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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Heavenly Relationships
Text:Matthew 22:23-33 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Another Year Is Dawning

O God, Our Help in Ages Past

God of the Ages

Blest the Man That Fears Jehovah

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Pastor Ted Gray
“Heavenly Relationships”
Matthew 22:23-33

In the political realm we see where repeated efforts are made to trip up any given candidate.  Every effort is made in the media and by opposing political parties to ridicule the view of another. We even have a name for that; it’s called “mud-slinging.”  Political candidates love to sling mud on their opponents, to make their opponents look foolish and weak because then they believe they will look better than their opponent who is, after all, covered with “mud.”

That is exactly what the opponents of Jesus wanted to do with Him back in the first century.  They made every effort to trip Him up, to make Him look bad, to “sling mud” on Him. We read about that the previous passage (15-22), with the test that the disciples of the Pharisees and Herodians brought to Jesus as they asked Him whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes. We will see it again in the next passage in this chapter as the Pharisees will send one of their leaders, a lawyer, to test Jesus (v. 35) by asking Him which is the greatest commandment.

And this morning we see from verse 23 that the Sadducees came to test Him that same day as He had been tested by the Pharisees. The day would be Tuesday. It is the Passion week. By Friday Jesus would be crucified. But now, as the Passover nears, His opponents use every tactic they can to discredit Jesus, to trip Him up, to sling mud at Him. And we see that in this passage which tells how the Sadducees came to Jesus with a question.

By way of background, the Sadducees and Pharisees were on the opposite side of most issues. The Sadducees would be the equivalent of theological liberals today. They did not believe in the resurrection of the body, nor did they believe in the existence of angels. They based most of their teaching on the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch.

Consequently, they came to Jesus with a story that was based on the principle outlined in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 known as Levirate marriage. It says, If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.

The reason God made this command was at least two-fold. One reason would be so that a young widow would be cared for. There was no provision for widows; there was no such thing as social security and women were hard pressed to survive on their own. So if a woman was widowed, having her brother-in-law take her as his wife would give her a roof over her head and meals to eat.

Secondly, this levirate marriage, where a brother would marry his sister-in-law, would provide a way for the family name to continue. That was important because the family name was tied to the acquisition of property.  One of the great promises that God gave to Abraham, and later to all Israel, was that they would “possess the land.”  God brought them into the land “flowing with milk and honey” – the land of Canaan.  But to possess the land one needed the family name. That was part of the importance of having the first son carry on the name of the dead brother.   

Based on that principle, the Sadducees now come to Jesus with a story, most likely a fabricated story, about a woman who had the unfortunate experience of having seven husbands, all brothers, die. In verse 25-27 they say: “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.” And then comes the “got-cha” question verse 28, “Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Many commentators point out that the Sadducees made the story as elaborate as possible, with seven dead husbands, because they wanted to make the whole idea of the resurrection sound ludicrous. They wanted the crowd who was listening in to see their point that there isn’t any resurrection. 

Ignorance of God’s Word  

However, Jesus responded to their question by pointing out in verse 29, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.” In His response we see that ignorance of God’s Word and doubt in His power always leads to the wrong conclusion. That was true in the first century, and it is true in the twenty first.

There is no more accurate guide in life than the Holy Scriptures. As we look ahead to the future, the only sure guide that we have to truly show us how to live out our remaining days is the Word of God. We frequently sing, “How Shall the Young Directs Their Way?” but the question, of course, isn’t just for the young but for all of us of every age.  If we do not have God’s Word, and if we do not study it and take to heart its truths, then we are truly lost.

That was the case with the Sadducees. They accepted part of God’s Word, the first five books, the Pentateuch. But the rest of God’s revealed will, the rest of Scripture, they neglected. And because of that, their belief in the Pentateuch did them no good. Jesus pointed out in verse 31 and verse 32 that they did not understand the Scriptures, not even the first five books which they supposedly lived by.  He said: “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.”

The quote that Jesus used is from Exodus 3:6. Moses had seen a burning bush and approached it and there heard the Word of God. God identified Himself to Moses as the great  "I am."  He pointed out that He is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 

Yet hundreds of years had passed by since the patriarchs had died. Moses might have expected God to say,“I was the God of Abraham. I was the God of Isaac. I was the God of Jacob.”  But no, He said, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  God has a living, eternal relationship with His people. Death doesn’t separate His people from God, but brings their soul into His presence. And when Jesus returns, our bodies will be resurrected and joined with our soul to be with the Lord forever, if by grace we trust in Christ alone for our salvation. That is why Jesus adds to Exodus 3:6 these words: “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (v. 32).

Jesus pointed out to the Sadducees that they erred, not only in their understanding of Scripture, but also in their inability to grasp the power of God.  Is the God who created the universe unable to raise the body from the grave?  Nothing is impossible for Him! With Jeremiah we can exclaim, “Ah, Sovereign LORD, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for You” (Jeremiah 32:17).

The Sadducees, with their story about a woman losing seven husbands, were far from trapping Jesus. Instead, they were showing their ignorance of the Word of God and their inability to comprehend His power, including His ability to raise the dead.  

Still today errors arise when people don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. When we look at the root of any given problem - whether on a personal, political or ecclesiastical level - it invariably goes back to either a lack of knowledge concerning God’s Word, or to a refusal to obey the Word that people do know. Ignorance of God’s Word and doubt in His power always leads to the wrong conclusion.

Neither Married nor Given in Marriage

A third truth we are taught in this passage is that in heaven we won’t be married. In verse 30 Jesus says: “At the resurrection”  ­– that is, at His second coming when all bodies will be raised and joined with their souls – “people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”

Last Sunday my wife and I celebrated our 32nd wedding anniversary. The thirty-two years we have been married have been the best thirty-two years of my life. And on quite a few occasions over the thirty-two years Karen and I have talked about how strange it seems that in heaven we won’t be married.  We will both be there, by God’s grace through faith in Christ. We will both have our “mansion” so to speak, as Jesus explained in John 14 how He was going to prepare a place for all who believe in Him. Yet we won’t be married. 

Why is that? We don’t know, nor do we need to know all the answers as to why we won’t be married in heaven. Some commentators point out that since there will be no death in heaven, there will be no need for birth. Part of marriage, certainly not the only part of marriage, but part of marriage is for the multiplication of the human race. In Genesis 1:28 we read: God blessed them (Adam and Eve) and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Likewise, after the flood God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). That multiplication won’t be needed in heaven. Marriage is the only proper source for the birth of children, so the need for marriage won’t be in heaven as it is on earth.

Other commentators point out that the relationships we have in heaven will exceed even the beauty and closeness of a Christian marriage. That is hard for those of us who have had good, Christian marriages to imagine.  Yet Scripture tells us that No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9).  And in Ephesians 3:20-21 we read: Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

­Those of us who are blessed with wonderful Christian marriages in this life have trouble realizing how great our friendship and fellowship in the life to come will be. Yet we know that it will be so wonderful and close that in heaven we will neither marry nor be given in marriage.

Deceased loved ones who believed in Jesus, whether spouses or others, are alive with the Lord and we will have wonderful fellowship with all the redeemed of all the ages.  We see a hint of that in verse 31 and 32 where Jesus describes how God is not the God of dead, but the God of the living.  Of how even now Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all believers of every age have a living, vibrant relationship with the Lord in Paradise.

There are other instances in the Bible which teach that we will recognize our loved ones in heaven. For instance, on the Mount of Transfiguration Peter, James and John were able to recognize Moses and Elijah. They had never seen them before. It was long before the days of digital cameras and pictorial Bibles. But God, who is able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, gave them the ability to recognize Moses and Elijah there with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.

Jesus will be our focal point in heaven. But we will also enjoy perfect fellowship with all the believers of all the ages. And it appears from Scripture that we will recognize them and recognize our loved ones even as we bask in the glory of our Lord.

Whenever I’m on Cicero Ave, stopped at the light at 63rd Street by Midway Airport, and a Southwest airplane lands, almost on the roof of the car, I wonder if it's the pilot we met on the Ligonier Mediterranean cruise last March.  He and his wife were from San Diego and we spent hours talking.  It was as though we had known them all our lives. 

But the same was true for a dairy farmer from Ontario and his wife. It was like we had known them all our lives. The same was true for so many others whom we met. The fellowship of believers, which is so precious here on earth will be even more precious and sweet in heaven. 

And I’m sure you have experienced that, both in our church where we are a family of believers sharing that common bond of faith, and with other Christians outside of our local church. The blessings of heaven and the relationship we will have with the Lord and other believers will be an even greater bond than the bond of marriage here on earth. That is hard for us who are blessed with wonderful Christian marriages to imagine. But our relationships in heaven truly will be beyond what we can ask or imagine.   

Angelic Obedience

By way of application: We will be like angels in heaven, not in the way we look, for our bodies will be raised; we will be truly human, but we will be like angels in our obedience.

It is common in our culture to think two things about heaven. First: all you need to do is die and then you go to heaven. God will accept you no matter what. He understands that you are not perfect, but if you tried to do what is right, if you tried to live by the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, then you will be in heaven. Also, all roads lead to heaven, not just the road of Christianity. That’s one common misconception in our culture.  Unless you are a mass murderer or someone else terribly evil, you die and you go to heaven. That’s just how it is.

And then there is a second common misconception linked to it, and that is at death we all become angels.  Perhaps you have seen on the news where there has been a tragic death, and the grieving family says, “At least God has another angel. Our dear loved one is now an angel in heaven looking down on us.”

That is not at all what Jesus says. In the last part of verse 30 He says, “They” – those of us who by grace through faith are saved – “will be like the angels in heaven.”  But there will always be a great difference between angels and humanity. We who believe in the Lord have far more blessings than the angels in heaven. 

For instance, consider that there is a plan of salvation for us, but there is there is no plan of salvation for fallen angels. As Jude:6 says, And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home - these He has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.

God has revealed Himself to us in Scripture in such a special and wonderful way that Peter, after describing the greatness of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners says, even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12).  

When Jesus came into this world, He came not to help the angels, but believers. Hebrews 2:16 tells us, For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants – that is, those who like Abraham have placed their faith in God.

Do you see what a privilege it is to be created in the image of God?  To be human?  God has given us even more blessing and honor and shared glory with Him than what the angels have. Consequently, the answer to the question, “Why then does Jesus say that at the resurrection we will be like angels?”  is not only will we not be married, but also, we will be as obedient in heaven as the angels are.

Elect angels - for there are elect and fallen angels - perfectly obey God’s Word and do His bidding. And in heaven we will have that same perfect obedience.  Psalm 103 describes the perfect obedience of angels by saying:

The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all. Praise the LORD, you His angels, you mighty ones who do His bidding, who obey His word. Praise the LORD, all His heavenly hosts, you His servants who do His will.  Praise the LORD, all works everywhere in His dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul. (vs. 19-22).

When our sanctification is perfected in heaven, we will have an angelic obedience to the will and the word of our God. Our obedience will be a joyful obedience, no longer stained by sin or divided by the sinful nature struggling against the Spirit within us. 

* * *

When Jesus was on earth His enemies did everything they could to discredit Him. They did more mud-slinging on Jesus than politicians do today. They tried to trap Him in innumerable ways.  But they showed their ignorance.  Jesus pointed out to them, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.”

By contrast, in the new week before us, and always, may we know, study and inwardly digest the Word of God, seeking to live by it - seeking to obey God and to do His bidding and His will as faithfully and obediently as the angels in heaven. Amen.

                                       - bulletin outline -
Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven,
 since all of them were married to her?” – Matthew 22:28
                                 “Heavenly Relationships”
                                        Matthew 22:23-33
I. The Sadducees were testing Jesus, just as the Pharisees did (15, 35).
    Their question, and the answer Jesus gave them, teaches us:
     1) Those who opposed Jesus did all they could to discredit Him (28)
     2) Ignorance of God’s Word and doubt in His power always leads to
          the wrong conclusion (29)
     3) In heaven we won’t be married (30):
          a) Since there will be no death, there will be no need for birth
              (Genesis 1:28; 9:1)
          b) The relationships God will provide will exceed even the beau-
               ty and closeness of Christian marriage (1 Cor. 1:29; Eph. 3:20)
        c) Deceased loved ones who believed in Jesus, whether spouses or
             others, are alive with the Lord now and always will be (31-32)
II. We will be like angels in heaven, not in the way we look, for our
     bodies will be raised, but in our obedience (Psalm 103:20-22)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2014, Rev. Ted Gray

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