Luke 20:27-38 Love's Eternal Home
Woody Allen once famously said: “It’ not that I’m afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
I’m sure that is how plenty of people feel.
Death is in so many ways fearful.
We live in a world that doesn’t like to talk about death so we use a whole lot of euphemisms. We talk about people passing away, or we talk about losing people. There are less dignified versions too like “kicking the bucket” or “popping one’s clogs.”
I guess when it comes to talking about death, we’d rather laugh than cry right?
The ancients had euphemisms for talking about death too. St Paul talked about “those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15).
But the reason Paul used this phrase wasn’t to avoid facing the gritty reality of death. Rather it was because Paul genuinely saw it as a kind of falling asleep. The connotation being that those who died in Christ would one day wake up again.
Paul believed in resurrection.
This belief was and still is central to the Christian faith.
Without it, Paul said Christians ought to be pitied because they lack hope.
The reality of death asks us a question – is there more to life than this? Does death have the final say?
This isn’t merely an academic question. It’s a deeply personal question. We have loved ones who have died who we miss terribly, we know folks who are sick and facing death right now, and we ourselves will not avoid its inevitability.
And an important question for us to ask – is the message of Christianity big enough to deal with these questions? Does it offer hope beyond death?
Today’s passage from Luke chapter 20 raises questions of death and resurrection. This morning let’s take a look at it together.
-Context in Luke Chapter 20. The Questioning of Jesus’ authority.
The passage opens with some Sadducees questioning Jesus.
Before looking at the Sadducees, who they were and what they were asking, it’s important to set the scene.
Luke chapter 20 has an overarching theme. Its theme could be titled “Jesus’ authority is questioned.” In Luke chapter 19 we hear that Jesus has come to Jerusalem, closer to his own death. He has entered into Jerusalem with great acclaim, he has wept over Jerusalem as he sees the state it is in, and he has gone into the temple to clear it of those making a profit at the expense of people who are just trying to come and worship. Jesus has come seeking reform and to gather people God.
At the end of chapter 19 we hear that some people are thrilled about this. The people were spellbound by what they heard as Luke puts it. Jesus teaches with authority and with love. Yet not all were happy. We hear in Luke 19:47 that the “chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him.”
Then in chapter 20 Luke tells the story of how these leaders step up to take Jesus on and seek to bring him down. In the opening verses they go for the jugular saying “by what authority do you do these things?” Jesus answers them with his own clever questions leaving them flummoxed.
Then Jesus tells a parable about how God’s prophets have always been rejected and how even he, the very Son of God will be rejected too.
The scribes want to lay their hands on Jesus and kill him but fearing the crowds instead they send spies to ask more questions. They ask Jesus questions about taxes trying to get him in trouble with the Roman emperor.
Next, we hear about the Sadducees. Here is one more challenge from the religious leaders, this time the Sadducees step up and ask the curly question to try and undermine Jesus.
-The Sadducees, who they were and what they thought about resurrection.
So, who were the Sadducees? They were priestly and lay aristocrats who studied the Jewish Scriptures. They tended to be wealthy and wanted to maintain the status quo. They were in many ways in league with the Roman Empire of the day and because of this would have seen Jesus as a threat to their own political stability and power.
They didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, a Jewish hope that was held in other schools of Jewish thought.
They rejected it outright. They use this view to draw Jesus into a debate and ask a question worthy of any class clown. They frame the issue in the most ridiculous way – supposing a woman marries several men who all successively die. What then?
Whose wife will the woman be in the resurrection?
We can only imagine Jesus’ facial expression upon hearing this.
He essentially points out that they have failed to understand the nature of the resurrection.
“Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; 35 but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.
Jesus makes a point about this age and the age to come. In the age to come things will be different he says.
Theologians have wrestled with this question, and it is all about continuity and discontinuity. How much continuity will there be between this life and the next?
On one level it is a question we will never know this side of heaven. What we do get a hint at from Jesus is that there will be a level of discontinuity. For one, marriage won’t be a thing.
Why might this be?
I quite like being married (most of the time), so why would God want to abolish it post resurrection?
I’ve got a friend here in Timaru…
Almost Dr Maja Whitaker. Her and her husband Dave are pastors at Equippers Church. Believe it or not she is doing her PhD on the topic of resurrection and our identity after death. We have an expert on the topic just down the road.
I messaged her while preparing this week and asked for her comment.
In dealing with the question: “Why is marriage abolished in the resurrection?” she said:
"The reason behind this is not that marriage relationships must be abolished for post-resurrection life, but that they will be transcended by perfected post-resurrection relationality. Pre-resurrection, marriage was designed to fulfil the human need for companionship, but post-resurrection all human relationships will involve a degree of intimacy that remedies the problem of “aloneness”.
That’s a very big thought right?
In other words, in our resurrection life with God we will experience the perfect fulfilment of all our desires for relationship.
Nearly every song ever written is about the desire for love. Whether it’s a sad country song about the one that got a way or a pop song bursting with eros – they’re all about this longing.
Because as humans our deepest need is for love, it is for relationship. We write poems about it, we make movies about it, we go online looking for it, we want it more than anything.
The apostle Paul knows this. In chapter 13 of his letter to the Corinthians he says:
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Paul talks about knowing fully and being fully known. This isn’t about him knowing everything there is to know about the mysteries of the universe and every little fact of his life being known by God. It has nothing to do with information.
In Genesis 4 verse 1 we hear this: “Now the man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived and bore Cain.
The Hebrew expression of knowing is a lot saucier than we might image. It is often used to express sexual relations, and intimacy. Paul talks about seeing face to face. This is the language of lovers. When you kiss someone you are face to face.
Paul is saying that in relationship with God our deepest and most intimate desire for love will be fulfilled.
What an extraordinary message that is.
It certainly reframes the question about marriage.
It shows that our desire for human love in marriage is a reflection of a deeper desire that can only be fully expressed in relationship with our Creator.
Or as C.S. Lewis put it:
“Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object […] If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy.” (from the Weight of Glory)
The resurrection paints a hopeful reality that one day we will know fully the love we were created for.
To come back to the passage in Luke…
In verse 37 Jesus refers to God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A familiar Jewish way of talking about God that the Sadducees would have recognized.
He helpfully points out that they are long dead yet to God they are alive.
The Jewish faith rightly understood according to Jesus paints a picture of the faithful as living beyond death with God. This hopeful picture has been built on by numerous writers reflecting on life after death.
C.S. Lewis wrote about heaven with expressive delight and wonder.
He himself faced painful moments in his own life. His own mother died when he was just a young boy, he lost close friends in the war, he also lost his beloved wife Joy (which he wrote a book about). Yet in the midst of this he had a robust picture of heaven, of life with God after death.
C.S. Lewis’ paints a vision of heaven, in The Last Battle, part of the Narnia series:
Aslan talking to the children who are the heroes of the story says:
“Your father and mother and all of you are—as you used to call it in the Shadowlands—dead. The term is over; the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: This is the morning….”
The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And as for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.
But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
What a wonderful way to put it?
Do we view death in such a way? What about heaven?
Jesus argues for the resurrection of the faithful and he makes it possible through his own death-defying resurrection.
The Heidelberg Catechism, one of the central teaching documents of the reformation teaches the Christian faith through a series of questions and answers.
The first question is this: “What is your only comfort in life and death?” The answer: “I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.”
Could we give that answer with sincerity?
I’ve often heard the expression about being people being “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly use.” Have you heard that one?
I wonder after reading today’s passage and reflecting on it – What if we were rightly heavenly minded?
If we were, we might just get a glimpse of a God who loves us so fiercely that even death can’t get in the way.
We might begin to get to know the God of the living, not the dead. The God whom our hearts long for and in whom we find ultimate hope and meaning…
 I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Exeter, UK: Paternoster Press, 1978), 737-38.