24th Sunday in Trinity November 14, 1999

INI

Is There Life after Death?

Luke 20:27-40

Hymns

215, 652, 206, 660

Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him, Saying, Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man’s brother die, having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her to wife, and he died childless1 And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died. Last of all the woman died also. Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she? for seven had her to wife. And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage: Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection. Now that the dead are raised, even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him. Then certain of the scribes answering said, Master, thou hast well said. And after that they durst not ask him any question at all. These are the Words.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, who said, “Because I live, you shall live also,” Dear Fellow Redeemed,

One of the most famous plays ever produced in America is Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” You may be familiar with it—it’s been on television several times. The play is a story about life and death, set in the small community of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. Well, toward the end of this play, the narrator says an interesting thing—He’s speaking to the audience, and he says, “Now there are some things we all know, but we don’t take ’em out and look at ’em very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars—everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”

He’s right, of course. The author of the play doesn’t reveal exactly what that eternal something is, but you and I know. We know the truth about eternity, because we’ve got it from the mouth of our Lord Jesus Himself. In our text for today, Jesus answers once and for all the question—

IS THERE LIFE AFTER DEATH?

  1. The Sadducees of this world say NO.
  2. God’s almighty Word says YES!

The Sadducees were a sect of the Jewish religion, just as the Pharisees were. But their doctrine differed from that of the Pharisees in one important aspect: the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Once you die, they said, that’s it. There is no life after death.

They were always fighting with the Pharisees about this point. One thing they did agree on though: both groups hated Jesus. The Pharisees had tried to trip Jesus up with tricky questions, and hadn’t been able to do it. So on this occasion, the Sadducees thought they’d have a try. They constructed the elaborate argument I read a moment ago, about the woman and her seven husbands. The logic seemed flawless. Since the problem of who would be the woman’s husband in heaven seemed unsolvable, they thought they had proved that heaven, itself, cannot exist. “Whose wife does she become?” they sneered. “For all seven had her as wife…” No doubt they rubbed their hands with glee. Now, they though, we’ve got this Jesus just where we want Him.

By the way, there are still plenty of “Sadducees” around in this day and age. Isn’t it true? There are lots of philosophers and college professors who make quite a point of denying the idea of life after death. They, too, build their elaborate arguments that are supposed to “prove” that, after the grave, there is nothing.

We don’t have to listen to them, though. And besides, I think most people have enough common sense to know that that’s not true. I’ll tell you what does worry me, though, and it’s not the people who deny the resurrection with their words. It’s those who deny it with their lives. Look at all the people round about us who go through their daily routine as if this world was all there is. If you asked them, many of them would say they do believe in life after death. But that’s not how they live. They know there’s an eternity, but, as Wilder said, “they don’t take it out and look at it” very often. It makes them uncomfortable, and they’d rather ignore it, so they do. They go about their business as usual. They don’t come to church to hear what God has to say about it. If they ever think about religion and God’s Word, well—it’s usually something they feel they can put it off until later. “Right now I’ve got other things to do.” These are the modern Sadducees. And when asked the question, Is there Life After Death?, the Sadducees of this world say NO.

Does that describe us? You and me? Sometimes I’m afraid it does. Jesus said that the Christians are supposed to be lamps set up high on a lampstand. Our lives are supposed to show other people that there is life after death, and that by the grace of God, that’s where we’re headed. But how often don’t we hide our lights under a bushel basket in our attempts to blend in with the crowd? How often don’t we allow ourselves to be carried along by the hustle and bustle of day-to-day living? Soon we find ourselves skipping our daily Bible reading, missing church, spending thousands on ourselves and giving nickels and dimes to the Lord. Isn’t that Sadduceeism? Aren’t we, in our own way, pushing back the eternal things in favor of the temporal?

Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” Let’s catch ourselves, before it’s too late. Let’s ask the Lord’s forgiveness, and pray that He would keep us mindful of eternity every hour of every day! There are plenty of Sadducees around already, without us Christians acting like Sadducees, too.

Is there life after death? No matter how many of this world’s Sadducees say NO, God’s almighty Word says YES!

Jesus listened quietly while the Sadducees spent all that time constructing their clever argument, and then He simply knocked it all over, like a house of cards. The argument about the woman and her seven husbands—that was just the Sadducees trying to apply earthly rules to heaven. And that won’t work. Jesus pointed out what they should have already known: that heaven is not like earth, and the age to come is not like the present age. He said, The children of this world marry, and are given in marriage: But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage.

This is one teaching that has never been easy for Christians to grasp. The relationship between husband and wife is one of the most powerful bonds on earth. That’s why it’s so hard for a Christian to imagine not being married to his or her spouse in heaven. God’s ways are high above our ways, and this is something we just can’t see clearly yet. But there are certain things we do know for sure about heaven: whatever our situation, it will be one of perfect happiness. In heaven, John says, “…God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.—Rev 21:4.

But the Sadducees’ argument wasn’t really with marriage in heaven. They were trying to prove that there wasn’t a resurrection at all, and for this Jesus sternly rebuked them. We read in Matthew, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God.’” The Sadducees considered themselves to be Bible experts. But if they really knew their Bibles, Jesus said, they’d never try anything as silly as disproving the resurrection. It’s as clear as day!

The sect of the Sadducees had a special reverence for the first five books of the Old Testament, so Christ selected a passage from Exodus. At the burning bush, the Lord had identified Himself to Moses by saying, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Not, “I WAS their God,” but “I AM their God” The Lord was telling Moses, Even though the patriarchs passed away centuries ago, they are still alive in heaven with me! For he is not a God of the dead, Jesus said, but of the living: for all live unto him. From God’s point of view, the eternal point of view, there are no “dead” people. To Him, everyone is alive.

God’s almighty Word proves that there IS life after death. There is a resurrection, and there is eternity. Some people deny it; others just stick their heads in the sand and try to ignore it. But on Judgment Day the “Sadducees” of this world will find out the terrible truth, the truth that they’ve really known all along. “Then the King will say to those on His left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’—Mt 25:41.

But what about you? Can you be sure that you are “worthy to attain that age,” and the resurrection to everlasting life? Yes! There is a way!

In a certain art gallery there hangs a picture called “The Game of Death.” It’s very interesting—it shows a young man playing chess with the Devil. By the position of the chessmen, it’s obvious that the Devil is about to win. One day, an international Grand Master of chess visited the gallery and was studying the picture. Suddenly he cried, “I have it! I can save that fellow!” And he proceeded to show how one brilliant move could turn the game around, and lead to certain victory for the young man.

That’s what Jesus Christ has done for us. He has, in one move, eternally checkmated the Devil. Jesus took all our sins upon Himself at Calvary, and in exchange gave us His perfect righteousness. Such a simple move, but so unexpected, and so brilliant! In that one move, He snatched away Satan’s victory, and handed him defeat instead. Jesus rescued us from the brink of hell and opened up the way to heaven. That’s why the open tomb of Easter is such a joyful symbol for us Christians. It’s the symbol of Jesus’ promise to each of us: “Because I live, you shall live also!—Jn 14:19. Do you realize what that means? -If it is true that Jesus rose to life again that first Easter morning, then it is also true that you will rise to eternal life when the everlasting Day dawns. Regardless of your background, your past, how great or how many your sins have been—God’s almighty Word says there will be eternal life for you! Because Jesus lives, you WILL live also!

Many years ago, a submarine sank in a storm off Provincetown, Massachusetts. Rescuers couldn’t get to them immediately because of the heavy seas. But as soon as the weather cleared, divers were sent down. They combed the length of the disabled ship trying to find out whether there was anybody left alive inside. Suddenly, one diver heard a gentle tapping. Listening carefully, he recognized the tapping as Morse code. The message was a question—three simple words repeated over and over again: “IS THERE HOPE?”

“Is there hope?” People are still asking that question today. Even in the midst of all Sadducees of this world, who say that there is no hope of life after death, there are still a few desperate souls out there who are asking, “Is there hope?” You’re a Christian, and your neighbors know it; sooner or later, in one way or another, someone’s going to bring that question to you: “Is there hope?”. Be prepared to answer! “YES! There is hope! In fact, more than hope—in Christ Jesus, eternal life is a certainty!” AMEN.

—Paul Naumann, Pastor

Sermon Preached November 22, 1998
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA


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