God Of The Living
Key Verse 12:26b
“I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”
The authorities, political and especially religious were very unhappy with Jesus, determined to silence him once for all. In the last passage, both the Herodeans (who were the political powers) and the Pharisees (who were the religious powers) came to Jesus with a double edged question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or shouldn’t we?” Whatever answer Jesus would have given, yes or no, would have been reason to condemn him one way or another. They thought they had Jesus trapped. But Jesus baffled everyone with this answer: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”! Jesus uniquely understands the motive of the heart and speaks directly to the hearts of men. Jesus saw right through them, that they weren’t sincere in seeking an answer. He rather exposed what their sin. They had withheld from God what belonged to God and from Caesar what belonged to Caesar. They were good at taking but not so good at giving back whether to God or to their fellow man.
They were also good at manipulating people where it really hurts.
The Pharisees and Herodias who asked Jesus the question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or shouldn’t we?” challenged Jesus on the political and social level. Taxes have always been a political issue as well as a social issue, just like say, social security or human rights. These clever Pharisees and Herodians knew that the social and political issues are sore points for the people. And they had often used such issues to manipulate people to their own advantage. Think about how much those who were hurt by high taxes back in Jesus’ time have longed for answer to such pressing questions! “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not”? There were other ethical and religious questions as well. What should we do with this occupying force on our holy ground? Perhaps every nationalistic Jew in Jesus’ time was tempted to draw the sword against the oppression of Rome and demand justice. How do we answer such questions? What do we do? In our time there are tons of temptations as well— some assailing the Christians. The temptation of religious folk to get involved in social or political issues of “right” verses “wrong” and “just” verses “unjust” draws them deeper and deeper into the devil’s trap. And gullible people are easily ensnared by these temptations. But the truth is that even if we had the chance to live not one but several lifetimes fighting one just cause after another, we would neither find a real answer nor a real solution to any political or social issue that people fight for.
For answers to these difficult questions we must always look to Jesus. For example, one time the disciples protested against a beautiful woman (and here we are not talking about some artificial and superficial physical beauty— I’m talking about an inner magnificent beauty of a woman which can only come from the insides of a woman made in the image of God). She had a bottle of perfume worth a year’s salary the Bible says. Figure it out! She took that bottle and poured the whole thing on Jesus’ hair and on his feet. She did that out of her love and gratitude for him. And these disciples said: “What a waste”…. “it could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” (Mk. 14:5) That sounds like a good cause! There is no doubt that poverty was and will always be a genuine social concern. But listen to what Jesus told them: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” (Mk. 14:7) He meant that the problem of poverty cannot be solved with money. But everything in life— everything— everything you can think of— every problem— domestic or social— everything— can be solved when we have Jesus— in Jesus. He is the answer to every question and the solution to every problem. This is what most people don’t seem to understand nor accept— and a lot of these people seem to be Christians! The disciples needed to understand this— and accept it. We need to understand this. And accept it. And practice it in our lives. I know it’s hard, because it’s easier going around getting involved in solving the world’s problems, siding with what is right, rooting for what is good and just, and then thinking this is the “Christian” thing to do! When the Christian thing to do, is always always always— to have Jesus— and to share Jesus— because Jesus alone is the answer to every question, the solution to every problem. He is the one who said: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” He is the one who said: “I am the light of the world.” He alone is the solution.
When Jesus’ answer exposed the Pharisees’ hypocrisy and failed to indict him, another religious group, called the Sadducees, proudly brushed the Pharisees aside and took a turn at trapping Jesus with an even more difficult question— a question about the resurrection! And we’ll get there. But first, let’s think about these Sadducees so that we might understand their question and the motive behind it— how it might be a trap for Jesus.
This sect of religious leaders actually didn’t believe in the “resurrection”. They believed only the first five books of the Bible (From Genesis to Deuteronomy— the books of Moses) and they claimed that these books mention nothing about the resurrection. That the books teach how to live a righteous life following the Laws of God which leads to a prosperous life. In that way they justified their lust for wealth and power and rose to high authority in the nation in the time of Jesus. Even the powerful religious sect of the Pharisees (who did believe in the resurrection and the afterlife) could not contest them on the issues of the resurrection and the afterlife and they so the religious powers remained divided. But in the matter of Jesus, all the religious leaders, both Pharisees and Sadducees stood united against him and were determined to crush him— because he threatened their authority and exposed their hypocrisy. Before we get into the trap-question they presented to Jesus, let me explain something that might be difficult for some to understand. Some may ask, “How could they be “religious” leaders and yet not believe in the resurrection nor in the afterlife?” Some people might find that strange but it’s not! They did believe in God but they didn’t believe in the resurrection and they didn’t believe in the afterlife! Maybe I can explain it in a way we can all understand. It’s like a Christian who believes in Jesus but doesn’t believe in heaven or in hell; or a Christian who believes in God but doesn’t believe in Satan; or a Christian who believes in the New Testament but doesn’t believe in the Old Testament; or Christians who believe the gospel of health and wealth because they don’t believe in the cross, or Christians who believe in a resurrection without a cross, or Christians who believe in a heaven on earth! Do you get the point? The Sadducees believed in God but no in the resurrection nor in the afterlife. They lusted for wealth and power and prosperity right here on earth. They were determined to silence Jesus who lived a simple and humble life and spoke of repentance and the kingdom of God.
Naturally the issue they would bring to Jesus would be an issue dear to their own cause— an issue dealing with the fundamentals of their own faith— or lack of it— that is, the issue of the resurrection and the afterlife. They would bring to Jesus an issue or a question that had probably been debated among themselves over many generations— something they were comfortable with— an issue or question without an answer— or something which is fundamentally a proof in itself that indeed there is neither a resurrection nor an afterlife. Something right from the Bible! They were clever— really clever! Their question regarding the resurrection was ingenious, as ingenious as that of the Pharisees and their “tax” question. And like that question, it was also intended to waylay Jesus at the very heart of his teaching right in his circle of listeners and disciples. The very heart of Jesus’ teaching had always been the kingdom of God and eternal life. But if there is no resurrection, everything he teaches is futile! They were certain they would succeed. Of course they didn’t, because Jesus again rose above the trap and helped them see the truth of God.
Look at verse 18. They did not believe the resurrection. Why? Probably because to them the resurrection did not make sense. And if it didn’t make sense, then it didn’t exist. Death makes sense because you could see it and you could touch it. But the resurrection seems to be a silly idea of dreamers who can’t seem to cope with the realities of life. And so they have to rely on some myth to escape reality. It’s baffling that these religious leaders led the people in worship but didn’t believe the most basic of Bible teaching. Besides the fact that to them the resurrection does not make sense, why wouldn’t they believe the resurrection? It seems they were too intellectual to believe in ridiculous teachings. So, the Sadducees came to Jesus with an intellectual question. They came to challenge Jesus on the intellectual level. In other words, Jesus, let’s reason this out together— let’s see from the Bible if it the resurrection makes sense. Let’s read verses 19-23.
They (or their predecessors may have) made up this story about an unfortunate woman and her dead husbands. It seems to be only a story. But in reality it is their philosophy of life. It is a philosophy made up to stifle the truth of the resurrection which burns in every human heart. So, just because the resurrection made no sense to them, they made up a philosophy to counter the truth of the resurrection. It’s amazing what people would do and the length they would go in order to put out the candle that God puts in the heart of men to lead them to truth. The resurrection is a glorious hope God has placed in every human heart— a beacon that calls out to all people to come back come to God. But they would stifle that hope. With their own fabricated philosophies and gory stories. And intellectuals and philosophers have been doing this sin e the beginning of time! There is a Philosopher (Rene Descartes) who came up with this historic philosophical statement supposedly to help people find some meaning to their life. He said: “I think, therefore I am”. It sounds really fantastic, profound, deep, powerful, stimulating and thought provoking. But in reality, it really means nothing! It is an insipid and a lifeless philosophy. What on earth does “I think therefore I am” mean to a person living in a dreadful world like ours? How does it help a lonely soul find comfort, or a wounded spirit find peace? How does it bind the broken hearted or wipe the tears of a grieving mother? How does it comfort the orphan and console the widow? How does it relieve the guilt and the shame of the sinner? How does it alleviate the fears of the fearful or lift the hopes of the hopeless? Another brilliant Philosopher alluded that man is a sexual creature, and when he gets in touch with his sexual self, he will be able to conquer himself and go beyond the bounds of his humanity. But when he himself went ahead and got in touch with his sexual self (instead of his spiritual self), he ended up getting STD.
Intellect in itself, is not bad nor evil. Philosophies are not in themselves bad or evil. But when they are abused to extract meaning for life or to elevate men from a feeling of insignificance, then they are next to foolishness. When they are used to discredit the truth of God, they stand as evil. Jesus was the embodiment of God on earth. Even if the Sadducees had not wanted to believe what the Bible says, they should have seen in Jesus the ministry of the resurrection at work. The resurrection was at work to make dead hearts live. Selfish hands were beginning to open to give generously to others. Those who were once violent were become gentle and tender at heart. The Those without hope were rising up from their despair. What was that except the resurrection power at work all around them! The resurrection was sweeping the whole country with blessing upon blessing. They only needed to put aside their brilliant intellect for once and take out their hearts and take a good look at what God was doing. But they stood before the resurrection with pride of heart and came to Jesus to challenge him on this issue.
Their made up philosophy was outstanding. It was designed to boggle the mind. “At the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” Who on earth could answer such a question? No one. But Jesus answered them and in his answer met their challenge with the life giving words of God. And with his answer he also put them to shame.
Read verse 24. “Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’” What did he mean? He meant “you don’t know the Bible as you should!” It means “You do not know God nor the God of the Bible as you should.” They understood the Bible through in their head like most people do. With their head they had filtered out everything that didn’t make sense to them, and everything that seemed impossible in a realistic world. In the end, the Bible they carried with them was a fine book of social etiquette and guidelines for a moral society. But they didn’t know God— nor the power of God. In a sense they were dead, because the world which they knew well enough had nothing to offer them but a few comforts now, and then death. And when they had death on their hearts, what else could they concoct other than this sadistic story about a woman who buried 7 husbands.
Jesus said, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’” Jesus brought them back to the Bible. They didn’t have the right attitude towards the Bible. In other words they didn’t respect the Bible as the word of life. They had not held on to the Bible above their own human intellect. They had only carried a Bible and a God with them who seem to be speaking not from heaven but from the grave. They were mistaken about God and his power. But they would not be mistaken if they had paid closer attention to the Bible. Jesus told the Sadducees something very true about them. They did not know God as well as they thought they did. Nor did they know his power either. They needed to study the word of God afresh not to boost their intellect but to crush their pride and to humble their spirit. Only then would they be able to see God and fathom his power. To know God therefore, is to know his power, especially the power of the resurrection which works very personally in a person’s heart to raise him from death to life.
Read verse 25. “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” To those who did not believe the resurrection, the only thing that matter in life are birth, money, marriage, money, death and money. So they cannot envision heaven where God lives with his angels and with all his precious children redeemed from death and brought to life with resurrection power. According to Jesus, the Sadducees’ mistake was to compare heaven to earth, and angels to men. Intellectually, it was ridiculous, as ridiculous as understanding apples by observing oranges. According to Jesus the children of God should know that spiritual life is different from physical life, and that spiritual life can only be interpreted by studying the word of God with a mind eager to learn afresh and a humble spirit.
Read verses 26 and 27. “Now about the dead rising— have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘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. You are badly mistaken!” When God said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” he was testifying to the truth that he is not the God of dead people but of living people, who have been, who are and will always be living in him and with him in heaven. God did not spend a lifetime raising Abraham as a man of faith, in order to be the God of a dead man. He raised him as a man of faith that he might raise him as an example to the nations and to make him a example of faith for all people. When Abraham believed God who raises the dead, his faith was not static faith, it was active living faith. He lived by faith. He trusted God. He was not concerned with settling down in a house, but lived as a pilgrim his whole life traveling to the kingdom of God. At the time when everyone was teaching was taking root in this world to make something of themselves in this life, Abraham was teaching Isaac and his family how to live by faith in God and glorify above all things. In this way, Abraham’s faith was a living faith, even after he died. When he died only his body died but his soul went to be with God. So God said “I am the God of Abraham” because Abraham was alive in Christ and alive with God. Today Jesus tells us that God is not the “God of the dead, but of the living”. Let’s take it to heart.