God is the God of the Living/ Vicar James Preus/ Sunday November 10, 2013
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the manmust take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question. Here end the text.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord: Dearly beloved in the Lord, a couple weeks ago we heard Pastor Defoe preach on the tax collector and the Pharisee. Since we do not live in first century Palestine, he generously explained to us who the Pharisees were. In today’s lesson Jesus is confronted by a different group: the Sadducees. Jesus is in the Temple preaching the gospel when scribes, chief priests, and Pharisees surround him and attempt as Luke says, “To catch him in his words.” When their venomous attacks fail, the Sadducees come to take a shot at Jesus. But before we go on any further, let me give a quick introduction to who the Sadducees were.
The Sadducees, like the Pharisees, were religious big shots. However, the Sadducees and the Pharisees did not like each other. The Pharisees taught hundreds of rules in addition to Scripture. They taught that you had to follow these rules in order to enter into eternal life. The Sadducees rejected everything except a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Torah. The Torah is the first five books of the Old Testament, which are written by Moses. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the afterlife and they denied the existence of angels. The most notable belief of the Sadducees is that they deny that there is a resurrection of the dead. Pharisees tried over and over again to prove to them that there is a resurrection of the dead, but the Sadducees would not accept any argument that did not originate from the five books of Moses.
So the Sadducees, the skeptics of the resurrection, try to make Jesus to look like a fool. They pose a ridiculous scenario to Jesus. And they try to use the Torah to prove how silly an idea the resurrection of the dead is. A woman marries a man with six brothers. Her first husband dies, leaving her childless. According to Deuteronomy 25 (the fifth book in the Torah), her dead husband’s brother must marry her to give him an heir. One by one she marries all six of them and each of them dies without giving her a child and finally she dies. “In the resurrection” they ask, “whose wife will the woman be?” This was the kind of question that infuriated the Pharisees. The Sadducees were mocking the teaching of the resurrection of the dead as today’s skeptics mock for example, the existence of God and the teaching that Jesus is both God and man.
Jesus shows his wit with his answer. He knows if he quotes Job: “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” or if he quotes the prophet Isaiah: “Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You, who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy. For your dew is a dew of light and the earth will give birth to the dead” or if he recalls the vision of Daniel: “But at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone whose name shall be found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” the Sadducees would reject these, because they do not come from the Torah, but from the books of the Prophets and Writings. They deny all Scripture except the five books of Moses.
They want Jesus to use the Torah, so Jesus uses the Torah. He cites the book of Exodus where Moses stands before the burning bush. God calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead. They died several hundred years before God spoke to Moses through the burning bush. God is not the God of the dead. He is the God of the living. The Sadducees prided themselves in their knowledge of the Torah, but Jesus proved greater knowledge.
And as for the woman with seven husbands, Jesus shows how worldly the Sadducees think. “The sons of this age marry and are given into marriage.” Jesus is telling them that they are thinking according to the flesh. They are speculating what the afterlife would be like by looking at life right now. When the Evangelist Matthew speaks of this same encounter he writes that Jesus says to the Sadducees, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Jesus demonstrates to the Sadducees that they cannot know God through speculation, but through revelation: the revelation of Scripture.
In the afterlife God’s people will no longer be married or given into marriage. I know it goes against every romance novel, movie, and love song to say that marriage doesn’t last forever, but it’s true. In Heaven we won’t need to be married. We will never die again. Creation will be complete, so we won’t need marriage to have children.
But the relationship you have with your husband or wife will not be destroyed. Quite the contrary! Your relationship with your present spouse will be better than it has ever been! You won’t sin against each other. You won’t regret words you have spoken. You won’t fight. Rather, you will love your spouse perfectly. In fact all of us who trust in Jesus for our eternal life will be presented to Jesus as his holy bride, the Church. Every imperfection will be wiped away. There will be no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, no male and female, but we will be presented as the one body of Christ, his holy bride. Even today we have a foretaste of this as we gather together as the Church, in true faith, to receive Jesus’ gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation through Word and Sacrament. But this foretaste will be fulfilled in the resurrection!
The Scribes approved of Jesus’ response. They were delighted that Jesus silenced the Sadducees and they no doubt planned to steal that zinger to use against the Sadducees in future debates. But Jesus did not silence the Sadducees to show how smart he was or make a theological point as if someone were keeping score. Jesus always speaks the truth that gives life. Jesus said God is not a God of the dead, but of the living for all live to him. In fact, all live to Jesus. As Paul wrote to the Colossians: “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Indeed all things were made through Jesus and without him nothing was made that was made.
Jesus speaks with authority about the revelation of Scripture, not with speculation, because he himself caused Scripture to be written. And Jesus doesn’t stand on the outside hoping that God will raise the dead. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life.” A little while before he met the Sadducees in the Temple Jesus spoke to his disciples about himself: “[The Son of Man] will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, but on the third day he will rise.” Jesus is absolutely certain of the resurrection of the dead, because he himself will be the first to rise from the dead. And he is the one who will raise all the dead on the Last Day!
We have no need to speculate as the Sadducees did about the resurrection or about anything else related to our faith. When we speculate about the resurrection we may actually look at it as a terrible thing. We may see our future life as just more of the imperfect life we have now… with the same impure desires… with the same worries. This life will come to an end. Humanly speaking we cannot imagine bodies that are not subject to death. Instead of the resurrection being a joyous liberation, it may appear to us to be an eternal prison of worries, weakness, and inescapable sin. That is why our current pop-culture actively mocks the idea of the resurrection of the dead. Instead of presenting it as saints in priestly splendor as God’s Word does, the culture presents it in movies, video games, and comics as a host of cannibal zombies, hungry for human flesh.
But Jesus gives us a beautiful picture of the resurrection of the dead. He says we will be like angels. He does not say we will be angels, but we will be like angels: holy, pure, magnificent! Our bodies won’t be flawed and destined to die like they are now. There won’t be any wars, which cause so many deaths. We won’t wake up to news reports of thousands dead by a tropical storm. Death is punishment for sin, as Scripture reveals to us: The wages of sin is death! Jesus has already been punished for our sin. He bore this punishment when he died on the cross. We die with Jesus every time we repent of the wrong we think, say, and do. Because we have died with Jesus, we will live with him.
All live to Jesus, because Jesus created all life and holds all life together (even if one does not believe in Jesus). But when we trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection, we live to Jesus in a more marvelous way. We become sons of God. A son is an heir: he inherits everything from his father. We are God’s children through Jesus. We will inherit God’s kingdom! We are considered worthy of the resurrection, because God considers us worthy. Because of something great we’ve done? Some argument we’ve won? No. Only because of Jesus. Jesus, the sinless Son of God is worthy of the resurrection and he has given us his worth as a gift.
It’s true! God is the God of the living. Jesus is our living Savior. We will die, but we will not stay dead. Jesus will raise us from the dead, just as he himself was raised from the dead. We will share in his glory, just as the angels behold his glory every day. In our resurrected body, we will not get sick. We will not grow old. We will not sin. We will not die. We will live forever. God the Father looks forward with great joy to the day when he will present His Church to Jesus as a splendid, holy, beautiful, and living bride.
Let us pray:
Dear heavenly Father,
Teach me to live that I may dread the grave as little as my bed.
Teach me to die that so I may rise glorious at the awe-full day.