“Life and Death” Meditation on Spiritual Struggle

This is my sermon titled Life and Death based on Luke 20:27-40 that I preached at Gethsemane Lutheran in 2013.

 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 from 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.

Sermon Text- Luke 20:27-40

 “How many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?”

 That was the kind of questions that medieval philosophers liked to ask. Questions, that in reality, meant very little in the realm of what really matters when we are dealing with the big questions of life, death and salvation.

I call those kings of questions distractions and smokescreens, something that takes your attention away from what really matters. Because what really matters in life, death and salvation are questions of the heart, a heart killed by sin but made alive by Jesus Christ.

The Sadducees in our Gospel lesson today from Luke chapter 20 ask Jesus one of these distraction kind of questions. The Sadducees where a branch within the Jewish traditions of religious orders along with the scribes, Pharisees and others. A good comparison is to think of the different orders within the Catholic Church like the Dominicans, Augustinians and Franciscans.

Those in the Sadducee order mostly came from wealthy, prominent families and were greatly influenced by the Greek and Hellenistic philosophical culture and practices around them. It was this philosophical influence that led them towards the kind of question that they asked Jesus based one of the Levitical Laws given by Moses in the Old Testament.

The law stated that if a man died before having an heir through his wife then the next unmarried brother in the family was obligated to marry the widow and have children with her to continue his brother’s family line.

The question that the Sadducees ask based on this is hard to imagine asking if this situation happens seven times with seven brothers and they are all in heaven with the widow. Whose wife is she in heaven? How many angels on the head of a pin…

Even though this question is a little far stretched if we bring it down a bit into normal terms, it becomes a question that many Christians have asked. “Will I still be married in heaven?” “What if I have been remarried?”

 Jesus then teaches and reminds the people both then and now that marriage is an earthly institution only and that Christian marriage at its best is meant to be an earthly picture of Christ and His church and that Godly children may be raised from that marriage for generations to come. In heaven all of God’s people find their completeness in God alone and not in each other.

I’ve always wondered that If I had the opportunity the Sadducees did, to sit down with Jesus in my earthly life and ask Him anything I wanted what would I ask. Because, like everyone else I have a lot of questions! But probably a lot of questions in the grand scheme of things are about things that don’t really matter. But if Jesus was right here next to me I hope that I would use my time to ask him the questions that matter, questions of the heart, like:

  • Can you help me with my guilt and shame?
  • Please forgive me?
  • How can I know you better?
  • How can I know you eternally?

Noticed that Jesus doesn’t stay with the periphery question of 7 brothers and a wife in heaven but he moves deeper with his teaching to topics that evoke these kinds of questions of the heart when he teaches the people:

“God is not God of the dead but of the living.”

 He invokes a reference that would have been obvious to his Jewish listeners at the time of Moses talking to God through the burning bush and God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What is interesting is that God does not use the past tense, I was the God of… but the present tense because each of these ancient Fathers of the faith find their earthly life in God and their eternal life in Him and they are with Him, alive with all of the saints in Glory.  Then just a few days from this conversation Jesus would prove that He is God of the living through His resurrection on Easter morn.

 This kind of conversation about life and death can be confusing for us because we are all sitting here: breathing, moving listening. This is being alive to us.

But the Bible talks to us about life and death beyond physical animation. From John 3 when Jesus talks about new life in Him he tells Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, a picture of Holy Baptism. Colossians 2:13 says “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

 Life and Death is something that is greater than physical and bodily life, it has to do with the soul. But also, someone can be moving breathing and walking, alive on the outside and be dead on the inside.

You might remember a movie from the mid-90’s, “Dead Man Walking.” It was the true story of a catholic nun who was ministering to a man on death row. On the day of his execution as the guards were leading him down the cells to the chamber one of the guards would traditionally cry out “dead man walking here, dead man walking.” This was an acknowledgement that even though this man was walking, talking breathing on the outside in the eyes of the law he was already dead and condemned.

Our own sinful thoughts, actions and words, our guilt and shame and God’s law already accuses us and tells us that because of sin we are separated from God. That apart from God we are condemned, dead men and dead women walking, talking and breathing but dead inside. Because God alone is life and life eternal apart from Him we can never truly be alive.

Jesus tells us that He is the Resurrection and the Life, not just life eternally but being made alive fully in this life by finding ourselves in Him in faith. To look alive on the outside and be alive on the inside, that is the gift of faith in Jesus, the gift of baptism. Though we were dead in our sins, Jesus has made us alive in Him.

As Christians in our daily life, this is what are struggle with sin and sinful behaviors is all about. Your soul and your very life has been snatched away from the realm of sin, death and the devil. In Christ, you have been made alive spiritually and there is nothing that evil hates more than life. There is a spiritual warfare going on in your life and your spiritual enemies are trying to take your life away from you and kill you. To make you a walking dead person once again.

Think about the hurtful things in your life, that things that you do even saying “I know this isn’t good for me, but…” All of these things do damage to the very life of our souls. But thanks be to God that He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ. In Jesus He gives us the ways of eternal life in your daily life right now.

Death wants you to miss church on Sunday morning but Christ calls you to the gifts of life in His Word and Sacrament found in the fellowship of the Christian church.

Death wants you to fall back into those sinful habits and behaviors that continue to kill you but Christ calls you to look to Him for all things that are needful and to find your hope in Him.

Though we daily struggle with death, Christ is our victory and life is in Him.



Published by philipmcclelland.org

​I am a recovering burned out workaholic​ who forgot I couldn't change the world. From the ashes of that not only have I found a peace from God that I never knew but a focus on what matters, God, family and loving my neighbor as God has loved me. My burning out experiences really drive my writing and how much I want to share all of the good God has worked through the hurt I've experienced. Currently I serve a great little parish in Northern Ohio with my wonderful family and our furry farm of five dogs, four cats and the oddball handful of fish. You can find me at www.philipmcclelland.org.

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