Last Thursday afternoon I sat again in the parlor of a funeral home. A friend’s body was lying serenely in the casket surrounded with green plants and colorful flowers from family, friends, and business associates. I was alone. No distractions. “What do I believe about the resurrection from the dead?”
It’s one thing to sing on Easter, “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today. I know that He is living…” It’s another thing to sit alone before an open casket and declare again I believe that not only Jesus rose from the dead, but because my friend believed in Jesus as a nine-year-old, he too will rise and receive a new glorified body like Jesus’.
When it comes to Jesus, the most basic issue is—the resurrection.
In the first century Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, there were two groups. The Sadducees were sophisticated materialists who viewed their ancestral religion as a powerful moral and cultural tool, but didn’t buy into any ideas of corpses rising from the dead or of supernatural angels or other spirit beings making appearances. In AD 57 they held the priestly power.
The second group, the Pharisees, didn’t put their stock in only this present life. They had a strong commitment to the resurrection teaching of Daniel 12:2, 2 Maccabees 7:14; and 1 Enoch 51:1-5 and they believed in the reality of angels and spirits. Paul, himself, was a Pharisee, and he knew that resurrection hope was at the core of why he was on trial.
“When Paul realized that in the Sanhedrin part of the group were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out, ‘Men, brothers, I’m a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I’m being judged over the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ As soon as he said this a fight broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly divided.
For the Sadducees say there is no resurrection, neither an angel or a spirit. The Pharisees, on the other hand, confess belief in all of these. The place exploded in a shouting match with some of the scribes from the Pharisaic party standing up and vigorously contending, ‘We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ The argument escalated to the point that the Roman tribune feared that Paul would be torn apart; so he commanded his troops to go down and take him away from them and bring him back into the barracks.” Acts 23:6-10
The truth was that a lot more than some angelic spirit had appeared to Paul on the Damascus Road. It was also true that the Pharisees were a lot closer to the truth than the resurrection-denying Sadducees.
Alone in the funeral home I bowed my head and prayed,
LORD, I do believe your Son conquered this terrible curse. I do believe I will see my friend again, and he will be alive and gloriously whole. Please fortify this resurrection hope especially in the hearts of his family, not just on the day of the memorial service, but in the coming weeks and months of cold grief.
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