1 Cor. 15:35-58 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. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. 46 The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. 48 As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. 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.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
Before iPad, Sesame Street, or Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (now spun off as Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood), you’d sing with your kids. You’d tell them stories, and you’d feed them riddles. Here’s one of my favorites:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
This may sound strange to you, but did you know that that is actually supposed to be a riddle? It’s supposed to be a time burner and a brain churner for kids. It’s supposed to be a chance for a kid to figure out what can be on a wall, fall, and then can’t be put back together. That’s what it’s supposed to be, but I’ll bet you’re like me. I’ll bet you never had a chance to see it as a riddle. I’ll bet that you like me heard the rhyme while at the same time was staring at a picture of an egg tipping off the wall. That’s why I never understood it as a riddle. I was given the answer before I was ever able to consider the question.
It makes me wonder why the riddle is still told. What’s the point of a riddle that’s no longer a riddle? What’s the point of trying to get someone to think if they don’t have to think? Or maybe the better question is this: why has this riddle that’s no longer a riddle taken on a life of its own in our culture? Maybe you’ve cracked the case on that one. I can’t say I have. I do, however, have a guess. Ready for it? I think it’s because the poem gets at a deep and existential dread we’ve all got. It sort of fingers an issue that we can’t quite seem to resolve. And it’s this: that maybe, just maybe that riddle isn’t really about an egg. That maybe, just maybe the riddle isn’t really talking about Humpty Dumpty. That maybe, just maybe the riddle is talking about us. That life is our wall. That the end of this life is our fall. And that nobody – absolutely nobody – can heal the cracks and the fissures that we call death.
That’s the concern. That’s the fear. That the doubt that has been around for a long, long time. And sometimes that doubt metastasizes and hardens right down into what some of those Corinthians believed to be reasonable unbelief – reasonable unbelief that they wanted the Corinthian Christians to share with them. So they resorted to what they hoped would be a very effective faith killing strategy. They resorted to mockery. “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’” (v. 35) You can just see this discussion playing out, can’t you? “You Christians say people will rise from the dead. Ok. Let’s just assume for a moment you’re right. If God puts your soul back into your same body, it’s just going to die again. All you’ve got then is more death - a vicious cycle. Think about it. You come back to life. A few years later you get sick, and weak, and then you die again. What’s the point? You rise only to decompose again? How ridiculous!” That’s how they argued.
None of this was an imaginary or innocuous theoretical debate about the nature of resurrection bodies. None of this was the innocent gathering of more resurrection information. And Paul knew it. He knew this wasn’t, “Paul, will you please help us understand?” He knew it was, “Paul, you’re teaching something obscene and crazy.” That’s why Paul digs in the way he digs in. That’s why he counter punches the way he counter punches. Did you catch Paul’s first words in response to this attack? He writes, “You foolish person!” (v. 36)
And, yes, he was that blunt. And, no, that wasn’t an ad hominem attack. Paul doesn’t do ad hominem. He doesn’t attack a person for the sake of attacking a person. He doesn’t call people names. That’s just isn’t nice. What he does do is attack willfully wrong worldviews. That’s what the term fool is talking about. A fool is a person who doesn’t think clearly. Actually, in the Bible a fool is a bit worse than that. A fool is not just a person who fails to think clearly. In the Bible, a fool is a person who forcefully and willfully denies the world as it actually is. And that’s exactly what’s happening here.
But there’s more here than an attack on reasonable unbelief. There’s also what I’ll call a pastoral attack on reasonable doubt. In other words, Paul is loving me enough as my spiritual leader to deal with my inner fool, who doubts. And I couldn’t be more thankful for it. I’m tired of existential dread and fear. I’m tired of a self that hears the Humpty Dumpty rhyme and wonders if the riddle really means me. I’m tired of that idea that if I die at sea I’m fish food and if I die on land I’m worm food. If you’re like me, then you’ll be thankful here for Paul. Paul is here launching a loving, pastoral attack on our “reasonable doubts” to expose them as what they are: unclear, foolish thoughts about God’s world.
You know how he does that? Paul points out how the world actually works, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.” (v. 36-37) If you want to prove that something’s going to happen, there’s no better argument I know of than to point out it’s already happening. If you want to ask someone to trust that Apple is going to put out a sweet new iPhone, show them the sweet iPhone you’ve got right now. If you want me to believe that the sun will come up in the east tomorrow morning, then you will do well to point out that it did that already this morning. And if you want to show that God can bury something in the ground only to give it a fantastic new life, then you might want to show that God has a long history of already doing that.
And he does. That’s what Paul is pointing out. Take a seed of wheat. Or a tulip bulb or maybe an acorn for example. You put them in the ground and there they are buried. And then they rise. A wheat seed rises into a plant. A bulb rises into a flower. An acorn rises into an oak tree. Do you see it? This is how God rolls. God does this clearly and abundantly all the time. Nobody can deny it. It doesn’t even take any faith to see this and admit to it. This is just clear, observant thinking about God’s world. God puts seeds into the ground all the time only to bring new life from whatever it is that is buried there.
By the way, this observation already foresees and undermines other foolish, unclear ideas about the nature of resurrection bodies. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “Please don’t think that you will get a body just as frail and sickly as the one you have now. Please don’t think it will die or be missing limbs or still have dementia. Please do understand that God is infinitely powerful and creative when it comes to making bodies.” Paul actually already began to make that point. Did you catch that? A wheat seed rises into a gorgeous wheat plant. A bulb turns into a beautiful tulip. An acorn becomes a magnificent oak. God is fully capable of making all kinds of diverse, incredible bodies. Don’t limit his ability to do it for you. Just head over to Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia and you’ll get blown away by this reality: “Not all flesh is the same: people have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another.” (v. 39)
But that’s not even it. Not only does God put things into the ground only to raise them to new life. Not only does he clearly show his ability to build diverse and creative bodies. God has also shown the ability to build glorious, permanent heavenly bodies. “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.” (v. 40) Yeah, sure, we’re blown away at the zoo with the wisdom, diversity, and beauty of what God makes. And, yeah, for sure, I am blown away by the fact that the tortoise I see there can live up to 150 years. Incredible creature for sure! But you know what else God knows how to do? He knows how to put that Carolina moon in the sky for centuries. He knows how to bring up that brilliant, glorious heavenly body called the sun every morning. And he knows how to make those infinite stars wink down at you while you’re camping. Think of how ancient and consistent those heavenly bodies are. And not just permanent. They’re also glorious. So glorious that we even wear these things called sunglasses to protect ourselves from one of them. God clearly has the ability to do that for people too.
And now for the cherry on top. God has pulled all this off with a human body once before. Sure, there’s Adam and his carbon based body, but now there’s also Christ with his newly resurrected, heaven based body. Sure, there’s Adam with his body that’s reliant on oxygen, water, calories, and sleep; but now there’s Christ with his material body that has no need of – well – anything. Sure, there’s Adam with his cardio vascular system that must function properly getting blood and oxygen to all the right places at all the right times; but now there’s Christ with his resurrection body. Like Christ’s resurrected body, we will have material bodies that function at a whole new spiritual and heavenly level. That’s the new model upon which God is going to build us. Paul puts it this way, “It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… just as we have borne the image of the earthly man (Adam), so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man (Christ). ” (v. 44, 49)
What does that actually mean? We’ll find out exactly what that means when it happens, but for now we know this much. It means we won’t be dependent on earthly stuff anymore. We may or probably will enjoy food, but we won’t need food. We might have a drink, but we won’t die without one. Our circadian rhythm where we have to sleep every 24 hours and suffer that afternoon lull will be an ancient memory. It won’t be possible for our heavenly bodies to get tired, sweaty, grimy, thirsty, hungry, or sunburned. It just won’t happen. Our bodies will be functioning at a whole new level - a spiritual one, fueled entirely by God’s Spirit. We’ll have material, real bodies, yes, but also bodies that function at a heavenly level.
And here’s the beauty of all this. God can give you that kind of resurrected body. He really can. It doesn’t take any faith to believe that. None. Walk into your backyard and you’ll see the massive, always churning life that God brings from seeds in the ground. Take a walk in the woods near a lake and you’ll spot incredible diversity in bodies – from fish to deer to birds. Look up into the sky anytime of day or night and you’ll see God’s ability to put into place brilliant, permanent material bodies. God does this ALL THE TIME! It is logical, clear thinking to infer from this that he can do this also for people. It’s like Paul’s saying to us, “There’s no logical leap here. In fact, it is illogical and absurdly out-of-sync with reality to think that God can’t do to our bodies what he’s already done to other bodies.” Especially when we realize that Christ’s resurrection means he’s already done it once before. It is historic fact. Even Christ’s enemies admitted that!
There’s only one matter that’s left to faith. You know what it is? That God will do this for you. Do you see how Paul has been showing that to us? It’s really not a matter of wondering if God can pull it off or not. Watch the flowers bloom in spring. Go to Riverbanks Zoo. Check out the next Carolina moon. Remember that Christ rose as the first human with a heavenly body from the dead. These are facts. You can check them and recheck them. And please do especially the one about Jesus rising. God’s ability to resurrect people is everywhere we look. That’s not what’s in question. What takes believing is that God wants to do this for you - that you are a creature of his mercy, forgiveness, and intimate, intimate care. From me to you, I think it’s safe to say you are. That’s the gospel – that he sent his Son to die for you and now counts you righteous for his sake. Yeah, that whole gospel thing.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men? They couldn’t. But God? Imperishable. Glory. Power. Spiritual. Immortal. Heavenly. Those aren’t my words. They’re God’s. Let your heart leap in faith. Because God not only can, he also wants to. Amen.