Friday, March 20, 2015

The God of Living

Passage: Mark 12:18-27     
And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection. And they asked him a question, saying, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies and leaves a wife, but leaves no child, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. There were seven brothers; the first took a wife, and when he died left no offspring. And the second took her, and died, leaving no offspring. And the third likewise. And the seven left no offspring. Last of all the woman also died. In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife." Jesus said to them, "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, '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. You are quite wrong."

You may not know much about the Sadducees and the internal strife that existed between the Judaism sects. But you need to know that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8). When Paul had been brought before the Sanhedrin he appealed to the resurrection of the dead dividing the council. His fellow Pharisees accepted the doctrine of resurrection while the Sadducees didn’t. This led to a sharp division between them to his advantage!
The Sadducees were more pragmatic than the Pharisees since they would even collude with the Romans in order to retain their exalted positions in the temple. However, they became extinct with the destruction of the temple in 70AD so that much of the knowledge we have of them today is based on what the Pharisees have written, which as you’d expect would be biased.
But we know that they believed that all doctrine must be established from the Pentateuch – the first five books in your Bible. For this reason the Lord responded to their question from the Pentateuch. Theologically speaking, the Pharisees would be closer to the Lord than the Sadducees. However, ultimately both were birds of a sinful feather and heart. Therefore, they flocked together to plot, entangle, trap and murder Jesus Christ, the only hope of sinners. They were people who tenaciously loved their sins and would not have Christ cleanse them of this eternal malady. They needed Jesus Christ whom they wanted dead… yes, they were gathered together against the Lord’s anointed in Jerusalem to do what God had purposed to do in order to save sinners. What was to be a religious atrocity turned out to be the greatest hope of the nations.
Shall we consider what they said?
1)      Presupposition is clarified by Mark – And Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection (v.18). This is the presupposition and the theological conviction they had as their foundation as they came to talk with Christ this day. According to them, there is no resurrection and in fact, they thought it is ridiculous, based on the illustration they gave. You must learn to understand the presupposition upon which questions are asked. Many scientists would be standing on atheist position when they expound Darwinism as science. While ecology is scientific, Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is at best a theory!
2)      Their questions were not only hypothetical but also ridiculous! What is the possibility of a man having seven sons, who all die early, before marrying one woman, what is the possibility of this woman outliving seven husbands, having had no children with them? The probability is pretty low. Remember the story of Judah and his sons married to Tamar in Genesis 38? When Judah realized that two of his sons had died having had relation with Tamar he declined giving his third son to go in to Tamar! In this passage the Bible shows the folly of this question.
Clearly they still asked their silly question in order to discredit the Word and the power of God. There are many skeptics who dismiss the authority of Scriptures and yet have no basis upon which these this can be said. In fact their position of judging God’s Word assumes a higher authority. They should be shown that the rejection of the authority of Scriptures rests on assumption of their own authority which cannot be justified because at best it is an hypothetical foundation like these Sadducees.
3)      Their question assumes a thorough knowledge of Scriptures. Yet there is a clear indication that they had no full grasp of the Scriptures upon which they clung so closely. The Lord told them outrightly that they were steeped in ignorance of the Scriptures and the power of God. Many times you meet sceptics who arrogantly speak as if they know the Scriptures, but when you ask them if they have read through the Scriptures, you find they have neither read it extensively nor intensively enough to refute any of the truths contained in it. The basic apologetic response to the fool who says that there is no God is that they have not possibly searched and gathered enough evidence and studied thoroughly to come to that conclusion.
The question of the Sadducees that is based upon an hypothetical assumption is what is called reductio ad absurdum (reduction to the absurd). In this question they are trying to show Jesus that the belief in resurrection cannot be tenable because its implications seem absurd and ridiculous. I think this is the sort of a question a Sadducee son will ask a Pharisee daughter to show that their belief in the resurrection is laughable. I guess the Pharisee daughter could not respond so that she would be persuaded to be married by the ‘wise’ Sadducee son!
Didn’t God give the Levirate law in Deuteronomy 5:5-10? Both the Pharisee and the Sadducee would agree that God gave this law. They both would appreciate the practical wisdom and benefit upon which it was based. However, as to whether it was agreeable with the belief in resurrection the two doctrinal positions would part ways. The Pharisee felt that both teachings are based on Scripture but the Sadducee would dismiss the belief in resurrection.
But I see that the greatest lesson for us to learn from this passage is the truth that Jesus communicated about God. Jesus felt that this was a good occasion to show who God is and so we would be wise to take to our hearts what God has said, and done. 
We have three lessons that we can learn here:

1)      God has communicated to us in His Word, we have no reason to be in error
The true God of the Bible is the God of the living and not of the dead. This God is a communicating God and He has done so in His Word. The Sadducees were wrong to ridicule God’s word and so in grave error because of their wrong presuppositions, assumptions and ignorance. God has committed His will to us in writing and so to read and twist to suit our depraved appetites is to shun the hope that God has given in it. Thank God that He has communicated to us His special revelation – though we do not deserve it. In the past He spoke to people in different ways and now He has finally spoken to us in His Son, the Word.
In His Word, the Bible, God has told us all we need to know concerning Him, ourselves, His creation and the life to come. We are not in darkness about these things. We have true revelation in the Bible. And we must use every occasion we have to learn it. Whether in hearing it expounded or in personal study – you must know the Scriptures. Our emphasis on Bible literacy is not unfounded. The Sadducees were in wrong and error because, "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God? (v.24)
It is the most amazing how the Lord turned to the least expected passage in order to answer these skeptics that the resurrection is right there in the law that they held so dear. He went to Exodus 3, the burning bush incidence. When you read this text, you may not see any proof of resurrection in it. Some have questioned why the Lord went to this text when there are ‘clearer texts’ on this matter. This should tell us that there is the fullness of meaning in many texts that we are yet to discover their full thrust and force. In our depraved hastiness, we many times pass the eternal gold that we ought to be collecting and saving into our memory and into the heart. But it could be that any Jew who heard the Lord give this depth of the meaning could have quickly seen more than we do, because many of them devoted themselves to learning the Law and committing it to their hearts and teaching it to their children and others. You notice that the Lord’s answer silenced the Sadducees and got such approval and commendation to the nearby Pharisee (v.28).
The national reformation in King Josiah’s day was closely attached to the discovery of the book of the law of God and being read to the nation. The Protestant reformation of the 16th Century was a fruit of the translation and circulation of the Bible by William Tyndale, who is regarded as the Dawn of Reformation. On the other hand the false teachings and doctrinal errors and moral decadence in various times of history can be so easily linked with ignorance of God’s revelation.
When the Bible was kept back from the people during the Medieval ages led to this period being regarded as the Dark Ages – it was pitch dark like a night without moon or stars because people did not hear from God. The church reverted to traditions and papal decrees – they spoke not according to the teaching and to the testimony and so they lacked dawn (Isaiah 8:20).
 Let us not be ignorant of the Bible, lest we fall in a fatal error. I would like you to do your homework about churches and you will notice that in churches were congregations are malnourished in the knowledge of God’s Word, wolves in sheepskins are very fat and sleek, at the expense of the people. Many times when I sit down with the guests who come here on Sunday I lament that they are all in agreement that the Word of God is not taught as adequately where they come from. I pray that there will be more churches with the same commitment of bringing the Word of God to their hearers. Many church goers are hungry and thirsty for the Word of God. This is the reason why the Word of Faith swept across the globe. This explains why false teachers have multiplied because the light of dawn is absent. Shall be people who are anchored in the Scriptures?
Read it diligently, privately and publically. Read it aloud, sing it, pray it and live it. Read it to your children and grandchildren. Yes, don’t give them fairy tales – as sweet and interesting as they may be, they have no God’s eternal and life-giving breath. The holiest men and women are Bible-reading people. The nations that have the Word of God put forth have prospered, the families that have the Word of God close to their hearts have known God’s blessings. It is upon this Puritan heritage that the United States of America where founded.
People do not know the power of God because they are ignorant of His Word. Therefore, those of you who have been lagging behind in the reading of Scriptures because of the ‘busy schedules of this life’ - remember that these activities will soon be ended but the Word of God will endure forever. If your busy schedules take you away from the life-giving breath of God, then you may as well begin counting your eternal losses!

2)      God is powerful, he will give eternal resurrection to all
The God of the Bible that we preach is not only a self-revealing God, He is also a working God. His power is evident in what He has created and how powerfully He has saved us by His Son. His creating and redeeming work speak of His power so that no one is left with any excuse as Paul says in Romans 1. But a time is coming when we all will marvel at His resurrecting power that Jesus elsewhere says in Luke that some will just faint at the sight! He says that on that last day, there will be … people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory (Luke 21:26-27). Why? Because He is God of the living and will raise anyone and everyone to life. He will then give them either to the eternal blessedness or the eternal condemnation.
God said to Moses, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Ex. 3:6). This is to say that every Word He spoke to the Patriarchs was not an idle word, it was a powerful word to demonstrate His power and either has been realized or will be realized at the right time. Moreover, if this Word will be realized, then it means that, the would-be beneficiaries of the promise will be raised from the dead at the right time. Either way, the power of God is demonstrated. It is not bound by time, or by mortality. This is why the Lord said, heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Luke 21:33).
At the center of Christianity is the question of resurrection. All other religions fail at this point. The only world religion that offers anything close to the Christian resurrection is Hinduism, which promises incarnation, which is a very warped up idea of life after death, steeped in paganic mysticism. At the heart of the gospel is that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas … et all (1Cor. 15:3-8). In this passage, Paul goes on describe that the resurrection of Christ has direct implication for those who are in Him. And in this argument Paul employs the same reductio ad absurdum argument. They also will be raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God…. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. So many ifs there, but the point is that this absolutely absurd because if in Christ we have hope for this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied! Paul, stop this Sadducee theories and present the truth, you have argued by folly and shown that it is ridiculous that the Sadducees could entertain such nonsense.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:20-26.
But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.
If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." 1 Corinthians 15:35-54.

There is no doubt that in life to come we will have real bodies that have been glorified. However, we must realize that while there will be some continuity of the present life and the one to come, there will also be discontinuity. These two things must be remembered. You will see people in glory and know them, there will be deep friendship and love in heaven, however there will not be marriage as we have it now. The marriage is a picture and it’s realization will be when Christ shall come for His bride. Since we will have the reality then, we shall not need the token picture given now.
It is very important that you believe that one day your body will rise from death and it will be clothed in immortality, and it will put on incorruptible and power. Sin and death will be permanently vanquished. Those in Christ will know real life, immortality and eternal and sovereign joy. This is not just a teaching found in 1 Corinthian 15, it is all over Scripture and Jesus does not Struggle to point it out from the passage of the burning bush in Exodus 3. In this Jesus show the Sadducees what the law teaches about the resurrection from death. This demonstrates that the Lord took time to explain the truth even to those who humanly speaking did not deserve a minute. Should we do anything else in dealing with people than what our Master did?
What a blessed people we are that we look forward, not just to the resurrection of the body, but also to the eternal salvation, in Christ, with Christ in God’s presence forever. Thank God that salvation is ours in Christ.
3)      God has made a covenant, to save His people eternally
Jesus drew their attention to the way God said that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob not only to prove the power of God in resurrection, but also the absolute faithfulness and dependability of God in the keeping of His covenant in His Word. But how does this prove that He is the God of the living and not of the dead? Simply because God’s covenant promise to save His people would not be of any significance if it were overcome and shattered by death. It would be a tawdry salvation which lasted only for this life[1]. But this also is a declaration of how faithful God is in keeping His covenant. This is absolutely important if He is to be shown to be the true and living God.
A slight proof of God’s unfaithfulness, is sufficient to show that he is not the true God and therefore He is not worthy of worship. But He is the true God, dependable and absolutely trustworthy. This is Jesus’ evangelical agenda to this Sadducees – to bring the gospel to them. The Lord is always reaching out to all sinners, sceptical, as well as well as the ignorant sinners. He has no delight in the death of a sinner, neither should we, if we are His faithful disciples. When we are aloof to the death of any sinner, as terrible as he might be (although all sinners are terrible to the highest degree) we show ourselves to be not of Christ. A true Christian want to go to heaven accompanied, not alone.
When God says that He is the God of Abraham and co. He means that God being the greatest and the best benefactor based on His promises to be their God, He will fulfil His covenant. Now that Abraham , Isaac and Jacob had not received the promise which they expected, and therefore God after their death is desiring still to be called their God, He is here acknowledging that he had a blessing and a reward for them still and consequently that He will raise them up to receive it! This argument could also be shown from Exodus 6:3-4 – I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, by the name of Almighty, but by my name Yahweh I was not made known to them. Nevertheless I have established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan (which they did not receive). It is not said that HE will give them children or sons but land but we all know that they did not enjoy any of it as even Abraham had to buy a piece of land for burial place – which was subsequently used by others, even Jacob. But this promise is to be realized in its entirety, not in the receiving of literal land of Canaan, for Canaan was only a picture of the land of Promise which is Paradise of God, where real rest and blessedness will abide. So the author of Hebrews says,
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40. God’s promise to save His people cannot be shattered by anything, even death – For the question is asked, who shall separate us from the love of God?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall…. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39.
 In light of this, we know that our salvation is both secure and eternal. Nothing will withdraw the promise or the blessings of the promise of God to those who are in Him. May this draw us to faith in Christ and make everyone of you learn to draw closer to the Lord than ever before.
On the other hand it is a reason for delight in God as our Father of heaven. It is a reason to live a stress free life, since your eternity has been sorted. May nothing make you think that  God will withdraw His covenant promises from you. You are in God and God in you, Christ will deliver you to the destiny that He has promised, because He who promised is faithful and able. None of His promises will miscarry – for the devil does not have the ability to abort God’s covenant promise. He who promised is God, the covenant-keeping God.
Christians live what is called missio Christi always drawing sinners to the attention of Christ to behold Him as the One and only Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

[1] Sinclair Ferguson, Lets Study Mark, Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburg, pp.197-198

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