Today’s passage is in two parts. In the first part, the Sadducees came to the Lord with a question about the resurrection. And in the second part, a Pharisee, who was an expert in the law, came to the Lord with a question. And both parts are related to what we read last week in verse 15 about how the Pharisees laid plans to trap the Lord Jesus in his words. Christ’s enemies are surrounding him and they’re putting questions to him, not to learn from him, but in order to test him and to trap him and to make him say something incriminating which would get him into trouble. But despite their best efforts, Christ’s enemies were not able to get the better of him. In fact, look what we read in verse 22 at the end of last week’s passage, where it says that when the disciples of the Pharisees heard the Lord’s answer, they were amazed and they left him and went away. And then look at verse 33 where it says that when the crowds heard the Lord’s answer, they were astonished at his teaching. And look now at verse 46 where it says that no-one could say a word in reply to the Lord Jesus and from that day no-one dared to ask him any more questions. In this battle of wits, the Lord triumphed. And he will always triumph over his enemies, because he is the King of kings and Lord of lords who possesses all authority in heaven and on earth. And he calls on sinners everywhere to give up our sinful rebellion and to submit to him as our king.
Verses 23 to 33
Let’s turn then to the first part of today’s passage. This time, it’s not the Pharisees who come to him with a question, but the Sadducees. Satan’s opposition to the Lord takes many forms. And Matthew helpfully tells us that the Sadducees say there’s no resurrection. They only accepted the first five books of the Bible and they said that all the books that come afterwards are not God’s word. They are not part of Holy Scripture. According to the Sadducees, God’s Holy Scripture comprises only the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy. And the Sadducees believed that those books say nothing about the resurrection of the dead. And so, they didn’t believe in it. The dead don’t rise. That’s what they believed.
And so, when they came to the Lord with a question about the resurrection, they’re not trying to learn anything from him. They’re trying to make the idea of the resurrection of the dead look ridiculous. And they’re trying to make the Lord look ridiculous too for believing in the resurrection.
Their question is based on what it says in Deuteronomy 25 about how, if a man dies without leaving a son, then his brother must marry the dead man’s wife. He must marry her in order to keep her from poverty. But he must also marry her in order to preserve his brother’s name. As it says in Deuteronomy 25:6, the first son the woman bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. So, that’s what the Israelites were commanded to do and it’s the background to their question.
Now suppose there are seven brothers. One is married. But he dies. And therefore, in obedience to God’s word, one of his brothers marries his widow. But the second brother also dies and another of the seven brothers marries the same widow. But he also dies and the same thing happens: one of the surviving brothers marries with widow. And the same thing is repeated until all seven brothers have married the same woman. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since all of them have married her?
That’s their question. But, as I’ve said, they’re not expecting to learn anything from the Lord. They’re trying to make the idea of the resurrection look like nonsense. And they’re trying to make the Lord Jesus look ridiculous for believing in the resurrection, which, in their mind, is plainly ridiculous.
But the Lord responds by telling them that they are in error. The words he uses in verse 29 mean that they have gone astray. So, they’ve wandered away from the truth. And they’ve wandered away from the truth, because they don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God.
They don’t know the power of God because they don’t understand that at the resurrection God will use his mighty power to change us so that our life in the world to come will be different from our life in this world. In this world, we marry and are given in marriage. But in the world to come, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but we’ll be like the angels. When God raises us from the dead to live with him in body and soul forever, he will also transform us by his mighty power and he will glorify us so that everlasting life in his presence will not be the same as it is here on earth. And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, in this life we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, Adam. But in the life to come we will bear the likeness of the heavenly man, Jesus Christ. And the Spirit-infused body which we will possess in the life to come will be perfectly suited to eternal life in the presence of God.
And so, the Sadducees were wrong because they didn’t know the power of God and how God will change us when he raises the dead. And they were also wrong because they didn’t know the Scriptures. The Lord quotes from the book of Exodus. So, he quotes from part of the Bible which the Sadducees accepted as the word of God. And in Exodus 6:3 the Lord was talking to Moses and he said about himself: ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ When he said those words to Moses, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had already died. But the Lord didn’t say about himself, ‘I was their God’. He said: ‘I am their God.’ Even though their life on earth had ended, God was still their God. And his relationship to them continues beyond the grave, because there’s this life and there’s the life to come. He is not the God of the dead, but he’s the God of the living, because he gives eternal life to his people, so that though they die, yet they shall live in his presence forever.
In the face of scepticism, the Lord was able to testify to the truth of the resurrection and to the great hope which he gives to all who trust in him of eternal life in the presence of God. For the believer, the grave is not the end, because as soon as we die, our souls return to the Lord who made us and are made perfect in holiness, while our bodies rest in their graves as if in their beds, until the last day when our bodies will be reunited to our souls and we will live in body and soul with the Lord forever.
Verses 34 to 40
That’s the first part of today’s passage. The second is verses 34 to 40 where we read about one of the Pharisees who was an expert in the law. And look what it says about him in verse 35. It says he tested the Lord Jesus. So, he hadn’t come, humbly to learn from the Lord, even though he called the Lord ‘Teacher’. Instead he had come to test him: Let’s test his knowledge of the Scriptures and let’s see what he really knows. And presumably this was also part of their plan which we read about in verse 15 to trap the Lord in his words. So, perhaps they were hoping his answer might be foolish or ignorant and they could expose him as a false teacher.
And here’s the question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ This man was an expert in the law. He was a scribe. And the scribes knew the Old Testament thoroughly. They knew it inside out and from front to back. And they had worked out that there were 613 commandments; and that 248 of them were postive commands, telling us what to do; and 365 were negative commands, telling us what not to do. They’d worked out which ones were ‘heavy’ or weighty and which ones were ‘light’. And they used to discuss whether there was one commandment which encapsulated the rest. Was there one which summed up the whole of the law? And that’s the question this scribe put to the Lord Jesus.
And the Lord replied that there are two commandments which sum up the whole of the Law. In fact, these two commandment sum up the whole of the Law and the Prophets. So, not only do these two commandments sum up the Law, but they also encapsulate the message of the prophets. And the two commandments are: ‘You shall love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’; and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The first one comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and the second from Leviticus 19:18. We’re to love God with all of our being and we’re to love the people around us.
Those two commands sum up the whole of the Law and the message of the prophets. They sum up the whole of the Law because each of the 613 commandments in the Law are either about loving God or they’re about loving our neighbour. And they sum up the message of the prophets, because when the people had stopped loving God and when they had stopped loving one another, God sent his prophets to tell the people to repent: to turn back to him and to do what he has commanded, which is to love him and to their neighbour.
But what does it mean to love God and our neighbour? Is the Lord talking about having a warm feeling inside us when we come to church for worship? Is he talking about smiling at people and saying nice things to them? Is he talking about an emotion? What does loving God mean? And what does loving the people around us mean?
Fortunately God has not left us in the dark about what it means to love him and the people around us. For instance, we’ve all read what the Apostle John says in his first letter where he tells us not to love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth. That is to say, true love involves action. And James says the same thing in his letter, where he depicts a believer saying to another believer: ‘Go, I wish you well. Keep warm and well fed.’ It sounds good, doesn’t it? It sounds loving. But what good is it? And so, we’re not to love with words and tongue only, but with action. And in the scenaria James mentions, the believer needs to do more than wish his fellow believer well. He needs to do something so that his fellow believer is able to keep warm and well fed.
So, true love involves action. And therefore we demonstrate our love for God and our love for others by the things we do. And God has shown us what he wants us to do for him and for one another, because the first four of the Ten Commandments outline how we’re to love God and the remaining six of the Ten Commandments outline how we’re to love the people around us. We love God by having no other gods before him; and by worshipping him in the way he has commanded; and by being careful how we speak of him; and by being careful what we do on the Lord’s Day. And we love the people around us by giving our neighbours the honour they deserve in what we do and say and think of them; and by not harming them in what we do and say and think of them; and by not spoiling their marriages in what we do and say and think of them; and by not taking their property in what we do and say and think of them; and by not ruining their reputation in what we do and say and think of them; and by not resenting their good fortune in what we do and say and think of them.
That’s how we demonstrate our love for the Lord and our love for one another. We’re not to love with words or tongue only, but with action and in truth, because true love involves action. It’s about obeying the Lord and it’s about how we treat the people around us. And do you remember how Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13? If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. In other words, if I’m full of zeal and do all kinds of marvellous things for the Lord, but have not love, then none of my zeal and none of what I’ve done counts for anything at all.
Where does love come from? It comes from God, doesn’t it? God is love. He in infinitely and eternally and unchangeably love. And because of his love for us, God sent his Only-Begotten Son into the world as one of us to give up his life on the cross to pay for all our sins and shortcomings and for all the ways we fall short of loving God and of loving the people around us. And he sends his Spirit into our lives to renew us in God’s image and to enable us to love God more and more; and to enable us to love the people around us more and more.
And so, each of us should pray for the Holy Spirit to do his work in us so that the one thing we are known for more than anything else is our love.