The Hope of the Resurrection

Ayear1142ecPaul’s life was at stake. He had survived being beaten almost to death by a mob the previous day only by the timely arrival of the Roman commander and his soldiers. Now the Sanhedrin is trying him, but the command of the high priest shows what the outcome will be. In Acts 23:6-11 Paul proclaims his belief in the resurrection, not just as a defense tactic, but as part of a summary of the good news he proclaimed.

Be committed to your risen Lord. Paul based his defense on the hope of the resurrection. Paul was trying to create a division in the court that was trying him. Luke explains that the Sadducees (who held thatonly the five books of Moses were Scripture) denied the existence of angels and spirits as well as the resurrection. The Pharisees, however, affirmed those beliefs. Paul had indeed been trained as a Pharisee under Gamaliel. Although Paul rejected the works-righteousness that usually went with the desire of the Pharisees to follow God’s law carefully (see Philippians 3:4-11), one could trust in Jesus and be his follower without ceasing to be a Pharisee (see Acts. 15:5). For a Sadducee to become a Christian, however, meant repudiating core elements of their distinctiveness. Seeing how prejudiced the court was, Paul divided them with his cry that he was a Pharisee, and that the crucial issue was the resurrection. Paul’s statement caused such dissension in the Sanhedrin that Paul again had to be rescued by the Roman soldiers!

Paul was not merely using a smart courtroom tactic. Rather, the resurrection lay at the very heart of the good news that Paul proclaimed, Romans 1:3-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5. John Calvin comments” “Our salvation may thus be divided between the death and the resurrection of Christ: by the former sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter, righteousness was restored and life revived, the power and efficacy of the of the former being still bestowed upon us by means of the latter. . . . Let us remember, therefore, that when death only is mentioned, everything peculair to the resurrection is at the same time included, and that there is a like synecdoche in the term resurrection, as often as it is used apart from death, everything peculiar to death being included. . . . .By rising again, he obtained the victory, and became the resurrection and the life.” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, xvi, 13).

Your belief in the resurrection may be costly. Belief in the resurrection, denied by the Sadducees, considered foolishness by the Greeks, is considered unscientific nonsense by many today. Some of your neighbors may believe in reincarnation or absorption back into the universe, but the bodily resurrection, especially the bodily resurrection of Christ, is excluded. To confess your hope in the resurrection of Christ involves involves a willingness to be identified with him. Sometimes that is open persecution—the world has not changed that much since Paul stood before the Sanhedrin. It always included the tension that comes from living in this present evil age, not as one who belongs here, but as one who belongs to the age to come.

But take comfort from the presence of your Lord. The Lord, whose resurrection Paul affirmed, but which had been denied by the leaders of Israel, appeared to Paul with the assurance that Paul would testify before him in Rome. The living Lord gave Paul hope. Because he is the resurrected, living Lord, he gives you the hope and strength you need to go on, even in the face of suffering, pain, and grief.

Why is the resurrection so important? Put your hope in the Lord who was raised for you. The resurrection is central to the good news. The Protestant reformation included a growing appreciation of the significance of the death of Christ. But we sometimes overlook how important the resurrection is. It was a recurring theme in apostolic preaching. It is central in Paul’s summaries of the gospel he preached.

The risen Christ calls you to believe in him. The resurrection is not an abstract theological point. You are united with Christ in his death and resurrection. That does look ahead to glory, but it also involves being united with Christ in his sufferings today. The doctrine of the resurrection looks back. It is the Father’s vindication of his Son. It is the triumph over sin, death, and the devil. The doctrine of the resurrection gives you hope today. You are untied with the risen Savior. You walk a new life. He has given you his Spirit. And it looks forward. The resurrection of Jesus means that he is returning as the Judge. “Jesus’ resurrection does not only testify concerning the past (overturning the shame and rejection of his death) and open the blessings of the kingdom in the present (repentance, forgiveness, and the Spirit). It also makes an announcement about the future. Human history has not seen the last of Jesus of Nazareth, and this fact gives reason both to hope and to fear. . . . Not every sermon in Acts explicitly points ahead to the climax of history, but it is evident that Jesus’ resurrection entails the promise of his return. Jesus’ authority as judge is established by his enthronement as Lord. The promise of comprehensive restoration is secured by the Spirit whom the exalted Lord has poured out from his seat at the Father’s right hand.” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, pp. 150-151). The Sanhedrin may have thought it was sitting in judgment on Paul. But, in proclaiming the resurrection, Paul recognized that the outcome lay not with the court of the land, but with the Judge of the heavens and earth. That ought to encourage you in a world that seems increasingly antagonistic to the Lord.

The hope of the resurrection. That is something worth being accused for. The is reason to endure being despised. You belong to the Lord who was raised, and you have been raised in him. Live in that hope this week.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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