Hello everybody and welcome to Tuesday’s podcast. My name is James Brown – I’m taking us through chapters 22 and 23 of Matthews Gospel. Today our reading is Matthew 22:23-33.
It is another story of a religious group trying to trick Jesus with their seemingly clever questions. This time they are arguing about the afterlife. All the dialogue build up to the phrase Jesus uses at the end that I’d love us to consider our focus verse for the day.
It is verse 32, its Jesus reminding the listeners of what God has said in the past. “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
When I was 22, and a recent graduate, I put all of that student-debt and experience to good use and I got a job working at a couple of different coffee shops at the university [if you are a parent of a young adult who just left for University please let them know if they work hard like me they too can have a 0 hours contract with a minimum wage job]. I joke. I did that for 3 years alongside working for the church part-time. I made some good friends working at the coffee shops. About half of the staff where students or recent graduates like me. Whilst the other half were exclusively ladies of a certain age. I won’t disclose precise ages, as that would not add to the wonderful mental picture you are probably creating.
These larger than life ladies basically ran the outlets. As the students came and went with each passing year. They held the ground. Taught us newbies their systems and they took all the best shifts. Well earned of course. They worked hard, took no nonsense, gave as good as they got and had the best Sheffield accents I’ve ever come across.
Now, I’m not a big journeller but during my first year out of Uni, I was encouraged to keep some thoughts about what God was teaching me as part of doing the training year at church. One stand out memory was with my new friend Marie who said to me, “How can God exist?” … “There are so many horrible things that happen in this world. Kids all over the world are starving – why doesn’t he do something?… & my husband is dead – you can’t explain that. I’m alone, I could never believe in God.” And with that the conversation died. I didn’t get many other chances to talk with her again about faith but I hope the way I worked and the way I acted in the coming years perhaps planted a seed for someone else to have a chance.
I don’t know if we have ever felt the way Marie felt? Perhaps we’ve asked those exact questions before. I’ve just reread in my journal that that particular moment was really hard. It might come to no surprise to you that I had very little to offer and no clear way to answer her deeply personal question. I wrote down that I simply replied, “I’m sorry… things weren’t supposed to be this way.”
This started a journey for me; do I really understand this topic? I became increasingly aware that I have not suffered like she had. As a result, I felt so far removed from where she was standing, I simply could not relate.
Lets go to the passage and then I want to end by offering some words of hope (don’t worry – if you are wondering where this is going – this ends well! )
At the start of our story we have the Sadducees, I’ll not go into detail about who they are here but one important piece of information we are told instantly after their introduction. They do not believe in the resurrection. They do not believe in life after death. They ask a question. The question is a little difficult when you first read it, because the question is about an institution we don’t know much about. “ ‘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.’” It’s a merciful provision given in Deuteronomy 25. In traditional patriarchal cultures, if a woman got married and her husband died before they could have children, she was in a terrible situation.
They say to Jesus, “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.” Therefore, the first brother-in-law marries her, but then he dies. Then another brother-in-law marries her, and then he dies. We don’t know where these people are living or what they’re eating. Maybe they’re just having a terrible string of bad luck.
The whole point is, it’s a hypothetical situation. It’s designed to make Jesus look a fool and to make life after death look foolish.
Verse 28, they say, “Now here’s a woman. She dies. She has had seven husbands. Whose spouse is she? Who is her husband in the resurrection?”
A lot like yesterday, if Jesus answers the question 1-7 he is being made to look foolish. Their intention is to discredit life after death and discredit Jesus.
So he replies with those words we opened with: Reminding them that “[God is] … not the God of the dead but of the living.”
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.(H)
As a team we are thinking about hope a lot at the moment. A trigger for this has been some of the thoughts Tom has been sharing with the team and with the church. For those who are signed up to our mailing list you might recall Tom’s most recent “letter from the leader” something that Mick, our previous team, set up as we entered lockdown and Tom has continued. In October, Tom wrote about Hope over Hype and its been stuck in my mind ever since. Hype denies reality and proclaims everything will be ok. Hope is different. Hope is rooted in reality. It is truthful and yet points to something.
Here is where I see that linking in with our passage today. As Christians, our faith is in Jesus Christ as the hope of the world. Our hopes and fears are not met by political leaders like Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Keir Starmer, Marcus Rashford or Jeremy Corbyn (however great we may think they are!). Our hopes are not met in social action projects or environmental action but in the person of Jesus. In the resurrection. That as believers we join in with millions around the world who believe that Christ has died. That Christ is risen. And as he told us many times in the Bible, Christ will come again.
Why is this important? Because we believe that the world is beautiful, but it is broken. This disease, the death and loss we experience, that is real and that is not the way things were meant to be. God can’t ignore it or overlook it and he too experienced it when he died on the cross.
No matter what our situation, we can respond well in suffering because of the resurrection. It shows that God does not just offer consolation – [being whisked away to paradise – like it never happened]. But restoration! He will make all things new. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.
Unlike the Sadducees who don’t believe in anything after death, who don’t believe in a day of judgement where wrongs will be put right, we believe that Jesus will come again. The future hope if Jesus’ return. There will be a day, as it says in Revelation 21, where there will be no more tears, no more pain and no more suffering. Amen, Hallelujah!
If I could have my conversation with Marie again I would. I’m not sure I would get it perfect but I’d love to talk about the hope a loving God offers in the face of suffering. I fully believe that God offers restoration rather than consolation. That there is LIFE beyond the grave. This instills within me a powerful hope that this world [which groans] doesn’t have to remain the way it is. Heaven promises that we will get the life & the world we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice or salvation. That everything that was broken or stolen will be restored and more so. Summed up beautifully by C.S. Lewis, I pray this may come true for all of us, especially Marie.
“They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory.”
Jesus, we know that pain, death and suffering is real. For those of us who watch the news we are faced with daily metrics each day. I’m sure all of us are affected in some way. But would you use this podcast today to remind us that we ought to not be afraid. That for those of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, we can have hope today! Concrete, sure hope in Jesus. Hope that God is at work powerfully among us and hope of a future. Keep speaking to us about hope, in Jesus name! Amen.
BIBLE READING: Matthew 22:23-33
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 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?’
Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 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.’
When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.