Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Luke 20:27-40

07 November 2010

Have everyone take the following “quiz.”

1. How many 3-cent stamps in a dozen?
a. 3
b. 4
c. 12
d. 6

2. You're the pilot of an airplane that travels from New York to Chicago - a distance of 800 miles. The airplane travels at 200 m.p.h. and makes one stop for 30 minutes. What is the pilot's name?
a. There is information missing.
b. You can't tell from the question.
c. Both a & b.
d. You can tell from the question.

3. Is it legal for a man to marry his widow's sister?
a. Yes.
b. No.
c. Legality has nothing to do with it.
d. It's legal, but unethical.

While there are correct answers to these questions, which I borrowed from the Internet, they are all framed in such a way to trick people up.

In our text this morning -- Luke 20:27-40 -- Jesus has an encounter with some people who were once again trying to trick him up. it had happened before.

In verses 20-26 some religious leaders had tried to trap him into saying something seditious about the Romans by asking whether it was right to pay taxes to the emperor.

His “render unto Cesar what is Cesar’s and unto God what is God’s” response outwitted them -- but it did not stop them from trying again.

27 “Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead.”

In first century Judah there were multiple factions vying for power and influence.

The Pharisees were a kind of back to the Bible movement -- with a lot of holiness rules and regulations. And while Jesus was frequently at odds with these guys he was most like them in his framework.

The Pharisees accepted the whole of what we call the Old Testament as scripture -- including the prophets and the Psalms. They also believe that there was life after death -- a resurrection of the dead.

The other major power block in society was a group called Saduccees. These were the guys who ran the Temple, manned by priests.

The Pharisees ran all the neighborhood synagogues which were manned by rabbis. But the Sadducees ran the Jerusalem Temple and saw the center of life as revolving around the sacrificial system. Thus they saw the Pharisees as disruptive usurpers.

Pragmatists, the Sadducees had made alliances with the occupying Roman forces but the Pharisees were frequently at odds with the Romans.

The Sadducees accepted the first five books of the Old Testament as authoritative but they rejected the prophets and the writings. They also rejected the idea of life after death -- or any kind of resurrection.

That’s the background to vs. 27 and on, “Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead.

28 “They posed this question: ‘Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. 29 Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. 30 So the second brother married the widow, but he also died. 31 Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, who died without children. 32 Finally, the woman also died. 33 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!’”

This was perhaps a bit of a stock argument that the Sadducees used when arguing with Pharisees. There is actually a fascinating story in Jewish literature -- the book of Tobit -- a book in the Apocrypha about a women who had outlived six husbands who had all died on their wedding night and she was about to marry the seventh.

In other words, this whole framework for debate is deeply rooted in the culture. It was not just a random story that they dreamed up to stump Jesus. It was an old story given a new twist that they used to try to stump anyone who believed in life after death -- including Jesus.

Verse 34 “Jesus replied, ‘Marriage is for people here on earth. 35 But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. 36 And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels.”

Notice that he does not say that people will become angels after they die. That’s a bit of a modern cultural myth that seems to be based in a misread of this passage.

Angels were created as angels. Biblically speaking, they are not good human beings who have died been given wings and harps. Someone probably needs to break this news to Clarence, the angel second class who is trying to earn his wings in the movie classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.” That’s a nice story but not a biblically accurate story.

Now, course, Jesus isn’t trying to give a lecture on angel life but by way of illustration he is saying that angels don’t do marriage. And in the coming era we as humans will be in a similar situation. Marriage is an institution for people here and now in this age -- this era.

Marriage is not forever -- at least not in the sense in which we currently experience it.

Remember the context of the question that was given to Jesus. It was a trite legal question about a social institution -- and the related obligations.

Think of marriage in two senses. In one sense it is about a relationship between a man and a woman -- intimacy, love. And that is important.

But in another sense it is about social structure and obligation. And this is what the Sadducees were asking about.

In the ancient world most marriages were arranged and the alliances and obligations of the marriage institution were the fabric of society.

In our world people “fall in love” and get married. In their world people got married and then learned to love. And it worked well. But the primary emphasis was on family obligation as opposed to personal expression.

Perhaps you’ve seen Outsourced, the television sitcom about Westerners living in India. And part of the tension is the drama between the way that these two groups perceive romance and marriage. First century Judah was more like modern India than modern America or Australia.

So, was Jesus saying that after the resurrection everyone will be single?

I’m not so sure that’s his point -- rather that in the new heaven and new earth society is structured differently. People don’t marry or need to be given in marriage. Society does not depend on that structure. So the trick question was moot -- irrelevant.

Exactly what that means for marriage as a relationship is unclear -- and that does not seem to be Jesus’ point.

Rather he is saying that at the resurrection -- that is at the culmination of time and history when God calls his people, those who have embraced him and trusted in him, back from the dead -- for the final time -- “They will never die again. IN THIS RESPECT THEY WILL BE LIKE ANGELS.

“They are children of God and children of the resurrection.”

Now, Jesus could have left it at that -- for he had soundly debunked the Sadducees’ argument. But he throws in one more zinger -- very much in a rabbical style of argument or illustration.

Verse 37 “But now, as to whether the dead will be raised—even Moses proved this when he wrote about the burning bush. Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, he referred to the Lord as ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 So he is the God of the living, not the dead, for they are all alive to him.”

Notice that Jesus quotes from the portion of the Old Testament that the Sadducees accepted -- a common story -- the foundational story of the burning bush -- where in retrospect Moses referred to the Lord as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

If they were finally and forever dead -- the logic is -- how could the Lord be their God for he is the God of the living?

That is the wrap up -- the cap of his argument in response to the trick question of the Saduccees.

Then suddenly from the wings, some additional characters enter the story to pronounce Jesus the victor in the argument.

Verse 39 “‘Well said, Teacher!’ remarked some of the teachers of religious law who were standing there.” (That is, “scribes” who would also be Pharisees -- the guys who were always trying to convince the Sadducees that there is a resurrection of the dead) Verse 40 “And then no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

That is, there were no more trick questions.

And the thing I want us to see in this story is how Jesus kept the main thing the main thing.

Too often we end up in these unwinnable arguments over peripheral issues -- side issues. Tricky issues.

The question about marriage was really a red herring to try and trap Jesus -- to divert his attention from the important issue of who he was and what he had come to do and inaugurate.

There is no life in the trick questions -- they’re just meant to mess with your head. And sometimes that’s fun -- especially if you’re not getting a grade for how you answer on the quiz.

But how often do we get into discussions about spiritual matters and end up arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a needle -- or the modern equivalent?

And we never get anywhere with these things -- except perhaps mad.

But when we keep the focus on the central issues the side issues aren’t so tricky.


We all agree that counting the number of angels that can dance on the head of a needle is frivolous -- and some hyper-hypothetical question about seven brothers all dying after marrying one woman -- seems pretty out there, as well.

But what about -- the amount of water used in baptism -- or whether infants can be baptized? Is that a central issue?

Or what about the millenial age -- premil, post-mil, pretrib, midtrib, post trib? When exactly is Jesus coming back? There are churches which spend way too much time arguing over the details of the Millennium -- dividing with each other over the Millennium -- sometimes writing some side theory into their doctrinal statement -- upon which everyone must agree to be in relationship with them.

Or if you are African you might get caught up in a argument over whether you should keep more than one of your wives after you’ve become a Christian. We Westerners really fail to grasp the challenge and anxiety over such issues.

If you are Asian you might get into some complex side arguments about whether you can show respect to your ancestors by burning incense and talking to their spirits.

Or what about divorce and remarraige? All issues over which faithful Christians have disagreements.

Notice, I’m not saying that we need to brush all disagreements aside or never have some good healthy discussion on the issues. But we cannot let those issues become defining or central.

So, what is the central issue?

Here is a general question which will help us keep the main thing the main thing about 99% of the time, when we disagree.

Does my response fit well with, and emerge directly from, the resurrection life?

Jesus’ main thing is resurrection life -- and everything he says or does flows from that point of reference. And that is illustrated in this confrontation with the Sadducees.

Sometimes we talk about this in terms of new life in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 -- “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

What we call the new life is really the resurrection life. We start now living out what is to come because we are connected with Christ who has already conquered death. We’re living in the future and serving in the present.

When we keep the focus on the central issue the side issues become less TRICKY. For followers of Jesus the central issue is RESURRECTION life.

Everything that we say and do as followers of Jesus, then, needs to flow from this central point -- this hub -- of new life in Christ.

Again, it is not wrong to think about the side issues or even to hold an opinion on them. But they cannot become the focus and they cannot be defining for us. For we already have another defining relationship -- and that is resurrection life -- new life in Christ.

If we shift our focus to the side issues we end up with a lot of trickery and people start playing a lot of unhealthy games trying to out maneuver one another.

So, here’s the question for you -- and this is not in any way a trick question. Are there areas of personal passion and persuasion in your life that are trying to weasel themselves into a central spot?

That is, are there matters which are unimportant in God’s scheme of things which have become centrally important to you?

We live in an era where politics has become polarizing and people are choosing sides -- often equating their perspective with God’s perspective -- and demonizing those who disagree.

Even Christians are dividing over Obamacare -- people who won’t have anything to do with anyone else who disagrees with them on political issues.

Relationship to Rush Limbaugh or party of several stripes has become more defining than relationship with Christ in how they relate to others -- even other Christians!

Again, it’s not bad to have a political agenda -- but that agenda cannot supplant new life in Christ as the main thing in your life -- the focus of your passion and energy -- mental, emotional, and otherwise.

Hey, we live in a tricky world -- and there are major issues and people vying for your undivided loyalty. There are trolls -- people who want to yank your chain or send you off on bunny trails -- just because they feel empowered by your responses.

These are challenging times. And the greatest challenge, then is to keep -- the resurrection -- your relationship with the risen Christ as the central focus of your life.

Keep the main thing the main thing. When we keep the focus on the central issue the side issues become less tricky. For followers of Jesus the central issue is resurrection life.

Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, you have made us your children -- children of the resurrection. We are thankful children and we want to keep you and your resurrection agenda central in our lives. Through your Spirit empower us to do that.

Some, though, have not yet given God the central spot in their life. If that is you, I want to invite you to ask Christ to come be the focus of your life -- perhaps starting that relationship with words such as these. “Come into my life, Lord Jesus. I want to serve you and be your person. I want to live for you because I know that you died for me. I want to live out your resurrection life everyday from now on. Amen.”

Affirmation of Faith (based on 1 Peter 1:3-6 / NLT)
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for us, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through our faith, God is protecting us by his power until we receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So we are truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though we have to endure many trials for a little while.

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