All Saints: Tobit 3:7-8, 7:10-12; Revelation 7:9-17; Matthew 22:23-29: Who’s Doing the Counting?

All the counting in Scripture.  On its first page, the words, “In the beginning” ring out, commencing the count.  So tabulate the days as they unfold.  “The evening came and morning followed—the first day” all the way to “the seventh day” when the Creator “finished his work” (Genesis 1:5, 2:2).

Much later, after recounting so many promises for a Savior from sin, God brings Israel’s future patriarch outside.  “Count the stars,” a compassionate God vows to Abraham, “so will your offspring be” (Genesis 15:5).  Through this man, He pledges to bless many, as plentiful as the lights twinkling in the heavens, through a Descendant.

Through the centuries, God repeats His oath in numerous ways and through many prophets.  Still, people being what they are, they want to add up life, as they decide.  So when Jesus, Abraham’s Progeny arrives—He finds our reckoning of reality is belittling God’s promise of life.  Some of this took place when His people decided to subtract the number of books they supposed to be sacred.

Over the years, the Jews lost their ability to speak and read in Hebrew, forgetting their mother tongue during their Babylonian exile.  So, they clamored for something they can understand.  Around 250 BC, the king of Egypt commissions scholars to translate the Word of God into Greek, the language of the day.

With the approval of the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish Council, experts from the various tribes of Israel take part in this monumental effort, totaling 72 translators.  Included in the completed compilation are some books, written in Greek, which we call “the Apocrypha.”  The people name this the Septuagint.

Now the de-facto Bible, the New-Testament writers use this when they reference the Old Testament.  So, if you wondered why some of their quotations don’t match ours, this explains why.  For they quoted from another source.

In Jesus’ time, chaos and confusion are everywhere, with various Israelite rabbis and schools arguing over what is scriptural.  Diverse Jewish groups fight and conflict.  Each claims itself as the proper expression of Judaism and gives a different figure for the number of holy books God gave them.

For example, the Essenes, the “monks” of the 1st century, accepted every book in today’s “Protestant Old Testament,” except Esther.  Well, they also considered Tobit, Sirach, and a manuscript not in the Septuagint, Enoch, to be inspired.

The largest Jewish faction, the Pharisees, disagreed in their divisions, as well—among themselves.  One subgroup prized the Septuagint as sacred, but not Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, or Esther.  The other asserted all the Septuagint came from God.

The worst?  The Temple-based Sadducees.  In their number crunching, they only allow the five books of Moses—Genesis through Deuteronomy—rejecting the rest.

From this group, some now approach Jesus.  With a bulletproof scheme, they come in for the kill.  In they plunge, planning to demolish what Jesus judges to be holy—and to bury this nonsense about someone’s body rising from death.

In their sinful way of subtraction, they exploit and abuse an Old-Testament text about a woman, who married seven men, all who died, one after the other.  “Tell me, whose wife will she be in the resurrection?” (Luke 20:29-32).  Now, we got you, they think.

The situation is absurd, and Jesus should say so.  Still, He doesn’t, because He regards the book they are mistreating as God’s Word.  So, He refutes them on both counts, “You are mistaken because you are ignorant about Scripture and also the power of God.”

So, our Christ and Lord, calls an extended Old-Testament parable, the text of Tobit, “scripture.”  Still unyielding, He presses on to declare God as mighty enough to bring the dead back to life.  The Sadducee’s planned scenario falls flat.

Not so long ago, we lost Tobit from our Bibles, when we transitioned to English.  Gaze inside an old, German Lutheran Bible, and you will still find this book, dusty and unread, which Jesus refers to as “scripture.”  Why does this little-known text matter?

A man named Tobit goes blind.  Old and without eyesight, he wants his only son, Tobias, to marry before he dies.  An angel, Raphael, appears, who agrees to take the man’s son to find a wife.  The story now makes a crazy turn.  For this heavenly servant does guide him into a distant land, to a woman, who earlier married other men—seven!

On the night of each marriage, a demon appeared and butchered the groom.  The grieving bride is heartbroken, abandoned.  No one will now marry this woman, for she’s cursed.  Enter Tobit’s son, who announces he will wed this unwanted woman.  Like before, the demonic being appears, but now the storyline changes.  For Tobias forces him to flee.  After, he takes his wife home as his spotless bride.

To recognize Jesus within this, let’s recast the account.  A loving Father sends His Son.  Why?  To rescue a helpless Bride, enslaved by evil, with bleakness and despair filling her days.  The Son descends, doing a number on the demon, defeating him, saving the Bride.  Why?  All to take her back to live with Him in His Father’s house.  The little-valued story is about Jesus, in a messianic parable.

Those Sadducees reject this book.  What’s at risk?  By refusing to include Tobit as a part of the Bible, they lose more than a beautiful prophecy.  In their ridicule of a woman married many times before, they mock and deny the One who comes to save the unsavable, and deliver them from death, Christ Jesus.

Whoever is counting, does matter.  The sinful, number-crunching Sadducees used their method of addition and subtraction, to their eternal demise.  Not so when the God of mercy calculates.  In Him, the hopeless find new hope and discover life, despite the stench of physical fatality all around them.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of a future day when a Redeemer will come to be “counted among the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).  Around 700 years later, two criminals, and an innocent Man, Jesus, are crucified—one, two, three, outside the gate of Jerusalem.

Through His saving Son, the Almighty destroys “the burial shroud enveloping all peoples; the veil spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7).  The Messiah, foretold from of old, drops into the tomb, down for the count, for three days.  On the third, He rises from the dust, never to die again, swallowing the suffocating blanket of mortality.

Still, more counting must take place.  For only One came out of the grave—one.  From this One, however, many will follow, the first-fruits of a mighty harvest to come.  In Christ’s way of calculation, everything will tally up, for we will be His own.  Not so in your score of life, where you will fall with the Sadducees, into unbelief and sin.

The ancient hymn, the Te Deum, prays to Jesus.  “Help Your servants, whom You redeemed with Your precious blood.  Number them with Your saints, in glory everlasting.”  In heaven, close doesn’t count, perfection does.  Thank God, Jesus is doing the redeeming, not you!

Now, if Jesus’ crucifixion can do such deeds, how much more will God rescue you by His life?  So, rejoice!  Through Jesus, God restores you, once more (Romans 5:10-11).  One day, you will step out of your grave as Jesus did, never again to suffer death.

The will of the heavenly Father is for everyone who gazes on Jesus and believes in Him to receive eternal life, so our Savior spoke.  Don’t miss the ending—Jesus will raise them to life on the Last Day (John 6:40).  In His flesh-and-blood Son, God delivers you from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:12-13).  Tell me, who’s accomplishing the verbs?  Not you, but God!

In Revelation, God’s number totals 144,000.  Such a perfect and complete amount—representing the entirety of His people, 12, multiplied by itself, times 1,000.  Not a limited, earthly sum, but a sign and symbol.  Yes, those chosen by God, in His Son, will be present with Him in eternity.

The Father’s desire is for Jesus to keep everyone He gave Him, raising them to life on the Final Day (John 6:39).  Yes, God does so much counting, and He never misses a single one of His own.  For everything He does, He does well.

Still, God achieves more, more than including you as His own.  This God also chooses not to factor in what keeps you estranged from Him.  Through His Son, He is restoring creation, not tallying your trespasses against you (2 Corinthians 5:19).  Though flawless in His math, God loses track of your sins, remembering them no more.  A righteous God discontinues totaling up the times that You broke His Law.  Now, He gives you, in its place, the sinlessness of Jesus, as a gift, which is His righteousness.

On the Last Day, when our Lord returns, the Spirit He breathes out will bring us forth from our tombs.  Risen from death’s dark grave, Christ will count us as His own.  Numbered with the saints, we will join a multitude beyond number.  Clothed in white, we will stand, dazzling in our Savior’s purity before God (Revelation 7:9).

Holy and sainted ones, this is your God.  Be glad, for He does all this for you.  Listen again to St. John, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:10).  Yes—and because you can count on what the Father does for you in His sinless Son—your eternity is sure and certain.  Amen.

 

 

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