Home > Uncategorized > Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 10 Nov, 2013

Sermon for the Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 10 Nov, 2013

Luke 20:27-40

Heavenly Host, 2013

Note:  For the first time, I’m not really sure which of the two preaching occasions I feel like was the better of the two sermons.   One had a little more energy but might have been slightly less articulate, where the other might have had a little less energy but was just slightly better spoken.  I think the ending went better in one, so that’s what I’ll post.  Click the triangle below to listen.  


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.jesus20and20sadducees20over20resurrection

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel we just heard.  And as we get started this morning, there a few things we have to get firmly fixed from the start: Sadducees, specifically what these folks in the Gospel today mean by “resurrection”, and this custom of levirate marriage.

First the Sadducees.  We’re more familiar with the Pharisees as the Gospel writers seem to record more of Jesus’ interaction with them.  In fact, this is the only time Jesus spars with the Sadducees specifically.  The Sadducees thought themselves to be the theological conservatives of the time when compared with the Pharisees.  They only accepted the Books of Moses, that is, the first 5 books of the OT, as authoritative.  And they didn’t read Moses as having anything to say about the future state of an individual after death.  They accused the Pharisees of not following Moses and being influenced more by Greek thought which taught a sharp division between the soul and the body, the soul being the good, pure thing, which is immortal in and of itself.  This is a direct import from Greek thought, specifically Platonic and Stoic ideas.  And the Pharisees leaned toward an idea of the resurrection that owed itself more to Greek thought than the OT.  But in their rejection of Greek thought, the Sadducees even refused to face the clear implications of OT teaching about the future state and were skeptical of any personal future existence.  We probably don’t think as clearly about the resurrection as we should.  What Scripture clearly does not teach is that the end state for us all is our souls flying around heaven playing harps.  And so the Sadducees are right to reject the Greek notion of the immortality of the soul but wrong to reject the resurrection of the body.

Understanding that Jesus might be supportive of the doctrine of the resurrection, the Sadducees bring up a hypothetical case of a woman who had successively had seven husbands who were all brothers.  It’s unclear whether they were all named Henry.  Their case was based on the custom of levirate marriage commanded in Deuteronomy 25.  A brother was commanded to marry his deceased brother’s wife in order to provide an heir.  It seems very strange to us, but we live in an era of inexpensive legal services and laws that enable wives and daughters to inherit property, and failing all that, probate courts.  So a custom that seems very odd to us is the basis for the Sadducees test case on the resurrection and by taking the case to its absurd extreme, they are attempting to show just how unreasonable the very idea of the resurrection was.  How can the dead be raised if they will not be able to tell who is married to whom?

Now, that the Lord even answers such a question is a sign of his condescending grace.  But Jesus’ answer tells us two things.  First, resurrection life will be quite different from this one of marriages and heirs and such.  Death will be no more and so the need for procreation will be irrelevant, especially the need for the continuing of one’s family line.  Those who are raised will become, literally in the Greek “equal to the angels,” not in the sense that they’ll become angels as some people think, but in the sense that they will live an eternal life in the presence of God.  And again, we should note that Jesus is not suggesting that the resurrection will not be a bodily resurrection, just that the bodies of the formerly dead will be, in significant ways, be quite unlike our present ones.

But secondly, and even more importantly, Jesus is saying that Moses’ Book of Exodus, one of those the Sadducees considered to be authoritative, does indeed teach the resurrection of the body.  The Sadducees believed that there was no resurrection of the dead[1] because they didn’t see it in the Torah, the Books of Moses.  And yet, Jesus says plainly that Moses does in fact know of the resurrection in the passage that is our Old Testament reading today where the Lord Himself speaks and calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not the God of the dead, but the God of the living for all live to Him.  It’s no accident that Jesus mentions that those who are raised will be equal to the angels.  The Sadducees didn’t believe in angels either and here the Lord refers to them as well.  Jesus is showing very plainly that the neither the Pharisees nor the Sadducees understood the Scriptures aright.  In verse 37 here, the grammar is important.  The tense of the verb “are raised” is not future but present.  So firm stands this certainty before the eye of the Lord, He speaks not in the future tense but in the present.  And there’s one other spot here where the English might be a little week.  Moses didn’t just “show” it, like it was a mathematical proof, Moses “revealed” this truth about those who are raised.  It’s as if Jesus was subtly saying, “Moses, you remember Moses right?  The exact same fellow you think supports your ideas?  He doesn’t.  Moses revealed this truth about the resurrection of the dead.  God is the God of the living not the dead!”

That leaves us in a bit of a quandary regarding the state of those who have died already and it looks as if we haven’t come to the Last Day, to the day of resurrection, yet.  What about them.  We’ll, we haven’t come to that day yet and without trying to speculate in terms of the relativity of time, we can say for sure that those who are dead are alive before the Lord.  The same God who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the same God who is the God of all those whose names we read last week on All Saints’ Day, and all the All Saints’ Days of years past.  The resurrection of the body and eternal life with God is not some abstract idea related to the relativity of time.  Remember who God is, He is not some abstract idea of a deity.  He is the creator God, who lovingly crafts Adam from the dust of the earth and breathes into him the breath of life and lovingly crafts Eve from Adam’s rib to be a perfect complement to Adam.  He is the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  If it’s been a while since you read those stories of the patriarchs in Genesis, go back and reread them.  God is amazing and good to His amazing promises.  He is the rescuer God who rescues His people from Pharaoh and the covenant making God who personally communicates with His people and gives them the words of the covenant that they might live with Him as His holy people and He would be there God, their king and protector.  “Behold, tell them, I AM has sent you.”  And so the resurrection of the body is not some abstract doctrine of an abstract God, but the promise of God that His people would live with Him in the full enjoyment and favor and fellowship with God into eternity.

Many people don’t necessarily doubt that there is a God, but they doubt heaven and all this business about life after death.  They are modern day Sadducees. But if there is a God and He is anything like what He has revealed of Himself to others like Moses, how could we ever expect to be restricted to just this present reality?  If God is God and we are truly His people how could we ever expect to be limited to just this temporal existence?  We are uniquely created beings who have enjoyed the grace and special favor of God.  How can we be tempted to think that there will come a day when there is nothing more than dust and ash?  If that were the case, wouldn’t God be ashamed to name Himself as the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob centuries after they had lived on this earth, ashamed to call Himself a God of dust and ash?  God who personally calls us by our names and bestows His own name on us grants us an eternal life with Him because we are children of the promise of the everlasting God.  Amen.

[1] Acts 23:8

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