25 Pentecost Proper C27
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 20:27-38 Sermon
November 10, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
WOV 654 "Alleluia, Song Of Gladness"
TLH 433 "Jesus, My Truth, My Way"
WOV 710 "One Bread, One Body, One Lord Of All"
TLH 200 "I Know That My Redeemer Lives"
SEPARATING SENTIMENT FROM REALITY
TEXT: (vs. 34-36) “…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.”
Many, if not most of you remember the famous newscaster and news commentator, Paul Harvey. He was mostly on the radio, but he did do some television work as well. Somewhere around 24 million people listened to him each week. And he faithfully did his broadcasts from 1950 until he died in 2009 at the age of 90.
People loved his plain talk, his love for humanity, and his traditional morals and values. Even if people didn't agree with him, they still respected him.
One of the features of his radio program was a segment he called "The Tournament of Roses." People would send him names of people who were celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries; and most often, those anniversaries were in excess of seventy years. This is how he would announce anniversaries: "In our tournament of roses, it's John and Jane Doe, celebrating their 73rd wedding anniversary; on their way to forever, together."
I think he phrased it that way, partially because a marriage that has lasted this long has stood the test of time, in spite of life's trials and tribulations. But I also think that he wanted to give people the mental image of this couple, locked arm-in-arm, approaching the pearly gates together, heading for their eternal heavenly mansion. He wanted to paint a sentimental picture for his listeners that would have an impact on them.
I've often thought about Paul Harvey's words as I look at our Gospel lesson for this morning. Now I realize that Paul Harvey is (or was) a Christian, but he never professed to be a theologian. And I don't think that he spoke his phrase, "on their way to forever, together" to make some sort of theological statement. It was purely sentimental. However, he did believe in God's promise of heaven for eternity, and what that meant for a believer.
Eternal life is a reality. Irrespective of whether a person believes it or not, it is something that everybody will experience. For some, it will be a blessed reward; for others, it will be eternal punishment. Either way, it will be something that will never end.
If we look at our text for today, Jesus is being questioned about life in heaven. He is being questioned by the Sadducees. The Sadducees were among the Sanhedrin, which is the high Jewish ruling council. Since they had the most seats on the Sanhedrin, they were the controlling party of the Jewish high priesthood.
The Sadducees had a more secular, political mindset. They weren’t so much interested in doctrinal matters or issues of faith as they were about being popular. And so they attempted to come up with sort of a weird mixed marriage of God’s teachings combined with heathen religious teachings and secular philosophy. You can imagine the type of theological mess that resulted from throwing all these conflicting ideas together in the same bag. Many churches of today still attempt to do this.
Anyway, one of the results of the Sadducees’ mixed theology was a denial of the resurrection of the dead. And actually, this sort of simplified their theology. They never concerned themselves with what it took to be saved, so that was a moot point with them. They lived for the "here and now," and that was it.
So with this in mind, they decided to question Jesus about it in an attempt to trap him. In their minds, they already knew the answer before they ever asked the question. So they asked him about marriage, specifically about someone who had been married and widowed several times. Who would be who’s spouse in heaven?
It’s right here where Jesus gives a clear-cut answer. There would be no marriage in heaven. Marriage is something that exists only during life here on earth. So the question of whom would be married to whom was a complete non-issue.
No marriage in heaven…I think that is a fact that most of us know. The marriage vows say “till death do us part.” I've repeated those words at every wedding I've performed. Marriage was something that God instituted with Adam and Eve in the garden. It was intended then, and still is intended to be an institution strictly limited to earthly life.
The Mormon church doesn’t believe this however. They teach that marriage is something that lasts forever. That’s one of the reasons that polygamy, which is one man having numerous wives, is permitted in their theology. And even though most Mormons no longer practice this, there are groups of fundamentalist Mormons that still do.
Apart from that, people like to entertain romantic notions about there being marriage in heaven, which I think is what prompted Paul Harvey's tag line. I’ve seen many joint tombstones with the husband on one side and the wife on the other with the inscription, “together forever.” I have the feeling that this is often placed there with the mistaken “heaven marriage” idea in mind. Certainly they can share an eternity together; just not as husband and wife.
I’ve also heard about husbands asking wives, and wives asking husbands if they would remarry if the spouse were to die. This is probably one of the most unfair questions there is. How can anybody give an honest answer as to what might happen years down the road? Or one spouse might, with all good intents and purposes, say they wouldn’t remarry; only to have the opportunity of marriage come up years later. Then the surviving spouse has a huge guilt trip, thinking they’re cheating on their deceased spouse. What a mess!
Then there are those times when the widow or widower wishes to remarry, only to have the children come unglued. “You’re trying to replace mom or dad!” they say. Another might say, “you’re too old,” or “all they want is your money!” Children can be so selfish at times. I’ve heard all these arguments before. And when I’ve asked these children whether or not they would remarry if they were to become widowed, many have said: “Yes I would, but this deal with mom or dad is different.” I don’t see how it is.
So what kind of a relationship will we have in heaven? First of all, we will be in perfect and full fellowship with God. There will be no hurt, no loneliness, no bad feelings, no dishonesty; nothing bad at all can happen to us. Furthermore, we will have a perfect relationship with each other—including people who were married to each other.
The fellowship we will share in heaven will be far superior to what husbands and wives share on earth. Irrespective of how good and strong a marriage is here on earth, there hasn’t been one single marriage that has been perfect. So when we die, we will trade our imperfect relationships for perfect ones. That's definitely something to look forward to!
In our text today, Jesus is addressing an issue brought up by the Sadducees, who denied any resurrection theology. For them, they believed that when life ended, it ended, period. Life was only on this earth. Nothing else followed. The question they asked Jesus about who would be married to whom in heaven was intended to trap him.
But of course that didn’t happen; in fact it gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a very good lesson. Jesus knew the hearts of the Sadducees, and that they needed a good lesson on the resurrection. So he explains it to them, and even adds an Old Testament illustration to the picture.
Jesus’ lesson was powerful indeed; so powerful in fact, that he gets the praise of some rather unlikely characters. In verses 39 and 40 of Luke 20, which are the two verses immediately following our text, we read: “Some of the teachers of the law responded, ‘Well said, teacher!’ And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”
Think about it. Here are the teachers of the law, the Pharisees listening to all this. The Pharisees were at odds with Jesus all the time. Yet in this one instance, they side with him against the Sadducees. As theologically corrupt as these Pharisees were, they did believe in the resurrection. And so they make comments to the effect of, “Good job Jesus, way to go!” This was definitely a great compliment from a very unlikely source.
Faith in the resurrection, both Christ’s and ours, is a key doctrine of Christianity. This is so germane, that the Apostle Paul spends the majority of I Corinthians 15 on it, and I frequently quote from this section, especially at a funeral or on Easter. Listen to a few selected verses:
(v. 12-13) ”But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised…(v. 17) And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins….(v. 42b-44) The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body….(v. 54-57) When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul needed to teach a lesson in the resurrection as well. The Greeks in Corinth were a difficult bunch to convince. So he goes so far as to say that if you don’t believe in Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of the dead, you might as well not believe anything at all. This teaching is just that crucial.
Every week we say in the creed that we believe in the resurrection of the dead. This is a teaching that gives us eternal hope. We know that since Christ was raised from the dead, we too will be raised. And when we are raised, we will be given a new, glorified body. All of our aches and pains and imperfections will be gone. We will be given a body like Christ’s own body, and we will receive our inheritance we have through faith in him.
I think its human nature to doubt something as miraculous as the resurrection of the dead. How can God reassemble bodies that have had years of decay? How can God put the ashes back together of someone who has been cremated, or the matter of someone who has died in an explosion? How could God possibly refashion a human being out of someone who has been devoured by a shark or some kind of animal?
That’s our sinful nature talking. Sin causes doubt. Satan wants us to doubt. He wants us to disbelieve in the resurrection. He wants us to be separated from God, both now and especially in eternity. He wants us to walk away from God’s family, and go our own directions. He wants us to believe that there is no eternal life; and for those who don’t believe in eternal life, he will have them for eternity. The nay sayers will find out that there is indeed an eternity, and they will find out the hard way.
Satan also wants us to trust sentiment and emotion instead of what Jesus has plainly said. He wants us to be sad and remorseful when we learn that marriage doesn't go any further than our earthly life.
But we have Jesus, our Saviour. Jesus is the one who rose from the dead and defeated Satan for our sakes. Jesus is the one who then ascended bodily into heaven, and has prepared a mansion there for us.
When Paul Harvey talks about a married couple being "on their way to forever, together," there's actually more truth there than what we might realize. A Christian couple will indeed spend eternity together in heaven, but it will be in a relationship that is far more superior to what they have experienced, or what they could have ever possibly imagined on earth.
Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we know that heaven awaits us. We know that because Christ rose from the dead, so will we. And if we ever doubt or question about how God can resurrect us from our own graves or the demise of our earthly bodies, just remember that God created the first man out of nothing but the dust of the earth. By the power of his word, he gave life to the first man.
In like sense, the power of his word will call us from our graves, where body and soul will be reunited, and we will live forever with him and all the saints in the paradise of heaven.