Howard Carter is a Presbyterian minister and church planter in Auckland New Zealand. In this blog he reflects on God, life, the scriptures, family, Church and church planting, film and media and other stuff. Join him as he reflects on the Journey.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
Prophecy in Action: Future Resurrection Reality, Present Resurrection Hope ( 1 Corinthians 15:35-58).... One: On The Road To Unity in 1 Corinthinas (Part 17)
Last week we started looking at 1 Corinthians 15 which has been called the climax of Paul’s letter .. Here at
the end of his great epistle to the Church at Corinth Paul now comes to the
core issue. Paul is dealing with the fact that some at Corinth did not believe
in the resurrection from the dead. This is the underlying problem that had
manifested itself in the divisions and way in which the people at Corinth did
not treat each other in a very loving or Christ like manner.They had a wrong understanding of what new
life in Christ and eternal life in Christ meant.
It comes after Paul had been exhorting the Church to seek the gift of prophecy. We often think that is the ability to tell the future, but in
biblical terms it is making the timeless word of God very timely. It not
foretelling but telling forth the word of God. The Old Testament prophets would
analyse what Israel was going through in their time in light of their
covenant relationship with God and apply it to that situation. In Corinthians 15 Paul puts Prophecy into
action. He tackles the core issue at Corinth by going back to the core of the
gospel, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christand proclaiming it, in a way that it is
relevant to what is happening in the church.
Some in Corinth did not believe in the Resurrection of the dead.And as we saw last week, there were cultural
reasons for that. Most of the believers at Corinth had come from a Greek pagan
background. They saw a duality in what made up a human being between the body
which was inferior and the spirit or soul which was the important bit. For them
any understanding of eternal life was a shadowy disembodied spirit. Theologically,
the church at Corinth had an element who thought they were the Spiritual ones,
that they had arrived and entered fully into what God had for them. There was
no future fulfilment, it all had to do with the now, and it all had to do with
the spirit, what they did with their bodies how they treated others did not
enter into it.
Paul had countered that by going back to the oldest of the churches
Christ died according to scripture, was
on the third day he rose to life and was
He showed how our faith is based on a historical event. The death and
resurrection of Jesus. That Jesus actually died on the cross and was raised to
life. He affirmed that bodily resurrection by listing the many witnesses who
had encountered Jesus risen from the grave. He included himself in that list as
one untimely born. Then he argued how if that didn’t happen then the whole of
the faith that he had preached and that the people at Corinth had believed was
in vain. It fell down like a house of cards. Then he argued that if Christ was
raised from the dead it affirmed the wonderful truth of our forgiveness of
sins, new life and a bodily resurrection when Christ returns.He finished by pointing out that while we
experience that new life now we must wait till Christ returns to experience it
fully. We live in the tension between the Already, the kingdom of God has come,
and the not yet, it will be consummated when Christ returns.
In the passage we are looking at today Paul continues his argument for
the bodily resurrection. He gets down the real practical questions, of how and
what. How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come with? I
don’t know about you but these are the kind of questions that we with our
scientific materialistic worldview wrestle with just as much as the ex-pagans
did from theirs. It would be great if Paul would suddenly delve into pure
science, and talk of atoms and molecules and biology, give us the mechanics,
Paul, the maths, but he doesn’t he answers it on a philosophical and
theological level. His answers are equally relevant for us as his original
We might not like it but Paul starts his response to these questions by
calling his hearers fools. The NIV softens it a bit by saying, How foolish! But
it is very much what foolish people. It’s not an insult to the intelligence of
the people at Corinth, Paul uses, some very complex and compelling rhetoric in
his letters to them, he doesn’t treat them as stupid. Rather for Paul as a
Jewish man he would use the word fool as it is in the Old Testament. A fool was
someone who did not factor God into the equation. I once listened to a radio
interview with an atheist who was bemoaning the fact that unlike religious
people they didn’t have a day of their own to celebrate, and I couldn’t help
but txting in, and suggesting April 1st might be an ironic day for
them to claim as their own. But it’s easy for us to do that isn’t it? To be
trapped in our human mind set and worldview and not to realise that when we are talking about
these things we need to factor in the reality of a God who created the whole
Paul points his hearers to the creation for analogies of what he
believes the bodily resurrection from the dead is going to be like. He says
look at the seeds you plant their bodies in the ground and something else
amazing springs to life. There is continuity, the seed and what it produces are
the same variety, but there is a radical difference between the two. Paul
points to the fact that bio diversity shows us that not all bodies are the
same. He talks of humans and animals, fish and birds. He talks of the sun and
the moon and the stars. Now his cosmology may not stack up to our understanding
of the universe, but the analogy stands up. These bodies are suited for the
environment they are placed in.
Paul then applies that to our bodies and the resurrection.Just like with seeds there is continuity but
a difference. We are subject to decay and death but we will be raised
imperishable. Sown in dishonour, affected by sin, but raised in glory, free
from the effects of sin. Weak but raised
in power. Sown natural body but raised a spiritual body. Now that is not the
same as a disembodied spirit or a ghost, but that just like a fish is suited
for living in water so our body will be recreated by God to be just right for
eternity. Earlier in v. 20 Paul had talked of Jesus being the first fruit of
this resurrection reality. The first seed that had fallen to the ground and
been raised to life, so Paul is able to say these things about the resurrection
from the dead because he has seen them in Christ the man raised to life.
Paul goes on to explain how this is possible through origin stories. He
goes back to Genesis and talks of our bodies having their origin in Adam, as
the representative man, fashioned from the earth, having life breathed into
them. But Christ the new Adam, is different, he has been raised to heaven, and
is the life giver. Just as in Creation we are in the image of the first Adam,
now in God’s new creation when it comes to fruition we will be remade in the
image of the last Adam, of Christ.
Lastly in his argument Paul says, it is not a present reality, we
cannot fully fathom it now. Unlike what the people at Corinth thought it was
not a present reality, our bodies are still perishable: Still subject to death.
We can’t simply do a scientific experiment and raise someone from the dead and
see if they are different, because what Paul is talking about is not simply a
reanimation of some rotting corpse, a reassembling of atoms and molecules and
elements andDNAstrands and x and y chromosomes. We’ll have
to wait says Paul, for when the end comes, like a final trumpet call. Because
at that time we will be transformed, the dead will be raised and those who are
still alive will be changed.
Paul uses the word mystery, and we of course are often nervous about
that word. Because we think it means something that we just don’t quite
understand yet. That it’s a cop out. Well that’s a mystery. But for Paul,
the idea of mystery is something that has been revealed to us in Christ. Paul
can say he knows that we will be transformed because that is what happened to
Christ. That was the resurrection body that people encountered in Christ. We
know this will happen because says Paul death has been defeated> he quotes
Isaiah 25 and Hosea 13 almost like a taunt, to say that in Christ’s death and
resurrection that death has been overcome. Death is a result of our falseness and sin,
but Christ has broken the power of sin and is overcoming all the consequences
of sin. The last one to be overcome is death.
Ok, Paul’s argument does leave a lot of for us to wrestle with.
Theologians have often asked does this mean there is some intermediate state we
find ourselves in between death and the resurrection and there are a whole lot
of theories about that. Soul sleep, the fact that time is a created thing so
does the creator stand outside time. Sadly it is not a question that Paul
tackles. Jesus had said to the repentant thief today you will be with me in
paradise, Paul’s affirmation was to live is Christ to die is gain. That for
those who die in Christ the reality is that they are with Christ.
And yes I’d still love to see the maths and the physics, because it’s
hard for us as it was the Christians in Corinth to step out of our worldview.
It’s hard to think beyond the natural to the supernatural.
But what is there from this for us today.
I posted this wonderful interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:51 on our
church facebook page. Because it picks up the hope of our future reality, and
the present reality for many of the families here and that we are contact with
in the community. It encapsulates the idea that God cares about both realities.
That is where Paul leads the people his readers.
Like the Corinthians the application of what Paul has been saying lies
in the therefore of verse 58. This affirmation of our future resurrection, to
be with Christ, calls us to be people of hope now. That our belief in the
resurrection calls us to act and be in the world now.
Paul starts by calling the Corinthians beloved, brothers and
sister.After all he has had to deal
with them, he want to affirm that because of Christ’s death and resurrection
they are his family in Christ, they and we are loved by God and are family
called to love one another. We share a common hope and so we should care share
a common life today.
Stand firm, let nothing move you. He finishes off as he had started
this chapter. This future hope we have should encourage us and inspire us to
hold strong to the gospel. NT Wright sums up the message of 1 Corinthians like
“ Christianity, you see isn’t a set of
ideas, it isn’t a path of spirituality, it isn’t a rule of life, it isn’t a political
agenda, it includes, and gives energy to all those things, but at its very
heart it is something different. It is Good News about an event which has
happened in the world, an event because of which the world can never be the
same again and Those who believe it, and live by it (thank God) will never be
the same again either.”
Finally Paul, says that this focus on the future should not make us all
heavenly minded and no earthly use rather we should continue on with the work
of the gospel. The ‘spiritual ones at Corinth saw that they had somehow
transcended the world, it didn’t matter anymore. Rather says Paul the opposite
is the case. The hope we have for the whole world should encourage us to be
about the work of the gospel now. The spiritual ones though they were like
Christ in being beyond this world, but Paul says we will remade in the image of
Christ when he returns, but now we should see that break into our lives by
being like Christ in his character and his love, in service and in being and
proclaiming good news to the world.With
Jesus coming the kingdom of God has broken into this world, with the
resurrection on that first day in the garden, God’s new creation has started,
and we empowered by the Holy Spirit are agents of that Kingdom, are seeds of
that new creation. Here and now
I went to the youth service at Greyfrairs last Sunday night, and the
group from St Austell’s New Lynn did this wonderful dance drama, to a song
about a man being welcomed into eternity. The song was a bit corny and overly
melodramatic, but it spoke to me. This man meet people who had been impacted by
his faithful adherence to the things God had called him to do. Someone who had
come to Christ through his Teaching Sunday school, giving to missions, it could
have been other stuff as well. I found myself crying, which was rather tough
because I was sitting between James and Sione, and guys don’t cry. I did think that my son James thought it was another sign of his dadgetting old and sentimental, but it was more he was feeeling the same way as well. But it brought home the hope of all who follow Christ and care and
minister to others. To see people’s lives transformed through the Good news of
Christ, so that this world will be transformed, and that they may know eternity
Again NT Wright sums it up so well…
“how God will take our prayers, our art, our love, our writing, our
political action, our music, our daily work our pastoral care, our teaching,
our whole selves- how God will take this and weave it’s varied strands into the
glorious tapestry of his new creation, we can at the present have no idea. That
he will do so is part of the truth of the resurrection, and perhaps one of the
most comforting parts.”
Howard Carter is a Presbyterian Minister in his early fifties. He is the minister at St Peter's Presbyterian Church Ellerslie Mt Wellington. A congregaion that is wanting to face the challange of being Christ's body in a twenty first century, multi-cultural, multi-generational, suburban environment. "it's challanging", says Howard, "I feel totally inadiquate, but rely on Jesus, who is able to be strong in my weakness".
Yes he's married to Kris and has four children. So he'sboth blessed and busy.
Howard posts the messages he preaches on Sundays (the long posts with heaps of images), the occasional reflection, prayers he writes for services (when he's in a liturgical mood) and movie review.