Many people think that the Bible is a book written for theologians and scholars. If they have taken the opportunity to read it at all, they have concluded that it is too difficult to understand. They hear about theological debates and conclude that they have no business reading the Bible. This is unfortunate because the Bible was written BY common people FOR common people. In fact, I would contend that Farmers should be among those who understand better than others. Jesus lived and spoke to an agricultural community.
- God talks about seedtime and harvest (Genesis 8:22)
- He talks to us about sowing and reaping (Luke 12:24)
- He talks about sifting wheat from chaff (Matthew 13)
- He talks about gathering the crops (Matthew 13:30)
- He talks about the vine and the branches (John 15:1)
- We are told to have patience like a farmer (James 5:7)
- We are taught the lesson of the fig tree (Matthew 24)
- He tells parables about seeds, weeds, the fatted calf
- He tells us that if we submit to God’s discipline we will reap a harvest of righteousness (2 Corinthians 9:10)
Jesus and his disciples used agricultural terms because they knew that their audience would understand what they were talking about. In fact, when Paul teaches about the resurrection in 1 Corinthians he too uses agricultural terminology.
WE ARE LIKENED TO “SEEDS WAITING TO BE PLANTED” (35-44)
In the passage before us Paul is talking about a subject that we care deeply about. He is talking about life after death. Anyone who has buried someone they love, or is getting older, or is experiencing aches and pains, thinks about life after death. Paul has been arguing that life beyond the grave is certain and he anticipates questions from his audience. I don’t know about you, but I’ve wondered what it would be like also.
- I wonder how old I’ll be in the resurrection. Will I be youthful? Aging? Falling apart?
- Will my body have the same limitations and drawbacks? In other words, can I get a body that is youthful, energetic, with knees that don’t get sore so easy, and a stomach that does not feel the need to expand so freely? Oh, and can I get more hair?
These sound like disrespectful questions but in reality it is just honest curiosity. We all would like to know what our resurrected selves will be like.
Paul answers the question saying we are thinking incorrectly. He says our bodies are like seeds. And as such they will not “come to life” until we die. Generally speaking, seeds will not grow unless they are buried in soil. They will not grow unless they first “die”. We understand this kind of talk, don’t we?
Paul wants us to see that our heavenly bodies will be like the products of those seeds . . . far more majestic than anything that we could have imagined by looking at the original seed. It’s hard to believe that some of the seed you plant in the ground is going to develop into majestic ears of corn. It’s impossible to foresee that seeds that were planted in the church flower garden would yield such a spectacular display of color. This is the way our bodies will be at the resurrection. What we are now, cannot be compared to what we shall be.
Paul tries to explain that this should not surprise us. After all, man and animals have different kinds of bodies, birds and fish have different kinds of bodies, heavenly bodies and earthly bodies are different. In fact, even the sun and moon are different. So . . . says Paul, we need to understand that our spiritual bodies will be different from our earthly bodies.
Paul tells us about some of the differences between the physical and spiritual bodies.
- the earthly body wears out (decay, corruption, ruin). . . the heavenly body will not
- the earthly body knows embarrassment and all kinds of sinful desires . . .the heavenly body will know glory
- the earthly body is limited and weak held captive by the forces of the world such as disease and aging . . . the heavenly power will know power and strength.
- the earthly body is natural (or anchored to nature)….the heavenly body is spiritual
Paul concludes saying, “Look if there is a natural body . . . there must also be a spiritual body.” It’s a bold statement. We like the sentiment. But this is where the “rub” comes in. Doesn’t it? We all want to believe this. We all want to believe that there is life beyond the grave. Those thoughts are comforting to us. The idea of reunion, restoration and eternal fellowship with God sounds great. But . . . .how do we know it’s true?
How do we know that this teaching isn’t just some theory that Paul had? How do we know it is not just a made up myth? Perhaps the idea of resurrection and eternal life are just as speculative as the idea of reincarnation or other post-death theories.
JESUS IS CALLED THE FIRSTFRUITS (15:23)
We can answer that question! In Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians he uses a very significant term. He calls Jesus the “firstfruits.” Here’s how the Bible Dictionary defines this word,
In acknowledgment of the fact that all the products of the land came from God, and to show thankfulness for his goodness, Israelites brought as an offering a portion of the fruits that ripened first. These were looked on as a pledge of the coming harvest. [New Bible Dictionary]
I know . . . you’re not impressed. But hang with me as I draw an analogy.
Suppose you were the careful sort and didn’t want to go into debt to buy seed for your field unless you knew it was going to actually grow something. Now . . . hang with me . . . suppose you had never seen a field ready to harvest. All you knew was that you were told that if you put seed in the ground it would grow crops that could be harvested and sold (admittedly for much less than they should be). But you had never seen evidence that this was true.
In fact, suppose you had gone out with a couple of seeds once and put them in the dirt. You waited, but nothing happened. You planted seed and no harvest resulted. In this scenario you would not be likely to risk much to buy seed would you? You certainly would not want to “bet the farm” on such a speculative venture as this.
Now, suppose someone gave you a handful of seeds. They showed you how to plant them and instructed you how to care for them. Some time later you look at that ground and what do you notice? You notice that little green sprouts are beginning to poke through the ground . . .and you look with amazement. As you continue to watch it becomes more and more spectacular as those little seeds grow to enormous plants that develop little ears of corn on them.
What you have just seen is the firstfruits . . . you have seen the pledge of a coming harvest. Now, that you have seen that this is true what they say about planting seeds, you are willing to take the risk and borrow money to buy seed in the confidence that you will be able to pay that money back from the harvest the seed will produce. Now you ARE willing to “bet the farm” on what the seed can produce.
Now, as you realize, the firstfruits most years are those crops that ripen first and give you an indication of what kind of crop you are going to have. I painted the picture in the extreme for a reason.
Year after year you and I bury our loved ones. We stand at the graveside and look forward to a future day. As much as we want there to be a resurrection . . . we have never seen it. And because we haven’t, we find it difficult to bet much of our life on that reality. Who wants to build their life on something that may not be true?
Now . . go back to the text. It tells us that Jesus is the firstfruits. What does that mean? Remember our definition? “fruit that ripened first. These were looked on as a pledge of the coming harvest.” The resurrection of Jesus is the evidence we need to believe that death does lead to life. He was the first “seed” to resurrect. He was the one who proved it. Up until this time people lived and died and never saw any indication of a harvest from the seed they planted . . . until Jesus. When Jesus rose from the dead it proved that there was life beyond the grave.
But, can we say with any certainty that Jesus really rose from the grave? Is there any proof? Sure, lot’s of it. In fact, some of you have heard me mention some of these things so often that you can recite the evidences yourself . . .but that’s good. You need to be aware of the evidence. Before I share some of the evidence, let me recommend a book to you. THE CASE FOR CHRIST is a wonderful book by Lee Strobel that everyone should not only have on their shelves . . . but should also read. It is a readable book that lists the evidence for the reliability of the Christian faith.
Enough of the commercials. Here’s some of the evidence,
- The tomb was empty. The Christians and Jews knew where the tomb was. If it was a fabricated story it could have been easily verified or disproved.
- People used to say that the resurrection accounts of Jesus were really mythical stories about Jesus written over a hundred years after the time of Christ. This was a very popular theory a generation ago. Unfortunately for these folks archeology has now shown that the earliest testimony of the resurrection of Jesus (probably the early verses of I Corinthians 15) was written just a couple of years after it happened. Why is that significant? Because if it wasn’t true there would have been lots of people around to disprove it.
- All the counter-arguments of the Jews presumed that the tomb was empty . . .i.e. they didn’t argue that the body was still in the tomb . . . they argued that it had been stolen. The missing body is granted.
- There were hundreds of eyewitnesses that saw a resurrected Christ. Strobel contends that if you listened to eyewitness testimony from breakfast on Monday morning and cross-examined each witness for fifteen minutes each it would take until dinner on Friday to hear them all. There would be 129 hours of eyewitness testimony!
- There is the change in the disciples. These men who claimed to see the risen Christ had been transformed from people hiding from the authorities to those who were willing to die rather than deny that testimony. Now some will say, “lot’s of people may be willing to die for their belief. Muslims might be willing to die for their belief in Allah, followers of David Koresch and Jim Jones were willing to die because of their faith in their leader . . . so what makes the willingness of the disciples to die for their belief such compelling testimony?” Let me explain. Muslims might be willing to die for their belief that Allah revealed himself to Muhammad. They are convinced that it is true . . .but they don’t know whether it is or not. The followers of these dangerous cult leaders believe their leaders to be from God . . . but they don’t know it. Many people are zealous for false things they believe to be true.
The difference with the disciples is that they testified that they SAW Jesus alive after His death. They TOUCHED him, they ATE with Him, they CONVERSED with Him. They claimed to have first hand knowledge of what they proclaimed as truth! Is they were not telling the truth . . . they knew they were lying. So while the Muslim might die for what they sincerely believed true, the disciples (if Jesus did not rise) were dying for what they KNEW was false. Someone might die for their convictions . . but not a lie! And certainly they would not endure the excruciating torture they endured for a lie.
- Consider also the changes in the convictions of the early followers. These people grew up Jewish. They were trained and instructed from their earliest days. In fact, the thing that has kept the Jewish nation intact while other nations were fading into oblivion is their strong social structure. It’s something you and I have a hard time understanding. A man by the name of J.P. Moreland explains some of the basic tenets of Jewish upbringing.
- they are taught the importance of animal sacrifices to atone for sin . . . yet these new believers now say the once and for all sacrifice has been offered in the man Jesus.
- They are taught the only way to gain God’s favor was by obeying the law of God. Yet now, these Jewish followers of Christ are talking about being accepted by the work of another . . . by grace.
- They were taught to keep the Sabbath with strict devotion. Yet, these Jewish converts are now changing the day of worship to Sunday because “that’s the day Jesus was raised from the dead.”
- They were strict monotheists. Any notion of God becoming man was considered blasphemy. Yet here these people are worshipping Jesus as the Son of God.
- Finally, the Jews were taught that the Messiah would be a political figure who would restore the glory to Israel. Now thousands of Jews are saying the Messiah came to die for sins . . . the sins of Jews and Gentiles alike.This is more staggering than you and I can imagine. What would make this many people make such drastic and abrupt changes in their deeply ingrained belief systems? Maybe we should believe their testimony that Jesus rose from the dead!
- There is the conversion of skeptics like James and Paul. Both did not believe in Jesus during his life. Something changed them. Based on all the other evidence it is most likely to believe what they said . . . they saw the resurrected Christ! [THE CASE FOR CHRIST chapter 13]
If you have been following along you have seen that the resurrection isn’t something you have to believe in without any proof. The proof is abundant. Any person who sincerely looks at the evidence will see that the Resurrection of Jesus is real. Now here is the practical effect of this truth, Gary Habermas, a theologian tells his story,
- “I sat on our porch,” He sighed deeply, then went on. “My wife was upstairs dying. Except for a few weeks, she was home through it all. It was an awful time. This was the worst thing that could possibly happen.”He turned and looked straight at me. “But do you know what was amazing? My students would call me — not just one but several of them — and say, ‘At a time like this, aren’t you glad about the Resurrection?’ As sober as those circumstances were, I had to smile for two reasons. First, my students were trying to cheer me up with my own teaching. And second, it worked.
“As I would sit there, I’d picture Job, who went through all the terrible stuff and asked questions of God, but then God turned the tables and asked him a few questions.
“I knew if God were to come to me, I’d ask only one question: ‘Lord, why is Debbie up there in bed?’ And I think God would respond by asking gently, ‘Gary, did I raise my Son from the dead?’
“I’d say, ‘Come on, Lord, I’ve written seven books on that topic! Of course he was raised from the dead. But I want to know about Debbie!
“I think he’d keep coming back to the same question –‘Did I raise my Son from the dead? ”Did I raise my Son from the dead?– until I got His point: the Resurrection says that if Jesus was raised two thousand years ago, there’s an answer to Debbie’s death in 1995.
Losing my wife was the most painful experience I’ve ever had to face, but if the Resurrection could get me through that, it can get me through anything. It was good for 30 A.D., it’s good for 1995, it good for 1999, and it’s good beyond that.
I believe that with all my heart. If there’s a resurrection, there’s a heaven. If Jesus was raised, Debbie was raised. And I will be someday, too. Then, I’ll see them both” [Strobel p. 241,242]
Because we have seen the firstfruits, we can be confident about our own future and the future of those we love.
Do you see the practical and personal nature of these teachings?
If there was no resurrection of Christ
- The Christian Faith crumbles
- We are still in sin
- We have no real hope for our loved ones who have died
- We are most miserable for living by a standard that is foolish and empty
But if Jesus did rise . . .
- It changes our perspective as we face death
- It changes our priorities in life
- It changes the level of commitment we are willing to make to the Savior
- It turns despair to hope.
Did God raise Jesus from the dead? It’s not a question for scholars . . . it’s a question addressed to common folks like you and I. It is the foundational question of life.
If Jesus rose from the dead, He proves He was who He said He was . . . God in human form. And if He was who He said He was, then He did what He claimed He did: provide a payment for our sin. There is a way to be made right with God.
So one question yet remains? Will you rise with Jesus? The Bible is clear, not everyone will be granted this resurrection body. Not everyone will enjoy the fruits of resurrection life. Only those who take their stand with Christ will be there. Only those who recognize their need for a Savior and recognize Jesus as the Savior for their needs will rise with Him. In other words only those who are willing to “bet the farm” on Jesus will know the life that He extends.
This week was difficult for us. Two special members of our congregation died this week. Doing those funerals were difficult because of the personal loss that I felt and the pain of watching friends grieve. But one thing made the week easier. It was knowing that both those people were believers. They were people who had “bet the farm” on Christ and the resurrection He promised. Today they are with Him.
It is much more difficult to do a funeral for someone who has resisted the evidence. They may have been a decent person . . . but they have appeared to never have trusted Jesus. (Ultimately God is the one who makes these judgments.) They were unwilling to step out and believe in the firstfruits. They may have been decent. They may even have gone to church on Easter, Christmas and other days . . . but they are not His followers.
What do you say to the family of such a one as this? How do you give any real comfort or hope? Those funerals are the most difficult to do.
So before we get to that stage in your life let me ask you a question: Will you stand on the evidence or ignore it? Will you trust Christ or resist Him? What will you choose? To live beyond the grave enjoying His love or enduring His wrath? These are important questions, simple questions. Questions you don’t have to be a scholar to understand.