The people who hope - 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 26th July 2009.

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How many of you would say that you are perfectly happy with your body? How many of you would smile if you saw yourself naked in front of a mirror? Are there any parts of your body that you would prefer to be different? A different size, a different shape or perhaps even just working.

It’s fairly obvious that we live in a culture obsessed with the human body. There are diets for those who want to lose weight. There are exercises programmes for those who want to keep fit. There are weight benches for those who want to gain strengthen. And there is even surgery for those who have the desire and the money to change some aspect of their physical appearance. We live in a culture obsessed with the human body.

How are Christians to live in this culture? Or to put it another way, what should Christian think about the human body?

I think we get a few answers to these questions in the section of 1 Corinthians 15 that we read earlier. So tonight I want to work through these verses and show you what God wants you to know about your body.

Let’s start at verse 35, where Paul says, “But someone may ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” How foolish!”

Paul is the middle of an argument. He has been making the case for the physical resurrection of a Christian’s body and at this point he anticipates what some people in the Corinthian church will say in response. How can the dead be physically raised?

Their big problem is that they cannot understand how it will happen so they have concluded that it cannot happen. Remember the size of your brain. Do exercise some humility!

Paul says how foolish. Not simply because God is God and he can do whatever he likes [the foolish person in the Bible in the person who leaves God out of their thinking] but because of what is already happening in the natural world.

Look at what Paul writes in verse 36. “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, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”

Paul is not asking us to all become gardening experts. We don’t need to start subscribing to Gardens Monthly or start checking out Alan Tichmarch’s Twitter page. But Paul is asking us to learn a lesson from the world of plants. What’s the lesson?

In nature itself there is a process whereby the new life of a plant emerges after a seed dies.

Vicky and her sunflowers.  I’m not great in the garden. I tend to either kill plants through under watering, over watering or practicing my golf swing.

Put the seed in the ground. It disappears and then later new life emerges from what was sown. There is continuity and transformation. The plant has emerged from the seed. But all the stuff has been reordered and reshaped and, as a result, a plant has emerged.

This is helpful for us when we try and understand what Christians mean when we talk about the resurrection of the dead.

•    We don’t mean resuscitation. It’s not the old body with the heart beating again. That would be like sowing a seed and hey presto the same seed pops out of the ground.

•    We don’t mean reincarnation. Not even a Christianised form of reincarnation. The soul does not continue and then receive a body completely unrelated to what we had before.

•    We believe in bodily resurrection. It is our old body completely transformed, just like a seed transformed into a plant. I don’t know how God will gather up all the bits of me but somehow he will and he will then reorder them and transform them to give me a resurrection body.

Nature can teach us a valuable lesson about the resurrection from the dead.

However, before we congratulate Mother Nature we must remember who is ultimately responsible for what we see in nature. Look at what Paul says in verse 38. “God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”

God is ultimately responsible for what we see happening in the natural world. This is important to grasp because it teaches us that God is already in the business of changing bodies. He does it with seeds. So he can do it with our current body.

Do you see what we have learned so far? There is a process in nature whereby new life spring from the dead – so maybe bodily resurrection is not so implausible after all. Secondly, we’ve learned that God is already in the business of changing bodies.

Paul also wants us to know that God also has experience of designing different types of bodies appropriate for different situations. This is what he says in verse 39.

“All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.”

There are different kinds of bodies appropriate for different types of situations. I watched Finding Nemo recently. There is a scene when a fish is out of the water. It’s not designed for this.

God already has experience in making different kinds of physical bodies. And not just here on earth. Look at what we’re told in verses 40 and 41. “There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendour of the heavenly bodies is of one kind, and the splendour of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendour.” This adds to Paul’s argument because we now realize that some bodies are more splendid that others.

So put all these truths together and what do we have. God is in the business of transforming bodies. He is in the business of making different bodies that are appropriate to different situations. He does not make all bodies with the same splendour.

What’s Paul’s point? Look at verse 42. “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.”

Before we get into the specifics of what Paul will say here let’s see if we can anticipate what he will say based on the truths he has just told us.

•    There will be a link between the old body and the new resurrected one.
•    The old body will be transformed into another body fit for a new environment.
•    The new resurrected body will be more glorious than the previous one.

Let’s see what he does say. Verse 42, “The body that is sown is perishable, it [see the link, the continuity] is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, 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.”

Let’s look at these contrasts in more detail. What do we see in death?

A body that is perishable. It will decay. In fact, it has always been decaying. But it will be raised to be imperishable.

A body that is sown in dishonour. A body that has been part of the sinful world and which has been used in sinful deeds. It will be raised in glory. More splendid than before and so appropriate for the glorious future God has promised all those who follow Jesus.

A body that sown in weakness. How weak and feeble is a corpse? We are weak and feeble now. But not then, not after the resurrection. It will be powerful.

It is sown a natural body. What does he mean? First of all, notice the obvious. Both are bodies. A natural body and a spiritual body. He is not saying that the future existence of a Christian will be non-physical. That’s not what he means by a spiritual body.

What does he mean? The clue is found in 1 Corinthians 2:14 where Paul says the natural man does not accept the things that come from the Holy Spirit. Natural man is code for unbeliever.

Does this make any sense of what Paul says in chapter 15? Does it make sense to speak of a Christian having a non-Christian body? Let’s just reword what I’ve just said. Does it make any sense to speak of a Christian still having a body that is the way it is because of sin?

Of course it does. After the Fall everyone is born with fallen bodies and fallen souls. When we become a Christian we are given new spiritual life but we still live in a fallen body.

This is what Paul means when he says in verse 44 that the body of a dead Christian is sown a natural body, but it is raised a spiritual body. Gone is the old fallen body but out of this will come a body appropriate for those already filled with the Holy Spirit.

This also makes sense of what Paul speaks about in the next few verses.

“If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” How can you be so sure Paul? He gives his reasons in verses 45 to 49. There is Adam. He was created the first human and he was responsible for the natural bodies we all possess. Why do we all die? Because Adam sinned and we all suffer the consequences.

Paul also speaks about Jesus, whom he calls the last Adam. Adam was from the earth, Jesus was from heaven. Adam gave us natural bodies and Jesus not only gives us the Holy Spirit but will one day give us spiritual bodies. Just as we bear the likeness of Adam, so we will bear the likeness of Jesus. As he was resurrected from the dead then so will we.

How does Paul know there will be a spiritual body? He is confident because of the resurrection of Jesus.

This is good news!

If your body is failing you now.

If you have seen a loved one die.

What is a Christian view of the body? The body is not to be dismissed. It’s not simply what’s on the inside that counts.

Look after your body. If you are married.

However, the body is not to be idolized.

What will the resurrected body be like?

Continuity and transformation.

Hair colour? Skin colour? Height? Age?

I’m fairly certain it won’t be like the production line scene in iRobot.

Look at the glorious resurrection body of Jesus. He ate food. Walked through walls. Similar yet different.

When will it happen? Paul tells us in verses 50 to 58. We won’t look at all the details but let me show you a few highlights.

We’ll start at verse 50. “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep [not all Christians will die], but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed.”

This is speaking about the return of Jesus. We will get new bodies appropriate for the New Creation when Jesus returns.

What happens in the meantime? The Christian goes to be with the Lord Jesus in a bodiless state. Who knows what this is like! At the last trumpet we will all receive our glorious resurrection bodies together.

What does this mean for us?

Verse 58, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”

•    Stand firm. We have certain hope because of the resurrection of Jesus. 

•    We have a certain future so the things we do for Christ now are not pointless and a waste of time. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord. Your labour in the Lord is not in vain.

•    We have a glorious future. We can give up some other pursuits to concentrate on gospel activities.

Do you want to see the world before you die? If you do you won’t be able to get on with as much gospel work.

You have a whole eternity to see a whole new creation in a glorious resurrection body.

I’m not saying don’t go on any holidays but watch out for that dangerous attitude. It may not be traveling but this life is not about filling up our moments with as many experiences as we can.


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