Our Sure Hope

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on September 24, 2017

1 Corinthians 15:42-49

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As you’re being seated, if you would take a copy of God’s Word and open to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. You’ll find this on page 962 if you’re using a pew Bible. We’ve been studying this in the morning sermon series but we’re going to skip ahead tonight as we finish our series on union with Christ to 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and we’ll be looking at verses 42 to 49. Before we hear God’s Word, let’s pray together.

 

Father, Jesus is our life-giving Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And so Lord we ask that You would open our eyes by the power of that self-same Spirit in our hearts tonight. May we know the power of the resurrection in union with Christ. Only You can do that. And so we pray that You would. And we ask it all in Jesus’ name, amen.

 

1 Corinthians 15, beginning at verse 42. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word:

 

“So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is 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. Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”

 

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the living God shall stand forever and ever. Amen.

 

Os Guinness, wonderful Christian author, told a story I heard once about a Japanese haiku poet. And I have to admit that’s the first time I’ve probably ever read one of those things! But this guy’s name was Issa; I can’t pronounce his first name. But this poet had a tragic life. His mother died when he was young and he lived in the 17th century or so. He got married and had a child that immediately died and then another daughter who died when she was very young as well. So his life was one of basically tragedy from beginning to end. And distressed by all that tragedy he went to visit a Zen Buddhist master. He himself was a practicing Buddhist. And as he talked to this Zen master, the master concluded with these words. “The world is an illusion. Like the morning dew, our lives will evaporate with the rising sun." That's pretty standard Buddhist theology. The world is an illusion. Issa then wrote his most famous haiku after visiting with the Zen Buddhist master. A haiku is a very short poem. Here's what he wrote. "The world is dew. The world is dew. And yet, and yet." From the moment that all of us here first understand just what death is, we all know instinctively that death requires an “and yet.” We spend our lives searching for that “and yet.” In other words, we long for something more beyond this life. And here in 1 Corinthians 15 tonight, Paul gives us hope for the “and yet” that we all face when our lives are over.

 

As I’ve said, we’re finishing this series on union with Christ, and Sinclair Ferguson put it so well when he defined union with Christ this way. He said, “To be in Christ means that all that He has done for me representatively becomes mine actually.” And so those were the two words around which we centered our study on union with Christ – representation and participation. All that is true of Christ is true for us in union with Him. And as we come to 1 Corinthians 15 tonight, the section that we’re studying is governed by verse 35. Someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” Paul’s answering those questions. And we find him in the middle of his argument here. And he says some of the most astonishing words maybe in the entire Bible, but certainly in all of the New Testament. And so what we’re going to see from this text is that Paul contrasts our union with Adam with our union with Christ to give us the hope of resurrection glory. Paul contrasts our union with Adam with our union with Christ to give us the hope of resurrection glory. And we’ll look at this text under two heads. In the first place, Christ and our present bodies; and that’s verses 42 to the first part of 44. Forty-two to the first part of 44 – Christ and our present bodies. And then in the second part of verse 44 to the end of the passage, verse 49 – Christ and Adam. Christ and our present bodies. Christ and Adam.

 

Christ and our Present Bodies

As we launch out here, let me warn you. This is where Paul goes deep on us. This is some of the deepest theology the apostle ever wrote, and so we’re going to have to take our time as we work through this. Then at the end, I hope to land the plane and show you what difference this makes when the alarm clock rings tomorrow morning. But Paul begins there in verse 42 with a series of four contrasts. Let’s read that again. “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body." And so he's concluding the argument that he began back in verse 35 answering these questions. He says there are different kinds of flesh; that occupies his argument from 36 up to the present verse. So as there are different kinds of bodies in this life, the resurrection body will be different.

 

Our Present Body

And then he comes to these contrasts to clarify what he's been saying. And so here they are. There are four contrasts. Let's look at the first three. He says the first three are these – perishability, sown in dishonor, and weakness. And then he talks about the natural body. We're going to save that fourth one for just as an aside here in a moment. But what he's saying is, that our present bodies are like this in the fallen world that we live in. And let's note off the bat here, that the Bible, without exception, considers death an enemy. And we sanitize that, don't we? We change the terminology. We don't say someone has "died." We say they've "passed away" or they've "gone on." Friends, we don't come to funerals, in one sense, to be happy. We don't come to funerals to celebrate the circle of life. There is no circle of life! There's death as the last enemy as Paul told us back in verse 26. In another sense, we do come to a funeral to celebrate; we're going to celebrate the very truths Paul talks about tonight. But death, without exception in the Scriptures, is considered an enemy to be defeated, not a normal course of life. Death is an intruder. Death is an invader. Decay was never meant to happen. You were never meant to have wrinkles. You were never meant to go to a funeral. Black suits should never have been made. That's God's point. "Sown in dishonor," Paul says. Perishability; weakness. And all of us get that, don't we? We all know we're perishing. There would be no need for the ever-present promise of anti-aging creams and plastic surgery if we did not know we were all perishing and dying. We all get this.

 

Our Resurrection Body

And then Paul contrasts it with the resurrection body – imperishable; raised in glory; raised in power. And his simple point is this in these contrasts. Your best days here are nothing compared to the best days forever with a resurrected body. No more pain, no more suffering, no more aching joints, no more headaches, no more crying, no more tears, no more death, no more funerals. All of that gone away. Power. Imperishability. Everlasting life in a body fit for everlasting life.

 

The Spiritual and the Natural Body

Then there’s this last contrast – the spiritual body and the natural body. And to understand Paul’s line of argument here, it’s vital to understand what he means by these terms. And he contrasts this natural with spiritual body. As we’ve talked about before, when you see that word “spiritual” in Paul’s writings, without exception – there’s maybe one exception and it’s not this – you should capitalize that “S” because he’s not talking about an immaterial body here; that’s not what he’s contrasting. That we have this kind of physical body, then there’s this immaterial, spiritual body that somehow we’re going to become like those little things that are put up in front of cell phone stores that are waving around in the breeze! That’s not what Paul’s talking about. When he talks about a Spiritual body, he means a body that is animated, indwelt, controlled by the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. So Paul is contrasting the body of this age, our bodies fallen in Adam, subject to death with the bodies of believers, animated by the Spirit which reach their fullness at the resurrection.

 

And so what Paul is saying to us here is very simple. What is ours representatively in union with Christ becomes ours actually in union with Christ at the resurrection. He was raised in our place. One day we will be raised with Him. But the resurrection life He promises begins now. So before we move to our second point, think about it this way. If you want to understand union with Christ, particularly the resurrection, think about it this way. Your life pattern and my life pattern in union with Christ will match the life pattern of the Savior – suffering unto glory and resurrection. Our life pattern will match the Savior’s life pattern in union with Him. That’s Paul’s point.

 

Christ and Adam

Then in the second place, as we look at Christ and Adam, he begins in verse 44, the second half there, to draw a completely different contrast. Up to this point, he’s been talking about our bodies after the Fall. For the rest of our section, he compares Christ with Adam before the Fall. Huge distinction. So right up until this point to verse 44, he’s been talking about the contrast between our bodies now, marked by sin, looking forward to resurrection. Now he goes back in time and contrasts Christ and Adam. Look there at verse 44. “If there is a natural body, there is also a Spiritual body” – remember to capitalize that “S” – “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the Spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the Spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.” Paul is contrasting two orders and what each order brings about in its wake. There’s Adam and then there is Christ. And that’s why Paul switches from that language of being sown and says, “If there is a natural body” – he’s going back. And then he sites from Genesis chapter 1. “The first Adam became a living being.”

 

And what he means by that is very simple, though his language is kind of complex. He means that from the time point of creation in Genesis 1, Adam’s life always held the promise of something greater. Adam had a goal to go after in the covenant of works. That’s what the tree of life promised. He was created to always be pressing onwards until he met that ultimate goal. But we know the tragic story. He failed. And so Paul begins this contrast of these two orders – Adam and Christ.

 

Historical Figure

A couple of things to note as an aside. First, notice that for Paul, Adam was a historical individual. In other words, Adam was not a mythical being. He is not referencing pre-human hominoids here. For Paul and for Jesus, if Adam was not a real person like you and me, then the Gospel falls apart. If Adam isn't real, there's no need for resurrection, there's no need for Jesus. Sin is not real, you don't have a real problem, and death is just something we all need to get over. So for Paul, Adam was a real person who lived in space-time history with a body like ours.

 

Descendants of Adam

And then in the second place, Paul is also telling us that all of us descend from Adam so that the reason why we die, the reason why there’s decay, is because at the beginning Adam represented the whole human race. We didn’t elect him; it’s not a democracy. God chose him to represent all of us.

 

Life in Second Adam

And then he says this. “The first Adam became a living being. The last Adam, Christ, became a life-giving Spirit.” As one of my professors said at Westminster, “There is a world of theses in this little statement.” What is meant is, you could write a thousand dissertations just on this sentence. We’re not going to do that tonight; don’t worry! What does he mean? “The last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.” Here’s where Paul is giving us one of the centers of his doctrine of the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit works in our lives today. He is saying that Christ, by His obedience, obeyed to the point of death, as Paul will tell us in Philippians, and was at His ascension so filled with the Holy Spirit and the power of the Spirit that He poured out the Spirit at Pentecost. And therefore, for all who trust in Him, the Spirit and Christ are so woven together as it were, in their work of redemption, that the Spirit who indwells us, as Paul tells us in Romans 8, is the Spirit of Christ. So that Christ indwells us and the Holy Spirit indwells us and we say, “Which one is it, Paul?” And he says, “Yes!” And He became this – this happens in the Savior’s life, as it were, when He’s raised from the dead so that He can pour out the Spirit with ongoing effects for us today. In other words, to be in union with Christ is to have the same power that worked in Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit, animating our lives, creating new life in us, day by day. We’re going to talk about how to get that, as it were, at the end.

 

Tale of Two Adams

But then Paul contrasts "man of heaven; man of earth." "As we bore the image of the man of dust…man of heaven." This contrast comes back to two modes of existence for Paul. In other words, put most simply, I hope, for Paul, human history is a tale of two Adams. And all of us in here tonight are born in union with Adam. We're born within us with the promise of something so much greater. We're born pre-programmed, as it were, to have a greater existence, a greater life. We know that sin has marred that. So we're either in Adam, united to him by virtue of our birth; all people everywhere at all times. Or we are also in Christ, by faith and by faith alone. Two Adams. Two modes of existence. The tale of world history for Paul. Two orders brought about. One, an order that comes from death, decay, and dying and sickness after Adam falls and one of life and life-giving spirit in Christ.

 

And Paul ends this section here with the contrast that is, we have borne the image of the first Adam; in Christ, we’ll bear the image of the man from heaven. It’s the unshakable assurance, the sure hope that death never has the last word. You know for us, this is poignant right now. We’re going to be saying “Goodbye” soon. And some of you, we will not see again until the resurrection, until heaven, and then finally the resurrection. And as I was thinking about that this week and the great sadness that has really just enveloped our house, for Callie and I about thinking about saying goodbye to you who we love so much, it reminded me that the doctrine of the resurrection in union with Christ here, what Paul is saying, the certainty we have of bearing the image of the man from heaven, of bearing the image of Christ and all His resurrection glory, is that the resurrection of Jesus is the death of death and the death of goodbyes. In other words, goodbyes here are always and only temporary. That’s Paul’s point for us. That’s why sadness can end.

 

So What?

Well, we have descended with Paul into some very deep truths. Let get our head back above water. What does this do for us tomorrow? The first thing to note is this. Paul never speaks of the resurrection in the abstract. It's always in Christ. And as we think about resurrection here, I want you to think about all that Paul has said and how Jesus fulfills it perfectly. He was the one who was eternal and imperishable and full of power. And yet, think of the Gospel this way. The imperishable becomes perishable so that we might become imperishable. He who was ultimate in power and glory became weak and despised and took on the image of the man of dust so that all of us who are dusty by nature might be raised in glory. He who was powerful beyond all imagination became weak so that we might become strong. Christ is the center of union with Christ. That might sound maybe a little bit tautological. Maybe I'm just circular argument there. But what I'm saying is, Paul, is telling us here, "You cannot escape Christ in all His glory when you think about union with Christ." And the center of that glory for Paul is his resurrection existence. So we have to start there.

 

Resurrection Life Begins Now

But then he says if we want to enjoy resurrection life in union with Christ it is not something that is totally future. You are resurrected now. That’s why in Ephesians 1:21 Paul says, “You are seated with Christ in the heavenly places.” So resurrection life begins today, right now. The moment you became a Christian, you have been resurrected in your inner man or woman. And the resurrection of the body to come is really just the finishing of what began when you became a Christian. So how do we enjoy that now? The first thing we have to do is get a right theology of our bodies. We live in a time that is obsessed with our bodies. And what Paul gives you here in this passage is a theology of the human body that tells us it has dignity and worth by virtue of how it was created. This is the end of racism, by the way. According to Paul, there’s the human race that has different colors. There’s not a black race or a white race. There’s the human race in union with Adam. In fact, the name William Wilberforce might be familiar to you. He was the guy who almost singlehandedly brought down the British slave trade in the 19th century. Do you know what his argument was on the floor of Parliament for many years? He kept coming back to this. He kept saying, “All people are equal because we’re all descended from Adam.” He was a fervent Christian. He said if we’re all descended from Adam, then we all have dignity and worth by virtue of simply being made in the image of God. Nothing else can give you that. Not Black Lives Matter. Not any kind of other movement will tell you a theology of the body like this. Only the Bible. That’s why only the Scriptures and only Christianity can bring about reconciliation because we alone have the theology for it.

 

Idolatry of Body

But we also have to understand that the Bible calls us to care for our bodies but not to worship them. And I think that’s where we have so many struggles today. We care for this body, but it’s the body of dust returning to dust. And one day it will be raised in imperishable glory, but right now it’s fading away. And where this affects us most, I think, tragically, is in how we portray women as a society. Today we’re telling – as a father of girls who grew up in nothing but a household of boys. I’ve got nothing but brothers. It’s a new deal for me to learn how to raise girls. I am blessed with a wife who helps me so much to understand that. But some of you are so kind to compliment the bows and the dresses that they have. That has nothing to do with me! Okay? I have no idea about any of that!

 

But one thing I am learning about raising little girls is that from a very early age they are taught by the world around them that they have value only if they look a certain way. Magazine covers shout to them at a grocery store. Friends talk about calories. All of this is happening and telling every woman here tonight you only have value if you look a certain way. And Paul’s theology here is an absolute protest against that kind of thinking. He says, “No, care for your body. Be a good steward of it. But God made us different and He made us to look different.” And he says if you’re trying to conform solely to a body-image way of living, maybe we’re crossing the line of caring for our bodies to worshiping them. And our identity is not in what we look like in a bathing suit. Our identity is that we will bear the image of the man from heaven. Our identity is solely in Christ and our bodies are subservient to that identity. They’re slaves to that identity Paul will tell us elsewhere. Girls, women, when you look in that mirror, don’t see calories and bathing suits and magazine covers. See the image of the man from heaven that will be resurrected one day.

 

Resurrection Mindset

We also enjoy our resurrection life in union with Christ now by living with a resurrection mindset. What does that look like? It means that we begin to see our lives not as something we cling to desperately, but as something we give away selflessly. It frees us, because we don’t have to be so enslaved to our bodies and our body’s passions as we talked about when we studied Romans 6, that we can begin to give our lives away, to serve others, to be more selfless. That’s what Paul wants us to realize. And he wants us to realize that the same power, as I said, that worked in Christ is growing within us. You’ve been resurrected. New life is in you if you’re a Christian in union with Christ tonight. And what he wants us to do is appropriate that. Take it in. Realize that when you see the death and decay around you, when you see all that goes wrong, when you’re frustrated, when you’re angry, when you see all the sin in your life and you just want to give up, he says, “Take off the glasses of the first Adam and put on the resurrection glasses and look at life that way.” You see what death is, according to Paul, is that resurrection life that has begun to grow within you finally begins to bloom until it comes into full blossom when Jesus returns and raises our bodies. Your outer man, Paul says, is wasting away. But your inner resurrected being is growing more glorious day by day, even if you don’t feel it; even if you say, “You don’t understand how unglorious I am, how awful it is.” Paul says it’s still at work; it’s still growing. And one day will burst forth.

 

A resurrection mindset is, therefore, the only way to keep going. Here’s what we’re all searching for, right? When a loved one dies tragically, when we have to come into this sanctuary not to sing the praises of God so much as to lament the death, yet another death, of someone we love. The only way to keep going is to know that one day all those graves are going to be empty. One day, goodbye will never have to happen again. And one day, resurrection gets the last word. And that hope begins now.

 

Mundane Frustrations in Union with Christ

And finally, the last way to have a resurrection mindset is to realize, as one of my professors used to say, that the mundane frustrations and unspectacular difficulties of our daily lives are part of our suffering in union with Christ. That's what that New Testament words mean for suffering. It's not just the big ticket dying for Jesus. It does mean that, but it means so much more. It means, as I said, the unspectacular difficulties and mundane frustrations of daily life. Isn’t that a summary of what your Monday looks like? Unspectacular difficulties; mundane frustrations. Paul says the only way to wake up and put your feet on the floor on Monday morning and know it’s all going to be okay and keep going and keep pressing on and keep going to work and raising kids or being single or going to school or going to work and everything falls apart and you have to pick it up and start over, the only way to do that is to know the truth of what he’s saying here. That resurrection gets the last word. That’s what God’s up to in our lives. A work of resurrection. Bearing the image of the man from heaven.

 

My parents love to travel and when they went to Italy for the first time they took some pictures there and of all the great artwork. And one of the things that has always fascinated me is the chapel, the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling. The incredible work by Michelangelo. But there’s some interesting art history – again, something else I don’t know a whole lot about but read a little bit about this – that for many years up until it was restored in the late 1980s, artists had criticized Michelangelo’s use of color in the Sistine Chapel. Now again, we’re way beyond my prevue here! But they looked up at the colors and said, “Well, they’re so dull. He didn’t really know how to use the colors well,” until two artists in the 1980s looked up there and thought to themselves, “Well, there’s always been candles burning before there was electricity in the Sistine Chapel.” And the candles lit off so much smoke and soot that it has begun to gradually dull over the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

 

So they took and went to one of the small corners with permission from the government authorities and began to use a very delicate cleaning process and the results were remarkable. These colors became alive and vibrant again so that they were given permission and funded to entirely restore the Sistine Chapel which took twice as long as it did for Michelangelo to paint it. And at the end, when it was all restored, they looked up and here was the work of a master artist. Nuanced colors, vibrant colors, blending of different colors, spectacular to behold.

 

And as I read that, I thought about what Jesus is up to in your life and in mine tonight. We’re covered by sin. Aren’t we? Spotted, stained, soot all over us. We need to be restored. And what Jesus is up to in the resurrection, as we prepare to bear the image of the man from heaven, is the ultimate work of restoration. You are the masterpiece that has been stained and needs to be cleaned, and in Christ, will be cleaned. We are the masterpiece that one day God will point to, in the universe, after the resurrection and say, “This is where I dwell. This is the masterpiece I’ve been working on for years. And though My creatures did as much as they could to mar the masterpiece, I will never let My work ultimately be defaced. I will finish what I’ve started. I will make that work restored and beautiful.” And the best news is, the restoration God is doing begins right now, tonight.

 

Let’s pray.

 

Father, we are thankful for passages like this in Your Word which stretch us. And yet, Lord, we also need to walk out of here tonight with that sure hope You promise that we will bear the image of the man from heaven. And so I pray for everyone here that we would all know that sure hope of resurrection glory and that we would live in light of it tomorrow. We pray that You would do this for the glory of Jesus, the second and better Adam. Amen.

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