Spirit and Flesh

The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
Trinity Church

Waltham, Massachusetts
Eater III – 22 April 2012

Acts 3:12-19, Psalm 4, I John 3:1-7, Luke 24:36b-48

From the Book of the Acts of the Apostles:
Addressing the men of Israel at the Temple gate, St. Peter boldly proclaimed, you denied the Holy and Righteous one…and killed the author of life, whom God raised from the dead.

From St. John’s 1st Letter:
The beloved disciple and apostle instructed his readers, Little children, let no one deceive you. He who does right is righteous, as he [Jesus] is righteous.

From the Gospel According to St. Luke;
The risen Lord, standing amongst His disciples who in their fear thought that He must be a spirit, said, See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.

Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, Our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation,

Listening to various radio talk shows this past week – as I frequently do – one commentator cited an observation on the part of an educator regarding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. The observation was just this. Although all of his students – high school age – knew about the Titanic, they thought it was just a movie. Almost none of his students knew that there had been an actual ship that actually sank with the actual loss of life.

I suspect that too much of the world’s important history has been ignored in our schools today. The emphasis on social issues rather than on reading, writing, arithmetic, history and science has all too often made our schools instruments of political correctness rather than institutions of authentic education.

By the grace of God, we still have many good teachers in excellent schools. These exceptional teachers who do their jobs well make all the difference in the world to the students who learn from them.

As I have studied the Scriptures over all these many years, they have taught me, as a Biblical student, important lessons. I have learned about – and grown to admire and respect – two extraordinary and exceptional individuals in the history of our faith to whom so much of the New Testament bears witness – Saints Peter and Paul.

They were extraordinary in their courage. They were exceptional in their faith – yet humble. Neither man promoted himself. Like any good teacher, these men focused on the lesson to be taught. Scripture presents both men as at once fully faithful and righteous in Christ and yet as fallible sinners.

They come across authentically – not as hypocrites claiming the righteousness while denying the sin, but as confessionally honest men who know who they are as human beings that have been redeemed in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Neither man makes any pretense of being holier than thou – both men fully acknowledge their flawed humanity – and yet both men know that they are also righteous by virtue of the righteousness of Jesus Christ in whom they believe.

All of this just might be a bit paradoxical, but it is the reality for every true believing Christian – we are simultaneously fallible sinful people as well as justified and righteous before God in Christ.

(Just a quick aside. The dual nature of every Christian finds symbolic expression in the proper liturgical vestments. The black cassock symbolizes our sinful human nature while the white surplice worn over the cassock symbolizes our righteousness in Christ. The white surplice is the wedding garment provided for the guests who accept the invitation to the feast. We wear both for we are both – and will be until He comes again. But that’s another sermon entirely. Back to the subject.)

I think that the characteristic that I admire and respect most about these two men is the boldness with which they proclaimed the faith. Neither man had any respect whatsoever for the political correctness of their day; nor did they make any compromises with other people’s unbelief. Neither man watered down the faith to make it more palatable for those who found it difficult to believe in the saving miracle of Christ crucified and risen. They minced no words, made no excuses, hedged no bets and cut no deals.

Their message – not their message, but the message revealed to them – the message that they were called by – and commissioned by divine vocation to proclaim – was simple, straightforward and powerful. God, in the crucified and risen Christ, destroyed sin and death for all mankind. Unrighteous man becomes righteous in Christ. Believe and be saved. Simple as that.

Then as now, many people found and find it difficult – or even impossible – to believe in the physical resurrection. Perhaps they see this historical event the way the high school students saw the sinking of the Titanic – a good story and a great movie but not a real event in history.

Granted, the miracle of salvation is hard to grasp. Many think of it as a spiritual reality with no physical aspect whatsoever. The Crucifixion makes sense. Death is a part of life. We see it all the time. We hear about it and read about it. Can’t avoid it. We experience it in the loss of loved ones. And it will happen to us one day as well.

So in the account of Christ crucified, we find a fully believable story of a good man – innocent of any crime yet falsely accused for political reasons – unjustly put to death. A compelling story but not unique. History abounds with good men falsely accused and put to death for politically expedient reasons.

But the resurrection part is quite another thing altogether. The body – dead – and then alive – the grave open – the tomb empty – well, that just doesn’t happen in most people’s experience. Rare exception such as Lazarus – but these are most certainly exceptions and experienced by only a very few people. Otherwise, resurrection from the dead – the physical resurrection from the dead just doesn’t happen in normal experience.

But the Lord our God is anything but normal. The resurrected Christ instructed His disciples, touch me – handle me see my hands and my feet – a spirit has not flesh and bone as you see that I have. Not bound by the laws that He established for creation, He can – and will – do as He chooses. After all, He created all that is from nothing. He can also recreate life from death. If you can believe in the miracle of Creation, then you can believe in the miracle of resurrection.

We should all be glad that He has chosen to save our sin sick souls – and our sin afflicted bodies as well. Salvation is not an either / or. It’s a both / and. Body and soul. Like the old song goes, it’s like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other.

Hence, our Lord appeared to His disciples -in an historical event – to manifest Himself to them in His resurrected body – He appeared to them not as a spirit but as flesh and blood – and to be more specific, as bone; physical as well as spiritual.

Thus, the promise of eternal life when fully completed means the total perfection of our persons in both soul and body – in spirit and flesh – alive in dimensions of which we can not imagine. Resurrection in Jesus Christ means the perfection of righteousness in every way -not just as a moral /ethical quality but also as a physical reality. Although it may seem to be too good to be true, it’s actually even better. Don’t settle for anything less. From God’s perspective, you’re worth more than that.

All of this has temporal meaning for us as it feeds back into the lives we’re currently living. It means that we must place our faith in Jesus Christ as the crucified and risen savior of all mankind and also perform works of righteousness as well. Our faith is the key that unlocks the saving grace and the redeeming mercy just as Saints Peter and Paul so boldly proclaimed. Our works give substance to the faith we proclaim. Proclamation is, in and of itself, a righteous work necessary for salvation.

In Peter’s case, this cowardly man who denied his Lord three times soon after those denials courageously accused those who crucified Jesus right to their faces. He said, you denied the Holy and Righteous one…and killed the author of life…. Cowardice to courage. That’s bold. That’s righteous.

Just as Peter physically stood at the gate to the Temple and spoke those words, what we physically do has eternal importance as well. Part of our job as Christians is to physically proclaim the faith as we do good works of a righteous nature. In fact, the entirety of the physical world has ultimate value to the One who created it; so much so, that He redeemed it – the whole thing, not just a part.

But more specifically, the body is not a disposable entity of no eternal consequence. This is a popular notion among those who indulge a spiritual Christianity that does not account for the physical resurrection. A purely spiritual Christianity is not Christianity at all – it’s merely a phantom of the real thing.

Hence, St. John tells us that our deeds must be righteous as well. He who does right…is righteous. And so they must. It is, after all, what we do that makes the most effective witness. Actions do speak louder than words. And faith without works is empty -so says St. James. He’s right.

The story of our salvation in the crucified and risen Christ is not just a good story. Neither is it a great movie. It’s an actual historical event – a miraculous event that changed all of human history forever. Accept it or reject it, you must do one or the other. And that makes all the difference in this world and in the world yet to come.

With this in mind, let us pray.
Heavenly Father grant to us the courage to proclaim your saving Truth in this world and to this world. Like all of your saints, inspire faithful words and righteous deeds that in all that we say – in all that we do – and in all that we are, we may bear witness to you Son,
our only Savior, Jesus Christ
the crucified and risen Savior of all mankind,

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