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 Christ  and 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 creeds.

Christ died according to scripture, was buried,

on the third day he rose to life and was seen.

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 hearers.


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 world.


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 and  DNA  strands 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 this


“ 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 with Christ.


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.”

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