The Resurrection Matters
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 20:27-30
November 10, 2019

Jesus said, The children of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are regarded as worthy to experience the age to come and the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. For they are no longer able to die. For they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised even Moses tells us in the passage about the Bush, as it says that the Lord is the God of Abraham and God of Isaak and the God of Jacob. God is not of the dead but of the living, for everyone lives in Him (Luke 20:27-40).

The Sadducees came to Jesus. They wanted to argue with Him about the way things really work. Their target is the resurrection of the body. They thought they had the convincing argument, the argument to end all arguments on the subject.

Who were the Sadducees? They were probably a group of aristocratic Jews that were closely aligned with the chief priests. They dominated the Jewish ruling counsel, known as the Sanhedrin. They were mostly concerned about the political situation under Roman rule. They were sort of a mediating group between the Jewish people and Rome. They wanted to maintain peace with Rome. Their motives were not necessarily benevolent, because their wealth and social position was in many respects protected by Rome. We have indication that they were not liked by the people.

Luke tells us in Acts 23 that the Sadducees taught that there was no resurrection nor angel nor spirit. Life in this world is all there is. There is no life beyond our death here. The only human destiny it makes any sense to talk about is confined between physical birth and physical death.

Since life here is the sum-total of human destiny, of human meaning, politics was the most important consideration. They pursued politics to foster stability in order to maintain power and wealth.

They came up with a rather clever argument to try to “prove” their position. It is possible that they used this argument against the Pharisees, so they thought they would try it against Jesus. They thought that their argument was convincing because they used a provision in the law of Moses as their major premise. What better way to prove something that is contrary to the faith taught by Scripture than to use Scripture to do it?

The provision of Moses that they relied on was this: when a man who is married dies and had no children when he died, his brother should take the woman as his wife to try to have children by her for his brother. This may seem strange to us today, but there it is.

By the way, this provision is part of the civil law of Moses that pertained only to the people of Israel. As such, it is not binding on us.

Jesus sees through their argument. They aren’t using the Scripture to establish anything important about our relationship with God. They aren’t arguing from faith in God to determine what is possible with God and, therefore, for us human beings to give us comfort and hope.

Psalm 115:3 is interesting along this line. It says, for example: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (ESV). What is there that God could not do?

Anyway, their argument involves thinking up a hypothetical situation that a reasonable person would have to concede was plausible. And using the law of Moses as the major premise, they think that they’ve got the certain argument.

Here is the hypothetical. Suppose there are seven brothers. Each of the seven brothers dies having had the woman as a wife.

Here comes the argument. If the resurrection is true, then whose wife will she be in the resurrection? You can’t answer that can you, because all seven had her as wife.

I can’t help but think here of the Sicilian philosopher in Princess Bride. It is the scene of the battle of wits to the death with the protagonist, “Oh, my sweet Wesley.” The philosopher makes his argument and then you hear that hideous laugh. Likewise, the Sadducees thought they had Jesus trapped in an irrefutable argument.

What sort of argument is this? It looks to me like what is called a reductio ad absurdum, that is, an argument that leads to absurdity, absurd results.

The resurrection must be absurd because it leads to a ridiculous situation that makes it impossible to determine whose wife the woman will be. Since the resurrection leads to such absurd results, then the resurrection must not be true. So goes the argument.  

But they are making assumptions that Jesus calls out. They assume that the same circumstances that apply now will also apply then. Often people who make arguments have hidden assumptions that are operating but that they don’t bring to surface as part of their argument.

Jesus exposes one of their assumptions. It is that marriage like we have it now will be the case then. This world continues just as it always has been. But Jesus says that in the age to come, there is no marriage like there is now, because there is no longer any need to produce children. In the resurrection, human beings are like angels in that they are no longer subject to death. As a result, the provision in the law of Moses that they are relying on is no longer necessary. Jesus meets their major premise head on and destroys it.

Jesus also points out that the Sadducees’ argument leads to the conclusion that God does not exist, or if God does exist, He doesn’t really matter that much to our existence. If the Sadducees’ argument is true, it must define the power of God, which is to say, render the power of God useless accept in terms that define this life. But Jesus declares that God is the God of the living.

In our day, we are not dealing with Sadducees. We are dealing with Deism and materialism. John Searle, a philosopher who has taught at Stanford University for many years, states that the prevailing view in our country among academics and intellectuals is materialism.

Deism is a philosophy that holds that God exists and brought all things into being but does not have anything really to do with our existence. The universe is more like a clock that operates according to unchanging physical laws. God created the watch. He created the natural physical laws. All things are governed by these laws, even human destiny. These laws determine all things. But God does not do anything to interrupt how natural laws function.

Deism was quite popular among intellectuals in the 18th and 19th centuries. It eventually gave way to materialism.

Materialists maintain that the only thing that exists is matter. You and I are no different than inkwells and atoms. If we understand atoms, we understand ourselves. And our destiny is ruled by inflexible, deterministic, material laws. There is no soul and life after death. Everything you feel is just a matter of chemicals. You are nothing more than that. And entropy, not God, has the final say, when your body reaches the end of its decay, when it finally gives out in death, and the lights go out.

Materialists argue that logic and what you can observe tell us this, and only that which can be observed that can be determined by logic exists. You might just as well get used to the fact.

But there is a serious problem. If materialism is true, then we are trapped in the darkness of sin and death. No wonder Jesus says to the Sadducees in Matthew’s and Mark’s account of this episode that they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. They are trapped in their rather small human reasoning, which does not answer the most important issues for us human beings, sin and death.  Materialism offers no hope and does not answer our deepest longings.

Things can seem so right to us, and yet we can be so mistaken. We can think that we have reached bedrock and a sure and certain judgment, usually based on what seems logical and according to law. And in doing so we can think that we have said all there is to say. We reach our judgments and that’s it, and so fundamentally misunderstand the nature of things, and so misunderstand ourselves in relation to God.

This is what Jesus is getting at when He tells them, from Moses, that God is not God of the dead but of the living. If you are not satisfied with death, then there is hope for life in God because God is not the God of the dead but of the living.

And this reality matters a great deal. It matters if you are not satisfied with the ruin that sin brings to our lives. It matters if you hope for the possibility of grace and love and restoration when the destructiveness of sin shows itself. It matters if you hope for a better world beyond this one, where there is peace, and indestructible well-being, where there is joy and untainted fellowship with God and with one another. It also gives you the moral courage you need to press on for the good in this world.

But all this can only be if God is the God of the living. And if God is the God of the living, then sin and death are not final and ultimate.

God has come and has shown us that He is the God of living, the God of all grace and love and hope. Jesus has risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. The greatest proof is that He has shown us and done it to lead in the way.

And as you trust in Him, He will lead you too out of death into life, out of sin into everlasting joy and peace. This is true because He has done it and this good news and His promise now fills your ears and your heart.

So we rejoice today in the promise of resurrection. It is our future. And it matters a great deal now.

Amen.



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