Sermon given at Gordon Chapel morning service on 6 Nov 16
The Pharisees and Sadducees oppose Jesus, they’re the religious leaders, the establishment. and Jesus is the young challenger. So they’re always trying to trap Jesus, but he is like the rubber band that always snaps back in their face. Have you noticed – Jesus never loses – and his opponents never learn.
The Pharisees believed in resurrection, but the Sadducees didn’t – perhaps that’s why their title has ‘sad’ in itJ In today’s story, it’s the Sadducees who try to trap Jesus with a question about the resurrection of the dead. They believe only in the books of Moses, which do not mention resurrection, he’s their prime teacher and guide – they are loyal to Moses and follow him slavishly. So, they set out to embarrass and defeat Jesus, who does believe in resurrection.
The Sadducees set the trap for Jesus, using flattery and pleasantries. They say, “Teacher! You are so wise. You know so much. We would really like your help on this tough issue.”
The key to understanding their question, is that it cannot be answered – unless Jesus is willing to agree with the Sadducees that there is no resurrection.
Their question has its roots in the OT law that requires a man whose brother dies childless to marry the brother’s widow and to give her children (Deut 25:5-10). That law met two needs – it helped to perpetuate the deceased man’s name and it provided for the widow.
The Sadducees use a hypothetical situation, where a man died and his brother took the dead brother’s wife as his own, in accordance with Jewish law. Eventually, each of the seven brothers married the woman – and each of them died. Perhaps it was her cooking that finished them offJ Finally the woman died as well.
With that story as the background, the Sadducees ask: ” in the resurrection whose wife will she be” ?
They don’t get the answer that they expected – Jesus comes back at them from another direction.
First, he tells them that life will be different in that heavenly realm. There won’t be any marriage there. We won’t need marriage to keep the human race alive, because we will no longer die.
Then Jesus refers to Moses and the burning bush, a favorite story of every Jew. In that story God says: “I am ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'”.
Jesus knows his OT and says, “Note that God did not say ‘I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ God did not say, ‘I used to be the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ God said, ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.'”
To paraphrase – Jesus then concludes, “If God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, they must be alive, because God is the God of the living – not the dead. Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive. They are alive because of the resurrection”
That surprised and stunned the Sadducees – because they found themselves ensnared in the trap that they had intended for Jesus. They want to catch Jesus out by getting him to say that Moses the law giver, a Patriarch, was wrong. To do so would finish Jesus off. The crowd would no longer follow him.
But Jesus answered so well, accurately and beyond dispute, that his answer demolishes the Sadducee’s ideas about the resurrection. He finishes off with the killer blow: He used the Sadducees’ own sacred text to respond to their anti-resurrection beliefs.
So, how does this affect us, for we cannot ignore the subject, or worse, fear it! A good reason to talk and study together and attend bible studies. For example:-
A man said in a bible study that he loved his wife and didn’t want to be separated from her, so if there’s no marriage in heaven he didn’t want to go there. I had no easy answer – the best I could say at short notice, was that life would be very different in heaven, our needs would be different, that our human minds could not encompass what God intends for us.
As the group discussed this passage, someone said, “Well, in the next life, at least we’ll be rid of these bodies.” We couldn’t agree – some thought that the resurrection will be the resurrection of our own bodies in some form. Then the questions really flew:
- If we will have our bodies in the next life, how old will we be?
- Will people who live a long time be stuck with old, sick bodies?
- Will the only young people in heaven be those who died young?
- If I have arthritis here, will I have arthritis there?
I wish that Jesus were here to give us straight answers. I struggle with those questions, but I think that we know enough to at least get us thinking and researching. And we should be thinking about the resurrection – for Jesus’ resurrection is the central event of the Christian faith. His resurrection ushers in the possibility of our own resurrection.
The OT had its rules and regulations and the Sadducees followed them strictly. But the NT gives us so much more to hold on to and think about – because there we have the lives of real people, whose experiences seems to confirm what we are trying to work out and believe in.
We read how the risen Christ was seen by over 500 people (1 Cor 15.6). Encountering the risen Christ and inspired by His Spirit, the disciples changed from frightened men (John 20.19) to boldly declaring that the authorities crucified Jesus but God raised him from the dead (Acts 4.10). Even cynical Thomas admitted to the resurrection and divinity of Jesus (John 20.28). All but one of the disciples (John) died because of their faith. Would they do that if they did not really believe – did not really know – that resurrected, they would be with God in heaven.
It is a difficult subject to discuss – but we do have even more guidance from scripture, especially from Paul. In his first letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul answered those who claimed that there was no resurrection.
He said: “If there is no resurrection of the dead, neither has Christ been raised. If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, and your faith also is in vain…. (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 17) He goes on to say: “But now Christ has been raised from the dead…. the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20).
In his letter to the Romans, Paul talks about baptism as a burial with Christ. At our baptism, we were buried with Christ in the baptismal waters. Then he says: “If we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be part of his resurrection” (Romans 6:5).
We will be united with Christ in a resurrection like his. So we must ask, “What was Jesus’ resurrection like?” Scripture tells us:-
First, Jesus’ resurrection was forever, he would never die again. Once we are resurrected, we will never die either (Romans 6:9 and 1 Corinthians 15:42, 54).
Second, Jesus had a visible, recognizable body. He appeared to his disciples on several occasions, and they recognized him (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20-21, Acts 1:6-11, Acts 9:1-22, and I Corinthians 15:5-8). So, we will also have visible, recognizable bodies in the resurrection.
Third, the resurrected Jesus touched people and ate with them (Matthew 28:9, Luke 24:39-42 and John 20:27). In that way, Jesus’ body was like ours.
Fourth, the resurrected Jesus was able to enter a room in which the door was locked (John 20:26). Jesus’ body was able to go through the door.
But is there bad news here? In our bible study, someone said, “I don’t want to keep this body forever – I’ve been looking forward to getting rid of it.” I had to say, “Me too!” Because – I’d like to be a film star, but I’m not handsome, I’d like to be a pilot, but my eyesight is bad, I’d like to be a great football player, but my body lacks co-ordination, I’d like to be a great soldier, but my body lacks courage and fitness.
But there’s good news here too! In some ways our bodies will be familiar, but in other ways they will be different:
Paul tells us that our bodies are sown in corruption, but will be raised incorruptible. No more disease, cancer, heart failure or disability – and no more decay.
He tells us that our bodies are sown in weakness, but will be raised in power. So maybe I will be a soldier, play football and appear in films after allJ
And Paul says that our bodies are sown as physical bodies, but will be raised as spiritual bodies (I Corinthians 15:42-44). What does that mean? I don’t really know! But I am sure we need not fear whatever it is.
Some people fear life after death, thinking that we may go to heaven and wander about like zombies in spirit form with no body. There is no evidence for this – the idea behind a separate body and soul is Greek philosophy dating back to Plato around 400 BC.
But what we do know is this: Christ was raised from the dead, and that those who believe in him will share that resurrection. Christ won the victory over death, and he invites us to share that victory.
God has a wonderful life prepared for us – a life that is beyond our ability to understand right now – but a life that will surprise us and fill us with joy when the time is right. Jesus also told us not to worry about tomorrow, in which case we must believe that he has good plans for us, perhaps in that mansion he spoke of.
We can take comfort and strength that Jesus clearly believed in resurrection and eternal life. It is a vital tenet of our faith. But Jesus made it clear that eternal life comes only to those who make a total commitment to Him.
So we need to make a positive choice – to believe and trust in the one who is revealed through the Gospels as the Saviour of the world. Jesus was asked many questions during his short ministry – as Christians, the new life that He gives us is the ultimate answer to all our questions.
To experience that resurrection, that new life, Christ asks only that we follow him – and that we accept him as Lord and Saviour. He will take care of everything else.
So, now is the time to turn to Christ for our hope of eternity, and may we go forth to love and serve the Lord, bringing that hope of eternity to those we meet on the way.