Part 2 of 3 in the message series by Pastor Steve Babbitt entitled “I’ll Take You There: Death, Resurrection, and the Kingdom Come”
1 Corinthians 15:35–44,50-54 (NIV): 35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” 36 How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. 38 But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body. 39 Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. 40 There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. 41 The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor.
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.
50 I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 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. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. 54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
We’ve been exploring what the Bible has to say about the end of things – the end of life, the end of the present age, the end of the world as we know it. The last message focused on the end of life and dying. Today we are going to see what the Bible says about the end of death – a very important concept called the resurrection.
I have a dad joke. A shoelace walks into a fancy restaurant. The manager says, “we don’t serve your kind here” and points to a big sign that says “No Shoelaces.” Discouraged, the shoelace goes outside and thinks for a minute. Then he pulls the little plastic caps off his ends and frays the string, then he ties himself into a knot, and goes back inside. The manager says, “Hey, aren’t you the shoelace I just sent away?” The shoelace smiles and says, “Nope. I’m a frayed knot.”
Scientists have identified little protective endcaps on our chromosomes, like the plastic on the ends of shoelaces that keep them from fraying. They call these endcaps “telomeres”, and as we age, these telomeres wear down little by little, until our DNA itself is vulnerable to corruption. This, according to many researchers, is one of the many reasons why our bodies can only seem to last 120 years at the most.
Corruption and decay are a part of our physical experience. According to the Scriptures, because of our deliberate disobedience in the garden, physical death has entered and been compiled into our codebase, and, for my money, I believe there is no amount of scientific tinkering that can alter that decree.
We can see evidence of physical corruption and decay everywhere. Aging itself is unpleasant, from the relatively minor problems like backaches and hair loss, to increased risk of heart disease and cancer. But the evidence of our physical decay is not limited to aging. We are all born with some level of corruption. From genetic diseases and physical disabilities, to chemical imbalances and neurological disorders, the evidence is irrefutable: our physical bodies are all, to one degree or another, in a state of physical decay and corruption.
On some level, we all have to reckon with our own physical mortality. Some accept it more easily than others. But each of us goes through life with a growing understanding that physically, at least, things are not going to get better, but worse.
The problem comes when we admit defeat to death, and ignore the teaching of the Bible that that the hope of the Gospel is not merely that the kingdom of God is coming spiritually, but also physically.
Many Christians are lopsided in this important part of their theology. They are comfortable with heaven as a spiritual concept, but very uneasy with the Biblical teaching that heaven is also a physical realm.
Excellent Bible scholar and co-founder of the Gospel Coalition with Timothy Keller, D. A. Carson says, “The ultimate hope of the Christian is not simply to be with Christ in some immaterial existence, but to have resurrection bodies in a renewed heaven and a renewed earth.”
There are many Christians who mistakenly believe that our faith deals only with abstract and spiritual concepts, that when we die, we disappear into some spiritual mist forever, and that the flesh we once inhabited becomes irrelevant and no longer matters. But in reality, the Scriptures teach that our ultimate existence is just as physical as it is spiritual. That eternity and heaven are not abstract, spiritual concepts, but that the kingdom of God is both spiritual and physical.
The glorious promise we cling to is not that God will make only SPIRITUAL things new, but will make ALL things new – including all PHYSICAL things – which means the whole earth and even our PHYSICAL bodies.
Our hope in the physical resurrection is absolutely essential to our understanding of God as a redeemer and a restorer of broken things. It has always been the Bible’s assertion that God desires to fully restore us, body and spirit.
One of the dangers in falsely thinking that following Jesus is merely spiritual, and not physical, is that we tend to ignore our call to alleviate suffering in the world. You’ve no doubt heard the saying that someone can be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Jesus loves his creation – all of it, physical and spiritual. And Jesus came to restore his creation – all of it, physical and spiritual.
Let’s see what the scriptures have to say about the resurrection. First, it is very important to note that the physical resurrection is not just a New Testament belief. There are glimpses and telltale signs of a belief that God would raise the dead as far back as Abraham and Job.
In Genesis 22, Abraham is called to sacrifice his only son and heir Isaac. It doesn’t come right out and say it in Genesis, but we can infer that Abraham would only follow through on this macabre request if he believed that God would be able to raise his child from the dead. Hebrews 11:17-19 spells it out for us more clearly:
“17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.”
Moving forward to the book of Job (which may be older than the book of Genesis!)... Job declares in chapter 19:25-27:
25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job believed that after his skin had completely decayed, in his flesh he would see God. What else could this be but evidence that even old Job steadfastly believed in a physical resurrection?
In Ezekiel 37, we are given a dramatic vision of a valley of dry bones being rerolled in muscle, skin, and blood and coming to life. Now, to be fair the point of Ezekiel 37 is that God could restore the seemingly hopeless Hebrew people, but the vision itself shows that Ezekiel at the very least had a conceptual framework that included the idea of dead bodies physically being raised.
Moving on to Isaiah 26:18-19, which says:
18 We were with child, we writhed in labor,
but we gave birth to wind.
We have not brought salvation to the earth,
and the people of the world have not come to life.
19 But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.
Isaiah goes to great lengths to point out that he is not merely using spiritual, symbolic language here. In vers 19 he says, “But your dead will live, Lord; their BODIES will rise—” (emphasis added), and later in this same verse he grounds this thoughts again in earthly language: “ the
EARTH will give birth to her dead.”
Let’s not discount also the resurrection of the Shunammite widow’s son by the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4.
Transiting into the New Testament, we find an even more clearly developed belief in bodily resurrection.
We have a few examples of the dead being raised in the gospels: the dead girl, the son of the widow of Nain, and of course, Lazarus. But these were not The Resurrection, but more just a foretaste of the ultimate resurrection to come.
Of course, the big resurrection story in the Bible is Jesus on Easter after being crucified.
In John 11:25-26, Jesus had earlier said to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
And it is Jesus’ resurrection that opens the door to our understanding of the ultimate resurrection, when we will all be raised from the dead, and that the big books will be opened and the great judgment will take place. And make no mistake – the Bible makes it abundantly clear that it will be both a spiritual and physical judgment.
One interesting question is what will our resurrection bodies be like? We don’t know for sure, but we know they will be better than the bodies we have now. There is some connection, because even though Jesus in his resurrected body looked different and could materialize through locked doors, he still also had the scars in his hands and feet. In our reading for today, Paul compares our current bodies to seeds. And perhaps that is the best way to think of it. Just as an acorn gives birth to an oak tree, these bodies will give birth to our new bodies, and they will be glorious indeed!
And I think that is as good a place as any to wind down for today. I’ll invite the band to come and lead us in a great resurrection hymn, “Because He Lives”.
Next week, we will finish this series by focusing on what happens immediately after the resurrection – the final judgment and the kingdom come.
And now, I think it is most appropriate to consider the words of Peter who says:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of his salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now, for a little while, you may have had to suffer grief and all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him. And even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. For you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3–9)