Throughout the summer and fall, especially as we have looked at the Gospel of Luke, we have gone on a journey with Jesus. During this journey, Jesus has traveled the shore line of the Sea of Galilee, made his way down the Jordan River, over through Jericho, and visited other important areas of Galilee and Judea. His journey has been focused on taking him to Jerusalem to meet his accusers, to face the cross, and experience the resurrection.
Yet, we have also shared how Jesus used the journey to engage people along the way about what it meant to follow him. He used the time, truly, to talk about discipleship. For Jesus, discipleship is more than just saying you are a “Christian” or being a member of a church. Discipleship is about completing following Christ by abandoning our own self and ideas for how life should be and completely dedicate ourselves to following the life of Jesus. This is a life of deep commitment and engagement with the Lord that is a lifelong journey.
Much of the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem was focused on discipleship and following him completely. Even when he reaches the Holy City, Jesus continues to talk about the responsibilities of following him and how it challenges the ideas of the world. This is the case as we turn our focus to Luke 20:26-38, where we find Jesus teaching in the Temple during the lead up to the Passover celebrations.
There are two important things to focus on here. First, it was customary for religious teachers to sit on the teaching steps at the Temple and help others to contemplate on the life of God. Jesus would not have been the only teacher teaching in the Temple, yet attention would have been squarely focused upon him because of his activities and the expectations surrounding him. Second, we focus on this passage at this point in the Christian year, because it helps us to contemplate upon the meaning of Christ’s lordship and kingdom. The Christian year runs from the first Sunday of Advent through Christ the King Sunday, which is the Sunday before Advent. As we approach Advent, the lectionary focuses on passages that focus upon the kingdom of God and Jesus’ kingship as we get ready to prepare our hearts for the coming of the king.
Jesus is not just surrounded by other teachers at the Temple. He is also joined by those who want to challenge his authority. Prior to our passage, he has faced a number of questions from the elders and religious elites about his teaching. They are wanting to do anything they can to discredit him in front of a large number of people who were in Jerusalem for the Passover. This included a group of Sadducees.
The Sadducees were one of at least two major parties in Judaism, with the other being the Pharisees. When we think of a “party” we might think of the “Republican” or “Democratic” party. In Judaism, a party was something more akin to a “Methodist” or “Catholic.” A party was a group of people that had a common theological perspective in what it meant to follow God. They were different in sects, such as the Essenes, in that they recognized the existence of the other. While the Sadducees and Pharisees may have recognized the existence of the other, it didn’t mean they were always in agreement or connection with one another.
What we know of the Sadducees comes to us from Scripture and some Jewish historians. We believe they were an extremely conservative group that believed truth was only revealed through the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which is also known as the Torah. They disagreed with the Pharisees in seeing the authority of the oral tradition, which was the Pharisees interpretation of Scripture. They were intently interested, as well, in the practices of the Temple. At the same time, though, they were willing to do what they could to protect their power, even if it meant aligning themselves with Rome. It was a way to protect their wealth, status, and aristocratic power. As a group, the Sadducees’ influence ended after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, when the Second Temple was destroyed.
One of their main issues with the Pharisees came in discussions around the resurrection. The Pharisees believed that the resurrection, which they saw as God bringing new life into the dead at the end of time, was revealed in Scripture. The Sadducees challenged this view, because they could not see it specifically laid out anywhere in the Torah.
It is this disagreement that led them to Jesus during the lead up to the Passover festivities. They didn’t come to ask an honest question. They came to embarrass Jesus with an impossible story and question. In an early case of “what aboutism,” this group approaches Jesus and asks what happens in the resurrection if a woman’s husband dies without children and she is married six additional times without any children. They ask the question in such a way to make a wild claim about the resurrection in order, in their eyes, to disprove it in front of Jesus.
They were so concerned about embarrassing Jesus that they took Scripture out of context. That comes as a warning for us to be careful with how we use and apply Scripture. What happens, here, is that they are looking at Deuteronomy 25:5-6, which focuses on a way to care for a widow who is childless. In those days, a widow was dependent upon her male children to provide for her after her husband died. Without any male children, she could be left destitute and unable to care for herself. It would, then, be the responsibility of her husband’s brothers to marry her and provide a son, first, to carry on the family’s name and to provide for the protection of their land. As well, it was to provide protection and care for the widow so that her needs were provided for by the family. This is what takes place with Ruth and Boaz.
Jesus will have none of the Sadducees’ attempt to twist Scripture to meet their own needs. Instead, he uses their challenge to talk about the meaning of the resurrection and its implication. He does so with a two-folded approach. First, he says they are assuming that the life to come will be the same as the life that is now. He describes it as a new age where the old gives way to the new. While we have not experienced it, and we will know each other, what Jesus says is that the needs that define this world will not be what defines the world to come.
More importantly, though, he gives a direct challenge to their view, or lack thereof, on the resurrection. He looks at Exodus 3:6, an important passage within the Torah, to base his response to the truth of the resurrection. This is where God identifies himself to Moses through the burning bush and says he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Jesus says that, with those words, God does not identify himself as the god of the dead. God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While they are dead, Jesus describes them as being alive. That is because God is the God of the living and gives life, through the resurrection, to those who follow him. In this way, God is the fullness and essence of life. God is the god of hope, life, and new creation. None of those characteristics are those of death or destruction. They are the characteristics of the possibilities of God through the power of the resurrection.
In affirming the resurrection with those who doubt its possibilities, Jesus calls them to see a basic tenant of the resurrection. It is about life and new creation. God, through the resurrection, will raise up new life and hope into a world filled with death and darkness. Death is defeated and destroyed through the life of God’s hope and grace. Through the resurrection, God is doing something new in the world by raising up hope, life, and new creation through his very presence and activity.
The passage, also, invites us who claim that Jesus is alive to see its implications for us in the here and now. Jesus does not focus on the resurrection as only something that happens in the distant future. It happens now, because Jesus’ resurrection launched the beginning of this new creative work into the world. It was the launching of a new day and its power and implications are real for us now, as we await Christ’s return. We are not called to give lip service to the power of the resurrection and its meaning for us today. We are called to live it out by being people who live with the acknowledgement that God is alive by being about the missional work of hope, life, and new creation.
Too often, however, we live as though none of this is true. We might boldly proclaim that Jesus is our Lord and that we believe in the resurrection. It is the living it out that is quite different. Instead of believing that God is alive and it calls us to see God bringing forth hope, life, and new creation, we often live as though God is not here, gone, absent, or unavailable.
Instead of being filled with the possibilities of hope, life, and God’s creative power, we can be consumed with fear, death, and destruction. Instead of seeing what can be, we can become consumed with fear about the future. Instead of living into God’s hope, we consume ourselves with criticism and complaining believing that nothing is good enough. Instead of living into God’s life, we can express a form of Christianity that is defined by anger, resentment, or disillusionment. Instead of the resurrection, we live out the life of death.
When we do this, it stunts the possibilities of God’s hope, life, and new creation in our lives and our communities. God desires to raise us up out of death and into the possibilities of life through the resurrection. This happens when we experience the realities that God’s hope, life, and creative power is available to us all because death can never contain or consume our Lord and King. God desires us to live as people of hope, life, and new creation, which we can because all of this available to us through the life of Christ.
This desire affects how we live in our personal lives and as a community. It calls us to be missionaries of hope and life. To be missionaries who share hope in places of our lives and communities where darkness seems to overwhelm, because we have a hope that comes from the life of God. To be missionaries who share life that sees God raising people out of the world’s bondage and into the freedom and mercy of God’s redeeming love. To be missionaries who live into the new creation by partnering with God to change the world, and, especially, our corner of it.
We do not claim a life of faith apart from the power of the resurrection, which announces that God is not among the dead but with the living. So, let us be alive in our mission and our shared connection with one another through the life of Christ. Let us be missionaries of hope and not fear. Let us be change agents through the Gospel’s redeeming love to spread Scriptural holiness and justice across Huntington. Let us be witnesses of the resurrection by believing that God is not finished with the church, because the church is the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ in a broken and hurting world. Let us continue to share hope, to experience life, and live out the new creation of God’s love, because God is alive.