Use your imagination - 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 21st April 2002.

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Several years ago when the Pepsi Cola was launched in China with an all out marketing campaign, the marketing managers were at a complete loss as to why their famous slogan : ‘Come Alive with Pepsi’ wasn’t having an impact. Sales were hardly moving at all. Then they found out why. The slogan was having an impact all right, but a negative one, because what had happened was that the translator had rendered ‘Come Alive with Pepsi’ as ‘ Pepsi brings your relatives back from the dead.’ Now that shows you what can happen when bad communication is coupled with a vivid imagination - disaster. But this morning we are going to find out what happens when a first rate communicator fires the imagination, for then we are led into one of the most distinctive and glorious truths about Christianity which leaves all the other religions and philosophies standing. So do turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15 vv 33- 58 as we look at this breathtaking passage under four headings: a graphic picture; a glorious contrast; a certain future; and a significant life.

First of all, a graphic picture, vv 35-44. Paul begins by anticipating two questions that people are bound to ask about the resurrection of the dead which is a central non-negotiable Christian belief: ‘How are the dead raised?’ and ‘With what sort of body are they raised?’ -v 35. The first question has in effect already been answered earlier on as he talked about Jesus Christ’s resurrection. It was the power of God which raised him bodily from the tomb. And so the same power which was at work on the third day in Christ will also be at work on the last day in Christians. That is all we need to know. The second question he considers to be a little dim- ‘How foolish’ he says. Why? Well, for one thing the kind of objector he has in mind is not so much the honest enquirer, but the cynic who considers a bodily resurrection impossible-the tone I guess, would be a disbelieving scoff of the ‘ Oh yes, what kind of body then?!’ variety. ‘Are we talking about reanimation of the dead a la Frankenstein, does God somehow use these physical bones of ours as a basis for a new body? If so then what about those who evaporate in a nuclear explosion or have been cremated ?’ But secondly, he shows that with a little thought and a bit of imagination it is not so far fetched as it may seem. Just look around you and think, says Paul. Take a plant for example. Supposing you were some visitor from outer space and you had never seen a field of wheat before. You look at the beauty of the golden ears of corn, the complexity of the stem and the leaves, its root structure. And then someone were to show you a dried shrivelled up seed and said ‘Did you realise that it all comes from that?’ That would take some believing wouldn't it? And there are two points Paul is making here when he says ‘What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, but God gives the body he has determined.’ The first point is that there is both continuity and transformation. The adult wheat does come from that actual seed and is one with it, but as it has grown it has been transformed. So it will be with our resurrected bodies. The individual persons we are, which at the moment have these bodies-some large, some thin, some tall, some short, some-like mine-muscular-others less so- the same persons which are embodied are going to be re-embodied in the future. Same persons, different bodies, just like it is the same wheat but in two different forms- seed and crop. The second point is that the burying of the seed in the ground is like burying a body in the ground-use your imagination.

But then Paul takes the picture further. Look at biological life, he says. Do all creatures have the same kind of body? Hardly. Fish have bodies suited to an aquatic environment, birds bodies suited for a spatial environment, humans suited for a terrestrial environment and so on. You try and mix them up and you have trouble. It reminds of a sketch that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore used to do. Dudley Moore was the TV interviewer, like Parkinson, and he had as his guest Sir Arthur Streebling, who had spent all his life trying to teach ravens to swim under water. For thirty years he had been doing this he said. And when asked if he had been successful, he replied- No, the poor little things would just flutter of my wrist as I held them under the water and off they went to a watery grave! Well, these bodies of ours are going to have to be changed if they are going to inhabit a brand new, glorified existence in God’s presence in heaven. It stands to reason.

The same principle applies when you look at what he calls ‘heavenly bodies’ and he doesn’t mean Elle McPherson. He is talking about the stars and the planets - astronomical bodies. These are not all the same - they differ too. But here he takes the imagery further by talking about different ‘degrees of splendour’- v 41. Well, just imagine if you can the splendour of the resurrected body God is going to give you to fit in with the splendour of heaven. Why even Venus will appear dull in comparison with what God has in store for you.

And so he comes to the point of the picture- v 42 ‘So will it be with the resurrection of the dead’. Same person, but different body and how different! Look at the contrasts- sown in corruption (riddled with old age)- raised imperishable; sown in dishonour (sinful) raised in glory; sown in weakness ( falling apart) raised in power.’ This is the way CS Lewis puts it- and this is your future if you a Christian: ‘This God is going to take the feeblest and the filthiest of us and turn us into dazzling, radiant immortal creatures pulsating with all the energy and joy and wisdom and love that we could possibly imagine. He’s going to turn us into bright stainless mirrors that reflect back his character perfectly.’ That is exactly what Paul is getting at.

But you will have noticed one further contrast which I missed out- v44 ‘It is sown a natural body and it is raised a spiritual body.’ What is that all about? Are we talking about a spiritual resurrection after all, rather than a bodily one- phantom spirits floating around? Well, no. And in fact this is a point which Paul develops in the next section- a glorious contrast, vv 44b- 50.

The way this contrast has been translated is a little misleading. It literally reads, it is sown a soulish body (soma psuchikon) and raised a spiritual body (soma pneumatikon). It is not referring to our composition - spiritual stuff as opposed to material stuff, after all Paul does not talk about a material or natural body but a soulish body. Rather, it refers to our orientation, what we live for which is linked to the type of sphere we inhabit. There is the realm of this world, which is also fallen and corrupted with sin and self,- that is why we are soulish people. But then there is the new realm we are going to live in, which is sinless and where our thoughts and actions will be more naturally inclined towards God- that is where we will be spiritual. But in both sphere we still have bodies- that is the point. While on earth our bodies are soulish- all to do with living in the here and now, corrupted, but in heaven our bodies will be spiritual- living for God. Do you see?

And this is underscored by the contrast Paul makes between the first man, Adam, who was from the earth, made to inhabit this world, made up of this worlds stuff-dust, who became a life giving being ( in Genesis it is literally a ‘soul’ or as we would say in modern jargon a pschosomatic unity- humans are not dismembodied spirits). But Jesus, the second Adam, came from a different sphere, heaven, took on human flesh when he became incarnate, and by his death and resurrection gives new life, so that, as it says in v49, we shall bear the ‘likeness of the man from heaven’- that is, he who came from heaven, became human, died, was buried, was raised with a transformed body now fit for heaven to which he has returned, and he will also give to those who trust him a body ,which like his, will be fit to inhabit heaven- a ‘spiritual body’- still made out of stuff, molecules, but transformed in such a way, that there is no sin, but made into a person whose entire being is simply out and out full of love for God.

And so that is why he says in v 50 that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven’- that is our sinful, soulish, human nature as it is presently constituted, that which is perishable, it has got to undergo a transformation fit for God’s presence. And we already have some idea of what that looks like because of Jesus resurrection. It was the same body which was laid in the tomb, but was transformed. It still bore the same scars, he was able to eat fish ,but also he was able to pass through locked doors. And as we look at the vision of the ascended Jesus in the Book of Revelation, we still see Jesus with a body but one so wonderfully glorified that John is dazzled by it.

Now why is it so important to believe in the resurrection of the body? Well, it is simply this, if our bodies are not resurrected, our salvation would be incomplete, God would not have ensured a full redemption. Who is Melvin Tinker, that Jesus came to save? He is not some disembodied personality- my body is as much me, as my mind or spirit. Who I am , can only be expressed and know through this body . Why else do you think that the second person in the Trinity was born as a human and didn’t simply visit this earth as a spirit? He became a full human being in order to redeem full human beings. Sure, this body needs changing, like my attitudes and outlook needs changing if am going to live with God for ever, but it does not mean that my body needs abandoning.

However, there is a very important difference between Jesus resurrection and ours. His body was transformed while in the grave, it did not see full decay. Most of ours will. Jesus resurrection took place in time on the Third day, our resurrection will take place at the end of time on the last day. So we have a certain future vv 51- 57. (read)

Paul is saying that when Christ comes at the end of time, those who have ‘fallen asleep’ a lovely picture of the tranquillity of death for a Christian will be raised and given these new and fantastic bodies. The great Reformer Martin Luther described it like this: ‘ Just as one does not know how it happens that one falls asleep and suddenly morning approaches when one awakes, so we will suddenly be resurrected at the last day, not knowing how we have come into death and through death. We shall sleep until he comes and knocks at the tomb and says ‘Dr Martin , get up!’ Then in one moment I will get up and will rejoice with him in eternity.’ Isn’t that a wonderful thought? The ‘perishable clothing itself with the imperishable.’

But others will be alive at the time of Jesus coming and for them they won’t experience death at all, all they will experience is the immediate tranformation- the seed suddenly becoming the wheat, in the twinkling of an eye, so fast there is no time to think about it, only to experience it. Then death will be no more, sin will be no more, the law which shows up our sin because of our failure to keep it will be no more because we will have such perfect bodies and perfect god-orientated hearts that there will be no need for commandments. And all of this comes because of Jesus, his dying and rising for us. Now tell me that Christianity is like all other religions!

But this will only take place at the end of time, when a new heaven and earth is made, the molecules of this universe dissolved and reconstituted and us with it.

Now you may still be left with the nagging question with which we began in v 35, ‘But how can this be so?’ How can we who live with these bodies be given other bodies and still be the same person? Well think of it like this. Take the message written on a blackboard with a piece of chalk. To clear the board we rub the surface until we are left with a handful of chalk. As far as the board is concerned the message is gone. But of course, if the following day, we the originators of the message want to express the same message again, here or elsewhere we have no difficulty in doing so. It is not necessary for us to use the original chalk or even use chalk at all, we can use ink, or speak the message, or we can embody the message electronically in a computer programme. Now if our human personalities, the real me , is likened to a message and our bodies like the chalk-how that message is expressed- then God who is our Creator has no problem in embodying that message, the real me, in another form which he thinks is appropriate. So if God wishes to give us different bodies, made up of different stuff to inhabit a new heaven and earth made composed of different stuff, he simply has to say the word and it will be done. Do you see?

And because we have such a certain future, that means we can live a significant life- v58 ‘Therefore my dear brothers ,stand firm.Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’.

If death is the end, then as Shakespeare put it, ‘Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury’. It renders all our accomplishments meaningless. But if there is life after death, not some spooky spirit zone, but a new heaven and earth in which what we do in this world is carried over to the next- then life is very significant indeed. If Christ has been raised from the dead, and he has, and if he is coming again, and he is, then whatever we do for him counts for eternity. That act of kindness, that doing a good job in the school or office or the home, because we do it for him, that sharing the Gospel so that others too might have eternal life, all of these things means that our lives count for something. We are not nothings thrown up by Chance, we are precious somethings created by loving personal God, who sent his Son into the world so that one day we can be recreated into his perfect likeness and enjoy him for ever. Isn’t that a message to take with you into the week? Isn’t that a faith worth living for and be willing to die for? And God simply asks for us to believe it, accept it, and live it.

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