Resurrecting Old Arguments

Luke 20:27-38

27Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30then the second 31and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32Finally the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” 34Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35but 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. 36Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. 38Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

            Last week Jesus was in Jericho, and today we find him in Jerusalem.  If we thought that things were tense in Jericho, they are even more so here in Jerusalem.  The pressure has been mounting and now Jesus finds himself right in the middle of the religious hot-bed.  There are religious scholars, religious leaders, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees everywhere you look.  Jerusalem is the epicenter of Judaism and he has entered into this holy city preaching a radically different message than has been taught.  This why over the last few and next few chapters we see Jesus being challenged more and more frequently as the religious folk try to trap Jesus, to guide him into a net, so that they can prove once and for all that this man is nothing but a phony.  They want to show that he is no Messiah; he is no prophet.  He is nothing but an imposter.

            So in today’s text we find that it is the Sadducees’ turn to try to capture Jesus.  The Scribes and Pharisees have all had a go at it, maybe the Sadducees can succeed.  And you have to say this about Jesus, he sure can unite a bunch of religious factions.  The Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees come together to dis-empower this common enemy. 

            The Sadducees are probably one of the lesser know groups of religious leaders in the Bible, but we do see them speaking up every now and then.  The Sadducees are the really conservative religious folks.  Like Luke tells us in verse one, the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection.  The Sadducees only believed that the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, were from God.  Anything else was extra-canonical and only to be believed by those liberal, hippy-type Pharisees.

            If you read through the Pentateuch you will find some thoughts and phrases that can be interpreted as referring indirectly to the resurrection, but there are really no passages that speak directly about the dead rising again to be with God forever.  You have to keep reading through the Old and New Testament to really be able to find teaching on life after death.  So to a Sadducee, you live your life and then you die.  That’s it.  So for a Sadducee, ethics, living according to the Law of Moses was to gain God’s favor in the present time.  If you did what God wanted and lived in a certain way, God would bless you with land, livestock, and long life.  Then when you die, you are dead.  Kind of a depressing theology if you ask me.  Maybe that is why these people were called the Sad-you-sees. 

            So here is this Jesus guy, preaching a message so radically different from what the Sadducees believe.  Blessed are the poor, the weak, the humble.  Sell everything you have and give your money to the poor.  I am the resurrection and the life.  Not only that, he is loving and caring for the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners.  The Sadducees would believe that these people are the reason that God was not blessing the people and why the Romans had taken the Promised Land.  They aren’t keeping God’s Law, so God is keeping His blessings to himself.  And the worst thing about Jesus is that he is gaining a following.  So they want to stomp out this pest before the movement gets any bigger.

            So with all of their planning the Sadducees come up with a test for Jesus.  They come up with a scenario that is, (clear throat) very likely to happen.  They base their question on the Levirate marriage tradition, which is found in Deuteronomy 25.  The Levirate marriage tradition, or law, says that if a man dies and leaves a woman behind with no children that the brother of the deceased is to marry that woman and have a child with her, which would be considered the heir of the deceased.  Yes, it seems like kind of a strange system to us, but the intention seems to be to protect and provide for the widow in an era when women could not work and provide for themselves and to provide an heir to inherit the estate and carry on the name of the deceased. 

This is a little bit off the point, but the brother does have an option as to whether or not he marries his brother’s widow.  One of my favorite passages from the Pentateuch, Deuteronomy 25:8b-10, “If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” 9 his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” 10 That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.”

            So the Sadducees, who did not believe in a resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him about a fictitious man who got married and died before he was able to have children.  Well this man had 6 brothers and all seven of them followed the Levirate tradition and married her with the intention of providing for her and bringing an heir into the world.  Unfortunately none of them were able to have a child with this woman before they passed away.  Now me personally, if I was the seventh brother, I would begin to question this woman as to why all of my brothers had passed away.  “What are you putting in the curried goat?”  No, the scenario is hypothetical.  But the question posed by the Sadducees is, after the woman dies, whose wife will she be at the resurrection? 

            So what they were saying is, “This whole resurrection thing is just stupid.  Look at the holes in it.  This obviously won’t work.”  And they think that if they show how silly the whole resurrection business is that people will stop following Jesus and return to the morality that Moses taught them in the Pentateuch.

            Jesus tells the Sadducees that they are looking at the resurrection from an earthly perspective.  What they need to do is to look at the resurrection from a kingdom of God perspective.  The resurrection isn’t just going to be a bunch of people coming back to life again in a different location.  Things won’t be just like they are around here.  There won’t be marriages and childbirth.  There won’t be death and sickness.  There won’t be pain and suffering.  The resurrection is new life in the kingdom; the kingdom which Jesus not only calls us to, but shows us a glimpse of in his life, death, and resurrection.

            As a pastor, I get asked a lot of questions about life after death.  And I often give people the same answer.  Are you ready for my extremely profound answer?  When I am asked about life after death, my answer is usually, “I don’t know.”  Will I see a white light?  Will my pets be there?  Will I have my own mansion or will I have a room in a mansion?  Are we really just going to sing all day?  If we are floating on white clouds, why do they need to have streets of gold?  Who will be there and who won’t be?  The questions go on and on.  And for those questions I simply say, I don’t know.  What I do know is that we can trust God to be just.  We can trust God to be God.  After that we are just drawing from clues in the Bible about what we believe will happen.

            Here is what I believe.  I believe that Jesus modeled the resurrection for us.  Jesus was a great healer during his time on earth.  Therefore I believe that there will not be pain or sickness at the resurrection.  Jesus taught love and forgiveness.  Therefore I believe that there will be no hatred and war at the resurrection.  I believe that just as Jesus died and was raised again on the third day that all those who are in Christ will be raise in his glory.  Or as Paul writes in what is probably part of the clearest teaching on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17, “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

My understanding of the resurrection is that it will be the kingdom of God fully realized.  It will be the kingdom that Jesus taught and showed us during his time here on earth.  It will be the kingdom that we are called to live out here on earth, but without the fallen-ness of humanity to mess it up.

            But here is the thing, you can disagree with me and I will still love you and treat you like a brother or sister in Christ.  You don’t have to have the exact same understanding of the resurrection as I do in order for me to accept you.  All of these trapping questions that we find in the Gospels are meant to discredit Jesus.  They are meant to be a test of orthodoxy.  Do you believe what is correct?  If so, you can be our friend.  If not, we are going to write you off as a heretic and make sure that you pay for it.  Of course the question then comes down to what is correct, what is orthodox.

            At least we don’t do that today.  We don’t set people up by asking them difficult questions to see if they are on our team or if they are heretics, do we?  What is your position on the second coming of Jesus?  Are you pre-millennialist, post-millennialist, or a-millennialist?  Do you believe in the virgin birth?  Do you believe in the inerrancy of scripture?  Do you believe in a young earth or an old earth?  What is your position on same-sex marriage?  What about speaking in tongues?  What version of the Bible do you use?  And if someone doesn’t agree exactly with what you believe, we write them off as heretics and try to dissuade anyone that is following them, going to their church, listening to their podcast, or reading their books.  Don’t listen to so and so.  They don’t believe in a literal 7 day creation.  They may profess to be a Christian, but they are not a real Christian like us.

            I came into the church office one day a few years back and checked the messages, just like I do on any given day.  But this day I had a message that caught my attention.  A man had left a message and I remember his words exactly.  He said, “Hello, my name is XYZ.  I am looking for a new church.  If your church doesn’t have communion every Sunday and doesn’t allow women to talk in church, I would like to come sometime.  But if you do these things, don’t call back.”  I didn’t call back.  And not because we occasionally have a woman speak in church or invite them to lead worship.  I didn’t call back because I thought that this was just a cantankerous old man that would never be satisfied anywhere.  I still scratch my head about this one, and it occurred a couple of years ago.  His two criteria for whether or not he was interested in coming to our church were how often we observe communion and if we allow women to speak in church.  He didn’t even ask specifically about preaching.  He asked if they were allowed to speak in church.  I said “Nope, we make them go outside to have their conversations.”  I even can see how people interpret the scriptures to say that we should be observing communion every time we get together.  But this man had put up these boundaries to decide who is okay and who is a heretic.

            Now I also need to repent, because I probably should have called this guy anyway and invited him to join us in worship even though we don’t see eye to eye.  It was not very Christ-like for me to just blow him off and say that he wouldn’t ever fit in here anyway.  And I think that is a danger that we face in the church as well.  We can be like the Sadducees and be always looking to trap people, testing their orthodoxy so that we can call them out as heretics.  Or we can snicker and poke fun of the Sadducees types for setting up these traps and complain about how they are keeping more people out of the kingdom with their boundaries.  But I would like to reject both of these options and instead I choose a third option.  I chose to listen and love people like Jesus.  Starting now.

            As most of you know, I consider myself a Christian pacifist.  I do not believe that a Christian should kill another person, whether that is in a fist-fight in an alley, in a doctor’s office, death row, or on the battlefield.  Last week I had the opportunity to hear a nationally syndicated columnist who is published in the Religion section of our local newspaper.  Somebody said how many papers carry his articles, and though I forget the number, I do remember that it was impressive to me at the time.

            I went, not because of how “big” this guy is.  I went because he was talking about a topic that we could probably all stand to learn a little more about, a topic that is central to my understanding of Christ: forgiveness.  I knew ahead of time this guy’s background.  I knew that he had been a pediatric chaplain for a number of years and I knew that he had served as an Army chaplain in Iraq.  But I thought that there might just be something that I could learn from this American flag-toting, God and Country preaching individual.

            But the attitude that I went with was more that of the Sadducees than of Christ.  He was not at all slow to bring out the slides and stories of war and blessing the soldiers that were being sent out to defeat the enemy.  I got tense and I began comparing and contrasting his theology, which was heretical, to my theology, which is orthodox.  And soon I wasn’t really listening to what he was saying, but instead I was listening for his theological slip-ups so that I might be able to catch him and expose his weak theology.  I even found myself preparing for the question and answer time with what really wouldn’t have been a question at all.  It would have been more like me paraphrasing scripture about loving your enemy and then asking him how that fit into his theological framework.

            I didn’t think of it at the time, even though just hours earlier I had begun working with today’s scripture, but I was exactly like those Sadducees that were looking to trap Jesus with their clever questions.  I was looking to discredit this man and to make myself look better, more intelligent, more orthodox, more godly.  But at least I did catch myself when I was not really listening to what this man was saying, and I was able to hear his point.  And the point of his presentation wasn’t about whether or not we should be fighting in Iraq or whether a Christian should take up arms.  That was only his illustration.  His point was on the power of forgiveness.  And as I listened to him tell stories about how soldiers who had lost their limbs, eyesight, or the ability to walk were finding peace by offering forgiveness to those who had caused them pain, I found myself mumbling “Amen.”  As I heard him tell stories of walking with families as they grieve the loss of a young son, daughter, or spouse and how important forgiveness is to the healing process, I found myself nodding along and tearing up a bit.  And in the end I heard something from this chaplain that has helped me along the way with something that I have been struggling with as well.  And I almost missed all of this because I was too busy setting a trap to expose him, to see if this guy was “orthodox”.  I almost missed it like the Sadducees missed Jesus.

            I’ll close with a thought that I recently heard put so eloquently by Greg Boyd (pastor of Woodland Hills Church in MN).  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, following his sham of a trial, beating, and persecution, he met a thief hanging on the cross next to him.  And the thief asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom.  Jesus didn’t turn to the thief and ask him what his theology was on second coming.  He didn’t ask him how often he believed communion should be observed.  He didn’t ask about his position on war, taxes, the virgin birth, the age of the earth, or anything at all!  Jesus simply told the thief on the cross that tonight he would be with Jesus in paradise.

            Does theology matter?  Absolutely, because our theology is going to affect the way we live our lives.  But I don’t think that God wants theology to come between his people.  And I believe that God would rather have a church made up of heretics who are genuinely seeking to know him and follow him than a church made up of orthodox folks who think that they have God all figured out and dismiss anyone who doesn’t think like them as a heretic.  Don’t be a Sad-you-see.  Rejoice, because we serve a God who loves us with a love deeper than we can imagine.  We serve a God who loves us, even though we don’t fully understand who he is.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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