by Clarke Dixon
“Get over your skepticism and just have faith.” This might be what we would have expected Jesus to say to the Sadducees regarding their disbelief. They had come to him with an intellectual challenge to the prevalent Jewish belief that the dead would someday be raised to life. They were very conservative in their thinking, preferring the scriptures handed down from Moses, and not paying attention to the revolutionary “wishful thinking” of the later prophets and writers. Moses, they figured, did not have much to say about a resurrection of the dead. So an intellectual challenge is issued to Jesus. What does Jesus say? “Get over your skepticism and just have faith”? Actually, no. Since this might be something we are tempted to say today to someone who demonstrates a skepticism toward Jesus, we should really pay attention to what he does say.
Before we do, let us recognize that skepticism is a necessary and important gift. We all ought to be skeptics. In fact we all tend to be. For example, if I were to tell you that you can fly and that all you need to do is run down the middle of the street shouting “I can fly! I can fly!” would you? Of course not. Why not? Because you are a skeptical person and your skepticism has kept you from doing something foolish. Skepticism often keeps us safe from physical harm, not to mention from delusion and the potential for intellectual harm. A skeptical mind is a gift.
So what does Jesus say instead?
24 Jesus said to them, “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Mark 12:24 (NRSV)
According to Jesus, the Sadducees do not have a skepticism problem, they have a knowledge problem. Specifically, they do not know the scriptures or the power of God. This gives us some important insight as to why people reject Jesus today. A skeptical mind may not be the problem. Let’s take a closer look.
The Sadducees do not know the scriptures. As the Sadducees revere the writings from Moses more than any other, Jesus asks them to consider what God said to Moses at the burning bush where God first revealed Himself to Moses:
26 And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the story about the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is God not of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” Mark 12:26-27 (NRSV)
God did not say “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before they turned back to dust,” but rather “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” that is, “I still am. . . “ So they have not disappeared never to be seen again as the Sadducees assume. Jesus is telling the Sadducees that with their assumptions in place they are not doing a very good job of reading the scriptures. This kind of thing can be said today. There are people who have rejected Jesus because they have not handled the scriptures very well.
Consider, as one example, a common objection I hear to Christianity: “Where did Cain’s wife come from?” A good question, but when you know the scriptures, the wrong question. Consider what we learn from Genesis:
- Chapters 1 and 2 – God created everything including humanity which he marked out for a special relationship.
- Chapter 3 – Humanity sinned, breaking that relationship.
- Chapters 4 through 11 – Though God would have been right to, He has not shut the door on humanity.
- Chapter 12 – God has a plan to bless humanity and it will be worked through a special people.
- Chapters 13 through 50 – Hang on, this plan may take a while, but God is involved along the way!
Through Genesis God has communicated exactly the things we need to know. As the Bible says about itself elsewhere, the scriptures “are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2nd Timothy 3:15 NRSV). To expect God to tell us everything and to expect Genesis to read like some super-sized cosmic Twitter feed is to not know the scriptures.
Additionally, many have rejected Jesus without knowing much at all about Him. Many think they have rejected Jesus when they have rejected a caricature of Jesus. This is not skepticism, but a lack of knowledge, specifically, knowledge of the scriptures. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing the scriptures.
The Sadducees do not know the power of God. They are stuck in the rut of “we have seen people die and turn to dust.” They do not know the amazing things God can do with dust. Their minds are not open to the activity and potential activity of God the Creator. Again, the problem is not with skepticism, but with knowledge. There are people today who reject Jesus, not because they have skeptical minds, but because they don’t know the power of God; Virgin birth? Impossible! The resurrection of the dead? Can’t happen! A genuine record of revelation? How could we ever trust it hasn’t changed? But if God, Who created everything from nothing, exists, then then these things are possible. Consider the love of God and these things become more than mere possibilities. Keep in mind that no one has ever given good evidence that God does not exist. And of course miracles are a matter of history, not science. When we encounter deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root problem, but rather a lack of knowing, or being open to, the power of God.
There is something else here which Jesus does not say, but which is implied.
The Sadducees do not know the thrill of a Jesus revolution. The Sadducees do not know the power of God to make the dead live, but they do know the power of Rome to make the living dead. They like the Status quo of Roman power, in fact a revolution could threaten their own power. And here is another reason people reject Jesus; they are not ready for a revolution. A God honouring, Jesus following, Spirit filled life is revolutionary. Anyone can sin. It takes courage to be righteous. Anyone can follow the crowd along a broad path. It takes courage to think different and stay on a narrow path. Anyone can live the status quo. It takes decisiveness to make a change. While most parents hope and pray their teenagers are not rebellious, I hope and pray that mine are. Jesus loving teenagers are the most rebellious and courageous teenagers out there today. When we encounter a deep skepticism toward Christianity, a skeptical mind may not be the root of the problem, but fear of a revolution.
In not knowing the scriptures, the power of God, and the thrill of a revolution,
The Sadducees also miss out on knowing the love of God. The resurrection of the dead will not just be a display of the power of God in fulfillment of the promises of scripture. It will also be a display of the amazing love of God. We do not want anyone to miss out on that love so we will want to always be ready to point people to Jesus. When we encounter skepticism our role is not to tell people to stop thinking and just have faith. Our role is to help people know the scriptures, the power of God, and the necessity and thrill of the revolution, and so to point them to the love of God.