Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Better Resurrection

Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection, Hebrews 11.35

This is perhaps a part of the famous chapter 11 passage in Hebrews that most people don't hear preached that often. We love the stories of faith where people triumph and breakthrough. But this speaks of some who chose death over compromising their faith. They did not accept deliverance because it was not offered on God's terms. Stephen, the first martyr in the church comes to mind. He died as a bold witness to Jesus and now looks forward to a better resurrection.

In the context of the passage the writer is thinking of the accounts where those who had died were raised to life again. Five accounts spring to mind. Three in the Old testament and three in the New:

1. 1Kings 17.7-24 Elijah raising the son of a widow
2. 2 Kings 4:18-37 Elisha raising the Shunammite widow's son
3. 2Kings 13.21 A dead man is buried in Elisha's grave and when he touches his bones comes back to life.
4. Luke 7.11-16 The raising of the widow at Nain's son by Jesus
5. Mark 5.21-43 Jesus raises Jairus' daughter from the dead
6. John 11 Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead

In all these accounts the people who came back to life would die again! And this is the point of the writer in Hebrews. There is a better resurrection. It is described in more detail by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. I'll say more about that later. Let's quickly review the book of Hebrews to see how significant this word 'better' is. It is used twelve times in this thirteen chapter letter.

In the first two chapters Jesus is presented as better than the angels; Heb 1.4. The angels of God are commanded to worship Jesus, Heb 1.6 (something only reserved for God). In fact he goes on to say;

But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom

What could be more explicit. The Son is called God! This became important because many saw Jesus as as angel; a high ranking angel. But the writer leaves us with no doubt. Jesus is better. He did not take on the form of an angel but that of a man, Heb 2.16. He did as a man what He could not do as an angel - die for the sin of the world. Angels are servants to us. They are good, but Jesus is better.

In chapter 3 we have the contrast between Jesus and Moses. Moses was a faithful servant of God who build God's house. But Jesus is the house that we are built into, Heb 3.4-5. He is better than Moses. Moses brings us the law, but Jesus brings grace and truth, John 1.17. As a servant Moses was good, but Jesus is better.

In chapter 4 we read that Jesus is better than Joshua. (Joshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus). Joshua led the people of God into the promised land. The goal was to defeat all of their enemies so that they might have 'rest'. But Jesus is better than Joshua because He gives us a better rest. It is a rest that is rooted in the work of God; a rest we enter into by faith. We don't fight for this rest because Jesus has accomplished it for us. We enter in by faith. Joshua was good. Jesus is better!

In chapters 5-7 Jesus is seen as better than Aaron, the High Priest. Aaron's priesthood passed down from father to son. It was limited to the tribe of Levi and males over 20. But the priesthood of Jesus is after the order of Melchizedek. Now he was an old Testament character who suddenly appears in Genesis when Abraham is returning form the battle of the kings. He blesses Abraham and receives tithes from him from the spoils of the battle.

A number of significant points emerge. His name Melchizedek means 'King of Righteousness'. But he is also the King of Jerusalem. The word Jerusalem means 'Peace'. So this person is a King, the king of righteousness and the king of peace and a Priest of the Most High God. Not only that, there is no record of his birth or death. He just appears on the scene! And so he is a perfect type of Jesus; the one with no beginning and no end; who is also a King and a Priest. Aaron was good but Jesus is better.

In chapters 8 - 10 we see that Jesus offers a better sacrifice than Aaron did. The priests of the OT offered the blood of bulls and goats. Each year on the day of atonement this ritual was repeated. The sacrifices could not permanently deal with sin or touch the conscience of the worshipper. But Jesus totally puts away sin by the sacrifice of Himself and presents His blood in the tabernacle in Heaven. There He lives able to make intercession for us and waiting for His enemies to be subdued. It's done forever. No more sacrifices. No more bad conscience. No more wondering if you are forgiven. It's a better covenant with better promises, Heb 8.6.

In chapter 11 we see the importance of faith in the whole process. It is no longer about ceremony, rituals, the righteousness of the law or staying with the old. We have to move on. Now it is about entering into the new by faith; a principle that has always been there for those who had eyes to see it. Abraham looked for a city that had foundations, whose builder and maker was God, Heb 11.10. Jerusalem became the prototype of the Heavenly Jerusalem that will one day come down from heaven.

In chapter 12 we have come to a better mountain. Sinai was where the law was given. But it was a fearful experience. There was thunder and lightening. A perimeter was set up so that no one could approach the mountain less they were killed. But Zion is the heavenly mountain where God has established the New covenant. It is surrounded with angels and the church and the saints who have gone before us.

There the blood of Jesus speaks better things than the blood of Able. Both men where innocent victims killed before their time. The difference is that Able had his life taken, whereas Jesus gave his life willingly. Abel's blood cries out for justice. Jesus' blood cries out for mercy. It is better.

In chapter 13 there is a better alter. The alter in Jerusalem was limited to the Levites. But the New Covenant gives us a spiritual alter of worship no longer limited to the Levites but open to all those who have faith in Jesus; no longer limited to Jerusalem but available in all places where people call on the name of the Lord from a pure heart.

Everything about Jesus and what He has accomplished is better. So now we come back to this phrase - a better resurrection. In what way is it better? It is better qualitatively in four ways:

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory:
It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body, 1Cor 15.42-44

1. Our current bodies age and die. Every restoration to life in the Bible with the exception of Jesus meant those people would die again. But the resurrection of Jesus is different. He rose from the dead and holds the keys of death and Hades, Rev 1.18. Death no longer has power over Him and so it will have no power over us. Our new bodies will be incorruptible! No more sickness, no more death. Better!

2. When we die decay sets in, immediately. Dead bodies hold no glory, no beauty, no honour. But the new resurrection body is totally glorious. Like Jesus at the transfiguration in Matthew 17 it will shine forth with the brightness of the sun. So we will literally reflect His glory with our bodies.

3. As our natural bodies get older they get weaker; until one day we die. Even a top athlete must rest. There is a limit to what a strong man can carry. But the new resurrection body will be characterised by power. There is a new source of energy animating us. Not only that Jesus had the ability to appear in a locked room as in John 20.26; or to disappear right on front of people as in Luke 24.30.

4. Finally the new resurrection body is 'spiritual' as opposed to 'natural'. A natural body is something we are all born with. We learn to relate to our world through this natural body. Only through the new birth do we learn there is a different way of living. It's called living by faith. Those who live this way learn that what we receive through our natural senses can fool us. They often don't take into account God's word or God's purpose. We have to learn to live being led by the Spirit. This is what makes us 'spiritual'.

In the resurrection this will be easy. The spirit will govern freely. At present there is sometimes a battle that goes on in us to respond and obey the Spirit. The Bible calls this the war between the flesh and the spirit; Gal 5.16-18. This ends with the resurrection. The flesh that has been crucified will be finally put away and swallowed up in the new incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual body of the future. It will be far better.

So make choices in life now that reflect the certainty of this hope that is ours. I like the attitude of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These young men were challenged to bow down and worship the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. Listen to their response to the King in this modern translation:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3.16-18

I like that. God can rescue us but even if He doesn't we will never serve your gods. That's gutsy. That's confidence. That's placing your hope in a better resurrection and not coming under the power of the fear of man. And look at how the story played out. As you read it think about your own life. Are you aiming for the better at any price or just settling for what works for now? Don't sacrifice the truth on the alter of your fear or convenience. Aim higher.

Nebuchadnezzar was so furious with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face became distorted with rage. He commanded that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. Then he ordered some of the strongest men of his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. So they tied them up and threw them into the furnace, fully dressed in their pants, turbans, robes, and other garments. And because the king, in his anger, had demanded such a hot fire in the furnace, the flames killed the soldiers as they threw the three men in. So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames.

But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?”

“Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied.

“Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god[g]!”

Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!”

Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.