Text: Luke 20:27-40
Proper 27, Year C
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The question our texts put before us this morning is this: will the dead be raised? It’s a fundamental belief today that once you’re dead, you stay dead. That’s what we hear isn’t it? Dead people don’t rise again. Resurrections don’t happen. We live in a scientific age and we know that once a person is dead, he is always dead. In fact, since 2012 the term YOLO, “you only live once”, has become a catch phrase of many who seek to live life to its fullest and embrace risky behaviour. However, the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day is is a central teaching of the Christian faith. Three central issues hang on it: accountability before God, the last judgment, and eternal life. Without a resurrection, death would be the end, our accountability to God would be limited to this life, and judgment and eternal life would become meaningless concepts. So, in light of the rampant skepticism that we see today, the challenge of our texts is all the more important: Do you believe, teach, and confess that the dead will be raised?
Reason Denies It
The resurrection of the dead was exactly what the Sadducees denied. The Sadducees were the aristocrats of the day. Although they were few in number, they had much power in the Jewish High Council, the Sanhedrin, and much influence with the Roman authorities. They were more concerned with life in the present than with life after death. They were anxious to preserve their own position and power, and so they feared that the idea of a future resurrection would cause the people to become restless and dissatisfied with the status quo, (a status quo they enjoyed very much). People who believe God is going to do that sort of thing are more likely to take drastic political action without fearing the consequences. The Sadducees didn’t come to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn, instead they told stories to illustrate just how stupid such a belief seemed. Imagine a woman who had seven husbands: How can the dead be raised, if you can’t even tell who is married to whom?
Now, I know when they hear about the Christian belief in the resurrection, many today will just roll their eyes. Many today will follow the Sadducees and reject and deny the resurrection because “it just doesn’t make sense.” Most today don’t believe all this resurrection from the dead stuff. Some are convinced all this talk of Jesus and resurrection is just a story we tell ourselves to help us cope with the loss of our loved ones. Some will go so far to say that it’s all just a wishful thinking and fairy tales.
We often think that ancient people were unsophisticated, gullible, and nonscientific. Those who believed in resurrections and miracles were from more primitive cultures. They believed in myths, magic, gods and spirits everywhere. But some in the ancient world were just as skeptical as modern people are. Our text alerts us to the fact that this denial of resurrection isn’t unique to our day and age. We should not be so arrogant as to assume that the ancient people didn’t know what “dead” meant. People in the first century knew that dead bodies don’t sporadically resurrect. In fact, the claim that “Jesus rose form the dead” means nothing unless we assume that dead bodies don’t normally do that kind of thing. Unless Jesus was the exception to the rule, Christianity wouldn’t have got off the ground. Like the Sadducees we are all guilty at times of trying to make a heaven here on earth or of giving into the rampant skepticism of this world.
Jesus Describes It
In reply, Jesus makes two basic points. First, Jesus descries the resurrection. Resurrection life will not be exactly the same as the present one. Those who are raised will be ‘equal to angels’. Now, You do not become an angel when you die, that’s a folk-tale and not what Jesus means. Jesus is not meaning to imply that the resurrection will not be bodily. We often say that that Christians believe that your soul goes to heaven when you die. We talk about our loved ones being in heaven. However true that may be, that’s not our hope. Heaven is not our home. Heaven is a temporary place of rest for the souls of the faithful departed as they await the resurrection. The hope of the resurrection is not to be disembodied spirits floating upon clouds. When Christ raises us from the dead, we will have eternal life. It is true that all men will rise on the last day, some to eternal life and others to eternal death and damnation (cf. Jn 5:28, 29). As the creed says, we believe in the resurrection of the body!
Jesus’ point is that in the resurrection our new bodies will in significant ways be quite unlike our present ones. First, we will be immortal; we will never die again. Resurrection will not simply mean resuscitation, like Jairus’ daughter or Lazarus. It will not mean starting off again in exactly the same kind of world. It will mean going through death and out the other side into a deathless world. Those who are raised will live in a deathless, immortal state. There will be bodies appropriate for the new world in which death will be no more. Secondly, we will no longer have the same relationships that we have here on earth. Marriage is an institution for this world only, intended primarily for procreation. The next world will not be the same as this world. In the New World that the Creator God will make there will be no more death, and therefore no need for procreation. Death will be abolished, and so sexual relations, and especially the need to continue a particular family line, won’t matter anymore.
Scripture Teaches It
Second, Jesus says that the book of Exodus does indeed teach the resurrection, when it describes God as ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. The patriarchs are still ‘alive to God’. This doesn’t mean they are already ‘raised from the dead’. Any first-century Jew would have known that was not the case. It means that they are alive in God’s presence, awaiting their final resurrection. The Sadducees denied that. We are created with body and soul. Though the soul continues to exist when the body dies, we are meant to be both body and soul together. Body and soul are reunited in the resurrection. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would remain in the grave, then Yahweh would be a God of dead men. This is impossible. He is a God “of the living”.
But more than this: Jesus quotes a passage from Exodus. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, not simply to tell him that he is the God of the patriarchs, but to tell him that he has heard the cry of the people in Egypt. He heard the cries of their slavery and he has remembered the promises which he made to Abraham, and he is telling Moses that he has come to set Israel free from their slavery. This passage is about God’s desire to save his people. And not just his people, but all the nations. God has promised to send a saviour, a messiah, who will defeat death and set the whole world right again.
The story that is implied by the idea of the resurrection is one where God will overturn the present order and bring in his Kingdom where death will be no more. The only one who was able to defeat death was Jesus of Nazareth. Instead of all God’s people being raised at the end of history, one person had been raised in the middle of history. That was the shocking, totally unexpected thing.
And the point of resurrection is that it is the defeat of death. It isn’t a way of saying that death isn’t so bad after all. Resurrection is what happens at the moment when Jesus reappears as king. At that final moment death itself will be conquered. Because Jesus rose again and his tomb is empty, we can have the joyful expectation that all the faithful departed will also rise again. And if we believe, if we trust Jesus, then we will see our loved ones again in the Resurrection on the Last Day. That’s not a just wishful thinking, not a coping mechanism, nor a fairy tale, but based upon an actual historical and factual event. The tomb of Jesus is empty. The body of Jesus is risen. And that means your ears aren’t full of fond wishes and empty promises. Christ is risen from the dead and his promise is true. You don’t only live once. There is a cure for Death and Sin. It’s the crucified and Risen Christ. The grave has lost its victory. It cannot hold you because it could not hold Jesus. The grave is now nothing more than a resting place, a Motel 6 for the body, a temporary abode until we rise in the new creation. Jesus Christ rose again and all who trust his promise to raise us, will also rise again to eternal life.
When God spoke to Moses, he spoke as the God of the covenant. He is the “Keeper of promises,” the “I AM” of the Bible. He faithfully brought us our salvation through Jesus Christ. He will faithfully bring us into his glory. He is our God in this life and in forever more. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.