… the dead are raised
Luke 20:27-38 or 20:27, 34-38
The founder of a new religion asked the great French diplomat, Talleyrand, for advice on how to make converts. Talleyrand said, “I should recommend that you get yourself crucified, and then die. But be sure to rise again on the third day.”
Suppose you turned on your TV this morning and heard Dan Rather deliver the following “Special Report,” via satellite, from Jerusalem:
This morning, in the Holy City, a shocking announcement was made that a body, positively identified as that of Jesus Christ, was found in a long-neglected tomb just outside the city limits. Rumors had been circulating all week that a very important discovery had been made. But this mind-boggling news far outstrips anything we had imagined. The initial reaction of Christians around the world has been a mixture of bewilderment and disbelief. No official Church pronouncements have been made as yet, but there are reports of urgent closed-door meetings being held all over the world. We will just have to wait and see what effect this discovery will have on the two-thousand-year-old religion. Some religious commentators already have stated privately that it appears Christianity will have to take its place on the same level with other religions of the world. No longer can its followers claim that, unlike other religions, the tomb of its Founder is empty. Evidently, a two-thousand-year-old myth has been exploded!
The Apostle Paul wrote that if such an announcement were true, our faith in Jesus Christ is worthless:
… if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that He raised Christ” (I Cor. 15:14).
Paul also said that if Christ has not risen, our preaching of our own bodily resurrection is in vain. If Christ has not risen then “the dead are not raised,” he wrote in First Corinthians.
When a nineteenth century missionary announced that he was going to preach to the people of New Hebrides Island in the South Seas, his friends tried to discourage him. One well-meaning Church member who knew little about the South Sea Islands, said to him, “The cannibals, the cannibals! You will be eaten by the cannibals!” To which the missionary replied, “I confess to you that if I can live and die serving my Lord Jesus Christ, it makes no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; for in that Great Day of Resurrection, my body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our Risen Redeemer.”
In today’s Gospel Reading, our bodily resurrection from the dead is the subject of a conversation between Jesus and some Sadducees. The Sadducees were, in Jesus’ time, a Jewish sect made up of members of the priestly aristocracy. They were more political than religious in their aims — and very conservative. They did not believe in immortality, reward and punishment, future life, or the existence of angels. And, of course, they flatly denied the resurrection of the dead. In today’s Lesson, the Sadducees try to test Jesus on this subject. In so doing, they present Him with a bizarre hypothetical case based on the Jewish Law which says that a widow left without children is to marry her deceased husband’s unmarried brother. The Sadducees say to Jesus:
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. Afterwards the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as a wife (Lk. 20:29-33). In other words, a woman had been lawfully married seven times to seven brothers. All seven brothers have died. Now the woman dies. And the question is, “According to the doctrine of resurrection after death, when they are all resurrected, which of the seven brothers will be the woman’s husband?”
The question, of course, is absurd. One might as well ask, “After the resurrection will there be chocolate-and-vanilla-swirl frozen yogurt in heaven?” For some of us, the resurrection of the dead means the completion of the process of human growth and fulfillment begun in our present life. For some it means the ultimate in peace and joy. Some think of it as a journey into the lost paradise — a reopening of the Garden of Eden. Some place their entire emphasis on a life of intimacy with the Lord. But when we examine the full range of opinions on life-after- resurrection, none are really convincing because they are based on our experience here on earth. In truth, no comparison is possible between the “earthly” and the “heavenly,” between life as it exists in our corruptible bodies and life to come in our resurrection bodies. And that is precisely the point Jesus makes in His answer to the Sadducees’ question about the widow and the seven brothers. In the next life, Jesus says, “They are equal to angels” — meaning, of course, that their afterlife is as different from life on earth as our life on earth is different from angels. In their afterlife, Jesus says, they are “sons of God, being sons of the resurrection” (Lk. 20:36).
If we reduce our faith in the resurrection of the dead to an intellectual exercise, then it is no faith at all. Our resurrection faith is not a conclusion we come to as the result of a logical, step-by-step reasoning process. Rather our resurrection faith is engendered by the promise of the Lord, in whom we trust.
A Jewish humorist has given us a story about a tailor named Gittleson who, unlike the Sadducees in today’s Lesson, had faith in the resurrection of the dead. It seems that the tailoring business was getting so bad that Gittleson finally said to his partner, “Only the Messiah can help us!” “How can the Messiah help us?” asked the partner. “Well,” said Gittleson, “He’d resurrect the dead, and then they’d all need new clothes.” The partner disagreed. “Some of the dead are tailors,” he said, “and we’d have more competition.” “Even so, they couldn’t compete with us,” Gittleson replied. “They wouldn’t know anything about this year’s styles.”
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” wrote the ancient Psalmist. And that little earthly glimpse of the Eternal God will always be in style! The Artist who uses the heavens for a canvas and spreads the colors with such a lavish hand is none other than the Great God Almighty who created all that is:
He it is who makes the sunrise.
He it is who tints the flowers.
He it is who colors the autumn leaves.
He it is who shapes an infant’s irresistible smile.
He it is who tells us of His abiding love.
He it is who gives us faith in His Resurrection Power to beautify and sanctify the lives of His people, made in His image.
He it is whose fingerprints are on our immortal souls.
He it is who has given us a little earthly glimpse of the awesome heavenly Mystery of the “Resurrection of the Body.”
A little boy named David told his mother that he didn’t want to go to Sunday School because they were going to be learning all about heaven. “But wouldn’t you like to know all about heaven?” the mother asked. To which David replied, “No, mommy, because I want heaven to be a surprise.”
Right on, David! There is no way you’re going to learn all about heaven in Sunday School, because God Himself wants heaven to be a surprise! In the Apostle Paul’s words, “… we impart a secret and hidden Wisdom of God … no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:6, 9).
What are your thoughts on the afterlife? Please leave a comment below.