Is There a Resurrection?
October 20, 2019
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord God, help us to know your ways; teach us your paths. Lead us in your truth, and teach us, for you are the God of our salvation; for you we wait all day long. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
24 Jesus said to them, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
The Word God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
At some point, every person has asked the question “Is this all there is? What happens after death?” This is a common question. One of the most popular TV series for the past decade is Modern Family. In one of the early episodes, Manny, one of the characters, spends most of the episode wondering what happens after death. It’s a common question.
Throughout history, people have denied an afterlife. They say, “This is all there is. There is nothing after death.” That is the posture of many in our culture today. The leading lights of our culture are materialists; they deny anything spiritual, including an afterlife. People like Sherlock Holmes or Dr. Temperance Brennan in fiction are materialists and deny an afterlife.
People are coming to Jesus and trying to trap him; they are asking him questions hoping he’ll mess up and they can show what a fool he is. Last week we saw that the Pharisees and the Herodians tried their hand and failed. Now it is the Sadducees chance. Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians, o my. I can’t keep them all straight. We’ll touch on them in a moment. But the Sadducees come and ask Jesus a question about the resurrection. They are hoping to show that the belief in the resurrection is foolish. They are hoping that Jesus will be unable to answer and show he really doesn’t know the Bible like people think or force him to say the resurrection is a foolish idea.
But Jesus is far wiser than the Sadducees. He is the embodiment of wisdom. Because he is the embodiment of wisdom, Jesus expertly responds to their question. As we examine this passage we’ll note a failure to recognize the power of God and the promise of God.
A Failure to Recognize the Power of God
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection.
The Sadducees were a different group from the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the priestly, well-to-do class. They were the educated elite. They were the upper class while the Pharisees were the middle and lower classes. The Sadducees were aristocrats.
The thing that really separated the Sadducees from the Pharisees was theology. The Sadducees only believed that the first five books of Moses. They didn’t believe anything else in the Old Testament. They denied the wisdom literature and the prophets. They also didn’t believe in anything supernatural. They believed in a stripped-down, rationalistic, materialistic religion. Luke tells us in Acts 23 that “the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit” (Acts 23:8).
The Sadducees had this ethical, non-supernatural religion. Despite that, they were experts in the bible. They didn’t read the bible because it’s God’s word with the power to change and transform. They read the bible to get ethical, moral teachings.
While they didn’t believe in the supernatural and especially the resurrection, most did. Many in that culture, including the Pharisees, believed in the supernatural and the resurrection at the end of the age. In John 11 Martha, the sister of Lazarus says that she believes in the resurrection. It was a common belief. Most people thought that life in the resurrection would be a continuation of life in this life. They thought if Bill was married to Betty in this life then in the next life Bill and Betty would continue as a married couple.
They come to Jesus with this story involving levirate marriage and the resurrection. Levirate marriage is the practice of a brother taking his brother’s widow as a wife in order to raise up children in his name. The levirate marriage was a common practice in Israel.
The Sadducees come to Jesus and say, “There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. 21 And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. 22 And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. 23 In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.”
The Sadducees see an opportunity to discredit Jesus as a rabbi and show what they considered the foolishness of the idea of resurrection. They pose a question to Jesus hoping he either has to confess the idea of the resurrection is foolish or look foolish in trying to defend the idea of the resurrection.
Notice how Jesus responds. He says, “Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?” Jesus is saying that the Sadducees do not know the power of God. They may read the bible but they don’t know the power of God.
Remember, the Sadducees are materialists. They deny the supernatural. Even though they might give some intellectual ascent to God, they don’t know him. They don’t know that God is the almighty; that he is the one who eternally exists; that he has created out of nothing.
And yet the Scriptures are filled with examples that God is powerful beyond belief. He can do amazing and mighty things. The God of the Bible is the God who has created all things; who sustains all things; who is renewing all things. We’re told that in the opening pages of Genesis. And a little later in Genesis God causes a barren 90 year old woman to conceive and give birth. The God of the Bible is the God of the supernatural. He is the almighty.
Then in the second book of Moses, God redeems his people with a mighty hand. He ransoms them out of slavery by showing his power over creation. As he is leading them out of Egypt, he powerfully stops up the Red Sea so that his people can cross on dry land. He shows that he is beyond the natural order and can powerfully ordain anything and everything for his purpose. There are many other examples of God’s power in the Old Testament.
And yet the Sadducees don’t recognize it. Even though they know the Scriptures they don’t know the power of God.
Maybe this is you. Maybe you know the Bible backwards and forwards but you don’t know the power of God. Maybe you read the Bible and are just interested in ethical and moral teachings. Knowing the ethical and moral teachings found in the Bible doesn’t make someone a Christian. The Sadducees knew the ethical and moral teachings but they didn’t know God. They didn’t know his power.
Being a Christian is not just knowing the ethics and morals as presented in Scripture. It is not just knowing the Ten Commandments. Being a Christian means that we have experienced the power of God ourselves. We know that God is powerful beyond belief and we have experienced his power in our lives. Christians know that God has powerfully and wonderfully redeemed his people from the slavery of sin and death through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Christians know the power of God. But we have also experienced it. We have experienced the power of God ourselves. We have experienced his power in renewing and regenerating our hearts and minds. We have experienced his power in comforting us with the gospel. We have experienced his power in transforming our lives so that we look more and more like Jesus.
I love The Chronicles of Narnia. In the third book, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is this powerful scene. The story is about a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb who “almost deserved it”. He was a selfish, mean little boy. He certainly didn’t believe in any sort of God. He finds himself transported to Narnia, this wonderful, magical land where animals talk with two of his cousins. As they journey on the Dawn Treader, Eustace becomes a dragon. His nasty, selfishness transforms him into a dragon revealing what he is really like.
One day, while he is off alone doing the things dragons do, a lion walked up to him and motioned for Eustace to follow him. The lion led him to a large bubbling well and told him to undress and bathe. The boy began trying to tear his dragon hide off of him but could never shed it. No matter how deep he dug, it always came back. He scratched away all of his skin three times hoping to shed his dragon-ness. But he never could.
Just as everything seemed hopeless, the lion spoke to him saying that he would need to undress Eustace. The lion took his paw and slowly tore the dragon hide away from the boy. He dug deeper than the boy ever had. Eventually the boy was free of the dragon and made a boy again. Eustace experienced the power of Aslan and was transformed.
Real Christians are like Eustace. We are people who have experienced the transforming power of God. We have experienced God’s power in tearing away our dragon hide and making us human. We have experienced his power in that we have been reborn by the Holy Spirit.
As people who have experienced the power of God, let us expect that God will continue to do amazing things. He will do things that seem supernatural to us but are natural to him. Let us expect that God in his power will continue to renew and regenerate hearts and minds of those whom he is calling to himself. It might seem that some of those people God is calling to himself will never come. Expect that God can and will do amazing things in calling people to himself. God has the power to renew hearts and minds.
Maybe you’re particularly sensitive to sin at the moment. Maybe you’re sensitive to sin in your heart and you wonder if that sin will ever be removed. Expect that God is working in you to remove that sin. Expect that God will continue to sanctify you until either you die or Christ returns. Expect that he is powerful enough to transform you and remove your dragon-ness.
Or maybe you’re sensitive to the fact that sin has damaged relationship and you worry they can never be repaired. God has the power to transform hearts and minds. He has the power to reconcile people not just to himself but to others as well. Expect that he is doing that. Expect that he is doing amazing and miraculous things all because he has the power.
The Promise of God
Jesus gives us a promise. Jesus says, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living. You are quite wrong.”
Jesus says something amazing. He says in the resurrection there will be no more marriage. Remember, the prevailing thought of the day was that in the resurrection life would be just like it is now. They thought that if you were married in this life, then you would continue to be married in the next. But Jesus corrects that. He says that there will be no more marriage.
Maybe you’re thinking, “I love my wife” or “I love my husband. How is it an amazing promise that marriage will no longer exist in the resurrection?” Marriage is a picture of our relationship with God. Marriage is a foretaste of the communion we will have with God in the resurrection.
That is exactly what the Apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5. In Ephesians 5, Paul talks about walking in love and then he goes on to talk about marriage. He spends some time talking about how to have a healthy marriage. Then he says something that seems out of left field. He says that what he really is talking about is Christ’s relationship with the Church. Marriage is a picture of what our relationship to God is like.
In the resurrection when we are actually face-to-face with God we will no longer have a need for marriage to show us what our relationship with God will be like. We the Church are the bride of God. In the resurrection we will know God as intimately and deeply as a husband knows his wife.
Sometimes when we read this we think “Jesus says in the resurrection we will be like angels so that means we will become angels.” It’s not an uncommon idea that people become angels when they die. We see it in cartoons all the time. You see Wile E Coyote try to catch the Roadrunner. He tries to set a trap but it always fails. The Roadrunner outruns Wile E Coyote and the coyote is left holding an explosive or the cliff he’s standing on fall under his feet. Often Wile E Coyote dies. And once he’s dead, his spirit flies up and he becomes an angel. We see that and we think that when people die they become angels.
That’s not what Jesus is saying here. Jesus is simply stating that angels do not marry. Angels do not marry in this life or in the resurrection. And in the resurrection we will be like the angels in that we no longer marry. We won’t go from humans to angels. We’ll stay humans, just glorified and perfected humans. As glorified and perfect humans we will no longer marry because the reality marriage was pointing to has come.
The promise gets better than that; it gets better than knowing we will have this intimate relationship with God. The promise is that nothing will separate us from God. Jesus says, “‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living”. Jesus goes to the Pentateuch to prove the resurrection.
God made promises to the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that he would be their God. Now if the patriarchs had ceased to be as the Sadducees believed then God’s promises were unfulfilled; then they were incomplete. “Jesus’ argument for the reality of resurrection is based on the assumption that the call of God establishes a relationship with God, and once a relationship with God is established, it bears the promise of God and cannot be ended, even by death. The relationship is the result of the promise and power of God that conquers the last enemy, death itself.”
That is exactly what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8. Paul writes, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The promise of God to be God to his Church and for his Church to be his people does not end with death. The promise of God to redeem us from our sin does not end with our death. That promise extends beyond this life and into the resurrection. Death cannot separate us from the promise of God.
When we die, we will not go to some other place. We will not go to purgatory. We will not be separated from God, waiting until the resurrection. When we die, our spirits will go straight to God and continue to live in his presence until the resurrection when we receive our bodies glorified. Then in the resurrection we will be with God body and soul for all eternity. That is our comfort and our hope.
Our only comfort is that we belong body and soul, both in life and death, we are not our own, but belong to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all our sins, and delivered us from all the power of the devil; and so preserves us that without the will of our heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from our heads; yea, that all things must be subservient to our salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures us of eternal life, and makes us sincerely willing and ready to live to him from now on.
Let us pray. Lord, may we recognize your power. May we know and experience your wonderful power. If we have not experienced that power, may you send your Spirit to move within us, renewing and rejuvenating us. May we expect that you will do amazing and powerful things as you govern, sustain, and uphold all things. May we be comforted with the promise that not even death can separate us from you. May we be comforted knowing that one day we will know you as intimately as a husband knows his wife. In Christ’s name, amen.
 Heidelberg Catechism, Answer to the first question paraphrased