Luke 20:27-40 (CEV)
27 The Sadducees did not believe that people would rise to life after death. So some of them came to Jesus 28 and said:
Teacher, Moses wrote that if a married man dies and has no children, his brother should marry the widow. Their first son would then be thought of as the son of the dead brother.
29 There were once seven brothers. The first one married, but died without having any children. 30 The second one married his brother’s widow, and he also died without having any children. 31 The same thing happened to the third one. Finally, all seven brothers married that woman and died without having any children. 32 At last the woman died. 33 When God raises people from death, whose wife will this woman be? All seven brothers had married her.
34 Jesus answered:
The people in this world get married. 35 But in the future world no one who is worthy to rise from death will either marry36 or die. They will be like the angels and will be God’s children, because they have been raised to life.
37 In the story about the burning bush, Moses clearly shows that people will live again. He said, “The Lord is the God worshiped by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” 38 So the Lord isn’t the God of the dead, but of the living. This means that everyone is alive as far as God is concerned.
39 Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses said, “Teacher, you have given a good answer!” 40 From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any questions.
This will be our last study before Christmas – and it’s a bit of an odd one to finish off the year with.
That’s because in today’s text Jesus is taking a direct dig at three major issues of doctrine that set the Sadducees apart from their religious contemporaries: resurrection, the existence of angels and God’s direct intervention in human affairs.*
In fact, the ‘teacher, you have given a good answer!’ might just as easily have been a ‘mic drop!’ called out at the end of a particularly persuasive argument. In just seven sentences, Jesus has completely taken the Sadducees to task about their beliefs – in front of everyone, and in the seat of their power, the Temple, no less!
But the question is why?
Why attack everything that the Sadducees believed theologically so thoroughly?
The Sadducees held the highest level of wealth and power in the Jewish religious-political system of the day. Many of them were priests (although not all priests were Sadducees) and they held significant positions of power and authority in the governing body of the Sanhedrin (which we will learn more about in the upcoming chapters). Furthermore, their network of connection was to the Roman authority structure and the wealthy elites of Jerusalem, with little connection to the everyday people of Israel.
Can you imagine anyone today who might fall into this category?
And these people – whose ability to ‘act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God’ seems to be lacking significantly because of their beliefs – hide themselves behind these theological beliefs like someone living in a gated community. They do so for the purpose of separating themselves from – and avoiding their duties and responsibilities to – the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized.
It’s like the Sadducees said, “If we don’t believe that there is a resurrection, then ‘winning’ here on earth in terms of finances and power and honour is really all that matters. If there’s no judgment after death then there’s no reason to worry about things that ‘only’ have eternal significance.”
Or, “If there are no angels then there’s no concern about messages getting back and forth between a distant God and us as humanity. There is therefore no reason to worry about what we do even while we’re here on earth, because God won’t know about it anyway.”
Or even, “If God does not intervene in the world of humanity – if God is distant and separated and unconcerned with the lives of humanity – than it wouldn’t even matter if God did know about what we were doing, because an uncaring, non-intervening God is powerless to do anything to change the way I live.”
But Jesus’ very existence challenges each and every single point of their theological protection system – and these challenges are the basis of a hope that is deep enough to carry us through the darkest of winter nights.
Jesus has already raised people from the dead, and seems to know that he’s about to die and rise again himself. A belief in resurrection isn’t some abstract construct – it’s the very basis for our hope.
Jesus’ birth and resurrection are both announced and coordinated by multiple angelic visits. Angels are the voices of hope that cut through our disbelief, our confusion and our fear to allow us to step closer towards the Kingdom that God is calling us to embrace and accept and join forces with.
And finally, Jesus’ very incarnation is a direct intervention of God on human affairs. Jesus’ very existence is what fills us with the knowledge and vision and power and capacity and love and hope to be able to make a difference ourselves as humans in this Kingdom-calling we have been given.
And so as you see the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and remember that God has come to be with us, I pray that you see that there is hope.
As you hear the songs of the angels singing glory in excelsis to a group of poor, cold, illiterate shepherds in the hills of a town thousands of years and miles away from today, I pray that you see that there is hope.
As you think ahead to the death and resurrection of Jesus – a resurrection that defeats death, somehow, once and for all – I pray that you see that there is hope.
And then I pray that you take that hope out into your day and your week and your month and your New Year and offer it – through just acts, merciful love and a humble following of Jesus’ ways – to the world you live in. So that the Kingdom of God might come a little more in this world because of you.
*For a longer discussion of the beliefs of the Sadducees see here, among other places.Journal Questions:
- The Bible’s call to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God can feel like a really difficult task. Do you ever notice yourself trying to ‘escape’ from what it might mean for you to live into this Kingdom-calling?
- Take some time to meditate on the incredible thing that is God showing up as one of us. Let this truth settle into your heart over the next few weeks and ask God to show you a hope that will melt your defences.
- How might you step into hope more fully as you think forward into your coming year?