Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 35-50 The Resurrection Body

One of the questions I meet regularly asks what heaven will be like. Will we know each other? What kind of bodies will we have? What will we do all day for eternity? Maybe these are questions that you have thought about yourself. As Paul teaches the Corinthians about the reality of the resurrection, he knows that someone in Corinth sitting listening as the letter is read out will be asking these sorts of questions.

So, showed that the resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith (1-11), the consequences of not believing in the resurrection (12-19) and how the resurrection changes everything (20-34), he then gives voice to the question. Verse 35: ‘But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”

Or in other words - if the dead are buried and they rot away, then what kind of body can they possibly have? Paul calls the questioner foolish, and proceeds to answer by looking to what God has done, and will do. What will our resurrection body be like? How will we spend eternity?

Paul answers the question in two main parts. Verses 36-41 can be summarised as ‘dying to live’ and 42-50 ‘the change of the resurrection.’ So let’s look at the first part of his argument - dying to live.

As Paul begins to talk about the resurrection, he likens our bodies to a grain of wheat, pointing to the harvest. For it to come alive and produce more grain, it has to die - be buried in the ground. It’s only as it dies that new life is formed, and it becomes what it was meant to be - a fruitful, productive plant. In the same way, our bodies will die before we truly live, and the transformation occurs.

Transformation, because, as is pointed out in verse 37 ‘what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel.’ This world is not all there is - your body is not the finished article, but it will be transformed, as you trust in Christ and he renews and restores you.

As Paul continues with the picture, he shows that different types of seed produce different types of plant - so it’s no good planting apple seeds and expecting a tomato plant, or an acorn and expecting a sycamore tree. Each seed produces its own body, as God chooses and has planned. Even further, not all flesh is the same - we’re not the same as your pet dog, or the seagulls that fly around, or a rainbow trout. God has formed us as he has chosen, displaying the wonder and variety of creation.

And here’s the point - we are to live up to who we are - who God has made us to be. You sometimes hear when people die that they are now an angel. With the greatest respect, that is almost an insult to the person - we are changed, but we don’t become something else! It would be like saying the person has become a horse or a dog.

Each of us has been made just as God has chosen. Let’s live up to how God has made us - to be fully human, an image-bearer of God, one for whom Jesus Christ died to save. The angels haven’t been redeemed - those who fell will be punished for ever, whereas we have been showered with the grace and mercy and love of God.

As we die, then, we don’t become something else - we become truly human, restored, renewed, and glorious. We are dying to live.

In the rest of the verses, Paul spells out a bit more what our resurrection bodies will be like. Note that I say resurrection and not just resuscitation. Resuscitation is what happens when someone is brought back from the dead, maybe after an accident, or on the operating theatre. They stop breathing, and they are resuscitated. Their life is still the same, in the same body. But resurrection is an entirely different thing, as we’ll see.

The difference between resurrection and resuscitation can be seen in the Gospels. Think of the people that Jesus brought back from the dead: Lazarus, the widow’s son at Nain and Jairus’ daughter. Jesus demonstrated his power over death, but this was not their final resurrection. Each would die again, they were resuscitated - poor Lazarus was targeted by the religious leaders who wanted to kill him because his being alive was a great witness for Jesus’ power!

So as we look at our new bodies, Paul continues the theme of dying to live, being transformed in death and resurrection, and he shows this by contrasting what we are, and what we will become. Looking around the congregation this morning, you almost might be insulted by the terms Paul uses for your body at present: perishable, in dishonour, weakness, natural body. And yet, we know too well the truth of these words - perishable, because out bodies are wasting away, things go wrong, falling apart - as my granny sometimes says to me ‘I’m just done out’. We’re weak, frail, even the strongest of us, and we’re in dishonour, through our sin and weakness and failings.

And you might think to yourself - if this is what I’m going to be like in eternity, with my body still falling apart, or worse, getting worse over time, and eternity is a very long time, then I’ll not look forward to it. This is why we celebrate the resurrection. We’ll not just be resuscitated and made to do the best we can with what we’ve got - no, we’ll be resurrected, transformed, restored, renewed, changed and released from our weakness and frailty.

Perishable now - imperishable then. In dishonour now - glory then. Weakness now - power then. Natural body now - a spiritual body then. Utterly changed, but you will still be you! Notice, though, that when it says ‘a spiritual body’ that doesn’t mean that it is only made up on spirit - as if we are just a floating soul in the air. Spiritual body points us to the source - born of the spirit, in tune with the spirit. Think of Jesus’ resurrection body - it was different to before, but it was still flesh and bones - he could eat broiled fish with the disciples, and Thomas could touch him for proof of his being alive.

The change is then developed as Paul contrasts Adam and Christ again. Last week we saw that just as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. Adam and Christ are seen as the representative heads and the sources again:

‘The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.’ (47-48).

Where is your source from? Are you living as a child of dust, or as a child of heaven? Just as Adam died, and returned to dust, so all of us will also (unless the Lord returns before then) - but if we are a child of heaven, a child of God, then we shall ultimately go there - being like Jesus, living forever. Who is your head today? The dead Adam or the living Lord Jesus?

For those who are in Christ, who trust in him, there is that great promise. Our image will be changed. Now, I’m not talking about the style of the clothes you wear, rather, about whose image you bear. I’m sure you’ve often heard people saying that you’re the image of your mother or father. We had a new niece born on Tuesday past, and of course, the question was asked, who is she like? Well, all of us bear the image of our first father, Adam - all of us are sinful, with the tendency to rebellion, and are destined to share in his death. God made man in his image, but then Adam’s children shared his image. Genesis 5:1,3. ‘This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God... When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.’

That image has been passed down. It ends in our death. But the resurrection changes even this, so that as we trust in Jesus, even our death is transformed, and we ‘shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.’ (49)

As we’ve seen today, Jesus death and resurrection means that we too can look forward to a new and glorious resurrection body. We’ve thought about the maxim ‘dying to live’ - this could be the summary of Jesus’ mission too - dying, so that we can live. As he says in John 12:23-34: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’

Our bodies will die and decompose, but we are dying to live, through the transforming power of the resurrection, to live as the image of Christ, with glorious, restored, liberated bodies to praise the Lord for all of eternity.

Long before Paul, Job spells out what the resurrection will be like. He said, ‘For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.’ (Job 19:25)

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