"We Preach Christ Crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." - 1 Cor. 1:23, 24
Fourth Sunday after Easter, 2021
Text: Job 19:21-27a
The Very Rev. Jerry D. Kistler
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church
Resurrection: The Christian’s Great Hope
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.
What is your greatest hope as a Christian? What are you looking to as the ultimate fulfillment of your salvation?
It’s Eastertide, and in this bright, jubilant season we rejoice in the glory or our Lord’s bodily resurrection from the tomb. The tomb is still empty, and we rejoice. But we don’t rejoice in the Lord’s resurrection as merely a past event—something that truly happened, but is now disconnected from us by 2000 years. No, the Scriptures teach us that if Christ was raised bodily from the tomb, so will we, who believe in Him be raised bodily from our tombs at the last great day. This was a central element in the apostolic preaching of the gospel. It is an article of our creed. And it is this very doctrine—the belief in the resurrection of the body—that is to be the Christian’s great hope. It’s what we ought to be looking ahead to and longing for, along with the new heavens and the new earth—the total redemption of creation—as the zenith of our salvation: that which Christ purposed all along to accomplish by His death, resurrection, and ascension.
But many Christians today don’t believe this any longer. If they don’t outright reject it, they’ve never been taught it, or they’ve been taught a kind of gnostic version of it.
I’ll never forget when I said in Bible study one evening that the ultimate goal of our salvation is not that we go to heaven, the eyebrows of a woman sitting there in the pews shot up in shocked disbelief at what I’d just said. She was visiting with us from a less than orthodox church here in town, and she had only ever been taught, or had only picked up from the popular Christian viewpoint out there, that when we die, that’s where we go: to heaven. Nothing more beyond that. That we live out our eternal lives as spirits in the spiritual kingdom of heaven with God and the angels and all the other spirits who have gone before us. No concept of a resurrection. It’s the popular viewpoint of just about every movie ever made about life after death. It will be a completely spiritual, that is, non-physical, existence.
Now many other Christians, if they do have a concept of the resurrection at the last day—meaning the resurrection of believers in Christ—think of it as a spiritual resurrection. In other words, that the bodies we will be raised with will be non-physical bodies. I remember again a conversation I had with someone in my own family who said that Jesus’ resurrection was unique in that it was a resurrection of His physical body. Our resurrection will be spiritual. In other words, our bodies, when they get buried in the earth, will stay there, and somehow, when Christ returns, God will give us new, non-physical, spiritual bodies, whatever those could possibly be.
This idea has become so popular in fact that when Anglican bishop and theologian N. T. Wright published a book back in 2008 called Surprised by Hope, in which he set forth the historic Christian hope of the resurrection of our bodies, ABC news—which should never be your go-to for orthodox Christian teaching—ran an interesting report on it. And they said that Wright’s idea that “God will literally remake our physical bodies” was a “radical departure from traditional belief.” What an extraordinary statement! As author Robin Philips wrote in response, “Though the Apostles’ Creed professes belief in ‘the resurrection of the body’, and though the Nicene Creed contains the statement, ‘We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’, this doctrine is now assumed to be not just a departure from traditional Christian belief, but a radical departure from it” (“Raised as Spiritual Body,” Christian World Journal, May 7, 2012).
Just as another example of this idea, biochemical researcher Brian Innes observed in his book Death and the Afterlife, “current orthodox Christianity no longer holds to the belief in physical resurrection, preferring the concept of the eternal existence of the soul, although some creeds still cling to the old ideas.”
I would say that “current orthodox Christianity” is another way of saying “old, heretical Christianity,” because this preference for “the eternal existence of the soul” verses the resurrection of the body seeps into Christianity from Plato and pagan Greek philosophy, not from the Holy Scriptures or the belief of the Church for 2000 years.
Remember, the Platonic view of the universe was essentially dualistic, in which the spiritual is good and the physical is evil. Salvation for the Greeks, and especially for the later Gnostics was about escaping the body, escaping our connection with this evil physical world, and becoming pure, disembodied spirits. We’re still dealing with this stuff.
But this is the complete opposite of Hebrew, Biblical Christianity. We forget sometimes that Christianity is a Hebrew religion, not a Greek religion. Or, over two-thousand years, so much of the Church has remade Christianity into a Greek religion. I like to say we’ve “Greek-ified” Christianity.
No. Who made the body? God. And God doesn’t make evil stuff. He didn’t make us spirits trapped in evil bodies. He made a union of spirit and body. He made us embodied spirits. And at the end of the day, He said that it was “very good.” He didn’t say it was the best He could do at the time; eventually He’d get rid of those nasty bodies. No, He declared that His creation of us a unity of the spiritual and the physical was very good.
And redemption is not the undoing of creation. Redemption is the perfection of creation. God’s purpose all along was to save us—to save our whole persons, spirit and body—from the ruinous effects of sin. You see, it’s because of sin that we die and our spirits are separated from our bodies. Sin is the cause of that separation, not God. Death is the wages of sin, Paul says. And death is the unnatural—the anti-creational—separation of the body and the spirit, such that our bodies are reclaimed by the ground from which they were made—“earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
What happens to our spirits? Well, the Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that for those of us who have been joined to Christ “to be absent from the body” is “to be present with the Lord.” That means that our spirits do go to heaven when we die. But Paul describes this not as our final state, but as a kind of intermediate state. As a matter of fact, he describes it as the time that our spirits will be naked—unclothed from our bodies.
Now, some of you here today might think it sounds like a great thing to be frolicking around naked for all eternity, but most of us think that sounds like a pretty strange idea—including the Apostle Paul. He says—and his language is very picturesque; you have to understand what he’s saying—he says, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent is destroyed”—what is he talking about? He’s talking about the death of our bodies— “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” He’s talking about our resurrection bodies. “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked.” Notice, he’s saying that our desire in not that our spirits would be unclothed—naked—but to clothed with a new body that is given to us from God. “For we who are in this tent [this body] groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.”
You see, the hope of the Christian isn’t that when we die we just go to heaven, and that’s it. That would be to live in a state of spiritual nakedness forever. It’s that this mortal body would instantly transformed into an immortal body, like Christ’s own resurrected body. Essentially what Paul is saying is that we all wish we’d never have to die at all, and that we could move right from this mortal life, with our mortal bodies, into the immortal life, with our resurrected bodies. Isn’t that what we’d all like, for ourselves and for our loved ones? Unfortunately, except for those lucky ones who are alive at the coming of the Lord, we will not get to experience that instant translation from mortality to immortality, but we will die, and our spirits will go to be with the Lord, and our bodies will be committed to the ground. But here’s what we say in the Prayer Book. Our bodies will be committed to the ground,
“…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”
The Prayer Book is not making this stuff up; it’s just quoting from the Scriptures—two passages: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Philippians 3:20-21. The first says, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The second says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”
We’re not looking for the immortality of the soul; we’re looking for the resurrection of the body, and its reunion with the soul—the further clothing of the soul—for all eternity.
Jesus Christ is spoken of in the Scriptures as “the firstfruits” of the resurrection. That’s what we’re celebrating here in Eastertide—that Jesus was raised physically from the grave. “He is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.” We are not celebrating merely that Christ’s spirit went to heaven. So here’s the question: do you suppose there’s only going to be one Person in heaven who has body—Jesus Christ—and the rest of us will just be disembodied phantoms? No! Firstfruits implies later fruits, —the resurrection of all those who are Christ’s at His coming. That’s what Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15:
“But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming” (vv. 20-23).
The problem comes when Paul speaks of the kind of body our resurrected bodies will be. In 1 Corinthians 15:44 he speaks of two sorts of bodies: the one we have now, and the one we’ll have in the future. The one he calls a “natural body”—Greek psuchikos—and the other he calls a “spiritual body”—Greek pneumatikos. Now I think N.T. Wright is really helpful here, although not simple. So rouse yourself from drowsiness, and put on your thinking caps. Actually, it’s really not that hard. He says, “Unfortunately, many translations get [Paul] radically wrong at this point, leading to the widespread supposition that for Paul the new body would be a spiritual body in the sense of a nonmaterial body, a body that in Jesus’s case wouldn’t have left an empty tomb behind it....”
He says the really important point is to recognize that
“Greek adjectives ending in –ikos, describe not the material out of which things are made but the power or energy that animates them. It is the different between asking, on the one hand, ‘Is this a wooden ship or an iron ship?’ (the material from which it is made) and asking, on the other, ‘Is this a steamship or a sailing ship?’ (the energy that powers it). Paul is talking about the present body, which is animated by the normal human psyché (the life force we all possess here and now, which gets us through the present life but is ultimately powerless against illness, injury, decay, and death), and the future body, which is animated by God’s pneuma [His Spirit], God’s breath of new life, the energizing power of God’s new creation.”
Do you get the point? When Paul says we will have a “spiritual body” he is not talking about what it will be made of—spiritual, non-physical stuff—but about the power which gives it life—the Holy Spirit of God.
We’re looking for the resurrection of our bodies as our greatest hope, as that, which along with the new heavens and the new earth, will bring our redemption to its ultimate consummation. Don’t hope for less, folks. Don’t long for something less than God would give you. He intends to redeem your whole person, not just a part of you. And He has given you His Spirit as the guarantee that He will in fact do it. This is our Easter hope.
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God. +