Surprise! Surprise!

… 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.

2 thoughts on “Afterlife

  1. Hello there I really liked your post and I have thought about the afterlife but i’m really confused and trapped between science and religion,almost on a regular basis science says we just die and we are erased from the face off this earth.
    With religion there is a god and everlasting life for those who are worthy.
    In the bible i’m sure it mentions there’s also a hell and demons and fire for those who do bad deeds.
    I think I am leaning more towards the scientific view of life because its based on fact but strangely enough I say a prayer to God before most meals and ask God to forgive me for my sins.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Sonny, perhaps this will help you in some way.

      The “big-bang” theory of creation offers scientific evidence in support of the Biblical claim that the Universe had a sharply defined beginning. The basic elements of the “big-bang” theory and the Book of Genesis story of creation are the same: “The chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time.” In the words of a prominent astronomer …

      Science has proved that the Universe exploded into being at a certain moment. It asks, “What cause produced this effect? Who or what put the matter and energy into the Universe? Was the Universe created out of nothing, or was it gathered together out of pre-existing material?” And science cannot answer these questions because, according to the astronomers, in the first moments of its existence the Universe was compressed to an extraordinary degree, and consumed by the heat of a fire beyond imagination. The shock of that instant must have destroyed every particle of evidence that could have yielded a clue to the cause of the great explosion (the “big-bang”). The scientist’s pursuit of the past ends in the moment of creation. This development was unexpected by all but the theologians (and, we might add, by all who believed in the Bible as the Word of God). They have always accepted the Word of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But we scientists did not expect to find evidence of an abrupt beginning because we have had, until recently, such extraordinary success in tracing the chain of cause and effect backward in time … Now we would like to pursue that inquiry further back in time, but the barrier seems insurmountable. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians (and all true believers) who have been sitting there for centuries.1

      A theologian was asked what God was doing before He created the heaven and the earth. He replied, “He was creating hell for people who ask questions like that!” He might have answered, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was made nothing that has been made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men … And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us” (Jn. 1:1-4,14).

      In today’s Gospel Lesson, the Apostle John looks upon Jesus who is walking by and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God!” Hearing this, Andrew and another disciple of John begin to follow Jesus. They go with Him to the place where He was staying and remain with Him that day. Then Andrew goes out to look for his brother, Simon. When he finds him, Andrew says simply, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41). We have found the embodiment of the Word which was with God and was God from the beginning.

      We have found the Christ Spirit of God in the flesh. We have seen “the true light that enlightens every man who comes into the world”. We have found the answer to the riddle of life. We have found the remedy for our identity crisis. We have found the cure for our anxiety about our life’s meaning and purpose. We have found the Messiah. “Behold the Lamb of God!” We are being asked, at this moment, to celebrate the wonder of the Christ Spirit within us; to welcome the coming of Christ; to walk with Christ by day and to watch with Christ by night; to allow the “light that enlightens every man” to illuminate the darkest corners of our soul. Behold the Lamb of God!

      In the literature about St. Patrick, there is an episode in which he is about to embark on a dangerous journey. The nobles want to give him some heavy armor to wear for protection but Patrick refuses, saying, “I am already protected.” Then he walks down the road, singing as he goes …

      Christ be beside me; Christ be before me; Christ be behind me; King of my heart. Christ be within me; Christ be below me; Christ be above me; never to part. Christ on my right hand; Christ on my left hand; Christ all around me, shield in the strife. Christ in my sleeping; Christ in my sitting; Christ in my rising, light of my life.

      When asked about this song, Patrick said, “It is my protection. It is my breastplate” (that is, the piece of armor that was worn over the chest). And down through the years, the song has been referred to as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” It is a powerful symbol of the true protection against anxiety and despair for each one of us who has found the Messiah: Christ within us, Christ beside us, Christ before us — Light of our life. In the truth of St. Patrick’s Breastplate lies our greatest strength in the struggle to become the kind of persons God has intended us to be from the beginning. Through our awareness of the Christ Spirit’s abiding Presence, we receive the power to become God’s instruments of peace and reconciliation. For if, in truth, we have found the Messiah, we are privy to the Good News that we have been created in the image and likeness of the God of love. If, in truth, we have found the Messiah, we have discovered love as the reason for our being and the Source of our fulfillment.

      A father’s patience was being sorely tested by his teen-age daughter’s interminable telephone conversations. He followed a friend’s advice and installed a wall telephone with a short cord so that the teen-ager would have to stand up while talking. Later, the friend asked if the plan had succeeded. “It didn’t work at all,” the father replied, “her feet are as strong as her tongue.”

      “We have found the Messiah,” we say triumphantly. But more is required of us. Our feet must be as strong as our tongue. We must follow Him in His ministry of love.

      After Jesus was raised from the dead, He said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Simon Peter answered, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Jesus replied, “Feed My lambs.” A second time He said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” “Simon answered, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” Jesus replied, “Tend My sheep.” Jesus said to him a third time, Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love You.” And Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep” (Jn. 21:15-17).

      “Now that you have found Me, do you love Me?” Jesus asks each one of you by name. If you are quick to answer, “Yes, Lord, You know everything; You know that I love You,” Jesus will be quick to reply, “Then let your feet be as strong as your tongue and follow me. Feed my lambs! Tend my sheep! Love one another as I have loved you!”

      Behold the Lamb of God! Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world by the power of Love!

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