Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
5963 Central Avenue
Hot Springs, Arkansas 71913
November 1, 2015
23 The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. ’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” 29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
— Matthew 22:23-33, ESV
One of the all-time great musicals is 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Woman marries man, man brings woman home, women discovers his six brothers live in the home, too. Until they find wives of their own, there is only one bride for the seven brothers.
Having not attended the Broadway play nor seen the major motion picture, the Jewish Sadducees who accosted Jesus on this day were not aware that the story is supposed to have a happy ending. They paint a similar but sad picture of one bride for seven brothers. Death takes one brother at a time, each time the wife marrying the next brother, until all the men were dead and gone and the wife was left with nothing but seven heartaches and seven Social Security checks. Frankly, I prefer the Broadway version.
At least the famous musical tipped its hat to Holy Scripture, inasmuch as the seven brothers all had biblical names (Adam, Benjamin, Caleb, Daniel, Ephraim, Frankincense, and Gideon) and marriage was seen as a holy institution between one man and one woman for one lifetime. The Sadducees’ story did take a cue from the Old Testament institution of levirate marriage (ref. Genesis 38:8; Deuteronomy 25:5-10), when ancient customs and economies encouraged widows to marry the brother-in-law of a deceased husband.
But what does the Bible really teach about brides, brothers, and more importantly, the broad and narrow roads to life after death?
Making a Mockery of Scripture
Of the three groups questioning Jesus on this fateful day, the Sadducees were supposed to be more erudite than their compatriots, the Pharisees and the Herodians. Jesus had just showed the latter two up by flipping a coin, now it was the smart guys’ turn. But sometimes smart people aren’t very spiritual.
I like NBC’s “Law & Order,” it is one of the smartest television dramas ever produced. But virtually every episode that touches on matters of the Christian faith belittles the Christian faith. I look forward to reading George Will’s column in the Washington Post and Thomas Friedman’s editorials in the New York Times, but neither one of them is a fan of evangelical Christianity. The Ivy League universities, most of which were founded to train true Christian pastors and missionaries, mostly now make fun of true Christianity. There seems to be a strong push in our society to make intellectual superiority incompatible with biblical fidelity.
Such a poisoned parallel is not merely modern, but as ancient as the Sadducees. They were smart, they were successful, and they even subscribed to the Jewish religion, albeit on their own intellectual terms. They honored the books of Moses as law, but only in the civil sense. They rejected anything overtly spiritual, like spirits, miracles, resurrection unto life after death, and they vehemently repudiated Jesus as the Christ, in spite of the fact that witnesses has seen Him supernaturally cast out demons, perform many miracles, and raise Lazarus (and at least two others) from the dead.
The Sadducee’s tale of one bride for seven brothers was nothing but a mockery of Scripture. They tried to paint Jesus as a backwoods preacher whose archaic belief in the teachings of the Bible were as silly as a single bride for seven brothers who would all be fighting over her in some confusing and confounding afterlife. Jesus was silly, they said, to believe in the moral principles of the Bible, to accept the spiritual teachings about sin and salvation, to warn people of a literal Heaven and Hell, and to think that He was the Savior of the world.
These days, if you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, the miracles of the Bible, the sexual morality of Scripture, and the good news that Jesus is God incarnate, died on the cross and rose again, and offers salvation and a place in Heaven by grace alone through faith alone in Him alone, then the elites of this present world will paint you as being a little backwards and silly, too.
Setting the Record Straight
The Sadducees were smart, but Jesus’ IQ would be off the charts. The Sadducees knew a little bit about Scripture, but Jesus inspired and interprets Scripture. The Sadducees were wise in their own eyes, but Jesus is the wisdom of God personified, and everyone should sincerely look to Him for answers to the important questions of this life, and the next.
Jesus set the record straight by scolding the Sadducees on two counts. “But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” You have to have confidence in the Bible to correctly understand the Bible, and you have to actually believe in God in Christ to appreciate divine attributes and ability.
Those smart Sadducees were ignorant of the fact that the limited amount of Scripture that they accepted, the books of Moses, used present tense language in Moses’ day to describe God’s relationship with predecessors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “I Am,” the Son said of Himself and the Father, meaning when Moses was alive, so was Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After the grave, all men shall live again and give account of themselves to God. Even the first books of the Bible, which the Sadducees said they believed, proved Jesus’ point. Score one for the Messiah in this battle for the Bible.
And it is not just the books of Moses, but all of Holy Scripture, the inspired words of the Old and New Testaments, is the authoritative law of almighty God. Some civic laws, like levirate marriage and prohibitions against eating pork and shellfish, were meant momentarily for Old Covenant Israel. All moral laws, like those governing the sanctity of marriage and prohibitions against adultery, murder, dishonesty, and idolatry are as serious and binding today as when they were when first presented by God through the prophet Moses, and we break them to the disgrace of God and the dissolution of civilized society. God’s word is God’s word and those who break it shall give an account of themselves to God. If this makes me backwoods, then all I have to say is, “Howdy, y’all.”
The Sadducees really didn’t know and trust Scripture. Secondly, they were woefully weak in their understanding of “the power of God.” What is the power of God? According to sacred Scripture, it is the gospel (ref. Romans 1:16). The gospel declares that there is a resurrection of the just and the unjust, and Heaven and Hell await. The gospel declares that Christ came to be crucified, rise again from the dead, and give all who believe in Him forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. The gospel declares that all who ignore Jesus or reject the gospel will suffer everlasting death, worse than the imagination can dream. And higher than our imaginations can soar (ref. 1 Corinthians 2:9), is the reality of a Heaven in which we will live together forever with the Lord, in relationships richer than the best marriages on earth, where we will be one bride for one brother, our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
And the best glimpse of Heaven we get in the Bible, in the very last book, tells us that Heaven is not for scoffers and Sadducees, but for people bound to the word of God and the gospel. The Lord Jesus Christ, standing on that day right in front of the Sadducees, is the personification of both the word and the gospel. If you had to choose today between the smart, socially acceptable Sadducees, or the rough-around-the-edges Jesus of Nazareth, what would be your choice?
A Surprising Choice
So, would you rather be smart or spiritual? I’m sure it pays to be both, and we probably don’t have as much control over either one as we would like to think. However, we can choose to read and think and educate our minds. We can choose to hear the word of God and the gospel and make affirmative decisions.
What did the people choose on this day of debate between the Sadducees and Jesus? We cannot be sure, it only says they were “astonished at [Jesus’] teaching.” The term, found about a dozen times in the Gospels, literally means to be taken aback, surprised, perhaps even shocked. What it does not say, explicitly, is that they repented and believed Jesus’ teaching. If they had, I do not suppose the Sadducees, along with the Pharisees and Herodians, with the help of the Romans, would have see Jesus dead within forty-eight hours. The people, the Sadducees, and the Lord Jesus Christ ultimately all make their choice and took their stand. But where are they all standing now?
Years ago I served a church where many of the members were doctors, lawyers, educators, and business leaders in the community. A group within the church, led by a leading lady, opposed my leadership bitterly. I tried not to take it personally, for they were against me before they ever even got to know me. They decided, or she decided for them, that since I graduated from a state university and an independent seminary, that I was not intellectually astute and Baptist enough to be their pastor.
As my ministry began to unfold there, her opposition did begin to get personal. She insulted me to my face in conversations, slandered me to other church members, and taped our televised church services in a failed effort to try to paint me as some backwoods fundamentalist. In our conversations she admitted to, among other things, a wholehearted support for abortion on demand, a sheer hatred of the Apostle Paul, a disbelief in the authority of all of Holy Scripture, and a general disagreement and disdain for my love of the gospel of grace. I read recently where she died. In the resurrection, whose wife she will be?