 is one of the definitive passages on the resurrection -- but we blur over it in haste at funerals. I've been lingering there for a few days

"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...." and then Paul talks about a number of appearances that the risen Christ made. His language here makes it clear. These weren't simply visions, nor were they collective determinations to carry on the work of the master. No, these appearances were personal to the generation that would found the church.

Last night, I watched Teri Irwin talk about her husband Steve's death (Steve was the Crocodile Hunter -- beloved for his enthusiastic love of wildlife). She spoke of how it's now our turn to carry on Steve's spirit -- our turn to become Wildlife Warriors. She had me in tears, for I rather enjoyed Steve and his antics and I know that my nephew really loved the Crocodile Hunter .... Crocs Rule!

Teri's words are the words of someone who wanted to carry on a deceased person's life work. They are nothing like the words of Jesus' disciples who keep insisting that Jesus rising and appearing is key.

Consider the words of Peter in 1 Peter (and yes, I do believe that these were the genuine words of Peter -- perhaps in the future, I'll do a post on the canon to explain why) "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade - kept in heaven for you." (I Pet 1:3-4) The writer of Hebrews takes for granted the resurrection of Christ in his argument and even says that he's assuming the resurrection of the dead as foundational (6:2)

But Paul puts it most clearly later in I Corinthians 15 "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith....And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." (13-14, 17-19) That sinks in powerfully for me -- faith in Christ is either a tremendous waste of time, or it is the only hope we have.

The church has repeatedly voiced concurrence with Paul. For instance:

From The Scots Confession Ch 10
We undoubtedly believe, since it was impossible that the sorrows of death should retain in bondage the Author of life, that our Lord Jesus crucified, dead, and buried, who descended into hell, did rise again for our justification, and the destruction of him who was the author of death, and brought life again to us who were subject to death and in bondage. We know that his resurrection was confirmed by the testimony of his enemies, and by the resurrection of the dead, whose sepulchers did open, and they did rise and appear to many within the city of Jerusalem. It was also confirmed by the testimony of his angels and by the senses and judgment of his apostles and of others, who had conversation, and did eat and drink with him after his resurrection.

From The Second Helvetic Confession Ch 9
We believe and teach that the same Jesus Christ our Lord, in his true flesh in which he was crucified and died, rose again from the dead, and that not another flesh was raised other than the one buried, or that a spirit was taken up instead of the flesh, but that he retained his true body. Therefore, while his disciples thought they saw the spirit of the Lord, he showed them his hands and feet which were marked by the prints of the nails and wounds, and added: ‘See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39)….

We therefore condemn all who deny a real resurrection of the flesh (II Tim 2:18), or who with John of Jerusalem, against whom Jerome wrote, do not have a correct view of the glorification of bodies…..

From the Westminster Confession of Faith Ch 8
On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered; with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession; and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.

Theologian Shirley Guthrie says it well in his work Christian Doctrine:
If it could be said that the whole of the Christian faith stands or falls with any one claim, the claim that God raised the crucified Jesus from the dead is that claim. Without faith in a risen and living Christ there would be no Christianity. It was not Jesus’ethical teachings and example or his noble death that gave birth to the Christian church and made it spread; it was the news of his resurrection. We have seen that it was only because they first believed in a risen Christ that the first Christians looked back to ask the meaning of his birth, life, and death. (271)

The bodily resurrection has been the clear, consistent witness and hope of the church from the beginning. It is the hope that empowers me to be connected to the saints of the past and the saints of the future in covenant relationship with the Living God.

Christ has risen
He has risen indeed

Soli Deo Gloria