Sunday, May 01, 2016

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 15: 35-49 Raised: in glory

One of the topics that generates the most questions has to be heaven and what it’s like. Will we know each other? What age will we be in heaven? What will we do all day for all eternity? And maybe these are some of the questions that you’ve thought about as well. But as Paul teaches about the resurrection of Jesus and what it means us for us, he reckons that someone will be asking how it all works.

Look at verse 35. ‘But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’’ That’s the question we’re thinking about today. What will our resurrection really look like? When we are raised on the last day, what will it feel like? What kind of body will we have on that day?

Now hopefully if you ask me a question, I’ll not follow Paul’s line here and say ‘You foolish person!’ So why does Paul think this is such a silly question? Why would this be a foolish thing to ask? Well, the answer is really all around us. As he answers, Paul takes us to the garden, or the farm, and the idea of sowing and reaping. The way the world works, the ‘natural order’ of creation points us to God’s work of re-creation.

Principle 1: Dying brings life. Look at verse 36. ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.’ To reap a harvest, you first have to sow the seed. If you just keep the seed sitting on your kitchen table, it’ll never grow. It must die to live. It’s only when it is buried, planted in the ground, that the seed will die and then spring into new life. It’s what Jesus says in John 12 - ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ Dying brings new life. Sowing leads to growing.

Principle 2: The thing that grows isn’t the thing that’s sown. Or at least, it’s not exactly the same. Everyone knows that if you plant apple seeds, you’ll not grow pears. What’s sown is what grows, but it’s not exactly the same. It’s the same, but different. Just look at a seed, and then look at the fruit. They’re entirely different! ‘And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.’ (37)

But when the seeds are planted, God gives them the body he has chosen, each type of body unique and special and different. So imagine you go to a garden centre, and there’s a big kind of pick-n-mix stand. Lots of seeds, and you took one of each sort and had them in your hand. The seeds might all look the same, but the plants would each be different.

Imagine if everything in the universe only had one and the same type of body. Humans, animals, fish, birds, they all had our body shape and skin. It would be a bit weird! But Paul says, look at the world around you - ‘For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.’ Or look up - the glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of stars, each different. Each created thing has its own kind of body, the right kind of body for it. God’s got it all under his control. It’ll be just right.

So take those two principles - dying brings life; and what is sown isn’t the same that’s grown. And now Paul takes what we know from the world around us, and applies it to our bodies. And here is great hope.

You see, every day, we’re all getting older. Our bodies are wearing out or giving up. Someone once said that the sign of getting older was that when you were bending over to tie your shoelaces, you see what else you could do when you’re down that far. And despite the anti-ageing creams or the ‘ten years younger’ programmes, we’re still getting older. Maybe I'm feeling it this week - at a meeting with colleagues, some thought I was older than I am - maybe I need the Oil of Olay! And perhaps you wonder how great eternal life would be if you were to keep going in your body? Could you go another 1000 years in the skin you’re in?

But remember what Paul has shown us from the natural world. And we see him apply it to the resurrection. ‘What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour; 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.’ Our earthly bodies are just the seed. When we have a funeral, and there’s a burial, it’s like a seed being planted. The Moravian church calls its graveyards ‘God’s acre’, God’s field, as they await the harvest, the resurrection.

Just think of that transformation of the resurrection - we lay our loved one to rest, perhaps having sat with them at home or in hospital. We’e watched as they go down, as their bodies fail. Even the best of us end up perishable, in dishonour, weakness, and all too aware of the frailty of our natural body. But they’ll be transformed at the resurrection - raised imperishable, in glory, in power, a spiritual body. Now that doesn’t mean that we’re just a spirit, just a ghost. It means a body made alive by the Holy Spirit, empowered by heaven.

This isn't a spirit in a dress sitting on a cloud playing a harp, as some images of heaven would suggest. This isn't that we become an angel when we die - you don't become someone or something else. You're still the same person, raised with a new, resurrection body. Remember last week, when we saw that Jesus is the firstfruits? His body is the prototype, the first example of the resurrection body.

So what was his resurrection body like? He could appear in a locked room with the disciples. He could be touched, his wounds inspected. He could walk along. He could cook breakfast for the disciples on the beach barbecue. He could eat broiled fish. He’s not like Casper, a friendly ghost. He is raised to new life, real life, in a glorified imperishable body.

If you remember last week, Paul gave us the comparison between Adam and Christ. In Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Well here, he continues the compare and contrast. Look at verse 45. Adam became a living being, but Jesus (the last Adam, the second ‘first man’) became a life-giving spirit. Adam was given life. But not so with Jesus - he gives life.

And that makes all the difference. You see, we’re all born in Adam. ‘The first man was from the earth, a man of dust.’ The life given to Adam is also given to us. But that life is temporary, all too short. Our frail bodies fail, and those words are said of us - earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, echoing Genesis 3:19 ‘By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it were you taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ We bear the same image of Adam.

But Jesus is from heaven. He belongs to a different sphere. And he gives us a different destiny. If we belong to him, then we will be like him. Look at verse 49, as Paul summarises what we’re looking at today: ‘Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, so we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.’

We are like Adam, who come from dust, and return to dust. But as we trust in Christ, so we become like him. We will share his risen life. And we will have resurrection bodies like his. This world is not the end. Death does not have the last word. And we will be raised in glory, to be like Jesus, in resurrection bodies like Jesus. That’s a truth to hold on to when we grieve for loved ones, or when we’re faced with our own mortality. Burial is a seed sown, as we wait for the harvest - you and me, personally raised, personally known, but in new bodies, just like Jesus’ own.

What kind of bodies? Look at the world around you - dying brings life, and what’s sown isn’t the same as what’s grown. John puts it like this: ‘Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2)

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 1st May 2016.

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