“Life Goes On” (Luke 20:27-40)
Back in 1968, the Beatles sang a song about the life of Desmond and Molly Jones. Desmond was a young Jamaican lad who had “a barrow in the marketplace.” “Molly was the singer in a band.” They met. Fell in love. Got married. “In a couple of years they had built a home sweet home, with a couple of kids running in the yard.” And so they sing, “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on,” a phrase that Paul McCartney borrowed from a Nigerian friend who used say it all the time. Life goes on. And Desmond and Molly live happily ever after.
But do they really? What if Desmond gets laid off from his job at the “barrow in the marketplace”? Oh, well! Ob-l-adi ob-la-da … life goes on!
What if Molly finds out she has throat cancer and can’t sing anymore, not to mention she has a potentially fatal disease? Oh, well! Ob-la-di ob-la-da … life goes on!
What if those couple of kids running in the yard grow up and run off and get into drugs and a life of crime? Oh, well! Ob-la-di ob-la-da … life goes on!
Singing “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on” is little comfort when life gets complicated. Even so, we sometimes try to encourage others with those words. A woman loses her husband, and after months of grief, a well-intentioned person may say, “Come on, now, life goes on.”
In the midst of one’s grief, as well-intentioned as we try to be, perhaps it is a bit insensitive to tell someone to cheer up, because, after all, “Life goes on.” But to a certain extent, it’s true. Life DOES go on. And for Christians, it’s even more real and true. We are given comfort and strength to endure life’s complications. And we are given hope from God’s Word that even though one day, this earthly life will end, nevertheless, life goes on in the life to come.
Life goes on in this life, and God’s Word tells us to be patient as we wait for the consummation of all things in the life to come.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus was confronted by a group of Sadducees. This was one of the political parties within the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. They were the aristocrats, and were closely allied with the high priesthood. The general populace was not too fond of them, though. They viewed the Sadducees as too friendly with the Roman government, trying to keep the peace with them to maintain their own positions of authority. One of their significant beliefs was that there was no resurrection and no life after death. For them, life does NOT go on.
And so you can see how they were trying to trap Jesus with their question. They asked him about the case of a childless woman who had been widowed seven times. Each time, one of the man’s brothers took her as a wife. That was the Old Testament social security plan for widows and to assure the continuation of the family line. “In the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” they asked. For them, this was really a moot point since they didn’t believe in the resurrection.
Jesus begins his reply by saying that “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage.” Life goes on for people in this life. People meet, get married, set up house. But for some people, like the Sadducees, it’s tempting to think that this is all there really is.
Some time ago, I was listening to a talk show on the radio as I was driving around making shut-in calls. A man called in to criticize Christians and said, “I wish Christians would stop putting fear into people’s hearts by saying that Jesus is going to come back one day. I mean, where is he? They’ve been saying he’s going to come back soon for the last 30 years! Where is he?”
I had to chuckle. After all, haven’t we been saying he’s going to come back soon for the last 2,000 years? I know what he meant, however. He was referring to those who say that Jesus will definitely return in our lifetime … which could happen, by the way. Jesus told us to be watchful and ready and to look at the signs of the times … wars, rumors of war, earthquakes, famines, growing unbelief. Sounds like our world today, doesn’t it? In fact, all these things have been going on since the Ascension of Jesus, causing every generation to think that perhaps they are the ones to see the Lord return, and that’s as it should be. We should always be prepared for “the coming of our Lord Jesus and our being gathered to him,” as St. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians in today’s Epistle text.
But back to the radio caller who scoffed at Christians who say that Jesus is coming back soon. It reminded me of something else in the Bible. In 2 Peter 3, the apostle writes: “that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming?’” (2 Pet. 3:3-4). That’s exactly what I heard coming out of the speakers in my car that day: “Life goes on … but this is all there is.”
Life goes on in this life, that’s for sure. But this is not all there is. In the meantime, we wait, knowing that God’s idea of “soon” is not our idea. In that same chapter, St. Peter reminds us, “With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8-9). God is being patient with us. And we can patiently endure because of the life of Christ in us, given in Baptism, nourished by God’s Word and Christ’s Body and Blood, with a confident hope that life goes on in the life to come.
When we die, those who are baptized and believe in Jesus as their Savior go immediately to heaven. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says, “The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7).
But then life goes on in the resurrection. Jesus said those who trust in his forgiving death “cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” This is does not mean we become angels when we die. Rather, we will be immortal. And on the Last Day, our souls will be reunited with our bodies and we will raised to eternal life.
Some deny the resurrection, like the Sadducees in our text. But it is promised by our faithful God, and guaranteed by Christ’s own resurrection, as St. Paul declared, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has also come the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor 15:20-22). Moreover, Jesus pointed to Moses and the burning bush episode in our Old Testament reading. God calls himself “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). He is Yahweh, the Living One, with whom live the spirits of the righteous (Heb. 12:23). “He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all died. But life goes on for them … and they, along with all who trust in Christ, will be raised to life again.
Will we know each other in the life to come? Our Lord’s post-resurrection appearances give us a clue that we will. The disciples recognized Jesus in his glorified, resurrected body. They talked with him. They ate with him. They knew him. Our resurrection will be like his, therefore we can assume that we will talk with each other and know each other and enjoy eternal fellowship with God and with one another.
Will you be married to your believing spouse in the life to come? Evidently not, but your relationship will be changed. It will be deeper, even more intimate. We will be closer to God and all the saints in the life to come, without the barriers of sin and our sinful nature getting in the way of our relationships.
Besides, in the resurrection there is an even greater marriage that we will be celebrating. We will be celebrating the marriage of the Bridegroom, Jesus, and the Bride of Christ, the Church.
The watchers on the mountain
Proclaim the Bridegroom near;
Go forth as He approaches
With alleluias clear.
The marriage feast is waiting;
The gates wide open stand.
Arise, O heirs of glory;
The Bridegroom is at hand.
The saints, who here in patience,
Their cross and suff’rings bore,
Shall live and reign forever
When sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory
The Lamb they shall behold;
In triumph cast before Him
Their diadems of gold. (LSB 515.2-3)
Life goes on. Amen.