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"New Life, New Rules"
Luke 20:27-38

You've probably heard me, on more than one occasion, make nasty cracks about the Pharisees. And, in relation to Jesus, they have generally deserved it! Of course, there was the apostle Paul, who was a Pharisee and proud of it.

In fact, his training as a Pharisee may have made him a strong leader and an eloquent writer. And there was Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came by night to visit Jesus, and later defended him.

And from time to time there were individual Pharisees who would invite Jesus into their homes.

So we have to be careful about generalizing about the Pharisees; and my attacks on them are based on that group of Pharisees, probably a majority, that was threatened by Jesus and sought to be rid of him.

But the Pharisees were not the only religious group of the time. There was also another group, a smaller sect that we read about in the Bible, and they were the Sadducees.

It was almost like a political party, and it stood for the interests of the priestly aristocracy and the rich.

But more importantly, we need to understand that they rejected the oral tradition of interpretation as developed among the Pharisees and accepted the written law only.

In the twenty-seventh verse of the twentieth chapter of the gospel according to Luke, we learn that "Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus."

Now, this rejection of the resurrection was a direct consequence of their acceptance of only the written law. And later, in the Book of the Acts, we find them repeatedly attacking the apostles for teaching the resurrection of Christ.

If you want some quick labels, you might say that the Pharisees were the theological liberals and the Sadducees were the theological conservatives of the time.

In any case, just as the Pharisees were frequently trying to put Jesus to the test, so were the Sadducees, although we don't hear as much about them in the gospels.

"and [the Sadducees] asked [Jesus] a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother."

And, in the fifth and sixth verses of the twenty-fifth chapter of Deuteronomy we read, "When brothers reside together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a stranger.

Her husband's brother shall go in to her, taking her in marriage, and performing the duty of a husband's brother to her, and the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel."

Now, all of you who may wish to return to traditional Biblical family values may want to keep this passage in mind. I suspect that family values in Deuteronomy are a far cry from what most of us THINK of when we talk about so-called "traditional family values."

But having set this up--and the Sadducees are correct to this point--they proceed to set a problem before Jesus:

"Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died."

Well, they tried. One woman, seven husbands, all brothers, and no children. I wonder if the writer, or writers, of Deuteronomy thought of such a possibility?

Remember, that "the firstborn whom she bears shall succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel." So what if there is more than ONE deceased brother?

To whose name, then, does the firstborn, if there is one, succeed? WHICH deceased brother?

And was there such a thing as infertility at that time? If so, how frequently did it occur? The whole idea of this law was that a man's name need not be lost if he, himself, had no offspring. It could be perpetuated through his brothers marrying his widow.

Well, all this sounds like a legal hassle. And I'm sure folks back then had ways of working out legal hassles just as we do now. But why would the Sadducees bring such a subject to Jesus? Has he claimed to have the final word on the Mosaic law?

No, the Sadducees have another reason for setting up this story. They want to put Jesus on the spot. And they ask the question:

"In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Now, Jesus KNOWS these are Sadducees asking the question. And he knows what they believe. And THEY know what they believe. So it's obvious that this is a loaded question. They don't believe in the resurrection, so why should they even be asking the question?

Objectively, they don't really care what the answer is, because they don't believe in the resurrection. So the only reason they have for asking it is to set a trap.

But before we get into Jesus answer, let's try to figure out what THEY might think the answer would be. What is their framework for even thinking of the answer? "Whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

Well, maybe they think that the woman should have seven husbands. And each of those husbands will have one or more wives. Or maybe, in the resurrection, the woman gets to pick one of them. Or maybe each husband gets to pick one wife.

Who knows WHAT the Sadducees may be thinking? But their question would lead us to believe that they want some kind of PRECISE, legalistic answer from Jesus: "Whose wife will the woman be?" And Jesus has an answer for them:

"Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage."

And if we listen closely to him, we get a hint, a clue, of what is to come, of the nature of his answer in those words, "Those who belong to this age."

Jesus doesn't throw out the Mosaic law. He doesn't deny that the situation that the Sadducees set up could happen. But he puts it in its place: "Those who belong to THIS age."

How often in life do we have difficulty dealing with our past. We drag it around with us, both the good and the bad. And what we have difficulty understanding is that "that was then, this is now." We can't SEPARATE ourselves from the past, even though it is behind us. Somehow we think that we MUST haul it around with us.

Even when the rules that we followed in our past cease to make sense to us, we continue to follow them.

Now, I'm not saying that all change is good. Much of it is abominable. But much of it is also inescapable.

Several years ago, in an issue of the magazine Modern Maturity, a publication of the AARP, there was a short article entitled "The 'Great Watchmaker' Theory" by Horace Deets. And in this article the author observed the decline of the Swiss watch.

Thirty years ago the Swiss had almost half of the world's market for watches. Today they have only one-tenth of it. So what happened to bring about that change? Well, the author suggested three things. First, the Swiss were CONTENT with their share of the world market. You might say they had too much of a good thing.

But second, as new technologies developed, the Swiss remained convinced that the only REAL watch was one with gears, bearings, and a mainspring, what is classically known as Swiss movement.

And third, they were unwilling to innovate, unwilling to change.

Now, to use the biblical words of Jesus, we might say that "those who belonged to THAT age--meaning thirty years ago--were quite pleased to be wearing a Swiss-style watch." In fact, as a child, I remember being absolutely THRILLED to receive as a gift my first watch. And, since I never throw anything away, I still have a couple watches I received as gifts over thirty years ago.

But times have changed. And those watches are stored away, because new technologies have created new watches that will do things for me that those watches couldn't.

But to get back to marriage,

"Those who belong to THIS age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in THAT age AND in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."

Now when scripture says THAT age, I think it would have been a whole lot more convenient if it had said something like "the age to come," but it doesn't. Nevertheless, I have absolutely no doubt that that is what it means. Jesus is separating our earthly life from our eternal life. And what he is telling us is that our eternal life is not simply an extension of our earthly life, but a whole new IDEA of life. If a baseball game is tied at the end of nine innings, the teams play additional innings until the tie is broken.

If a professional football game is tied at the end of four quarters, the teams play an additional quarter until somebody scores. But in those extensions, the rules don't change. Yet, in eternal life beyond THIS life, Jesus is telling us that the rules DO change.

And the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, "So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. ...flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

“We will not all die, but we will all be changed."

So, in this age we marry and are given in marriage; in that age we neither marry nor are given in marriage.

Now, it may be unsettling for a married couple, who may have spent most of their earthly life together--and my parents probably felt like they had ALWAYS been together, in 57 years of marriage and 5 or 6 years of courtship before that--to think that eternal life nullifies their marriage.

But I don't think that is the intention of Jesus message. He goes on to say,

"Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection."

And what Jesus is telling the Sadducees, and us, is that in eternity we are no longer bound by the earthly and its rules. The absence of death requires the presence of a whole new perspective on life.

Now remember, this conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees is taking place BEFORE his death and resurrection. So Jesus words to the Sadducees regarding the resurrection of the dead will be heard differently by them than we would hear them today.

They are these:

"And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive."

And in the sixth verse of the third chapter of Exodus, God introduced himself to Moses by saying, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

And those last words of Jesus are EXCEEDINGLY important: "to him all of them are alive."

I suppose that it's only a matter of form that we assume that all sermons should have titles. And I wasn't quite sure what to call this one.

But after I gave it a title--"New Life, New Rules"--the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we need not experience physical death to understand what this means.

Indeed, any time we truly experience new life in Jesus Christ, or a rebirth in Christ, or a renewal of our life in Christ, we will necessarily experience a change in the rules by which we live. We can't HELP ourselves. Being a Christian is a radical experience; it is not of this world. And to truly live as Christ would have us will radically affect the rules by which we live.

Were the Sadducees content with Jesus answer? Well, the next two verses tell us, "Then some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well." For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

May we be among those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead.

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