Luke 20: 27-38
I love a quiz – I’m not necessarily very good at them but I enjoy them.
I watch a fair few on the tv – my favourite at the moment is The Chase.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – basically four contestants try to beat one of the 5 extremely clever professionals. In this quiz as there are in many others, there are sometimes trick questions. There’s a question with three possible answers all of which on the face of it, could be the right one. So frustrating! And I very rarely get the right answer.
Jesus on the other hand seems to be very good at answering trick questions. Well of course he is – he’s Jesus! He knows what’s in our hearts. He knew what was in the hearts of those who questioned him during his earthly life and ministry. He knows if the question is for a genuine reason and understanding or whether he is being tricked. This is the situation in today’s Gospel reading. The Sadducees, who are a bit like those quiz contestants who think they are more clever than anyone else, ask Jesus a question about resurrection. They aren’t really interested in what Jesus has to say. They have heard the stories about what Jesus teaches on resurrection and they think he is wrong. The think they are right! So, it’s a trick question because they aren’t going to believe him whatever he says – they just want him to look foolish in his answer. Remember – they don’t believe he is the promised Messiah. The Sadducees are an elite and scholarly group and they form the ruling party among the Jews. They only accept as Scripture, the books of Moses – the Pentateuch – the first 5 books of the Old Testament. They disagree with the Pharisees – the other leading Jewish party. The Pharisees do believe in the resurrection of the body, the existence of angels and demons, and the hope of life after death. So, we have the Sadducees thinking and behaving as if they are the only right party, and trying to belittle the other party as well as Jesus. They want to prove that the idea of resurrection is nonsense. So, they come up with an imaginary case in which a woman marries in turn, each of seven brothers. We have to understand here that under the law of Moses, which the Sadducees follow vehemently, a widow may marry her brother-in-law, in order to produce children for her dead husband’s family line. The likelihood of this happening 7 times is extremely unlikely – hence this being a trick question and not based on something really likely to ever happen. The Sadducees question to Jesus, based on this story, is that if there is a resurrection and an afterlife, whose wife will this woman be? This scenario they propose would therefore produce absurdity and confusion, and so God cannot intend there to be resurrection and after life with him because of this.
At this point I can imagine those Sadducees feeling very pleased with themselves – they think they have outwitted both Jesus and the Pharisees. Think about it – their question does kind of make sense if you don’t wait to hear Jesus’ answer. In fact, I have been asked that very question myself. I am divorced and now happily remarried. A very clever friend, who has read the Bible, but does not believe, asked me some years ago who would I be married to in heaven. Would it be husband number 1 or husband number 2? An example here of a very intelligent person, taking parts of the Bible but without real understanding. A very dangerous thing to do and something in this world that has caused many arguments and even wars over the many years. We have to not only read Scripture in its entirety – not take bits and pieces – to get the whole picture. We must do a certain amount of research and listen to teaching to get an informed understanding. We need to read and understand how Jesus reacts to this question. Now Jesus knows why the Sadducees have asked this question and he knows they are not interested in his answer. And yet he takes the question seriously. He states that resurrection is a privilege not a right. That those who will enter life in the new age will depend on God’s judgement.
It isn’t a given that just because we say we believe in Jesus and we go to church every Sunday, that we will be one of those chosen. There is a lot of time between services. It is what we do in that time to serve the Lord and how we put in to practice in our daily lives all that Jesus has taught us, that matters. Jesus goes on to say that life in the new age – life after resurrection – will be very different to our earthly lives. There won’t be death – we know that Jesus went on to conquer death through his resurrection. In that life after death, after resurrection, there won’t be a need to marry or have children. Because the emphasis will be on us being children – being the children of God. And just to show how little the Sadducees have thought about their trick question, Jesus gives them an example from their own Scripture!! He talks about Exodus chapter 3 verse 6. When God introduces himself to Moses, he describes himself as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob”. So as he is the God of the living, this implies that these great men of the past are alive with him.
Christ’s teaching here is really very simple and is contained within the last line of today’s Gospel reading; “He is the God of the living, not the dead, for to him all are alive.” The living are not just us human beings breathing the air on earth. They are Christians who are alive in faith. Who are alive because they repent and are forgiven through God’s grace. They are those who have died but because they repent and follow Christ – Christ who died that our sins are forgiven – have eternal life. As far as God is concerned the dead are as alive to him as the living. We have all been promised the joyful hope of resurrection to eternal life through Christ, as have all those who have gone before us. It is there for everyone to receive – but we have to fulfil our part of the relationship.
I am not a fluffy Christian. I don’t believe that everyone goes to heaven and receives eternal life in the resurrection. I do believe that it is a simple as turning to Jesus, even in our last breath. I do believe God loves us and as such allows us to be reunited with those we love and choose to be reunited with. But I also believe that we will be judged. And those of us who profess to follow Jesus will be judged harder because we have been given the responsibility to share the Good News of Jesus, to live by his example, so that others will come to know him too. If we don’t do this simple task, if we keep the Good News to ourselves, if we prevent others from coming to know Jesus…if we don’t welcome every person in to our church buildings…because they don’t fit in with our idea of behaviour, or what to wear, or what to say…if we discriminate against colour, sexuality, disability, culture, age – then we are preventing them from coming to know Jesus. We are preventing them from coming in to that loving relationship with our amazing God. And that is what we will be judged on. Not the fact we came to a church building every Sunday. But what we did when we left the church building. What we did to share the Good News of Jesus, that promise of the hope of eternal life extended to everyone. What we did to glorify God. What we did for the coming of His Kingdom. So today as we finish with the words
Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ. Amen.”
Let us actually mean it and do it. It’s not a trick question. It’s a fact that should be our Christian way of life. So that when the time comes for us to stand before God and be judged, he will recognise us as His child, and we will fully understand Jesus’ answer
“He is the God of the living, not the dead, for to him all are alive.”