************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 14, 2021
Belgic Confession Article 37 (#9)
1 Corinthians 15:12-57
"The Resurrection of the Body"
How many resurrections are there in the Bible? Elijah raised from the dead the widow of Zarephath's son (1 Kings 17). Elisha raised the Shunammite woman's son (2 Kings 4). Because raiders were coming, a dead man's body was quickly thrown into Elisha's tomb; when the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life (2 Kings 13). Jesus raised three people: the widow of Nain's son (Lk 7), the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5; Lk 8), and Lazarus (Jn 11). At the moment Jesus died, tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life (Mt 27). How many resurrections? Maybe twenty or thirty? All of these resurrections have one thing in common -- they were again followed by death. The only resurrection in the Bible not followed by death is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection that Paul is talking about in our Scripture reading is like the resurrection of Jesus -- it too is not followed by death because the body is immortal.
The resurrection of the body is one of the most distinctive beliefs of the Christian faith. Most other religions believe in an immortal soul, a soul that exists for eternity without a body. At the time of Paul this was the teaching of the Greek religions; today, this is the teaching of the New Age movement and of Hinduism. These religions believe the soul to be a superior substance, unable to be destroyed, and therefore immortal. The body, on the other hand, is considered to be of inferior substance, mortal, and therefore doomed to destruction. The body is even thought of as the prison of the soul; so the soul is viewed as being better off when the body dies.
The Bible stands opposed to this view. It teaches us that God created man with a body and a soul, that man is incomplete without both the body and the soul, and that both were created good. The Bible teaches not the immortality of the soul but the immortality of the body and the soul. The body may die but it becomes immortal when it is raised or resurrected at the second coming of Christ Jesus.
I The Time of the Resurrection
A When does the resurrection of the body occur? The Bible tells us two things about the timing of the resurrection.
First, we are told that the resurrection of believers and unbelievers occurs at the same time.
Daniel 12:2 (NIV84) — 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.The godly and ungodly are raised at the same time.
John 5:28–29 (NIV84) — 28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
B Second, we are told that the resurrection happens on the last day when Christ returns.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 (NIV84) — 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (Cf Jn 6:39-40)
II Our Resurrection Based on Christ's Resurrection
A When we look at our Scripture reading it becomes obvious that the Christians at Corinth had doubts about the resurrection of the body. Though none of them went so far as to deny the resurrection of Christ, they did not believe in the resurrection of the believer's body. We can only conclude that these Christians were influenced by Greek thought (which, if you remember, taught the immortality of the soul apart from the body).
B Paul deals with this problem in verses 12-34. In these verses Paul connects the resurrection of the body with the resurrection of Christ. Paul says that if you deny the resurrection of the body you also have to deny the resurrection of Christ. The one is inseparably united with the other.
1 Corinthians 15:16–17 (NIV84) — 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.Paul's point here always catches me by surprise. For if I was making the point, I would turn it around. Paul says, "If the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either." I would say, "If Christ has not been raised, then the dead are not raised either." Paul sees such a close connection between the believer and Christ, such an identification between the church and its Lord, such a unity and a oneness, that what happens to the one also happens to the other.
C Paul also tells us that the resurrection of Jesus is the pledge or guarantee of the believer's resurrection.
1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV84) — 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.When harvest time was about to begin in Israel the Jewish farmer would go into his fields or orchards or vineyards and harvest a "firstfruits" -- a sheaf of grain, a cluster of grapes, a basket of fruit or olives -- and present them to the Lord as a thank offering. The word "firstfruits" implies other fruit, second and third fruits -- in other words, that firstfruits was only the beginning of the harvest and that there was lots more fruit to come.
When it comes to the resurrection, Christ is the "firstfruits." He is the pledge or guarantee that there is lots more to come, that the harvest has only just begun, that we and our loved ones will also be raised!
III The Resurrection Body
A What is our resurrection body like? Let's start with what Paul writes to the Philippians:
Philippians 3:20–21 (NIV84) — 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.Our present body is described as a "lowly" body, what another translation calls "the body of our humiliation" -- humiliation because of sin. We think here of the sins of the flesh: imagine, something created good and righteous is used for sin and evil. We also think of the consequences of sin on the body: suffering, pain, sickness, fatigue, and death. In the resurrection all of this is put behind us and our body becomes like the glorious body of Christ -- free from sin and the consequences of sin.
B In verses 35-49 Paul directs our attention to the image of seed in the ground. When the outer husk rots or decays away a new plant comes to life. Our resurrection body is like that seed. The resurrection body will not appear unless the body in its present form has died.
Paul compares death to the sowing of seed. We talk of burial when someone has died but Paul talks of sowing. I want you to think about this image. If I bury a bushel of wheat I never expect to see it again. But if I sow it, I expect to see results -- hundreds of new wheat plants poking their heads out of the soil. In the same way, believers who die are not buried -- they are sown. And, as with seed, we can expect results -- we can expect a resurrection body.
Let me bring this home to you by asking you to think of opposites. What is the opposite of good? Bad. The opposite of hot? Cold. The opposite of sweet? Sour. The opposite of fast? Slow. Now something harder: what is the opposite of dead? Most of you probably say alive. For the Christian, a better answer is to say the opposite of dead is risen -- because we believe that the body that is sown in the ground will be raised.
In using the image of the seed and sowing, Paul also reminds that each is raised according to its kind. As you all know, you do not get a corn plant from a seed of wheat, and you do not get a tomato plant when you put a cucumber seed in the ground. The seed that is sown determines the plant. In other words, there is continuity between our present body and our resurrection body. Our resurrection body will not be like the body of animals or birds or fish -- it will most definitely be a human body.
C Yet, to carry the image a little bit further, Paul reminds us that there is also discontinuity between the seed and the plant that comes from the seed -- they do not look alike at all. In the same way, you cannot tell what the resurrection body will be like by looking at our present body. There are differences between the body put in the ground and the body that is raised. Paul highlights these differences in verses 42-44:
1 Corinthians 15:42–44 (NIV84) — 42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
The first contrast is between perishable and imperishable. Our present bodies are perishable. The germs of disease and death are in them. It is not a question of if we will die but when we will die. Our resurrection bodies are imperishable. This is a body free from germs, viruses, diseases, pain, suffering, and death. This is a body that needs no needles, no pills, no medication, no vaccines, no surgery.
The second contrast is between dishonor and glory. We try to honor the dead at the time of burial by dressing them in their Sunday best, providing an attractive casket, and surrounding the casket with flowers. In spite of this, though, burial involves great dishonor for what could be more dishonorable for a body than to be lowered into a grave? Something that was created by God to walk and live and rejoice upon the earth is instead lowered into the earth and becomes one with it. Our resurrection body, by contrast, shall be raised in glory. It will greet the glory of the Son of Man and even share in it.
The third contrast is between weakness and power. After a day's work our present body becomes tired and needs to rest. Not even young basketball or football players can go all out for an entire afternoon. As we become older we discover that the body tires out more quickly. And, as death approaches, the body becomes totally helpless. The resurrection body, by contrast, will be raised in power. Exactly how that power reveals itself, we just don't know.
The fourth and final contrast is between a physical body and a spiritual body. The contrast here is not between material and non-material. Rather, the contrast here has to do with the control of the Spirit. Our present body is too often controlled by the impulses of sin and evil and base desire. The resurrection body, by contrast, will be controlled by the impulses of the Spirit.
A final difference between our present body and our resurrection body is mentioned by Paul in an earlier chapter:
1 Corinthians 6:13 (NIV84) — 13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.In the life to come, it seems that the digestive functions of the body will no longer be needed. And the organs used for procreation won't be necessary either (cf Mt 22:30).
IV The Necessity of the Resurrection Body
A In the final verses of our Scripture reading Paul turns to his last point: the necessity of the resurrection.
You may wonder why God has to transform our present day bodies in the resurrection. Why can't we just keep the bodies we have now -- minus the imperfections? Listen to Paul's answer to this in verse 50:
1 Corinthians 15:50 (NIV84) — 50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.Our present bodies are full of sin and the consequences of sin. But there is no room for anything sinful in the presence of the holy God.
Think here of a wedding. Before you go to a wedding you change your clothing. Before we go to the marriage feast of the Lamb and His church we need a change of clothing. That is what Paul is saying. When our bodies are raised we exchange the filthy rags of the old sinful body for the clean robes of the new righteous body.
B This change applies not only to those who died but also to those who are still alive at the time of Christ's coming again.
1 Corinthians 15:51–52 (NIV84) — 51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 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.
The Bible tells us very little about the exact nature of the resurrection body. We are given a few hints, but a great deal remains unsaid. Mostly, we are told what our future existence will not be like: no perishing, no weakness, no dishonor; an absence of death; an absence of tears, mourning, crying, and pain. We know something of what we shall not experience, but we know little of what we shall experience. All we know is that it shall be wonderful, beyond our highest imaginings. Words which Paul spoke earlier are applicable here:
1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV84) — 9 However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” ...
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