Shortly after Callie and I got married, though our honeymoon had come and gone, we were still very much in that honeymoon phase of newlywed life and Callie said something to the effect of, “We’re going to be married forever! Like, we’re still going to be married when we’re in heaven too!” And I remember thinking to myself, “Oh goodness, how am I going to break the news to her on this one …” It wasn’t that marriage for eternity with my dear Callie was something that I was against, just the opposite, I’d sign up for that in a heartbeat. Rather, I knew that for the first and turns out only time in our marriage, she was, well, wrong.
Truth is, we weren’t, we aren’t, going to be married for eternity. In fact, no married couple past, present or future will be married in heaven. And as gently as I could, I shared with her today’s scripture passage, which says, “Those who are considered worthy of taking part in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.” Though it may be as the commercial goes that diamonds are forever, marriage is not.
Now, could I, should I, have let this one go and let her hold onto that idea a while longer? Well, yeah, probably. But did I mention the fact I had only been married for a month or so at this point? Oh my, so young and so naïve. The one thing I knew for certain is that as soon as I broke the news to her it was once and for all, honeymoon. Phase. Over!
And my sincerest apologies if I’ve spoiled this belief for anyone else. Truth is, it is my every hope that in the 15 minutes I can make it up to you with a more hopeful and ultimately higher view of marriage and resurrection life itself.
So let’s get going. First, we’ll try and wrap our heads around what in the world is going on here in this scripture and then afterwards consider what this all means for you and me today.
This morning we continue on with our slow and steady journey through Holy Week. We’re in the final week of Jesus’s life now and after turning over the tables on Monday and controversial teachings in the temple on Tuesday. The religious leaders see Jesus as a threat to their very existence, a threat that needs to be dealt with fast.
And so, the teachers of the law took their first shot with a controversial question about whether or not to pay taxes to Caesar, a seemingly no win question that would lead to either the Roman empire or the crowds turning their backs on him. And yet, Jesus deftly dodged that one with an answer that surprised them all.
And now here today, it’s the Sadducees' turn. The Sadducees were a wealthy priestly group and they themselves had their own unique way of trying to make Jesus vulnerable.
Where if the question surrounding taxes was in an effort to trap Jesus, the question that the Sadducees asked surrounding marriage and the resurrection was in an effort to embarrass Jesus. In other words, they try to come up with a scenario that would make the very notion of resurrection look ridiculous.
The Sadducees, as our opening verse explains, did not believe in a resurrection. They did not believe in a bodily resurrection where Jesus would raise his followers back from the dead or even be raised from the dead himself. They thought it was preposterous. In fact, according to rabbinic tradition, the Sadducees would tease their opponents, saying things like, “Do the resurrected have to go through ritual cleansing because they had contact with a corpse (that is, their own)?” To them, resurrection was unthinkable.
And so to embarrass Jesus, they come up with a far-fetched scenario about a woman having seven husbands throughout her life because each and every husband dies. Old Testament law stipulated that the husband’s brother must marry her, in order to preserve the family name and offer safety and stability to the widow. And yet, she has no children with any of them. And so they ask, “At the resurrection whose wife will she be?” In their mind, the idea of her being married to all seven men in heaven demonstrates the absurdity of the resurrection. And if you’re struggling to make sense of the logic of all this, I will be totally honest and confess that I’m struggling to make sense of it too.
Nevertheless, let’s get to what Jesus has to say. His words are of greater importance and will help us to tease out its significance for you and I today. And so to do so, we’ll consider the significance of Jesus’s words concerning the nature of faith, the nature of resurrection, then finally, Jesus’s words concerning the nature of marriage itself.
And so, first, the nature of faith itself.
As for the Sadducees, it seems as though their big hang-up concerning resurrected life was that they assumed it would be just like their life on earth. And so when they mapped their understanding of life on earth to how they imagined life in heaven, it broke their brains. They couldn’t do it. And so what do they conclude? Well, there must not be a resurrection then.
You know, you and I are often tempted to do the same. Where we choose not to believe, we choose not to trust, because we do not fully understand.
Yet in reality, you and I don’t have to fully understand something to believe it. You and I don’t have to fully understand what Jesus says in order for us to trust him. In fact, faith in Jesus often entails obeying and trusting even when things don’t seem to make any sense.
Now, that’s not to say that seeking understanding is a bad thing. Not at all.
But yet, not everything can be fully understood on this side of eternity. You may not know why God is allowing a particular hardship in your life in this season, and yet we can still have faith, we can still trust, we can still believe that he is good even in the midst of it. To not know the reason for any particular suffering we face doesn’t mean that there isn’t one.
And so, friends, where in your life are you lacking understanding, and what might it look like to believe even still?
That’s the nature of faith, Secondly, let’s reflect on …
The nature of the resurrection
What’s noteworthy about Jesus’s answer here is that he doesn’t bother going into great detail explaining what resurrection itself will look like. Instead, he seems to place more emphasis on who will be a part of it.
In other words, Jesus is less interested in speculating about what resurrection life will look like and more interested in specifying who will actually be there and what qualifies them to be there.
For example, Jesus uses the language of “the people of this age” in contrast to “God’s children, who are children of the resurrection.” And he even says “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come … will no longer die”
Which begs this question, “Okay, well, who among us will be considered worthy and how has Luke been talking about worthiness all this time?”
Well, here I think we’ll find what we could possibly call an “unworthy worthiness” of sorts, if that makes any sense at all. Luke has been lifting up the poor, the widow, the children, the vulnerable, those who so clearly recognize their sinfulness and their need for Jesus. He’s highlighted the tax collectors who say, “Have mercy on me, Lord!” And even if you trace the word worthy itself back through Luke, you’ll find people like John the Baptist, a Roman centurion, and most famously the Prodigal Son who in some way said “I am not worthy … I am not worthy … I am not worthy.”
All this to say, it’s not really worth our time speculating what resurrection life will look like. Rather, we must be more concerned with how to actually get there. And in counterintuitive gospel fashion, it requires an “unworthy worthiness.”
Later this morning, we have the joy and privilege of ordaining and praying for our newest elders, Marie Hamilton and Cathy Knox. And when our nominating committee made the call to Marie, Marie you said something to the effect of, “I don’t feel qualified, but yes.” “I don’t feel like I’m qualified for the role, but if God is calling me to this, then yes.” Marie, I think you speak for just about everyone who has ever received that call. None of us are fully qualified, but thankfully Jesus is, and he’s the Good Shepherd, and we get to serve under his leadership, as his under shepherds. And in a strange paradox, Marie’s self awareness regarding her unworthiness makes her all the more worthy indeed.
To be a child of God, a child of the resurrection, as Jesus says, we must recognize just how unworthy we are. The nature of faith, the nature of resurrection, now third, the nature of marriage itself.
The nature of marriage
Finally here, let’s get back to where we started. Marriage itself. Here again is what Jesus says, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of … the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”
In other words, from the vantage point of eternity, marriage is a short term relationship. It is temporary. Now, this may sound like bad news and you might think that Jesus’s words make little of the marriage relationship, and yet, I’m convinced that it’s just the opposite, that the temporariness of marriage gives a higher view of marriage itself.
For example, consider God’s purpose for marriage. Truth is, there are many. The well-being of society, the ordering of family life, the birth and raising of children, a picture of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ, and yet there’s at least one more and that is … for your own personal transformation and growth.
Where if a couple weeks ago during our Congregational Meeting we had what I called Celebration Station, then consider marriage as Transformation Station. Where God wants to use that relationship to transform you more and more in the love of Jesus Christ.
Because in marriage you have this potent combination of unconditional love and awareness of sin. Where though most everyone in your life is aware that there is sin in your life, your spouse has a front row seat to it. And that exposure and proximity when combined with unconditional love creates a unique environment for personal transformation.
You see, God wants to use your marriage to make you more like Jesus, transforming you into the image of His Son. And when we die and are raised to be with Jesus, we’ll be perfect, glorious, radiant indeed, free from sin itself. The purpose of marriage will be accomplished, the purpose of marriage fulfilled, we’ll be married no more.
And so to those of you who are married, maybe the most practical thing you can do today is to say to your spouse, “I want to help you become more like Jesus, I want to help you become the person that God is calling you to be. Will you do the same for me?”
And to those who are single or widowed or unmarried or know and love someone who is … this higher view of marriage makes for a higher view of singleness too. Because the temporariness of marriage reminds us that marriage is not the ultimate prize, rather Jesus is.
One of the great tragedies in our culture today is that we communicate that in order to live a full life you need to be married, all while totally forgetting that Jesus, the one who was fully God and showed us what it was like to be fully human, lived his entire earthly life as a single man.
Friends, marriage is temporary and that’s good news for singles and married alike.
Alright, we’ve got to wrap this up. The nature of faith, nature of resurrection, the nature of marriage. We’ll finish with this:
The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection and so Jesus proves it to them. First on this Tuesday, through a scriptural proof, showing that the God who claims to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even well after their physical deaths is proof that the dead will rise and are still living to this day.
And while that is proof enough, the real proof will come a few days later on Sunday, when Jesus himself rises from the grave. Jesus’s resurrection is described as a “firstfruits” of what’s to come, meaning that Jesus’s resurrection is simply the first of many, many more as one day, his followers will rise from the grave too. And when they do, there will be one final and glorious wedding. One last marriage that will continue on in the age to come, this time between Jesus and his bride, the church. It will be glorious indeed.
And because of this, those who are single can rest in their singleness, knowing and trusting that a future resurrection, a future marriage is coming. And those who are married can mean what they say and find joy when they say and reflect on their wedding vows for as the final line says, “until death do us part.”