The God Of The Living
November 19, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
The Next World Is Entirely Different From This World
1. In today's reading of the gospel [of Luke] are found "the Sadducees." They are a sect in Judaism. It is a group of priests who make the temple at Jerusalem their home base. The Bible says that "The Sadducees deny that there is a resurrection." They don't believe in a resurrection. Which means "When you're dead, it's over." If you aren't hoping for a messiah, you won't believe in the world to come either. Furthermore, they don't believe in the existence of spirits either. Neither do they believe anything that is not written down in the law of Moses. That's the kind of people they are. In contrast to them, the Pharisees, who are found a lot in the Bible, believe in both the resurrection and in the existence of spirits. So, both groups are mainline religious sects within Judaism, but they are antagonistic to each other. Then, the grounds of the arguments that the Sadducees used in order to deny that there is a resurrection or a future world as opposed to the Pharisees and others is the story that is found in today's gospel reading. They brought to Jesus this certain story and kicked off the dispute.
2. The Sadducees quoted from Deuteronomy of the Old Testament and began to speak as follows. "Master, Moses has written for us, that 'An eldest brother took a wife. In a situation where he died having no child, the younger brother must marry his sister-in-law to establish an heir for his older brother.'," (verse twenty-eight). What we are finding here in this text is the system of "The Levirate Marriage" barely familiar to us. As a system to not have a break in one's future descendents, it is believed that it can still be found today among some minority people groups. They held that the very words of the law itself actually is the final and absolute proof that there is no resurrection.
3. The next thing they did in the story is they asked this question. "So now, there were seven brothers. The senior son accepted a wife, but he died still childless. The second son and the third son each took her as wife, but the seven of them, in the same way, died leaving no child. Finally the woman also died. So, at the time of the resurrection whose wife will she be? The seven of them made her their wife," (verses twenty-nine through thirty-three).
4. Even if we don't think about the system of Levirate marriage, we may understand it if we consider, for example, the persons we know who get married again [after his or her first marriage partner has passed away]. It's something that we might have trouble with when there is a resurrection and there is a world to come. As I've already mentioned, the debates over it were usually had among the Pharisees. There was one response among the resurrection believing Pharisees, and in this case, I'm told the wife would belong with the eldest man. However, Jesus doesn't even give such a reply. The Lord spoke the following.
5. "Jesus said. "The children of this world take wives and marry, but those who are made worthy to enter into the next world and rise from the dead will neither take wives nor marry. They will never die again. For, they will be equivalent to the angels, as partakers of the resurrection, they are children of God.'," (verses thirty-four through thirty-six).
6. The emphasis in Jesus' reply was not simply "The world to come is." That's not [his point], rather it was that "this world" and "the next world" (literally "that world") are entirely different. Therefore, he says that "They will never die again" or even that "They will be equivalent to the angels." In other words, it's that we should not think that the world of the resurrection [as the place where] salvation is completely fulfilled as an extension of this current world, we should not simply reason by analogy of daily life in this world.
7. When we read this gospel, it feels like Jesus was giving a disinterested explanation to the Sadducees. But, when we read another gospel, it doesn't seem that way by any means. In The Gospel According To Mark Jesus gave a sigh and said, "Aren't you having this misunderstanding since you do not know the scriptures or the power of God?," (Mark 12:24). That's right, Jesus was disappointed by and disgusted with the nonsensical and speculative arguments by the religious leaders of the time. [His feelings] weren't only simply towards the Sadducees who set forth this dispute in order to deny the resurrection. They also seem to have been towards the Pharisees who claimed they believed in the resurrection. Indeed, [it seemed] Jesus much rather wanted to speak directly to the very Pharisees themselves. It was because the answer, as I touched on just ago, that "The wife belongs with the eldest man," was proof that they were only thinking of the world of salvation that is to come as an extension of this current world.
8. But, I don't think that we can claim that this was only an issue for the Pharisees and has nothing to do with us. We certainly do believe in the resurrection. We don't think it's over when you die. We speak about the kingdom of heaven, too; we use the phrase "the kingdom of God." However, isn't it [true] that we only think of the world of salvation as an extension of this world, that we only reason by analogy of daily life in this world? I would say isn't it [true] that at the minimum we think "[It's] a better place than [this]?" To put it another way, we are only thinking of entering into the kingdom of God as truly a small thing. Therefore, we don't have thoughts in our hearts with intense longings for the kingdom of God, [we don't have thoughts] which seek it like we want it so much we got to have it. Rather than seeking for the kingdom of God, it even ends up more important to us to get a little piece of this world. Isn't that true?
9. We will understand how different our feelings are from Jesus' by thinking about the parable of Jesus as an example. In another place Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is likened as follows. A jewel is hidden in a field. The person who found it left it hidden, happily he returned home, and sold his property totally off, then bought that field," (Matthew 13:44). About entering the kingdom of heaven, one does not regret even if one loses all of one's possessions in this world for it. He said it like that. Jesus understood this matter. We don't understand it at all.
10. Jesus wasn't alone. Our feelings towards this seem very different from the first century Christians as well. Paul said, "I think that [our] present sufferings, when compared with the glory that will be revealed to us in the future, are trivial," (Romans 8:18). Did the man by the name of Paul say such a thing because he didn't experience sufferings in this passing world? No, he didn't. Upon numerous occasion the man named Paul had encountered suffering that exceeds our imaginations. But, he states definitively that those things are trivial [in comparison to glory]. This matter of entering into the kingdom of God is like that. Even if one knows only a portion of it, it is such a great thing, that current sufferings end up blowing away.
11. Even though God has prepared this amazing grace, they will still ask something like "Whose wife will the woman who had been married to the seven brothers be!?" And yet the priests and the scribes of the law did argue on such a level. So sorrowful and unsympathetic, he must have been disappointed and disgusted with them. But, the way they were is the very way we are too. It is a figure of us, of how we are looking in a place that is entirely different from that of Jesus and Paul.
God Is Not The God Of The Dead But Is The God Of The Living
12. Where does the issue lie then? It is as Jesus says, "Aren't you having this misunderstanding since you do not know the scriptures or the power of God?" Therefore, Jesus quotes the scriptures and tells this story.
13. "As for the fact that the dead will rise, even Moses shows it at the passage with 'the bush' by calling the Lord the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God is not the God of the dead but is the God of the living. For, every person will live but through God," (verses thirty-seven and thirty-eight).
14. The passage about "the bush" is the passage that I read out loud in the first reading today. It is the story of when Moses was tending to the flock of sheep, he had seen the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Even though the bush was burning it did not burn up. When Moses drew near thinking how strange it was, God spoke aloud to Moses. The words by which God had expressed himself at that time are these: "I am the God of your fathers. [I am] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," (Exodus 3:6).
15. The blaze of the bush clearly showed the presence of God. God was there! And even the fire didn't go out. The fire kept burning. You might say, "the continuously burning God" was there. Which means, God is not a god of the past, but is the God who stays in existence for ever and ever. The fact that God continues to be is not an abstraction. It is a fact that God continues in relationships, that "[I] will continue to be your God." Moses encountered that kind of God.
16. God said, I am the God of Abraham. Abraham had already died several centuries before. However, God is saying, "I am the God of Abraham." Then he also says I am the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. God appeared to Moses and said, "I will always be with you." It is a fact that I am your God. I will continue to be your God. And I will be the God of Israel whom you have begun to lead, I will continue to be the God of Israel. This is what is being said in the passage of "the bush."
17. The continuously burning God, the continuously caring and relating God, the God who continues to be your God, God has shown himself as that kind of God, and this very fact is the foundation for believing in the world to come. It is the foundation for believing in the resurrection and for believing in the world of perfect salvation. Since God is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, our God, and your God, though Abraham, Jacob, I, and you die, it is not the end. A person lives through God. Jesus said that. A person, though dead, will live through God. God is not the God of the dead. He is not a god who leaves us in [a state of] death. God is not the God of the dead but is the God of the living.
18. Thus, Moses had encountered the unburnable bush. From the fire that didn't burn out he had heard the voice say, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And so we too are encountering the burning bush like [Moses did]. Do you see it. Jesus Christ, truly, is none other than "the burning bush" by which God has revealed himself to us.
19. The scene that I read to you today is a few days before the time Jesus is crucified. The narrative is moving towards the death of Jesus Christ. The fire looks like it is burning out. But, the fire in the bush did not burn out. Christ rose from the dead and has shown us the fire of God which will never burn out for all eternity. He has shown us that "God is not the God of the dead but is the God of the living." A person will live through God and though one dies he will live.
20. In a real sense, it is in one's relationship with God that a person can live in the hope that has surpassed death. It is in worshipping God, praying to God, living in interaction with God, it is living that way as one touches the power of God which has raised Christ from the dead that one is able to live with the hope of the resurrection, with the hope of the future world, and with the hope by which one has a share in perfect and completed salvation.
21. Even though one may speak of some kind of future world without God, one could probably only speak of it as an extension of this temporary way of life at the most. And from a hope such as that, the suffering and the vicissitudes which hang down right before one's eyes does become something big a lot of times. [Yet,] such a hope may simply blow away with a minor event.
22. Paul said, "I think that [our] present sufferings, when compared with the glory that will be revealed to us in the future, are trivial." I think we still don't know a whole lot more of what we should know. Although we should truly be getting it, we still don't get it. Jesus must also be saying to us, "You do not know the scriptures or the power of God." If you could just know even a small but true portion of the power of God as revealed in Christ, if you could know even a portion of the glory of the kingdom of God, if you could even grasp it at that level, we would be talking like Paul did and we should be able to live in the kind of hope which blows away hardships and difficulties. Let us seek for such a relationship with God and such a practice in our faith life from here on. For, the unknown territory is still spread out before us.