The 23rd Sunday After Pentecost November 16, 2014
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
391, 206(1-5), 613, 206(8-10)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then some of the Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, saying: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife, and he dies without children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. And the first took a wife, and died without children. And the second took her as wife, and he died childless. Then 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 does she become? For all seven had her as wife.” Jesus answered and said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But even Moses showed in the burning bush passage that the dead are raised, when he called the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him.”
What are considered some of the greatest triumphs in human history? Might it be the completion of the Eiffel tower—perhaps the most recognized landmark in the world? Charles Lindbergh’s non-stop solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927? Da Vinci’s painting Mona Lisa? Indoor plumbing?
Gutenberg’s movable type printing press? A vaccine to protect against polio? The development of the internet—a way to connect computers together throughout the world?
All these things are thought of as great triumphs. They are examples in which man has shown his intellect, mastery of nature, the elements, science, or the arts. Such a list could go on and on, and yet, there is one triumph that is strikingly absent. It’s not that it hasn’t been attempted time and time again by the people of every century. But this triumph is something only God can manage, for it is something only the original Creator of life itself can do: bring the dead back to life.
The greatest triumph of all is the triumph over death. Humans have pursued this with potions and medicines and techniques, but they cannot stop death, and they cannot bring the dead back to life.
The Christian, however, knows that this is not only possible, but it is guaranteed to happen. There will be a resurrection of the body. The dead will come out of their graves and live. This is what we celebrate and consider this week on Saints Triumphant Sunday—this greatest triumph, that these bodies, our bodies, will live again. Nor is it a fanciful wish, a mere hope or dream that this will happen, it is the reality.
Yes, there really is a resurrection of the body. Scripture says it in many places. Jesus’ own words in John 6:39-40, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (NIV).
When everything else had been taken away from him, the Old Testament believer, Job, knew that he would rise from death, “I know that my Redeemer lives…and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another” (Job 19:25-27 NIV).
Is there a triumph greater than this? God’s saints—believers leaning on Christ for the forgiveness of their sins—will triumph over death. They will be raised back to life and live in glory forever and ever so that they can no longer die. In this way, Jesus says, we will even be like the angels. We will not be like them in every way, but we will share immortality along with the angels.
Enter then the Sadducees. In the face of this glorious message of resurrection, proclaimed by Jesus and His apostles, the Sadducees were the naysayers. They were a Jewish sect influenced by pagan Greek customs and philosophy. They did not think that the dead could rise to life again. They spoke against it as being foolishness and they were always looking for ways to discredit what they thought were such outlandish claims.
They approached Jesus with a question they had specially designed to make the raising of the dead look silly. They wondered what would happen if a woman had seven husbands and outlived each one of them. If the woman and the seven were raised from the dead, which one would be her husband? You can imagine them snickering inwardly as they thought they had trapped Jesus. They thought they had just shown how crazy it would be to think that bodies in the grave could come back to life—it just could not work, whose husband would she be!
But Jesus quickly turned the tables. Where does Scripture ever say that there is marriage in heaven? Jesus countered, “No, you Sadducees, it is you who are foolish. The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage.” [vv.34f] Then Jesus went right back to telling them that there is a resurrection.
The sect of the Sadducees is long gone. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD they are not heard of again. However, modern day Sadducees are all around us—people who do not believe that the dead can rise. Even our own hearts can have their doubts.
Some time ago, a medical doctor was talking about death. He was making fun of Christians who take comfort in the fact that they will rise again to new life. He said, “No, don’t comfort people with false hope, comfort them by telling them that death is just a natural part of life.” Nice comfort there! Somebody should have called-in to the radio program and asked: “If it’s so natural, why do we cry at funerals?” It is because we ache for life again. Because anyone can sense that only returning the dead to life can truly make things good. Thank God there is a resurrection!
School biology textbooks don’t believe resurrection is possible. Just turn to the pages about the life cycle. You know, birth, growth, maturity. How does their life cycle end? It ends with death. Doesn’t that strike you as a little funny—that death is counted as part of the life cycle? It’s not the end of the Christian’s life cycle. Thank God there is a resurrection!
The idea that the dead will rise is ridiculed by many today just as it was ridiculed in Jesus’ day and in the Apostle Paul’s day and in every age. But just because man can’t bring the dead back to life doesn’t mean it can’t be done. In fact, our bodily resurrection goes hand in hand with the forgiveness of our sins.
Consider the reason that there is death in the first place. Unbelievers explain that death exists because it is the necessary engine for the evolution of our species. But Christians know better. We know that death would not be in the world at all except that it is the consequence of disobedience to God. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). There was no death until there was disobedience to God’s holy commands. This is the true origin of death.
So to overcome death, you need to deal with the sin that brings it on in the first place. That is exactly what Jesus did at the cross. It was for this reason that He came down to earth and suffered; for this reason He took our guilt on Himself and accepted the punishment for all of it before His Father in heaven; for this reason He became the Lamb of God. He became sinful for us and died that massive death, that death deserved by the world.
And what happens when the sin of the world is taken on by Jesus? The consequences of sin are reversed. Then you can have a resurrection, and not just a resurrection—all flesh will have that much—but those who trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins will rise to live for eternity in joy and bliss forever.
The end result of the forgiveness of our sins is our rising from the dead. That’s what it’s for! Christ’s forgiveness does not just give us peace for this life. Nor does His death on the cross only give us an example of how to bear up under life’s burdens. When Jesus tells you, “You are forgiven,” it means that your sin will not hold you in the grave. It means that your body will rise again from the dead. What Christ did on the cross and your resurrection go hand-in-hand—saints triumphant, the forgiven triumphant.
Jesus wrapped up His rebuttal of the Sadducees with two beautiful illustrations, reminding us that we can indeed look forward to the greatest triumph of them all. The Lord called those who believed in Him “children of the resurrection.” [v.36] Think about what that means. When you are said to be a child of someone, it is a way of emphasizing the one who gave you life. You are a “child of your mother,” that is, you received life from her. We are all “children of God,” we have received new lives of faith from our God. In calling us “children of the resurrection,” Jesus was saying that we will receive life from the resurrection of the dead.
Christ also pointed to Moses at the burning bush—a familiar account from Old Testament. Bible History. From the bush God said, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). But, you see, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead by the time of Moses. Yet God did not say, “I was their God,” but “I am.” To God they were still alive.
Our God does not reign over dead people. He does not say, “Look how I am Lord over all these dead!” No, if He says He is your God—you are alive, for He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. [v.38]
Even though Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had gone through physical death, with one simple sentence God revealed that He still maintained a relationship with them and they would rise again. To God, all His believers, whether their bodies are in the grave or not, are counted as alive. They will all rise and live on with Him forever. So Jesus said “even Moses showed that the dead rise!” [v.37]
“I believe in the resurrection of the body.” When you confess that in the Apostolic Creed in worship services, confess it with confidence and know from this text that Jesus confessed the same thing. Your bodies will rise. You will live and breathe and walk and run and laugh in the new earth with the Lord Jesus and all Christians.
Saints Triumphant for sure! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.