Writings from the ministry team
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NOTES FOR SERMON – 6 NOV 2016 – Resurrection Life
I suppose it’s not too difficult to find a common theme to our readings for today; in one way or another they all mention the concept of resurrection to an afterlife. As that patient and troubled man Job put it, “After my body has been destroyed I will see God.”
But the concept of an afterlife is a sticky subject; most world religions imagine and believe in some form of it, either on a spiritual level or as reincarnation back into this physical world. In Jesus’ day there was one bunch of religious folk who didn’t believe in any form of resurrection and they were called the Sadducees. Some of whom confronted Jesus with the complicated conundrum you heard in the reading from Luke.
So just who were these guys? Were they goodies or baddies – white hats or black hats? Well, the Sadducees formed a priestly political group drawn from those at the top layers of Jewish society. They took the name Sadducees from their claim to be descendants of Zadok, the Great High Priest of King David’s time.
The Sadducees’ faction attracted the more aristocratic members of Jewish society and accepted only the Torah as the authoritative law. They wouldn’t accept the multitude of variations and interpretations of those laws that were the province of their political and religious rivals, the Pharisees. The Sadducees were deeply conservative in their outlook, wanting to maintain the status quo, as long as they were at the top. They held a majority in the governing body, called the Sanhedrin, and the Great High Priest was one of their number They did everything they could to maintain their supremacy within the Temple.
So their rather clumsy attempt to put Jesus on the spot with the query about a woman who’d been legitimately married seven times puts them firmly, from our perspective, in the bad guy camp.
The 17th century biblical commentator, Matthew Henry, upheld this view when he wrote;
“It is common for those who design to undermine any truth of God to load it with difficulties.”
So how does Jesus answer the question and what does it mean for us? Well, any discussion of our passing though the gateway of death to a new and different life is always difficult, because it all depends on faith. No ordinary mortal has gone through that gate and come back again, so no-one in history can tell us what it’s like on the other side. We all probably have our own ideas; but where can we go to find out more.
Well, one very special man has done it – the man that we all aspire to follow – Jesus Christ. Not only did he come back to physical life from physical death, but he also returned to the spiritual realm from whence he came.
Now all that didn’t happen by accident. No, it was part of the grand design of God’s revelation of his own nature; a nature upon which we are modelled. Jesus Christ walked and talked on this earth expressly to show us what God’s original design of man was supposed to behave like. His reappearance, after a very public and officially recorded death, was there as a model that we can understand.
It is a representation of his message throughout his ministry that a life after death is on offer only through the grace of God.
I also believe that although his body was the same one that he used as a man, after his resurrection it was changed by his renewed divine spirit within it. We read in the gospels that in the 6 weeks he spent on earth after Calvary, people didn’t instantly recognise him; there was some change brought about by his divine ability to reverse the laws of physics and live again.
But we mustn’t make the mistake of interpreting this model of our resurrection too literally. We, as we all know, don’t keep our physical bodies to be re-inhabited in some way on this planet at some unknown future date. But Jesus and St Paul tell us, repeatedly, that if we believe in God, as portrayed in Jesus Christ, then we also will be given a spiritual life beyond physical death.
It will be something very different and wonderful beyond our imagining. A state in which we shall be, as Paul puts it, higher that the angels.
It will also be a realm where time has no meaning. As dear old Matthew Henry puts it, “Believers shall obtain resurrection from the dead, but what shall be the happy state of the inhabitants of that world, we cannot conceive.”
And that’s exactly the problem that the Sadducees had when they were trying to trap Jesus. They, like us, had no idea about how a future life after death would be. Why would they? They didn’t believe in it anyway! Some people have difficulty with Jesus’ answer to this rather silly question, and it’s a very real problem for many bereaved folks.
The inevitable question is not just, “Will I see my loved one again?” It is often an expectation that the same situation will pertain in the relationship as it did before; love, marriage, family ties and all that comes into our lives from that. I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I know a man who can!
Jesus told the Sadducees that they were barking up the wrong tree. In the new eternal life I’m offering, he says, there aren’t the same rules and regulations.
Marriage won’t exist because it’s totally inappropriate to the situation. There won’t be births or deaths either; all these are physical things and can’t exist in a spiritual world. To God, in that spiritual realm where time doesn’t exist, everyone is alive. God is the god of the living, Jesus says.
The Church of England, in the Book of Common Worship calls marriage a gift of God and a way of life made holy by God, and that I believe is for this earthly life.
Many of us are or have been married and/or been to weddings. Once, a vicar, who was a friend of the bride’s family, wanted to encourage her on her wedding day, so he sent her a text message which read simply “1 John 4:18” (That reads ‘There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear’).
Unfortunately he left out the “1”, changing the reference from the First Epistle of John to a verse from John’s Gospel. So the young bride was a bit surprised and shocked when she opened her bible and read, “He whom you have is not your husband.”
In his letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul is dealing with a problem related to the world to come. What he had found was that some folk had been gossiping that Paul had said the day of Christ’s Second Coming had already happened. Of course, this wasn’t true, but because they believed it some church members had even given up their normal daily lives and work to await the arrival of Christ in their city.
He tells them they’re mistaken and tells them that someone he calls “The Man of Lawlessness” will first appear on earth, claiming to be God.
Just who that will be is difficult to know, but another name given by some is the “Antichrist”.
Back in the 4th century St Augustine had the honesty to write in his treatise, City of God, “I frankly confess I do not know what he means.” Ezekiel, Daniel and Isaiah have all used this sort of imagery about the bad guys of their worlds; all we can do is wait and see! However, there seem to be a few candidates floating around our fallen world right now!
It’s hard to imagine the unimaginable but there are analogies that we can use. Peter writes about imperishable seed and, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul devotes all of chapter 15 to the subject of resurrection and what it may be likened to.
In that chapter Paul writes that his readers could think of our dead earthly bodies like a seed that the farmer or the gardener puts in the soil. When the plant that grows from the seed appears above the ground, there’s no longer any sign of the seed from which it grew. Not only that, but what grows is bigger, grander and so much more splendid that the thing that was planted.
So, Paul says, our risen, resurrected spiritual bodies will be wonderfully different and they will be eternal; they’ll last forever. They won’t wear out, they won’t feel pain, they’ll become a part of a much more wonderful thing than this world.
As believers in Jesus Christ we have that thing called a certain hope for our futures. It won’t be the same as here and now – thank God that it will be so much better and last so much longer.