Our Bible passage this morning is Mark 12:18-27. This is where Jesus is mocked for believing in the resurrection. It’s wonderful because Jesus demolishes the mockers. Yesterday I bumped into Michael Youssef in the shops, Jonathan’s dad, and he was reminding me that American congregations are a lot more enthusiastic and responsive. And they call out things like, “Amen, brother,” when you say something helpful. He said the flip side of this is that if the preacher is struggling, they call out, “Help him, Jesus.” So, I permit you to call out any of the above as we think together.
I hope we’ll learn from this section. It’s a wonderful insight into the future, which, of course, we need if we’re to live joyfully and usefully in the present. In Michael’s book, on 1 and 2 Thessalonians, which I would happily recommend to everybody in the congregation, he tells the story of an evangelist called Joe Flacks who proudly preached all over the world. And when he died, they discovered that he had arranged for a card to be sent to almost everybody he knew, all his friends and all his family. On the card, it said this, “This is to announce that I have left the mud house. I have arrived in glory. I’m enjoying great care. There is fullness of joy just as promised. I’m absent from the body, present with the Lord; I will look for you. Joe Flacks.”
What a great thing to say as you prepare for your end with great confidence. And Jesus spoke of the resurrection with great conviction, and not only spoke but also proved the reality of the resurrection and, yes, in chapter 12 of Mark, he is mocked for it.
We’ve been following on these Sunday mornings, the attacks of the religious leaders against Jesus. He’s in the temple, a place where he should have been loved and revered, but actually, he’s being attacked by the religious leaders. And we saw a few weeks ago that he was attacked in a direct way, where they came up and said to him, “Who gave you the right to do any of this? To say what you say and to do what you do?”And he answered in an unforgettable way.
Last week we saw how they attacked him more deviously by asking whether people should pay taxes, and this, of course, would land Jesus into trouble either with the Romans or with the crowds. And he answered in that brilliant way, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render to God the things that are God’s.” I mentioned last week how often that sentence stops of the word Caesar, almost as if people today know the incident but will not go to the punch of that particular conversation.
Today we come to opposition, which is sometimes the most difficult of all to face, and that is where you’re being ridiculed, where you’re being mocked. And we need to take heart from Jesus in these incidents, in these events because we are facing similar opposition. Sometimes it’s direct, sometimes it’s devious, and sometimes it’s mockery. I want you to notice; we must not miss the fact that Jesus, in these incidents in Mark 12 and 13, is not afraid of his opposition. The opposition is afraid of him, but he is not afraid of his opposition.
One of the saddest things in the world today is the Church in the West receiving opposition and being afraid of the world. The world is not afraid of the Church in the West, but the Church in the West is afraid of the world. And in different places in the world and in different times in history when the Church has feared God, the world has been afraid of the Church. And I think it’s tragic and pathetic that there come times when the Church gathers today, and they apologise to the world for things that God has said in His Word, which are not to be apologised for. And Jesus Christ, of course, did not bend over backwards and apologise for the Word of God which brings liberty and truth and power and joy.
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This group that come to Jesus in Mark 12 today are called Sadducees; they’re wealthy men, we might say they’re worldly men. They are very selective in their beliefs. They only really took seriously the first five books of the Old Testament, Genesis to Deuteronomy. And they were extremely cynical about the supernatural, which is why we read in the very first verse 18 that they say there is no resurrection.
I want to think about this section with you under three headings this morning that won’t surprise you. The first point is the ridicule that’s unbelievable. The second point is the reply of Jesus, which is unbeatable. And the third is the relationship, which it is possible to have with God, that is unbreakable.
Ridicule that is Unbelievable
I went a little crazy with the alliteration this week, and the first point is the ridicule that is unbelievable. Look at verse 18, the Sadducees come up with their question, and their question is to mock the resurrection and to mock the resurrection they’re going to play one scripture off another scripture. It would be like me saying to you today, “How could God possibly have rested on the seventh day and the world kept spinning? You know, it just doesn’t work.” And they take a law from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 25, which was to enable a widow who had no children, and therefore no family and in a sense no future, no legacy, to be given the possibility of having children from the brother of her dead husband. Sounds strange to us but in the days where there was no social welfare system, where there was no future for a family without children, this was the way of guaranteeing that a woman, a vulnerable woman would be properly looked after.
So the Sadducees come up, chapter 12:20-23, this is probably a made-up story, but even if it’s a true story, they’re using it as a joke, and they say, “Jesus, we know a widow, and she tried brother number one, then brother number two, then brother number three, then number four, then number five, then number six. None of them caused her to be pregnant. And if there is a resurrection, what is she going to do when she gets there? Which brother will she run to? Which brother will she throw her arms around? Which brother will she sit with? Which brother will she live with?” And the joke is the joke of the resurrection.
I want you to notice that they’re mocking something highly significant. It is odd, isn’t it? That you would mock something which is so potentially wonderful. You would think that they would come up to Jesus and then they’d say something like this, “Look, this talk of resurrection seems to us to be completely ridiculous, but it is, obviously, if it were true, very wonderful. Please give us some evidence.” Just as you would hope at a funeral, wouldn’t you, when you go to a funeral, and the family have got nothing to do but look back over the life of the loved one, and then the minister gets up and says, “There is a resurrection, which is possible. It is available. It is offered.” And you would hope, wouldn’t you, that people would rush the person speaking at that point and say, “Tell me some more. We’re obviously in the dark; we don’t know about the future. Please come and tell us.” But they don’t. That kind of response is so, so rare.
The Sadducees are mocking something that is highly significant. The Old Testament didn’t tell them a lot about the resurrection. The resurrection was real in the Old Testament, but it was shadowy. Think about:
- Psalm 23, “I’ll dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
- Job 19, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”
- Isaiah 25, “The new creation.”
- Daniel chapter 12, “The rising up from the dust.”
There is plenty in the Old Testament about the resurrection, but it doesn’t become clear and enlightened until the New Testament and the resurrection of Jesus. But why are they attacking something that is so attractive? The answer is because if the resurrection is true, then you’re going to have to take seriously the person who has the keys to the future. And people don’t want to take seriously the one who has the keys to the future.
I was reading just in the last few days that the British comedian, Eddie Izzard, has recently said, “If there was life after death,” and I quote, “it would be nice if just one person came back to let us know.” Hello? Have we heard of Easter? Yes. Have we heard of Easter? Is Easter so difficult to investigate?
I remember Clive James being interviewed on television and he was asked if he believed in God, and he said, “There cannot be a god because,” and I quote, “he would impact our history in an unforgettable way.” How about B.C., A.D.?
So we have to recognise that there is a bias away from the evidence even though the evidence is pointing to something very attractive. And mockery or humour or comedy or send up is one way to do it. Humor, which is what we’re looking at today, mockery, humour is a gift from God, which can send up something that should be sent up, like human pomposity. Or to put down something that should be deflated, like human madness. But humour turns into something more sinister when it sends up what shouldn’t be sent up, or puts down what shouldn’t be put down. So it’s a good gift which is used for good for ill.
The Reply of Jesus
Now, we’ve seen Jesus’ replies when he’s being faced with a sudden attack to be wonderful. His reply last week to the trap of the taxes was so clever and so powerful, steering straight through the middle. Now, this reply to the Sadducees who are sending up the resurrection is a very humbling reply because they’re out of their depth. And it’s also a very devastating reply because he tells them that they don’t know the Bible. He doesn’t say to them, “Well, you’ve come with an absolute zinger. I’m finished. I’ve got nothing to say.” He’s not stuck for an answer at all. He says to them, “You don’t know the scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” And the Sadducees would have found this a devastating comment because they prided themselves on, not only knowing the scriptures but also knowing the power of God.
Before we look at what Jesus means by this, can I show you and point out to you that when Jesus is dealing with some opposition to doctrine, he will take his critics back to the Bible. This is so basic, but I think it needs to be said. You may be here this morning, and you find some particular doctrine difficult, objectionable, maybe you find an ethical issue that’s being debated in the Church and the world today. You find it particularly unattractive, difficult and you’re opposed to it. If Jesus were talking to you, he would simply say this, “Let’s go back to the Bible. Let’s see what God says because that’s going to be our authority, that’s going to be our help and our hope.” He takes his critics back to the Bible. And you know what it’s like when you’re talking to somebody, sometimes they’ve been drifting in their Christian life, and their head has been in the world, and they’re no longer having their head in the Word. And they’re very opinionated, and they’re very forceful, but you just know that their conclusions and their ideas are a long way from the scriptures. Jesus says, “What does the scripture say?”
I know that we preachers are always telling congregations to read their bibles, this is the default of many-a-week sermon, “Go back and read your Bible.” I’m weary of saying to people, “Please read your Bible.” I do want say this to you this morning that often when I meet somebody one to one, and I discover that they are actually quite weak in faith, and their joy is low, and their assurance is low, and their usefulness is low, you also discover they’ve not been regularly taking in the Word of God.
It’s like meeting somebody who’s particularly frail and weak and saying, “When was the last time you had a meal?” And they say, “Oh, you know, not for eight weeks.” You say, “Well, there could be a connection.” And when you meet somebody who is really frail in joy, assurance, usefulness, it could be that the simple taking in of the Bible for a few minutes each day has just stopped.
The Sadducees did read their bibles, but they obviously didn’t understand their bibles because Jesus points something out to them that they’ve never properly grasped.
First of all, he talks to them, verse 25, about the power of God. He says, “You don’t know the power of God. When the dead rise,” says Jesus with incredible authority. Notice he doesn’t say, “If they did rise,” but, “When they do,” because they do. And incidentally, I should remind you that every single person who’s ever been conceived will rise to the Judgment, some to heaven, some to hell. Everybody will rise, read John 5; everybody will get up. Jesus says, “When the dead rise,” he goes on to say, “there will be no marriage.” And although this might sound sad to you, the reason that marriage will be non-existent in heaven is that all relationships will be perfected. We will not need one companion. We will certainly not need to populate the place. And our resurrection existence, says Jesus, is going to be so perfect it’s going to be like angelic. He doesn’t say you’ll be angels, but he says, “You need to understand that the beings who live in glory have got an existence and sort of a body which is beyond this world.”
He explains something which they cannot possibly know about, but he does know about, just as we would not bolt to say, “If you’re driving to my place this afternoon, this is where you go, and this is where you’ll find the key, and this is where the door,” because you know exactly what you’re talking about. You don’t have to say, “If there is a house,” when you get there. You say, “When you get there…” And Jesus is talking with absolute authority. So these words are very humbling, but they’re also very heartwarming.
James Edward says in his commentary on Mark, “We can no more imagine heavenly existence than an infant in utero can imagine a Beethoven piano concerto or the Grand Canyon at sunset.” It’s a very wonderful insight. So how foolish of these Sadducees to reject the supernatural and by rejecting the supernatural, they reject the future when they could easily go to somebody who is an expert on the future and find out exactly what it’s all about.
Second, Jesus says to them, verse 26, “And you don’t know the Word of God. Have you not read of the time where God met Moses at the burning bush?” says Jesus. And of course, the Sadducees will say, “We know that passage backwards.” And Jesus says, “No, you don’t.”
This would be like me saying to you this morning, “Have you ever read about Christmas? Have you ever heard about Easter? Ever heard about Good Friday?” And you say, “Of course we have.” And then I say to you, “Did you notice this?” And you say, “I completely missed the point.”
Jesus takes the Sadducees to their text. They are Genesis to Deuteronomy people. He takes them to Exodus smack bang in the middle, and he basically says to them, “Let’s go to the call of Moses. He’s your hero, let’s go to the call of Moses.” He doesn’t take them to some small issue like marriage for a widow who’s got no children, important as that is. He takes them to the absolute fundamental meeting of God and Moses. And he takes them to something which is timeless because God said to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” He doesn’t say, “I used to be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but they have died and perished.” He says, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because we’re still in relationship.” So these men are not dead, but they’re alive. So that is the reply of Jesus.
A Relationship that is Unbreakable
Why is this such a magnificent answer teaching a relationship that is unbreakable, okay? So there’s a ridicule that is unbelievable, there’s a reply that is unbeatable, and now there is a relationship that is unbreakable because the sentence in chapter 12 verse 26 is not just a grammar lesson. Jesus is not just saying, “I’m playing a game with you now, it’s called ‘I am not I was.'”
That’s true, but the point is, and I want you to listen very carefully to this, the point is that if you have a relationship with God, that is, you’ve come to the Father through Jesus the Son, you’ve entered into a relationship that is by definition unbreakable because it is with somebody eternal. Once you enter into a relationship with the eternal God, you have an eternal relationship. That’s why the resurrection is certain. Of course, it’s built on the promises and the proofs of Jesus rising from the dead, and it is made possible because of the cross, the Crucifixion, where Jesus takes the barrier that might keep us out of heaven, away. But you’re basically entering into a relationship with someone, that is the living God, who is eternal.
So you’re not entering into a normal human relationship with somebody who says, “I’ll love you as long as I can.” You’re entering into a relationship with somebody who says, “We are in this for eternity.” That’s what Jesus is teaching. So he’s actually taking the Sadducees to the very heart of God’s identity and character which is that he is the eternal living God, and to know him means that you cannot die, which raises, of course, the question of whether you know him. It’s one thing to know about him; it’s one thing to say, “I’ve heard of him.” It’s one thing to say, “I’ll meet him.” It’s one thing to say, “I hope all will be well.” It’s another thing to say, “I know him.” Because there came a day where I heard the Gospel that he said to me, “I will have you to be mine.” And I said to him, “And I will have you to be mine.” And we became one; we became one.
So the question that you have to ask yourself is not, “Do I know all the proofs for the resurrection?” important as those are. The question you have to ask from this passage is, “Do I know God? Because if I know God, if I have said yes to him, I belong to somebody who will never let me go.” And If you’re longing for loved ones and members of your family to come into that relationship because it’s so precious to you and you just can’t wait for them to come into relationship with you, I wanna say to you, don’t panic about those people, because God brought you into relationship, and you do your part which is to pray and to love and to be patient, and entrust him with things that are beyond you.
Now, if you want to think about how precious this relationship with God is, let me read to you the answer to question one from the Heidelberg Confession. Heidelberg Confession was put together in 1563, and it was put together in 52 sections so that once a week, you would learn together as a family the great doctrines of the faith. And question one goes like this, what is your comfort in life and death? And this is the answer, “That I, with body and soul, both in life, and death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins and redeemed me from all the power of the devil and so preserves me that not a hair may fall from my head without the will of my Father, and all things must work for my salvation. Wherefore by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready to live for him.” What a beautiful thing to say. What is your comfort in life and death?
And so Jesus takes this very mocking question and brings good out of it. In a sense, we should be grateful that these Sadducees came up with their ridicule because it caused Jesus to say what many of us want to hear. And not only that, of course, but Jesus escapes the trap of their question just as he escapes the trap of the grave in a few days’ time. And I hope you’ll take heart from this. The ridicule may be unbelievable, Jesus’ reply is unbeatable and the relationship is unbreakable.
And to finish where we began, it may be that you find yourself in this world having to face this tremendous pressure today that there is nothing in the future just now, and that when you’re dead, you’re dead. And you’re an absolute idiot to believe that there is a future beyond the grave and you may need to say, my friends, to such a person, something like this, “It would probably be good if you got your facts from an expert.” That’s what we need to say.
And we may suffer for this, but let me close with some words of Tozer. “God’s truth has never been popular. Wherever Christianity becomes popular, it is not on its way to die; it has already died. Popular Judaism killed the prophets and crucified Christ. Popular Christianity killed the reformers and drove evangelists into the streets. When it comes to religion, the crowds are always wrong. At any time there are a few who see, the rest are blind. To stand by the truth of God against the current religious vogue is always unpopular and maybe downright dangerous. The historic Church, while she was a hated minority group, had a moral power that made her terrible to evil and invincible before her foes. When the Roman masses, without change of heart, were made Christian by baptism, Christianity gained popularity and lost her spiritual glow. From there she went on to adopt the ways of Rome and to follow her pagan religions. The fish caught the fisherman, and what started out to be the conversion of Rome became finally and tragically the conversion of the Church. From that ignominious captivity, the Church has hardly been delivered.”
Let’s pray. Our gracious God, we thank you for this wonderful reminder of the supremacy of the Lord Jesus, not only in dealing with this ridicule but also answering so profoundly, perfectly, beautifully. And we pray that you would help us as your people in your world standing on your Word to be good signposts and light posts for those in the world who are in darkness. We thank you for not only promising but also proving in the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus that there is a great future. We pray that you would help us so to pass through this world with wisdom, that we might have good effect on it, and lose not the world to come. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.