BIBLE READING: Luke 20:27-38
In the Gospel today Jesus was being “set up” by the conservative Sadducees.
These men dogmatically rejected all Scripture except the first five books of the Old Testament. As they saw it, there did not appear to be any belief in eternal life in those five books. Sadducees enjoyed poking fun at those who believed in a resurrection. On this day they had Jesus in their sights.
They try a ridiculous hypothetical:
You heard the story - a crazy story! Which finishes with a resurrection they didn’t believe in. “When the resurrection happens, whose wife shall she be? All seven had her as wife.”
Silence. Can’t you picture the crowd listening, some shaking their heads, and maybe some critics starting to smirk as they think: “Get out of that one, upstart carpenter!”
Jesus bounced back at those Sadducees, with two counter attacks:
He did it by using a passage from one of those first five books which they did hold to be God’s word. He quotes from Exodus chapter 3.
Even Moses showed that the dead are raised, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord “The God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” See now, he is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live in him.
In effect he said: “Don’t play funny games with me. Your own Scriptures condemn you.”
And what’s more, resurrection life is not a projection of this life; not things as they are now going on and on forever! It is something utterly more wonderful. A transformation.
“The people of this old world marry and are given in marriage, but those who are worthy to achieve the new age and resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage. They cannot die any more. They are like angels and are children of God when they are children of resurrection”
“But as for the question as to whether the dead are in fact raised, even Moses in the passage about the burning bush, speaks to God as being at that moment ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’. If God is still their God, they must be still living. God is not the God of the dead but of the living; to him all live.”
(This argument of Jesus may not convince your agnostic acquaintances; but it was perfectly logical within the framework that the Sadducees were using.)
Some of the Pharisees, who did believe in resurrection, gave a begrudging acknowledgment: “Teacher, you have spoken well.”
The Sadducees however, publicly humiliated, moved off to finalise their plot for the death of Jesus. There is a sharp irony here: Because the Sadducees did not believe in any possibility of life beyond death, they thought that by having Jesus killed he would be silenced forever. How wrong they were!
Don’t you be put off by today’s distant cousins of the cynical Sadducees; who want to make fun of eternal life. God’s love is faithful-love! Dependable for ever! ‘They cannot die any more, but are like the angels and are children of God, having become children of resurrection.”
The Sadducees made themselves look ridiculous with all that stuff about one bride and seven husbands. Any picture we try to draw with pen or words must depend on images from this mortal life. Projecting that on to eternity it will always look pathetically ridiculous. Eternal life must be other than this life. In his poem “One Day” Ray Matthew highlights this fact:
For nothing that I have now as my self
Is like what one day I will have to be.
And all that I have now as my very own
Will one day be as alien as the sea.
Paul said “What eye has not seen nor ear heard nor the mind conceived, God has in store for those whom love him.”
Resurrection is not native to us. It is a remarkable gift from the grace of God. Absolutely free! Always in the gospel we get back to grace.
Some ancient Greek philosophers believed that we are, by nature, immortal spirits; the human body and life on earth was a crude prison. We are like caged eagles. For them immortality was our right, which at death could be restored as we escape to our true element.
Others, pessimists and cynics went the other way. These said we die like any animal and that is it. Look at Ecclesiastes and you will find this pervading mood of weary despair.
But all of us who follow Jesus, we can respond —
To the pessimists: “No! You are wrong. We are not like a dead dog or lion. There is a gift of life after death. God offers it through faith in the resurrected Christ.”
To the immortals: “No you are wrong. The body is not a cage; it is a good gift for now. Death is for real; we really die, not escape through a loophole. But God gives us anew gift of life: Resurrection life: Gift! Bonus! Grace!”
Jesus made the difference. This faith in eternal life is consistent with everything Jesus was, did and taught. It is consistent with what happened to him, and with the amazed disciples as they joyfully floundered around in the reality of Christs’ resurrection.
I believe. I believe that one day (in a day beyond all days) you will be wakened as from a deep sleep, unlike any other sleep you have known before.
You will be wakened, not by sunshine filtering through blinds; not by the call of a magpie or the song of a thrush; not by an alarm clock or a radio. Not even by the gentle kiss of a loved one.
But you will be wakened by the steadfast-love of God who will lift you up with the gentleness of almighty power into a new life, which nothing is this world has prepared you for except love. Only love!
All doubts and fears will be gone. You will be elevated by “the God of the living” to a joy and peace beyond anything that mortal minds can conceive.
When that happens, the words of this little sermon will seem paltry, and even the visionary words of the Holy Bible will seem an inadequate echo of the real thing. Now we see dimly, as through a smoked glass; then we shall see with absolute clarity – face to face. Thanks be to God!