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TEXT: I Corinthians 15:35-49
SUBJECT: Straight Answers to Crooked Questions
There's no such thing as a stupid question. If you don't understand what the teacher means by 'common denominator', ask him. If you don't know what the coach means by 'line of scrimmage', ask him. If you don't know what the pastor means by 'sanctification', ask him.
Bad teachers resent elementary questions because they interrupt their work. Good teaches appreciate them because they view them as their work. There is no such thing as a stupid question.
But, if there's no such thing as a stupid question, there is such a thing as a crooked question, a question designed, not to clarify the truth but to obscure it. This is what we have in I Corinthians 15:35, two crooked questions.
If honest men had asked them, Paul would have given them a patient and generous answer. He doesn't do that, however, because he knows they're not. Both the questions and the men who ask them are crooked.
Paul knows they are and he gives them the answer they deserve. He calls them fools, not because they lack knowledge, but because they're refusing to live up to the knowledge they have. From the first day he arrived in Corinth he preached the Resurrection and for months he explained it in detail, fielded questions, replied to objections, and showed how it is fits into the Bible's story line. But for all this, some people in Corinth are still denying the Resurrection of the Body.
Why are they doing this? The real reason is a very bad one, one they're none too keen on admitting. It was peer pressure. Most of their neighbors were pagans who believed the material world was bad, the spiritual world was good, and that 'salvation' consists of getting out of the former and into the latter. Here's a easy way to remember their theology: Dirt is bad, clouds are good!
This is what passed for 'wisdom' in Corinth, and the disciples of Christ didn't want to sound like fools. To avoid looking like fools, they became fools! This is what the Apostle calls them in v.35, and he was dead on.
No book in the Bible says more about fools than Proverbs. Of the many things it says about them, there's one that really stands out. Fools make excuses! If a fool lies in bed all day, it's not because he's lazy, but because, there's--
A lion in the street, a lion in the open square!
This is what the Corinthians are doing. They're not saying, 'We deny the resurrection because we don't want our neighbors to laugh at us'. They denied the Resurrection for so-called 'intellectual reasons'. For all Paul had taught them, he hadn't proved two things to their satisfaction, (1) whether God could raise the dead and, in the unlikely event that He could, (2) in what kind of body would He raise them. These are the questions of v.35, and until they're answered, the Corinthians are going to hold onto the Resurrection with a loose grip.
If I were Paul, I would have spat, cussed, and stopped wasting my time on them. Thankfully, Paul is a better man than I am.
He takes the questions in turn; the first one gets the short answer; the second gets the long one.
The first question is--
How are the dead raised up?
In other words, how can we expect God to put all the pieces of a dead body back together? Imagine how long some people have been dead--hundreds and thousands of years they had been buried; eaten by worms, their ashes were washed away by rain or blown away by the wind, dug up by animals, scattered and lost forever. The Resurrection of the body would take a power and wisdom beyond incredible.
To prove it's doable, Paul might have started at the top and worked down. If it takes an incredible power and wisdom to raise the dead, God has plenty of both. He might also have festooned his argument with citations from the Bible, Psalm 135:6, for example--
Whatever the Lord pleases He does,
in heaven and in earth,
in the seas, and in all deep places.
Or, he could have started from the bottom and worked his way up. Scientists say that matter is indestructible. It can change forms, but it cannot be lost. A log, for example, can be burned, but it cannot be burned out of existence. The atoms that make it up go somewhere and reform as smoke or ashes. Paul lived long before the rise of Modern Science, of course, but Democritus posited a theory very much like this four hundred years before Paul was born.
To my way of thinking, this would have been a brilliant tactic. Use Greek wisdom to show the people who supposedly love Greek wisdom what ignoramuses they are. Paul knows better. The last thing the Corinthians need is more human wisdom, even when it serves the truth of God.
To avoid this, Paul shuns the soaring rhetoric of the philosophers and appeals to the common sense of the farmer, vv.36-38--
What you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow you do not sow the body that shall be, but mere grain, perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
If you say, 'Dead bodies cannot come back to life', how do you explain farming? Everything that grows on a farm comes from a seed. But the seed doesn't grow into a crop until it first dies, that is to say, until it is buried in the ground and decomposes. Then, somehow or other, the little seed grows into a vine and the vine produces a six-hundred pound pumpkin! God has done this every year in farms all over the world, not to mention uncultivated fields and forests, even creek beds.
If God brings this much life out of buried seeds, why can't He do the same thing for buried bodies? Why can't He raise them to a richer life than they'd ever known before?
If our Future Life strains all belief, so does our present life, or any life at all, even the life of pumpkins has God's fingerprints all over it.
The God who is Himself alive, and who creates human life and animal life, and vegetable life, and insect life, has no problem also creating Resurrection Life. That's Paul's straight answer to the Corinthians' crooked question.
His second answer is a longer and more involved. The question is, With what body do they come? Assuming God raises my body back to life in the Resurrection, what version of my body will it be? Will it be the young one or the old one? The skinny one or the fat one? The healthy one or the sick one? And, if the young skinny version of me springs back to life in the Resurrection, how long will it be until it too becomes old and fat?
Paul starts the answer in v.38, where he's still on seeds and fruit--
But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
Why does a pumpkin seed produce a pumpkin and not a lima bean? And, why is a pumpkin an orange melon and not a red tomato?
The short answer is: Because God has connected the seed to the pumpkin and made the pumpkin the orange melon it is. This takes us back to the Creation Story of Genesis 1. On the Third Day, God commanded--
'Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth' and it was so.
Things are what they are because the Lord made them that way. Fruits are not fish; birds are not rocks; trees are not men. The Lord made them all, but He didn't make them all the same. He wanted Adam to know this from the beginning; that's why He commanded him to name the animals, so that he would see that lions are not lambs and catfish are not crows.
This is what Paul says in v.39, where he distinguishes men from animals and animals from each other. He does the same in v.40 with other kinds of bodies, bodies on earth and bodies in the sky or space.
What he means by terrestrial bodies, I can't say, but he says they pale in comparison to celestial bodies, sun, moon, and stars. Poets often compare a woman's face to the sun or moon or stars, but you notice, they never turn it around; nature poems never compare the heavenly bodies to a woman's face! Because as bright as her face is, the sun, moon and stars are brighter.
From this plain fact, Paul drives home his point, v.42--
So also is the resurrection of the dead.
Just as the sun outshines anything on earth, so the Resurrection body outshines the best body you've ever seen in the world. The youngest, healthiest, most vigorous man looks like a zombie compared to the Resurrected Man! Not even Adam in his unfallen magnificence and immortality matches the man who rises from the dead.
What kind of body will we have in the Resurrection? Not at all like the bodies we have now! The best human body is mortal, and that means dying. One day, it will die, and, like the seed Paul's been thinking about, it will be--
Sown in corruption, in dishonor, in weakness, in nature...
It is dirt returning to the dirt. That's what will become of your body and mine--even if we live a really long time and take super-good care of ourselves! But if the body goes to pieces in this life, in the life to come, it will come back together--
Raised in incorruption, in glory, in power.
It will be a spiritual body, not 'spiritual' in the sense of non-material, but in the sense of a body under the complete control of the human spirit, in the complete control of the Holy Spirit.
THE NEW IMAGE
At the present time, we bear the image of Adam, the man made in the likeness of God, but fallen away and now subject to aging and disease and death and decay.
But when Jesus comes again, we will bear the True Image of God, which means, we will be wholly conformed to Christ, not only His moral image, but also sharing His power and glory and immortality.
As presently constituted, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, and that's okay. Because when the Lord returns, our flesh and blood will be re-constituted, fitted for eternal life and now able to see God face to face.
If you study the history of the Creeds, you'll see every one of them was written to answer heretics. The false teachers were evil and dangerous men, but God used them to clarify the Church's thinking and to produce the finest works of theology outside of the Bible.
What's true of the Creeds goes double for the Bible itself. Paul did not sit down calmly to write a beautiful chapter on the Resurrection of the Body. He was forced to write it because the fools in Corinth were selling it for a bowl of Pagan respect.!
But what would we do without this chapter? How could we bury the dead in Christ without also knowing that one day, the broken bodies we so loved and have now lost, will be raised to a splendor the angels adore?
And, what would we do ourselves, as we feel the pangs of time and wear and disease eating away at our bodies? Live in the past? Despair of the future? Try to re-live our lives through our children? No way! We accept aging and sickness as part of this present life, but this present life is only for the present and the present is rushing to the future. Which for us doesn't mean death; it means Life!
Finally, what contentment the Resurrection provides when our lives aren't what we hoped they would be. I don't know about you, but I'm disappointed with myself. I'm not the man I thought I would be; my dreams have always been rather modest and I have not lived up to them. If I only lived once, I'd die in despair. But who says you only live once? The Resurrection says you only live twice! Once in weakness and dishonor and corruption. And then, in power and glory and immortality.
The promise belongs to all of God's People, including the ones like me whose faith is weak and works are few. Our hope in the Resurrection does not lie in ourselves, but in Christ. Not in what we done for Him, but in what He's done for us!
Brothers and sisters, we're not on our way to the grave; we're on our way to glory!
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