1 Corinthians 15 Reflection 1
By Gerry Straker, 01 May 2020
Many Christians are confused about what happens after death. Some hymns add to that confusion, for example these words from a hymn I love:
'Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.'
This sounds like there’s no future for our bodies and that we're saying to our bodies and this world: ‘I’m a Christian, get me out of here!’ That’s just one example among several in our beloved hymns.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to the confused Corinthians who are actually in danger of rejecting the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:2). Christ’s resurrection is of first importance (15:3) and he has to remind them of this, because some have been saying there is no resurrection of the dead (15:12). Why would they do that?
First, the Corinthians were so caught up in the here and now, the victorious Christian life, that they were thinking that resurrection life was already happening! Or, it could be their Greek background, which taught that the body was a prison and the hope was for your spirit to escape. So resurrection of the body would be a bad thing. Or it could be both.
And we find similar things in the Church today. In this crisis we find Churches concentrating on this life, saving lives physically, with no mention of future hope after death, or the need to repent. We also find for many Christians that the future is going to heaven when we die: escaping this physical world, flying off somewhere to another dimension where we’ll meet St Peter at the pearly gates and be checked off on the list.
We too need to dwell on, and enjoy Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15. The resurrection is massively important, massively deep and massively unappreciated in the Church today. Consider this: if someone said to you: 'what is it you Christians believe?' I think until recently, we’d have talked about sin, Jesus and the cross – excellent, but not the full story. Very often, the resurrection, which is of first importance, doesn’t feature in our gospel summary.
Without the resurection, Christianity is worse than a waste of time. There is no hope, no faith, no truth. We are to be pitied above all people (15:19). But Jesus rose from the dead! And this is what is so important about Jesus’ resurrection:
- it’s part of the gospel that saves us (15:2-4).
- it’s promised all the way through the Scriptures. (15:4).
- it was proved by his appearances to the apostles and to hundreds of others (15:5-8).
- It means our preaching of the gospel is worth it (15:14).
- It means our faith in Christ is worth it (15:14).
- it means his death worked. Our sins have been forgiven (15:17).
- it means our resurrection! Christ is the firstfruits, and the harvest is on its way Christ is the head of a new humanity – all who belong to him will live too. (15:20-24).
- It means that when we die our body is asleep, waiting to be woken up for the new world (15:20).
- It means that God will rule again as in the beginning, when death is defeated at last! (15:24-28).
- It completely changes everyone’s future and completely changes how we should live now
- It means hardships for being Christians are worth it (15:30-32).
- It means we don’t need to try and find satisfaction in this life (15:32b)
- It means we’re to fight sin (15:33-34).
We are going to rise from the dead! But what will the resurrection be like? What will we be like? That’s the question Paul anticipates in 15:35: ‘But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”’ This is not the genuine question of a seeker, it’s the quesiton of a mocker, because Paul literally answers in 15:36: 'You fool'! But as Paul answers the mocker in Corinth, we can learn wonderful things about what the resurrection will be like.
1. God will grow us like seeds 36-38
When you grew cress as a child (we all did, didn’t we?) you put the little brown seeds in some damp cotton wool, and in a couple of days you could cut off the cress and put it in your sandwich, only to discover you didn’t like cress! As children, we marveled as a tiny brown seed grew into a stem of white and green cress that we could eat.
We know seeds produce crops, but when you stop and think about it, it is very surprising isn’t it! You bury a tiny yellow round thing in some brown stuff under your feet. And later on up comes a huge plant bursting with life! Paul says this is what the resurrection will be like! Paul reads out a meaning from creation. God created things in this way to be used in His Word when the time came. And this picture helps everyone the world over, whatever time they’re living in. Everyone knows that at the end of the harvest, the stalks of the crops have died, but you take some of the ‘dead’ seeds and put them into the ground.
God is the grower (15:38). The universe is run by a Person, not ‘Mother Naure’ or natural laws. God is in charge of everything, and God gives the body of the plant to the seed.
What a difference there is between the ‘dead’ seed and the living plant, And this is what it will be like for us. Our dead bodies go into the ground. And God will give that seed of our body, a new body will come out of the ground! Something that is radically different!
We will be changed, but we will be the same. You will still be you! ‘God gives…to each kind of seed its own body’ (15:38). Each seed that goes into the ground produces it’s own distinct plant. So we mustn’t think that we lose our personal identity, or that we won’t recognize each other. Our model is the Lord Jesus whose body was changed, and yet he was still the same Lord Jesus. We will be changed radically. But I will still be me, and you will be still be you.
How will the dead be raised? Paul says: 'look at a seed.' Drawn in creation is a picture of what it means to be raised from the dead. God built the seed producing a plant into His world in order to use it in his Word, as a picture for our resurrection.
2. God has already created glorious things 39-41
Next, Paul reminds us about God’s work we’ve already seen. God as created lots of different things, earthly things with bodies: people; animals; birds and fish (15:39). Consider how different you are from a llama, a tuna or a goose. Things on earth with bodies that are vastly different, and there are heavenly bodies that are also glorious (15:40) different from the glory of earthly bodies. The sun displays the glory of God, as does the moon and the stars. They’re all different: this is God’s glorious and varied creation, and ‘so is it with the resurrection of the dead’ (15:42).
In other words: God’s done it before! Of course God can raise the dead gloriously because he created gloriously with all the colour, beauty and variety we can see outside our windows.
Or spend a moment comparing a butterfly with a lion; a mountain and a grain of sand; the moon with a marigold (I assume you can't see some of those things outside your window)! God’s creation gloriously reflects him, speaks of him and it is wonderful, marvellous, and abounding in variety!
If we believe in a Creator, then it makes sense to believe in a Re-creator. God can do what He wants with matter, with stuff; he changes things like that seed into a plant!
How will the dead be raised? The God who creates gloriously, is the God who raises the dead gloriously!
More to come.
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