Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Dawn

Easter Dawn
 April 17, 2017
“Tell them, I am has sent you.”
Matthew 22:23-33 Exodus 3:14

The Sadducees gather. Posing a question. Designed to ridicule a belief. That on the last day. God will raise the righteous dead to life. That they will share in the renewal of God’s creation. In the kingdom of God. 

The same day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him.” 

The Sadducees. Were the party in power in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. The family of Caiaphas. The High Priest. And Annas. His father-in-law. Were Sadducees. This family had largely made their peace with the Roman occupation. And they had been rewarded with positions of power and influence as a result. 

The Sadducees were religious conservatives. They did not acknowledge the authority of the prophets or the “writings” (e.g. Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.), To the Sadducees, “the Scriptures” meant simply the five books of Moses, what we call today the Torah or simply, the Law.

The majority of ordinary Jewish people, however, took a different path. They believed in the resurrection of the body. The basic idea is very simple. God is the Creator of matter. Which, is therefore good and not evil. And God does not intend to abandon matter as a failed experiment when the Day of the Lord comes. 

Rather, on that day. The world will be set free from injustice and oppression. Evil and suffering.  And the righteous dead will be raised to life again. – A full bodily life – In which they will then enjoy this physical world in its renewed form. As God intended. 

In the time of Jesus. Only the Sadducees denied the resurrection. Their belief was that when you were dead. You were dead. And that was that.

 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying,  ‘Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother”. Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow for his brother. The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh.  Last of all, the woman herself died.  In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.

Now originally this law was all about property. And the continuation of land in the family. A widow who inherited her late husband’s property. And then remarried outside his family would take the family property with her to her new husband, and therefore it would be lost to the family. 

Levirite marriage was intended to address this issue. It was a well-known law and everyone in the crowd would recognize the suggestion that the Sadducees were making. (Quoting, of course, from the only books they considered to be authoritative. The five books of Moses).

The Sadducees then construct a bizarre story. In which seven brothers in succession married a woman. And all died childless. The point of the story, of course, is to embarrass Jesus. ‘How ridiculous your beliefs are, Jesus! Will they all have to share her in the resurrection? Since each of them is her husband?’ 

This challenge is, of course, based on certain assumptions. About what the resurrection life will be like. Jesus will address those assumptions in His response.

Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.

This is an interesting verse.  It’s easy to see what Jesus means about them being wrong. Because they don’t know the scriptures. He is about to point them to a text in the Law which, in His view, proves that their beliefs about life after death are wrong. 

But what does he mean when he says that they are wrong because they do not know “the power of God?”  Are they limiting God? Are they assuming that God does not have the power to raise the dead? Or, that God is restricted to the customs and possibilities that exist in life, as we know it today? We need to know both the Scriptures and the power of God. Not one. Or the other.

For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
This sentence needs to be read carefully. Because it has been largely misunderstood in popular culture today. Jesus does not say that in the resurrection, “they are angels in heaven.”  What Jesus says is that they “are like angels in heaven.” 

There is an almost universal view today that when someone dies, ‘there’s another angel in heaven’. But this is very unbiblical. This is not found in the Scriptures. Human beings who die do not become angels. Angels, in the Bible, are seen as a completely different order of creation from humans. 

Existing before us.  They are God’s messengers. And occasionally even God’s warriors.  But they are not and have never been human.

And one difference between us. Jesus says. Is that in this life we humans marry and are given in marriage. But angels do not. This may be because we are physical beings and they are not, or it might be because they are immortal beings and we, at least in our present physical existence, are not. It is necessary for new human beings to be born and raised, and so marriage and sexuality are necessary. But after the resurrection, we will no longer be mortal. So there will be no more need to renew the human race with new human beings. Therefore “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (v.30).

The resurrection life will not be just a continuation of this one. Rather, God is going to “make all things new.” And what is going to come into existence is something we have not yet seen or even imagined.  Do not become shocked because we are only told what will not happen: marriage. 

And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God,  “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.  And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.

This passage is from the story of the burning bush. Moses is on the mountain. He notices a bush that is burning but doesn’t burn up. When he gets closer. God speaks to him from the bush. He tells him to remove his sandals. Because he is standing on holy ground. And then continues, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6).

Jesus’ points to the tense of the verb. If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were no longer in existence. God would have said, “I was the God of Abraham…” etc. The fact that he uses the present tense proves that to God, the patriarchs are still alive. 

For God to say, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” actually proves there is life beyond the grave.  In which the patriarchs are still alive. And the crowds were under no illusion as to who had won the debate. “And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at His teaching.”

To apply what Jesus says to our lives. Jesus affirms two things today. 

First, He is affirms that there is life after death. This is not your best life now. There is life yet to come. In the resurrection. 

Secondly, Jesus is also taking His stand. Life after death is not a shadowy existence. In which we float around. As disembodied spirits. In some unearthly paradise. With fluffy clouds. And harps. No, life after death is physical. On the last day. The day in which He renews His whole creation. And removes from it all causes of evil. God will raise the righteous dead to life. And they will enjoy the sort of life He had in mind when He first created them.

The main point is the resurrection. It is this, which leads to the real “life everlasting.” As we say in the Creed. (And yes. The order is important!) “I believe in…the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!

Words – 1,400
Passive Sentences – 8%
Readability – 76.6%
Reading Level – 4.9

No comments: