God’s grace, mercy and peace be multiplied among you, my dear friends and fellow Christians.
The sermon today is based on our Gospel reading from Luke. The author sets up a series of contrasts and comparisons in this easily-overlooked passage.
First, we read of the Sadducees, who were a sect of the Jewish faith. They held to the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, but didn’t hold to any of the oral traditions of the Pharisees.
It is reported in Scripture that they did not believe in a resurrection, angels or spirits, either. That didn’t stop them from becoming rich and powerful, however. In fact, these men were the group from which the chief priests were chosen. Some of them were on the religious ruling group of Sanhedrin.
They were cozy with the local Roman government of the time, and so they enjoyed some special privileges. They enjoyed life in this world.
They weren’t “common folk”, and it shows as they encounter Jesus. Instead of asking a question with integrity, they are out to make a mockery of his “belief”. Their attitude is a disdainful; they look down on Jesus. So, they ask him a question which is too difficult to answer; or, a conundrum. It was a ridiculous question,
28 “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30And the second 31and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32Afterward the woman also died. 33In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”
The Sadducees were talking about some instructions found in Deuteronomy 25 and a concept called levirate marriage. If a man died, it was up to his brother to produce children with the wife of the first brother. The child from the second brother would be the dead brother’s child.
In our society, having children is a way to live forever. Think about how your name is passed down through a son. If you don’t have a son, then your name dies, and that is the end of your family line, at least, in this world.
In the next world, though, who would be the husband to this woman? Polygamy wasn’t ‘God-approved’, so Jesus was given into an impossible dilemma. Unfortunately for the Sadducees, Jesus is great at the impossible, but more about that later.
Jesus agrees with how marriage works in this world. He responds to them starting in verse 35:
but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection
In other words, while we have children to keep the family line alive, this is unnecessary in heaven because no one will die. But the question raised in Jesus’ statement is “who are the worthy ones?”
The Sadducees might have thought that they were more than worthy, according to their self-evaluation. But Jesus was talking about a worthiness that is altogether different. He was referring to a worthiness that is founded on faith.
Jesus then switches gears and refers to Exodus 3. He argues from the first five books of Moses, which the Sadducees believed were the only scriptures.
37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”
At this time in the Exodus, Moses was living a life of obscurity. He had gone from a silver spoon in his mouth as an Egyptian prince to tending stinky sheep in a desert as a murdering son of Israelite slaves. He probably thought a lot in that desert about his past. He thought about all the wealth, power, and privilege he once had. He thought about the murder he committed and what that did for his career. Now, he would live out his life in obscurity.
Yet, in the midst of this lowly existence, Moses sees a burning bush that is not consumed. Then, he hears the voice of the Angel of the Lord speaking his name from the bush.
Up to this point, God had been using his humiliation as a shepherd to be a training ground. The humble life of tending another man’s sheep was going to change to leading God’s people to the safe pasture of the Promised Land.
It is here that God tells Moses what He is going to do through Moses. It is here that God changes the course of his life. It is here that God gives poor Moses a hope and a future.
God tells Moses that He has heard the cry of His people and is going to rescue them. As Psalm 98:3 states, “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God”. So, God directs Moses to go back to Egypt and be God’s spokesman. He gets to share in the saving of God’s people.
Moses asks who he should say sent him, and God declares, “I AM WHO I AM”. This name has been pronounced Yahweh, or Jehovah. Moses is called to lead these people under this name. And this name communicates a lot.
But, for the people of Israel, who had been enslaved in Egypt for centuries, they might have thought that God was never coming back again. They might have thought that He didn’t hear them. They might have believed that He lacked compassion. Or, they might have thought that He was the cause of all their suffering. Some might have come to the conclusion that there is no God at all.
Generations came and went, and still God did not come. Prayers were sent up in despair and dying hope, but God still did not come.
These are familiar experiences. We lose faith. Some of us feel enslaved to jobs we don’t like, financial situations that have become overwhelming, or demands from our family. You may feel like you have no choice; there’s no way out.
You cry out to God, only to hear silence. You search the scriptures for peace, for an answer, but none come to you. We grow in doubt; God seems so distant.
We start to believe that God doesn’t hear us at all. Maybe He’s no longer compassionate towards us. Worse yet, maybe He is punishing us for past sins. Maybe God hates us.
Did God abandon me? Is He real? Because my suffering is real. These thoughts assault our minds as we lie helpless in a hospital bed, or sit next to one, as we try to comfort a suffering family member or friend.
We feel abandoned when one of our children suffers with a condition that will be part of his or her life forever. We search for medical options that will work, all the while struggling to keep things together.
Or maybe they have walked away from the faith despite our best efforts to love, care for and teach them.
It might be that we have caused others to doubt God’s care and compassion as we have failed to love our neighbors, but instead, argue and squabble with them. We caused discord by talking behind their back, creating distrust in the community. And they wonder, “Is this a child of God?”
Certainly, the Egyptians in the Exodus story believed the gods were on their side. “Look at our wealth”, “look at our power”, “look at our glory”. The Pharaohs, in fact, were considered human and divine; like a bridge between this world and the next.
But then, Moses shows up. It doesn’t just spell the end for cheap labor, and an economy flourishing on the backs of slaves. It spells the end for the gods of the Pharaohs. In fact, Pharaoh, too will meet his end.
Fast forward to our passage in Luke. The Sadducees logic was overwhelmed by Jesus, who is the Wisdom of God. There is no refuting Christ’s argument. In fact, the Scribes who were also in attendance said in verse 39, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” After that, they didn’t ask Him any more questions.
The “I am” statement from Exodus is picked up in John’s Gospel. He quotes Jesus using the Greek form of “I am” 22 times in chapters 4-18.
Jesus says, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”, “I am the light of the world”, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am”, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”, and, most importantly, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live”. These refer back to the self-existent God of the Old Testament. Jesus is saying that He is God.
But what about me? I need God now. Here I am in a hospital with little hope. Here I am looking for answers with no solutions. Here I am in a financial or work situation that I can’t get out of. Or, maybe I have made a mess of my relationships and need forgiveness. I feel hopeless, my faith is dead.
Today, Jesus is your savior. He has already promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
After He had spoken with the Sadducees, Jesus carried a cross to his death, was buried and was raised from the dead. Over 500 people saw the risen Christ. He proved the resurrection by His resurrection.
In order for resurrection to happen for you and I, though, we need to die. This death happened for you as you were buried with Christ into baptismal waters. And, in these waters, He has done something the world has never seen; He re-created you and gave you the Holy Spirit as a down payment for heaven.
Paul explains this in Romans 6:
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
God sent His Son to free us from death, even the death of unbelief. He began that work by drowning you and raising you to new life in the waters of your baptism in His name. And, He continues this work in the hearing of His word and at the communion table.
He has made you a new creation. He has made you sons and daughters of the resurrection. He has made you the children of God. He is the living declaration of the day of the Lord’s favor to you, dear friends.
He declares, I have made you a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. I have made you worthy, because I have lived a worthy life for you. I have set you free to care for others without worrying about your position in me. I clean you by the washing of new birth to share good news with your friends and family.
His resurrection argument shut up the Sadducees. But His final word shut up sin, death and the devil. This final word was the crucifixion, death and burial of Christ. The tomb was where our unbelief was shut up. He shuts up any remaining doubt and despair with these last words, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”