Friday, November 11, 2011

Resurrection of the Dead

Resurrection of the Dead

Acts 4:1-12

"And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead." Acts 4:1-2 (ESV)

The resurrection of Jesus threatened the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

ANNOYED: diaponeomai (to toil through, be worried); from ponos (toil or anguish); from penes (starving or indigent); from peno (to toil for daily subsistence)

The Greek word that we translate as "annoyed" means to feel threatened, as if by starvation. In what way did the resurrection of the dead threaten the religious leaders? The religious leaders arrested Peter and John and attempted to charge them with being heretics. They demanded to know by what authority Peter and John healed the crippled man:

"When they had set them in the midst, they inquired, By what power or by what name did you do this?" Acts 4:7 (ESV)

Peter plainly pointed to Jesus Christ as the power and authority behind the healing:

"Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead — by him this man is standing before you well." Acts 4:8-10 (ESV)

Peter described Jesus as a stone:

"This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone." Acts 4:11 (ESV)

CORNERSTONE: kephale (head) and gonia (angle)

Jesus Christ is the power and authority behind the healing of the crippled man. Jesus Christ is the essential foundation, the cornerstone, of salvation:

"There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 (ESV)

This is what threatened the religious leaders: Jesus, instead of themselves, would become the leader of the people. The religious leaders depended upon their own power and authority to obtain support from the people. Without the people's obedient support, the leaders could face loss of everything, including food and shelter. Without power and authority, the leaders would be forced to work for their living.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Discuss what you know about the religions of the world. Are there any that reject the concept of resurrection? Can nirvana or universal consciousness or anihilation be considered a "happy ending"?

Why was the issue of the resurrection of the dead so critical? Several references emphasize the doctrine of the resurrection to be the most important element in the conflict between Jesus and Jews.

"Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection...He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities - because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection...when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked...Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial...the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit...Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." Matthew 22:23; Acts 17:18, 32, 23:6-8; 1 Corinthians 15:12-14 (ESV)

RESURRECTION: anastasis (standing up again); from anistemi (to stand up); from histemi (to stand)

The healing of the crippled man is a clear illustration of the resurrection from the dead.

The man had been lame from birth...he had never walked. He had always depended upon other people to carry him and support him with food and shelter. He was a beggar, doing nothing productive for society but only living off what others gave to him.

Looking at human history from afar, can anything that we've accomplished be considered good. In so many ways, every step of progress has brought new levels of abuse or perversion or pollution. If placed on a scale, with mankind on one side and all of creation on the other, in what way has mankind benefited creation? In what has our history brought good and not loss?

This image of a beggar is an accurate portrait of all fallen, sinful men and women. Since the Serpent's deception of Eve and the disobedience of Adam, all mankind has been physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually crippled. We may appear to be standing firm at times, but our strength is only 70 years, perhaps a bit more, or perhaps in the next 70 minutes, we will each will die and turn to dust.

Even in our short lifetime we are crippled beggars. We think we are able to stand and earn our own living, but we depend upon many other people and things in order to obtain even our daily food.

The bread and egg which I ate this morning was the result of someone else, planting the seed and raising the chicken, harvesting and butchering, preparing and packaging, delivering and displaying. The money I used to purchase my bread and egg was given to me by someone who counted my labor worthy. The appliance I used to cook my food was provided by scores of people who made the materials, designed and built the machine, and generated the power to use it.

Even an a apparently independent, self-sufficient person depends upon land, plants, and animals of which he himself cannot create nor sustain by himself. The miracle of birth and growth...even the act of breathing and a beating heart...none of us can live independent of power and providence supplied outside of our own abilities.

Ultimately, every day of every man and woman's life is influenced by weather, climate, disease and disaster, providence and protection which no human can completely control.

Compared to the depth of the sea and the distance of the universe, and the finality of death, we are crippled beggars, every one of us.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Can you describe a time when you felt most crippled or inadequate? What brought you out of that dark time?

The healing of a crippled man is a glimpse into the concept of resurrection from the dead. In the same way that the lame beggar was given strength to stand, so will crippled humans be raised to eternal life after our earthly death.

The truth of the resurrection is essential to salvation and faith in Christ. Paul described the resurrection as "of first importance":

"I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day." Corinthians 15:3-4 (ESV)

Paul cited specific instances in which the resurrected Jesus appeared to people. The resurrection of Jesus was an absolute proof of the belief in the resurrection of the dead. If the resurrection of Jesus were to be false, Paul declared that everything else about Jesus would be empty and worthless:

"If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain." 1 Corinthians 15:13-14 (ESV)

If the dead are not resurrected, then Christ remains dead, and God will surely punish each one of us for our sins:

"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." 1 Corinthians 15:17 (ESV)

Paul is not trying to make the Christian lifestyle appear to be smooth or happy or fun. He is not trying to show that being a Christian makes life on earth a form of heaven. Drawing a line down the center of a page, listing the advantages of living as a Christian versus the advantages of living as an atheisist or a pagan, will not satisfy Paul.

The absolute bottom line for Paul is not what happens to him in this life on earth. Rather, for Paul, the most essential concept that must be true is that of life after death. Without the sure hope of resurrection of the dead, Paul would consider his life empty and worthless.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? It is common to hear a Christian say that life without Christ would be unliveable. Do you agree? Do most Christians believe that God makes life on earth easier for those who trust Christ?

This was the hope of the Sadducees: There is no resurrection of the dead and there is no hope for anyone other than the hope provided by us, the religious leaders. If the people depend upon us for favor from God, we will enjoy their support in the form of food and shelter, prestige and power. There is no life after death, only life on earth, and that we can control.

The resurrection of Jesus threatened the power and authority of the religious leaders.

Why is faith in the resurrection of the dead essential for the Christian? Victory over death does not substantially change our life on earth. On earth, we all will live as crippled beggars, depending upon each other and the mercy of God. We will all experience heavy toil, disease and disaster.

However, trusting in the truth of the resurrection of the dead will substantially change how, and why, we endure this troubled life on earth. Paul endured difficulties and danger every day of his life. He experienced injury from wild animals as well as malicious humans. He accepted the hardness of life on earth in order to serve Jesus. His faith in life after death gave him the desire and strength to remain steadfast and immovable in representing Jesus as his greatest Treasure.

Paul was completely taken by the grace of God shown to him by Jesus. For Paul, Jesus had become his most valuable Treasure, worthy of his utmost adoration and effort. Paul preached Christ with all his strength, not to earn resurrection, but because of resurrection. Being raised to life at the end of life on earth was so real and so wonderful for Paul. He saw resurrection not as a reward for service, but as a gift of grace, given to one who was "the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Corinthians 15:9)

When I lose hope, when I feel like giving up, when living for Jesus seems dreary or too demanding, it's because I've forgotten about the resurrection. Life on earth is too hard, with little reward or reason for living, unless there is resurrection from the dead, unless there is victory over death.

I can endure any temptation or trial, as long as I hold firm to the hope of resurrection after death.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What difficulty are you facing right now? Does it help to consider the hope that God will raise you to life after death?

Image courtesy of Horton Group,