The Lord's Day Morning

July 3, 2011

“What Jesus Believed About the Resurrection”

Luke 20:27-44

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 20. We’ll be looking at verses 27 to 44 today as we continue our way through the gospel of Luke. Let me remind you that the passage that we're going to read today is the third time in Luke 20 where Jesus’ authority and teaching is challenged by the scribes and the Sadducees and the religious leaders in Jerusalem. You remember the first time happens in the early verses of Luke 20 when Jesus cleanses the temple and He is challenged, “By what authority do You do this?” And in the course of His response, He not only responds to the challenge to His authority, but He teaches something very important. Then, the last time we were together, we saw another challenge. In this case, people came to Jesus pretending to be respectful towards Him and asking Him a question that they thought would put Him on the horns of a dilemma to answer. They asked Him about rendering tribute to Caesar. Is it right to do that or not? And they thought, “He's in a catch-22 now. No matter what He does, He's going to get in trouble when He answers this question.” And in that passage, Jesus responds to the question in a faithful and Biblical way and also manages to teach something of Bible importance to Christians that we still depend upon to this very day as we sort through what it means to be in the world and not of it.

Well now, in the passage that we're going to read, for a third time and a final time, the religious leaders in Jerusalem come again with a question to Jesus. And the question is very frankly skeptical. It's a mocking, skeptical kind of question. You've probably heard these kinds of questions before, asked to you by hard-core agnostics or skeptics of religion. And they’ll throw out some little question about the Bible that you know they are clearly not interested in hearing your answer to. They think simply in asking the question they have disproven God and Christianity and basic Christian doctrine and they ask it in a sort of sneering, condescending way. Well that's the kind of question that Jesus gets in this passage. But once again, He not only answers the question in such a way that it doesn't leave Him stuck in the middle on the horns of a dilemma in a catch-22, but He teaches things that are of deep importance and great value to us today. So this passage isn't about us just looking back at an event that occurred two thousand years ago and sort of looking down our noses at the bad scribes and Pharisees, and it has nothing to do with us today. It has everything to do with how we live.

In fact, as we look at this passage today, Jesus teaches us important things about the Bible and about doctrine, He teaches us a very important thing about the resurrection, and especially how it relates to the Gospel, and He teaches us about who He is. All of these things are vital to Christianity and to the Christian life. Now before we read God's Word, let's ask Him for His blessing in prayer. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, we have just heard read to us Your Word from Hebrews 4 where we learn that Your Word is powerful and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword and that it pierces down to the point of being able to divide things that can't even be divided. The soul and the spirit, joint and marrow, the intentions and the thoughts, the desires and thinking of our hearts. Lord, You search us out by Your Word, so we pray today, even as we read Your Word, that You would search our hearts, that we would not stand over it in judgment, that we would stand under its judgment and that as You search out our hearts that You would also instruct us in the way of righteousness, that You would show us the Savior, that You would set forth the Gospel, and that by Your Spirit we would respond in faith. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now again, Luke chapter 20 beginning in verse 27. This is the Word of God:

“There came to Him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, and they asked Him a question, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.’

And Jesus said to them, ‘The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection form the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to Him.’ Then some of the scribes answered, ‘Teacher, You have spoken well.’ For they no longer dared to ask Him any question.

But He said to them, ‘How can they say that the Christ is David's son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms,

‘The Lord said to my Lord,

Sit at my right hand,

until I make your enemies your


David thus calls him Lord, so how is he his son?’”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

There have always been critics of the resurrection. When Paul was speaking to the Greek intellectuals at Mars Hill in Athens, they listened to him until he started talking about the resurrection and then they laughed at him. There’re no shortage of skeptics of the resurrection who can be found in the annals of history, but the interesting thing is, in the last two hundred years, you can find skeptics of the resurrection who want to call themselves Christians, and not only Christians, but Christian leaders, shepherds, pastors, and ministers. When I was in Scotland studying at the University of Edinburgh, just down the road from me in Durham there was a very liberal, skeptical bishop of the Church of England named David Jenkins who denied and denigrated the resurrection referring to it as “conjuring tricks with bones.” While I was there as well, the moderator of the Church of Scotland, the mother church of Presbyterianism in North America, denied the resurrection. And the famous Barthian theologian, Thomas Forsyth Torrance, wrote a column in The Scotsman, the national newspaper, accusing the moderator of the Church of Scotland of being a hireling. You don't have to look far to find people who claim to be Christian ministers denying the resurrection.

In fact, this week, in preparation for this message, I thought, “Let me just see what's out there,” and so I Googled, “pastors deny resurrection / church leaders deny resurrection / theologians deny resurrection.” I couldn't read all of the responses that I got. But one of them was very interesting. It was a video of an emerging church pastor, don't make me explain, in which he was recounting a debate that he had participated in at Calvin College. In the debate, it had become apparent to the other panelists that he did not hold a traditional attitude towards Christian doctrines, even towards Apostle's Creed kind of doctrines, and one of them had queried him and asked him point blank, “Do you deny the resurrection?” And he was speaking to his congregation and he said, and he was clearly very proud of himself in this response, he said, “And you know what I said to him? I said, ‘I deny the resurrection every time in don't care for the poor, every time I don't feed the hungry, every time in don't side with the oppressed, every time I don't cry a tear for those who have no more tears to cry, and I affirm the resurrection every time I feed the poor, every time I side with the oppressed, every time in take care of the hungry, every time in come alongside those who have no more tears to cry and shed a tear for them.’”

Now the answer was some kind of contemporary post-modern moralism, you understand. It was saying the doctrine of the resurrection really doesn't matter; it's how we live. I want you to understand that is not Jesus’ attitude either to the doctrine of the resurrection or to doctrine in general and you see it very clearly here. Let me look with you at two or three things. This passage is very rich. We could take a long time legitimately unpacking this passage, but let me look with you at three things this morning.

Jesus’ Attitude towards the Bible and Doctrine

The first thing I want you to see is what Jesus’ answer in this situation reveals about His attitude towards the Bible and to doctrine because in this passage we see Jesus triumphing over those who would mock Him with this skeptical question. They set the stage. There was a debate in Israel's religious leaders on the doctrine of the resurrection. Pharisees, the conservative lay renewal party in Judaism, believed firmly in resurrection. The Sadducees, who we don't know very much about, did not believe in the resurrection. If you had asked a Sadducee, “Why do you not believe in the resurrection?” I'm not sure of the answer that you would have gotten, partly because we know less about the Sadducees than any other group of Jewish people at the time that Jesus lived. Most of what we know about the Sadducees, other than that which is told us in the New Testament, most of what we know about the Sadducees we know through their enemies. And it's always a little shaky to depend upon your enemies describing your view accurately. So I don't know whether they would have said, in answer to the question, “Why do you deny the resurrection?” would they have said, “Well, we think it's a newfangled Persian idea that the exiles brought back from them when they came back to Israel.” Or maybe they would have said, “We think it's based on a particular line of interpretation that comes from the Pharisees party and we think they’re misunderstanding the Bible.” I don't know what they would have said.

Now Jesus tells us in the parallel passage, if you look in the gospel of Matthew, there's a parallel to this passage. Jesus tells us why He thinks they deny the resurrection. And you know what He says? He says, “because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” Now I don't need to know anything else about the Sadducees to know this. I believe Jesus and I believe Jesus knew what He was talking about. And He says the problem with the Sadducees was they didn't know their Bibles and they didn't believe the power of God and that's why they did not embrace the resurrection. But it's very interesting — Jesus does not respond to this controversy. You can imagine the Sadducees — they tell this story and they think this story is so cute. They go back and they take the law of levirate marriage where if there's a man married to a woman and he dies and there are not children to carry on his name, to pass the land onto to a next generation in his name, then his brother takes him by law. And they go back to that law of levirate marriage and they make fun of the doctrine of resurrection with this question. “It's so cute. This woman's been married seven times. Who's she going to be married to in heaven? Ha, ha, ha.”

Now Jesus’ response to that question is not to say, “I'm not going to get involved in this petty theological dispute between the Pharisees’ party and the Sadducees because after all, doctrine doesn't matter. It's all about how you live. That's not what Jesus says. Jesus says, “Your problem is, you don't know your Bible! If you understood the Bible, you wouldn't be asking a stupid question like that because your question is ignorant. It shows Me that you can't read your Bible.” And He says, “Let me just give you an example,” and He takes you right to the book of Exodus to where God announces His name to Moses, and He says, “Moses, I am the Lord, just to be clear, I am the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Now, guess who had been dead a long time when God said that to Moses. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And Jesus makes His point. God did not say to Moses, “You know, a long time ago when Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were alive, I was their God, even though they’re not around anymore.” He announced Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “I am the Lord the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” And Jesus simply says, “Look, you can see from that that there is a life that is after this life, that there is a resurrection, because God is not the God of the dead, but the living. All live to Him.” And so Jesus just takes them to, He doesn't even take them to an obvious passage like Daniel 12:2 or other prophetic passages that would have very clearly spoken of the resurrection. He said, “Let me go right to the Pentateuch, right to the Torah, right to the five books of the Law, right to the books of Moses, right to the very beginning, and even there you can see the doctrine of resurrection is true.”

By the way, when you come up upon people who want to say, “Oh I have a great admiration for the Christian tradition, I'd like to consider myself a part of the Christian tradition, but I'm just not sure whether the Bible teaches that the resurrection is a necessary part of Christianity. I want to embrace the moral teachings of Christianity, but not necessarily the miraculous teachings like the resurrection,” understand that Jesus says the Bible teaches the resurrection. So who are you going to go with? Jesus or the people who want to reinterpret the Bible to make some other kind of religious belief. Jesus says the Bible teaches resurrection.

Jesus affirms the importance of the doctrine of the resurrection

But more than that, I want you to understand that Jesus is so emphatic about this because Jesus believes doctrine matters. It matters whether you believe the resurrection. It matters eternally whether you believe the resurrection. And that's very clear in the second point that I want to make to you. And it's simply this — Jesus defends the resurrection from the Scriptures. He teaches that the Old Testament taught the resurrection and He makes it clear to us that the resurrection matters for the way you live this life and what you believe about the resurrection also makes clear something very important about the Gospel. Now how does He do that? Look with me at the passage again, if you would, picking up in verse 34. As Jesus responds to them He says, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage for they cannot die anymore because they are equal to the angels and are sons of God being sons of the resurrection.”

Now there is a lot in Jesus’ answer that I'm not going to touch on today, but one thing is crystal clear. He says in response to the little skeptical, mocking question, “Who's the woman going to be married to when she's in heaven if there's a resurrection?” He says, “Don't you people understand that the age to come is going to be fundamentally different from this age and that makes your question terribly unprofound because your question assumes that the age to come is going to be just like this age, just longer, and the age to come is going to be fundamentally different in ways that you can't even comprehend.” So Jesus just wipes that objection away. But in the course of it, did you catch what He said? Did you catch how He described it? He's not even just talking about the general resurrection, He's talking about the resurrection of believers. Look at what He says. “Those who are considered or accounted worthy to attain that age.” Let me ask you a question. Who is worthy of heaven? There's only one human being, only one human being who was ever worthy of heaven — the Lord Jesus Christ. But what does this say? Those who participate in the resurrection here are called “those who are considered or accounted or counted worthy.”

How do you get considered worthy, accounted worthy, counted worthy to attain to the age to come and to the resurrection of the righteous if you’re not righteous? Only by grace. Only by the Gospel. Only by Christ. Only by faith alone in Christ alone. That's how you’re accounted worthy to attain to the age to come and the resurrection of the righteous because none of us are righteous, no not one! So even in this answer, Jesus relates the resurrection to the Gospel. And He says, “If you’re going to enjoy this resurrection you've got to be counted righteous. Since you’re not righteous yourself, you will need another righteousness in order to be counted righteous.” And even in this passage He's pointing to that imputed righteousness which is ours only in Him.

But in saying this, Jesus is affirming the importance of the doctrine of the resurrection for His disciples. He does that repeatedly in the gospels. And look, this is not lost on Paul. There's a reason why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that if there is no resurrection we are, of all men, most miserable. Paul's attitude is not, “Christianity is a great thing. Whether there's an afterlife or not really doesn't matter. It's just good to live for other people.” That's not Paul's attitude. You know there's a very famous interview many years ago with a priest by a skeptical religious reporter and that religious reporter said to the priest, “Look, if you turn out to be wrong and there is no God and there is no afterlife, won't you be kind of disappointed that you lived the way that you lived?” And the priest responded to him, “No, no, no. Even if there were no God and there were no afterlife, this is the most blessed way that a human being could live life.” Understand that the Apostle Paul's response to that would be to say, “Rubbish! If there is no God, if there is no resurrection, if there is no age to come and if there is no resurrection for the righteous, then we are the most miserable human beings that ever crawled on this planet!”

We've been watching publically, through the judicial system and now through the legislative process, people continually redefining marriage and institutionalizing and normalizing through our government and legal system, a definition of marriage that has never existed in the history of the world. It's been fascinating to watch. And I've been reading as much as I could, especially from the side of those who are in favor of, it's an oxymoron — I understand it's contradictions — same-sex marriage. One of the arguments that was put forth by a defender went this way — “We live on a rock that orbits a third-class star in a universe where there is no ultimate truth. Morality is entirely socially contrived. Why can't you people just let us chose who we want to spend our lives being a partner with?” Now understand that if that person's premise is true, that argument is irrefutable unless you try and do it on the grounds of some sort of social greater good. You know it's important for us to do this for perpetuation of the race or some sort of social greater good. If his premises are right — there is no God, there is no judgment, there is no afterlife — therefore, why can't we just make this up as we go along, just let people be happy by letting them do what they want to do? The argument is irrefutable if you grant the premises. Paul's response would be, “The premises are wrong!” See how much it matters that there is a resurrection, that there is a judgment, that there is a life after this life? It matters for how we live now. What was it that Nietzsche said? “If there is no God, everything is permitted.”

Jesus wants us to understand that doctrine is not just something for theologians to sit around and smoke pipes and think about. It impacts the way you live day to day and the doctrine of the resurrection is absolutely vital for our encouragement because many, many believers go through this life and face peril after peril, disappointment after disappointment, and all will be repaid, Jesus says.

Jesus’ Question for the Sadducees

One last thing. After answering their question, after completely closing their mouths, look at what's said in verse 40. “They no longer dared to ask Him a question.” After they had gotten to the point where they weren't going to ask Him a question, He asked them a question. “You may not dare to ask Me a question,” Jesus says, “but I've got a question for you. How is it possible that David's son could also be David's Lord?” Now, Pharisees had a high regard for the Bible, and when they came to passages that didn't seem to fit or seemed to contradict one another, they knew that somehow those passages fit together. It was a matter of figuring out how they complimented one another because they did not believe that the Bible contradicted itself. So far, so good. But on this one, they had no answer. Jewish people in Jesus’ day thought of ancestors as greater than their descendants, so how could David's descendant, his son, the Messiah, be greater than David? How could it be that David would call his descendant, who is lesser than him in the scale of things because he's the ancestor and the Messiah is his descendant, how could it be that he, David, the greater, would call his son, who is the lesser, Lord?

Now Jesus asks this question for a reason. He's going to raise it again in the gospel of Luke and Luke is going to raise it again in Acts chapter 3. Jesus quotes from the most quoted psalm in the Old Testament in the New Testament. In other words, the New Testament quotes this psalm, a psalm that we're going to study soon on Sunday night, more than any other passage. And He points there because He wants them to understand something about His Lordship. He is not simply coming as a political liberator. He is Lord in its most comprehensive and exhaustive sense. He is not just Master, He is God in the flesh. And you see how Jesus, in this interaction, is pressing them to ultimate things. He's pressing them to “Who am I?” and “Who do you believe that I am? What is the resurrection? What is the Gospel?” because what you believe about those things matters eternally, just as much to us as it did to them.

May God grant us faith. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, because Jesus lives, all who believe in Jesus as He is offered in the Gospel will also live forever with You, for to live is to fellowship with You, and it is eternal fellowship with You for which we long, to which we aspire. This will only come by the resurrection. Grant, O God, that no one will go away uncertain about what Jesus has proclaimed in His Word, and grant that by Your Spirit, all will believe Him and believe Your Word and be able to sing with faith, “Jesus lives and so shall I.” We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Respond to God's Word with number 706.

Only because the resurrection is true and only because Jesus has been raised from the dead can you receive this — grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.