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HE IS THE GOD OF THE LIVING

Matthew 22:23-22:33
Key Verse: 22:32

In the previous passage the Pharisees sent his disciples to trap Jesus. Of course, Jesus was not trapped by them. Rather he transcended the problem presented and corrected them saying, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” These words of truth have enlightened the hearts of people throughout generations. Today’s passage says that on that same day the Sadducees also came to him with a question. They also came to defeat Jesus. Again Jesus was not defeated; he won the battle. Furthermore, he revealed to them their error and taught who God truly is. Jesus said, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Today let’s think about the Sadducees, about the resurrection, and about the God of the living. The Sadducees had to know the God of the living and so do all people in the world.

First, the Sadducees who say there is no resurrection (23-28). Look at verse 23. “That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.” In Jesus’ time two big religious sects were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Jesus was attacked by both of them on the same day. For athletic games or battles, one game or one fighting will be enough in a day. But Jesus had to go through two. Yet, he was not exhausted or ran out of his wisdom. He was full of strength and wisdom, and was victorious.

Let’s think for a while about the Pharisees and the Sadducees. They were quite different in their belief and lifestyle. The Pharisees acknowledged all the Scriptures and oral teachings of the tradition, while the Sadducees, only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Scriptures, the books of Moses. The Pharisees were strict in their religious fasting twice a week (Lk 18:12) and tried to live according to the law. And they turned out to be legalistic. They believed that there would be resurrection and believed the existence of angels and spirits. But the Sadducees did not recognize all these. Acts 23:8 says, “(The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.) The Sadducees were like those who do not want to believe what they cannot see and does not appeal to their logic. They were practical and engrossed in the life of this world. They became worldly and wealthy. They were politically-minded. In number they were few, but they occupied the priestly office in the temple and had support from Roman authority.

When they came to Jesus, what did they question? Look at verse 24. “‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him’” This is from Deuteronomy 25:5: “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.” In NKJV, "If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.” This law was called Levitical law. This law was not given to bind the woman and make her life miserable. It was given to comfort and encourage her. Furthermore it was to continue the line of her husband. 25:6 says, “The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”

However, the Sadducees did not know the spirit of this law at all. They knew it superficially and wanted to use this law to defend and justify their own belief. Look at verses 25-28. “Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?” What a grotesque story! How could they bring up with such a story? Women are not machines made out of iron. They are, like men, weak with flesh. More than that, women are emotional beings with sensitive feelings. How can a woman face seven deaths of her husbands one after another before her? One such death would be difficult enough to bear for any woman. But they said particularly in Matthew’s gospel, “Now there were seven brothers among us” making it seem like a real story. If so and they had been normal human beings, then they could have thought of the unbearable sorrow and unspeakable agony of the woman and raise a question out of that, such as “How can God, who is the God of widow comfort her in this world and in the world to come?” But their thinking became tangential to the point of questioning, “Whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Through this story they presented, we can get an idea of the hearts and minds of these Sadducees. On the outside, they looked successful and impressive but inwardly, their way of thinking was complicated, cynical and gloomy. They were bound to physical life without knowing the agony of real life. They only dealt with theoretical matters to keep their worldly positions and their own belief. As a result their hearts were deadened. They seemed to make every effort to deny resurrection, even with such an odd question to claim the absurdity of resurrection. Here we see one aspect of the life of those who say there is no resurrection and have hope only in this world. When they were deeply immersed in the life of this world, denying resurrection, their lives landed on such a weird and gruesome and sophisticated and depressing state. Human life should be more than this kind of state. We cannot deny dark and fatalistic parts of human life. But life in God should be different and in fact is different.

Second, the God of the living (29-33). Let’s see how Jesus helps them. Look at verse 29. “Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” To the Pharisee, Jesus said, “You hypocrites.” Jesus could see their hypocrisy and exposed it to help them. To the Sadducees, Jesus said, “you are in error.” Their lives were erroneous and fundamentally wrong. Although they occupied the priestly office and seemed to have solid positions in the world, their life was based on flawed ideology. According to Jesus, the reason they were in error was because they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. As we observed above, they did not know the spirit of the law. When they tried to make use of God’s law for their purpose, it was obvious that they did not know the Scriptures. The Scriptures are given, not for the purpose of head knowledge but for the purpose of our living in this world and in the world to come. Jesus said in Matthew 11:25-26, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” God reveals his words in the Scriptures to those who are humble.

Jesus also said, “You do not know the power of God.” The first book of the Scriptures, which is the first book of Moses, is Genesis. The first chapter of Genesis proclaims God’s creation and so his power. He created all things out of nothing, from the smallest insect to the cosmic universe. In his image he created human beings, male and female. Human life came from him. He is the source of life. Then one can acknowledge that he can raise the dead. Resurrection is absolutely possible in God. When we think of God’s creation, we can believe that everything is possible with God. But the Sadducees restricted the power of God within the box of human rationality and logic. Psalm 119:96 says, “To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.” The words of God are boundless and God himself is boundless and limitless, and so is his power. Although the Sadducees recognized the five books of Moses including Genesis, they did not know the power of God, who created the heavens and the earth with his words of command (Heb 11:3). When Jesus said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God,” it was Jesus’ accurate remark on their lives.

Look at verse 30. “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” This is the direct answer to their question, “Whose wife will she be of the seven…?” The life at the resurrection is not the same as the life in this world. Our body will be different. Now we have a perishable body limited by time and space, that erodes day by day and will finally turn to dust. But at the resurrection we will have a different body, glorious and imperishable. We will be like the angels in heaven. We will all be as beautiful as the angels. Our relationships at the resurrection will be far better and greater than our relationships in this world. Our love and joy at the resurrection will exceed any joy and love in this world. We know that what God prepares for us is the best in all things. In this world some marriages turn out good but others, too broken to be thought of. But people do not need to worry about losing the happiness of good marriages or having the pain of broken marriages again at the resurrection. Everything will be restored and complete in true joy and happiness. God knows all things about us and he prepares the best for his people at the resurrection.

Since Jesus had already answered their question, he could have finished there. But he wanted to help them even further. Look at verses 31, 32. “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” This is a wonderful revelation of the Scriptures, precisely Exodus 3:6, “Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’” This is what God spoke to Moses from within the burning bush. God did not say to Moses, “I was the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” although Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had already passed away at that time. This indicates that at the time of Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all living in God, and even more all of them including Moses are living now in God. Our relationship with God, who is infinite and eternal, cannot end in death. Resurrection is absolutely necessary in God. So the words in Exodus 3:6 are the implication of resurrection. Before Jesus no one could perceive and disclose it. But Jesus revealed it and now it is known to us. Jesus proved resurrection from the book the Sadducees acknowledged. So verse 33 says, “When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.”

Let’s think more about God, who is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were three different generations. But in God they are all children of God. God has no grandchildren. To all people of all generations he is God the Father. He is not the Grandpa to anyone. Generations of decades, centuries and even millenniums cannot make a distance in the relationship between God and us. In short time cannot hinder us in our relationship with God. It is because he is the eternal God and we are his children in his eternity. So, even death, which is the ending time of each one’s life in this world, cannot sever our relationship with God, and so cannot separate us from him.

A great 20th century intellect was hospitalized in Paris due to an edema of the lung. When he felt that death was approaching him, he became a different person. He spoke abusive words and showed violent behavior. He screamed and yelled at the top of his voice toward his doctor and nurse and anyone who visited him. He could not ask his wife what kind of disease he was suffering from because of his fear of death. His wife also could not say it because of the same fear and could not comfort him at all. After one month he passed away from this world, where he had enjoyed fame through his eloquent writing in the name of human freedom. He is Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 – 1980). Death is a horrible reality to the people of this world. A man of God said to the people, “Someday you will read in the newspapers that I died. But don’t believe it, for I will go to a better place and live there forever.” He is Dwight Lyman Moody (1837 - 1899). It is true that in God death cannot sever our relationship with God. Nothing can separate us from him.

In God all his children are living even after death. He is the God of the living, not of the dead. The God of the living is the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were (Ro 4:17). He made Aaron’s dried rod which was placed before the LORD in the Tent of the Testimony, sprout, bud, blossom and produce almonds in a single day (Num 17:7,8). He gave a son to Abraham although he was passed age and his wife Sarah herself was barren. Hebrews 11:12 says, “And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the sand on the seashore. The dead were raised though they died again. Finally he raised Jesus from the dead with death no longer having mastery over him and proved that he is indeed the God of the living. He wants all the deadened souls to be made alive in Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” We were all once dead in our transgressions and sins. But God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ (Eph 2:1-5). In this world if a dead person rises again, it is considered a miracle. But a similar kind of miracle happens in the spiritual world. If we call a man who is dead, he cannot respond. A dead person cannot hear, feel, or breathe. In the same way a spiritually dead person cannot hear the voice of God and cannot breathe spiritually. We were once in that state. Nonetheless to say, a deadened condition is the most pitiful condition. But God in his great mercy made us alive. We are living in him. We can hear his voice and can spiritually breathe, that is prayer. What a grace! This is indescribable mercy and love of God. He is the God of the living, and we are his children. In this grace he wants us more and more alive and fully living. And he wants to make others alive through us until all are made alive in Christ. For this we should not limit the power of God, but let his power work through our faith in him. Praise God, who is the God of the living.

Thank Jesus who revealed to us who God is. He is the God of the living, not of the dead. We are eternally his children. May we live in this world as the children of the God of the living, with absolute faith in his boundless and limitless power and the sure hope of resurrection.

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