By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 10, 2019
Luke 20:27–38 (ESV)
27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”
What are the most important things in your life? Have you ever really thought about this? Yesterday after watching a YouTube video during one of my breaks at work, that question really came to mind. And that question really comes to mind when I consider this passage of scripture.
The things that are important to us are the things we talk about. You do not have to be in conversation with someone for very long before you get a glimpse into the most important things to them. There are very few people within my circle of acquaintances that have not mentioned one of their children, within minutes of the beginning of our conversation, unless they do not have children. For others I will hear about the Chiefs at least once within a conversation, usually it is the first thing mentioned. Many will talk about their career and others will talk about their hobbies. I have heard about restaurants, movies, games, comic books, TV series, pets, politics, pretty much anything you can think of they have entered a conversation. These are things that we are passionate about, and we love to talk about them. We devote time to these things. We will even devote hours within our weeks researching and learning more about the things we are passionate about.
I watched a YouTube video yesterday and I heard a guy talk about his church in the same way that I hear Kansas City Chiefs fans talk about the game. This guy was passionate about his faith, he was excited and the most interesting thing about it was he was not a pastor of a mega church with an awesome worship band and stage lights. He was a pastor of a Lutheran Church just outside of St. Louis. It floored me, to hear someone talk about theology and Church with the enthusiasm of a football fan. But this man loved his church, he lived church, to him everything was about church. At one point the guy that was talking to this man made a reference to a Marvel movie and the pastor did not even know what he was talking about because to him a movie had no significance. You might think this guy was out of touch, but to be honest in course of that thirty-minute video I almost wanted to go talk to him myself.
We talk about the things that are most important to us. If it is something that you find important in your life you cannot keep yourself from talking about it. That man could not hold a conversation about a popular movie but could speak for hours about gospel. And in that hour, he never once cast judgement on anyone, he did not condemn anyone, he did not even come across as offensive, because he spoke with genuine passion, and that passion was infectious.
Today we find Jesus speaking to people within one of the Jewish religious orders of the first century, the Sadducees. We hear of three distinctive religious orders within the Gospel. The Pharisees are the ones we are most common, next would be the Sadducees, and the Herodians. There was at least one more group that was not mentioned directly in the Gospel, the Essenes. Within these groups there are rabbis and scribes that teach and interpret scripture. But of all those groups we know the least about the second most mentioned group within, the Sadducees. I find this very interesting, especially since the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls has given us more knowledge of the group not even directly mentioned in scripture.
The Sadducees were a significant group within the Jewish community, but they were different than the Pharisees. Often people try to explain the differences between the two groups by comparing them to the two major political parties in the United States, but this is really a very poor comparison, because the only religious group that really made a significant political stance one way or the other were the Herodians, because their name pretty much says it all they wanted to restore the Herodian rule over the nation, because Herod married into the family that gave Israel freedom from Greek influence, and they saw that family as being the legitimate heir to the kingdom.
From what we do know the Pharisees were the religious leaders among the common people, and the Sadducees were often seen as the leaders within upper classes. Even that fails to some degree, but the Sadducees were more focused on the temple and the priests, and the Pharisees were more evangelical taking the teaching out instead of bringing the people in. Since the Sadducees were more connected with the temple than the pharisees, most of the information that we probably could have learned from them was probably destroyed with the temple. But we do know some about them, like this passage says they do not believe in the resurrection. From what we do know about the Sadducees we have an understanding that they only regarded the books of Moses as being scripture, so they did not accept the teaching of the Prophets as having any real value. Since they were more focused on the priestly class of people, they were also considered more aligned to Rome than the Pharisees.
These Sadducees came to Jesus and they asked him a question. I find the question very odd because they ask a question about something that they really do not believe. And that is the first thing that I contemplated as I interacted with the passage. They give this long-winded account about a man that gets married and he dies, and the widow and married by one of the brothers. There were seven brothers in total and each of them married the widow and then died without having a child. After they gave this account, they then ask to which brother is this woman a wife of in the resurrection since she had been the wife of all the brothers.
They do not believe in the resurrection, so why do the care about the opinion of Jesus in this regard? This then made we wonder what they thought about marriage. The parable that they use to ask their question revolves around the teachings of the books of Moses. In the law if a woman was a childless widow, it was the responsibility of the next oldest brother to take the woman into his home as a wife and the children born to this union would be considered the children of the woman’s first husband. And because the children would be considered the older brothers’ children they were legally entitled to the inheritance before their biological father.
There are many interpretations as to why this was part of the law within the teachings of Moses. And often we read our own cultural understanding into the passage. If we were to really take this law at face value, there is not an exception to the law, the next brother will marry the woman and if he does not the family name will be regarded poorly. These brothers would marry the woman even if they already had a wife, because it was their responsibility to care and protect their brother’s name. Yes, that is correct this law supported the practice of polygamy.
It is important to know that the Sadducees approached marriage in this manner. In their view of the law, it dealt mainly with the land promised to the descendants of Israel. There view of a life beyond was not through resurrection but the unbroken transfer of land to each successive generation. We might find this a bit odd in our cultural understanding, but if we are honest it is still very much a part of who we are. Who will inherit our property when we move from life to death? Is your will in order?
Family and marriage were very important to these people. You might even say that they were focused on the family. They devoted their lives to passing their inheritance on to the next generation and preserving the family name. When we look at this passage through those eyes their question does not really seem as odd. It just does not sound very religious because their faith is attached to the world.
The next aspect of the story that I stopped at was the number of brothers, seven. Seven is a significant number in the ancient world. Even today we have seven days to the week and we often connect that understanding to the creation story. But I found it interesting as I read about seven this week, that that number was not only significant to the Jewish people, but to most ancient cultures, and was significant for the similar reasons.
Across the nation, many families that have children are working their way through piles of candy, because we celebrated Halloween. There are many interpretations of this holiday. And if you were to visit our Facebook page you would notice that within the Christian community there are different understandings of that day. It is a day filled with pagan superstition. Many want to condemn the holiday because of these pagan roots. That is fine if that is what you want to do, but my one statement to that is if you condemn that day you should condemn every day, and you should also condemn the calendar as well as the Sabbath day. Because in every ancient culture they tracked time using the same thing, the moon. We have seven days in the week because we have seven days with each phase of the moon. The complete lunar cycle determined the months.
Every ancient culture could see the moon and used the lunar cycle to mark time. The cycles of the moon can tell us when the seasons will change, and they assist us in remembering special dates. Even the church uses the moon to determine the date of Easter, which is Sunday after the first full moon after the March ecclesiastical Equinox, which the church says is March 21. This means if the full moon happens on a Thursday March 21 then Easter would the next Sunday March 24th. If the full moon in March happened on the 20th then the next full moon would be in April. So, the date of Easter can be anywhere from March 22 to April 25th. You might ask why we use the equinox to determine holy day for the church, and the reason is because that is what the Hebrew people used to determine their Feast days.
All this goes back to seven. Seven days in each phase of the moon, seven days of the week, seven days of creation, the seventh day is a day devoted to God. Seven represents completion. But what does seven have to do with the story? Probably nothing. But since these are religious leaders and seven is significant to them, they chose the number seven because it was in their mind.
Which brings us to the most important aspect of the story. These seven brothers all die and so does the wife, which of the brothers can claim her as wife in the resurrection? Jesus’s response is that none of them will be married to her, because no one is married in the resurrection. Usually I do not focus on this unless I am speaking out against religious groups that claim eternal marriage. I tend to not focus on it because I love marriage. It is one of the most meaningful aspects of our religious and human experience. If something is so significant in our lives how can it not be important in the life after death?
Marriage is at best a testimony or a sign of the ultimate relationship. It represents honor and loyalty, persistence and grace. It is important because it should show us an aspect of our relationship with God. In marriage life extends. Your life extends to include a spouse and that united life extend to others, even the creation of new life. Marriage is a shadow or a symbol of something even greater. We often celebrate marriage and it is good to do so, but do we not see that marriage is also a sign of sin? In marriage ceremonies we often hear of Adam and Eve being joined by God, and God commands them to be fruitful and multiply. But marriage entered human existence because Adam began to turn from God. Poor Eve gets blamed for the first sin, but Adam was turning from God before even was pulled from his side. Adam desired more, Adam thought that he was alone. Marriage is a sign that we are not alone, but the intimacy it points to is the grace of God.
Marriage is important to the world because it ensures the continuation of life in a devoted unit of care. It should be enjoyed and cherished, but marriage will not save us. Marriages will end, then what? This is what Jesus focuses on. Once our lives cease, we have no control. All we leave behind will go to others and they will do whatever they see fit. The family farm that great grandparents sacrificed and devoted their lives to obtain, can be sold by the next generation and the heritage is no more. The company you build, once you are gone is no longer yours and it may not even resemble what it once was, because your children may not have the same passion you had in building it. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection so all they had to hope in was their children learning their ways and passing them on to the next generation. But we all know that all we build can become dust.
Jesus then says, ” But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.”
What is most important to us? What gets us excited? What drives our passions? Are they things of the world or are they the things of God? I love my family, I love my heritage, I love my country, and I love my community. But all those things are in the world. They are great and wonderful things yes, but they are dust just as I am, just one breath from extinction. But what if my passion is God? There is no past tense with God. At the time this verbal exchange occurred the bones of Abraham had been lost to time yet to this day we God is the present tense God of Abraham. With God there is life, because God is creator of life. With God we have life and hope, no death because death is the wage of sin. We have life if we believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only son not to condemn the world but to save it through his life, death, and resurrection. And we have life if we turn from the things of this world and focus on Him. What is your passion? What gives you life?