Summary: When we keep the focus on the central issue the side issues become less tricky. For followers of Jesus the central issue is resurrection life.
Have everyone take the following “quiz.”
1. How many 3-cent stamps in a dozen?
2. You're the pilot of an airplane that travels from New York to Chicago - a distance of 800 miles. The airplane travels at 200 m.p.h. and makes one stop for 30 minutes. What is the pilot's name?
a. There is information missing.
b. You can't tell from the question.
c. Both a & b.
d. You can tell from the question.
3. Is it legal for a man to marry his widow's sister?
c. Legality has nothing to do with it.
d. It's legal, but unethical.
While there are correct answers to these questions, which I borrowed from the Internet, they are all framed in such a way to trick people up.
In our text this morning -- Luke 20:27-40 -- Jesus has an encounter with some people who were once again trying to trick him up. it had happened before.
In verses 20-26 some religious leaders had tried to trap him into saying something seditious about the Romans by asking whether it was right to pay taxes to the emperor.
His “render unto Cesar what is Cesar’s and unto God what is God’s” response outwitted them -- but it did not stop them from trying again.
27 “Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead.”
In first century Judah there were multiple factions vying for power and influence.
The Pharisees were a kind of back to the Bible movement -- with a lot of holiness rules and regulations. And while Jesus was frequently at odds with these guys he was most like them in his framework.
The Pharisees accepted the whole of what we call the Old Testament as scripture -- including the prophets and the Psalms. They also believe that there was life after death -- a resurrection of the dead.
The other major power block in society was a group called Saduccees. These were the guys who ran the Temple, manned by priests.
The Pharisees ran all the neighborhood synagogues which were manned by rabbis. But the Sadducees ran the Jerusalem Temple and saw the center of life as revolving around the sacrificial system. Thus they saw the Pharisees as disruptive usurpers.
Pragmatists, the Sadducees had made alliances with the occupying Roman forces but the Pharisees were frequently at odds with the Romans.
The Sadducees accepted the first five books of the Old Testament as authoritative but they rejected the prophets and the writings. They also rejected the idea of life after death -- or any kind of resurrection.
That’s the background to vs. 27 and on, “Then Jesus was approached by some Sadducees—religious leaders who say there is no resurrection from the dead.
28 “They posed this question: ‘Teacher, Moses gave us a law that if a man dies, leaving a wife but no children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name. 29 Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children. 30 So the second brother married the widow, but he also died. 31 Then the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them, who died without children. 32 Finally, the woman also died. 33 So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her!’”
This was perhaps a bit of a stock argument that the Sadducees used when arguing with Pharisees. There is actually a fascinating story in Jewish literature -- the book of Tobit -- a book in the Apocrypha about a women who had outlived six husbands who had all died on their wedding night and she was about to marry the seventh.
In other words, this whole framework for debate is deeply rooted in the culture. It was not just a random story that they dreamed up to stump Jesus. It was an old story given a new twist that they used to try to stump anyone who believed in life after death -- including Jesus.
Verse 34 “Jesus replied, ‘Marriage is for people here on earth. 35 But in the age to come, those worthy of being raised from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. 36 And they will never die again. In this respect they will be like angels.”
Notice that he does not say that people will become angels after they die. That’s a bit of a modern cultural myth that seems to be based in a misread of this passage.
Angels were created as angels. Biblically speaking, they are not good human beings who have died been given wings and harps. Someone probably needs to break this news to Clarence, the angel second class who is trying to earn his wings in the movie classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.” That’s a nice story but not a biblically accurate story.