The Material Gospel
Many people have a fixed opinion that the Church is against the body. As far as they know, the Christian faith is negative about the material world in which we live. Maybe you are one of those who think believers see life in the body on planet earth as something to be endured but not to be enjoyed. You imagine that Christians are actually looking forward to escaping the body in order to have a purely spiritual life in heaven. Images may arise in your mind of disembodied spirits flitting from cloud to white cloud while playing purely spiritual harps. The impression that the Church is very negative about the body may be part of the reason many folks don't show a lot of interest in the Church. After all, this is a material world. We do live in the body on planet earth. Why be interested in a religion that shows no interest in these facts? A good question, indeed.
Well, if you are convinced that the Christian faith is against the body or at best not interested in the body, you have some challenging facts to ponder. After all, the Bible begins with the account of creation. It tells us in Genesis one that God made the universe and pronounced it all "very good." This beginning shows us that the Church does not have a negative view of the body in itself. In fact, the body is classified by God Himself as being "very good." Christians don't make it their goal to leave the body behind as soon as possible; on the contrary, they strive to serve God as bodily creatures.
Furthermore, if you think the Church is not concerned about life in the body, you need to interact with the body located at the heart of the Christian religion! Yes, the very foundation of the message of the Church is the resurrected body of Jesus Christ! No other religion puts a body right at the center of its message!
At this time of the year, the Church observes Easter. This feast is a commemoration and celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. At Easter, we remember that Jesus Christ who died on a cross, rose from the grave on the third day. He was victorious over the power of death.
So what do we have at the center of the Christian faith? We have a Saviour with a resurrected body. We have a dead man made alive. At the heart of the Christian religion we have a material body. It was a body that could be seen and touched. It was a genuine human body. The person who rose from the dead was the same person who had been put to death, with the same recognizable body, including even the marks of His suffering — holes in His hands and His feet and the wound in his side where the spear of the soldier had pierced Him.
However, the resurrection body of Christ was not exactly alike the body which had died on the cross. Yes, the body raised was the same body earlier placed in a grave. There was a continuity through the grave to the resurrection. But there was also a difference. The resurrection of Christ was not like the revival of a corpse. His resurrection did not mean simply the resumption of his previous life in the body. Instead, the resurrection of Jesus Christ meant the beginning of a new kind of life in the body. His new body was a glorified body. This meant that it was a body with new power and abilities. His new body, unlike the body which died on the cross, was an immortal body, one which could never die again.
Evidence for Doubters
Perhaps you are the kind of person who finds it hard to accept the idea of Christ's resurrection. It seems to you a farfetched tale from a superstitious age. In the modern era of space shuttles and genetic engineering, we can no longer treat such stories in a serious way.
Well, if truth be told, the first witnesses to the resurrection had the same skeptical attitude toward the resurrection as do many modern people. For example, the Bible records several predictions made by Christ that, after His death, He would rise on the third day. Did anyone believe these predictions? Did anybody go to the tomb on the third day to see if He would come forth as predicted? Not at all. As far as the followers of Christ were concerned, death was a permanent reality. When one of the followers of Jesus met Him risen from the dead, she ran to tell the disciples. But it seemed to them an "idle tale," and they didn't even bother to check it out. The followers of Jesus were in the grip of total despair because their Master had died. His death was the end of their hope and their dreams. One of them, Thomas, said:
Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.John 20:24
What changed the minds of these skeptics? The answer is simple: they saw the risen Christ with their own eyes. They touched Him. They watched Him eat. They saw His wounds. They heard His voice. They walked with Him. The impossible had happened. Jesus lived! The entire New Testament of the Bible has the character of an eyewitness report. It testifies to the historic reality of the resurrection (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and Acts 1:22). Yes, at the heart of the Church's message, we have a risen and glorified Jesus, alive in the body!
Only the First to Rise!
Still, though, what does the living Jesus have to do with our bodies, with our material life in a material world? What connection might the resurrection of Christ have with my body? The answer to this question is that the resurrection of Christ is the beginning of something tremendous. His rising from the dead is seen by Scripture as an advance presentation of the resurrection of many more people. Christ is the first to rise from the dead, but not the last! Scripture tells us that He is the first-fruit of the harvest of the resurrection and that He is the firstborn of the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:20; Acts 26:23; Colossians 1:18). All who believe in Christ will be raised to a new kind of bodily life. Thus, Christ's resurrection is a pledge and guarantee of the resurrection of all Christians at the end of this age.
Why does Christ's resurrection mean life for all who believe in Him as well? The answer is found in understanding first of all the reason for Christ's death. According to the Bible, death is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). If there is no sin, there is no death, but wherever sin and guilt remain, the inevitable result is death. Christ, however, is revealed in the Bible as having and doing no sin. Yet He died. Why? The answer is that Christ was carrying the sin of others — the sin of His people. Although He was innocent, He took upon Himself the guilt of His people. Their guilt was transferred to Him and He paid the price for their sin. He endured the punishment of God in their place.
When Christ rose from the dead, this was God's way of showing that He accepted the work of Christ in paying for sin. God's justice was satisfied. His wrath was stilled. For these reasons, the Bible also says: "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (1 Corinthians 15:17). Yes, if Christ had not been raised, this would have shown that His work of paying for sin was insufficient. But now that He has been raised, all who put their trust in His sacrifice on the cross are freed from the power of death. If you have faith in Christ, this means that you are no longer condemned by God. Now God will regard you as having already paid for your sin — in Christ! And because you are no longer found guilty by God, you may share in the resurrection life of Christ. Where there is no condemnation, there is life in abundance — life in the body.
Burial: A Seed Sown
Still, though, somebody may say: how is it possible? Who can really accept that from a dead body will arise a new and glorified body? The Bible answers this question by reminding us of the power of God. Is it hard to believe that the same God who made the universe could give us a glorified body?
Besides, as Scripture points out, God has not left us without analogies in creation. If you look around at this time of the year, you will see the earth bursting forth with new life. This life arises from seeds. Each spring, trillions of seeds burst forth and give rise to an astonishing variety of plant life. A seed seems to be a lifeless particle, dry, airy and inert. However, when you sow it in soil and keep it moist, it germinates and produces a plant.
So it is, says the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, with the resurrection. What we put into a grave may be compared to a seed. A burial service is like a sowing. The body we inter is like a seed — it has no apparent life. Yet, as a gorgeous flower may arise from a dead-looking seed, so new life will rise from the sown body. What comes up from the grave will be the same person, yet glorified.
In 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, the Bible reveals a set of contrasts between the present and the future body. What is sown, says Paul, is perishable. Our bodies in this life are prone to decay and degeneration. The power of death is in us from the beginning of our lives. But, what is raised, says Paul is imperishable. The new, glorified body will be free of all disease and disorder. It will be an immortal body.
At a grave, the body is sown in dishonour, says Paul. Yes, there is something shameful about the grave. In the dead body, we see the ultimate result of sin. A corpse has no attractiveness. But the body that is raised is raised in honour. It will be bright and beautiful, perhaps even dazzling in its glory, perfectly reflecting the glory of God.
The body is sown in weakness, adds Paul. Yes, our present body is very limited by weakness. Easily, we get fatigued and worn out. And if you look at a corpse, it is the ultimate in weakness. It can do nothing and it can resist nothing. But the body that is raised, says Paul, will be powerful. We will have capacities we can't now imagine.
The last contrast between what is sown and what is raised is that between the natural and the spiritual. Now we have a "natural" body; then, at the resurrection, we shall have a "spiritual" body. A natural body is one which belongs to this present, imperfect age, an age terrible affected by sin. What, however, is a "spiritual body?" A spiritual body does not mean a non-material body. Rather, it means a body which is completely guided and led by the Holy Spirit of God, a body which is able to serve God in complete joy and obedience.
A Complete Salvation
If we consider the whole message of the Bible, we see that it is one of salvation for the body, too. Christ Jesus has come to bring a complete salvation, for body and soul. The message of the Church is of a comprehensive salvation, a redemption which includes our bodies and our planet. Christians are people who have a new life already here and now, a new moral and spiritual life. But this is only the beginning. They look forward also to the renewal of their bodies in a new creation. They look for the time when their bodies will be made like the body of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20, 21).
Easter is the feast of the resurrection of the body — first of the body of Christ, but then, also of the resurrection of all who believe. Why don't you join the Church this Easter in its celebration of Jesus Christ who is the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25). May God give you power to believe in Him!