The Resurrection and the Powers
Luke 20:27-39

(c) Copyright 2005 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Luke 20:27-39
27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and have children for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”
34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!” 40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.

We are in the weeks that follow Easter, the weeks of celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. If you were to survey the gospels, though there are many passages that speak of the fact that Jesus will rise from the dead, this is one of the few passages (with its parallels) that speaks at any length about the resurrection, especially our resurrection.

Many Christians over time have struggled to understand what this passage is really saying. One of the most common misinterpretations that I have heard have come from elderly members of congregations who have lost their spouses. One told me the heart of her grief. Based on this passage, she felt that in heaven, she would not know her husband, after all, there will be no more marriage in heaven. And her loss was compounded by her anticipation of living forever without him. Yes, this passage does say that there will not be marriages in heaven, but it does not say that we will not know the ones on earth that we have loved. Procreation, one of the basic purposes of marriage, will no longer be an issue. But the loves that we have grown on earth will continue. 1 Corinthians 13 makes it clear that faith, hope and love remain. They will not disappear. If heaven is a place where there are no more tears, crying or pain, the logic is that those whom we have loved will be known to us. Jesus told us to love one another, because the love that we grow in our hearts for one another, as spouses and as family members, is eternal! Jesus has no intent to compound our grief by telling us that those whom we have loved will be forever lost to us.

But then, what is this passage telling us?

To answer that, we have to look a little closer at the participants in the conversation.

Verse 27 tells us that some Sadducees came to Jesus. We’re told that Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. The question comes to us, “Who were these guys, and why would they not believe in something as hopeful as the resurrection, a reality which Jesus clearly affirms in this passage?

According to N.T. Wright, the Sadducees were the ultimate political and as a result, theological conservatives. They were the rich in Israel. They were the ones who knew the political ins and outs of dealing with the Roman Government. They actually assisted the Romans in their rule because they learned quickly that negotiating and cooperating with the powers that be would make their life better. They were the elite of Jerusalem that had their own private entrance to the temple. They were the clans from which the high priest was chosen. They were the ones who owned their high priced real estate in downtown Snob Ville. And they justified it with a theology that said “This is the appropriate blessing of God for us.” Part of that theology was to deny the resurrection.

The reason for this denial was that the only books of the bible that they regarded as “from God” were the first five books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and these first books said nothing, in their mind, about the resurrection. Sure they knew about David and his poetry which talks about not being able to escape God’s presence even in death, and they knew about Ezekiel where dead bones took on flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, but these were not authoritative passages to them. They knew that Moses had received words from God. That was the only sure truth they were willing to hold on to. And so these Sadducees basically said:

“The present is all that there is.”
“God’s kingdom is in this world.
Blessing is on earth.
Don’t look forward to the by and by, expect God’s reward today.”

The Sadducees practiced what they preached. Since our earthly life is the place of God’s reward for obedience and blessing, they sought and justified their own lives that fit with their theology. You see, for the Sadducees, to acknowledge the resurrection was very expensive. It would mean for them that there is a final jubilee, where the rich would become poor, and the poor would become rich, where the powerful would become powerless and the meek become the ones who inherit the kingdom.   To acknowledge the resurrection would mean that Mary’s song was in the end correct, that God would humble the proud, side with the poor, have his attention on the fatherless and the widow. And they were simply not interested in that kind of world upturning theology.

So they denied the resurrection. And to help in their denial of the resurrection, they came up with these absurd illustrations of Multiple marriages, one after another, according to Leverite law which stated that a brother must marry his widowed sister in law for the sake of begetting children for his brother and taking care of his brothers inheritance. The apparent story was that this happened 7 times. Whose wife would she be? Jesus answered, it is not a question of wives, husbands or marriage. Only love will remain.

Notice that Jesus immediately moves toward the issue of children - children of God. And the reason he does this is because children inherit.  Children of God inherit the kingdom, children of God, even though they are poor now, inherit the eternal kingdom. It was the poor of the world, those who would not compromise, those who did not know how to manipulate the power brokers of the world, that would inherit the kingdom. The Sadducees, who saw themselves as the inheritors did not like that theology at all. And so they denied the resurrection. But Jesus made it very clear. Quoting from the first five books of the bible, God is the God of Abram, Isaac and Jacob, the living ones, because God is the God of the living.

Far more than making a statement about marriage, Jesus in this passage is making a statement about power, prestige, pride and how this world is going to be turned upside down. When Jesus started his ministry, he said (Luke 4)

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Just a few verses later, they were ready to throw him over a cliff. There was a good reason. Those who had the time during the middle of the week to listen rather than to live from hand to mouth, they were the powerful, the rich, the Sadducees and the like, and they hated what he was saying.

This passage has profound implications for us, in our time and culture. And this morning, the implication that I am focusing on has to do with our wallets, our giving. Council requested that early in the year I speak on giving. Here it comes.

The simple truth is, money is power. In our economy driven culture, all of us would have to acknowledge this truth. To give away our money is to give away our power. The reality of the resurrection turns us into hilarious givers. Let me expand on that.

In believing in the resurrection, we acknowledge that God is going to turn this world up-side-down, Mary’s song is going to become reality. The poor and humble will be raised up. It is because of that truth that we are people who give with amazing generosity, we give, even for the humour of it.

You see, 2 Corinthians 9 tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. Paul tells us that in the context of sowing and reaping, and God scattering his gifts to the poor. Literally, God loves those who give with laughter (comes from the Greek word hilarotaes from which we get our word hilarious.)  The resurrection turns us into people who give with laughter because we realize that in giving away our power today, we are demonstrating our faith, our sure knowledge, that as sons of the living God, we will inherit an eternal future worth far more. In turning our own lives up-side-down by our giving today, we know that we will be lifted up by God in the kingdom to come. That is the message of the resurrection. However if we are tight fisted, accumulating for ourselves treasure on earth, sowing to this life rather than eternity, we are cooking, so to speak, our eternal goose. We are demonstrating that we do not actually believe the resurrection and its significance for the powers that be.

People of God, be generous givers, as you have been last year, be even more generous this year, and as you give, laugh, enjoy it for you are sowing for eternity.

This morning we are celebrating the Lord’s supper together. This supper which Jesus instituted in the past looks forward to an eternal banquet, to which Jesus is inviting the poor in the streets, the hungry of this world, the oppressed and the prisoner. And at this banquet they all come and are equals before Christ, in whom there is no slave or free, rich or poor, male or female, Greek or Jew, we are all one in Christ.

Luke 14
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 ”‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

This morning, be a person who comes to the banquet, be a person who knows that love endures forever, be a person who lives for an eternal future, who gives with laughter because you know the resurrection is coming. Come to be banquet!


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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