Illumination or Indictment?
Illumination or Indictment?
Words of Faith 1-10-19
Dr. Jeffrey D. Hoy © 2019
Faith Fellowship Church - Melbourne, FL
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Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question.  "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.  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, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?"
 Jesus replied, "The people of this age marry and are given in marriage.  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,  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 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."
 Some of the teachers of the law responded, "Well said, teacher!"  And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
 Then Jesus said to them, "How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David?  David himself declares in the Book of Psalms:
" 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand  until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." '  David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"
 While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples,  "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
Tuesday of Holy Week was a day of controversy in the courts of the Temple where we finally saw the collision between Jesus and the religious antagonists that had been lurking for so long in the shadows.
The first strategy of the religious leaders was to question the authority of Jesus. Second, they attempted to draw Him into a divisive political debate regarding the unpopular Roman taxes. But each time Jesus not only resisted the traps set by his religious opponents. He managed to use the opportunity to teach a deep truth that left the people wanting more. The religious authorities kept throwing Jesus slick pitches and curveballs and Jesus kept hitting the ball out of the park! The next strategy of the religious people was to attempt to draw Jesus into a theological conflict by pitching him a real weird pitch.
This text features questions. Have you ever noticed that sometimes a question is not a question at all? It sounds like a question, but it is something quite different, an indictment or an argument, but not a question. Some questions we ask as religious people are designed to reveal and expose the truth. But many other questions are designed only to make and argue a point. The Sadducees came with just such a question.
Remember that the Sadducees were the aristocratic priestly families who controlled the Temple and licensed their family members to run businesses there. They were very rationalistic and believed only in the first five books of the Bible. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. To them, the resurrection was a newfangled theological idea made up by people bent on ruining a perfectly good religion. This was one of the key arguments between the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
The Sadducees had fine-tuned their argument against the resurrection using a well-known directive called the "law of yibbum" based in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and elaborated in the Talmud, the oral Law. The law of yibbum said that if a man died without children, his brother was required to marry his widow so as to father children and keep the family line alive by creating an heir. The first born child of that marriage would carry on the dead brother's lineage.
The text also provided for a special ceremony called chalitzah by which a brother could decline to marry his brother's widow but this was considered a humiliation. This loophole would release both the widow and the brother from the obligation to marry. The stories of Onan and Tamar (Genesis 38) and Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 4) are based upon this law. The modern Chief Rabbinate of Israel requires the chalitzah "loophole" and bans yibbum (brother-in-law marriage) entirely.
Based on this the anti-resurrection argument went like this: If a man dies and his brother marries the widow, who is married to whom in heaven after your so-called resurrection? You can tell that the Sadducees were quite confident as they painted the argument as an extreme; the number of brothers had increased with the telling of this hypothetical argument. There were seven brothers, God's perfect number, as if to say, this ought to be the perfect argument!
The whole thing turns a bit ridiculous in the telling partly because we begin to wonder what is it with this lady that everyone she marries dies?! Is there something in her cooking? Someone should check her recipes because to marry this lady is the kiss of death! Perhaps it is time for chalitzah! The image is ridiculous on earth and even more ridiculous in heaven. When the woman gets to heaven, who is she married to? Obviously, the idea of resurrection is silly!
Normally, this would have shut down or at least temporarily derailed the resurrectionist. But Jesus was not easily derailed. He was able to turn even an outrageous argument into an opportunity to teach the truth. Jesus answered the smug questioners by calling us to think beyond our earthly perspective of marriage and family.
Jesus invited the religious antagonists to consider a new possibility-- a truth-- that heaven is a place of relationship to God such that family relationships are not destroyed but are uplifted and superseded by higher relationships. Jesus revealed to us a glimpse of heaven so wonderful that we will not worry over such things.
"The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 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, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God's children, since they are children of the resurrection."
There are a number of references to resurrection in the Prophets that Jesus might have used to argue (Isaiah 26:19, Daniel 12:2, Job 19:26) but Jesus anchored his point in the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses which were accepted by the Sadducees as authoritative. "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.' He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive." Many responded with an affirmation: "Well said, teacher!" And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
The Jesus had won this round. Now it was time to illumine. He asked the religious leaders a question: "How is it that they say the Christ is the Son of David? David himself declares in the Book of Psalms: " 'The Lord said to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet." ' David calls him 'Lord.' How then can he be his son?"
What is this about? Jesus made a powerful point about the Messiah. A favorite identification of Messiah among the Jews was "Son of David"-- the root or descendant of David. Jesus pointed out that He was much more. Why would David say: "The Lord said to my Lord sit at my right hand" if Messiah were not much more than a human descendant of David and if there was no resurrection?
Jesus put all this into perspective for us with a stinging indictment of the religious antagonists and the type of questions they were asking. Jesus was direct and to the point. "Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."
Beware of religious debate that is aimed at glorifying people. Beware of religious questions that are designed to make us feel important and "right.” Beware of theological arguing that is eloquent but self-serving. We can so easily get lost in our religious questions and theological debates.
The question asked by the Sadducees reflects a part of our sinful humanity. We tend to be convoluted. We tend to decide what we believe and then set out to prove our position. We tend to ask questions that do not illumine. We tend to debate so as to impress others. We become obsessed with being "right.” So we tend to ask questions that only argue our points and persuasions. And when we really are sure of our "right", we exaggerate and argue hypothetically.
There is in us a tendency in our sinful nature to separate ourselves from one another based upon our theological camps. Like the Sadducees, we often ask questions not really aimed at gaining truth or understanding but arguing our position. In doing so, we often reduce significant theological concerns to childish arguments.
One of the most painful practices is the way Christians argue with one another using terms of derision like holy roller, bible thumper, "charismaniac", fanatic, "fundy", liberal or frozen chosen. The terms "Methodist", "Baptist", "Quaker" and "Shaker" were all terms of disdain that happened to stick.
The truth is that in our sinful nature sometimes our desire to be right overwhelms our desire to know God and love people, and we express that theologically in extreme arguments and mean-spirited labels.
It is interesting that the first theologian in the Bible was the Serpent in the Garden who asked questions about God as if God was not there. "Did God really say...?" It could be a legitimate question if it genuinely sought the truth. But it was a crafty question that sought to have its way. What is the solution? Are there not genuine theological questions and matters for discussion? Of course. But when we talk theology we should do three things.
1) Ask God. We need to talk to God more than to one another about matters we do not understand and we need to pray for and with a person with whom we disagree.
2) Ask yourself questions that illumine. As you study Scripture ask the questions that arise from the text, not just the questions that support what you have always believed.
3) Ask others questions that illumine, not questions that argue or indict or accuse.
Lord help me to be a person of illumination. Help me to discover Your resurrection truth. Help me to be a person who illumines the issues that concern us. Help me to be a person rooted in Your Word and surrendered to Your Spirit. In Jesus' name.