Eyes Healed, See the Light

Sermon from John 9

Corrie Ten Boom was a heroic woman who lived during the time of the Holocaust. She would hide Jewish children in her home, in a place that is known as “The Hiding Place.” After the war was over, she would travel around speaking about her experience, and she used to bring an old tapestry to show her audience. She would hold up the backside, showing lots of knots and loose threads – it looked like a tangled mess. However, when she turned it around, the tapestry revealed that those threads were all working to together to make a beautiful golden crown. She used this as an illustration, saying that often the things we see in our lives and in the world around us feel like a mess, but from God’s perspective, he sees glory. She encouraged her listeners to try to see things from God’s perspective, and this Scripture passage gives us the same message.

In this Scripture passage, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. Continuing the illustration above, this is a single thread, that many people couldn’t understand how this difficult situation was contributing to a good big picture. People looked at this man, and they said that the man’s lifelong blindness must be the result of sin. However, when they asked Jesus about it, he explained God’s perspective.

Jesus said that the blindness was not an evil or a problem or a reflection of sin, but rather it was an opportunity for something glorious.

In today’s circumstances with illness, fear, and isolation, it’s easy for us to focus on the negative, assuming that God is punishing us or that he has lost control. However, if we open our eyes and minds to consider what God might be doing during this time, he is more likely using this challenging time as an opportunity to reveal his glory.

Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (v. 5). In the midst of darkness and challenge, a light is shining, and that light is Jesus.

During this time when we are unable to go to church to meet with God and his people, we have an excellent opportunity to step back and recognize that church is not the only place that Jesus can be found! If we have eyes to see, we can recognize that wherever we are is where God can be found. Our homes are to be the dwelling place of God.

One thing to think about regarding this Scripture passage is that many people suffer from blindness. Blindness is not just a physical affliction, but also a spiritual one. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were blinded by their legalism, their skepticism, and their pride.

Their blindness prevented them from accepting Jesus’ healing of this man, because he had done it on the Sabbath, and they focused on his breaking of that rule rather than on the amazing miracle Jesus did and what it meant for who he was (v.16).

Does our own blindness keep us focused on the rules and our own intellects and busyness, and prevent us from seeing what God is doing? He desires for us to focus on a relationship with him rather than on the way we think things are supposed to be.

The Pharisees also expressed their skepticism about what Jesus even did. They doubted the the man actually had been born blind, and so they questioned the man’s parents (v. 18). The parents gave in to their fear of the religious leaders, and they let it prevent them from being courageous in faith, even though they had seen the amazing miracle Jesus did for their son.

Like them, we have allowed our fears, doubts, and skepticism to rule our hearts. In today’s world, we have a common enemy – the coronavirus – and we have an opportunity to unify together in calling on the Lord. Now is not the time to be giving in to doubt and unbelief, but rather to be grabbing hold of our faith and living out the Gospel of Jesus.

The man who had been healed from blindness can be our example, because he stood up in courage and testified to what Jesus did for him (v. 24-34). Because of his testimony, the Pharisees cast him out of the synagogue, which many Jews would have considered to be devastating. However, the man went straight to Jesus, where he found faith, affirmation, and acceptance.

In the same way, the Lord is faithful to us, to always shine his light in the darkness in our lives, and to turn difficult and challenging events in our lives, and use them for good. I encourage you during this dark and difficult time to take a pen and some paper and actually write down all the blessings God is giving you during this time, and the ways he has blessed you in the past.

As you open up your eyes to see what God has done and what he is doing, he will continue to open your eyes to see how he is the eternal and unchanging Light of the World.

Spiritual Warfare – Sending Satan on His Way

Sermon on spiritual warfare from Matthew 4:1-11

In today’s time of division, we often find ourselves at odds with other people – adversaries with flesh and blood. But the apostle Paul reminds us that our real enemy is spiritual, against Satan and his schemes (Ephesians 6:12). Our primary battle is a spiritual warfare. So what are the devil’s schemes and how can we fight them?

Satan’s schemes are very predictable – he has been using them for a very long time. His main tactics are doubt and distortion. We can see this even from the very beginning, when he used these tactics against Eve. “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) –The enemy was casting doubt on what God said, and distorting the truth of what God said. And we see immediately that his tactic was successful, because then Eve also distorted what God said, by adding to God’s rule of not eating, saying that they weren’t allowed to touch the fruit either.

As soon as Satan gets us to doubt what God said or to believe a distorted version of what God said, we fall.

The wonderful thing about Jesus is that when we often fall, Jesus never fell for it. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). So we can look at how Jesus defeated these tactics in order for us to learn how we can deal with them ourselves.

There are three areas in which Jesus was tempted, and we face them In our spiritual warfare, too.

1. Satan tempts us to doubt and distort who we are.

Satan kept using the phrase, “If you are the Son of God…” trying to sow doubt in Jesus’ mind about who he is (Matthew 4:3 and 6). He does the same thing with us. Scripture tells us that those who believe in Jesus are called children of God (Romans 8:16), but we often doubt our identity in Christ in times of vulnerability and weakness. Satan takes advantage of those weakened times to make us doubt and distort who we already are!

2. Satan tempts us to doubt and distort what we are called to do.

Satan challenged Jesus to throw himself off the pinnacle of the temple in what basically amounted to an act of suicide, in order to test whether angels would protect him (4:5-6). The truth is that Jesus actually did come to earth to die, but not this way! It’s a gross distortion of what Jesus was called to do. In the same way, God calls us to make bold choices and do great things for his kingdom, but Satan tempts us to give up, to change course, to doubt God’s calling, to kill our dreams and purposes.

3. Satan tempts us to doubt and distort what we have been given.

Satan showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offered to give them to Jesus if Jesus would sell him his soul (4:8-9). But Jesus already possessed not only all the kingdoms of earth, but also the kingdom of heaven! How many of us would throw away the mission of God in our lives because we would rather have the trinkets of this world than the keys to the kingdom of heaven!

Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual enemy in this world. James gives us the key to victory: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8).

Spiritual warfare in a nutshell is simple. All you have to do is repeatedly say no to Satan. He can’t take our refusal and must flee. He cannot keep God’s people down when they know who they are, they know what they are called to do, and they know the incredible inheritance they have already been given.

Read more of The Rev. Charlie Holt’s teachings on Spiritual Warfare in his book The Spirit-Filled Life: All the Fullness of God.

Learn more about the Holy Spirit!

The Transfiguring Word

Sermon from 2 Peter 1:12-21

A phrase commonly heard in our world today is “fake news.” It means we are skeptical when people tell us something is true – we don’t actually believe it. It turns out that “fake news” may be a new phrase, but it’s not a new idea.

Humanity has always had teachers and prophets telling both truth and falsehood, and we have to discern who is telling us the truth and who is telling us “fake news.” It is easy for us to be deceived. We have to make sure to place our faith in what is true.

Peter addresses this issue in his second letter. He says at the beginning, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16). Apparently, some people were accusing Peter of spreading “fake news!” But instead, he says that his testimony is confirmed as true, since he and many others were eyewitnesses.

He was so convinced of not only the truth, but also the importance of his message, that he wrote out his testimony for future generations to have a record of the truth. He referred to the amazing event he was an eyewitness to, the Transfiguration of Jesus (v. 17-18).

Peter saw, with his very own eyes, the shining glory of Jesus as his divinity was revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration (as recounted in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9). It’s not insignificant that, in that moment, he suggested setting up tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. It is reminiscent of when Moses encountered the glory of God in the book of Exodus, when Moses set up a tent to meet with the revealed glory of God and then came out with his face radiant with the reflected glory of God (Exodus 34).

In the same way that no one could doubt the authority of Moses after he encountered God in the Old Testament, Peter claims the same authority based on his eyewitness of the Transfiguration. The prophetic word Peter writes is backed up by the authority of the King of kings.

I can personally testify to the power of the authentic Word when it is preached. I grew up in spiritless Episcopalian churches and at an Episcopal school, where the preaching was so false, boring, and dry that more children walked out of there atheists than believers. But then when I was in college, a friend invited me to his Episcopal church, where the head pastor was someone who actually taught the living and active Word of God. He was clearly proclaiming the truth. I saw for myself the power of the authentic Word of God, and I saw many lives changed through that teaching – including my own.

Every place where the Word of God is faithfully taught, Peter says it is like a “light shining in a dark place.” Peter goes on to say that it is the same as when “the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). The prophetic Word of God is not the word of mere man. It the Word of God, as revealed by the Holy Spirit.

In addition to the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus, that Greek word that is translated “transfigured” is used twice more in Scripture, both times by the Apostle Paul:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed [transfigured] by the renewal of your mind…

Romans 12:2

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed [transfigured] into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

It is by encountering the glorious truth of God, through his Word powerfully impacting our minds by his Spirit, that we are transformed, transfigured, metamorphosed into his image day by day. This is God’s desire for each of us.

Influence as Salt and Light

Sermon from Matthew 5:13-16

Each one of us has some kind of influence in this world. We don’t have to be a CEO or a president or a big-name pastor. We all have influence for Christ everywhere our lives take us.

One time when my son was small, we were riding home from church after hearing a sermon about The Good Samaritan. My son said, “Dad, that sermon was about you… the priest who walked by…” I was surprised and asked him what he meant. He said, “Remember the other day when I asked you to play with me, and you didn’t do it?” Wow, that kid was paying attention! Even in our own homes, we are held accountable for our witness and influence!

We often in our minds make a disconnect between our church lives and our weekday lives. But Jesus is saying that we can’t do that! Who we are on Sunday has to be who we are every other day of the week. This is not easy to do!

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

Matthew 5:13

Scholar David Turk believes that the salt Jesus is referring to in this passage is salt from the Dead Sea. In that part of the world, this salt is used everywhere – for healing, for food preservation, for flavor. He says, however, that it’s the sodium chloride in this mineral compound which is what makes it so effective and useful, and the sodium chloride is the first thing to wash out of this compound. Once the sodium chloride is gone, all that’s left is a useless white powder, only good for throwing away.

I suggest that to the degree we see moral decline in our society, Jesus is saying that it is the Christians who bear the responsibility for this. Our societies decline when Christians aren’t being “salty” enough. We have failed to preserve our societies by inserting our integrity into politics, education, business, and social justice.

If societies are to be renewed, Christians must hold the line. If we don’t do it, who will?

We are all surrounded by pressure to conform to those around us, to fit in, to keep up. But Jesus commands us to maintain our saltiness even if we are the only salt in the bowl!

Jesus commands us to shine the holiness of God, the character of God, from the inside out. We must be so firmly rooted in the ways of God that we will not be moved.

The apostle Paul says, ” Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (Colossians 4:6). Elsewhere, he says to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Sometimes truth and love feel like opposites, don’t they? It’s difficult to be both gracious and salty! We must resist the temptation to fall too far on either side; we either lose truth in favor of grace, or we lose grace in favor of truth. There is a fine line right in the middle, and Jesus calls us to walk it.

We are inclined to look upon bad temper as a very harmless weakness. We speak of it as a mere infirmity of nature, a family failing, a matter of temperament, not a thing to take into very serious account in estimating a man’s character. And yet here, right in the heart of this analysis of love, it finds a place; and the Bible again and again returns to condemn it as one of the most destructive elements in human nature. The peculiarity of ill temper is that it is the vice of the virtuous. It is often the one blot on an otherwise noble character. You know men who are all but perfect, and women who would be entirely perfect, but for an easily ruffled, quick-tempered or “touchy” disposition. This compatibility of ill temper with high moral character is one of the strangest and saddest problems of ethics. The truth is there are two great classes of sins – sins of the Body, and sins of Disposition.

Henry Drummond, The Greatest Thing in the World, on 1 Corinthians 13

The righteous tend to struggle with sins of the disposition – we get grumpy and judgmental. Jesus wants us to be at the same time salt (maintaining holiness and truth) and light (loving and brightening all those we come in contact with).

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

When people see you living as salt and light in the world, it will inevitably stir up conversation. People will see a difference in you and wonder why. This is when you need to not be afraid to let your light shine in order to glorify your Father in heaven. It is in these moments, when your salt is at its saltiest and your light is at its brightest, that you have the greatest opportunity to influence those around you for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Everything Rises and Falls

Sermon from Luke 2:22-40, The Presentation of the Lord

On the Feast of the Presentation, we celebrate the glorious moment when the infant Jesus was taken by Mary and Joseph to be presented at the Temple. This was just the beginning of all the ways Jesus would perfectly fulfill the life of a righteous Jewish man.

In obedience to God’s law, Mary and Joseph had Jesus circumcised at 8 days old, and they also presented him at the Temple along with a sacrifice. These were both signs of obedience and devotion to God.

The presentation of a child would have traditionally been a mundane task. However, the presentation of Jesus became wonderful when Simeon approached the young family, took the baby in his arms, and declared:

Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32

Simeon instantly recognized that this was no ordinary child – he was God’s promised Messiah!

These words of Simeon have become a traditional evening prayer. One commentator says that it is appropriate to say these words at the close of the day, because the end of each day is like a type of death. Each night when we close our eyes in sleep, it’s like we are “dying” to the day. We can close our days knowing we have met our Savior that day.

What a blessed life to begin each day saying, “Lord, I want to praise you today,” and then end each day saying, “I have seen the Lord today.”

Simeon went on to tell Mary and Joseph that everything would rise and fall on that little One in their arms (v. 34). Every single person on the planet must make their peace with him, or find their lives lacking peace. He alone is the Savior of the world. Many oppose him, even though he is the source of all light, hope, and comfort.

Simeon told Mary that her own soul would be pierced like a sword (v. 35). Imagine how those words echoed through her mind as she stood beneath the cross and saw him crucified!

Jesus is the one who gave his life for our salvation, as proof of the promises and the love of God. Everything rises and falls on him – every day, every life.

Who Is Jesus? The Beloved

Sermon from Matthew 3:13-17

During the season of Epiphany, we reflect upon Jesus, the Light of the World who has been revealed to us. We spent the season of Advent anticipating the coming King, and now the King has come! As we consider the King who came, I’d like to examine a passage where one aspect of Jesus was revealed to us – the Baptism of Jesus.

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-17

God reveals to all the listeners present, and to all of us who read these words, that Jesus was his Son – his beloved Son, with whom God was well pleased. The root of the word “beloved” in this passage is the form of love that in Greek is called agape, which is the highest form of love.

One thing to note about this passage is that we are clearly told that all three Persons of the Holy Trinity are named as being present here. The Father is speaking, the Son is in the waters, and the Spirit is descending like a dove. The Trinity is very hard for us to understand, but one thing we can understand is that the Trinity is the purest demonstration we have of agape love. The divine fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all eternally delighting in each other.

Don’t we all want to we are completely loved and delighted in? Of course we do. This is wonderful.

However, this passage contains a tricky problem as well. Just a few verses before this, John tells those present that he is baptizing people for repentance (v. 11). And in that very same verse, he predicts the coming of the Holy One that John isn’t worthy to even touch his shoes. However, Jesus them comes to John to be baptized with the baptism of repentance, and this baffles John as much as it baffles us! Jesus doesn’t need to repent!

But when John protested that he shouldn’t be baptizing Jesus, Jesus told him, ” Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15).

Let me explain this using a quote from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realising that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor– that is the only way out of a “hole.” This process of surrender–this movement full speed astern–is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years. It means killing part of yourself, undergoing a kind of death. In fact, it needs a good man to repent. And here comes the catch. Only a bad person needs to repent: only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person–and he would not need it.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 4

Jesus enters into our humanity, and he bears ALL of it. By bearing our sin and repenting perfectly on our behalf, Jesus also enabled us to become the beloved of God. We have been ushered into that marvelous fellowship of delight and agape love through the work of Jesus Christ, who “fulfill[ed] all righteousness” (v.15) for us.

The Righteous One

Sermon from Matthew 1:18-25

We may not often think about it, but Jesus was a crisis pregnancy. Think about how it happened for Joseph. Mary’s news of her pregnancy was a huge shock for Joseph, and a major crisis.

Joseph was a righteous man, well trained in the Law of Moses and the Jewish tradition. He knew what the Law said about adultery, and what it said should be done in a case like Mary’s. He was supposed to expose her shame publicly. But as he contemplated this, he didn’t want to do that to her, probably because he loved her. Instead, he wanted to send her away quietly.

But then suddenly, he was visited by an angel, affirming Mary’s story, and now Joseph is faced with a second crisis. Is he going to believe this outlandish story?

The challenge is that, when confronted by something like this, we have to ask ourselves this question: Am I going to believe God or not?

The angel instructed Joseph to name the baby Jesus, which means “Yahweh [God] saves.” Then the angel clarified that the baby Himself was going to be the one to save His people from their sins. And the angel added that this baby was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth. So the angel told Joseph plainly that Mary’s child was the promised Messiah, God in the flesh.

Matthew 1:24 tells us that Joseph, faced with this unimaginable reality, accepted what the angel said as truth, believed God, and obeyed what he was told to do.

In Romans 3, Paul says that there is no one who is righteous, no not one. In addition to being our story, this is also the story of Israel. No matter how hard God’s people tried to follow the Law, they still failed. They still sinned and disobeyed.

No matter how many were righteous, who did good things, none of them were perfect. Everyone needs a Savior, and that’s why God sent Jesus. He was the only One who was perfect, who never sinned, who never deserved any shame. He was born to bear OUR shame instead.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

2 Corinthians 5:21

One of the greatest gifts that was ever given to this world came in the form of a baby: “Immanuel, God with us.” Like Joseph, many of us don’t know how to react to this incredible story. Like Joseph, let’s choose to believe God and obey what He says.

Dealing with Anticipointment

Sermon from Matthew 11

I heard a new word recently, and I feel like it applies perfectly to this Scripture passage: anticipointment. It’s when you build up anticipation to something so much, and then it turns out to be not that big of a deal. Anticipation + disappointment = anticipointment.

This may be what John the Baptist was feeling when he was in prison, wondering if Jesus really was the Messiah they had anticipated so eagerly. When God spoke through His prophets, the prophets didn’t know how those prophecies would be fulfilled, and maybe sometimes the fulfillment didn’t look like the way they had pictured. This seems to be the case with John, who sent some messengers to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Jesus replied with prophecies from Isaiah that He had fulfilled: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:5-6).

John, and many of the Jews of that time, was expecting a conquering king who would defeat the oppressors and put everything to rights in an instant. But that is not the kind of Messiah that Jesus was. Jesus was indeed bringing freedom from oppression, but not political oppression. Jesus brought freedom from sin, sickness, and death.

This was a challenge for God’s people to accept, but in the following paragraphs of this chapter, Jesus proclaims woe upon those people who had the Messiah working miracles right in front of their very eyes and refused to accept Him. On the other hand, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).

We have to learn how to submit to God’s agenda, especially when it doesn’t match up with our own. Approaching God’s Kingdom with our own agendas will not go well for us. We must not attempt to make Jesus conform to our image, but rather change our image to match His whenever they don’t align.

Our assumptions and preconceived notions must fall before we can achieve true understanding and be on board with God’s perfect agenda. You can’t rush God, and you can’t make God do what you want Him to do. Have patience and allow Him to direct. Let go of things that don’t happen the way you wanted them to, rather than getting upset and grumbling.

In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby introduced the idea that rather than asking God to bless our own pursuits and agendas, we should look to see where God is working and join Him there. This is life-changing for our own hearts and attitudes.

When John was questioning Jesus, Jesus encouraged him that God was indeed bringing about the fulfillment of His prophecies, just in a way that John didn’t expect. Shift your heart to accept what God IS doing, rather than what you had expected him to do. Then your heart will be filled with the joy of experiencing the manifestation of God’s Kingdom in God’s way.

He Bore Our Shame

Shame is connected to guilt – the two are interrelated. Guilt is something we feel because we do wrong; it has to do with our actions and the consequences of our actions. Shame, on the other hand, has to do with our being, our identity. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Shame is what breaks our communion with the Lord. Remember in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned, it was their shame that caused them to hide from God.

Shame is not only caused by things we do, but also by things that have been done to us, or by our own personal failures and inadequacies. Shame causes us to hide, but it also causes us to create false facades. We keep our sources of shame hidden.

This is where some idols are set up in our lives. We become really good at certain things in an attempt to hide our failures, and they become shame-generated idols behind which we hide in order to keep people from seeing our authentic selves.

Jesus is the only person ever who has never had any reason to feel shame. Not even those who disbelieved him could find any charge against him. Everyone who put him on trial proclaimed, “This man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:13-15) And finally, the centurion at the foot of the cross of Christ proclaimed, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) Yet he endured the cross for our sake.

Our world teaches us that if we have problems or if we feel shame, what we need to do is save ourselves. Our libraries and bookstores are full of “self-help books,” which instruct us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and save ourselves. But those are really just hiding our shame, not healing it.

The better choice for dealing with shame is acknowledging it before God, bringing it before him. The Collect for Purity puts it perfectly for us:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.

Book of Common Prayer

We need to acknowledge them before God and allow him to do his redemptive work in them. He already knows you intimately anyway. Don’t allow your insecurity about yourself or your knowledge of faith keep you from approaching God with humility.

Make a decision not to allow the world’s save-yourself attitude to keep you from approaching Jesus and asking for his mercy. Remember the grace he showed the thief on the cross, who begged for his favor, and Jesus gave it to him freely (Luke 23:39-43). He longs to show you the same mercy and bring you the same freedom from shame. He himself bore it on the cross, and he offers to restore us to his Paradise, not naked like Adam and Eve, but rather clothed in his righteousness. What a glorious Savior!

Politics, Marriage, and the Resurrection of the Dead

Sermon on Mark 12:18-27

This passage is a difficult one to explain. First of all, it’s important to understand that the Sadducees and Pharisees were both political parties. Our political views are shaped by our values, our ideas, our doctrines, and our worldviews. The Pharisees and Sadducees had a political debate over whether or not there was a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees said that there was no resurrection, so their focus was on living their best life now, because afterwards there is just nothing.

The Pharisees, however, believed that there is a resurrection of the dead. They believed that when people die, they go to a sort of temporary state in heaven, but then there will come a day when God will turn the world upside-down and set everything to rights, and this is the Day of Resurrection. On this day, those who have died and are in the temporary state will rise from the dead bodily and be alive again.

(Many people don’t know that Christian doctrine agrees with the Pharisees. A common misconception is that heaven is the ultimate destination for our souls, but it’s not. We are looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ will return, and we will rise with him, and live out eternity on earth with Christ in bodily form.)

We see in Acts 23:6-10, an example of how volatile this division between the parties was, because Paul used the violent dissension between the groups as a way to get out of trouble before the Jewish council.

So in Mark 12, the Sadducees are trying to bring Jesus into this argument with the Pharisees by presenting him with what they think is an incontrovertible proof that they are right: A woman is married and widowed by a succession of seven brothers and then she dies… Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? The Sadducees think this is a zinger, because that situation is ridiculous.

So Jesus responds. Sometimes he refuses to engage in debate when he is challenged, but the issue of resurrection is so central to who he is and what he came to do that he responds clearly and firmly.

Jesus essentially says to the Sadducees, “You are wrong. Resurrection is real.” Jesus explains that marriage is a temporary situation for this age only; there will not be marriage in the resurrection age. Marriage is necessary in the current age because people die, and so we need to marry and have children in order to make more people to carry on in the world. But in the resurrection, there will be no more death, so marriage and procreation will not be required to make more people. In the resurrection, marriage will be irrelevant. The Sadducees are focusing on the wrong thing entirely.

Jesus then goes on to give further proof that resurrection is real, by using a passage from the Book of Exodus, when Moses was at the burning bush. God introduced himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. To the human way of thinking, those three men were dead, but God was saying in essence, “These men are alive and with me now.”

It is absolutely necessary for a Christian to believe in resurrection, and Paul explains it this way:

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 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 also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19

When Jesus was dismissing marriage as a temporary state for this age only, he was aiming straight for the Sadducees’ way of thinking, because the Sadducees were focused on this life only. They were wrapped up in their earthly wealth, status, and comfort.

But the truth is, if you put too much stock in the things of this age, you may very well forfeit your soul. You have to place all your hopes in the coming age. Jesus promises that all the blessing, comfort, and riches are coming for his people in the resurrection, not in this world. People who are truly following Christ will be willing to lay down their temporary lives, their temporary possessions, because they believe they will receive all that and more in eternity.