Christian Hope: Physical Resurrection
1/21/2018 1:58:13 AM
January 7, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 24:13-49
Over Christmas I was talking to Ruth Hill. She’s a nurse up on Manitoulin Island. She told me about a recent experience with a patient. A man was in some sort of distress and fire fighters and an ambulance came to help him. Once he was loaded into the ambulance, he went into cardiac arrest. That is, his heart stopped beating. The heart monitor that does the “blip, blip” went “beeeeeep.” He had “flat lined.” Since there are only 2 people in the ambulance, the medic and the driver, they had to stop the ambulance to do CPR. So a firefighter who was on the truck following them jumped off the fire truck and got in the back of the ambulance to help with CPR so the driver could keep driving the ambulance to the hospital, 45 minutes away under normal circumstances.
Ruth described how they would drive at break neck speed towards the hospital, where she and the staff were waiting. But, as part of the CPR, they had to check his breathing every 2 minutes. You can’t do that when the ambulance is moving! So they would drive really, really fast for 2 minutes, then stop the ambulance to check his breathing, then race on again for 2 more minutes! Ruth talked about it’s not anything like on TV when they do CPR. The patient turns blue or even purple because of the lack of oxygen in their system! So there, in the back of the ambulance, this man was turning blue while a fire fighter and an EMS worked did CPR on him and the ambulance driver alternated between full speed and stop. Ruth said this sort of thing is quite traumatic to be involved in and I believe her!
Thankfully, in this case, when the ambulance got to the hospital, the staff there were able to save him. They brought him back to life after his heart had stopped beating! That’s amazing! It required team work between a number of highly trained medical staff along with, I’m sure, some pretty high tech equipment.
This amazing sort of technique, the amazing knowledge that makes this possible, is quite impressive. It is called “resuscitation.” As awesome as resuscitation is, it is not resurrection. Resuscitation brings a person back to life, but to the same kind of life they had before they died, or “flat lined” or whatever you want to call it. The man in the ambulance that day still had whatever medical difficulties he had which caused the ambulance to be called in the first place. Someday, down the road, that man will die again, and it will be more permanent. He won’t be resuscitated again.
Similarly, in Scripture, there are a number of examples of miraculous resuscitations. In the OT, Elijah and Elisha were both involved in bringing young men back from the dead. In the first case, the boy was the son of a widow. In Elisha’s case, the boy was a son promised to an elderly couple for being generous hosts to Elisha. Jesus was involved in bringing 3 people back from the dead: a girl, a widow’s son and Lazarus! Paul, too, was involved in bringing a man back to life who had fallen out of a window while Paul was preaching. In all of these cases, it was a great miracle that someone was brought back to life. Yet in all of these cases, the person was resuscitated, not resurrected. The person brought back to life was subject to death again. They would continue to live, to get old, and, eventually, would die again.
That is not the case with the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection Christians look forward to. With the resurrection, our new, physical bodies will not decay, get old or die again. There is a fundamental difference between resuscitation on the one hand and resurrection on the other.
Now, what does this matter? Why is this important? Is this just a finer point of theology or does this actually make a difference? It does, in fact, make a big difference. There is a lot of confusion around about what happens to us when we die. To be honest, most Christians hold views about what happens to us after death that have more to do with Greek ideas coming from the philosopher Plato than Christian ideas coming from the Bible. Over the next few weeks we are going to look at what God has in store for us, not just as individuals, but for all of creation. Ultimately, God is going to redeem all of creation, not just human beings. God’s plan for us includes not only us but all of nature. And we are going to take a look at what that means for us in the here and now over the coming weeks.
To begin with, we are going to look at the very physical nature of our bodies after the resurrection. This is going to shed light on some of the incorrect beliefs most of us hold about what happens to us after we die and what our ultimate destiny is. Now, for us, the resurrection is a future event. We have not yet been resurrected. Christians who have died have not yet been resurrected either. So we are looking forward to our own resurrection. But, Jesus was resurrected on that first Easter Sunday. And the Bible tells us that he is the “first fruits” of the resurrection in general. That is, he is the first person to experience resurrection and he serves as a sort of “promissory note” to the rest of us about what God has in store for us.
So let’s turn to one of the most significant descriptions of Jesus after the resurrection. We are going to look at Luke 24:13-49. We are not going to exegete, or draw out the meaning, of all of this section of Scripture. That would take more time than we have this morning. But we are going to zero in on what we can learn about Jesus’ physical body after his resurrection.
What It Says
This longer section of scripture begins on that first Easter Sunday. What do we see happening in this text? There are 4 major categories I want us to focus on in this text. We will go through each of the 4 and then step back and start thinking about what all this means for us, for our future, and for the future of creation.
The four categories or points I want us to draw out from this text are the focus on witnesses and evidence, that the resurrection was unexpected and surprising, that the resurrected Jesus was physical not just spiritual and that the resurrection marks a continuity with the Old Testament even if that continuity had to be explained.
To begin with, consider how careful Luke has been to include evidence of the resurrection of Jesus and to describe the witnesses to the resurrection. We are told that there are two people on the road to Emmaus. In court, there must be at least two witnesses! Luke then goes on to even name one of them- Cleopas. Earlier in the chapter, Luke recorded the names of 3 of the women who visited the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. Although women would not be able to give evidence in court, Luke is being careful not to report any events that only 1 person witnessed. He names 3 women and says that there were others too. Furthermore, some of the disciples’ “companions” went to the tomb and confirmed the story of the women. Later on, Luke mentions that Jesus appeared to Simon (Peter) but he doesn’t give a report on that. I think it’s because Simon was alone. There weren’t 2 witnesses! Finally, when Jesus appeared to the gathered group, there were the 11 disciples plus the 2 from the road, so 13 witnesses! We can rule out from this that Jesus’ resurrection appearances were hallucinations, dreams or delusions. There were too many witnesses.
Also, Luke is careful to address questions of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. When Jesus appears to the disciples back in Jerusalem, they think he is a ghost. Jesus is intentional to dismiss this theory. He offers them the opportunity to investigate his physical body. He shows them his hands and feet because they would still have nail holes in them to prove it was actually Jesus who was with them. He says that they can not only look, but they can also touch him! Jesus says, “A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I do.”
The disciples are still sceptical, so Jesus offers further evidence of his physical presence by asking if they have any food to eat. He then picks up and handles the fish, he eats it and it doesn’t fall on the floor! (Before that, too, he was able to hold and break the bread with Cleopas and his companion!) Jesus knows that in the moment and later on, afterward, there would be a temptation to write off his appearances as hallucinations, visions or experiences with spirits or ghosts. He was intentional, therefore, to give evidence of his physical presence with them.
But, we must also note that the resurrection was a surprise. It was unexpected. We can give the disciples some grace here for their surprise and scepticism. Then, like now, people knew that dead people don’t come back from the dead! The examples we spoke of earlier, of resuscitations, were all powerful miracles and they were powerful miracles performed by a third party. Jesus raised others. There was nobody to resuscitate Jesus. And, although Jesus had given forewarning of his resurrection, it was so profoundly outside the current Jewish thought on life, death and the future resurrection of all mankind, that the disciples didn’t anticipate Jesus’ resurrection at all.
Nowhere in the narrative do the followers of Jesus act in such a way that they expected Jesus to come back. Had his resurrection been expected, they would not have been sceptical when he appeared. The 2 on the
road would not have been downcast about his death. They would not have been baffled by reports of the empty tomb. They would have said, instead, “His tomb is empty, so we know he is risen, now we’re just waiting to meet him again.” The 11 in the room would not have been surprised, they would have said, “There you are! What took you so long?” In John’s Gospel, we are told that Thomas misses the first appearance of Jesus and will absolutely not believe Jesus is back until he sees and touches Jesus himself! Thomas was not expecting the resurrection of Jesus! None of Jesus’ followers were!
Third, the resurrection was physical, not just spiritual. This is where we get the most mixed up today. Jesus was able to hold and break bread with Cleopas and his companion. Jesus invited the disciples to touch him. He countered the view that he might be a ghost by pointing out that he has flesh and bone. He ate fish! So he was clearly physical in nature.
But he was more than just physical in the normal experience of humanity. When he first met Cleopas and his friend on the road, he was able to keep them from recognizing him. When their eyes were opened, as Jesus broke the bread, Jesus disappeared from their presence. John tells us that the 11 were back in the guest room where they had the Last Supper and that the doors were locked for fear of the Romans. Yet Jesus appeared in the locked room with them suddenly! Jesus “was no longer subject to the limitations of time and place.” [G B Caird, Luke, p. 252] But, in spite of these new characteristics, Jesus was still of flesh and bone.
Last, but certainly not least, we see that the resurrection of Jesus was in keeping with the OT. Twice we are told that Jesus explains the resurrection in terms of the OT. First he went through this on the road to Emmaus, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, and in all the Scriptures (which means the Old Testament in this context). Then, again, with the group in the upper room, he explains that the resurrection fulfils what was written about him the Law of Moses (that is, the books of Moses- Genesis through Deuteronomy), the Prophets and the Psalms.
I wish I could listen in on those lessons! I wish I could hear Jesus point out and explain how all those parts of the OT point to the resurrection. I don’t know all the connections that can be made. But, what I do know, is that God’s plan, his repeated statement of purpose, in creation “was the emergence of a holy people dedicated to his service.” [Caird, p. 258] And there is a repeated theme throughout God’s history of redemption of his people Israel suffering as a nation, by tyrants, or through divine punishment or even suffering vicariously for gentiles. Time and time again, God rescues his people, bringing them new life as a nation, from the exodus from Egypt through the Exile and return. This suffering of Israel foreshadows Jesus’ suffering and Israel’s rescue and redemption foreshadows the resurrection. “Thus Moses and all the prophets could be said to bear witness to the one divine method of dealing with the problem of evil.” [Caird, p. 258]
What It Means
So what does all of this mean? We’ve seen that the resurrection of Jesus was a surprise. We’ve seen that Luke has been careful to provide witness statements and other evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, his actual presence with these followers. We have seen the physical nature of the resurrected Jesus and we have seen, in part at least, that his resurrection was in continuity with the OT. It was all part of God’s plan from the beginning!
What, then, does it mean? From these four points about the resurrection, I want to zero in on the physical nature of Jesus’ resurrected body and begin to explore what that means. Paul tells us that Jesus is the first fruits, the first example of the resurrection. And that imagery of first fruits means that there is much more coming. We’re going to look at this in more detail in the coming weeks, but suffice it to say, we, as Christ followers, can anticipate being physically resurrected ourselves some day in the future.
Why is that significant? Because it runs counter to some deeply held beliefs many Christians hold about our destiny after death. It also runs counter to what many people outside the church think Christians believe. Many Christians believe that our ultimate destiny is to live as spirits or souls in Heaven. That is, many Christians believe that our ultimate destiny is to live as disembodied, non-physical entities of some kind in Heaven, often thought of as in the clouds. Sometimes this is depicted in artwork as us even having wings and halos, maybe harps, essentially looking like angels. This is completely wrong!
Our future destiny is to have physical, resurrected bodies like Jesus. Now, there is likely going to be an intermediary stage between our death and the resurrection of humanity. In that intermediate state we may experience God’s presence in a disembodied state. We will talk about that later this month. But far too many
Christians and non-Christians alike think that this disembodied experience is the goal. It’s not the goal, it’s the holding pattern! It’s the half time show. It’s the intermission. It’s not the goal. It’s not the end.
So what difference does it make if our ultimate destiny is to be in a physical, resurrected body or to live on the clouds as disembodied spirits? Think for a moment: disembodied spirits don’t really have a place on earth. They don’t belong here. However, physical bodies might have a home here! Actually, as we are going to see in another message, our physically resurrected bodies will, in fact, have a home here on earth, only a redeemed and renewed earth!
Let me say that again, our resurrected bodies will inhabit a new, recreated earth! Our destiny is not heaven, but a newly created earth. Why? Because that’s where bodies belong! Spirits without bodies don’t belong on earth, but bodies do.
This radically alters our view of death. Many people, who view our future as living as spirits or souls, without bodies, in heaven, view death as merely a transition. Death becomes the process by which we shed or escape our bodies. Our bodies, in many people’s views, is just a shell. It’s not the “real” us. The “real” us is supposedly our soul. When our soul is released, so it is thought, the real us gets to go to heaven leaving behind our dead bodies.
But this is not what the New Testament teaches! This is what Plato, the Greek philosopher, taught. This is what most Greeks thought. But it’s not what the NT or early church taught! Quite to the contrary, death is not a means to escape the shell of our physical body. That’s just a transition. That’s actually “not that bad.”
What the NT teaches, though, is that death is a curse. Death is pretty bad. But Jesus has conquered death. To conquer death doesn’t mean we lose our physicality when we die but we get to carry on. That’s not much of a victory over death, to be honest. At best, that’s a draw with death. But Jesus conquered death and, eventually, all the consequences of sin and death will be vanquished. That means that the consequences of sin and death on our physical bodies and the rest of physical creation will be vanquished!
You see, and this is where it is important that we see the resurrection is in continuity with the OT, God’s plan from the beginning, from before creation, was to create a physical world filled with physical creatures. His design was to have physical creatures that reflect his image to look after that world as his stewards. We corrupted that physical world with our sin, but that wasn’t a surprise to God. God’s plan of creation, from the beginning, included a plan for redeeming his creation after we polluted it. And that plan of redemption included the physical resurrection of Jesus and, ultimately, the physical resurrection of his people. With what purpose? So that we could enjoy our intimate relationship with God, in our physical bodies and living in a physical creation. God’s plan of redemption is a plan for physical renewal. (More on that in a future sermon!)
So what does this matter? How do we apply this to our daily lives? How does it shape our relationship with Jesus?
First, it shapes our understanding of death. Death is not a transition. It is not a doorway. It is not a release to our true selves. Death is the enemy, but a defeated enemy. The antidote to death is resurrection. It is in our resurrection that Jesus defeats death and its consequences.
The real you is a physical you. Right now, the physical you is subject to death and decay, sickness and corruption. But the resurrected you, still a physical you, will no longer be subject to death, decay, sickness or corruption. You will be the real, physical you that God intended you to be from before the dawn of creation!
When death is seen (falsely) as an escape, it is easy to think that what goes on here on earth doesn’t matter much. We’re going to leave this place anyway, right? This gives rise to such songs about death as, “I’ll fly away!....” But we are not flying away. We are actually coming back with Jesus! We’re getting new, physical bodies and Jesus is going to make a new earth. That means what happens here does, in fact matter.
This actually sheds new light on Jesus’ ministry here on earth. Jesus healed the sick, calmed the storm, fed the hungry and even resuscitated the dead! Why? One view is that it was to get people’s attention so they would listen to him. And, if our ultimate destiny is to leave this place and live as disembodied souls, then that’s about all Jesus’ earthly ministry can mean.
However! If our destiny is to be bodily resurrected and bodily returned to earth and Jesus is going to physically renew all of creation, then his earthly ministry takes on a new dynamic. Jesus’ earthly ministry,
healing the sick, feeding the hungry, calming the storm, casting our demons and raising the dead is actually a foretaste of the renewal he is going to bring when he returns in power! When Jesus returns, he will set things straight everywhere. When he was here the first time, he began that process. He gave us a taste of what that will look like. In the new creation there will be no hunger. There will be no sickness. Nobody will have a disability, they’ll all be healed. There will be no demonic presence or mental illness. There will be no storms (or at least storms won’t threaten people’s lives). There will be no death or decay.
So this, then, shapes our understanding of mission! The mission of the church, the mission of God’s people, is to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation. We are to be his representatives carrying out his will on earth. Suppose our destiny is to be disembodied souls living somewhere else. Then what value can our mission work have in the long run? Very little! At best is gets people’s attention so they listen to us about Jesus. If our goal is to get out of here, then the work we do here, straightening things out and cleaning things up, is ultimately of little value.
But, if our destiny is not a disembodied existence somewhere else, if our destiny is actually to come back here with Jesus in resurrected bodies and live in Jesus’ renewed creation, then our mission work here now actually lasts. It actually lasts into God’s future. [NT Wright, Surprised by Hope, p. 192] Our work here now to end poverty and hunger, to end sickness, to care for the environment removing the blight of sin (actually being the good stewards God created us to be!) becomes work towards our future. It becomes work towards Jesus’ redemption of creation.
If we are going to leave this earth for a disembodied existence, we can logically say, “Bah! This place is going to be destroyed anyway. Why bother with it?” But, if our future is a physical existence, on a renewed earth, then we can say, “Hey! Wait a minute! This place matters! This place matters to Jesus. He’s coming back. Let’s not make a mess of it before he gets here. Rather, let’s treat it with some respect.”
The same with our bodies. If our bodies are just a shell to be escaped, then why bother looking after them? Once someone dies, how do we treat their body if it was just a shell? We treat is like garbage. But, what if our bodies are going to be renewed and resurrected? Then, when somebody dies, we recognize first that death is an insult to God’s creation and second we treat their body like a precious piece of God’s creation destined to be renewed and resurrected. We don’t treat it like garbage. We treat it like a broken, or damaged masterpiece by a great artist. We store the damaged masterpiece respectfully waiting for the artist to return to fix it, clean it up and restore it.
This is our Christian hope. This is what the NT tells us is in store for us. Now I suspect this is radically new for many of you! I suspect few of us have put a lot of thought into it. We just kind of “believe what we believe” about life after death. And yet, as I have started to outline here in our application, the difference between a disembodied future and a resurrected future has profound implications! It shapes our view of death, our view of our bodies, our view of mission and the meaning or use of that mission in Jesus’ name.
Yet for many this may be controversial! I have been studying two books on this topic written by two NT scholars of different generations. (NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope and Oscar Cullman’s Immortality of the Sour or Resurrection of the Dead) Both of them speak of the hostility these ideas meet when published! One writer, the older one, talks in the introduction to his second edition that he has been attacked and vilified from both sides, liberal and conservative, for daring to challenge the view of living as a disembodied soul! Yet none of his detractors address his actual treatment of the NT texts in question! Their challenges are philosophical and emotional.
I know my Dad has said that the lecture in his theology class that generated the most heated conversations was on this topic and what it means for burial of the dead vs cremation. (I’m going to leave that one hanging for you to think through!) We feel very strongly about our beliefs about life after death, even more so when we have lost loved ones! But we must see that our future shapes our present. Our future hope shapes our current purpose and activity.
Let me give you one last summary statement that results from the idea of bodily resurrection instead of disembodied soul. Many faithful evangelicals speak of evangelism as “saving souls.” But Jesus didn’t die on the cross to save our souls! He died on the cross to defeat sin and death. He was resurrected as a sign of the defeat of death. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live! [Ravi Zacharias]
Maybe instead of thinking of evangelism as “saving souls” we should think of it as “saving lives.” And by life, I mean the whole person: physical, spiritual, emotional and social. After all, that’s what’s going to be resurrected! So if our view of evangelism shifts from saving souls to saving lives, then our Christian activity of restoring justice, ending hunger, ending poverty and sickness, etc. is seen in a new light! It’s not just to gain a hearing, it’s actually participating in the work of the Spirit of Christ and in his work of renewing creation!
So there’s something to think about this week. Think about praying for your Reach One person, that you will cooperate with the Spirit to help this person take steps towards faith in Christ. If Jesus’ ultimate goal for your Reach One is that they be bodily resurrected, that their bodies be transformed and renewed, then what steps might you take now to cooperate with the Spirit to help them take steps towards faith in Christ? Maybe it’s more than saving their soul? Maybe it’s about saving their whole person? Their whole life? Amen.
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