16 November 2007Acts 24:10-23
"I have a hope in God—a hope that they themselves also accept—that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Therefore I do my best always to have a clear conscience towards God and all people". (v.15-16)
Luke's 'biography' of Paul, which occupies most
of Acts, may not always be totally accurate (like all
biographers, Luke has his own 'agenda') but at the heart of his
account of Paul's speech to the Roman Governor Felix there is
undoubtedly a bit of authentic Paul.
He had been arrested in Jerusalem as a Jewish trouble-maker, and, having identified himself as a Roman citizen, had been escorted out of the city by the Roman authorities to prevent further violence and taken to their provincial 'HQ' at Caesarea for questioning.
At an earlier Jewish trial Paul had declared that his only 'crime' was to believe in the resurrection of the dead - a doctrine that divided the Jews of his day. The Pharisees believed it; the Sadducees did not. And Paul took the opportunity to focus on this again in his address to Felix - "It is about the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today".
This, we know, was central to Paul's faith. And not just the resurrection of 'both the righteous and the unrighteous' but, fundamentally, the resurrection of Jesus. His whole life was based on that conviction: his call to be the 'apostle to the Gentiles' and to travel across the Roman Empire; his struggles with his fellow Jews and Jewish Christians, and with his own profound sense of Jewish identity; his willingness to face persecution and hardship.
No wonder he wrote, "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Corinthians 15:19). But, he goes on to say, "In fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died" (1 Corinthians 15:20).
And it is with this unshakeable conviction, rooted in his own experience of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus that Paul stood before the Roman Governor, with 'a clear conscience towards God and all people'. He knew he was right, and that Christ was, as it were, standing with him. He could challenge the authority of Jerusalem, and even the authority of Rome. He could risk everything, because he knew that his redeemer lived.
How important do you think belief in the resurrection of the dead (not just the resurrection of Jesus) should be to Christian faith today?
Do you think this is different from the popular idea of the 'immortality of the soul'?
How might belief in resurrection affect the way you live your life?