Monday, February 09, 2009

Sermon 1/25/09 What Would Jesus Say Part 3 : " About Being Skeptical"

What Would Jesus Say About Being Skeptical?

Matthew 22:29-32

After listening to the video, a couple of things stood out to me. I noticed that one person called Obama a “conservative” and another person called him a “liberal.” This makes sense to me because I have often found that someone or something is a liberal or conservative based on perspective. I have been called by some people a liberal and other people would call me a conservative. The truth is that I am conservative about some things and liberal about others.
I also noticed that one interviewer said that a conservative is someone who wants to conserve something while a liberal is someone who wants to change things. When we talked about conservatives in Christian circles, they tend to be the folks who want to hold to the interpretations of the Bible that have been passed down from generation to generation. Liberals on the other hand are folks that want to push certain teachings and explore new meanings.
If these two things are the meaning behind conservatives and liberals, we will meet the most conservative group of people in Jesus’ day, namely the Sadducees. Jesus does not have much contact with them in the Gospels and they tend to only show on Jesus’ radar when he is in Jerusalem.

History does not tell us too much about the Sadducees. We have limited information about what the sect of Judaism was all about. According to Josephus, as early Jewish historian, they were part of the religious ruling class, mainly located in Jerusalem. They would have been the keepers of the temple life. They tended to be conservative, because they were in charge and had no reason to change the status quo. They only followed that first five books of the Old Testament.

Jesus spends very little time in Jerusalem, so he does not really run into them much. When he does finally meet them, they ask him to solve a riddle of sorts,

23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 "Teacher," they said, "Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 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. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?"29 Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob' [b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."

Matthew gives us a clue to one of their theological beliefs in verse 23 when he says they did not believe in the ressurection. This was different from the belief of the Pharisees which we looked at last week. We can also learn from history that they believed God would not save Israel from the Romans, but that the people needed to learn how to get by the best they could. They tended to believe that the people would ultimately decide Israel’s fate.

As I mentioned earlier, being conservative or liberal does depend on perspective. From a first century perspective, the Sadducees were conservative because they wanted to conserve the status quo. They wanted to keep temple life the way it was. They were against say the prophetic writings and other teachings were as important as the Pentateuch. In the same way, there are conservatives in the church who do not want the church to change at all.

At the same time, from a 21st century perspective, their theology looks kind of liberal. As Christians, we believe in the ressurection of Jesus, which has been taught by the church for 2000 years. If someone questions this belief, we call them a liberal. Likewise, to question the Bible in any part today would be more liberal, sense that would be to question the tradition teachings of the church.

If I had to put a word to the subject Jesus is addressing, I would say it is “skepticism.” Just like last week, Jesus was addressing Pharisees, which tend to be more liberal for the 1st century world and more conservative today, about hypocrisy. Both liberals and conservatives can be hypocritical and skeptical.

The Sadducees use a story based off a law in the Old Testament that says when the husband of a woman dies before she has had children, she is to be given to the person’s brother so that the dead brother will still have an heir to pass along his inheritance. In a sense, this law is about leaving a legacy on this earth.

The Sadducees ask the question, “What happens if this woman has seven husbands, who will she be married to in God’s kingdom after the ressurection? I am sure this question stumped many people in Jesus’ day. I can see how this story might stump us even today. When we talked about people in heaven, we usually think they are rejoined to their family. If they have multiple spouses, who will they be married to in heaven?

After Jesus tells them that they mess up because they do not know the Bible or know about the power of God, he tells them that heaven will not be like this life. People will not be married, but they will be life angles. He then defends the position of the ressurection using the first five books of the Bible. He says that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jesus points out that he is “presently” their God. That while they have died, he is their God know because they are alive.
Skepticism of the Bible

I want to go back and look at verse 29. Jesus first tells the Sadducees that they are in error because they do not know the Scriptures. The Sadducees were skeptical of the teaching about ressurection partly because they refused to be open to the idea even when they saw it in the pages of the Bible.

Today there is a philosophy that says everything is false unless it can be proven. Sadly we have all too often adopted this means of interpreting the Bible. We approach the Bible as if it is a hypothesis to be proven or disproven rather than a story to be ready that still has meaning for our lives today.

In the 18th century Bible Scholars began looking in the Bible to figure out who wrote which books and what dates these books were written. Initially I think this was a good thing, but it went from this to determining which material was original which ones were not. Then we began examining stories in the bible to see if they matched up with what we know about science and suddenly the Bible lost some of its meaning.

I think Jesus would begin to approach this skepticism by saying that we are mistreating the Bible. Instead of judging the Bible for whether or not it is true by our standards, we ought to allow the Bible to judge us by its standards.

Skepticism of God

Jesus also in verse 29 says that the Sadducees did not believe in the power of God. There whole story rest upon interpreting God on the basis of human possibilities. The Sadducees understood how things worked in the world they lived in. They knew what was humanly possible and what wasn’t, but they failed to grasp what things were possible through God.
Someone asked me one time how I could believe all the miracle stories in the Bible. They wondered how I could think that Jesus walked on water or took fives loaves of bread and fed 5,000 people. They asked me how Jesus could have really healed someone who was blind or paralyzed. They wonder how a person could be died and then come back to life. The answer for me is simple. If I believe that God exists and created this world from nothing, it is not hard to believe he could raise the dead. If he raised Jesus to life after he died, it is not too much of a stretch to believe that God could heal the sick and walk on water. I believe God is all powerful.

God’s Power in Our Own Life

The problem I run into does not believe in the Bible or in the miracle stories. I believe in both those things. My problem is believing that God is all powerful over my own life. While I sometimes accuse my liberal friends of being too skeptical about the Bible and such, I fail to believe he can and will work in my life.After I found out Melanie was pregnant I was so worried about her health and the baby’s health. I remember sitting in my office praying for God to please let everything be OK. God reminded me of a time in my life when I would totally trust God to work things out in my life. Those were the days. I then tried to remember why I had abandoned this child like faith. I realized that when one thing in my life did not go as I had wanted it to, I had stopped thinking that God would work in my life. I became skeptical. That day in my office, I agreed to trust God in my own life and believe in God’s power. I am sure I will have moments when things don’t go according to plan, but I will believe that God power is greater than any obstacle. I am going to believe that God’s power is greater than any trial. I am going to believe that

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