Text: Luke 20:27-40
Date: Pentecost XXV X 11/10/13
To faithfully say, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” you first need to see Him coming. The first human eyes to see Him, of course, were those of His mother the Blessed Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph. Then there were the teachers in the Jerusalem temple when He was about twelve years old, though they didn’t realize that they were gazing upon someone more than merely a very smart child. The first public eyes that looked at Him were of the crowds whom John the Baptist pointed to Him saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Since His sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension back into heaven, now only the eyes of faith see Him. Your eyes of faith first saw His arrival in your Holy Baptism. Then they are enlightened to see His coming through the holy Word of the scriptures as explained by the little catechism. Then, every year in the quickly approaching end of the Church Year and the beginning of a new one with the season of Advent, the ears of faith hear our Lord’s command to see, to be watchful, “watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13). Watch for what? Well, for the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Today we address that not-so-little phrase of the Nicene Creed which the Sadducees of every age reject, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” And talk about eyes! On that day of our Lord’s final return not only the eyes of faith but, as my most beloved hymn says it, “And then from death awaken me, That these mine eyes [my physical eyes!] with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my fount of grace” (LSB 708:3).
When we confess the Creed, saying, “I look for the resurrection of the dead,” the Latin phrase is “et exspecto.” And you can hear the English word “expect.” But it also means to await and wait for, and we might add a certain hope for the day of resurrection. The German word is “warte” meaning to look out on as from a watchtower.
Martin Luther uses the both those words in his Large Catechism about the resurrection. But first, before speaking of the resurrection, we must believe that “we expect that our flesh will be destroyed and buried with all its uncleanness.” Do you not expect death? No one to this day has avoided it ever since Adam and Eve. Children, teens and young folks expect death less than older folks. Just look at the statistics of those signing up (and not signing up) for “Obamacare”! Not the youngsters! Yes, we “expect” death as a fact of…a fact “of life”? But do we believe it? More likely we ignore it or redefine it or avoid the whole thought of it from the get go. I had a parishioner in my Southern Illinois parish tell me that they just could not sing the hymn, “I Know that My Redeemer Lives,” because it reminded her always of her father’s funeral!
Well, let’s today face it head on; let’s face the facts. The fact is, says the inspired apostle St. Paul, “in Adam,” that is, because of your connection with the infection of deadly sin in your very human nature, “as in Adam all die” (1 Cor 15:22). No one can deny it. The Old Testament phrase was as father Jacob in Genesis 47 said at the end of his 147th year of life, “and when the time drew near that Israel must die,” he said, “let me lie with my fathers” (Gen 47:29-31). When people died they were said to be “gathered to their fathers” (Judges 2:10) which implies a place of reunion and of waiting. Waiting for what?
So now, what do we do with that fact, the fact of the inevitability of death? What then? Will there be a “then,” a “hereafter”?
Human reason not only doubts the resurrection of the dead but even ridicules it. St. Paul identifies the doubt with his observation, “but someone will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?’” (1 Cor 15:35). St. Luke tells of the residents of Athens that, “when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this’” (Acts 17:32). So maybe not everyone is as skeptical about the whole idea of an after life and the resurrection.
With regard to this I did a quick search for a recent poll in our country of what people think about this claim of the resurrection at the last day. A Scripps Howard poll reported, “Most Americans don’t believe they will experience a resurrection of their bodies when they die…. Only 36 percent… said ‘yes’ to the question, ‘Do you believe that, after you die, your physical body will be resurrected someday?’ Fifty-four percent said they do not believe and 10 percent were undecided.” Of all who deny the resurrection it always makes me think, “there are going to be a lot of shocked faces on that day!”
Yet we confess every Sunday—maybe glibly, maybe half-honestly or only rotely, “I look for the resurrection of the dead.” Or do we confess it faithfully, empowered by the decisive word of God and believe it as a great hope of a God-given faith?
What do we believe? What do we “look forward” to? The resurrection. Throughout the New and Old Testaments this truth and doctrine have been clearly taught. The unbelieving Sadducees of whom we heard in today’s Gospel live on. So St. Paul warned young Timothy, saying, “avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (2 Tim 2:16-18). He proclaims, rather, that no man can marvel that the hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the Son of Man’s voice.
Who is it that the Bible says will rise at the last day? Answer, all people, “All that are in the graves,” John 5:28; “a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust,” Acts 24:15.
What rises? Not an unphysical body but, “the risen bodies will be spiritual (not meaning
unreal); incorruptible, glorious, vigorous; like [Christ’s] glorious body; the righteous shall shine forth as the sun.” Our text says that we will be “equal to the angels” in this way, not only that we shall “neither marry nor [be] given in marriage,” but mainly in that we “cannot die anymore.” Marriage, after all, was created by God that we may be fruitful and multiply and fill the land and subdue it. This became all the more important when sin and death entered the picture. But in the day of the resurrection where death reigns no more there will be no more need of producing children for we all will live forever.
When we confess, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come,” we reveal our faith that, as our Lord said, God is “the God of the living” and not of the dead. Some of the scribes there answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” Were they convinced? Did they then believe? The text does not say.
But neither does it predict your faith other than to lay before you the divine revelation that, in the last day, all people will rise, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting condemnation, the distinction depending solely upon their faith in or rejection of God’s promise of a Savior, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The only answer to those who deny this is, in the words of our Lord to the Sadducees (reported by St. Matthew), “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22:29). So St. Paul says that true faith does “not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor 2:5).
To paraphrase the great and comforting words of the apostle Paul in his second letter to Timothy, we rely on the power of God who saved us and called us to a holy calling according to his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. We believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come because we follow the pattern of the sound words of scripture in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 1:8-10, 13).
“Lord, let at last Thine angels come.”