Luke 20:27-40 (25th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 10, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson from Luke 20:
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 man must 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.
How do you like dealing with hard questions? Some folks love to argue and debate difficult questions. So here’s one for you this morning. Are zebras white with black stripes, or are they black with white stripes? Some people say that since they have a white belly, they are white with black stripes. Others argue that if you shave all their hair off they have black skin, so they are black with white stripes. This has been a question debated for years and years. Most scientists seem to believe that zebras are black with white stripes, but some people would still like to debate about it. To be honest, I’m not sure, but I still think zebras are really cool.
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the religious leaders of Israel, liked to argue and debate difficult questions. Many times in the New Testament they do so in order to trick or trap Jesus. Such is the case in our text today. Some of the Sadducees challenged Jesus about the Law of Moses regarding marriage, but their question really wasn’t one about marriage—it was about the resurrection. The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels or in the resurrection, that’s why they were “Sad, you see.” Their question was designed to show that, in their opinion, resurrection had a major problem since you would have to figure out whose wife this woman was in the resurrection if seven brothers had her for a wife in this life. Jesus’ questioners made the false assumption that life in the age to come is the same as it is here and now. So if it’s the same, then there has to be marriage. And if there has to be marriage, then this woman has to be married to one of the seven brothers, but which one? Resurrection would make this whole thing such a mess. Therefore, there probably isn’t resurrection, right Jesus?
This was the hard question put to Jesus to trick and stump Him. But it didn’t. Jesus showed definitively that life in the age to come is different from this life because there is indeed resurrection. And Jesus does this by using the Sadducees own play-book—Moses!
The five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy were the only books of the Old
Testament that had real authority for the Sadducees. Jesus masterfully proves the resurrection right from Moses himself, using the events at the burning bush which we heard in the Old Testament reading today from Exodus 3. In identifying Himself to Moses God says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Here God clearly stated a present reality. At the time of Moses, God was still the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But hadn’t these three great patriarchs died centuries before the time of Moses? Yes, they had died, but yet, God, by calling Himself their God, indicates that they were alive in Him. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead and gone, annihilated, the Lord would have to had said, “I was the God of these men, but not anymore because they are dead and gone.” But that’s not what He said! He said “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Right here; right now. For God is the God of the living. And if they are still alive in heaven they must be raised again.
And this is a hard thing to wrap our thoughts around. In death, we see an end to life. In death, we see finality. From our perspective, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are dead and gone. They are no longer in this world. The same holds true for my father and my grandparents, for your loved ones and friends, who have died. They are dead and gone. Life has ended. Or has it?
Those who have died have gone through temporal or earthly death. But death is not an annihilation of the person. Rather, it is the end of physical life on earth caused by the separation of the soul from the body. It is God alone who determines our moment of death in various ways, by various means (sickness, accident, war), and at different ages. But whatever may be the physical cause of death, all people die because of sin. Death is not part of the natural order of creation. It is a part of God’s punishment against sin. When Adam and Eve sinned by their willful disobedience to God’s Word, death entered the world because of that sin. “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Because we are all by nature sinful, we will all die. It is as certain and as universal as sin is. People who have the will to live, and do all that they can to avoid death, must finally die. No medicine, no science, no will power can stop the fatal blow.
We, as Christians, also bear the consequences of sin. We, as Christians, also die. But, there is a huge difference between the death of a Christian and the death of an unbeliever. For the Christian, death has lost its sting because the Christian has the forgiveness of sins. And that forgiveness was actually won for us through death, the death of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Because Jesus suffered the full brunt of death and hell for us on the cross, the sting and punishment of death has been removed from us through the forgiveness won by our Savior in the shedding of His blood. St. Paul writes, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1Cor. 15:55-57)
So for us who have received the forgiveness of sin in Christ through faith in Him as our Lord and Savior, physical death is as harmless to us as sleep. It is no longer punishment, but a deliverance from the sin, evil, and corruption of this world. As we read in 2 Timothy 4:18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
Because our God and Savior is the God of the living, those who die with faith in Jesus Christ live! Physical death is not the end of us. When Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died, they didn’t simply pass out of existence. They continue to live as persons, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The same is true for our loved ones and friends who have died in the confession of the Christian faith. They continue to live as persons, as distinct personal entities, but without a physical body. Jesus promised at the tomb of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26) The soul of the believer in Jesus continues to live with God in heaven until it is reunited with its body on the Last Day. Know what that means? Resurrection!!!
Since death is the wages of sin and Christ has delivered us from our sins through His death and resurrection, we are also saved from death. And it is the very resurrection of Jesus on Easter that proves that believers, too, will rise again. The blessing of the resurrection means that the same body which died and decayed will be restored from the dust and scattered particles, and the same soul which departed from the body in death and enjoyed the presence of God in heaven will again make this body its dwelling place. The identity of the person will be fully preserved and restored in the resurrection. As Job declares so powerfully, “In my flesh, I shall see God!” (Job 19:26)
And see Him we will, at the time of death, with our souls, and on the Last Day, in our flesh, in our risen bodies in the resurrection! Because we have received, by God’s grace through faith, the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus’ death, we also have the eternal life won for us by Jesus’ resurrection which includes our own rising again from the grave. St Paul writes by the power of the Holy Spirit in his great resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. . . . Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1Cor. 15:20-22, 51-58)
Our God is not God of the dead, but of the living, for we all live to Him by faith in Christ. For Jesus has taken away our sins through the shedding of His blood when He died for us on the cross. He has given us eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins. Now death is but a harmless gate to life everlasting in the presence of God. And while we wait with the Church on earth and with those souls of the believers who have gone before us into paradise, we wait in the confident hope and full expectation of the resurrection to life when Jesus comes again. For we are not Sadducees, and we are not “sad, you see,” because “Jesus is risen and we shall arise: Give God the glory! Alleluia!” (LSB 474) Amen.