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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Use of Scripture (Luke 20.27-47)

Sermons by: Robert Austell - March 30, 2014
Text: Luke 20:27-47

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:: Some Music Used
Gathering Music: teaching "My Soul Finds Rest (Psalm 62)" (Townend, Keyes)
Song of Praise: "My Soul Finds Rest (Psalm 62)" (Townend, Keyes)
Hymn of Praise: "Lord We Hear Your Word" (AUSTRIAN HYMN)
Offering of Music: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" (arr. Pepper Choplin)
Our Song of Praise: "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (v. 4)"
Hymn of Sending: "Every Promise of Your Word" (Getty/Townend)
Postlude: "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word" (Paul Manz)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)  
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Jesus once said, “I did not come to do away with the Law and the Prophets, but to make them complete.” (Mt. 5:17) Over the past number of weeks we’ve been looking at different ways Jesus completes scripture: through teaching, through miracles and actions, and ultimately in and through himself. We have seen that he is the embodiment of God’s Word and present to us even today.

We get a little bit of all of that in a passage that comes not long after the one we looked at last week (remember the vine-growers who killed the beloved son of the owner of the vineyard?). In an exchange with the religious leaders called the Sadducees, scripture is referenced three times. We will see the Sadducees misusing scripture for their own purposes; we’ll see Jesus respond, using scripture to interpret scripture; and we’ll see Jesus quote a third passage that identifies him as Lord and Messiah, fulfilling the ancient written words.

What all of that boils down to is a reminder of just how important and precious God’s Word is to us, including HOW we read, study, and use it.

Reading Scripture on Its Own Terms

27 Now there came to Him some of the Sadducees (who say that there is no resurrection), 28 and they questioned Him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that IF A MAN’S BROTHER DIES, having a wife, AND HE IS CHILDLESS, HIS BROTHER SHOULD MARRY THE WIFE AND RAISE UP CHILDREN TO HIS BROTHER. (Dt 25:5) 29 “Now there were seven brothers; and the first took a wife and died childless; 30 and the second 31 and the third married her; and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. 32 “Finally the woman died also. 33 “In the resurrection therefore, which one’s wife will she be? For all seven had married her.”
The religious leaders are becoming more and more desperate to catch Jesus saying or doing something for which they can have him arrested. After last week’s parable of the vineyard (vv. 9-19), they began to plant spies among the crowds that followed him, and they kept posing trick questions that might get him in some kind of trouble. In v. 27, some of the Sadducees came and took part in this same kind of trickery. The Sadducees were wealthy and counted the high priests among their ranks; they were also known in particular for not believing in resurrection. The question they posed to Jesus was specifically designed to trip him up and draw him into opposing the Law of Moses.

They appealed to a Mosaic law, later called “levirate marriage” or “brother-in-law marriage,” in which the surviving brother of a childless, deceased man was obligated to marry his sister-in-law to provide for her needs and preserve the deceased brother’s family line. They quote the pertinent law from Deuteronomy 25:5.

Now our minds want to go to “the brother-in-law does what?” but that was part of a family and name-oriented culture and provided for the widow in significant ways. The rationale for that was not in question. Rather, the Sadducees concoct an elaborate scenario of seven successive childless brothers dying, followed finally by the woman herself. With no children and seven marriage, they ask, who will be married to her in the resurrection? Their trap – as strange as it seems to our ears – is that Jesus would either have to deny the resurrection and get in trouble with the Pharisees (who did believe in it) or he would have to oppose the Law and say that the marriages were not valid or not equal.

Reading Scripture with Scripture
34 Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; 36 for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB. (Ex. 3:6) 38 “Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him.” 39 Some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, You have spoken well.” 40 For they did not have courage to question Him any longer about anything. 
Jesus did not respond in the way they expected. He affirmed marriage in this life; he affirmed that there is a resurrection from the dead; and he said that after resurrection people are no longer married or given in marriage. (vv. 34-35) He goes on to explain that after the resurrection people cannot die anymore because they are “like angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.”  Well fair enough; Jesus came down on the side of the Pharisees (who also believed in resurrection), but now the Sadducees had him because he had apparently dismissed or ignored the Law of Moses about brother-in-law marriage.

As an aside, I don’t know quite what this question meant for the Pharisees, because they also would have failed the Sadducee’s riddle. One commentary said that this was a known riddle of the Sadducees and the way that they “disproved” the resurrection. My guess is that the Pharisees had enough power that there was simply a status quo between them and the priestly Sadducees. At any rate, none of them was under fire for claiming to be the Messiah or inciting the people against that same status quo!

But here’s where Jesus was so smart (and instructive to us as well). By coming down on the side of resurrection he dodged one bullet, but apparently stood against Moses and the Law. But then he quotes scripture, using Moses (of all people!) to PROVE the resurrection. He says, “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the burning bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This passage is from Exodus 3:6. Jesus point is that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were long dead from this world when God was speaking to Moses from the burning bush. But because God named Himself as “I am” and indicated present-tense that He IS the God of Abraham, He IS the God of Isaac, and He IS the God of Jacob, then those three men must be alive with God in resurrection.

Whether that’s an airtight proof of resurrection, I’m not sure; but it certainly took the wind out of the sails for saying that Jesus stood against Moses’ teaching. The ever-present name of God as “I AM” revealed in conjunction with the dead patriarchs stunned the Sadducees and we read that “they did not have courage to question him any longer about anything.”

Fulfilling Scripture in Christ
41 Then He said to them, “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son? 42 “For David himself says in the book of Psalms, ‘THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, 43 UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.” ’ (Ps 110:1) 44 “Therefore David calls Him ‘Lord,’ and how is He his son?” 45 And while all the people were listening, He said to the disciples, 46 “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 47 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
Finally, kind of like he did in the passage we looked at last week, Jesus answers a question that hadn’t been asked out loud. The tension, the opposition, the reason for the spying and traps and riddles… it was because the people believed Jesus was the Messiah. So, after the exchange about the resurrection, Jesus asks them a question: “How is it that they say the Christ is David’s son?” (v. 41) It was understood, after all, that the Messiah would come from David’s line. That’s one reason the Gospel writers present the long genealogies at the beginning of Matthew and Luke.

Jesus quotes from Psalm 110:1, quoting the very words David himself says: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” He asks on top of that, “David calls him ‘Lord,’ and how is he his son?” The point, a little obscure to us, is that David’s own language about his anointed heir indicated that he would be greater than David. The Messiah wouldn’t be the return of one like David, which was the popular belief; rather, the Messiah or Christ would be one whom even the great King David would bow down to and call “Lord.” In this final quote from the scripture, Jesus claims that scripture is being fulfilled in himself! Even King David would bow down to him! Can you imagine how the religious leaders took that when it sank in? But to top that off, he then warns the people against the hypocrisy of those same religious leaders, not only calling them out, but drawing in the support of the crowd even more.

So in this one brief exchange, we have seen Jesus use scripture to respond to a trap. We’ve seen him use scripture to explain and go deeper on an important teaching about death and resurrection. We’ve seen him use scripture to reveal who he is, not only as a descendant of David, but as David’s Lord. And he’s referenced Moses and David, the Law and the poetic writings in the process.


So, interesting, right? But what do we do with that?

Here’s one thing I want to highlight this morning: the Sadducees used scripture for their own purposes. That passage has nothing to do with resurrection and nothing to do with a concocted one-bride-for-seven-dead-brothers riddle. It is about showing godly mercy and grace to a widow in her loss and honoring the covenant family and name of God’s people. Here’s my question: how often do we pull a scripture out of context to make a point or enforce a viewpoint and not bother to ask ourselves if that is the Word God is speaking?  We spent all summer talking about reading and studying scripture in context – remember Fluffy the wise puppet? The Bible is not meant to be a hammer or secret weapon for our own purposes. It is God’s Word to us on its own terms. The Sadducees twisted scripture for their purposes; we are, rather, to submit our hearts and minds to God’s revealed purposes in scripture.

Here’s a second highlight: Jesus used scripture to interpret scripture. That is an excellent and time-tested way to understand the Bible. There will be passages that make no sense or are confusing. Don’t read them in isolation! Look for other passages about the same topic. Almost always scripture will shine light on scripture and open up understanding. That’s what we did last summer with the emphasis on reading in context.  That’s what we are doing on Wednesday nights with all the questions that have been submitted. For example, this past Wednesday and next we were asked about free will and God’s plan. You can find verses to support each thing. But we are putting them all up on the table and using scripture to help explain scripture. To do that, you have to read and study! You can’t crack the Bible open like a fortune cookie to get an answer to today’s dilemma. It doesn’t work that way. There is a story line and plot; there is a great narrative about a great God and how God revealed Himself in many times and situations. It’s why we have Sunday schools and Bible studies and Wednesday nights.

Here’s a third and final highlight: all scripture points to Jesus. We heard this last week. God’s revelation is not just informational, it is personal. We don’t read and study to get to the final rounds of Jeopardy; we read and study to meet God in the flesh. Jesus is the living Word of God, the scriptures embodied to us and for us. Scripture, read properly, nourishes and sustains a living faith in a living Lord.

And that is Good News we need! Amen.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

nice sermon, Pastor!