Luke 20:27-38

Is Your Faith Worth Living For?

November 6, 2016

            Growing up, I used to love to watch the Road Runner cartoons. Do you remember them?  Wile E. Coyote would always plot to trap the Roadrunner, but he would never succeed. He might rig a huge boulder to drop when the Roadrunner trips a wire and  carefully set the trap, then hide when the Roadrunner would come at bullet-speed along the road. The trap, however, would fail, and the Roadrunner would go on his way unharmed with his characteristic beep, beep! Of course, Wile E. Coyote would then become frustrated,  confused, and upset that the trap had failed to catch the Roadrunner and would investigate to see what went wrong.  Just as he would begin his inspection, though,  a pebble would fall and fear would register in Wile E. Coyote’s eyes.  Then the boulder would fall and squash him flat. In the final scene, just as Wile E. Coyote would begin to pull his flattened frame from beneath the rock, the Roadrunner would pass through one more time. I loved those old cartoons! I knew that the Roadrunner would never lose and Wile  E. Coyote would never learn, but I always laughed.

Sometimes when I read some of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees and Sadducees like the one in our passage for today from Luke 20, I think about those old Roadrunner cartoons.  Just as Wile E.  Coyote wanted to trap the Roadrunner, the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in some of His teachings. But like Wile E. Coyote, they never succeeded.  The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t like Jesus.   In fact, they hated Jesus.  They were the religious leaders of the Jewish people, the establishment, and were sure of their ability to rule. They enjoyed the power they had and saw Jesus as the brash young challenger to their authority and power, so they were always trying to trap Him and make Him say something that would make Him lose His credibility with the crowds. Jesus, however, was like the rubber band that always snapped back in their faces, or like the Roadrunner who never got caught. Like the Roadrunner Jesus never loses in a confrontation with them, and like Wile E. Coyote they never learn.

Here in Luke 20:27-38 we have a group of religious leaders trying to “set a trap” for Jesus by asking Him a very interesting question about marriage. The question is posed by  the Sadducees.  The Sadducees only accepted what was written in the Torah, also known as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible.  If something was not specifically referred to or mentioned in the Torah, then, in their estimation, it was not to be believed. For example, the first five books of the Bible say nothing about eternal life or resurrection or immortality, so the Sadducees did not believe in these things, and thought that no one else should either. They also did not believe in Heaven or Hell. They did not turn to such writings as the book of Job which contains this witness:

“Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him . . .” (Job 19:23-27)

According to the Sadducees, there was no such thing as life beyond the grave, so the question they posed to Jesus is really quite surprising.  

“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. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. The second and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. Finally, the woman died too. Now then,” they asked, “at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

It was, of course, a trick question. Like Wily Coyote, they were attempting to set a trap for Jesus.  These Sadducees had no interest in the intricacies of life after death. They didn’t even believe in such a thing. They simply wanted to get Jesus in trouble with the people. But Jesus was accustomed to scholars attempting to trip him up. Jesus knew the Scriptures better than they did, and believed in all the Old Testament scriptures, not just the first five books. Jesus replied to them:

“The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning 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.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

            Like the Roadrunner escaping the trap carefully laid by the Coyote and the Coyote being caught himself, Jesus escapes this trap, and the Sadducees get caught. Jesus met the Sadducees where they were. The Sadducees were people of the Law, the Torah.  If something wasn’t in the Torah, it could not be part of their faith. So Jesus answered them from the Torah. He turns to the third chapter of Exodus, the story of Moses and the burning bush. Here God tells Moses:

 “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

Notice that God did not say

“I WAS the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Remember, when Moses had this experience with God, Abraham, Issac, and Jacob had been dead for centuries, yet God refers to them in the present tense. This, says Jesus to the Sadducees, is evidence right there in the Torah that life after death exists. God says:

 “I am . . . the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

“God is not the God of the dead,” Jesus insists, “but of the living.”

Jesus answered the Sadducees in a way that they could understand, and He also

answered in an  unequivocal way the most pressing question in life, that question being, is there life beyond the grave? And the answer He gave is, “Yes, there definitely is life beyond the grave.”

            If you have faith in Jesus, you will have life beyond the grave, life beyond this life. You know, Jesus not only taught that there is a life after death, everlasting life with God, but He proved it in His own resurrection. “He is alive!” reported the women on their return from the empty tomb, and He was, and still is!  Some people may find the promise of eternal life with God as too good to be true, but it is true, and you can believe it!

Charles Spurgeon once addressed some people’s skepticism about things like eternal life by talking about one of the most common technologies of his time. The illustration he gave is dated, but the principle is still relevant:

“The electric telegraph,” Spurgeon said, “would have been as hard to believe in a thousand years ago as life after death is now. Who in the days of pack horses would have believed in flashing a message from England to America? “Everything is full of wonder till we are used to it, and life after death owes the incredible portion of its marvel to our never having come across it in our observation, that is all. After we experience it, we shall regard it as a divine display of power as familiar to us as creation and providence now are.”  

Spurgeon’s language a little dated here, but his rationale is right on target. Just because you have not yet experienced life after death, you can’t reason that it is impossible.

But here’s another important thing to take away from this passage.

Yes, you can experience life after death if you have faith in Jesus, but you can also experience real and exciting and meaningful life here and now. You can experience a   resurrection as it were in your spiritual life. As the old Gospel song testifies:  “You ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.”

A life of faith that is joyful and vibrant, a life that always looks for ways to serve God and others and reach others with God’s love, is truly the best evidence there is of the risen Christ. If people can see the change Christ has made in you, if people can see the love of God in how you relate to them and others and the joy of Christ in your life, they will have a much easier time believing in the message of life after death, and the message of the changed life Jesus can give us here and now. 

You may remember Sir Winston Churchill as the man who rallied the British people in the darkest days of World War II.  By the power of his words he gave courage to an entire country. Before he died he planned his own funeral service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The service itself was magnificent in every way, filled with Biblical liturgy and great hymns. Just as the benediction was pronounced, an unseen bugler hidden in one side of the dome began to play Taps, the traditional melody signaling the end of the day or the death of a soldier. As the mournful notes faded away, another bugler on the other side of the dome began to play Reveille, the traditional melody signaling the coming of a new day. This was Sir Winston’s way of saying that though he was dead, he expected to ‘get up’ on the day of the resurrection.

            I have that expectation, too, and I hope that you do as well. It is Jesus’ most important teaching. Life beyond the grave is a reality. Because He lives, we, too, shall live.   

            I pray that you have a faith in Christ that will give you the promise of life after death. But I also pray that you and I will be filled with the new life Christ can give us here and now, and that our faith can make a difference in how we live here and now. Yes, we need a faith that is worth dying for, a faith that gives us the hope of life beyond this one, but we also need, and the world needs from us, and God needs from us, a faith that is worth living for, a faith that is lived out every day as we look for ways to share God’s love with others in everything we say and everything we do. Faith that gives us hope for the life to come is important, but so is faith that gives us hope in this life, the faith that we share with others in our actions and words.    

            That’s what I call a faith worth living for.    

            Friends, pray that God will not only bless you with a faith that will give you life after death, but also a faith that is alive and vibrant, a faith that shows your love for God and others, a faith that is committed to showing God’s love in your actions, a faith that will touch others in  this Church, this community, and the world with the love of God.

            Pray that God will give you a faith worth living for.

            After all . . . “God is not the God of the dead, but the living for all are alive in Him.”  Amen.