There are certain portions of Scripture that I’ve especially looked forward to the chance to preach on, whether it’s because I value their message of comfort or encouragement, or because of their beautiful and stirring imagery – for a variety of reasons. This text is one of those I’ve always wanted to preach on. I find Christ’s teaching here riveting and stirring. I didn’t understand it entirely in the past – and I won’t claim to understand it fully now – but it has always gotten to me. Sometimes faith understands things in ways that reason or logic can’t.
One thing that stood out for me in this sermon was Christ’s amazing command of Scripture. He reaches for a passage that none of us would use, and confidently asserts the resurrection of all flesh based on it. Amazing! Christ truly is the Teacher, the master teacher par excellence.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebr 1.1-3 kjv)
This text also demonstrates powerfully that the Bible’s doctrine is consistent the whole way through. It has never changed and will never change. People may teach it in different ways, or use more correct or less correct terminology, but the Bible never contradicts itself. “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” (i pe 1.25 kjv)
I had a few Scriptures in particular running through my head as I wrote this: Ecclesiastes 12, Romans 8.36, I Peter 1, and I John 3. You can read, reflect, and see for yourself how they fit in with the sermon. God bless you richly through His Word!
“Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”” (luke 20.27-38 niv)
The days are getting shorter. The air is getting chillier. The leaves are almost all off the trees. Frost is starting to appear on the grass in the mornings. It starts to get dark earlier and earlier. Some days we don’t even see the sun at all. It had to happen sometime: summer’s over, fall is nearly done, and winter is on its way. Soon the earth will be cold, dead-looking, and barren. Nothing will grow and we won’t even hardly go outside if we can help it.
You can’t help thinking that life is like that too. In the spring we are young, full of energy, and things are great. We can’t wait to get out there and move around. We’re full of life and full of enthusiasm. Then we come to the summer, where we use everything we’ve got and accomplish great things. We are at the height of our powers. We strive and work and build for the future. We’re more mature and know better what we’re about and what we want out of life, and we work towards it. Then gradually fall comes. We start to slow down. The aches and pains mount up. It takes a little longer to get out of bed in the morning. We find out that we’re not nineteen anymore. It doesn’t feel like we’re getting any older most days, it’s just that everybody around us keeps getting younger. Then one morning you wake up and the frost isn’t on the ground, it’s in your hair, and a lifetime of wrinkles and creases looks back at you from the mirror, and sometimes pain behind the eyes. You know winter isn’t far off — and then what? Soon the cold will come, and the silence.
Pardon me if that seems like a downer, but isn’t that the way it goes? We all know we’re going to end up there. We’ve all got to face up to that fact sooner or later. When we do come face to face with that fact, whether for someone we love or for our own selves, how do we deal with that? The Sadducees show us one way to respond. They were a religious party of the Jews – we’d call them a denomination today – who didn’t believe in anything that didn’t mesh with their reason. If it didn’t make sense, they scorned it. They thought they were smarter than to believe in silly superstitions like angels or the resurrection of all flesh. They couldn’t wait to ridicule and mock those beliefs and those who held them. They wanted to show how superior their big brains made them, so they went around challenging what God taught and trying to tear down peoples’ faith. Nowadays we’d call them rationalists or atheists. These are the kind of people who teach in universities or who eventually graduate from those universities believing only in what they can see and touch. These are the kind of people who write books and bring lawsuits to shackle the free exercise of the Christian faith, because they think they should be free from other people’s beliefs. They think they should be free not to believe in anything except themselves.
So these Sadducees bring a riddle to Jesus that they figure He can’t solve. Either this woman is everybody’s wife, or there really is no resurrection. They want to force Jesus to admit that anybody who believes in the resurrection of the dead is just fooling himself. It’s stupid and illogical. They think they’ve got a real stopper here, a real doozy. You can almost picture them struggling to keep a straight face as they lay out their trick question, this big trap.
Is that how you want to face the winter of your life? You spend your life smirking at what God says and then at some point you die and you become worm food. That’s it. Nothing after that. Your molecules dissolve and you go back to the dust. That’s how the children of this age think. They live all around us. They’re the people who can’t see anything beyond life right now. They may be perfectly nice people, but they’re only focused on the here and now. They go about their lives as they always do. They grow up, they get married, their kids get married, and life just goes on. But they’ve got nothing after that – when life is over.
Brothers and sisters, we are not like that. We are different. We have hope in Christ that transcends the hard knocks we take in this world. We are being counted worthy to take part in that age to come, when all will be light and joy and sorrow and sighing will flee away. Sure, we take our lumps just like everybody else. People let us down. The things we work so hard for are denied to us or fall apart, and we can’t do anything about it. We struggle with pain or loneliness or sadness. Sometimes our flesh oppresses us worst of all. It rises up and just won’t leave us alone until we get sick of fighting. But none of that will matter! All those things are part of our being counted worthy. By them we are proven to be true children of our Father in heaven, as we cry to His Son Jesus and look forward to the day when he will return. In all our afflictions we turn to Jesus and trust in Him. We believe that one day Christ will return and He will set everything right, He will punish the wrong, He will pay back us who suffer — out of His own fullness. He will give eternal comfort, glory, and honor to us who have had precious little of those things in our time in this cruel world.
And how do we know this is true? How can we be sure that God will do for us what he promises? We can be sure because of who our Lord Jesus is. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Not just “I give you the resurrection and the life” – “I myself am the resurrection and the life. I am the life that cannot die and the source of all life. I give life to all my own. Trust in me and you, too, will have life forever.”
We can be sure because Christ has already conquered sin and death for us. He hung on the cross as the perfect payment for our sins. He walked out of his tomb alive and victorious over death. He has ascended into heaven and one day, whether we’re alive or not, he will return in all his glory and give eternal life to His brothers and sisters – to us. He has given us the life that cannot die, which Christ our Lord gave to us when we were baptized and which we’ve looked forward to every day we’re on this earth.
This teaching of Scripture which strengthens our faith was taught even in the Old Testament, even in the book of Exodus, which is not the place we’d look first. But Scripture is a unit. It’s a whole. It teaches the same things the whole way through, so Jesus is perfectly right to use the passage He does to prove the resurrection from the dead.
At first it’s not easy to see how Moses teaches the resurrection of the dead and proves Jesus’ point here. Why does he mention Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Doesn’t that work against his point? Aren’t they dead? Yes and no. In order to understand the proof Jesus uses here, we need to understand the background behind what He says. Remember, Jesus mentions these three patriarchs from the Old Testament because he’s quoting Scripture here. The Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Old Testament, the ones Moses wrote, so Jesus answers them from those same five books. Here He’s quoting Exodus chapter 3, where Moses meets with God at the burning bush and God describes Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They didn’t have chapter and verse divisions in Jesus’ day, so you had to name the portion of Scripture you were talking about by some notable feature in the story.
At the time Moses wrote Exodus, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were dead. Their bodies were dust in the grave. They no longer existed on earth, just as one day we’re all going to leave this world. But for the child of God, it doesn’t end there – it can’t. The bodies of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may have turned to dust long ago, but their souls still live on before God. They may have ceased to live on this earth, but the part of them that lasts, the spiritual, immaterial part, still lives on, and it will forever. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still serve and worship God after they’ve left this world. That’s why God is still their God. On the Last Day their bodies will be reunited with their souls, and they will continue to live before God – only now they’ll live forever in heaven. For those who never acknowledged the true God or loved and trusted in Him, there is no resurrection to life. They’ll be raised only to be condemned to eternal death. God is the God of all who are alive, but for those who never trusted in Jesus or had new life in Him, they can’t be alive because they cut themselves off from Christ.
What was true for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is true for us as well. Our bodies may give out and die, but one day they will be raised and reunited with our souls. Our souls – the part of us that’s us — will never die. It will go to be with the Lord when we die, and when He returns in glory He will reunite all Christians with their bodies. We will live forever as we were meant to live all along, sinless in body, soul, and spirit, righteous and holy in His sight through and through for all eternity.
We are assured of life after death because our God is the God of the living, not of the dead. Whether we are alive or dead as the world sees it, we are alive before God. It makes no difference if you’re walking around alive, if you’re in your grave, or if you’re alive in heaven – you are alive in Christ. You have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, and now God knows you and He loves you. Even death cannot hide you or separate you from your Lord, and not only you, but all those whom you love who also trust in Christ our Lord. We are the children of God adopted through faith in His Son. Jesus calls us children of God because “that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. As remarkable as it is, death or life makes no difference for us. We belong to Him and He will save us from every evil attack and bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom. Each of us can confess that our God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. Each of us can say for ourselves, “God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself.” One day each of us will hear, “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” and we will walk out of our tombs and answer. May the only living God, blessed be He above all, raise us from the dead and unite us with all His children under His dear Son, forever and ever. Amen.