Today some scientists are trying to discover ways of prolonging our life on this earth – from the polypill to nanomedicine. Apparently one of them even has a plan for cheating death. He says a cure for aging & death may be found in the next fifty years. So, he goes on, ‘the trick now is to live long enough to be there when it happens!’ “But thanks be to God!” (v56&57) We don’t have to wait another 50 years for a cure to be found. The only cure has already happened. “He gives us the victory over sin and death through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, death has lost its sting for those who trust in him (v55). That first Easter day was the day death died. So Christians don’t have to fear death – this life is not all there is, the best is yet to come – the fullness of eternal life in heaven. In John 5:28-29 Jesus says that when he returns:
“all who are in their graves [both believers and unbelievers] will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good [those who have genuinely trusted in and followed Christ] will rise to live, but those who have done evil [those who have rejected Christ and his ways] will rise to be condemned.”
In John 11:25 Jesus said:
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
If so, because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead there is more good news for you. Everywhere you look these days it seems people are trying to get the perfect body. Magazine covers feature tips on how to lose 20 pounds in ten days, cosmetic companies promise creams that erase the lines of time on your face and the media continues to bombard us with the idea that we should all look like models. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery there were some 8.3 million cosmetic medical procedures performed in the United States in 2003. It’s rising here too. And it won’t surprise you to learn that the majority were carried out on my age group!
But we don’t have to turn to surgeons or to the latest diet fad to get the body we’ve always wanted. In fact, as Christians, God has promised us that ultimately we will end up with a perfect body. That’s right, if you’re a Christian, if you’ve turned to Jesus Christ one day you’ll have the perfect body. Because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead all believers, whether alive when Jesus comes again or in the grave, will receive changed, imperishable bodies and will bear the likeness of the man from heaven (v51&49).
But the Corinthians had questions about these facts. Maybe some of us do too. As we’ve seen over the last two Sundays the Corinthians were hanging on to their belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead (v1&2) but they were really struggling with the bodily resurrection of Christian believers. In fact some of them were saying that there is no resurrection of the dead, which was also having a negative effect on the lives they were living. Look back at v12-20:
But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…[v17] you are still in your sins…and those who have fallen asleep in Christ [ie those who have died in the faith] are lost…But [v20] Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God – I say this to your shame.
Which brings me to my next heading:
Firstly, THE RESURRECTION OF OUR BODIES WILL HAPPEN
But some at Corinth still mocked Paul’s teaching on life after death. They perhaps thought Paul was talking about corpses coming back to life in horror movie style, such as in the ‘Return of the Zombies’. Perhaps some of you here tonight are sceptical too. Look at v35, where the tone of the questions is distinctly cynical:
But someone may ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?”.
In other words they were saying something like this: ‘So you say there will be resurrection of the dead. Oh yes, what kind of body then?!’ ‘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, what about those who evaporate in a nuclear explosion or those who’ve been cremated?’
In response Paul doesn’t mince his words. ‘You fool!’ is what he says literally in v36. In other words you’ve left God out of your thinking. You see in the Bible that’s what the word fool means. Not that you’re stupid but that you’ve left God out of your thinking. And people who do that can only conceive of what’s humanly possible. So to them the resurrection of the body is unbelievable. So how does the fool become wise? How do we put God into our thinking? By repenting (which means to change your mind, to turn your thinking around 180 degrees) and believing God’s Word, which states that God does not lie. By believing Paul’s argument here in v36-50.
In those verses he argues that resurrection is not reconstruction or reanimation. At the resurrection God won't put together the pieces and return us to our former bodies. Yes, there will be continuity because it’s our body but there will also be transformation. Christ's resurrection was not reanimation but rather transformation of his physical body into a glorified body adapted to his present heavenly existence. So as with Christ our resurrected body will be the same but not the same. It will be this body but adapted to the new conditions of heavenly existence. Sown one way, it is raised another, but the same body is sown and raised (v42-44). Furthermore v.50 "flesh and blood [ie perishable, sinful bodies] cannot inherit God's kingdom". The only way we can enjoy the glory of heaven is to have a body suited to that environment. So this is an important issue. And to help us to understand and believe it Paul begins with some illustrations from the present created world and universe inv37-41. Paul is saying: Look, all this is not as far fetched as it may seem. Just look around you at God’s creation and think. So first, v36-38:
36How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
In the present, created world, God uses a kind of death-and-resurrection process with seeds. Eg, the conker isn’t the horse chestnut tree, but sow a conker in the ground (where the conker ‘dies’) and it’s ‘raised up’ as a horse chestnut tree. There’s a process, a transformation, involving continuity and yet huge discontinuity. Now look at the second illustration in v39:
39All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendour of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendour of the earthly bodies is another. 41The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendour.
So Paul is saying that in the present created world, the Lord has designed a whole lot of bodies each adapted to a different environment – eg, us and fish - we have different bodies for different environments.
So what does Paul conclude from these illustrations? Look at v42-44:
So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown [that we have in this world] is perishable [under judgement it dies], it is raised 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
At the resurrection God will take a perishable, dishonourable, weak and sinful natural body and make it an imperishable, glorious and powerful spiritual body. It will still be physical and organized similarly to our natural bodies but also radically different. As we've already said there will be continuity and change.
How amazing! In heaven with our changed imperishable bodies there will be no more decay or death. The ‘body that is sown’, ie the body we have in this world, dies because it’s ‘perishable’ – under judgement for sin and therefore mortal, running down, wearing out. Whatever the scientists say about cheating death, the book of Hebrews says, ‘we are all destined to die once’, unless Jesus returns first. But ‘it is raised imperishable’ – no longer mortal or running down or wearing out. Just imagine - no more pain, no more walking sticks, no more zimmers, no more hip and knee replacements, no more transplants, no more medication, no more contact lenses, no more glasses (even if you did go to Specsavers!) and no more hearing aids. The body is, v43, ‘sown in dishonour’, ie in this life it’s sinful and spoiled; but ‘it is raised in glory’, ie, sin-free, perfectly reflecting the character and behaviour of God himself. It is ‘sown in weakness’, ie, in this life we’re unable to be what we ought to be; but in the next ‘it is raised in power’ – we will be able to be what we were made and meant to be. ‘It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.’ Now we have a natural body which we received through Adam but through the last Adam, through the death and resurrection of Christ we will be given a spiritual body, similar to the resurrected, glorified, physical body of Jesus (v44-49). The resurrection body will complete the work of redemption and gives to us the image of the Saviour (v49)! And so to the last few verses of ch.15, v50-58, and to my final heading:
Secondly, THE RESURRECTION OF OUR BODIES MUST HAPPEN
And what a tremendous few verses they are! He begins by stating that ‘flesh and blood [meaning perishable and sinful bodies], cannot inherit the kingdom of God’, ‘nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable’. I.e. those who are in Christ must have newly organised, imperishable bodies in order to live with God. So it is vital that all believers’ bodies are transformed, whether dead or alive at the second coming of Christ, to enter their heavenly existence. "Listen", Paul goes on in v51-53:
Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.
Paul is saying that when Christ comes at the end of time, those who have ‘fallen asleep’, ie those who have died in Christ, 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 transformation- 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.
And when the transformation does take place then what Paul declares back in v24-28 will be realised - death will not only be defeated but will be swallowed up in victory. "Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting?" (v.55)
It was Sigmund Freud who wrote: "And finally there is the painful riddle of death, for which no remedy at all has yet been found, nor probably ever will be". Well he obviously did not believe 1 Corinthians 15! Those who are in Christ have victory in death and over death! Why? Because of the victory of Jesus Christ in His own resurrection. V56&57:
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God. He gives us the victory over the condemnation for sin that the law brought and over death and the grave, through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Yes, unless Christ returns first, we still have to pass through physical death. But for those who trust in Christ it’s a death which has had its sting drawn – a bit like a bee that’s stung once, lost its sting and can’t actually do you any harm. You see Jesus was ‘stung’ for us when he died on the cross, which means that although we who trust in him still face physical death, for us it is a ‘stingless’ death. For Jesus, it wasn’t – it was the full, awful sting of God-forsaken hell – so that for us, it might be the ‘stingless’ passage to heaven.
“Therefore,” Paul concludes in v58, “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.”
You know, nothing will shape our use of this life more than our beliefs about the next and let’s not forget that only what’s done for Christ will last. So because of the assurance of Christ's victory over death and the fact that we can share in his victory through faith in him, let us be steadfast in service, unmovable in suffering for Christ whatever the cost, abounding in ministry to others and bold in our proclamation of the gospel, for we know our labour is not in vain.