Friday, 8 March 2013

Resurrection Plants - and People!

As I watch more and more of Sir David Attenborough’s magnificent programmes about the natural world I am increasingly fascinated by how many features of the natural world are microcosms of the spiritual realm. Take his recent series Africa. In the episode Sahara we saw a dried, curled-up, ball-shaped plant, apparently dead, sticking out of a sand dune in the vast expanse of the Sahara. Dislodged by the wind it rolled along the desert looking the epitome of deadness, yet, as Attenborough’s commentary stated, “ its name suggests that all is not lost. It’s called the resurrection plant.”  Eventually the plant came to rest in a tiny pool of water, soon opening out its little branches as it absorbed water, at which point Attenborough said, “Dead limbs absorb water and unfurl in a matter of minutes. But the resurrection plant needs one more miracle. Rain must fall on its branches before they dry up again.”

In the next sequence the rain is filmed falling onto the plant and in superb close-up we watched seeds, knocked out of their pods on the plant’s branches by droplets of rain, fall into the moist sand. Within days the seeds had sprouted. In a matter of weeks new plants, exactly like the parent, had grown, flowered and formed their own seeds. “Then”, Attenborough said, “the sun kills them. But their seeds live on, ready for when the rains return even if that’s a century from now.”

Wonderful stuff! And a commentary as fascinating for me as it was instructive, because here was a confessed agnostic, who strongly opposes a creationist view of the universe, using biblical language to describe a natural event! Much as we could explore that further what struck me most was how the resurrection plant and its habits illustrate the Bible’s teaching on resurrection.

The plant appeared to all intents and purposes to be dead. Attenborough said that it could well have been like this for a hundred years! Yet when it came into contact with water it immediately came to life and produced from its seeds other plants in its own image. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ really died and was buried. This was verified by witnesses at the time, and they had no good reason to make it up. But on the third day after his burial his grave was found to be empty apart from the cloths which his body had been wrapped in. He then appeared to many witnesses in the following weeks before returning to heaven.

Paul’s commentary in 1 Corinthians 15 makes the point that if there is no such thing as resurrection then Jesus could not have risen from the dead and so faith in him is futile. But he then states categorically that Jesus did rise from the dead! Paul could verify this personally because he had encountered the risen Jesus on the way to Damascus, having been convinced before this that Jesus was a fraud! So his argument then proceeds to state that Jesus by his resurrection from the dead has become the prototype of the resurrection of all who believe in him. All was not lost by his death on the cross. That itself was significant as God’s provision of an atonement for our sin, but it was also the necessary precursor to Christ’s resurrection. It is strange how people can speak about the “resurrection” of a mere plant yet choose not to believe in the resurrection of the Son of God! This is the ultimate miracle. It is from this perspective that Christians look on everything else.

Also, the resurrection plant “gave birth” to new resurrection plants through the seeds which the rain dislodged and which then grew. Likewise the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives rise to new life. Peter, another who met with the risen Christ, wrote in his First Letter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his great mercy has begotten us again to a living hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Our “life-from-the-dead” experience in being born again emanates from the resurrection of Christ. Through his life from the dead we receive life!

This spiritual life will reach its final expression and apex in our resurrection as believers. As Attenborough said of the plant, “their seeds live on, ready for when the rains return even if that’s a century from now”, so it is with the bodies of all who trust in Christ for salvation and are thus united to his resurrection. All is not lost. They lie in their graves ready for when the Lord returns, even if that is centuries or millennia away. It makes no difference! “The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection” (Shorter Catechism).

When that awesome moment arrives, ‘then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory"’ (1 Corinthians 15 v 54). And as with the new resurrection plants, each of these people shall be a perfect image of the original. “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness” (Psalm 17 v 15).