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Will there be marriage in heaven? - Luke 20:27-40

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 28th September 2008.

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If you have ever had the misfortune of watching BBC News 24 then you may know what I mean by the ‘Breaking News Generation.’ There are two features that annoy me about BBC News 24. I hope these feelings of annoyance are not the symptoms of my transformation in a grumpy old man.

First, it seems that the news presenters are only allowed to speak for a few seconds before the other one takes over. What this does for our attention span I don’t now. Sometimes we are so shaped by our cultural mood that we believe that people cannot concentrate on one person for a long time and then we fulfil the prophecy by not trying to.

Second feature is the breaking news way of presenting news. What we are being told is that the breaking news, the most recent news, the most imminent news is the most important news. Sometimes you are watching and the breaking news is interrupted by more breaking news.

TV both reflects and shapes culture.

Our danger is that living in this generation which is being reflected by such TV stations as BBC News 24 and being shaped by them is that we will never consider the past and will never contemplate our long-term future.

We will always be preoccupied by the importance of the now.

Tonight’s question is a rather strange one for our generation to consider. Will there be marriage in heaven? Who cares? Heaven seems ages away. It may well be for some of us but let us not be duped by our culture into thinking that just because we may not enter through the heavenly gates tomorrow that it is not an important topic to consider.

When was the last time you slowed down and contemplated the blessings of the Christian future?

Tonight this is what I would like us to do and I would like us to do it as we understand what Jesus teaches in Luke 20 to a group of people called the Sadducees.

We’re introduced to them in verse 27.

‘Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.  28 “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 have children for his brother.  29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless.  30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children.  32 Finally, the woman died too.  33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”’

There are a few things we can learn from the Bible and from other ancient writings about the Sadducees but the most important detail we need to know about them for our task tonight is given to us in verse 27. They say there is no resurrection. Everything you need to know about the Bible is in the Bible. Sometimes extra bible details can add a bit of colour but everything you need to understand the bible is found in its pages. The Bible is a book of the people not the clergy or the intellectuals.

This group of people didn’t believe in the resurrection. Not the bodily resurrection of Jesus but a final day when all the true believers would be raised to new life to spend eternity with God.

I’ve been thinking over the last few days about the exact problem they had.

Father-in-law. All in their name. They were called Sadducees, which made them Sad u see!

Was it a problem with a bodily resurrection or was it a problem with life continuing after the grave? This is where I want to give a little bit of credit to these thinkers. They had at least got to the stage when they realised you could not have one without the other – at least if you wanted to be a follower of the God of the Bible.

Today people have all sorts of views about the future. Non existence (materialist, Buddhism), soul continues as an individual, into the great cosmic soup –Braham - (Hinduism) and Christianity which teaches the full bodily resurrection of the faithful.  

The Sadducees knew enough about the Jewish God to know that if people had a future beyond the grave it would be physical. They had read their bibles. They only believed in the first five books but even then they could see God had made a physical world. What does Genesis 1 record? God created and this and was thoroughly depressed. He consulted the plans and saw it should never have been physical in the first place. Horror upon horror, he had made human beings whose souls were trapped in a physical body. No God saw all that he had made and it was good.

The Sadducees had concluded, rightly, that if life continued after the grave then at some point it would need to be physical existence. So their problem was not so much a problem with the physical but an overall problem with any life continuing after the grave.

They knew that Jesus taught something very different and so with the sole intention of making Jesus look stupid in front of a crowd they came up to him and told their clever story.

You can just imagine them laughing as they presented it to this wise new teacher. So Jesus you know what Moses wrote. If a man’s brother dies and leaves his wife with new children then the brother has an obligation to marry her and to have children for her. It’s there in Deuteronomy chapter 25. What about this? First died then the second and the third (no doubt all the men from this point onwards are a little nervous as she walks down the aisle and perhaps sniff their food before they eat it) and eventually all seven marry and die then whose wife will she be at this resurrection you are speaking of?

Great story. I’m sure they thought they had Jesus on the ropes. How could he come back from this one? How ridiculous this future existence would be? And so therefore they concluded it could never be. But in verse 34 Jesus responds and shows them where they have gone wrong in their thinking. 

The first thing he says is that they had made a wrong assumption.

This happens all the time. The danger of wrong assumptions. I have questions that need to be answered. No you have assumptions that need to be questioned.

“A loving God would never send any of his children to hell.” God will never send any of his children to hell. He will send rebellious creatures to hell but none of his children will perish. You are not born as children of God but creatures.

The danger of wrong assumptions. The Sadducees had made them. This is what Jesus explains to them in verse 34. ‘Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage,  36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.’

The Sadducees had assumed that life after the grave would be exactly similar to life before the grave. They were not completely wrong. The Christian hope is not to spend eternity without a body. It is to be transformed in the twinkling of an eye. When Jesus appears once more the Christian hope is of a renewed universe where we will be physical beings prepared for our new home. So there will be similarities. The physical things that give us pleasure. It will not be completely different.

However, the Sadducees fatal mistake was to assume that everything would be the same. This is not the case. Particular example he picks up is marriage. The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. This is a good thing. We should commend it but Jesus says in the age to come there will be no marriage. There will be life forever, like the angels, we will live forever, but there will not be marriages in the New Creation. If you run a Bridal Shop in this life then you will need some new skills and retraining.

Let me apply this in a couple of ways.

This does not mean the future will be lacking something. God promises a fantastic future. The differences are to make things better. There will be intimate relationships between God’s people that we cannot even comprehend at the moment.

This has something to say if you are single here tonight. As good as marriage is it is not necessary to make you a complete person. I am convinced Christian men need to make more of an effort but it is vital to say that you don’t need to be married to be complete.

It is not good for us to be alone. We need Christ and we need his people. If we don’t have good friendships then there will be problems. These are the things that will continue into eternity. You don’t have to be married to be complete. You find your worth, protection and value in Christ.

This perhaps has something to say to the married couples among us as well. We point each other to Christ. We must not idolise each other. There is much danger in placing too much weight on something never intended to bear it. We must also include others in our life. It is not good for us to be apart from everyone. Hospitality is vital for us. In fact, being hospitality is easier as a married.

Will we know each other? Yes we will. What about memories? How does this work out? Well, it’s at points like this when I think we reach an important cross roads where two directions are possible. One road leads us to worry and doubt and the other leads us to wonder and delight. God can do it.  Let’s not make wrong assumptions but even when we have the right assumptions and can’t fit it all together let’s remember that we are not God . Our brains are tiny and our power is laughable. God is God and he will do it. If you have gone down the wrong road, please turn round and go the way of wonder and delight.

This is not blind faith. It is saying that God has clearly promised things that I can understand and he has given me reasons to trust him. In those areas where I can’t put it all together he can do it.

The second mistake of the Sadducees was that they hadn’t read their bibles carefully enough. This is what Jesus begins to say to them in verse 37.

‘But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” 39 Some of the teachers of the law responded, “Well said, teacher!”  40 And no one dared to ask him any more questions.’

Where would you have gone in the Old Testament to show proof of the resurrection? Isaiah 26? Daniel 12? Ezekiel 37? The Sadducees only believed in the first five books and so Jesus took them to the account of Moses meeting God as the burning bush.

The chapters and verses were not originally part of the Bible so Jesus simply refers to the account of the bush

It’s a bit like how they do it in Friends. The one with…Everyone then goes, ‘Oh, yeah I remember that one.’ Jesus is saying effectively, ‘It’s the one with the bush.’

Wouldn’t that be great to have again? We know and love our bibles like this.

Anyway, Jesus takes them to this story and focused on the words of God about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, where God says, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” It’s all in the present tense. So these guys are still alive. Admittedly their current existence is bodiless but so close is the connection between future life and bodily life that Jesus says this is proof that the dead will rise. They are still alive and so God must have a physical future planned for us.

What does this mean for us?

The importance of reading the Bible closely and carefully. God has authored the individual words, even the grammar, which means that words are important. I know the temptation when a preacher says something like, “In the Greek it says…” it to shut off and not pay attention. One of our challenges is only to do this when absolutely necessary. The word ‘therefore’…

But we would do it because of an absolute conviction that God is interested in the detail and not just the themes. Do you like listening to the detail? Actually, that’s an irrelevant question. Do you see how important it it to listen to the detail? Have you bibles open and be a keen learner. It’s an attitude thing!

It also explains why we teach the Bible as we do here at St Johns. There are other ways we use from time to time. Doctrine, themes, topics, historical studies (we looked at the Creed). How do we make sure we don’t miss the fact that God has given us books and paragraph and sentences and words? We preach through carefully and present what is there. Called expository preaching. To exposit something is to show you what is there. Taking the jewel pointing out its beauty. This can also be done horribly. More like gutting a fish sometimes. So do pray for us as we keep on learning.

So that together we will know our bibles better, not make wrong assumptions and be changed by the glorious word of God.

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