God of the Living

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Well I don't know if you've been watching any of the election debates this week? Don't worry, I don't want to get us on to politics…but the leaders have been getting a proper grilling haven't they? I'm not sure any of them have got off lightly. They've been in the hot seat, facing difficult questions, often from people trying to catch them out and highlight either their personal flaws or the flaws in their policies.

And if you were here 2 weeks ago for Ken's sermon on the previous passage in Luke, you'll remember that at this point in Luke, Jesus is the one in the hot seat. He's facing hostile questions.

He's arrived in Jerusalem, he starts teaching in the temple there, and the religious leaders of the day feel threatened. They don't want him there and they start questioning him. These aren't well-meaning questions, but clever, carefully crafted questions aimed at trapping Jesus – and setting him up for a fall.

So what's the clever trap this week? It's to do with life after death. And so it's a topic which is going to affect all of us at some point.

Many of you will know that sadly Ken's mum passed away a week ago. I'm sure many of us have lost people we love over the last few years. And all of us are going to have to face up to death during our life, and at the end of life.

So is there any hope in the face of death? Is there life after death?

That's the question at the heart of this passage. So let's dive in.

So Jesus is in the hot seat, getting a grilling. And this time it's a slightly different bunch of religious leaders doing the grilling. You'll see in verse 27 that it's the Sadducees.

These guys were mainly priests, and, a bit different to others, it seems that 1) they only accepted the first 5 books of the Bible, and 2) they denied that there was any life after death or a resurrection. And so, they come to Jesus with this hypothetical example. They've carefully crafted it to prove that the idea of life after death is ridiculous and doesn't fit with Moses' teaching.

Have a look at the start of their question in verse 28:
"Teacher," they say – trying to butter Jesus up…

"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."

So before we get any further, we read that their question is based on a law from the Old Testament. If a man dies leaving no children, his brother is to marry the widow and take care of her, and preserve their family name. Widows were some of the most vulnerable in society at the time.

So the question continues – verse 29.

"Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife."

They're thinking – "gotcha!" They've carefully worked out their example so that none of the brothers have a special claim on the wife. They know that both Jesus and the Pharisees won't want to say that she'll equally be wife of all seven brothers in the afterlife, and so they believe this example shows the flaws in believing that there is an afterlife. It doesn't add up. It can't work.

You can imagine them rubbing their hands, waiting for Jesus' reply.

And yet, Jesus doesn't bat an eyelid does he? As we saw last time, it's Jesus who's the one with authority here.

And he shows them that their question is based on a totally wrong assumption. They assume that eternal life is exactly the same as this life. But what the Bible tells us is that there are similarities and there are differences between this life and the next. And one of the big differences is…marriage. Here's what he says – verse 34:

"The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 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"

So marriage is not permanent. It's only for this life. Why? Well Jesus tells us in verse 36 that those in heaven can't die. They'll live forever, they'll be equal to angels. And so there'll be no procreation. And no marriage. We'll come back to that later.

Because the next thing Jesus does is show them that they need to know their Bibles better. There are lots of different places in the Old Testament that he could have gone to in order to show that the Scriptures point to life after death – but instead he goes to this slightly 'niche' (!) example about Moses.

Why does he do that? Well because it was from the very books that they held so dear - the first 5 books of the Old Testament - and from a situation with Moses himself. Jesus starts on their terms.

And here's what he says to them, verse 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. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him."

In the passage about the bush, God says this to Moses:

"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob."

And Jesus' point, verse 38, is that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. He's not saying to Moses – "I'm the God of these dead people". He's saying, "I am their God now. I am the God of Abraham". God is a God of promise and covenant, and if those key Old Testament characters are to experience the promises they have been given, then there must be life after death.

And that's exactly what we're told in the book of Hebrews. It tells us that these Old Testament characters lived by faith, and they "died in faith, not having received the things promised". We're told that they weren't thinking about the land that they had had to leave, but instead were looking forward to a heavenly one that God had prepared for them. Hebrews chapter 11. They were looking forward to heaven.

So Jesus is completely adamant, both here and in the rest of the gospels, that there will be resurrection. There will be a life to come. And the Sadducees are seriously mistaken.

We're told in the account of this in Matthew's gospel that the crowd, who were listening in, were astonished at Jesus' teaching. And here Luke tells us that even the scribes acknowledged that Jesus had spoken well, and they no longer dared to ask him any more questions.

So there are two clear things that Jesus teaches us here. The first one is the Certainty of the Resurrection. And the second is the Certainty of His Authority.

1. The Certainty of the Resurrection

My wife Sophie is a doctor and she worked in palliative care for a while – where you look after people at the end of their life. And there comes a point in some diseases where there isn't anything else doctors can do and they want to focus on keeping patients comfortable. To do that they need to talk to patients and families about resuscitation - trying to restart someone's heart when it's naturally stopped. And often in these situations trying to restart someone's heart isn't the best thing and isn't likely to work. But in order to be able to leave them, and allow people to die naturally, with their family, the patient has to agree to a form being signed to say they are happy not to be resuscitated.

But there are often patients, or family, who just don't want to have that conversation. They're either in denial or they just do not want to think about it. Others are frightened. Some, I'm told, are quite accepting, they've had a good life and they're thankful for that and can recognize the course of their illness.

I wonder how you feel about death? Sorry if you weren't expecting to have to contemplate that when you came along this morning!

Steve Jobs, the Apple pioneer, said "Death is the destination that we all share. No one has ever escaped it". Or as Christian evangelist Glen Scrivener puts it in his inimitable style, "the doors are locked, and no one is getting out alive".

And so the big question, possibly the biggest question of all, is - "is there hope in the face of death?". Does life end on a downer? Or is there actually hope?

The Sadducees thought that death was the end. There were sceptics back then and there are sceptics today. Many in the world around us would agree with Stephen Hawking when he says that death is simply like the power button being switched off for the last time.

But if we struggle with the fact that there could be life after death, we've also got to admit that at some point the power button was switched on. Life came out of dead things. Dead matter. And if we're honest with ourselves, we don't have an answer to that.

But the Bible gives us a different answer. It tells us that in the beginning there wasn't just dead things, there was a God of love and life. That God is love, he's one person in 3, in a loving relationship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And he brought about life.

He could bring life out of death then, and he can bring life out of death for us. And if we need evidence of that, we can look to Jesus – who not only proclaimed the certainty of the resurrection, as we've seen in this passage, but he rose from the dead himself to prove it - to show that he had defeated death. If you're here today and looking into Christianity, that's where you need to focus and examine the evidence.

The worldview of Stephen Hawking gives us no hope in the face of death. But Jesus rising from the dead means that, as Christians, we have a wonderful hope to hold onto for ourselves, and to hold out to others. In our passage today, Jesus is saying, know the certainty of resurrection and eternal life. It's central to everything we believe as Christians. It's the hope which keeps us going.

I guess one question that might come to mind is – what's heaven going to be like? Is it like a Caribbean island with a crystal blue sea and ice cold drinks on tap? Or are we just like souls floating in the ether? We haven't got a huge amount of time to explore that question right now, but we're told that we'll have bodies, albeit different, upgraded, perfect ones, with no problems. And the Bible suggests we'll be able to recognize and know our family and loved ones. Jesus appeared to his disciples in his resurrection body and they enjoyed breakfast cooked over a fire on the beach.

As I said before, we also learn that our earthly marriages won't continue in heaven. Marriage is good. It was instituted by God at creation. It's the right place to bring up a family – and so it's right for us to promote it as Christians. But it isn't forever. And so we need to be careful not to make it the thing we live for. It was great at Chris (our youth worker)'s wedding to Rosy that they read a passage which reminded them of that. We shouldn't idolize it.

And as we saw when we looked at 1 Corinthians fairly recently, we need to value singleness as well. We need to be careful how we speak about singleness, not talking about it as if it's just a holding pen for marriage. And those who are single need to remember that marriage is not essential to happiness. And it's not for eternity.

For those who are happily married, I guess it's difficult to imagine heaven without our marriage. But we can trust God that it will be far better. We're told that earthly marriage is a picture of the ultimate marriage between Christ and his church. Earthly marriage in comparison to that marriage is like a toy car, in comparison with a real Ferrari.

And heaven will be far more about our relationship with Jesus. You see, the focus won't be on our earthly relationships, although there'll be plenty of time to enjoy them. It will be on God. We're told that finally we'll "see him as he is", we'll see him "face to face".

The book Revelation paints an amazing picture of heaven – we're told that God will dwell amongst his people and he himself will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. There will be no doctors. No hospitals. No ongoing battle with sin. And a perfect relationship with our loving heavenly Father.

And here's the big challenge to us today. As followers of Jesus, we're to "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." – as Paul puts it to the Corinthians. We need to let that picture of eternity shape our life now. We're to fix our eyes on it and keep things in perspective. This life is just temporary. It's like the blink of an eye in comparison to eternity.

And yet, it's so easy for the things in this life to become everything isn't it? I wonder in what areas we need to remind ourselves that this life is temporary? Maybe it's in that area of marriage and family – whether we're single or married. Maybe it's how you we use our money? Maybe it's career taking priority over living for God.

We need to be thankful but make sure they're not held in greater importance than living for God, and our relationship with him and with his people.

Or maybe we lost that eternal perspective in the midst of trials and struggles, and we need to fix our eyes on it and know that God is refining us ready for that day, when there won't be any more pain, and it will all be worth it. Or maybe we lose sight of how important it is to help those around us see that there is hope in the face of death – if we put our trust in Jesus.

You see, the other thing this passage highlights to us is:

2. The Certainty of Jesus' Authority

We clearly see Jesus' authority in this conversation. He's the one in the hot seat, having questions fired at him, and yet he's also in complete control. And that is a small glimpse of his absolute authority.

Because the Bible tells us that one day he will show his authority over everyone. He'll come back to judge the living and the dead. And every knee will bow. And we're either going to be with him, or we're going to be against him. And if you're not following Jesus, and you don't know that great hope we've been talking about, then the Bible says be reconciled to God whilst you still can. Put your trust in Jesus. Because we never know when our time will come – and death is where every life ends.

But if we're with him, if we're trusting in Jesus, we do not need to fear death. In fact, Jesus will take us home. The Bible describes the Chrisitian life as being like an exile in a foreign land. And it's going to be a wonderful thing when we finally go home. The famous Christian author C.S. Lewis attempted to describe that in his Narnia books like this. He wrote:

"I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now... The reason why we loved the old Narnia (this life) is that it sometimes looked a little like this."

I read a great little book by a vicar in Cambridge about his struggle with cancer. A guy called Mark Ashton. And he knew the truth of that. In his final days, when he was struggling to speak, he would regularly say "soon home". "Soon home".

We have an amazing hope in the face of death. We're to have certainty about life after death.

So let's be a church family who live this life in light of that and who hold out that great hope to others.

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