Our message is looking at a story of seven brothers who all married the same woman but kept dying after getting married. What kind of message is that for Thanksgiving? We want something up beat. We want something that gets us excited about life and what God has done for us.
To put things in perspective, a number of years ago I preached a message on Thanksgiving Sunday about hell. It just so happened that was the next topic on my list and I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, there were quite a few visitors to the church that Sunday and they were not sure what to make of my sermon.
In a similar way, this passage was the next section on our series in the Gospel of Luke. While I have the freedom to switch things around and choose a different passage, I believe there is something in this passage that is not only acceptable for Thanksgiving but is actually quite appropriate.
Last week, we saw how one group of religious leaders attempted to trap Jesus. While that didn’t work the way they planned, that didn’t stop another group of religious leaders to try the same thing. What we have this time is a trap set by the Sadducees.
The Sadducees were different from the Pharisees in a number of ways, but the only thing we need to know here is that they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Although they believed in God, they thought once you died, that was it. One reason for this was that there was not much in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, that was about the afterlife. They knew that Jesus, like the Pharisees, believed in the resurrection, and they saw here an opportunity to trap Jesus with some fancy biblical interpretation.
There was a rule in the Old Testament that if a man married a woman and died before having a child, his brother was to marry the woman so that his lineage could continue. The Sadducees came up with a story where this happened but there were seven brothers and each of them died without having a child and then the woman died as well.
The point of this story is to show how silly the afterlife is. Since all seven men married the woman, who would she be married to in the resurrection? Would she be with the first or all seven? Perhaps, if you are widowed and remarried you have wondered if there may be an awkward reunion in heaven.
The Sadducees made two mistakes: they didn’t understand the resurrection and they didn’t understand God. The resurrection is not a simple continuation of this life. Although we have romantic ideas about being reunited with a spouse who predeceased us, Jesus teaches here that our marriages do not continue. When we say “till death do we part,” we mean at death, we do part. That may make some of us sad, but we have to trust that the existence we will have in the resurrection will make up for not being in a married relationship. The Sadducees had a simplistic understanding of the resurrection that didn’t take into account the complexities of the future existence.
They also didn’t understand the nature of God. Just because there was nothing in the Torah that said, “Tho shalt be resurrected,” didn’t mean it wasn’t there. One of the most common phrases of the Old Testament was, “The of God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Not just in the past as in ancient history but in the present. God still is the God of those patriarchs. They have not ceased to exist, they are still in relationship with God. God is not about death but about life. In many ways, we shouldn’t talk about the afterlife, because that suggests life ends. Rather we should speak of life: the sequel. It is a new chapter but it is still just as much life.
God of the Living
I see the key to this passage as not being Jesus’ rebuttal of the Sadducees’s argument but his assertion that God is the God of the living. We live in a world that is so tainted by death. A popular show is the Walking Dead, but ironically you don’t have to be a zombie to be the walking dead. For some, they are breathing and technically alive but feel dead on the inside. We desperately need the hope of life.
God is the God of the living. How do we know if there is anything after our physical death? Life is so a part of who God is and what he values that there could be no other option. God receives no benefit from us ceasing to exist. He wants to be in relationship with us in this life and that will continue into the resurrection.
I said that we know this based on God’s nature but there is more. The resurrection has already begun and by that I mean the resurrection of Jesus. What happened to Jesus is what will happen to us. Not just a resuscitation but a transformation into resurrection bodies built for eternity.
I find it interesting that Thanksgiving is closely tied with ideas of harvest. Churches often decorate with samples of the harvest. There is also harvest imagery used for the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is considered the first fruits of the future resurrection. It is the early appearance that gives assurance of the great event of the future.
What does this mean for us? The resurrection is not just about what happens in the future. It also is relevant to our present. Resurrection life begins before Jesus returns. It begins when we become followers of Jesus. Our experienced is to be marked by abundant life. This doesn’t mean that everything is easy in comfortable, nor does it indicate that there will be no suffering. What it means is that the resurrection is working its way through our lives, redeeming the difficult parts and showing us how God is present in every area. The resurrection gives us hope for tomorrow but it also gives us hope for today.
When I think about the things that I’m thankful for, there is much that comes to mind. I’m thankful for my family, my church and so much more. However, as painful as it is think about, all of those things could disappear. I could lose it all.
But the thing that will never change is that God is the God of the living. He is the God of the resurrection. He is the defeater of death. I love this passage from the Bible:
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
It is almost mocking the power of death because of the victory that has taken place in Jesus. There is joy in the resurrection, not just for the anticipation of what it will be like but because of what it is like now. The resurrection is working its way through our lives right now. Because of that we can have hope and because of that we have a steady reason to remain thankful.