The twentieth chapter of Luke contains three different stories of Jesus engaging in debate with religious leaders in Jerusalem. If the chapter were scored like a debate, it is obvious that Jesus wins these contests “running away.” First, they approach him with questions about his authority (Luke 20:2-8), and Jesus trumps their question with one that they cannot (dare not) answer. Second, they try to trap him with a question regarding the legality of paying taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:20-26). Again, Jesus out maneuvers them and they look like fools for trying to trap him with their question. In today’s text the Sadducees take their turn with a trick question, and they too end up with egg on their faces.
Obviously, Jesus was a very smart and quick witted man. He was a skilled debater and more than a match for the religious intellectuals in Jerusalem. In fact, we are told at the close of today’s lesson that “no one dared to ask him any more questions.” If Luke’s purpose in writing this chapter was to show us Jesus as an impressive debater, we could read the passages, shake our pom-poms while shouting “Yea Jesus!” and move on to the next chapter. While many of us enjoy watching Jesus match wits with self-righteous, religious leaders that is not why Luke recorded these stories. Each of these stories communicates something different about Jesus and the kingdom.
In our text today the hapless questioners of Jesus are “Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection.” The sect of the Sadducees, were predominately the upper-class, wealthy, priestly families living in Jerusalem. They were responsible for the temple and its upkeep, which made them responsible for collecting the temple tax. They were responsible for keeping good relations with the Romans, and for maintaining the temple guards.
As a religious group they held very strictly to the Books of Moses (first five books of scripture). The Sadducees held that there were not references in the Books of Moses to resurrection. Therefore, they did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, or an afterlife of reward or punishment. This belief (or lack of belief) reveals their question as a planned trap. (For more information on the background of their question see “Whose Wife?” 6/15/2011.) There are those of us who find the history of first century Jewish sects fascinating but this is not why Luke included this story.
As a minister I have performed my fair share of weddings, and as a father of five daughters I have suffered through weddings and plans for weddings. This text is full of weddings. We tend to view weddings in light of romantic love. In weddings people pledge their lifelong love for one another. Many pledge their love to last through all eternity. And while love most certainly abides, Jesus makes it clear that the sons and daughters of the kingdom are not given in marriage. While this seems to be a blow against eternal romance, Luke did not record this story to teach us anything about marriage.
So, why did Luke record this exchange between the Sadducees and Jesus? Luke shares this story from Jesus’ ministry in order to emphasis the good news message of the reality of the resurrection. Jesus makes it clear that teachings and evidences of this part of God’s plan for us have always been there, even in the teachings of Moses. Jesus points out that the truth of the resurrection has to do with the very nature of God Himself. Jesus says that “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”
In Exodus 3:6 God introduces Himself to Moses by saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Jesus tells us that Moses’ father, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob still exist in the presence of God. Everything is cast in the present tense including the name of God, which is given eight verses later as “I AM.” For God, it is as if death does not even exist.
Luke records this story for us in order that we too might come to the realization that “I AM” is the God of the living! He is the God of Rachael, Ralph, Andy and Harold. He is the God of Bob, Beatrice, Lloyd and Jack. He is the God of everyone whom we have loved and lost. They are all alive in His presence. And when our last day shall come, He will continue to be our God as well!
Considered one of New Zealand’s most famous artists, Colin McCahon (1919-1987) interjected his spiritual intensity into his works. This painting is titled, “I AM.”