1 CORINTHIANS 15
It has been claimed that if the Resurrection of Christ could be disproven then Christianity would be finished as a faith. I completely agree – and so did the apostle Paul! His very gospel – outlined very briefly in 1 Corinthians 15 – is resting on this one historical fact: that Christ rose from the dead in fulfilment of the scriptures. “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Cor 15:17-19).
Paul begins the chapter by saying that belief in the gospel is the requirement for people to be saved; but equally importantly, that the gospel is based firmly upon historical fact, verifiable by witnesses. Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and on the third day was raised; he proved this by appearing to more than five hundred different people on many different occasions, over a period of more than a month. Paul testifies that he had seen the Risen Christ too.
After dealing with the false philosophical objections to the Resurrection, Paul continues to explain what it now means for us. Adam was the first to sin and he was the first to experience spiritual death – separation from God. He then experienced physical death – separation of the soul from the body. Christ brings to us the resurrection of the body, as we trust in him. First, we are raised spiritually, and then – on the last day – we are raised physically with new ‘Resurrection’ bodies. Just as Adam preceded mankind into death, so Christ precedes us into eternal life. One day, that old enemy, ‘Death’, will itself be finally destroyed and – for those who have chosen to trust in Christ – there will be no more separation at all: the soul and the new body will be joined forever, the disciple will be joined to Christ forever, and we will be with our loved ones forever! Are you getting the pattern here?!
The new ‘Resurrection Body’ that we will inherit will not be of the type that we have at present; our earthly bodies are starting to decay almost as soon as we are born, since they are physically part of a fallen world, subject to decay and (as the scientists would say) entropy. Our new bodies will be perfectly equipped to live forever on a more intensely physical Earth and in close contact with Heaven. For us to obtain this ‘heavenly body’, our ‘earthly body’ must die and be stripped away – in a similar change to the way a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. Therefore, let us not mourn physical death too intensely, since it is a crucial part of our full adoption as God’s sons: the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). Your current ‘old’ body will not live forever, nor could it. But your new one will. One day, you will look like that man from heaven: Jesus himself. It will happen this way: whether we have already ‘fallen asleep’ or are still ‘awake’, we will be changed in an instant on the day the Christ returns to earth. If you are already ‘asleep’ then you get raised with a new body; if you are still ‘awake’, your body changes in an instant to become the new one. Simple! And it’s ‘goodbye Death’! For Jesus has won the victory already!
If you wish to get an idea of what the Resurrection body is like, look at the descriptions of Jesus between his own resurrection and ascension. The final chapters of Luke and John, and the first chapter of Acts give some interesting insights. One thing is clear: we will ultimately inhabit a more solid universe, which includes a renewed Earth permeated by a new Heaven – the two will be one. We will see Him, and all who belong to Him, face to face. We will live fulfilling and wonderful lives forever in his presence, working fruitfully and worshiping freely. All our old enemies of sin, suffering, death, and despair will have been removed to an infinite distance. Heaven on Earth! It’s the reason we were born!
“Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain”. He will gather up every bit of goodness from everything that we do and will not let anything be wasted. This is an encouragement to step up the pace and to make a difference now, whilst we can!
2 CHRONICLES 17
Meanwhile, back in Israel, the Northern kingdom, things were going from bad to worse. When a football club has a rapid turnover of managers, you know that something fundamental is wrong. The same applied to the Northern tribes: they were now addicted to idolatry and could not kick the habit. Their kings were the chief instigators in this, and the Lord was highly displeased with them. After all, the nations who Israel had displaced had been judged for the same activities, so it was only right that Israel came in for the same treatment! Nadab, the son of Jeroboam reigned only two years before being deposed by Baasha, who made sure of his succession by exterminating the remainder of Jeroboam’s family – in fulfilment of the 1 Kings 14:10-11 prophecy.
Baasha had a relatively long reign for such an evil king (24 years), but there was no benefit to the people and no improvement in the spiritual ‘temperature’ of the nation. A prophet from the South, Jehu, warned Baasha that the demise of his dynasty would be rapid and messy unless he repented, but to no avail. Eventually Baasha died and was replaced by his son, Elah, who lasted only two years before being deposed by Zimri, one of his officials. Zimri did the ‘safe’ thing by exterminating all Baasha’s extended family, thereby fulfilling Jehu’s prophecy. Zimri was in turn deposed by Omri, the army commander, who survived a subsequent coup and reigned twelve years in total; his main claim to fame was the establishing of the city of Samaria. It was almost a shock when Omri died of natural causes! His eldest boy was Ahab.
Ahab was special! He established new benchmarks for wickedness and idol-worship in the land – so much so that, from this point onwards, the evil kings are no longer compared to Jeroboam, but to Ahab! Evil was becoming progressively more dominant in the Northern kingdom and Ahab was the ‘high priest’ of it. He married Jezebel, who had already brought a particular style of Baal worship to Israel and who was obviously delighted that an open door was presented to legitimise idolatrous practices alongside some semblance of the worship of the Lord. Idol-worship is at its most sinister when it is combined with the true faith since it seems to get approval by the majority. In the New Testament terms, the worship of Jesus accompanied by statues, portraits, relics, and ancient artefacts is a similar danger; blatant idolatry is easy to avoid, whereas the subtle version is much more dangerous!
So Ahab created a ‘black magic’ version of the Jerusalem Temple, in Samaria, by constructing a temple to Baal; he also erected an Asherah pole – effectively a huge phallic symbol targeted at the female goddess, Asherah alongside it. This kind of pagan worship was both crude and ugly. God punished the godless kings of Israel by giving them generally short lifespans and usually violent shameful deaths; he punished the people of Israel by giving them one godless king after another.
Whilst all this was going on in Israel, Asa was reigning peacefully and effectively in Judah, and idol-worship had been virtually wiped out. Eventually, as we saw yesterday, Asa died, and his son Jehoshaphat succeeded him as king. He was a faithful and obedient man who loved the Lord and was determined to preach the Word of God far and wide throughout the land – which he did. The result was that God established a strong and peaceful kingdom around him, the fear of the Lord fell on those nations around Judah, and they did not go to war against them. Huge wealth poured into the land and gifts came to Jehoshaphat from far and wide. This is what happens when a man – and particularly a ruler – commits himself fully to the Lord and relies on him totally. We will see more of his success later on.