Have you ever been mocked about what you believe as a Christian?
Have you felt the sting of insulting language or contempt about your loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ and a life of faithfulness?
Jesus was mocked on more than one occasion. How did he respond to mockery, and what can we learn from his responses?
Let’s consider one confrontation in Matthew 22:23-33. As usual, I encourage you to take a few moments to read and familiarize yourself with the text.
The Sadducees are introduced as the antagonists in Matthew 22:23:
That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question.
It will become relevant that they say, “There is no resurrection.”
W. G. Scroggie (A Guide to the Gospels, 48) writes:
[The Sadducees] were the aristocratic and political party among the Jews, the rivals of the Pharisees. In religious belief they were the ‘modernists’ of that day, denying the existence of spirits, the resurrection, and the immortality of the soul.
Another relevant factor is that the Sadducees only accepted the Pentateuch or the first five books of the Bible (i.e., Genesis to Deuteronomy, also referred to as the books of Moses) “as the sole source of divine authority.” That means they dismissed the rest of the Scriptures.
The Sadducees' belief that there was no resurrection was because there “is no clear statement on the afterlife in the books of Moses” (Osborne, Matthew, 815)— or so they thought.
Here is the question put to Jesus by the Sadducees (22:24-28):
“Teacher,” they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and have children for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"
This strange question is based on Deuteronomy 25:5-10, where we find the provisions for levirate marriage. Here is what we read in Deuteronomy 25:5-6:
If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
Although this custom might seem odd to us, it had the purpose of providing legal heirs to care for the widow and maintain the ancestral lands. We see an example of this practice in Genesis 38.
The Sadducees intended to ridicule what Jesus believed and taught. According to these antagonists, if resurrection was true (which they denied), it would create an absurd situation in an alleged afterlife. Which of the seven brothers would be the legitimate husband for this woman?
In their minds, they had contrived a Scriptural enigma that demonstrated the foolishness of believing in life after death— or so they thought.
Here is how Jesus replied (23:29-32):
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Jesus finds two faults in their hypothetical situation, which he states in general terms:
Then, he backs up his accusation with two statements that destroy their position.
First: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.”
Jesus does not say that humans become angels in the afterlife. He says they will be “like the angels” in that they do not marry. “In other words, there will be a new set of relationships in eternity, one in which husbands and wives will be closer to one another (and to all God’s people) than they were in this life!” (Osborne, Matthew, 817).
Second: “But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
This second statement is a text from the Pentateuch, which (you remember) is authoritative to the Sadducees. He quotes Exodus 3:6, in which the LORD speaks to Moses: “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
The significance of this is again twofold.
First, Jacob was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham. Moses was born 333 years after Jacob died. As Moses was about 80 years old when the events of Exodus 3 took place, the LORD’s statement to Moses was more than four centuries after the death of Jacob.
Second, despite Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob having died more than four centuries earlier, the LORD states, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
I emphasize “I am,” not “I was.” From this, Jesus concludes, “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Here are four things we can learn from this confrontation. You may have more.
By this, I mean to have the roots of your life growing deeply in relationship with God and His ‘Story.’
Too often, Christians are unable to respond intelligently to ridicule or questioning of a fundamental element of the faith. For example, can you respond to a person who doubts or challenges the following?
Biblical illiteracy is a growing problem among Christians. See, for example, “Bible Literacy Crisis.” Many of us do not know God’s Story of his relationship with humanity, which we call the Bible.
The remedy is to read large portions of the Bible regularly. See: “Make This Your New Year ReVolution!”
If you are reading the Bible, you will begin to know God’s Story. Once you start to know God’s Story, you will begin to live in that Story and see the world and the people around you from God’s perspective.
Expanding on the previous point, here is what Peter writes (1 Peter 3:15-16):
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
This is not just about the intellectual ability to express your hope but a life that faithfully represents Jesus Christ. Not only are we to ‘talk the walk,’ but more importantly, we must ‘walk the talk.’
In this incidence of conflict, Jesus responded to the Sadducees’ ridicule of resurrection. I sense that he did so to benefit those watching and listening to the confrontation.
We stand with the crowds who are “astonished at his teaching” (22:33).
On other occasions of mockery, Jesus endured in silence— he did not respond. For instance (27:29, 31, 41):
[they] twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!”
In these verses, “mocked” translates the Greek word empaizō, meaning “to subject to derision, ridicule, make fun of, mock (in word and deed)” (BDAG). Throughout, our Lord endured this mockery in silence.
So, discernment is required in the face of those ridiculing Jesus Christ and our faith.
There are at least two facets to this.
First, we must consider whether we deserve the mockery. Did we cause the antagonist’s ridicule because of some un-Christ-like behavior or words? If so, we must confess that to our Lord and those we offended in truth and humility.
Second, we must leave the judgment of this mockery in the hands of our all-wise and loving God. It is easy to be offended and angry at ridicule. The temptation is to strike out in retribution.
Here is what Paul writes (Galatians 6:7):
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
Here, the word “mocked” translates muktērizō, which carries the meaning of “turn up the nose at, treat with contempt” (BDAG).
If the mockery was not caused by wrong behavior or words on our part, then it is probably directed at our God and his words and behavior.
Those who turn up their noses at God and treat him with contempt will reap what they sow. In this and other situations of unjust treatment, follow the example of our Lord Jesus (1 Peter 2:19-25), a text that we should examine more closely in another post. Part of that text is:
When they hurled their insults at [Jesus Christ], he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
Let me know what you can add or what questions this might raise. You can contact me using this link.
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