Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 20:27-38 Sermon
November 18, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
437 “Ye Watchers And Ye Holy Ones”
144 “For All The Saints”
516 “Faith Of Our Fathers”
141 “For All Thy Saints, O Lord”
‘TILL DEATH DO US PART
TEXT (vs. 27; 33-36): “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question….’Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?’ Jesus replied, ‘The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 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, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection.’”
It’s been almost a year and a half ago that mum and I sat down with Jeff Volzke in his office down the street and ordered the double marker for mum and dad’s grave. Not only did we have a wide selection of things from which to choose, but we also had to figure out exactly what we wanted the marker to say.
One of the things we wanted on it was the date of mum and dad’s wedding, so we wanted it to read: “Married June 23, 1951.” It sounds simple enough.
However when we looked at the various examples of the markers, we saw things like two wedding rings or a double heart or two doves which also had the inscription, “Together Forever,” and “Forever United” and so forth. Nothing we saw really allowed for just a simple wedding date without some sort of extra romantic caption attached to it.
Now it’s not that I don’t believe that my parents will be together forever in heaven; in fact I believe quite the opposite. I believe that they both will be together in heaven, but not because of the vows they exchanged at Salem Lutheran Church in Fremont, Nebraska on June 23, 1951.
I believe that they will share heaven because they are Christians; they are true believers in Christ. Jesus has promised not only them, but all who confess him as their Saviour that they will share an eternity together.
If you look at page 270 in the front of our hymnal, you will find the “Order for Marriage.” Page 271 contains the phrase, “…as long as ye both shall live;” and page 272 contains the phrase, “…’till death do us part.”
This is not unique to Lutheranism or our congregation. In fact, if you were to check the orders of service used in Christian congregations, and even some secular ceremonies, you would find the very same words, or words alluding to the same thing. People pretty much universally accept the fact that marriage is something intended only for life upon this earth; and once a person dies, then the marriage exists no more. Marriages, as we know them, do not exist in heaven.
How do we know this? In our text for today, we find Jesus dealing with this topic quite directly. In verse 35 we read: “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…”
So we can rightfully conclude that marriages only exist on this side of eternity. We have evidence both from a Biblical perspective as well as from what we can observe that death dissolves an earthly marriage. And this is something that everybody, if they look at things honestly, should know.
In our text for today, Jesus is presenting two very clear facts. The first thing he addresses is the fact that there is indeed a resurrection of the dead. And the second thing he addresses is just what we’ve been talking about, the fact that there is no marriage beyond the grave. Let’s look at the situation in our text which gave rise to this response.
Jesus is approached by some men known as the Sadducees. The ancient historian Josephus describes them as a quarrelsome group whose followers were wealthy and powerful, and that he considered them boorish in social interactions. Historically, they rejected such things as the angels, the soul, and the resurrection. Since they didn’t believe in an afterlife, it has been described that they: “…lived in great luxury, using many silver and gold vessels at their banquets; and they established schools which declared the enjoyment of this life to be the goal of man…” They also claimed that they weren’t rejecting Judaism, but the rabbinic law; so they were actually more of a political party than they were a religious sect.
The Sadducees, along with the Pharisees were part of the high Jewish ruling council known as the Sanhedrin. But the two groups stood opposed to each other on many things, and so they harbored a bitter hatred for each other. In fact, the only real thing they shared was a common hatred for Jesus and Christianity.
The opening verses of Acts 23 describe a scene where the Apostle Paul is dragged in front of the Sanhedrin. When Paul is called upon to defend himself, he realizes that he will be addressing both Pharisees and Sadducees. So he says in verse 6: “…My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.” And then verse 8 further explains: “The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.”
What follows is a scene between the Pharisees and Sadducees which could best be described as something like a saloon fight from an old western movie. It started with an exchange of words between them—the Pharisees who started out trying to convict Paul were now actually defending him, if you can imagine that. And the fight intensified from there. It got so bad, that verse 10 records: “The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.”
Suffice it to say that as bad as the Pharisees were, the Sadducees were even worse. And it was a group of these Sadducees that had approached Jesus in our text for today.
They approach Jesus with a question with the hope of trying to “trip him up,” so-to-speak. They use a hypothetical situation, which begins with the Old Testament principle that if a man and woman are married, and the man dies without fathering any children by her, that his brother must marry her and have children with her. This hypothetical woman goes through a series of seven brothers, all of whom die childless, and then finally she dies—probably from sheer exhaustion. The question at the end of this hypothetical situation is simple—whose wife will she be in the resurrection?
The Sadducees, who don’t believe in a resurrection, already knew their answer. In their mind, it didn’t really matter. No resurrection to them meant no problem.
Of course Jesus knew the motivation behind the question. And if we think about it, the error of their thinking really centered around the resurrection, and not so much marriage. So he begins by affirming the obvious, that people of this age (meaning while they are alive on earth) are married and given in marriage.
But then in verses 35-38, Jesus nails the real problem, head-on. He addresses the Sadducees’ foolish denial of the resurrection with the following words: “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, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection. 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'. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
Jesus turns the tables on them. First of all, he tells them in so many words that since they deny the resurrection, then they are not worthy of eternal life in heaven. Heaven isn’t a place for unbelievers. And then he uses the clear words of Scripture to back up his teaching by quoting the words of Moses. There is a real eternity where all will be made alive. God is indeed the God of the living, and in his heavenly mansions all believers will live forever in paradise.
All of this brings us back to the marriage issue. With the possible exception of the Mormons and a few others who believe in a type of eternal marriage, everybody in the world pretty much knows that marriage is something for this life only. For the unbeliever, they subscribe to the idea that earthly death ends everything. And for the believer, we have the words of Jesus himself.
But still there is this seed of doubt that runs through it. Somehow people still want to secretly believe that marriage continues beyond the grave. The evidence of this can be seen just by walking through any cemetery and looking at the countless joint markers of husbands and wives which bear the inscription “together forever.” Even though there are probably many of those who understand this correctly, I would guess that a large share of them reflect an incorrect understanding based upon pure sentiment. After all, mum and dad were married over fifty years and loved each other very much; why shouldn’t they continue to be married in heaven? And so it goes from there.
In one way or another, I have either known about or personally witnessed some rather sad things happen when sentiment is allowed to cloud over and usurp the Biblical teaching concerning marriage.
For example, consider a married couple where one spouse is on their death bed with the other standing there, and they're holding hands. The spouse who is about to die says, “Promise me that when I die, you won’t get married again.” And the other spouse replies, “Don’t worry, I could never love another.” Sounds touching, right?
But then maybe a couple years later, the widowed spouse meets someone else, and they fall in love. Now the widowed spouse is wrought with guilt feelings about the hospital promise which was made to the dying spouse. They feel that if they do get married, that they will be cheating on their spouse who died, or otherwise be condemned by going back on their word. Sometimes they seek to rectify the situation by just living together without getting married.
That’s a very unfair situation indeed. For one spouse to elicit a promise from another spouse not to marry again is downright cruel, as well as being wrong. And it is often prompted by selfish motives.
When questioned, one woman said that she didn’t want her husband to remarry because she “couldn’t bear the thought of another woman getting her good china;” or the man who “didn’t want another man to have his golf clubs.” The reasons are often that selfish and ridiculous.
Or consider the situation where a widowed man and woman are living in the same apartment complex. They meet, fall in love, and want to get married. Everything is great between them; they are entering into a marriage with all of the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. They are of sound mind and know what they are doing.
The problem is with the adult children. “He’s trying to replace mum,” or “She’s trying to replace dad” are accusations I’ve often heard. And right up there at the top is the old, “They’re just trying to get his or her money!” I’ve seen children become so nasty and mean to their parents over this, that everybody winds up arguing and fighting amongst each other, and they’re not happy until everyone involved is as miserable as they are. The trite expression “Can’t you just be happy for them?” falls on deaf ears, and is no more than wasted breath.
One son complained, “There’s no talking sense to mum; she’s like a giddy boy-crazy school girl.” Well, good for her! I bet she never thought she’d feel that way again.
Just ask the son or daughter if they’d get married again if their spouse were to die. The response? “Well yeah, but we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about dad, and he’s acting just like an old fool.”
One couple who did get married as senior citizens were rarely at home after they got married. They were too busy travelling the country and going on cruises and such. The man’s daughter had the audacity to say, “They’re spending all of my inheritance!” And do you know what? If it makes them happy, I hope they spend it all! They’re the ones who worked for it.
Another couple who got married later in life were both fairly well off. They also had to deal with their children’s selfishness. Their solution to the problem was to change their wills; they wound up leaving the bulk of their estates to their church and their grandchildren, who they said were the only people who supported their marriage and were truly happy for them.
It’s easy for us to see what a problem sin can be. God can speak so clearly in his Word about marriage and the resurrection. But Satan does what he always does best, and causes us to change what God has clearly said, or ignore it all together. Even though Jesus specifically tells us that marriage is only for this life on earth, yet people want to drag it on into eternity. And even though the Bible attests to the resurrection of the dead time and time again, people like those Sadducees will choose to reject that promise.
As a result of sin, people are miserable. Sin causes not only fights and arguments, but also replaces God’s clear teaching with some rather unhealthy romantic notions. And sin will always replace God’s blessed hope of everlasting life with fear and doubt.
In our text for today, Jesus talks about “…those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead.” This would prompt us to ask, “Who then is worthy of eternal life?”
Nothing we do or can ever do by ourselves can ever make us worthy of eternal life in God’s kingdom. It’s only what Jesus our Saviour has done for us. And it is there where we focus our attention.
Our theme for this Sunday is “Saints Triumphant.” By common definition, a saint is somebody whose salvation is secured in heaven. A saint is therefore somebody who has their faith firmly rooted in Jesus, whether they are alive on earth today, or they have passed from this life into the next.
A saint is someone who looks at themselves and sees their own sinfulness, and then looks to Jesus for forgiveness and salvation. Martin Luther used the Latin phrase, “Simmul eustis et peccator,” which means “At the same time saint and sinner.” That describes the likes of you and me. We’re sinful by nature, but through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we become saints.
“Together forever” might be an inscription on a grave marker sparked by sentiment; but it describes our relationship with each other as an entire “communion of saints.” If a husband and wife are “together forever,” it won’t be because of a promise they made to each other; rather it will be because of a promise Jesus has fulfilled in them.
Our relationship with God and with each other in heaven will far exceed any relationship we have on earth. In eternity, there will be no more marriage between husbands and wives, because the relationship there will be far better and superior than any marriage on earth has ever been.