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I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body

Series: Apostles' Creed

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 18, 2003

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

1 Corinthians 15:12-19
“I Believe in the Resurrection of the Body”

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to 1 Corinthians 15. We’re continuing to work our way through to the Apostles’ Creed, and we now come to that affirmation in the Creed which says, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Here in 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul is dealing with some confused Corinthian Christians on this very issue.

It appears that there are some people in Corinth who are teaching that there is no future physical resurrection of Christians. They may be teaching that that future resurrection is spiritual only, or they may be teaching that that resurrection of which Christ spoke had already occurred in their new birth, so that they had been spiritually raised from the dead and that was the only resurrection they should anticipate. There are various reasons why that kind of a view may have grown up in Corinth. We do know that that kind of teaching was very popular in parts of the Mediterranean world in the second half of the first century and throughout the second century. Many of the early Church fathers had to speak against that kind of a view. No doubt, that view explains why this affirmation would find its way into The Apostles’ Creed as Christians from around the world gathered to confess the essentials of the faith. And the Apostle Paul has to respond to that kind of a wrong-headed way of thinking in 1 Corinthians. Let's begin in 1 Corinthians 15:12.

“Now if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. Moreover we are even found to be false witnesses of God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” Amen.

This is God's Word; may He add His blessing to it. Let's pray.

Our Lord, open our eyes to understand the truth of Your word. As Paul sets before us today a stirring defense of, an explanation of the resurrection of the body to glory of those who believe in Christ, we pray that those who now believe would be strengthened in their hope, and that those who do not believe would be drawn to faith in Christ that they might become sharers in this glorious hope. This we ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

There are at least two questions that every human being needs to ask himself or herself from time to time. What about death and what is my hope? What about death? What do you think about death? And where is your hope? What is entailed in your ultimate hope? It's those two questions that I want us to meditate upon as we look at this great passage today and as we consider the meaning of the Creed when we confess as believers “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”

How do you view death? What is the Christian view of death? Do you hold a Christian view of death? You know, every worldview chokes on this very point. It can't do justice to death. Only Christianity can do justice to the issue of death.

But secondly, what is your hope? What comes after this life? The Creed here stresses what Christians believe comes after life, and it stresses the physicality of that afterlife. But to understand the stress of the Creed on our bodily resurrection, indeed, to understand in 1 Corinthians the Apostle Paul's emphasis on the bodily resurrection and the significance of that hope, you have to understand what the Bible teaches about death first. And so, that is what I want to do with you today. I want you to look with me for a few moments about what the Bible teaches about death and then I want to look for a few moments at what Paul speaks as the Christian hope.

I. Death is life's one certainty, a destroyer, the penalty of sin.
The Bible teaches that death is far from natural; it is not the natural order of things. It is life's one certainty, to be sure, but it is a destroyer. Death is a penalty of sin; it is not a natural thing. Our generation tends to cope with death by denial. There are different ways that people cope with death. Some people look at death in all its tragedy and all its humiliation and they seek for comfort in this life because they have no hope beyond the grave. Others however, spiritualize that afterlife and they speak of death as simply being a portal into another dimension. It becomes a new phase of our reality in which our consciousness is merged into another consciousness. You get a lot of this in New Age and eastern teaching in our days and it's impacting the way we think.

You remember what that great theologian, Forrest Gump, said about death? I think it was his mother who taught him that “dying is just part of living.” Now, we understand the commonsense aspect to that particular statement, but taken strictly, it's wrong. Dying was never God's plan for living. Dying was not part of the original creation for human beings. Dying is an alien entrance into this world order because of the moral defection and failure and rebellion of man. Paul puts it this way in Romans 6:23, a verse that all of us have memorized in order to share the gospel, “The wages of sin is death.” In other words, death is the consequence of the entrance of sin into this world. Apart from sin there is no death. Dying isn't part of living; it's part of the fall. And because dying is a part of the fall, the Bible refuses to settle for a sanitized, candy coated view of death.

And the Apostle Paul has a stark view of death apart from Christ and the resurrection here in verse 19, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” In other words, if the truth that I am preaching does not deal with the reality of death, don't look upon me as a noble prophet of morality; pity me as the most miserable of men. The Apostle Paul is saying that if Christianity cannot deal with the issue of death; if Christianity has no hope on the other side of death; if there is no victory over death in the gospel that he preaches; then he says that Christianity is a miserable failure.

Now, when you run into Christian teachers today who say things like, “What happens after life isn't so important; it's how you live this life.” They couldn't be more alien than the apostle Paul. Yes, it's important how you live this life, but your hope is beyond this life. And the Apostle Paul says if the hope that I am preaching is a hope only for this life, then pity me and pity anyone who is a Christian.

You see, if death is really final, nothing is worthwhile except self indulgence and the Apostle Paul says that himself in 1 Corinthians 15:32, “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die.” Paul does not take the view of Christianity that says, “Look, if Christians turn out to be wrong, and there isn't a resurrection and there isn't a heaven and there isn't a future embodied experience of God forever and ever, you really haven't lost that much. You’re a much nicer person, you've made the world a better place, you've led people into a lot of moral truth; it's a pretty good life, really.” And the Apostle Paul says, “Rubbish! If there is no resurrection of the dead, save me a spot at the bar! Give me some strong drink; give me some raucous laughter; give me a woman to keep me warm because I'm gonna live for me if there is no resurrection. Forget Christianity.”

And yet, we live in a world that wants to sanitize death and wants to romanticize death. Occasionally, some unbelievers see through that kind of sanitation. I remember it was 1978 and it was one of the worst movies ever made–Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band. Remember it? The Bee Gees? Peter Frampton? Yes, Peter Frampton when he used to fill Wembley Stadium in England (capacity 90,000 ed.), instead of like playing here at The Dock in Jackson (capacity 700 ed.). Do you remember? And at the end of the movie Billy cheers, the hero gets killed, and the heroine of the story is weeping and you’re trying to figure out, “What are they going to do now? The hero is dead. She's crying. What's going to happen?” Well, of course the most natural thing in the world. Billy Preston jumps off a weather vane, sings “Get back to where you once belonged” and he comes back to life and everybody is happy. Ha! Realistic ending to a terrible movie, but the ending was the worst part. But that's how people in denial deal with death.

Have you ever heard Billy Joel's lullaby to his daughter to explain what happens when you die? Now, Billy Joel is a smart guy–he's a pagan–but he's a smart guy. Read what he comes up with in that lullaby, Goodnight My Angel. People will go through all sorts of hoops and machinations and processes of denial to get around dealing with the final reality of death.

But here's an example of a pagan whose done a pretty good job of dealing with the harsh reality of death. This comes from Don Henley's song New York Minute. Do you remember it? Some of you weren't born; I know, it's back in the 80s. It goes like this:

Harry got up, dressed all in black
Went down to the station
And he never came back.
They found his clothing scattered somewhere down the track,
And he won't be down on wall street in the morning.
He had a home, the love of a girl,
But men get lost sometimes as years unfurl.
One day he crossed some line and he was too much in this world.
But I guess it doesn't matter anymore.
In a New York minute, everything can change.
In a New York minute, things can get a little strange.
In a New York minute, everything can change.
In a New York minute.

And then he turns to reflect on his own life:

Lying here in the darkness, I hear the sirens wail.
Somebody's going to emergency, somebody's going to jail.
You find somebody to love in this world, you’d better hang on tooth and nail
Because the wolf is always at the door
And in these days when darkness falls early and people rush home to the ones they love,
You’d better take a fool's advice and take care of your own
because one day they’re here and the next day, they’re gone.

Now, here's his solution to his personal dilemma. The wolf's at the door; death's there. One day they’re here, the next day they’re gone. Here's the solution:

I pull my coat around my shoulders
I took a walk down through the park
Leaves were falling around me groaning city in the gathering dark
On some solitary rock a desperate lover left his mark,
“Baby, I've changed; please come back.”
What the head makes cloudy the heart makes very clear.
The older days were so much brighter in the time when she was here.
I know there's somebody, somewhere to make these dark clouds disappear.
Until that day, I have to believe, believe, believe.

I hope you have more than that. Do you see the logic? Death comes and it's over so he's going to seek out some sort of a meaningful relationship with a woman. But you see, he's raised his own problem. This song, the song he wrote, started out with a guy who had a meaningful relationship with a woman. And he killed himself anyway.

II. The Christian hope is not for some future disembodied, spirit-world, but in our own bodies to see God.
If we hope in this life only, we are of all men most miserable. The Christian view of death is that it is a certainty in this fallen world; it is unnatural. It is the penalty of moral defection and the Christian view of death involves contemplating it in all its ugliness and all its penalty. And yet, with that kind of realism, the Apostle Paul can turn around and say to the Corinthians, “Be assured that the solution to death is found in Jesus Christ.” God made flesh came into our history, into our world, enfleshed in our humanity, carrying our sins, dying in our place, being buried and raised again from the dead, so that all who trust in Him share in His resurrection. The Christian hope is not for some disembodied future spirit-world, the Apostle Paul says, “But in our own bodies to see God.” And that hope is even found in the Old Testament. You don't have to turn any further than Job 19: 25-27 to hear Job, in the midst of his pain saying, “As for me, I know that my redeemer lives and at the last He will take his stand on the earth and even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God.”

And the Apostle Paul takes that and elaborates on it, in I Corinthians 15:33, 42-44. He tells us that there is this mystery, that we are not all going to sleep, we are not all going to die; some of us are going to be alive when the Lord comes, and some of us are going to die, but all of us are going to be changed. He explains this, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body do they have? So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body; it is raised in an imperishable body. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.”

The Apostle Paul says it is the hope of every one who hopes in Jesus Christ crucified, dead, buried, resurrected, ascended and reigning at the right hand of God, that every one who trusts in Him who was raised, will be raised in your body. It's part of the Christian hope. Not just for some future disembodied state where we float in an ethereal space, but to be embodied again, soul and body united in the praise and service of our Redeemer. Except the Apostle Paul says, it's going to be like going from a jalopy to a Rolls Royce. This body is falling apart, this body that bears the marks of a fallen world, the bodies of our loved ones we look at and see the imprint of the fallen world upon them in disease, in physical breakdown, in illnesses, the Apostle Paul says the glory of the promise of God in the resurrection of the body is that Alzheimer's patient that you've been taking care of—your father, your mother—there's going to be a day when in Christ all who trust in Him, and have been ravaged by that horrible, horrible disease, “the long goodbye,” they call it, will be changed and transformed. And you’re going to see them not only compos mentis, but you’re going to see them in a glory that you've never seen in their physical body. And that down syndrome child, whom you love with all your heart, you’re going to see him, you’re going to see her with physical powers that you've never, ever seen manifested in this life. And that child who died at age four, and you never had the opportunity to see that young man, that young woman, grow up in grace and in strength, you’re going to see him, you’re going to see her in the full flower and power of manhood and womanhood. And those cancer victims, and those who've been crippled, maybe even paraplegics for years, you’re going to see those bodies transformed. And those who've been harassed by psychological and hormonal and emotional imbalances, you’re going to see them transformed, because Jesus doesn't just want your soul transformed; He wants all of you transformed, so that in your whole person you will be with Him and praise Him forever if you trust in Him.

And that's the hope that's before us, not a disembodied immortal soul, but soul and body united serving Christ forever. Every believer, Paul says, will at the final resurrection be raised or changed in glory. Do you recall how our Catechism puts it, “At the resurrection believers being raised up in glory, our bodies will be changed and glorified, in our flesh we are oppressed, in our flesh we shall see God.” Thomas Vincent puts it this way, “Our bodies shall be most healthful and strong and spiritual and incorruptible and immortal and most beautiful and glorious.”

We’re going to sing about this in just a moment. Look hymn 277, stanza four, the great resurrection hymn. It focuses on Jesus Christ and His resurrection. In stanza four, Charles Wesley asks us to ponder the significance of Christ's resurrection for us, and he says this, “Soar we now where Christ has led, following our exalted Head, made like Him like Him we rise,” and let me pause there. How is Jesus Christ, in body, in human body, in glorified body, sitting on the right hand of God the Father Almighty? Think of it. Rabi Duncan, in the nineteen century said, “The dust of the earth sits on the throne of heaven.” Think of it. There's a human being sitting at the right hand of God.

“Made like Him, like Him we rise,” Wesley says, “Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” You see the logic. If we've trusted in Jesus Christ, then His cross is ours–in more ways than one. It's the way of salvation, but it also becomes for us a way of life. “Take up your cross and follow Me,” He says. All the losses and crosses of life and the physical maladies and the afflictions of body; they’re ours.

“Ours the grave.” He dies for us and we follow after Him in death. “Ours the cross, the grave,” but also “the skies.” If His cross is for us and if we follow in that way; if His grave is for us and we follow in that way; so also, His going to the skies is for us and we follow Him there. “Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” We’re transformed; that's the Christian hope. In our bodies we see God; that's the Christian hope. We see one another in all the transforming power of God's grace.

And there's something interesting. Though our bodies are transformed in Him, we're told in the Book of Revelation that His body still bears the mark of His death. Remember what Rutherford wrote in his hymn, The Sands of Time are Sinking, “I will not gaze at glory, but on my King of grace, not at the crown He gifteth, but on His pierced hand.” Think of it. In glory your bodies, the bodies of all your loved ones in Christ–perfect! The body of your Savior still bearing in it the marks of His death to remind you through all eternity of the purchase price of your glorified body and the depths of His love. Hope, believe in the resurrection of the body, friend in Christ. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, if we are in Christ today trusting on Him as He is offered in the gospel, grant to us a stronger hope and sure than we have ever had before in the future resurrection of our bodies. And if we're not in Christ, if we haven't trusted in Him; if we are where the song writer is hoping only in this life, turn our eyes away from ourselves and to the only hope, the first born of the resurrection, Jesus Christ. Grant that we would trust in Him and then in Him find a new and living hope. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.
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A Guide to the Morning Service

The Worship of God
For thousands of people, and for many pastors, the event of "worship" on Sunday mornings is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We "worship" to raise money; we "worship" to attract crowds; we "worship" to heal human hurts; to recruit workers; to improve church morale; to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; to teach our children the way of righteousness; to help marriages stay together; to evangelize the lost; to motivate people for service projects; to give our churches a family feeling. In all of this we bear witness that we do not know what true worship is. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. I cannot say to my wife: "I feel a strong delight in you so that you will make me a nice meal." That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. . . . I do not deny that authentic corporate worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will, just like true affection in marriage, make everything better. My point is that to the degree that we do "worship" for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be authentic worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy. (John Piper)

The Sacrament of Baptism
Baptism is a covenant sign. That is, it points to and confirms a gracious promise of God to his people. It is to be administered to believers and their children, as can be seen from Genesis 17, Matthew 28, Colossians 2, 1 Corinthians 7 and Acts 16. Our Larger Catechism tells us that “Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, wherein Christ hath ordained the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, to be a sign and seal of ingrafting into himself, of remission of sins by his blood, and regeneration by his Spirit; of adoption, and resurrection unto everlasting life; and whereby the parties baptized are solemnly admitted into the visible church, and enter into an open and professed engagement to be wholly and only the Lord's.”

Furthermore, it is incumbent upon those who have already received this Gospel ordinance to meditate on it's blessings frequently and especially every time we see it administered. The Larger Catechism says: “The needful but much neglected duty of improving our Baptism, is to be performed by us all our life long, especially in the time of temptation, and when we are present at the administration of it to others; by serious and thankful consideration of the nature of it, and of the ends for which Christ instituted it, the privileges and benefits conferred and sealed thereby, and our solemn vow made therein; by being humbled for our sinful defilement, our falling short of, and walking contrary to, the grace of baptism, and our engagements; by growing up to assurance of pardon of sin, and of all other blessings sealed to us in that sacrament; by drawing strength from the death and resurrection of Christ, into whom we are baptized, for the mortifying of sin, and quickening of grace; and by endeavoring to live by faith, to have our conversation in holiness and righteousness, as those that have therein given up their names to Christ; and to walk in brotherly love, as being baptized by the same Spirit into one body.”

The Hymns
When Morning Gilds the Skies

This hymn is one of our congregation's favorites. Written by an unknown German author around 1800, it was translated by Edward Caswall in 1853. The text calls on us to praise Jesus Christ in every circumstance by repeating the exhortation “May Jesus Christ be praised” in a variety of typical situations in Christian experience. The tune is rousing and helps build the sense of energy that corresponds to the widening of the scope of the lyric's call for praise.

The Sands of Time Are Sinking
What will believers see in the day of the resurrection of the body? The Lamb in all his glory. Rutherford's moving words, versified by Anne Cousin, are a moving reflection on the person of the Savior.

Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
This joyful and exuberant song is one of the most popular resurrection hymns in the English language. The music comes from the Lyra Davidica (London, 1708).

This guide to worship is written by the minister and provided to the congregation and our visitors in order (1) to assist them in their worship by explaining why we do what we do in worship and (2) to provide them background on the various elements of the service.

© First Presbyterian Church.

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