Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Resurrected Body and its Implications

Sermon on 1 Corinthians 15:35-58

Reading from 1 Corinthians 15:35-44

The evidence of creation
This sermon is the last of the trilogy of sermons on the topic of resurrection in 1st Corinthians. The first speaks about its truthfulness. The second speaks about its importance. Today we speak about its possibility. Is the resurrection possible? And if it is real, important and possible, what are the implications then for us? That is what we want to talk about today. During his first year of graduate study at the University of California at Berkeley, George B. Dantzig (later known as the father of linear programming) arrived late for a statistics class. He saw two problems on the blackboard. Assuming they were homework, he copied them and a few days later turned in his solutions. One Sunday morning six weeks afterward, the professor appeared at Dantzig’s door, waving a manuscript. It turned out that the professor had merely written two examples of unsolvable problems on the blackboard. The manuscript was Dantzig’s work readied for publication.[1]

This is a famous true story, that was later repeated in the movie Good Will Hunting. “According to Dantzig, the problems "seemed to be a little harder than usual", but a few days later he handed in completed solutions for two, still believing that they were an assignment that was overdue.” Dantzig completed them because he didn’t know that they were supposed to be “impossible” to solve. I think it is the same with the matter of the resurrection. It is natural to be curious about the nature of the life after death. I myself have often wondered what will we all look like. Will we have wings at our back and a halo over our head? Will we be able to recognize one another?

Those who are more skeptical might wonder how is it possible for a physical body to live forever. This criticism is especially true if you believe in the Greek dualism that only the spirit is good and eternal and all that is material is bad and temporal. Many of the Corinthians start to question the validity of such a thing as an eternal body. And since it is not conceivable, it is not possible. The resurrection is impossible because they cannot imagine such a body in existence. This is an impossibility. Everybody knows that. If you are resurrected, you need a body, and since a body that is both material and eternal and good cannot exist, resurrection is impossible. Everybody knows that.

Guess what? Paul didn’t get the memo. He wasn’t told that this was unsolvable. And just like George Dantzig, Paul solved the supposed “impossible” problem. And the solution is remarkably simple. God. The creator God is the solution. That is why Paul called these skeptics ‘fools’. When the bible says somebody is foolish, it is not a sign of his intelligence, but a sign that the person has not included God into his reality. These skeptics are fools because they have not included God into their considerations. And when Paul puts the creator God into the equation, the “impossible” problem is solved. Take note here that using the creator God as an answer is not a cop-out. The omnipotence of God is defined by his revelation and it is not based on a philosophical construction. God’s omnipotence is not a theoretical “can do anything”. God cannot create a circular square; God cannot create a rock so big he cannot lift it. Can cannot break his own promise. God cannot sin. What Paul says about God must be consistent with the self revelation of God. So, can we see the resurrection as a possibility based on God’s revelation in his creation? Yes, we can.

Firstly, Paul uses an analogy from plants. What happens when you plant a seed? That’s right, out grows a giant seed. (kidding) No! You get something else. The seed must die for the same life to appear in a new form. In the same way, you plant a dead person in the ground to get a new person. (kidding) No! That is not what Paul meant. But you can see from the plant analogy the principle of transformation, of a new body in continuity with the old yet somehow different. The seed does not end up a seed, just as a resurrected body is not a resuscitated body, it is not a zombie. It is very much in God’s style in his creation to make transformation in a resurrected body. The point is, “God gives it a body as he has determined”, and it could be totally different from the previous form it took, as different as an acorn from a tree.

Secondly, Paul uses an analogy from all the different forms in God’s creation. Man, animals, fishes, birds all have different kinds of body. And they are again very different from the bodies of the sun, the moon, the stars. And if you know your astronomy, stars and stars can be very different in composition based on color and luminosity. The point about this analogy is God’s versatility. Do not assume that God can only create one type of body. In the observable creation, God has proven he can create all kinds of body.

So what is this resurrected body like? It is a spiritual body. This does not mean that it is not physical, like a ghost. No. What it means is that it is animated by a totally different kind of life. It is a little like how some engines run on fuel, and some are solar powered. The outer form has to be different but the crucial difference is the source of energy. Similarly, our present body is natural as it is animated by the human soul which keeps us alive. But the resurrected body is spiritual in the sense that it is animated by the Spirit of God. Therefore, this body is transformed from perishable to imperishable; from dishonor to glory; and from weakness to power. The difference is like horse-power to nuclear power. And based on God’s style of transformation, and his versatility, is such a body possible? Surely so. But more importantly, if God can create such a body, then resurrection is not impossible. This will be the body of those who are resurrected. It is imperishable, glorious and powerful. This is a body that cannot sin. Is there one that we can use as evidence that such a body is possible? Yes, that is the body of the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Reading from 1 Corinthians 15:45-50
The evidence of Christ
Do you remember the four-minute mile? They’d been trying to do it since the days of the ancient Greeks. Someone found the old records of how the Greeks tried to accomplish this. They had wild animals chase the runners, hoping that would make them run faster. They tried tiger’s milk: not the stuff you get down at the supermarket, I’m talking about the real thing. Nothing worked, so they decided it was physically impossible for a human being to run a mile in four minutes. Our bone structure was all wrong, the wind resistance was too great, our lung power was inadequate. There were a million reasons. Then one day one human being proved that the doctors, the trainers, and the athletes themselves were all wrong. And, miracle of miracles, Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954.[2] In the last 50 years the mile record has been lowered by almost 17 seconds. The four-minute mile is now the standard of all professional middle distance runner.

It took only one man to prove what was seemingly impossible possible. In breaking the four minute mile, Roger Bannister proved to the world that it was not impossible. From him onwards, many had broken the four minute mile because they now know it is possible. One man can make the difference. So it is the same and to a much greater extent with the resurrection. We all have the likeness of the first Adam, perishable in death, shameful in guilt and weak in sin. But Jesus in his resurrection has shown that there is more to humanity then just the first Adam. Jesus is the last Adam ushering in a new humanity.

There is a new model waiting in store, just waiting for the right time to be given. The prototype though, the resurrection body of Jesus, has already been launched. I often say this in funerals, but there will come a time where we will give up the perishable early body, and receive in grace through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit this body of the man from heaven. With this body, we inherit the kingdom of God.

Reading from 1 Corinthians 15:51-58
The implications
Due to my pastoral work in a church with many elderly members, I have seen my fair share of people facing death, especially during my frequent hospital visits. In the face of impending death, there are the fearless and there are those that are afraid. I have always admired those with the courage to face death, but actually there are two types who are fearless. The first type is fearless because they are ignorant, they are not really fearless, but rather foolhardy. They do not really understand what is death. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” The law represents God’s will for mankind, and by all measurements we have fallen short of the glory that God has intended for us. Sin is the dark power that has seduced us all into rebellion against God’s will. And because death has sin and the law as its powerful allies, it is truly deadly, it is lethal and victorious. If you really understand what is death, you are foolhardy to be fearless. It is like a praying mantis blocking a car, not knowing what is ahead. But there is the second type who is fearless precisely because they know why they can be bold. There is a reason for their courage. This is true courage because they know they already have the victory through Jesus Christ. Such people is like a general knows himself, and the enemy and the terrain, and before they set out for war, victory is already calculated and assured. How do they know victory against death is assured? Because Jesus’ death and resurrection has washed away the sin and completed the law. Without sin and the law, death has no sting, no victory against us. We will be transformed upon death, and we will receive a body suitable for the eternal life. But this true courage of the fearless is needed, not only for the future, but also for our present life. Why?

When you fear that the worst will happen, your own thoughts may help to bring it about. “Fear,” a writer once said, “Is the wrong use of imagination. It is anticipating the worst, not the best that can happen.”

A salesman, driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night had a flat. He opened the trunk—no lug wrench. The light from a farmhouse could be seen dimly up the road. He set out on foot through the driving rain. Surely the farmer would have a lug wrench he could borrow, he thought. Of course, it was late at night—the farmer would be asleep in his warm, dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. The salesman, picking his way blindly in the dark, stumbled on. By now his shoes and clothing were soaked. Even if the farmer did answer his knock, he would probably shout something like, “What’s the big idea waking me up at this hour!” This thought make the salesman angry. What right did that farmer have to refuse him the loan of a lug wrench? After all, here he was stranded in the middle of nowhere, soaked to the skin. The farmer was a selfish clod—no doubt about that! The salesman finally reached the house, and banged loudly on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. “Who is it?” a voice called out. “You know darn well who it is,” yelled the salesman, his face white with anger. “It’s me! You can keep your blasted lug wrench. I wouldn’t borrow it now if you had the last one on earth!” [3]

How you see the future will have direct implications on how you live your life now. If you see a bleak dreaded future of death, you live in fear. If you see a glorious future, you live accordingly as well. To believe in the resurrected life is to live out the resurrection here and now. If death has no victory against us, we then live our life anticipating death. When death comes, that is our time for glory. Knowing this gives us great courage. We need this courage for our present lives. Turn to your neighbors now and say to one another “Live without fear!” We all have our limitations in our earthly bodies. I have my youth and inexperience, Boon Young had his stroke, and everyone in the pastoral team has their flaws. But that has never stopped us from putting ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. Why? Because the victory is given through Jesus Christ, not achieved by us. Our call is to be faithful and not because we are perfect to begin with. To be faithful is to stand firm. We stand firm in our belief in the resurrection ahead and commit ourselves to God’s work. You may feel tired. You may fail. Like many of the apostles, you may even die trying. But it is promised and secured in Jesus’ resurrection, your labor in the Lord, it will never be in vain.

[1] Reader’s Digest, Sept. 1990; refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Dantzig#Truth_in_urban_legends for further details.
[2] Harvey Mackay, U.S. Entrepreneur and author in Speechwriter’s Newsletter, quoted in Bits & Pieces, July 20, 1995, pp. 20-22.
[3] Bits and Pieces, May, 1991, p. 23

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