Sunday, November 10, 2019
His name was Wendell. Everyone called him ‘Rip.’ Rip was in the same church for over 40 years. I was the under 30 pastor of just a couple of years.
Be patient with pastors under 30. They’re full of energy and excitement. They want to win the world for Jesus. Let their energy energize you. But, they don’t know much. So, give them a lot of grace. One guy in the church affectionately called me their “boy” pastor.
Ninety-year-old Rip was much healthier than a lot of the octogenarians and septuagenarians in the church. His beloved wife Elizabeth, 87, was not in good shape. Shortly after her funeral, Rip, clearly, shaken, came to ask me, his “boy” pastor a theological question. “Rob,” his trembling voice said, “Do you think in Heaven we’ll get to see the people who died before us?”
I don’t remember how I answered. I could see that Rip was trying to cope with the deep sadness he felt in burying his bride of more than 60 years. The question is one that’s been asked since the beginning of time. Once this life is over, will we see our loved ones again.? In his song “When I Get Where I’m Going,” Brad Paisley sings, “I’m Gonna walk with my Grandaddy. And he’ll match me step for step. And I’ll tell him how I’ve missed him every minute since he left. And then I’ll hug his neck.” It’s something we all want.
Five weeks from today, we relaunch our congregation as Hillside Church. What will this new thing be all about? It’s about what we say and do. At Hillside, we follow Jesus, love others, and share hope. Zoom on that last word – “hope.” What is the substance of the hope we claim to have and share?
Will I get to see my loved ones when I get where I’m going? Will Rip still be Elizabeth’s husband? Can I play catch with my great-grandfather, the only Detroit Tiger fan I know who watched Ty Cobb play? Paul addressed this concern directly in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. He assures believers we will reunite with those who have preceded us in death. Jesus does not deal with this question in his confrontation with the Sadducees in Luke 20. However, when we read a story like this, the question of afterlife comes to mind..
Several things happen at the end of Luke 19 and into chapter 20 that set the course of the story leading up to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. He weeps as he enters Jerusalem because God’s people fail to see what God is doing to save them from sin and death. Next, Jesus enters the temple and violently evicts the moneychangers. That week he daily taught in the temple court. As he did, chief priests, scribes, and leaders of the people looked for the opportunity to kills Jesus, but were thwarted because he was so popular with crowds that were spellbound by his teaching.
Included in this leadership group opposed to Jesus were two political parties, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They generally hated each other. The Sadducees were a wealthy, elite class and held most of the power. There were more Pharisees. They held greater influence in the countryside and outlying villages. For all the confrontations Jesus had with Pharisees, he was much closer in thought to them than to the Sadducees.
The Sadducees only accepted Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – the Torah. They did not consider the Psalms or the prophets to be scripture. Resurrection is not mentioned in the Torah, so the Sadducees had no place for it in their theology.
By Luke 20:27, temple leaders have challenged Jesus’ authority and he has rejected theirs, calling them hypocrites and seeing them as opposing what God was trying to do. The Sadducees wade into the arena.
In Deuteronomy 25:5-10, a passage the Sadducees would have revered, it is decreed that if a man dies his wife shall marry his brother. She is required to do this. Any children the wife has with the brother will be credited to the man. That man’s name would be remembered in Israel by his offspring.
Marriage was not the result of romantic love. Marriage was for procreation. The woman probably had not chosen her first husband. She was probably given to him by her father. However she ended up marrying him, if he died, she had no choice. Her duty was to marry his brother and have children with that brother so the original husband’s name lived on. Marriage was for procreation. The woman had no choice. And the way one’s name lived on was in his offspring.
Based on that law, the Sadducees came up with a hypothetical situation. The oldest of seven brothers gets married, but dies childless. The next brother does his duty and marries the woman, but also dies childless. This continues until all seven and the woman are dead.
The Sadducees are so smart. They’ve come up with a real doozy that will knock Jesus off his perch and will quiet their rivals, the Pharisees, who very much believed in resurrection just as Jesus did.
So, who does the woman belong to in the resurrection? Jesus upends the Sadducees and their challenge by explaining that the age of resurrection is different than the present age, the age of death. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, sin has been in the world, causing corruption and degradation of all living things, and bringing death. This is a theological understanding of the world, not to be understood in place of the scientific explanations for the origin of the earth, the theory of evolution, or the way biology understands life cycles. Read theologically, we see in Genesis the origin of sin and the way sin brings death.
The present age lasts from the day Adam and Eve sinned to the end of history, the final resurrection, and the full inauguration of the eternal Kingdom of God. The point Jesus makes in responding to the Sadducees is that the age of resurrection is fundamentally different than this age. How?
In this age we get married. In Jesus’ day, marriage was for procreation and in ancient Israel it was to carry on a man’s name through his children. Why? In this age, the man would die. In the age of resurrection Jesus says that man will not die. No one does. So marriage is irrelevant. Procreation is not needed to carry on someone’s name.
One other fundamental difference: the woman will not be given in marriage by her father. She will not be a possession of a husband required to do his bidding. She will live freely as a child of God. Jesus says she will be like the angels in this sense: she will not die.
Jesus was not saying she would become an angel. In Christ, we are sons and daughters of God, made in the image of God. Angels are God’s servants, but are not God’s image bearers. When we die, we do not go to heaven and become angels. Hebrews chapter 1 is quite clear on this, and it is evident in the book of Revelation and other places. We human beings fundamentally are different than angels. In resurrection, we become more human – more of what God intended when creating humans in the first place.
That’s the hope on which we stand. In Christ, we know that resurrection comes after death. In resurrection, our physical bodies rise, take on flesh, are recognizable but also different. We can be touched, but also can pass through locked doors as Jesus did after he rose in resurrection.
The Bible does not promise that we go to Heaven when we die. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about what happens to the soul at a person’s death. From a few passages we can glean the after death our experience is in Jesus’ care and is peaceful and without suffering. At funerals a grieving person will say of his lost loved one, “Well, she’s in a better place.” I don’t know if it can be described as a “place.” All I can say with confidence is that our beloved dead are in the care of Jesus. And that’s enough.
The Bible promises at the end, after this age is over, we rise as Jesus rose. Our resurrected bodies cannot die, a point Jesus makes to the Sadducees. We are free to live in joyful relationship with God and with each other. Will Rip and Elizabeth again be husband and wife in the resurrection? Jesus says no. But, as Paul indicates in 1 Thessalonians, they will be together along with all of us who follow Jesus. The reunion will be more joyful than relationships we have in these age, even our closest ones.
Following Jesus and loving others, resurrection is the centerpiece of the hope we share. It means freedom –oppressed people in this life will be liberated. It means complete health as our bodies cannot be injured or killed; we are eternal.
As we live here and now, awaiting that glorious day, the materialistic values of this age hold no sway over us. As we live here in Christ we are already getting glimpses of resurrection joy that will be ours eternally and those glimpses of God shape who we are in the present. We have a mission to glorify God and draw others to him that they might know the salvation he gives. When we get hurt, and we will, or we meet others in pain and they’re all around us, we comfort each other, share with one another the love of Christ, and help each other see the promised eternity before us.
We feel sadness. We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We have eternal hope for ourselves and those whom we love. At Hillside Church, we share that hope with a dying world that badly needs it.