Moses vor dem Brennenden Dornbusch

A sermon by Justin Clavet for the Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost, Preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, Geneva, Illinois and Renewed Hope Church, La Grange Park, Illinois, Exodus 3:1-15 and Luke 20:27-40, November 10, 2019

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus was preaching in the temple when he was approached by a group of people called Sadducees who asked him a question about marriage and the resurrection. It is a rather stupid question, and intentionally so. Throughout this twentieth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been asked other stupid questions by people looking to trip him up in his teachings. First by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders, who asked Jesus what authority he had to be teaching at all. Before he would answer, however, Jesus first had a question for them. The elders formed a committee to decide how they would respond to Jesus’s delicate question and they eventually fell back on that old standby, ‘We don’t know.’ So, Jesus responded similarly to their original question with a non-answer of his own. And then he told a parable. And the scribes and the chief priests got even angrier. They thought – they weren’t smart enough to know, but they thought – that Jesus told this parable at their expense. It would be as if someone you dislike told a joke that you weren’t quite clever enough to understand – but everybody around you clearly did because they all laughed – so you conclude that the joke must have been about you.

These bitter, dull, and humorless religious curmudgeons wanted to provoke Jesus to do something that would have warranted them to seize him “at that very hour” (Lk 20:19) and drag him to the governor to stop him from teaching. But they kept their eyes on him. They watched him closely and “sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might catch him in something he said” (Lk 20:20). The spies tried to butter Jesus up, and then they asked him the second stupid question of the day. Because “he perceived their craftiness,” Jesus responded to their question with the now well-known ‘give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s’ teaching (Lk 20:23f). Once again, Jesus has bested the scribes and chief priests. They knew that he was loved by the people and said nothing that would have justified their arrest of him without making themselves very unpopular. They did not wish to be the victims of an angry mob, provoked by the unjust seizure of their new and adored teacher. After all, even the scribes and the chief priests marveled at Jesus’s answer. They were speechless.

Enter the Sadducees. At this time, around 33 AD, the Sadducees were a group of Jews that did their best to follow the law of Moses but did not believe in heavenly things such as spirits, angels, or the resurrection. In other words, they had little faith. They did not believe in that which they could not see. While other Jews eagerly awaited the coming of the Messiah foretold by the prophets, the Sadducees were indifferent to such a figure. The Sadducees were also apparently working for CNN, because on this day they decided to ask Jesus a real “gotcha” question. Since they thought the resurrection was a ridiculous idea, they tried to trap Jesus into conceding this much to them by asking him an equally ridiculous question. You see, Moses taught the Hebrews that if a man dies and leaves behind a widow but no children, that man’s brother should marry his sister-in-law and raise up children with her in his brother’s honor. (Don’t worry – this rule isn’t for us.) What these Sadducees wished to know, the question they posed to the Son of Man, was this: What if one widow was married to seven brothers, having no children with any of them? Who then would be married to this woman in the resurrection?

Were the Sadducees romantics who wished to ensure that true love will outlast the destruction of this old world? No. The theological term used to describe someone who asks a question such as theirs is “smart aleck.” They were cracking wise. They thought that they were really clever and quite funny. I can just picture them high-fiving each other and saying to themselves, “we got him this time, boys!” But Jesus didn’t flinch. He answered their question with all of the thoughtfulness and seriousness that it did not deserve. ‘You marry in this world,’ he said, ‘but the ones who are worthy of the world to come, the ones resurrected from the dead, these do not marry because they cannot die!’ (Lk 20:34ff).

Why can’t they die? “[B]ecause they are equal to angels and are [children] of God, being sons [and daughters] of the resurrection” (Lk 20:36). But the Sadducees didn’t believe in angels. They didn’t believe in spirits. And they definitely didn’t believe in the resurrection. What were they to do with the answer which this Jesus had given them? Well, they definitely believed in Moses. They believed that their righteousness came from their upholding his laws. And Jesus, of course, knew this. So, he invoked Moses. “[T]hat the dead are raised, even Moses showed,” Jesus said, “in the passage about the bush” (Lk 20:37). But we read that very same passage from Exodus today, and Moses didn’t write of the raising of the dead, right? Well, as Jesus explained, “[Moses] calls the Lord the God of Abraham and … Isaac and … Jacob. Now he is not god of the dead, but of the living” (Lk 20:37f).

Okay, to review: God came to Moses in a bush that was on fire but was not burned up. By that time, about 1446 BC, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had perished and were buried long ago. But God identified himself to Moses as their God, the God of his fathers. But only the living have gods. How then, could I Am be the God of these men believed to be dead? Well, fifteen centuries after the burning bush, Jesus would tell the Sadducees that they were never dead. No — to God, all live. And if they are alive to God, then one day their very dead, mortal bodies will be raised in the resurrection. This is why each week we affirm in the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” Because the saints – the ones justified by faith in Christ – live. Because our sins are forgiven on account of what Christ has done on the cross. Because on the third day after his crucifixion, Christ – body and Spirit – was raised from the dead. Because we were baptized into his death and therefore will be raised with him into everlasting life.

This answer seemed to satisfy the insatiable Sadducees and scribes. “Teacher, you have spoken well”, they said to Jesus (Lk 20:39). And they “dared [not] ask him any [further] question” (Lk 20:40). For what can be said in return to the promise of eternal life from your Creator? A blessing richer than any you could ever imagine but have done nothing to deserve? A blessing granted to you, in fact, in spite of all that you have done? What can be said? Nothing. Nothing at all. Christ has done all. Christ has died. Christ has risen. All of your sins are forgiven. And in the world to come you too will be raised with him into everlasting life.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Image: Moses vor dem Brennenden Dornbusch by Gebhard Fugel, c. 1920, Germany. From the collection of Galerie Fähre, Altes Kloster, Bad Saulgau, Germany.