This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Resurrection". See series.
Someone hearing for the first time that the dead will be raised—physically—from the grave could easily picture something from a horror movie: corpses climbing out of graves, ghastly and ghostly. Or maybe they'd picture zombies of some kind, frightening shadows of what people had once been.
I suspect most people imagine immortality, but very few (apart from Christians) really imagine the reality of bodily resurrection. After all, if these bodies are a pain before we die, they are surely not going to be an asset after we die!
We've been studying the Bible's most important chapter on the Resurrection: 1 Corinthians 15. Among the Christians in the ancient Greek city of Corinth, there were some who could not imagine the resurrection of the body as a good thing. In verse 35, Paul repeats what he had heard from people: "But someone may ask, 'How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?'" These people were picturing something out of The Night of the Living Dead. And Paul's response is, to put it in the vernacular, "That's really stupid!—How foolish!"
Paul has already in this chapter established that Jesus Christ literally rose from the dead and appeared to many different people, and that everything we believe as Christians rests on that historical event. Now he turns his attention from Christ's resurrection to our resurrections. What will our bodies be like when they are raised from the dead? I'll divide up the rest of this chapter into a couple parts, but Paul is driving toward the statement he makes in verse 50: "I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." In other words, you cannot get into heaven wearing what you're wearing. That old body of yours just will not do! We absolutely must have the resurrected bodies God promises if we want to live in the heavenly kingdom that awaits us. Now let's track Paul's argument. He begins in the flower bed: verses 36-38.
Our mortal bodes are the seeds of the bodies God will give us.
To begin with, God won't raise our corpses, but our corpses are involved. To understand how the resurrection works, look at what happens when we plant seeds.
Let's start with a tulip bulb. Is it a tulip? Not exactly. But one day it will be a tulip, because tulips come from bulbs. A bulb is planted—buried in the ground—and then the flower grows from it. If I had a tulip bulb and never planted it, would it eventually turn into a tulip? No; it has to be buried in the ground. Couldn't God just make a tulip without the bulb? Yes, I'm sure he could, but he doesn't choose to do it that way.
These mortal bodies carry our essence—our souls, our lives—and when these mortal bodies are buried, God draws that essential part of us up into the new bodies he will give us, the way DNA and life flow from the bulb to the flower. You will still be you when God gives you a new body, because he draws the "you" from this mortal seed of your body into the "you" of the immortal flower of your resurrection body. Paul takes this another step in verses 39-41.
God always creates bodies splendidly suited to their environments.
Look at anything in nature and see how God has perfectly suited it for its environment. Darwinists say things evolved to their environment, and I don't doubt that in smaller ways that happens (microevolution). But we believe it was God who created the fish for the sea and birds for the air. We believe God set the sun in its place at just the right distance from the earth to sustain life here. Likewise, he set the moon at just the right place to pull the rhythmic tides.
Not only does God create all these various bodies to fit their environments, but he gives each of them their own unique splendor. Part of a body's splendor is that it fits its environment. Among the splendors of fish is that they can breathe under water. Bears can sleep through cold winters. Butterflies can fly thousands of miles. When God shapes the bodies you and I will have in heaven, those bodies, springing from the seed of these bodies, will be perfectly and splendidly suited for that new and extraordinary environment.
Whenever God creates this uniqueness in nature, he always does it in amazingly beautiful and creative ways. Our new bodies will be perfectly suited for a new world where life never ends, where all live in the immediate presence of Almighty God, where our constant purpose is to serve him in all kinds of ways—even reigning over cities, where we enjoy to the full a perfect creation and live in selfless service of every other citizen of that kingdom. The bodies God will give us, growing out of the seeds of these mortal bodies, will be perfectly suited for such a world as that!
The body that is buried will not be like the body God raises.
Paul now stops talking in pictures and summarizes his point with four contrasts in verses 42-44. Here is a glimpse of our new bodies. Here is the reason why we have the promise that, "There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
Paul says, "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable" (v.42). These bodies are destined to deteriorate and decay, but "when we've been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we've no less days to sing God's praise than when we first begun." Our bodies will be imperishable!
"It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory" (v.43a). No matter how great a person has been, his or her corpse is embarrassing, and no there is no embalmer's skill so great as to change that! But our resurrection bodies will be glorious! They will be beautiful to see; they will have extraordinary dignity and grace and capacities. These bodies will be ready and willing to do anything our Christlike minds can conceive. Our new bodies will be at home in the presence of God's glory.
"It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power" (v.43b). Weakness is already upon us, and in the end here, we will be utterly helpless. But when God raises us, our bodies will be powerful—not just Samson-strong, but Christ-strong—bodies unhindered; minds quick, curious, and knowing; energy burning with holy zeal. Not only will we have big muscles, but we will be given mighty wills and hearts and minds.
"It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (v.44). Language limits us here. The literal translation of the first phrase would be something like "it is sown a body with a soul," and the second, "it is raised as a body with a spirit." I think what that means is now, the landlord of your body is your soul. Then, the landlord of your body will be God's Spirit. You will still have your soul, but it will be God's Spirit who completely owns and moves you, with your soul as the happy tenant.
The Holy Spirit already resides in the Christian's body, of course. In fact, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit within us is God's deposit for what we one day shall be. But this Spirit within us must always contend with the worldliness of our souls. David Prior wrote about this: "Even now God's Spirit dwells in our mortal bodies, but the more the Spirit makes us like Jesus, the more these mortal bodies groan under the strain of anticipating their own demise and the freedom of totally new bodies designed for glory and power." Then he explains, "The first body has all the limitations of our earthiness; the second body has all the capacity of God's Spirit." That brings us to our last truth.
Christ, the second Adam, guarantees us heaven-ready bodies.
The argument in verses 45-49 is an appeal, you might say, to spiritual genetics. Paul expands on that statement in verse 44: We inherited these bodies from Adam, but when we put our faith in Christ, we are born again. We are born of the Spirit. We are born with the spiritual DNA of our new Adam, Christ. That is what's behind these next statements. Let me highlight two things:
From the second Adam we inherit fresh breath (vv. 45-46). Genesis 2 says God breathed into Adam the breath of life, and he came to life. But now we need a better Adam than that. We need a new Adam who can breathe into us not only breath that animates a body formed from the dust of the earth, but breath that can sustain a body poisoned to death by sin. And that is what we have in Christ—the second Adam.
The first Adam, you might say, was a breathee—someone who breathed life from God. But our sin has given us a kind of spiritual emphysema. We find it more and more difficult to breathe—to live. Once the second Adam, Jesus Christ, rose from the grave, he was a breather. He was the "life-giving Spirit"—the life-giving Breath. The risen Christ is the very one who breathes with God's own Spirit, and that is the kind of life our new bodies will have.
Have you ever thought about this? When Jesus rose from the dead he didn't need our air to breathe. He may have breathed, but he didn't need oxygen to live, any more than he needed the meal of fish his disciples gave him to be strong. The living Spirit of God—the Breath of God—within him was his new oxygen. When he ascended into heaven, he did not gasp as he rose higher and the oxygen got thinner. His life's breath did not come from the atmosphere around him but from the Spirit Breath within him. That is what you can expect with the new body you will receive! From the second Adam we get fresh breath!
Verses 47-49 tell us that from the second Adam we inherit heaven-ready bodies. God told Adam, "For dust you are, and to dust you will return." But it is not so for the Adam from heaven. I do not know what substance a resurrected body is made from, but it is most certainly not dust! And whatever wonderful new matter made up Christ's body—matter that could pass through walls yet enjoy food, matter that could walk yet rise in the air, matter that could take on the disguise of an ordinary man and yet shine like the sun—whatever that matter is, that is what our bodies will be like in heaven—bodies that are imperishable, glorious, powerful, and breathing with the Spirit of God.
We don't think enough about the bodies God will give us when we are resurrected, but bodies are important to God. The human body is God's own creation, and he will create for us bodies that are perfectly suited to our heavenly home.
I heard Joni Eareckson Tada, who has lived many years as a quadriplegic, say, "Don't assume that all I ever do is dream about springing out of this wheelchair, jumping up, dancing, kicking, doing aerobics. No, I'm looking forward to heaven because of a new heart, a heart free of sin, sorrow, selfishness. That beats having a new body any day." That surely is particularly wonderful—to think of perfect hearts—and God will give us new, glorious bodies suitable for hearts so righteous!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.