A sermon preached Sunday 16th September 2012. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:35-57.
The garden – often looks unkempt, untidy, uninspiring..
Yet every year spring does roll around and claim it’s time.
Our garden right now is bursting with new life – and spring colour. The roses are sending out new growth, the Rhododendrons are breaking into colour, the blossom blooms, weeds have suddenly appeared and amongst it all daffodils and tulips and unknown things are thrusting their fragile heads above the cold earth.
Living here in the manse for our first spring this is all new to us – unlike last year when we knew what we’d planted here we have no idea what lies beneath the ground. We have no way of knowing what will come up – so there’s extra delight as we’re surprised by what is now pushing it’s way through the earth.
Despite our lack of care, despite being ignored, and unknown daffodils and tulips are making their way towards the sun, rising to victory – fragile but determined they thumb their nose at winter and declare in all their dazzling beauty the victory of spring.
Another to rise victorious in the spring was of course Jesus. Here in the south we miss the connection but in Israel Easter falls in the spring: Jesus rose to new life in the Spring.
That’s why for me spring is about ‘resurrection’; transformed life; transformed bodies – risen by the power of God to new life. It’s also about Christ’s coming again when as we heard in 1 Thessalonians at the sound of the trumpet the dead in Christ will rise. It seems that Paul may be answering a concern people had for those who had ‘fallen asleep’ – died – before the Lord’s return. A concern I hear often.
An understandable concern: in Paul’s time the prevailing Greek belief was that death was one unending sleep from which there was no awakening.
Theocritus the Greek poet from about 3BC wrote “hopes are for the living, the dead are without hope”. FULLSTOP! DEAD, BURIED, GONE!
But that is not the Christian hope. Our hope rests on the resurrection of Jesus: we believe that Jesus died and he rose again (1 Cor 15:3-11)
Paul’s reassurance is that death is not the end of the story – when Christ returns all who have died ‘in Christ’ will live again.
“In Christ” implies that the promise is only for those who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour; whether that acceptance took place early in life, more recently or just moments ago, possibly even in those moments when our loved ones are lost to us – they are not lost to God.
So whenever the acceptance of Jesus is made that’s enough for God: all who are “in Christ” will live.
Note also that Paul is not just speaking of the dead – because at the return of Christ all Christians will be called together to meet the returning Lord: the dead first, the living second. BOTH will be transformed to a new state to be with the Lord forever.
In the Corinthian passage, written a few years later than Thessalonians Paul develops these thoughts further.
It seems (v 35) that some were concerned about the state of the dead when they were raised, as Paul had been asserting. This whole train of thought probably arose from the dominant Greek thought that the body was evil and the spirit pure; therefore there was this desire to at death rid themselves of their weak sinful body, so that the spirit could be free.
A thought that has infiltrated the church to this day. So Paul is a pains to counter their wrong thinking with the gospel truth of physical resurrection.
This thought offended the Corinthians greatly – the last thing they wanted at death was to be given their same old bodies back.
I understand why they were offended – the last thing I want when resurrected is my same old body back, most of us will concur. These bodies, muscle, bone, brain – the whole package – are weak and not all together reliable.
If physical resurrection is just about getting this back then well frankly: No thanks.
It’s these sort of thoughts that appear to be troubling the Corinthians. Paul responds harshly.
You fool! Note the NIV tends to soften this to ‘how foolish’ but Paul’s words were far harsher. ‘You fool’, by the way – the fool in the OT was the person who failed to take God into account.
So here the implication is ‘You fool – you’ve left God out of the equation’.
It is so obvious the answer is right before you: and here comes the connection to spring, ‘when you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed.’
My daffodills when planted looked nothing like their spring expression neither did the or tulips, nor for that matter the seed potatoes I should plant in a few weeks.
Shrivelled, ugly, unappealing, lifeless – but with good soil, water,and warmth will in a few months will be transformed into thriving plants bearing a bumper crop.
You get the point. Resurrection of the dead is not resuscitation it is transformation.
I need not fear – yes my body will be resurrected but in the process it will be transformed.
But they will be raised imperishable no longer a mere collection of dust, no more prone to decay, neither again facing the fear of illness and death.
Why will this happen – because our bodies have been affected by sin, they are damaged property – not the way God intends – and totally unsuited to the new reality of eternal life.
What is perishable cannot inherit the kingdom of God so we must be transformed into the likeness of the man from heaven: Jesus our Lord.
See when he died God transformed his body into a resurrection body. Where it had been perishable – prone to ageing, decay and death – Jesus was given a new body equipped to handle the realities of eternal life. At the same time it was like his old body – recognisable, physical – able to be touched – able to eat. It was also transformed – seemingly unrecognisable at times, able to pass through doors, able to ascend to heaven.
Jesus still has that transformed physical body – as he departed so he will return.
And we too will have a body like his. Similar to our current bodies but transformed to live in the new reality.
Whether dead or alive when the Lord returns the result is the same. Verse 51 – ‘… we will not all sleep (read die), but we will all be changed – verse 52 – in the twinkling of a eye, at the last trumpet.
Therefore with Paul we can say:
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting? 1 Corinthians 15:55
Thanks be to God – we have victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
I love spring, I love the sight of lambs and calves dancing in the fields. Of blossom on the trees; of daffodils raising their heads above the soil.
But I’m also reminded that the victory of the daffodil is short-lived. Unlike the spring flowers when I am transformed it will be for keeps – never more to die.
Hallelujah, come Lord Jesus, come.Arohanui Ian