Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 27:35 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Sadducees ask Jesus a question in order to demonstrate that the idea of the resurrection is ridiculous. And Jesus gives them an answer that demonstrates that they do not understand either the Law, or marriage, or the promise that leads to the resurrection. They ask Jesus a question based on the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 25. It has come to be called “levirate” marriage, from Latin words for husband and brother. Moses, the Sadducees say, wrote that if there was a man who was married and he died without any children, then the man’s (unmarried) brother ought to marry his brother’s widow, and the first child born was for his brother, to continue his line in Israel. Moses says this is “so that his name is not blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:6).
So the Sadducees come up with an exaggerated example of this. What if, Jesus, there are seven brothers, and they all marry the same woman? In the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since she was married to all of them? See how ridiculous the idea of the resurrection is? They seem to think that the resurrection is essentially the same as this life, it just goes on a lot longer. And their question is ridiculous, just not for the reasons they think it is.
Jesus tells them, The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain to that age, to the resurrection from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, because they are sons of the resurrection, sons of God, and they cannot die anymore. In that way, they are like the angels. Marriage, Jesus says, is for this age and for this creation as it is; and it is for those who are able to die. Even Adam and Eve, though they were created sinless, were blessed by God to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, because they were able to die—which they proved later.
Marriage is tied to death, both in Deuteronomy 25 and by the nature of life in this age, in which we all die. In order to preserve the line of people in Israel, various commands were given. But that is only because sometimes those people died before they had an heir. But the Sadducees are like modern apologists for atheism: they take a passage out of context, which they do not understand, and then they try to use it to disprove another teaching, which they do not understand. Because if the Sadducees actually knew the Scriptures, they would have realized that the command in Deuteronomy 25 is actually carried out only twice, and then not even exactly.
One time is in Genesis 38. Judah had married his oldest son to a woman named Tamar. For reasons we are not told, Tamar’s first husband is wicked, and God puts him to death. So Judah tries to uphold Deuteronomy 25 and gives his second son, Onan, to Tamar. But he refuses to do what God requires, and God puts him to death also. Now Judah is starting to get a little nervous; he’s married two of his sons to Tamar and both of them have died. So he withholds his third son. Tamar is forced to take things into her own hands. She disguises herself and Judah thinks she’s a temple prostitute and treats her that way, promising with his staff, and seal, and signet that he will pay her. But instead, Tamar shows up pregnant. Judah is going to have her burned for immorality, but when she produces his items, he says, She is more righteous than I am, because I would not give her my third son. What is the outcome of this? Tamar is one of only five women named in the genealogy of Jesus according to St. Matthew. Judah and her son Perez both show up as ancestors of Jesus.
The only other time that something similar happens in the Scriptures is when Naomi and Ruth come back to Bethlehem from Moab. And Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s husband, though not a brother, and not even the closest relative, because he was married. So Boaz marries Ruth, and in doing so, he redeems not only her Moabite genealogy, but Naomi’s family and sorrow. So the first son born to Ruth and Boaz is considered as Naomi’s son, to continue the line of her husband and sons. And, of course, Boaz is the great-grandfather of David, from whose line is Jesus, according to the flesh, and Ruth, like Tamar, is named in the genealogy of Jesus.
The only two times that Deuteronomy 25 is basically carried out, it is for the sake not only of these men of Israel, so that their names would not be blotted out, but so that the Name of God would be preserved in the lineage of Jesus, the Son of God, according to the flesh that He received from Mary. The Sadducees, though, do not believe Jesus, therefore they do not understand the Scriptures or the power of God (Matthew 22:29).
Marriage is not for the age to come, when those who are raised will not be able to die. It is for this age, where sin and death abound. And where sin and death abound, marriage is necessary—it is, perhaps, more necessary in our generation than ever before, outside of Judah and Tamar, and Boaz and Ruth. Because everywhere marriage is denied, abused, and misused, just like all the other good gifts of God. We assume that death is the end, so we say, Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow you die! Have a huge party, a huge reception, because this is all you get. And since modern unbelief denies the resurrection no less than the Sadducees, we too do not know the Law, or the purpose of marriage, or the promise that leads to resurrection.
We think that marriage is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction and our happiness. We think it is ours to do with as we see fit. That’s what unbelievers do with the gifts of God. But Jesus is clear that marriage does not belong to us, and that we cannot use it for whatever we want. It is, instead, created for three things mainly: it is so that we learn how to sacrifice for the good of another person, husbands for their wives, and wives for their husbands; it is for the sake of children, to preserve life in the midst of a dying world, so that children may be brought to the life of Jesus and raised in the fear and instruction of the Lord. There is no greater blessing than a family in which generation after generation learns the love of God in Jesus Christ and remains in that faith from baptism on into resurrection. And the third thing, needed so desperately in our world, is to bear witness to the mystery of Christ and the Church.
We know the world is going to do what it will. Sinners will sin and unbelievers will act according to unbelief. But Christians bear witness to Christ. We do not get our definitions or understandings of love and marriage from the world, but from Jesus. And every time we abuse or misuse marriage, we obscure, deny, or reject Jesus. When we pretend that marriage is ours to use however we want, as if we could make it after our own image, so that the relationship between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman is marriage; when we pretend in our sexual relationships that we are married, when we are not; when we commit adultery in thought, intention, and deed; when we tear apart in divorce what God joined together in one flesh—all of these are denials of Christ Himself and His relationship with His Bride, the Church. Death breeds death breeds more death.
And the only way out of death is not by trying harder to overcome what God has set up. That only leads to more death, and we have proven it over and over again. No, the only way out of our death spiral is resurrection. So the Son of God enters into flesh via the genealogy of Tamar and Judah, Ruth and Boaz, via marriage which is instituted to preserve life in the face of death, and He enters into that death itself. He takes on flesh and does what any faithful Bridegroom does: He takes on everything that belongs to His bride. There is no righteous and holy bride, so He creates one from His own side, as God made Eve from the side of Adam. In His death, holy water and holy blood flow from His side, and a Church is created by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, flesh of His flesh and blood of His blood. As we are joined to Him, His Body, His Bride, we give Him everything that is ours and He gives us everything that is His. We give Him all our sin, our our idols, all our death; all our denials of Him, all our misuse and abuse of His good gifts; and He takes it as His own. And then He gives us everything that is His: purity, holiness, righteousness, and all His divine, eternal life in His resurrection.
This is the only marriage that is not made for death, but from death, and it is the reason why there is no marrying and giving in marriage in the resurrection: because there, this is the only marriage there is. Christ and His Bride, the Church, pictured by a new and holy and perfect Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It is no coincidence that the Scriptures begin and end with marriage. The first good gift that God gives to two people is each other: This one, Adam says, at last, is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. And at the end, in the Revelation, John hears these words: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
Although marriage is still needed in this age and in this world, as long as there is death—and Christian marriage of husbands and wives is every day needed more and more as a testimony to Christ’s faithfulness and sacrifice for us, and our receiving of life from Him—the resurrection is the end of marriage because it is the end of death. And all of us, married, single, widowed; all of us with our sins against God and against marriage, will be covered with the white linen of righteousness in Christ. He counts you worthy of the resurrection because of Christ, and even now, even though you die in this age, to God in Christ, you are living, because all are living to Him. And He assures you of it with the divine, eternal life He gives you in the Body and Blood of Jesus. Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints, washed clean in the blood of Christ (Revelation 19:6-8; 7:14).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/4/22