April 28, 2013

Sermon, Fourth Sunday after Easter

The Resurrection of You
Psalm 116, Job 19:21-27, John 12:44-50
Fourth Sunday after Easter
April 28, 2013
The future is a dim and shadowy thing to us.  Even Biblical references to it are often given in symbolism that is hard to understand.  But some of the major future events are given in plain and bold language.  One, for example, is the Return of Christ.  It is stated in our reading from John this morning, for when Christ refers to "the last day," He means the time after His Second Coming, when all shall stand before God to give an account of our lives.  Other verses are clearer.  "This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come again,"  says Acts 1:11.  He is "the Lord, which is, and was, and which is to come, says Revelation 1:8."  "Behold, I come" says Christ Himself in Revelation 21:12.  The Return of Christ is so clearly stated in Scripture it is one of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith.  Thus we affirm it every Sunday, in the Nicene Creed, "He shall come again with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead," or in the Apostles' Creed, "From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead."  A second future event, stated with equal clarity and boldness, is the resurrection of the dead.  Not only is Christ raised from the dead, but you and I, and all people will also be raised.  It is in that resurrected state that our Lord says in John 12:48 people will be judged on the last day.  1 Thessalonians 4:16 tells us "the dead in Christ shall rise first."  Job 19:26 says, though worms destroy my body "yet in my flesh shall I see God."  Here again is such a foundational element of Biblical faith that God's Church has felt constrained to affirm it every Sunday for two-thousand years. "I believe... in the resurrection of the body," "I look for the resurrection of the dead: And the life of the world to come."  So, as we near the end of the Easter season, I want to speak this morning about your resurrection.

Those who belong to Christ actually have two resurrections.  The first is a resurrection of the spirit within us.  Romans 6:23 tells us "the wages of sin is death."  This death is twofold.  First it is the lake of fire found in Revelation 21:8, which is to live forever in the condition of dying a horrible death.  Second, it is a spiritual separation from God here and now in this life.  Thus Ephesians 2:1, telling Christians about our spiritual condition before we were rescued by Christ, says we were "dead in trespasses and sins."  Ephesians 2:12 explains this death in terrifying terms.  It is to be "without Christ... strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world."  This is the natural condition of all sinners, and, Romans 3:23 states what we all know to be true, "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."

So, the Christian's first resurrection is to be raised from the condition of spiritual death to a condition of spiritual life.  Ephesians 2:1 calls this being quickened, meaning, made alive: "you hath He quickened, who were dead in your trespasses and sins."  In other places the Bible calls it being "born again" as in John. 3:3, or "regeneration" as in Titus 3:5; "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost."  One of my favourite passages on this subject is Romans 6:4: "Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."  So your first resurrection, if you are a Christian, is that resurrection from the grave and death of sin, to life in Jesus Christ.  We actually prayed for this today in the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter; "Grant unto thy people, that ... our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

The second resurrection is the physical resurrection of our bodies.  This is somewhat puzzling to many.  How can a physical body that has long since been destroyed be put back together and raised again?  It becomes especially complicated when we think that, over the millennia of time, the elements and chemicals of earth may actually become parts of many human bodies.  How can God raise up two bodies of the same material?  My answer is, that's God's problem, and I'm sure the One who could be in Heaven, and, at the same time, living on earth in a human body, can raise us up and put us back together again if He wants to.  I am confident, therefore, that as Job said, "though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God"  (Job 19:26).

When does this physical resurrection occur?  Martha gives the answer in John 11:24.  Speaking to Christ about Lazarus, she says, " I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Revelation 20:12 confirms this.  After the defeat of Satan, after the millennial reign, at the last day the dead are raised to stand before God.  And when is the last day?  It is the day Christ returns.  On that day "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess. 4:16-17).

What will the resurrected body be like?  The Bible give us some clues.  Philippians 4:20-21 says it will "be fashioned like unto his glorious body."  Our resurrected body will be like Christ's resurrected body.  So it will be a real body as Christ's is.  It will be recognisable.  We will recognise each other as the disciples were able to recognise Christ.  It will not be susceptible to age, disease, or death.  Finally, it will be able to stand in the presence of God.  God told Moses no man could see Him and live.  That was in our Friday morning reading in Exodus 33.  But our glorified, resurrected bodies will be made to be in the immediate presence of God. "So shall we ever be with the Lord."

The physical resurrection of our bodies is part of that blessed hope that belongs to every Christian.  There is much more to life than what we see with our physical eyes now.  There is a world beyond this world which we can only see with the eyes of faith.  But one day our physical eyes will see it.  One day our feet will walk on its streets.  One day our knees will bow in the immediate presence of God.  One day, in our flesh, shall we see God.

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