November 10, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“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. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to Him.”
In today’s Gospel reading, you are allowed to witness one of the oddest exchanges between Jesus and a set of His opponents, the Sadducees. The temple staff and Jesus have a debate about the resurrection of the dead. As you heard, the Sadducees want to test what Jesus teaches, and they pick an obscure topic: “Will there be marriage in heaven? Will a husband and wife be married in the afterlife?” Actually, they don’t just ask that, they ask about a woman who had been married seven times: “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
It’s a bit of a sticky wicket, this question of the Sadducees. Or at least, they believed it to be so. They thought that Jesus wouldn’t be able to answer this question to anyone’s satisfaction, that Jesus would be discredited by what He said. As the Gospel Writer mentioned, the Sadducees were “those who deny that there is a resurrection.” This is more than just a footnote; it’s important to realize that these opponents of Jesus were asking a question that they believed was purely hypothetical. To them, it didn’t matter, because they didn’t believe there was any resurrection at all. And if that were so, then the whole matter is moot.
But there were others present who did care, who had a horse in the race, so to speak. They were mentioned at the very end of the Gospel Reading: “the scribes” who reply to what Jesus says. These scribes, these experts in the law and Scriptures, mostly believed that there was eternal life. More importantly, they were concerned with preserving the purity of the Law of Moses. And the hypothetical situation that the Sadducees posed has everything to do with the laws and rules of marriage that the Lord gave to the people of Israel.
So the trap is laid for Jesus. But Jesus eludes it. He doesn’t do so by ignoring the question. He doesn’t call down lightning from heaven to strike dead the questioners. No, Jesus answers by asking the proper question, by highlighting what is really important for the people to know and believe. Jesus points out the flaw in the Sadducees question and their lack of belief in life everlasting: “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 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.”
In that multi-part sentence, Jesus declares that marriage is something that only applies here in this life, it is a divine institution meant for this age. But He also mentions that there is a resurrection from the dead, that there is a life of the world to come: “For they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” This is important to note, because Jesus is making a claim to two types of authority or power that the Lord has—the power of this temporal world and the power of the eternal world.
This is seen in Jesus’ further discussion on the topic, once He gets past the “whose wife will the woman be” question. After defusing the trap, hypothetical question, Jesus makes a statement about the Lord and the resurrection: “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. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to Him.” Out of this strange discussion over marriage in heaven, Jesus is able to make a statement of truth about the Lord’s identity and the everlasting life that His people will receive.
That’s where this episode in Christ’s life finds relevance in your situation. The whole marriage in eternity question really isn’t the important part. In many ways, it’s similar to the questions that children and even some of us ask from time to time: Will our pets go to heaven with us? Will we recognize our relatives in paradise? Will we be divided into students/teachers or employees/bosses or congregants/ministers in life everlasting? All of them are interesting questions, even if they are a bit obscure and theoretical. But ultimately, they are of little importance, because they are centered on things of this world that will pass away. They do not concern what is yet to come and will remain for eternity.
But that there won’t be marriage in heaven isn’t the main lesson that Jesus wants you or any of His disciples to come away with from this incident. His answer is meant to refocus people on eternal things. Much more important are His statements about the truth of the life of the world to come, of the resurrection of the dead, of the eternal nature and authority of God Himself. When faced with people who denied that there is any resurrection, Jesus points out their error. He confirms that there will be people who “cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”
Now that is very relevant to you today. Just like the Sadducees of old, there still are people who don’t believe in anything that has to do with life everlasting. Instead, they believe that the only thing that matters is what happens here on earth. And there is the danger for you to fall into that category. The hazard is becoming so absorbed in the matters of this life, that the eternal needs are forgotten or not even considered. How often does that happen in what you think, do, and say?
Even more hazardous is the potential of doubting the promises that the Lord makes to you when there are all sorts of opposition and affliction in your daily lives. That sort of doubt is very common as you witness the falling apart of earthly order or the lack of righteousness in society or the suffering that war and disease causes in nation, in families, or in your own lives. When you see the things of this world occupying all your time and energy, and then disintegrating around you, that’s when the questions arise. Will all the promises that Christ has made to His people actually come true? How often does that happen?
And yet, Jesus’ discussion that you heard this morning refocuses hearts, minds, and souls on what is true, significant, and powerful: “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage.” To the people who belong to this age, the things of the world are the most important and valuable. It’s all that is meant for them, all they can look forward to.
But there are people worthy of a place in eternity, who aren’t bound to just the things of this world and this age. Jesus identifies them: “[Those who] cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” And that is what you are, what you are called and meant to be. For you are not the children of this world, you are “sons of the resurrection.” Being “sons of the resurrection” is your identity, because the Lord has elected to give it to you: “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this He called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He has chosen to make you “the sons of God.” That’s the identity handed to you through your adoption by Holy Baptism, the regeneration to an everlasting life.
It’s the identity that Jesus can give to you, because He isn’t the God of the dead; He has died and has risen again to make everlasting life yours. It’s an identity the Lord can give to you; He isn’t simply the Creator of this world but will bring a new heaven and new earth into existence. As Jesus puts it: “[Moses] calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to Him.” The Lord is the God of the Living. His reign and authority is wrapped up with and holds the power of life. Just like the Creed confesses, He is “the Lord and Giver of life” who ushers in “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
That “God of the living” is your Father. And when He chooses you to be His children, resurrection is the inheritance that you are promised. It’s what you look forward to. It’s what you can absorb yourselves with. For you who have that promised inheritance, the central issue isn’t whether there will be marriage or any other temporal institution in heaven. No, your concentration is on how Jesus provides you forgiveness, life, and salvation; how He makes you “sons of God, sons of the resurrection” by His actions done right here and now; how you are connected to Jesus’ own death and resurrection, making them yours.
This episode in Jesus’ life is meant to focus that concentration on the great promise and gift that He has extended to you. Out of that strange, trap question of the Sadducees, you see Jesus outline what is really significant, what is yet to come. When you receive those words of eternal life, your hearts, souls, and minds are moved away from things that only endure for this age. And instead, you can be absorbed with the treasures that have been designated to be yours for eternity. This is how He answers the petition made in the Collect of the Day: “Grant us the fullness of Your grace to lay hold of Your promises and live forever in Your presence.”
So it is true that Jesus had “spoken well,” as the scribe at the end of the Gospel Reading said. Jesus did speak well in ancient Palestine. But more importantly, He speaks well to address your needs of body and soul—not ignoring them, but bringing you the solution that lasts for all time. This is what the “God of the living” does for you today and for all eternity, for all of you have truly been made alive.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.