Hello, and good morning. Before we go any further, let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your living Word. Help us by your Spirit to understand it. Please renew our minds by it. In the name of our risen Saviour Jesus. Amen.
Body image is big business nowadays – and often for wrong and unhealthy reasons. Well, our passage this morning is all about Bible body image. And taking on board what the apostle Paul teaches us here about our bodies revolutionises our body image in an entirely healthy way. We’re back to this fantastic chapter on the resurrection – I Corinthians 15. If you have got a Bible to hand it would be a great help if you could have this passage in front of you. We’re at 1 Corinthians 15.35-49.
The apostle Paul has been teaching us why it’s true that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that everyone will be raised at the Last Day – and how the resurrection should transform how we think and how we live our lives. And he’s been doing that by contradicting some in this young church in Corinth who were denying the reality of the resurrection.
"But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead …"
… he says in verse 20. And now he goes on to answer a new question (verse 35):
"But someone will ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?'"
There’s a good deal of this long letter that’s like a Question and Answer session with the apostle Paul. Imagine being part of a Zoom call like that! But that’s the privilege we’ve got as we learn from this letter. And this, you might think, is a fair, important, and fascinating question. And so it is. 'What’s a resurrection body like?'
So Paul’s immediate response might, at first sight, seem a bit harsh. Verse 36:
"You foolish person!"
But he’s not attacking the question. It’s clear he thinks it’s a great question because of the considered teaching that he gives in answer to it. No, what he’s rebuking when he says “You foolish person!” is the motivation behind the question. This could be the kind of question the resurrection-deniers come up with to try and prove their point that any idea of resurrected bodies is a nonsense. 'Not so,' says Paul, 'You’re the one’s talking nonsense. And here’s why.' And then he teaches us about the nature of resurrected bodies.
This, then, is our glorious risen future he’s talking about if we’re trusting in Jesus. What could be more exciting than that? Long ago this teaching made a deep and life-changing impression on me. If you haven’t got to grips with this yourself yet, then I hope the same will be true for you. So we’re going to go through this passage bit by bit – remembering that this is God teaching us the truth through his apostle Paul. We’ll look at it under three headings. So:
1. Three Relevant Observations from Creation
The apostle looks at God’s creation, and he sees three things that he wants us to be aware of as well. We’ll see why in a bit.
First, seeds grow into plants which are both the same as and different from their seed. Verses 36-38:
"What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen …"
A few weeks ago when we were earlier on in this chapter I mentioned my own seed sowing exploits, and how I had to have faith they’d come up. Well now they have. Here’s a runner bean seed. God made this. Imagine if you’d never seen what such a seed would turn into when it’s sown. But look what those seeds have become already. And that’s nothing to what they’ll be later in the season – taller than me, covered in bright red flowers, each of which will turn into a delicious bean! The seed itself effectively disappears – just a husk remains. But the plant that grows is still definitely the same plant as the seed. It’s just very different as well!
Secondly, different creatures have different bodies. Look at the end of verse 38 to verse 40:
"… to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies …"
Note, by the way, that all creatures do have bodies. Creatures are embodied. That’s the way God made them and us. We are body-and-soul – not souls making use of bodies that are not really us. To use a computing analogy, we’re not just software that can make use of any hardware that will run it. We’re software and hardware combined. Both matter. Our bodies are part of us, eternally. Thankfully they will be changed. But the apostle’s point is that every different kind of creature has its own kind of body.
Thirdly, different bodies have different kinds of glory. Back to verse 40, and on to verse 41:
"… the glory of the heavenly [body] is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory."
What is glory? It’s hard to pin down, although I think we have an intuitive sense of it. I suppose it’s the wondrous significance of a thing, or a person, fully revealed for all to see. In the Bible, it’s often associated with bright and shining light.
One difference in the kinds of glory that things have is clear from the sun and the moon. If the sun’s glory is its blazing light, then it has its glory in itself and from itself. The moon’s glory, on the other hand, is reflected glory. It reflects the sun’s light. But it’s still glorious in own way, appropriate to itself.
The Hubble Space Telescope celebrated its thirtieth birthday the other day. For decades it’s been beaming back astonishing images of the glory of the distant stars and galaxies.
What, then, is the point of these three observations from creation that Paul makes? How are they relevant? Well that makes bring me to my next main heading:
2. How These Observations Apply to Resurrected Bodies
Because the point of all three of these observations is precisely that they do apply to the nature of our resurrection bodies. So Paul says in verse 42:
"So it is with the resurrection of the dead."
Our earthly bodies are, so to speak, like the seeds of our resurrection bodies. Our new bodies will be the same body we had before – as a seed is the same as the plant that grows from it. And they will also be very different – as a full-grown runner bean plant, for example, is very different from its seed.
And just as a fish has a different kind of body from a bird, so our resurrection body will be a different kind of body from our earthly body, and fitted for our eternal state.
And just as different bodies have different kinds of glory, so our resurrection bodies will have an eternal glory, unlike our earthly bodies. And it will also be a reflected glory, not coming from within us, but reflected from the blazing light of the risen Jesus.
So now the apostle gives us four contrasts between earthly bodies and resurrected bodies, to emphasise the eternal glory which is our hope in Jesus. He says that our earthly bodies are perishable, dishonourable, weak and natural. But our resurrection bodies will be imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual. Take a look at verses 42 to 44:
"So it is with the resurrection of the dead. 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."
That is, our earthly bodies get sick and die; most of the time we need to hide them; they are vulnerable (even to a tiny virus); and they are of this temporary earth. But our resurrection bodies will never get sick or die; they will be radiant with the light of Christ; they will be indestructible; and they will belong to the new eternal order of things. There will be no more “dust to dust and ashes and ashes”. What a prospect that is for us to look forward to!
C.S. Lewis (of Narnia fame) wrote a typically brilliant little book called The Great Divorce. In it, he imagines what this amazing resurrected world will be like. He describes what he calls “the solidity of heaven” (by which he means the resurrected heaven and earth – the new creation). We easily fall into the mistake of thinking that somehow life after death will be less solid, even less real, than this life. Maybe too many ghost stories have misled us! But the opposite is the case. So, speaking of the resurrected world, C.S. Lewis writes:
"It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; … so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison … I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tugged till … I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond …
… the people in heaven are also solid. In every way, including the physical, heaven is real."
Then we come to my last main heading and the final part of what the apostle Paul says here about the nature of resurrected bodies. So:
3. Differences Between Natural and Spiritual Existence
Back to verse 44:
"It [that is, the human body] is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body."
So he’s saying, to use his language, there are natural bodies and spiritual bodies. We might say, earthly bodies and resurrected bodies. Now, again, we mustn’t think that ‘spiritual’ is the opposite of ‘physical’. That’s not at all what he is saying – as C.S. Lewis pointed out. By ‘natural’ he means earthly – of this pre-resurrection earthly and temporary existence. By ‘spiritual’ he means of the new creation, filled by the Holy Spirit, united with Christ, resurrected and eternal.
So there are natural and spiritual bodies. And now the apostle expands on that by talking about Adam – the first man – as the prime example of ‘natural’ life; and Jesus – who he calls ‘the last Adam’ – as the prime example and indeed the source of ‘spiritual’, resurrection life. This is in verses 45-48:
"Thus it is written, 'The first man Adam became a living being'; [that’s a quote from Genesis and the account of Adam’s creation]; the last Adam [that’s Jesus] became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 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."
In other words, Adam breathed in life – received it from God. But Jesus breathes out life. He gives it – he is God. And earthly bodies – these bodies we have now – come before resurrection bodies. We have those new bodies to look forward to. Adam is from the dust – and to dust these earthly bodies of ours will return. But Jesus is from heaven – and we will get new eternal resurrection bodies from him. So apart from Christ we’re like Adam. But when we’re in Jesus, when we’re trusting in him, when we belong to him – then we will become like Jesus, and share in his resurrected life.
The detail of this wonderful resurrection life is hard to imagine – just as it’s hard to know what a runner bean seed will become if you’ve never seen a full-grown runner bean plant. But we do have one example. And that of course is Jesus himself. The risen Jesus gives us a glimpse of the glorious life that lies ahead of us as we put our trust in him.
And really the apostle Paul sums up all this mind-blowing but deeply encouraging and exciting teaching in the last verse of our passage – verse 49, where he says:
"Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust [Adam, that is], we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven [that is, the risen Jesus]."
We have borne Adam’s image. We will bear Christ’s image. He is our hope of glory.
In her VE Day 75th Anniversary speech, the Queen said:
"Never give up, never despair – that was the message of VE Day."
In other words, once that hard-fought victory had been won, we could see that it had been right all along to have kept going, and not given up. But the resurrection of Jesus shows us now that he’s already won the victory for us. So when it’s dark now and you feel like giving up – keep going. Don’t despair, but in the light of the resurrection, exercise the discipline of hope and joy. As we trust in the risen Jesus now, we will one day bear his image and share his resurrection life.
Heavenly Father, this teaching from your word is so immense in its significance and so beyond our imagination that it’s hard for us to take it in. Please deepen our faith; grow our understanding; strengthen our conviction; and fill us with joy and peace and hope as we look forward to our new resurrection bodies. In Jesus name. Amen.