************ Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on April 21, 2013
1 Corinthians 15
"The Resurrection of the Dead"
(My thanks to Dr Jon Rainbow for his book, "Earth To Glory")
The Christians of Corinth wrote Paul a letter. In their letter they asked a number of questions. Paul answers three of those questions in our Bible reading. First, the Corinthians wanted to know if there is a resurrection of the dead (vs 12). Second, the Corinthians wanted to know when the dead will be raised (vs 20). And third, the Corinthians wanted to know how the dead are raised. With what kind of body will they come (vs 35)?
I Materialism and Platonism
A In looking at Paul's answers I want to start, congregation, by warning you of two wrong teachings.
Imagine going to a funeral home. Soft music plays in the background. Bouquets of flowers and potted plants surround the casket. One by one, people file by the coffin for a final look at the person they knew. Outside, they break into small clusters and talk:
In one small group a man says, "John is gone. We will miss him." Another person adds, "Too bad. He was so young. He had more to offer."
In another group someone says, "I don't like viewings. That's not John anymore, and it's a shame to see him like this. He's in a better place now."
Two views of death are being expressed here – and neither of them are Christian. The first philosophy is "John Is Gone." John is in the coffin and John is gone. The second philosophy is "That's Not John – He's in a Better Place." The body in the coffin is only a shell of the "real" John whose spirit or soul continues to live on in some kind of afterlife.
B We have names for these two views.
The first view is known as materialism. Materialism is the view that everything, including life, is but matter. There is no spirit or soul, no supernatural, no life after death. No angels, no devil, no God. In his popular book, "Cosmos," Carl Sagan sums up materialism: "The cosmos is all that is, all that ever was, and all that ever will be." Brutally and plainly put, we are simply our bodies.
The second view is knows as platonism. Platonism comes from the name of the famous Greek philosopher, Plato. In platonism, matter exists, but it is not important. Indeed, matter is seen as opposed to spirit and the body is viewed as the prison house of the soul. The soul or spirit is good while the body is bad. The soul pulls upward toward God, beauty, and good, while the body pulls downward toward, food, water, shelter, clothing and the things of the flesh.
These are the two dominant non-Christian views of the human body and death.
The materialist says: "This body is me, all of me, and when I die I am no more."
The platonist says: "This body is not me; it's only a shell, and when I die I'll be free of it."
C The two views are so different from one another. Yet, they have a number of things in common. In both, there is no future for the body, no eternity for the body, no redemption of the body, no resurrection of the body. For both, the death of the body is final. And in both, death is accepted, whether as the natural end of life or as the liberation of an imprisoned soul.
I've been at funerals where not a single word was said about the resurrection of the body. It is almost as if the death of the body is accepted. But the biblical doctrine of the body does NOT accept death, nor does it accept the death of the human body as the end. The biblical doctrine of the body is that someday the body will be raised.
I've also been at funerals where goofy things have been said about life in heaven:
-she is looking down at us from heaven
-he is catching fish like he never has before
-every golf swing is a hole-in-one
-she is celebrating her first Christmas in heaven
Our soul or spirit suddenly assumes physical characteristics in heaven? Think about it. We have no body in heaven. Someone without a body cannot do any of these things. A spiritual existence in heaven – even though it is with God – is not our best and final hope as Christians. It is merely an intermediate state. People forget that life in heaven is not our final state.
II Is There a Resurrection of the Body?
A "Is there a resurrection of the body?" The first question answered by Paul comes down to this. "Is there a resurrection of the body?"
Do you remember what happened to Paul in Athens? He spoke to the philosophers and world's wise men after seeing that the city was full of idols. These intellectuals listened to him with some interest as he talked about the unknown God until he mentioned the resurrection, and then they scoffed and laughed (Acts 17:32).
Paul faced the same kind of thinking in Corinth. Paul asks, "How can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (1 Cor 15:12). Were they materialists who denied life after death? Were they platonists who thought the body unimportant? We aren't told. But whatever the reason, there were some in the Corinthian church who did not believe in the resurrection of the body.
B "Is there a resurrection of the body?" Paul presents three answers.
Paul's first answer: Look at the Gospel I preached to you and by which you have been saved (vs 1-2). The Gospel is proof there is a resurrection because a dead Savior cannot save anyone.
C Paul's second answer: Look at the Old Testament Scriptures (vs 3-4). They tell us about the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Paul writes,
(1Cor 15:3-4) For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, (4) that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,Christ's death, burial, and resurrection are "according to the Scriptures."
Notice, also, the phrase of "first importance." It is the most important message that the church ever proclaims. While it is good to be involved in social programs – feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, assisting unwed mothers, preventing abortion – none of them are as important as the proclamation of the Gospel (which includes the resurrection).
D Paul's third answer: Christ was seen by witnesses (vs 5-11). On the cross, Jesus was exposed to the eyes of unbelievers. After the resurrection, His only appearances were to believers. It was the calling of these believers to proclaim to others what they had seen (Acts 1:22; 2:32; 3:15; 5:32). Did you know that on at least 12 occasions Jesus appeared physically to witnesses? So, for instance, Peter saw Him and so did the disciples (1 Cor 15:5). James became a believer after the Lord appeared to him (John 7:5; Acts 1:14). The 500 plus brothers all saw Him at the same time (1 Cor. 15:6). And last of all Jesus appeared to Paul himself (1 Cor 15:8); Paul was an unbeliever at that time and he was convinced that Jesus was dead and gone.
E Is there a resurrection of the body? Paul points to the Gospel, Paul points to the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul points to the witnesses. Paul, I want you to notice, points to Christ. What happens to Christ happens to His followers. If Christ has not been raised, then there is no resurrection. If Christ has been raised, then there is a resurrection. It all comes down to Christ. No wonder Paul ends our passage by saying,
(1Cor 15:57) But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
III When Are the Dead Raised?
A The second question: When are the dead raised?
Paul uses three images to answer this question.
Paul's first image: Firstfruits. Paul writes, "Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20). Firstfruits was an Old Testament feast. At the start of harvest, the priest waved the sheaf of the firstfruits before the Lord. The firstfruits was a sign of more to come. Christ's resurrection is a firstfruits. Jesus' resurrection as a firstfruits is God's assurance to us that we shall one day be raised as part of the future harvest.
When are the dead raised? Christ, the firstfruits; then, when He comes, those who belong to Him.
B Paul's second image: the Military. Paul writes, "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn" (1 Cor 15:22-23). In the original Greek the word for "turn" referred to military rank. In the Roman army, as in armies around the world, order and rank have to be observed. In the same way, God has an order, a sequence, in the resurrection.
When are the dead raised? God's order must be followed. What is this order? Paul lays it out for us in 1 Thessalonians:
(1Th 4:16-17) 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. (17) After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.Do you hear the order? Christ must return. Then the dead are raised.
C Paul's third image: the Kingdom. Right now Christ reigns in heaven. "He must reign," says Paul, "until he has put all his enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor 15:25-26). When He has done this, then the resurrection will take place.
When will this happen? We don't know. Nobody on this earth knows. But when it occurs, it will be in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (1 Cor 15:52). So, we had better be ready at any time.
D When are the dead raised? After the firstfruits, following God's order, after Christ has destroyed death. Notice, Paul keeps pointing us to Christ.
(1Cor 15:57) But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
IV How Are the Dead Raised?
A The third question: How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?
It is one thing to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. He was in the grave only three days; His body was still intact; the wounds He showed His disciples were proof that it was His body which was raised.
But what about the bodies of the martyrs, scattered to the winds as ashes, digested by the wild animals of the Roman arenas? How can their bodies be raised? What about the bodies of Abraham and Job and David, long since disintegrated to dust? And what about age? Will Methuselah be raised as a man of 969 years? Will the small child who died be raised as a small child? "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come" (1 Cor 15:35)?
B Paul begins his answer to this question with the words, "How foolish!" Or, as another translation has it, "You fool" (1 Cor 15:36). It is important to understand the reason for his rebuke. He rebukes the Corinthians because behind their questions was skepticism. He rebukes the Corinthians because they were biased against the resurrection. But we are not fools if we believe in the resurrection of our bodies and want to understand as much as we can about it.
Paul does not answer all of our questions, but he does give us a framework. He tells us to think of a seed (cf 1 Cor 15:36-37). A seed has one "body," one physical form, when it is sown in the ground and dies. It comes forth from the ground with a new and different "body." But it is still the same organism which was sown.
Likewise, the resurrection body is a real body; it is the same body that died; but now it possesses glorious new qualities and powers. The present body is perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural; the resurrection body will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and filled with the Spirit (cf 1 Cor 15:42-44). It will be free from death, sickness, pain, aging, injury, and exhaustion. It will experience no grief and no sorrow.
The old body is the seed from which the resurrection body is raised. Which means that the dust of Abraham, the molecules of John Calvin, and the bones of my grandfather and my brother are bodies to be raised.
Let me end with funerals. The problem with too many Christian funerals today is that all the focus is put on life in heaven. It is true that Jesus kept His wonderful promise to the thief on the cross: "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43). The assurance of immediate fellowship with Christ is a sweet hope. And, we rejoice at the thought that at death the souls of believers pass immediately into the presence of Jesus (Phil 1:21-23; 2 Cor 5:6-8).
But this must not be the only focus. The resurrection must also be the focus, as it is in the Bible. Because it is only at the resurrection that victory over death is complete. We don't settle for a dead Jesus. Why should we settle for dead saints?
So, I want you to think, congregation, of that final day. Picture the earth giving up the bodies of Old Testament saints like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rahab, David, and Ezekiel. In your mind see Peter and John and Stephen being raised. Hear the trumpet sound and envision millions of bodies brought to life and rising through the air to meet the descending Christ.
This is our hope because of Christ. "But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1Cor 15:57).
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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