In this second part of Paul’s great resurrection chapter, Paul is trying to clear up some misunderstandings about the resurrection that led to thinking and living contrary to the Gospel. A sermon on this text could adopt that same goal.

I opened my email this morning to a Randy Alcorn quote: “For the Christian, death is not the end of adventure but a doorway from a world where dreams and adventures shrink, to a world where dreams and adventures forever expand.” The guy may have written some popular books about heaven, but that’s not the way the Bible talks. Jesus is the door. Your mouth is a door. An opportunity can be an open door. But death is an enemy. “The last enemy to be destroyed,” in fact (1 Cor. 15:26).

Death-as-door language is as common in the Church as “heaven is my home.” Both miss the point of the resurrection entirely. If we want to rehab our hope, we’ll need to find more biblical ways of talking. And while we should speak differently at funerals, a funeral probably isn’t the right place to do the teaching we need to shift the focus of our expectant waiting.

Take Paul’s primary metaphor in this pericope as an example. For Paul, death isn’t a door; it’s a sowing. Paul doesn’t picture the deceased family and friends of the Corinthian church as dancing in heaven; he leaves them in the dirt. That makes the death of your loved one way worse. But it also makes the hope of the resurrection way better. When we make out the enemy death to be less horrible than it actually is, we also make the promise far weaker and more limited than we need it to be.

Death is not the continuation of an adventure; death is being planted in the ground. The adventure belongs to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

When we make out the enemy death to be less horrible than it actually is, we also make the promise far weaker and more limited than we need it to be.

The logic of planting and growth, of a variety of seeds and crops, drives Paul’s argument in the last part of this chapter. To get that logic up and running in the hearts and minds of your hearers, you might bring in an example or two.

An Easter lily bulb would be thematically appropriate, but any kind of bulb would do in a pinch. Bulbs are bigger than seeds and make better object lessons, but having a watermelon and tomato seed on hand could also be helpful. Best case scenario (depending on seasonal availability in your part of the country): have both a seed/bulb and the living plant or flower (or at least fruit of the plant) that comes from the seed. Continuity and discontinuity are both important in Paul’s image.

If you have a bulb and a flower on hand, you can notice the difference between the two. The bulb is small, hard, ugly, and smells like death. The lily, in contrast, is large, beautiful, vibrant, and smells like life. (You can do the same thing with a tomato seed and a tomato plant, or a grapefruit seed and a grapefruit for that matter.)

If you have never experienced it, it would be kind of hard to believe that this bulb can be buried in the ground and, after a time, be transformed into this beautiful flower. Since we haven’t experienced bodily resurrection, it can be kind of hard to believe Jesus was planted in the ground after a brutal and ugly death and just three days later was raised to new life.

The biblical witness is not that Jesus was put in the ground as a bulb, and then came out of the ground as a bulb. The resurrection of Jesus was not resurrection like the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus is the “firstfruits” of the Resurrection of the Dead (1 Cor. 15:21-23). Jesus goes into the grave as a bulb, but comes out of the ground as a full-grown, blooming plant. With the resurrection of Jesus, the New Creation has begun.

That transformation from bulb to blooming flower can be difficult to believe. Even the first disciples didn’t expect an End Times resurrection at this point in the story. When they buried the body of Jesus, they prepared it for decomposition and decay. When the women come to the tomb that first Easter morning, they expect to find a corpse. When the tomb is empty, the first thought is that someone moved the body. And when they did see Jesus in full bloom, they didn’t recognize the flower! At least not at first.

Jesus is still Jesus; but he’s not the same. Or, it’s the same Jesus; but he’s different.

Jesus is still Jesus; but he’s not the same. Or, it’s the same Jesus; but he’s different.

Paul says, that’s to be expected when you get the End Times resurrection of the dead. We will be the same, but different; still us, but not the same. With what kind of bodies will we be raised? Paul says, New Creation bodies are the same, but different, just like seeds are different from full-grown plants, and different plants bear different fruit (1 Cor. 15:35-41).

The lily bulb brings forth the lily flower; the tomato seed brings forth the tomato plant, which bears rich, red tomatoes (not grapefruit). When you die, they will plant your body in the ground. And when Jesus calls you forth to New Creation life, your New Creation body will still be you. A watermelon seed produces a watermelon vine, not a Brussels sprout. But your resurrection body will be so much more alive and complete and full of life; you will be as different from what you are now as a full-grown lily is from a bulb.

And we will all be different from each other. Different kinds of seeds/bodies produce different kinds of fruits. The New Creation will not be uniform; rather, the World to Come will be full of vibrant variety (1 Cor. 15:38-41). We will each be as different from each other as a muskmelon is from a cumquat, but we will all be bursting with life!

Which is kind of hard to believe when all you see is the seed. If you start as a seed, and end as a seed, then “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (15:32). But that kind of fatalistic thinking and living is contrary to the promise of life. We live out our lives under a sure and certain promise: not that, when we die, we will go through the door of death into a pleasant and disembodied existence. Your promise is much bigger than that. When you bury a loved one—when they plant your body in the ground—you can expect that seed to burst forth with abundant and glorious life that can never die again (15:42).

Death is an enemy; but that enemy will be destroyed.

Death is a planting; but every planting has a purpose: more life than you could ever imagine.

“The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable” (15:42). It is buried in a fallen and sinful world, it is raised in the New Creation. It is planted a bulb, it is raised a full-grown flower.


Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in 1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach 1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42.