A Transformation Worth Getting Excited About - 1 Corinthians 15:35-49

Sermon Series: Confused?

A little while back Taco Bell introduced a new form of taco that they called the Doritos Locos Taco. The whole idea was to transform the original hard shell taco by altering the hard corn shell to taste like a Doritos chip. You all remember that don’t you? The question I’m curious about is how many of you got so excited about the Doritos Locos Taco that you couldn’t wait for it – you had to immediately drive to your local Taco Bell to get one? There probably aren’t many of us who got that excited about the new form of taco. But what almost seemed unbelievable at the time was a commercial Taco Bell released that showed a young man who was so excited about the Doritos Locos Taco that he drove 937 miles to the nearest Taco Bell that was serving them just to try one. That’s excitement! Who would spend the numerous hours involved driving and the ridiculous amount of money spent on gas to drive all that way for a 79 cent taco if he wasn’t super excited?

Have you ever gotten that excited about something? Not even a new something – but a transformed something? When Taco Bell released the Doritos Locos taco they had not re-invented the taco – they had just transformed the shell. And we have all heard of individuals standing in line waiting for a store to open so that they can get the most recent version of something, whether it was the latest version of the iPhone or iPad, a new version of Xbox, or (when I was young) the most recent Michael Jordan basketball shoes. So what has it been for you? What has taken on or been given a new form that you have gotten really excited about?

Some of you may have a hard time coming up with an answer to that question. But if you are a believer in Christ, I hope that by the time you are done reading this post that won’t be the case. You see, there is a new form of something coming for those who are believers in Christ that we should all get really excited about and this week we are going to examine the next portion of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth in which he continued to explain what that coming thing was.

Last week we discovered what the problem was concerning the church at Corinth and the future resurrection of believers. There were some among the church who were teaching that there was no future resurrection: “. . . how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (15:12). So last week we spent our time examining Paul’s response. Two weeks ago when we examined the first part of chapter 15 we saw that Paul had declared that many had been eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Last week we noted the emphasis Paul placed on the necessity of Jesus’ resurrection, as well as the certainty His resurrection provided for the future resurrection of those who have believed in Him as Savior and Lord. In the text that we are going to be examining this week it seems that Paul dug deeper into the issue of the future resurrection of believers. Having addressed the problem – that some among the church at Corinth were teaching that there was no future resurrection – Paul also went on to address their misunderstanding which seemes to have lead to this wrongly held belief.

In verse 35 Paul asked the (probably sarcastic) question which he was being challenged with by those who did not believe in the future resurrection, “But someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” It appears that those in the church at Corinth who were wrestling with the idea of a future resurrection were really wrestling with the ‘how.’ They didn’t understand what the resurrection would look like and as a result they may have begun to fear that the resurrection would take a form or appearance which they were uncomfortable with. The context seems to suggest that some in the church at Corinth understood the concept of ‘resurrection’ as a resuscitation or reanimation of dead bodies. In other words, they understood ‘resurrection’ to mean that life would just be re-started in a dead body.

Think about a lawnmower. When you purchase a lawnmower it comes from the store fancy and new. You put a little oil in it and a little gas, then you pull the cord and crank the motor. For the first time the lawnmower comes to life. And in that moment it’s clean, it’s shiny, it has no dents, no wear, no rust, and the engine runs smooth. But then you set out to mow your yard and before long the lawnmower looks and sounds a lot different. Grass is blown out and comes to rest on parts of the lawnmower; you go through a bare spot in the yard and blow up a cloud of dust and dirt that settles on the lawnmower; you push the mower too quickly and too aggressively near a fence post and get a dent; and you run over a rock that slightly nicks and bends your blade. Just an hour later your lawnmower doesn’t look so new. Now it’s dirty and worn. But it’s a lawnmower and if it’s doing its job it is going to be dusty and worn. So you don’t wash it off and you don’t fix or repair the dents – you just shove it into the garage or under the car port to be stored until you are ready to use it the next week. Then the next week, after the grass has grown and the weeds have come back and it is time once again to make use of the lawnmower, you take a dirty, worn, weathered, and used lawnmower, pull on the cord, and once again it comes to life as the engine cranks up and the blade begins to spin.

This seems to have been what some in Corinth understood the concept of the resurrection to look like – that God was going to take worn, dirty, and decayed bodies, without doing any kind of cleaning, restoration, or repair, and simply crank them back up again. So they were challenging Paul. They were asking what they thought were sarcastic questions. It wasn’t that they were really curious about how the dead would be raised or what kind of body they would come back with. Their assumption was that nothing could be done to repair, restore, or transform a body and that resuscitating a dead body was pretty ridiculous. And so ultimately it seems that the ones denying the resurrection were ultimately wrestling with not understanding the ‘how’ and that because the ‘how’ they imagined made no sense to them they had simply thrown out the idea that individuals could experience a future resurrection at all.

So Paul fired back in verse 36, “You foolish person!” Paul responded to those who believed themselves to be among the wisest in the church and who were chasing after wisdom (see chapters 1-4) by calling them foolish. They were foolish because in trying to understand the future resurrection of believers in Christ they had failed to take God into account – both how He had already ordered things in creation and what He would be able to do for them. Then he set out once again to correct their misunderstanding and began by pointing out how God had already ordered some things in creation. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain” (vs. 36-37). In last week’s text we saw Paul using an agricultural illustration, where Jesus’ resurrection he said was the ‘firstfruits.’ Now, just a few verses later, Paul turned back to another agricultural illustration. He challenged the Corinthians to think about their farming and their gardening. If they wanted to grow wheat on their farm they didn’t go out and get a whole stalk of wheat (roots, stem, head and all), dig a big whole in the ground, and then place the whole stalk of wheat in the hole, cover it with dirt, and begin to water it. No! What they did was get a kernel – a seed – and planted it. While they wanted wheat, they had to sow something which had an entirely different form. We understand this too. Many people like to grow tomatoes during the summer. But when we start our garden we don’t take a whole tomato plant and bury it in our backyards – we plant a seed. Why? Because we understand that while the seed looks nothing like a tomato plant, it undergoes a transformation. But before that transformation takes place the seed first dies. Then out of that death, a new life comes about – a plant that takes on a new form altogether. So what we see in plant life is that God’s purposes are not thwarted by death, but that death is the precondition of life. The death of one body (the seed) sets the stage for life and a transformed body designed to live and thrive in different conditions (i.e. the seed submerged in the soil and the plant living outside of the soil).

Paul then elaborated on this imagery and God’s involvement in verse 38. “But God gives it [i.e. the kernel] a body [i.e. the plant] as He has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.” Paul reminded the foolish Corinthians who had left God out of the resurrection equation that it was in fact God who was bringing about the transformation of the seed. God was the one who determined what the seed was going to be and who gave it its new form/body. And if this was how God had ordered His creation to work in this case, should it come as a surprise that God might be doing something similar in the lives of those who had placed their faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord?

Paul then moved on to state, “For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory” (verses 39-41). The Corinthians couldn’t allow themselves to have tunnel vision. They needed to be reminded to look at creation and all of its vastness and to see it and recognize it as the work of God. God was certainly cable of creating a variety of different things. In regards to the flesh Paul reminded the Corinthians that God had determined that some would be humans, some would be animals, some would be birds and some would be fish. In regards to the bigger picture of creation God had determined that some created things would be earthly and that some created things would be heavenly. But more importantly, each of God’s created things – regardless of its type or its placement – possesses a unique glory because it all has God as the Creator and it all reveals something about Him. Is the glory the same? No! Paul said as much when he said, “the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.” Their differences and their uniqueness’s give them different kinds of glory. But the truth Paul was reminding them of was that they all possessed their own unique glory. In other words, because everything is created by the glorious God, it all (regardless of shape or form) has glory. So in terms of the seed and the plant that comes from the seed, the Corinthians could not look at the plant and its life and say it possessed glory, while the seed and its death did not. No, God created the seed and gave it its form and its purpose. Therefore it has its own glory in carrying out and fulfilling its purposes. The plant also has its own glory as it takes on a different form and carries out and fulfills its purposes. So as we give consideration to our own lives, it is important that we recognize that God has given us our form and our purpose for this given time and in this given place. This is the body God has presently sown, and when we are carrying out the purposes for which God created us and combining with that the reality that we are made in His image, we are humbled to recognize that we do possess a certain glory that points others to the magnificent Creator God who made us. When we are resurrected we will possess a new body that has been transformed by God and designed to live in a different context and with a different purpose. It too will possess a certain glory that again points to our magnificent Creator.

Paul wrote in verses 42-44, “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.” In these verses Paul pointed out some of the differences between our present (living) bodies (not dead corpses) and the future bodies we will possess after the resurrection. The first difference he pointed out was perhaps the one that stood out the most to Paul. He said that our present bodies are ‘perishable’ or ‘corruptible,’ which means that they are subject to corruption and are perishing. We know and understand that well. We have seen sin’s effect on our bodies and know that they are falling apart and decaying. But after the resurrection our bodies will be transformed and the new expression of our bodies will no longer be subject to corruption or be perishing. Sin and its effects will no longer rule over us. As a result our bodies will not be subject to the corruption that comes from sin, but they we will have eternal bodies which will never fall apart or begin to decay. Paul said that our present bodies are sown in ‘dishonor’ but that our bodies after the resurrection will be raised in glory. Paul wasn’t expressing here that our present bodies are shameful. Instead, what he was doing was comparing the lowly state of our present bodies when compared to our bodies after the resurrection, which will be glorified. Which is very similar to the third comparison he made – that our present bodies are sown in weakness, but our bodies after the resurrection are raised in power.

The last comparison is really where Paul’s illustrations and comparisons have led. Our present bodies are natural ones. They were designed and crafted for life on earth in much the same way that the seed was designed and crafted for life in the soil. But the seed is just the beginning and will be transformed into a different body (a plant) that is meant to live and thrive outside of the soil. The same will be true for us, our bodies after the resurrection will be raised a spiritual body. This doesn’t mean that we won’t possess a real body and that we will only exist as spirits. It means that our bodies will be supernaturally transformed and designed and crafted for life where sin and its effects are no longer an issue and where we will live in and by the power of the Holy Spirit all the time. This should not have been a surprise to the Corinthian believers. All around them they saw that God had given different bodies to things that were to live and exist in different environments. Birds were given bodies that were designed and crafted for life in the air; fish were given bodies that were designed and crafted for life in the water; and animals were given bodies that were designed and crafted for life on land. Different environments demand different bodies and we have a God unique enough and powerful enough to understand that and to create them accordingly. Additionally we have illustrations in seeds that say bodies can be sown in one environment and after death they can be transformed and given new life to live and thrive in a different environment. So don’t be confused, because believers in Christ possess a natural body (like a seed), we can be certain that we will possess a spiritual body (like a plant) in the future. And all of this is made certain because of Jesus’ resurrection (which we saw in last week’s text).

Paul began this chapter reminding the believers in Corinth of the gospel (15:1, 3-7) and grounding his explanation of the future resurrection of believers in the gospel. So it is of no surprise that he returned once again to grounding his argument in the finished work of Jesus. “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 born the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (verses 45-49). Paul has just finished arguing that God’s design in nature should contribute to the belief that believers in Christ will be raised and that we will be raised bodily, because God is able to craft bodies for different environments and is even able to transform one kind of body into another kind through death so that a new expression of life might be created for a new environment. And if God’s created order contributes to that belief, so should history. Paul reminded the believers in Corinth to think back on two different men. He encouraged them to think first about the first man whom God created – Adam. When Adam was created all he was capable of was receiving life, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Genesis 2:7). But then Paul reminded them that Christ (i.e. “the last Adam”) was far more than a life-receiving individual – He was a life giving individual! And what was it that proved that? His resurrection! Two weeks ago we explored that in greater detail (see blog post on 1 Corinthians 15:1-34). We looked at how Jesus’ resurrection proved his power over sin and its penalty (i.e. death) and how Jesus’ return to life meant that through His substitutionary death and burial in our place He was able to offer a true exchange – He took our sin and death and offered to us in return His righteousness and new life. So the first Adam came receiving physical life, and later the last Adam came giving new spiritual life to those who spiritually are dead in their trespasses and sin (see Ephesians 2:1). History is clear that Adam (the natural man who received physical life and brought death upon himself through his sin) came first and that many generations later, Jesus (the God-man who defeated death and who offers new life) came. And history is also clear that we all are descendants of the first Adam. Like him we have all received physical life; like him we all have become guilty of sin; and like him we all have died a spiritual death (having been separated from God as a result of our sin) and are all going to die a physical death (as another result of our sin). Because we have all descended from the first Adam we all are tied to him and therefore we cannot escape these realities. But there is great news that can be true of us as well. While we are all tied to the first Adam through birth, we can all be tied to the last Adam (i.e. Jesus) through repentance of sin and faith alone in His death, burial, and resurrection for our salvation. And if we are tied to the first Adam and identify with him in our sin and death (both spiritual and physical) we can also be tied to the last Adam and identify with Him in new life by placing our faith alone in Him. Thus Paul said, “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.” But in order for that to take place our present bodies – designed and crafted for earthly existence – must be transformed and made ready for heavenly existence. And that will only take place when our present body passes away and is transformed and raised for eternal life with God and with Jesus.

Paul expressed this same idea in his letter to the church at Philippi in a slightly different context when he wrote, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:20-21). If you are a believer in Christ, this is a transformation worth getting excited about. God has given you a body for this present life that He has designed and crafted for your present environment. But God has also promised that those who have placed their faith alone in Jesus’ completed work for their salvation will experience their present bodies transformed and raised to spend forever in a new environment where sin will have no effect and where they will know and experience the physical nearness and presence of God for all eternity.

Connection Point Questions for Discussion:

1. Has there been a new version of something that has been released in the past that you got really excited about? What was the thing and what about the new version made you get so excited?

2. How does something good to come impact your present outlook on things? (For example, when you have a vacation scheduled to take place in two weeks; you have a wedding coming up in two weeks; you have a dinner date planned with a friend who lives far away; or a sporting event that you have the opportunity to attend the following weekend.) Does knowing that something good is coming change the way you live, and if so, how?

3. Think about the past and the times when you experienced seasons of discouragement in your life.  During those times was your discouragement driven by reflecting on your present situation or on your future situation.  Would you be willing to share with us about one of those times? How might thinking about and reflecting on our future resurrection impact us when we find ourselves in seasons of discouragement and/or saddness? 

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