November 10, 2013 - Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
It really bugs me that
Jesus said this. As my wife likes to say, though it’s not quite literally true,
we met in a class on the immortality of the soul. Joseph Bobik led a little
seminar at Notre Dame on philosophical arguments for the immortality
of the soul. There were three students: Beth, myself, and Jay, my best friend,
who later became our best man. We got acquainted by thinking together about
things eternal, and Beth and I took it as a sign that our love was to be
Thirty-four years of
happy marriage later, I don’t like the thought that this is not meant to last
forever. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not perfect. I’m especially not perfect.
Things are not always sweetness and harmony. But we love each other very much
and don’t relish the thought at all that one of us will someday go before the
other. We want to be back together when Jesus comes and the dead are raised.
So why, in answering
the trick question of the Sadducees, does Jesus suggest that won’t be the case,
that instead we will have some sort genderless, passionless existence like the
angels? What happens to ours and all the other wonderful marriage relationships
that have existed, even in this broken, fractured world of ours?
For that matter, don’t
the Sadducees have a point? They thought they were making up a clever little
fantasy to refute belief in the resurrection, this woman married in turn by
seven brothers. Their story depends on Deuteronomy 25:5, which directs that if a husband dies leaving behind no children, his brother shall marry his widow
so that she may have a child to carry on the dead man’s name. This was named levirate marriage, from the word levir which means brother-in-law in Latin.
The Sadducees just
stretched levirate marriage to the crazy point, so that it happens over and
over, with none of the brothers having any children. So when they are all
raised again, assuming she can’t have more than one, which of them should be
picked as her husband?
In logic or geometry
the Sadducees’ argument is called a reductio ad absurdum, a reducing to
absurdity. You start with the opposite of what you want to prove. The
Sadducees, it says in verse 27, didn’t believe in the resurrection. Then you
try to show that assuming that opposite leads to something contradictory,
something absurd. That means what you assumed must be false. Assuming the
resurrection is true, say the Sadducees, leads to the absurd conclusion that a
woman would need to have seven husbands, so the resurrection is false. It’s a
And these days you
don’t really need to make up crazy stories to imagine family situations which
are too complicated to straighten out if everyone is raised up alive again. My
father had two marriages and at least two other long relationships with at
least one other child besides my sister and me. Even if everyone became a
Christian and was raised up again, how would you sort that out?
You probably have
something like that in your own life or in the life of someone you know well.
Don’t the messes we’ve made of so many relationships make the idea of a general
resurrection and a new life together absurd? How can we possibly be raised up
and get along with one another after all the complications of divorces and
remarriages, not to mention step-children and surrogate children and sperm
donors and all the rest of it? Can even God make sense out of all that so that
we can have true and good families again?
Most of our lives are
connected to knotted relationships that we cannot imagine being untangled.
Children go back and forth between different homes. Relationships with step
children and ex-spouses are the stuff of everyday life. How could it all fit
together in eternity? Whose child or wife or husband will you be then? Or is
eternal happiness together just wishful thinking? Is eternal life just wishful
Jesus refused to let
the Sadducees get away with their argument against the resurrection. They
didn’t understand it. But first He showed them that they didn’t understand
marriage, and that’s the part that bugs me and maybe bugs some of you. In verse
34 and 35 He contrasts the present age with the age to come, the age when the
dead will be raised. Marriage, he says, is for this age, not for that age to
Jesus is saying we
don’t need to worry about who will be married to whom in the kingdom of God. Our relationships won’t be like that. Verse 36 is the reason. “Indeed they
cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being
children of the resurrection.” In other words, people get married to have
children and continue the human race. When the resurrection happens, people
won’t die anymore, so they won’t need to have children, so they won’t need to
At the center of verse
36 is the key to it all, “because they are like angels and are children of
God.” Notice, that He did not say, like so many bad television shows and
movies, that the dead will be raised to be angels. That is a totally
unbiblical, modern myth. We will not be angels, we will be like angels.
And Jesus tells us the main point of that is being “children of God.”
Being like an angel
does not mean being genderless or a disembodied spirit or having wings or any
of the other nonsense people think about angels. Angels are God’s children and
that is what we are meant to be, to enter into eternal life and enjoy an
intimate relationship of trust in God. The angels owe their creation, their
“birth,” directly to God. When Jesus comes again, human beings will be born
into a new creation as children of God.
Even now, our
relationship with God as His children is meant to be the primary relationship
in our lives. Not everyone gets married. Not even everyone who wants to gets married, or stays married. If our marriages are what our eternity is
about, too many of us would be left out in the cold or in tangled knots that
are impossible to unravel.
A long time ago I went
fishing on the San Juan River with a guide who taught me lots of lessons in the
day I spent with him. One lesson happened when I made a sloppy cast and drew
back a tangled mess of monofilament leader. I stood there in the middle of the
river with all these big fish around me and started to pick away at the knots,
trying to untangle it. It was going to take several minutes.
My guide reached over
and said, “Gimme that.” Then he took my line, pulled out his clippers, and cut
the whole mess off. He tied on a brand new leader and fly and had me catching
fish again in not much more than a minute.
So Jesus’ answer to
the Sadducees simply cuts through the knot of the question they raised about
marriage and the resurrection. Relationships are not going to be like they were
when the dead are raised. We are going to define our lives in relation to God,
not by marriage and parenting. Everything will be new and different.
God does not have to
untangle our lives. He is going to make them brand new. He is not going to undo
all the knots we have tied ourselves in, leaving us like my old leader, full of
kinks and snarls. Instead He is going to replace it all with fresh straight
line that is tied directly to His own life.
Yet you may not be
quite satisfied. What about all the joy and love we experience in marriage? I
was moved by another story in book of the month as Lauren Winner, coming off
her own divorce, tells how she was invited to preach at a little church where
she observed an old, frail married couple coming forward for Communion.
As the came, Winner
didn’t know what the pastor told her later, that the old man had an intestinal
disease which meant he could not eat, could not digest anything. He lived on
Ensure and lemonade. All she saw was that as they knelt along the rail, they
each took a Communion wafer. Then Winner presented the Cup to them, saying “The
Blood of Christ keep you in everlasting life.” The wife dipped her wafer and
ate it. Then the old man who could not eat dipped his… and handed it to his
wife, who ate it for him. Winner knew that she was seeing the “one flesh” that
is marriage before her eyes.
Yet Winner also
realized that in her broken state after her divorce, that it was also here, at
Communion, “as part of the body of Christ,” that she herself might know again
what it meant to have that kind of intimacy, to be one flesh in another way
with the people around her, with all her brothers and sisters in Christ.
That intimacy of
marriage, that precious love, is good. When He made human beings, God said it
was very good. So it’s not lost or simply tossed out in eternity. Instead it’s
taken up into something new and greater, a love and intimacy which can include
everyone in its scope, the love of God for His children.
Jesus took a last dig
at the Sadducees in verses 37 and 38. They limited their Bible only to the
first five books, the Torah, Genesis to Deuteronomy, partly because it’s only
later in the Old Testament that they thought you find any mention of
resurrection. But Jesus pointed them to Exodus 3:6, right there in the Torah, at the burning bush where God says to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, the
God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
It’s present tense.
God said that He is right now, at this moment, the God of people Moses knew
were long dead. But if He is their God, then they must be alive. As Jesus told
the Sadducees in verse 38, “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living;
for to him all of them are alive.”
That’s why God wants
to cut through the knots of all our tangled human relationships. Being tied to
God is life forever. In verse 35 Jesus talked about “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead.” Being worthy
just means being like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, being like that old couple at
Communion, being like Lauren Winner clinging to her faith after making a mess
of her relationships.
When we tie our lives
into God’s life, we must quit trying to untangle the mess we have made and tie
on a line that leads straight to Him. It is the only way to eternal life, the
only way to the resurrection of the dead.
Jesus Christ is the
line to God. If you want to tie your life to the divine life of God, then wrap
Jesus around yourself. He said that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
That was not just a line. It is the line to eternity. If your life is
not yet connected to His, then I urge you not to wait a moment to hook up, tie
on, and let Him begin reeling you in. You will find yourself being drawn into a
wonderful new life by a line of grace and love. And when you come to the end of
the line, you will be with God.
What about all those
knots, though? The resurrection from the dead is out there somewhere in the
future and Monday morning is near. “How will you spend eternity?” is an
important question, an urgent question, but “How will you spend tomorrow?”
is also urgent. It’s interesting to speculate on what we will be doing a
million years from now. It is absolutely crucial to discover what God wants for
us next week.
In one way it does matter how many knots we tie ourselves in now. Our Father will cut away the
tangle and make everything straight, but why not loosen some of those knots now
and begin to straighten out our relationships with God and with each other? By
the grace of Jesus we can begin to enter into some of that eternal joy right
Everyone who believes
in Jesus Christ will spend eternity with Him. Everyone who trusts Jesus will be
sister or brother, all children of our heavenly Father. All of us will find
ourselves full of unspeakable, unimaginable joy and love. Yet it all begins
here and now, in this age, as we seek to connect ourselves and the others
around us to the saving life of God in Jesus Christ. That is the
business of tomorrow.
In eternity God will
free you from sin and heal your relationships with others. It begins now. If
you really are for eternity going to be living with and learning to love
someone who just infuriates you now, why not seek God’s help to discover some
of that love and healing in the present?
You can come up with
all sorts of excuses why your own knots are too tight to work on. You can try
not to face what forever means for tomorrow. The Sadducees had their knotty
little question for Jesus in order to evade the questions Jesus had for them.
Yet every day you and I are moving down the line toward eternity, and at the
end of it is the Father waiting and wanting us to be His children.
We may not be able to
untie all our knots, but if we have put our trust in Jesus and His eternal
life, then maybe we make a few less tangles tomorrow. Maybe we can start today connecting straight, true lines of love to the people around us. Christ our
Savior wants to begin making us now into the kind of people He wants us to be
Children of God,
children of the heavenly Father. That’s who Jesus came to make us, to make you.
That relationship, that connection with God doesn’t depend on being married or
being single. It isn’t ruined or destroyed by being divorced or by being
abused. God reaches through all the twists and snarls we tie in our lives, in
our souls, and connects us forever to Himself, just as He did with Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob. Hold onto that connection, onto that life, and He will raise
you up to enjoy it forever.
Some of us will still
have questions, maybe not deliberate, mean questions like the Sadducees, but
nagging doubts, parts of the faith we don’t understand, maybe just little
worries like my own concern about being with Beth forever. But if you’ve heard
Jesus speak a good word to you in any way, if His promise of a new life, and of
a relationship with God as His child, sounds inviting, then you can land where
some people did in the last couple verses of our text.
Not those Sadducees,
but another group, the scribes, heard what Jesus said about marriage and the
resurrection, and in verse 39 they said, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” Then
verse 40 tells us, “For they no longer dared to ask him another question.”
I invite you to come
to the point where the scribes were. Not that you quit asking questions
forever, but that you quit putting off Jesus with your questions. If He has
spoken well, then set your questions aside and listen to Him, trust Him,
believe in Him. And He will welcome you too into the resurrection of the
children of God.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj