What He Said Week 4

Study Four:  TRUTH TRUMPS TRICK QUESTIONS.

TAKING IT IN

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”   Mark 12:18-27

GETTING AT IT

Smug atheists often try to paint Christianity as irrational.  The most ridiculous trick question may be: Can God create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift?  The most challenging attempt is described by the term theodicy (divine justice).  An 18th century English philosopher named David Hume put the argument this way: 1. A good and caring deity will prevent evil from occurring. 2. An all-knowing and all-powerful deity is able to prevent evil. 3. Evil exists in the world. 4. Therefore either God is not good and loving, or he is not all-knowing and all-powerful. 

The theodicy question misrepresents God, of course, for God is perfectly just as well as loving.  What may appear as evil to us could be God’s justice meted out against those who reject him.  The second century Christian writer Irenaeus responded to the theodicy question by pointing out that evil provides the necessary problems through which we learn to treasure God’s grace and grow in faith and character.  If God removed all the consequences of sin from our world, people would not seek his grace and forgiveness and would suffer the ultimate evil of eternal condemnation.  God is justified in allowing evil to occur as a consequence of sin when doing so fosters a greater good. The fourth century theologian Augustine attributed evil to the fallen nature and limited free will of human beings, saying that God could not have created a moral being without the possibility of evil.  To eliminate the possibility of evil would rob human beings of the possibility of loving God as well as denying him. The 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant reasoned that rather than a denial of God’s existence, evil necessitates the existence of God, for there must be final justice in the end.

Actually, the Bible itself raises the question of theodicy.  Ecclesiastes 8:14 says: “There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve.”  The inherent question “why” is not answered. It may be that we couldn’t understand and wouldn’t accept God’s answer.  He is sovereign, not answerable to us; and he knows what we can’t about tragedies. Faith means trusting God’s will and God’s judgments when we don’t understand.  There is one huge reason for doing so – the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son.  St. Paul wrote in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

In the aftermath of 9/11 people asked: Where was God when those two planes took down the twin towers and killed hundreds of innocent people?  A Lutheran pastor answered: God was in the same place as when he watched his innocent Son suffer and die for the sins of the world.  That was the greatest injustice and yet the most amazing love.

Christianity is not irrational, it is supra-rational – above and beyond reason.  Truth trumps the trick questions of human reason.  Jesus did just that in the days before his crucifixion, exposing the holes in mere logic.

DIGGING INTO IT

Then the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 19 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 20 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married and died without leaving any children. 21 The second one married the widow, but he also died, leaving no child. It was the same with the third. 22 In fact, none of the seven left any children. Last of all, the woman died too. 23 At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

The Sadducees were a relatively small sect of first century Judaism.  They were centered in the temple at Jerusalem and were as political as they were religious.  The high priest, at this time a political appointment, was a Sadducee.  The Sadducees accepted only the five books of Moses – Genesis to Deuteronomy, denying the inspiration of the historical, poetic and prophetic books of the Old Testament.  They rejected among other truths of Scripture the resurrection of the dead. 

The Pharisees’ attempt to discredit Jesus and the resurrection of the dead is an absurd scenario based on the Law of the Levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).  The term is based on the Latin word for brother-in-law.  If a man died childless, the widow’s brother-in-law was to marry her.  The first child of that marriage would be legally the child of the deceased first husband.  With this law God sought several things.  In a time when women were severely limited in opportunities to support themselves financially, the levirate law provided for their physical needs.  God did not want the family lines of Israel to be lost, and the levirate law helped to accomplish that goal.  The promised land was assigned in portions to the families that entered the land under Joshua; and the levirate law meant preserving property rights for families.  The Pharisees accepted the Law of the Levirate, but they used it here in an attempt to make the resurrection of the dead irrational.

 

24 Jesus replied, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising—have you not read in the Book of Moses, in the account of the burning bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!”  

The Bible speaks about resurrection to life in two ways.  (See Revelation 20:4-6.)  That the soul survives death, separated from the body and – in the case of believers – in the presence of God, is a first resurrection.  On time’s last day, Jesus will raise dead bodies and reunite them with souls for eternity. That is the second resurrection.  In response to the Sadducees Jesus speaks of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as alive with God — the first resurrection.

There is so much in the verses of Scripture that we would miss if the Bible elsewhere did not reveal it to us.  Jesus draws from Exodus 3:1-6 what we might never notice.  At the burning bush God describes himself with his promise to the patriarchs in the present tense, not past tense.  It’s not that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is their God because they are living beyond their death.  What treasures of truth still await our discovery if we will read God’s Word over and over, with reflective meditation on what God is teaching us!

Jesus provides the two basic reasons for error in people’s thinking.  The first is that they don’t know the Scriptures.  When we fail to grow in our understanding of the Bible, we are susceptible to falsehoods raised by our culture, by wrong religion, and by our own misguided thinking.  The second reason is that people fail to appreciate the power of God.  When God and truth are measured by our own limited reason and experience, we will miss the wonder of his gracious rule in our world.  Jesus had to remind his disciples of this when in Mark 10:27 he told them: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”  Much error in contemporary religion is based on the denial of the miraculous, in Scripture and in life.  Much misguided thinking is rooted in our inability or unwillingness to accept how powerful is our God.  We limit his role in our world to what we have witnessed and experienced in life; and in so doing limit our prayers. 

There was another reason for the Sadducees’ error.  They assumed that life in a resurrection would have to be like life here and now on earth.  Jesus corrects that misunderstanding by telling them that the family of God in eternity is not defined by marriage.  What can be said with certainty from these verses is that there will be no new marriages in eternity (“neither marry nor be given in marriage”) and there will be no further procreation of children (“be like the angels”).  Jesus’ words do not mean that loving relationships on earth have no continuation in heaven.  Like everything else, our relationships are made new by Jesus in eternity, free of all the selfishness that sinful nature imposes on earthly relationships.  It is our relationship with our God rather than with a spouse that is primary.  Contrary to popular sentiment, people who die – and particularly children – do not become angels.  In eternal life we are like angels, Jesus said.  It is pointless to speculate about relationships in eternity, as well as whether we will appear as the age at which we died and other things.  Jesus gives us an insight into life in eternity but not a full-blown description.

Ultimately, Jesus would answer the Sadducees’ denial of the resurrection with his own resurrection from the dead.  The apostle Paul points to Jesus’ resurrection as the guarantee of our own resurrection.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

How many misconceptions may we have about life?  Some may be a result of our culture’s view of what is true, moral, or normal.  Christians can be influenced by cultural norms reinforced by entertainment and news media, as well as literature, education, parents and friends.  Some of our misconceptions may be based on our experiences.  Where we live and to what we’ve been exposed help to shape our view of reality.  We may begin to believe that the way we see things is the way they are, and that the way things are is the way they should be.  Our emotions can distort our view of life also.  Those emotions may be merely our own, or they may be somewhat manipulated by our culture.  One of the misguided approaches to life begins with “I feel that. . .”

What assumptions about life may “what Jesus said” challenge us to reconsider?

SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT

In this study Jesus invites us to think about things eternal.  St. Paul put it this way in Colossians 3:1-5, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

What does it mean to “set your hearts and minds on things above?”

How does doing so help us to “put to death” the temptations of our sinful nature?

Is there a danger that we become “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good?”

SOMETHING TO PRAY ABOUT

Most of us have friends and family members who are outside the family of God and apart from Jesus will not enjoy the blessedness of the resurrection.  Think of specific individuals and pray that God will touch their hearts with his gospel and bring them into his family.

SOMETHING TO DO ABOUT IT

Read a book in the realm of apologetics – the rational defense of truth.  It will prepare you to respond to the trick questions and rational arguments of non-believing friends.  “The Case for Christ” is one of the books by Lee Strobel, who is a former rationalist become a committed Christian.  “The Story of Reality” by Gregory Koukl is another example of apologetics and a book you may want to give to a doubting friend.

SOMETHING FOR FURTHER STUDY

Read 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul’s defense and explanation of the resurrection of the dead – Jesus first and those who believe in him at his return.


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