Sunday, August 8, 2010

Our Real Tangible Spiritual Resurrection Bodies

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 & 35-49; Luke 24:33-49

AS I MENTIONED DURING the Joys and Concerns, I'm being treated for Stage 1C ovarian cancer. So a week or two ago I was sitting on a neighbor's front porch with her and her sister-in-law who was visiting from Denver. My neighbor had told her relative that I was undergoing chemotherapy, and she was very curious about the whole thing. At one point she asked, "Are you afraid to die?" I told her my surgeon says it's very probable I'm cured already, and we're just doing the chemo just in case. Still, if the cancer comes back anyway, I just have to remember how wonderfully much Jesus loves me and what He's done for me. "I believe in the resurrection of the body," I said. "You mean the resurrection of the spirit," said my neighbor. "No," I replied, "the resurrection of the body. Just like Jesus rose again with a real, glorified human body, we'll be like Him and have the same." My neighbor wasn't so sure she liked that idea. Don't our bodies just give us trouble? Who'd want to be stuck with one for all eternity?

Well, it's common for us humans not to be too excited about the idea of the bodily resurrection of the dead. Once after one of my seminary classmates had guest preached on the subject, a man of that church, one of their board members, came up to me and said, "I always enjoy it so much when you Wycliffe people come and preach to us. You always bring such novel doctrine!" "‘Novel'?" I asked him. "How's that?" "Well," he said, "I've always been taught that Jesus' resurrection body was just a spiritual one." "But," I said, "what about when He tells His disciples to feel Him to prove He still has solid flesh and bone?" "Oh," said the man, "Jesus just made it seem like He had a physical body so He wouldn't upset the disciples. He really was only a ghost!"

The doctrine of the bodily resurrection from the dead is a basic teaching of our Christian faith, but obviously many people have trouble accepting it. Even evangelical Christians can't always get their hearts around it: How many times at a funeral have you heard someone say their departed loved one is now an angel in heaven? But angels have nothing to do with resurrection. As it says in the book of Hebrews, angels are ministering spirits and Christ's promise of new life from the dead is not for them.

But it is for us, and I hope to show you how our bodily resurrection in Jesus Christ is not only true, but also is our hope and comfort and the very assurance of the everlasting love of God.

It all flows from Jesus and what He's done for us. Jesus' disciples weren't expecting Him to rise from the dead. Time and again He'd told them He'd be arrested and put to death and then rise on the third day, but their minds were kept from understanding it. So on the evening of that first Easter Sunday, when Jesus stood among them in the upper room, they were startled and frightened. Luke tells us they'd thought they were seeing a ghost! This was even after the two disciples who'd encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus had come back to Jerusalem and reported what had happened! Now, the disciples were good Jews. They expected there to be some sort of bodily resurrection way off in the future, at the end of the age. But the idea that someone they knew and loved could be standing live and in the flesh before them after being so very dead three days before was simply unthinkable.

Nevertheless, it was true! "Why are you troubled," Jesus said to them, "and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

Jesus was solid, and real! No way was He just a ghost or a spirit! No way was He fooling the disciples into thinking He had a resurrection body when He did not! And as they were still standing there in unbelief and amazement, Jesus asked them for some broiled fish and ate it in their presence!

Why did He go to such lengths to prove that He was truly, really, bodily risen? Why does it matter that Jesus' resurrection was truly a rising again, in the same body He died in, and not a mere apparition?

Because, as He told the disciples, this victory over death was what the whole of the Scriptures, all of God's grand and glorious plan, had all been leading up to! "This is what is written," Jesus reminded them (in verse 45), "The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations." Without the bodily resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is no forgiveness of sins! Without Jesus truly risen from the dead, death still would have its hold over Him. Without Jesus' rising again in the same body that went to the cross, death would still have its hold over us! If Christ is not truly risen, our sins are not atoned for, His life was in vain, and we are still under the wrath of God and headed straight to hell.

But as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, "But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep." Jesus is the prototype, the forerunner of all who sleep in death. His bodily resurrection proves that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient, fully-acceptable to God to atone for our sins. Had Jesus not actually risen, everyone would have known that He had died for His own errors and crimes. But He was and is the Sinless One who had life-in-Himself, as it says in the Gospel according to St. John. He rose in all the triumph of that life and He gives it to all who believe in Him. Some people will tell you that the Christian message is about being nice to other people. Brothers and sisters, every religious system in the world has taught we should be nice to other people, they just differ in which people we're supposed to be nice to! No, the basic message of Christianity, the main point of the Gospel, is that Jesus Christ is died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was raised bodily on the third day, and that through faith in Him we have forgiveness of sins and life forever. Not just some of your sins, but all of them! Peace with God and glorious joy with Him, now and always!

You may be saying, "I certainly believe that!" But some of the members of the 1st century Corinthian church were rejecting the bodily resurrection outright. Most of them were originally Gentiles, and they'd grown up with the Greek notion that the body and its flesh was at best just a vehicle, a donkey, you might say, for the mind and the spirit. At worst the body was full of corruption and evil, and no better way to see that was in a rotting corpse. Why would anyone want to come back in that? Don't we all want to get free?

This is where we see the providence and wisdom of God in choosing the Jews as His Messianic people. The Hebrew understanding was that each person was a unity of body, mind, and spirit, and to be a full, living human you had to have all three, and this is what God affirms in raising His Son from the dead. You get so-called theologians who claim that Jesus was "risen" in the disciples' hearts and imaginations and that was enough. No, that is not enough, not if Jesus was truly to defeat death, His enemy and ours. Any so-called rising of the God-Man that left His flesh to decay would have been no victory over death at all. Paul wants us to understand that in Christ there is life and victory beyond the grave, life and victory for the whole man and the whole woman. We have hope in Christ for this life and for the next.

And so faithful Christian preaching is not useless and we are not lying about God and what He has done. Your faith in Christ means something! It has a purpose, and its purpose is to unite you with your Lord who truly came back from the grave in a glorious, renewed body. Its goes to assure you that you and every Christian loved one you have lost will truly stand glorified and solid in their renewed flesh and bone, praising and serving God in the new heaven and the new earth. Even though at the brink of the grave, we mourn, but we are not to be pitied, for our hope is good for more than this life: it extends to all eternity.

Nevertheless, some hold to the conviction that this life is all there is. They were the type in Corinth who were questioning, "How are the dead raised. With what kind of body will they come?"

You can see by Paul's reaction that they weren't earnestly seeking knowledge, because his first word in verse 36 is not "How foolish!" but rather, "Fool!" Which is what you called someone only when you were sure they were a double-dyed, deliberately-blind moral trifler. Open your eyes, he says! The very course of nature shows us that it's perfectly possible for the final, mature form of a body to be different and more complex than its initial form. We see that, don't we? Think of the tomato seeds you may've planted in your garden this spring. Didn't look anything like the luscious tomatoes I hope you're eating now, did they? Not only is that tomato plant different from the seed you planted, but you don't get that plant and that fruit unless you bury that seed in the dirt and allow it to break down. In short, to die. Every day in every garden, in every farmer's field new life comes from death; isn't God, who is the ultimate Gardener, able to bring new life from our mortal bodies?

And then, there are all sorts of types of bodies in this world: human, animal, fish, bird, and on and on. We don't say, "Well, humans can't breathe in water, so I don't believe in a creature that can." No, we know that fish exist. Their makeup is different, and so they can do things humans cannot. In the same way, our resurrection bodies will be able to do things our mortal bodies cannot. The Bible does not go into a lot of detail, but from the example of Jesus, we can see that we will have power over nature so that we can enjoy it when we want to-- as in Jesus eating the broiled fish-- but we won't be hampered or hindered by it: Think of Him being able simply to appear in the upper room despite the locked door.

And for those who think the resurrection body will just be these same weak ones resuscitated, St. Paul reminds us that different bodies have different kinds of splendor. Our bodies now do have a certain kind of splendor, but it will be nothing compared to what we shall be like when we are raised from the death and are made like our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. For what was sown, or buried, is perishable. Obviously-- for the person died. But the renewed flesh Jesus gives can never die again. Dead flesh is something dishonorable, to be gotten out of sight as soon as possible. But our renewed flesh will be clothed in honor when we're raised at the last day, for we will share in the glory that is Christ's. The body that dies is weak and powerless; it is raised in the power of the everliving God. It is buried a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

But many people read this word "spiritual" and say "See! Our bodies in heaven won't be physical! We'll be like the angels, who are all spirits!" But that's making the wrong contrast. The comparison isn't between "physical" and "spiritual" as regards the composition of our resurrection bodies; no, it's between "natural" and "spiritual," referring to how each kind of body is made alive. Look at it this way: our bodies here on earth have a lot in common with those of other animals. All animals-- humans, dogs, cats, cows, whatever, have a soul or what our ancestors called "the breath of life." As Paul quotes Genesis 2:7, "the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." That's the natural way of things. And when that soul or or anima departs, the creature is no longer alive. But the resurrection body will be different. For before it was quickened by the soul, but then it will be made alive by the Spirit of God and can never die.

How can this be? Compare Adam and Christ, who is called the last or ultimate Adam. Our ancestor Adam was made of dust, and to dust he returned. Our Saviour Jesus Christ also shared our dust, but His life was from above, from heaven, and so the grave could not hold Him. Jesus is the Man from heaven who puts His Spirit in us to make us alive and to cause our weak and mortal bodies to be raised up glorious and immortal like His own.

Our flesh and blood as it now is cannot inherit the kingdom of God. But the same power that raised Jesus from the dead will raise our mortal bodies as well and make them like His own. This is a truth that all the religious systems and philosophies of this world could never conceive. It took Jesus the Son of God to reveal it to us, and He is the one who made it possible.

So give glory to God and rejoice in the resurrection victory He gives! It is your hope and your shield and the perfection of all God's plans for you. Already Jesus has put His Holy Spirit in you, as a down payment to prove that you will live eternally with Him. Not as a ghost, not as a spirit, not even as an angel in heaven, but as something much better: As a splendid, bodily, spiritual human being, who with all His saints will glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus!


Jim Stringer said...

That's a nice way of explaining it! In my occasional work with funerals, people often comment about whether cremation is a good idea in that it totally destroys the body and would seem to make it just that much more of a stretch for God to raise that person from the dead. But that implies (A) a limit on God's ability to reassemble, recreate or otherwise re-provide a body for that soul. It implies that (B) God might have some sort of trouble (!) resurrecting those whose body parts, even down to the atomic level, become scattered and transformed, at least partially, into energy when they are killed by, or subsequently ravaged by, fire, sharks, explosions, etc. I find it hard to believe that the Creator hasn't thought this one through better than some doubting humans and that He is fully capable to equipping each and every person with exactly the physical body that will serve for eternity with Him.

St. Blogwen said...

Exactly. And the neat thing is, God is perfectly capable of making sure that one's resurrection body is still you, continuous with the one you have now but glorified. During the preaching it hit me to descant a little on how Jesus said "It is I, myself," and pointed to His hands and feet with the wounds of the cross. And so He identified His body with Himself and made sure the disciples knew it was the same body that was crucified and now was raised.

God certainly can find enough of our DNA to raise all of us, if that's how it works!