Summary: How Can I Be Certain of Life after Death? 1) Trust God's Power; 2) Trust God's Pronouncements
Apple or Android? Toyota or Honda? Hardwood or laminate? What kind of hard choices have you had to make recently? If you’re in the market for a car, you’ll do your research because you don’t want to pay good money for a vehicle that will break down in a couple of years. But with so many choices out there how can you be certain that you’ll pick the right one? You can never be sure that the car, computer, or condo you buy will live up to the vendor’s claims, but there’s not much you can do about it. Like everyone else you’ll have to plunk down your money and hope for the best.
Thankfully that’s not how we have to handle mankind’s biggest question: “Is there life after death?” In our sermon text today Jesus assures us that there is life after death because we can trust God’s power, and we can trust God’s pronouncements.
Did it surprise you to learn from our Gospel lesson (Luke 20:27-38) that there were people in Jesus’ day who did not believe in life after death? You would expect such skepticism from the rationale Greeks but not from the Jews – especially not from those who were members of a group called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a religious/political group made up mostly of priests! You would think that they, more than anyone else, would believe in life after death, but such was not the case. By Jesus’ day many priests thought of themselves as intellectuals. They were too smart to believe all the stuff one might read in the Bible. It was this group that came to Jesus on the Tuesday of Holy Week with a question. Well it wasn’t really a question but more of a challenge. They wanted to make Jesus look foolish and so they brought up this implausible situation where one woman married seven brothers – not all at the same time of course. After one husband died, she would marry his next oldest brother and so on. Why would any girl think of doing something like this? Because in Old Testament times God had commanded that if a man died without a son, his unmarried brother was to marry the widow and in this way ensure that Jewish family lines would not die out.
The Sadducees brought up this scenario because they wanted to know who the woman would be married to in the afterlife. They didn’t believe in an afterlife and thought this situation would show how foolish it would be for anyone to confess life after death. Matthew, who also records this incident, reports Jesus’ response like this: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
The reason the Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death is because they did not trust God’s power. They didn’t see how God could bring back to life a heart that no longer beat. They scoffed when they heard that God could put back together again a body drowned at sea. “How would he ever collect the decayed bones lost to the ocean tides and put skin back on them again? No. When you’re dead, you’re dead,” they reasoned.
The timing of the Sadducees’ challenge puzzles me. Had none of them been there when just days earlier Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? If not, they certainly had heard about the miracle because this is what the Palm Sunday crowds were cheering when Jesus entered Jerusalem just two days before. But like most skeptics the Sadducees had made up their mind about what they wanted to believe and no amount of proof was going to change their stubborn stance.
Have we taken up such a posture? We may have no problem believing that God can and will raise the dead, but do we struggle to believe how the water of baptism can really offer the forgiveness of sins – and to infants even? Or how Jesus’ body and blood can really be present in with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion? But why should we struggle with God’s ability to do these things? The same Jesus who turned water into wine can use the water of baptism to convey the forgiveness of sins and give us the Holy Spirit. The same Jesus who once multiple five loaves of bread to feed over 5,000 people can certainly “multiply” his body and blood so that everyone who comes to Holy Communion even now 2,000 years later still receives this proof of forgiveness. Trust God’s power not what your brain says is or is not possible. God can do more than we can ever imagine says the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 3:20).
Because we can trust God’s power we can also trust his pronouncements. This was something else the Sadducees refused to do as Jesus pointed out. “And regarding your speculation on whether the dead are raised or not, don’t you read your Bibles? The grammar is clear: God says [to you], ‘I am—not was—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.’ The living God defines himself not as the God of dead men, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31, 32 – Message translation).