Sunday, November 6, 2022

“Is There Life After Death?” The Gospel Message for Sunday, November 6, 2022

Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 20th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 27th verse.

20:27 Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him 28 and asked him 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. 29 Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; 30 then the second 31 and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. 32 Finally the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

34 Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 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. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. 37 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. 38 Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”
Luke 20:27-38 (NRSV)

All mighty God, we thank you for your Word and the way that you in it revealed to us who you are and what you’ve done for us in Christ. Now, as we open that Word, we pray that your Spirit may be present, that all thoughts of worry or distraction may be removed and that the Spirit will allow us to hear your voice. And so, oh God, fill us with your Spirit through the reading and proclamation of your Word this day. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Is There Life After Death?”

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus, who is the Christ. Amen

Apple or Android? Toyota or Honda? Hardwood or laminate? What kind of hard choices have you had to make recently? If you’re in the market for a car, you’ll do your research because you don’t want to pay good money for a vehicle that will break down in a couple of years. But with so many choices out there, how can you be certain that you’ll pick the right one? You can never be sure that the car, computer, or condo you buy will live up to the vendor’s claims, but there’s not much you can do about it. Like everyone else, you’ll have to plunk down your money and hope for the best.

Thankfully that’s not how we have to handle mankind’s biggest question: “Is there life after death?” In our sermon text today, Jesus assures us that there is life after death because we can trust God’s power and we can trust God’s pronouncements.

Did it surprise you to learn from our Gospel lesson (Luke 20:27-38) that there were people in Jesus’ day who did not believe in life after death? You would expect such skepticism from the rationale Greeks but not from the Jews–especially not from those who were members of a group called the Sadducees. The Sadducees were a religious/political group made up mostly of priests! You would think that they, more than anyone else, would believe in life after death, but such was not the case. By Jesus’ day, many priests thought of themselves as intellectuals. They were too smart to believe all the stuff one might read in the Bible. It was this group that came to Jesus on the Tuesday of Holy Week with a question. Well, it wasn’t really a question but more of a challenge. They wanted to make Jesus look foolish, and so they brought up this implausible situation where one woman married seven brothers–not all at the same time, of course. After one husband died, she would marry his next oldest brother, and so on. Why would any girl think of doing something like this? Because in Old Testament times, God had commanded that if a man died without a son, his unmarried brother was to marry the widow and, in this way, ensure that Jewish family lines would not die out.

The Sadducees brought up this scenario because they wanted to know who the woman would be married to in the afterlife. They didn’t believe in an afterlife and thought this situation would show how foolish it would be for anyone to confess life after death. Matthew, who also records this incident, reports Jesus’ response like this: “You are wrong because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

The reason the Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death is that they did not trust God’s power. They didn’t see how God could bring back to life a heart that no longer beat. They scoffed when they heard that God could put back together again a body drowned at sea. “How would he ever collect the decayed bones lost to the ocean tides and put skin back on them again? No. When you’re dead, you’re dead,” they reasoned.

The timing of the Sadducees’ challenge puzzles me. Had none of them been there when just days earlier, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead? If not, they certainly had heard about the miracle because this is what the Palm Sunday crowds were cheering when Jesus entered Jerusalem just two days before. But like most skeptics, the Sadducees had made up their minds about what they wanted to believe, and no amount of proof was going to change their stubborn stance.

Have we taken up such a posture? We may have no problem believing that God can and will raise the dead, but do we struggle to believe how the water of baptism can really offer the forgiveness of sins–and to infants even? Or how Jesus’ body and blood can really be present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion? But why should we struggle with God’s ability to do these things? The same Jesus who turned water into wine can use the water of baptism to convey the forgiveness of sins and give us the Holy Spirit. The same Jesus who once multiple five loaves of bread to feed over 5,000 people can certainly “multiply” his body and blood so that everyone who comes to Holy Communion, even now 2,000 years later, still receives this proof of forgiveness. Trust God’s power, not what your brain says is or is not possible. God can do more than we can ever imagine, says the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 3:20).

Because we can trust God’s power, we can also trust his pronouncements. This was something else the Sadducees refused to do, as Jesus pointed out. “And regarding your speculation on whether the dead are raised or not, don’t you read your Bibles? The grammar is clear: God says [to you], ‘I am—not was—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.’ The living God defines himself not as the God of dead men, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31, 32 – Message translation).

The Gospel of Luke explains that Jesus was referring to the burning bush incident when God spoke to Moses. Isn’t it interesting how Jesus takes this divine pronouncement, which at the time had nothing to do with the topic of life after death, and from it shows how God teaches that there is life after death? When God said, “I am the God of Abraham,” he wanted Moses, as well as everyone else who would ever read the text, to know that although Abraham’s body had been dead and buried for 600 years, his soul continued to live.

What Jesus teaches us with this meticulous inspection of God’s pronouncement is that every bit of God’s Word is important. If we are careless in our study of the Word, we will miss key doctrines. And like the Sadducees, we may find ourselves refusing to believe the truth and will eternally suffer for it.

So what can we learn about life after death when we look closely at Jesus’ response to the Sadducees? We first learn that not everyone will enjoy an eternal life of happiness. Jesus said that there are those who “…are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead …” (Luke 20:35a). What makes one worthy of eternal life? Jesus doesn’t tell us here in this text, and so we’ll have to go to other parts of the Bible to find the answer. In the book of Revelation, Jesus said to the church in Sardis, “… you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy … I will not blot your name out of the book of life …” (Revelation 3:4, 5b). There were people in Sardis whom Jesus considered worthy to be dressed in white and live with him in eternal glory. Why? Because they had managed to keep from sinning? No. From other parts of the Bible, we know that no one, except for Jesus himself, is without sin. So how was it that some in Sardis were worthy of being dressed in white and enjoying eternal life? Listen to another passage from Revelation. Describing the saints in heaven, an angel said to the Apostle John: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14b). What makes one worthy of life after death? Only the faith that because we have been washed in the blood of Jesus, we are forgiven and cleansed and ready to live with him.

But is it really worth clinging to Jesus so that we may experience this life after death? What will that life be like? Jesus gives us some clues in our text. He said, “… 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. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36).

OK. I like the part that we will no longer be able to die and, in that way, be like the angels. And I like the fact that God will consider us his children. In other words, we won’t be tourists in the paradise that God will create after Judgment Day. That place will be our forever home. But what’s this about no marriage? Is Jesus saying that the woman that I am married to now and consider my best friend won’t be my soul mate in the afterlife? And what about our children with whom we have already shared so many experiences? If there is no marriage, there will be no family units–no moms or dads, no cousins or aunts, and uncles.

Instead of causing concern, this truth should get us even more excited for life after death as God has designed it. Your spouse may now be your best and closest friend, but in heaven, you will have such a relationship with everyone without the heartache that now infects even the best marriage. Imagine that. No more walking into a room and finding someone that you really don’t enjoy being around because you don’t see eye to eye on matters. I’m not saying that we’ll all be the same–that we’ll all like anchovy pizza or the color blue. We’ll no doubt continue to have different personalities, but personalities purged of sin so that we will be able to show perfect love to one another and will genuinely enjoy being around each other. Think of the billions of believers you’ll get to meet! Not just people from the Bible but people who grew up in different cultures and at different times. In heaven, you won’t meet a single person that you don’t enjoy being around–and that includes the believers that are now not your bosom buddies!

There is, of course, much more we would like to know about life after death. Like, what will we do? What will we eat? Will we even need food? How old will we look? Scoffers point to questions like these and say that it’s foolish to believe in life after death. But it’s not because we can trust God’s power and his pronouncements. Jesus gives us every reason to do this because he himself came back from the dead guaranteeing life after death for all who believe in him. May God keep us close to this Jesus.

Almighty God, with whom abide the spirits of those who depart hence in the love of Christ, and with whom the souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity; I give you hearty thanks for the good examples of all your servants, who, having finished their course in faith, now rest from their labors. And I pray to you that I, with all those who are departed in the true faith of your holy Name, may have my own perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in your eternal and everlasting glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Scripture taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)® Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Sermon contributed by Rev. Daniel Habben.
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