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A Case Study in Death and Resurrection: Acts 9:32-43

A Case Study in Death and Resurrection: Acts 9:32-43

By Ted Schroder,
October 4, 2015

The raising from the dead of Tabitha by Peter is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves what we believe about death and resurrection. Tabitha was a disciple of Jesus. She was always doing good and helping the poor. She became sick and died. For unbelievers, death is the end and life has no purpose beyond seeking the greatest happiness for themselves or for others. Larry King is obsessed with death, wrote Mark Leibovich in The New York Times. The cable talk show legend starts every day by reading the obituaries. King has survived a heart attack, quintuple bypass, prostate cancer, diabetes, and seven divorces. To stave off aging King gobbles four human growth hormone pills every day. He has even arranged to have his body frozen, so he can be brought back to life someday. It gives him a shred of hope. "Other people have no hope," he says.

Death of loved ones is usually accompanied by grief. Tabitha's loss was felt keenly by those she had helped during her life. Peter came at the urging of her friends. They stood around him crying. As Jesus wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus, so do we when we mourn their passing. Human grief is not unchristian. The very love we have for each other in Christ brings deep sorrow when we are parted by death. While we rejoice that the one we love has entered into the nearer presence of our Lord, we sorrow in sympathy with those who are bereaved. Peter prayed for Tabitha and she rose from the dead. Peter did not go around raising people from the dead as a matter of course. This was a rare and unique miracle which demonstrates the power of Christ to raise the dead.

Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25) How is that possible? Jesus died and was raised from the dead so that we might share in his victory over death. "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, through the glory of the Father, we too may have new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection."(Romans 6:4,5)

What is death for the Christian? It is falling asleep in Jesus (1 Cor.15:6,18; 1 Thess.4:13,15; 2 Peter 3:4). Sleep is a temporary transitory state between one period of time and another, between the night of one day and the dawning of the next. It is not permanent. The physical body shuts down, becomes still, motionless and inactive, as in sleep. The conscious mind lies at rest and the unconscious carries us into the nearer presence of Christ. Sleep does not destroy the identity of the sleeper: while he is unconscious, he remains himself. Sleep is followed by an awakening. There is continuity between death and resurrection. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:38). When we depart this world we will be with Christ (Phil.1:24ff.). For the believer in Christ, death is nothing more than a nap from which he will awaken to endless day.

Therefore, death is not to be feared for the disciple of Christ. The Lord "grants sleep to those he loves" (Ps.127:4). The believer may rest peacefully because they know that "he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep" (Ps.121:4). So Jesus fell asleep in a boat during a terrible storm (Lk.8:22-25), both receiving and trusting in his Father's watchful and unsleeping care. Sleep is a sign of spiritual and psychological health: "I will both lie down and sleep in peace; for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety" (Ps.4:8).

At the moment of his death Stephen saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. He prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." When he said this he fell asleep. (Acts 7:56-60) To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. As Jesus told the thief on the Cross. "Today you will be with me in Paradise." When we fall asleep, we are not alone, we are with Jesus, and awake to be with him.

What is resurrection for the Christian? "Peter called the believers and presented Tabitha to them alive." Jesus said, "Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds" (John 12:24) This analogy from nature is used by St. Paul to describe our resurrection body.

"We do have a parallel experience in gardening. You plant what seems to be a "dead" seed; soon there is a flourishing plant. There is no visual likeness between seed and pant. You could never guess what a tomato would look like by looking at a tomato seed. What we plant in the soil and what grows out of it don't look anything alike. The dead body that we bury in the ground and the resurrection body that comes from it will be dramatically different..... This image of planting a dead seed and raising a live plant us a mere sketch at best, but perhaps it will help in approaching the mystery of the resurrection body... (1 Cor.15:35-40, The Message) "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, 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" (1 Cor.15:42-44).

At the end of this life our body shuts down. It is worn out and needs to be replaced by a new model. Jesus is the body transplant physician. He takes our personal identity, our personality and biography, and provides us with a resurrection body. We are the same person but in a new form. Just as a message can be transmitted through various media and it remains the same message, so our personhood can be transplanted into a new form of body and remain the same person.

Jesus is the prototype for this new body. He was the same person after the resurrection as he was before. The disciples knew him. But the physical properties of his body had changed. This new body of Jesus was able to move at will in and out of rooms and to different locations. He was not subject to disease or accident, nor to the process of aging.

The body we are to have after death is a development, a refinement of our present one. There is a relationship of continuity between them as a mature plant to a seed. It is superior to the flesh and blood of our earthly body. It is a life of power, achievement, splendor and beauty. It has everything good from this life, but without the things that limit and frustrate it. If God could make this universe and humanity and declare us good, then he can create a new heaven and a new earth and a new body for us to live out our eternal lives.

"Of course there is much here we cannot answer. Will those who died in infancy be infants still? Will grandparents still bear the marks of age? We are not told what the appearance of the resurrection body will be, and we must fall back on Paul's illustration. The flower is the perfect maturity of the seed; the resurrection body, as carefully chosen for each individual as the Master-Gardener has given each seed its 'body', will display the full maturity and perfection of each redeemed person's character in Christ." (Alec Motyer, Life 2 the sequel. What happens when you Die? p.106)

How do you view your future state? If dying is falling asleep in Jesus then we should not fear. If awakening in a new body which bears the likeness of Christ then we should not be apprehensive. "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed -- in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting'...But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor.15:51-57)

(Ted's blog is found at www.tedschroder.com)

SOUL FOOD: DAILY DEVOTIONS FOR THE HUNGRY, by Ted Schroder. Volume 4 for October, November and December is available as an e-book in Kindle as well as in Paperback from www.amazon.com. Topics covered are: Romans 8, Ephesians, Salvation, Thanksgiving, Advent, Revelation, Christmas and New Year.

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