Christianity 201

November 10, 2016

When Jesus Meets Skeptical Minds . . .

pharisees-and-sadducees

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.


Clarke Dixon is a pastor with Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec. Read today’s entry at source at this link.

June 19, 2015

When It Doesn’t Make Sense

In theory at least, collecting and preparing these C201 pieces constitutes my own personal devotional and Bible study time; but on the days when some devos have been pre-scheduled I still need something just for that day. My own default devotions come from DailyEncouragement.net, in fact I try to make that the first website I click on when the computer is warmed up.

Today’s thoughts appeared this week at the site in a longer version. Click the title below if you want to read it there.

“When It Just Doesn’t Make Sense”

ListenListen to this message on your audio player.

“Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2).

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).

…Years ago Dr. James Dobson wrote a book titled, “When God Doesn’t Make Sense”. That’s sort of a titillating title, but for many of us it does express well our own experience in the mysteries of God’s providence.

Sometimes circumstances are very personal for our family and close friends. Virtually all of our readers can scroll back through their memory and recall such a time. My first exposure was as a child when one of my cousin’s was in an accident and his wife died. I so poignantly recall my grandfather wailing. But there have been many “It Just Doesn’t Make Sense” experiences since then and of course in regard to our pastoral and chaplaincy ministry we console frequently those going through various traumatic situations when it just doesn’t make sense.

The most recent national news that is senseless is the mass murder of six women and three men during a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina [Wednesday] night. The gunman came in and sat down among the congregational members. Those of us who attend church are always welcoming to a visitor, but we would never expect that visitor to draw a gun and randomly shoot those who are there to worship Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

People, at any given time, are experiencing a heartache of some type that just doesn’t make sense. Due to the size of our planet many never make the news or at most only the local news. I’m so glad there’s a newsline to heaven not just at the instant the news takes place but even before we are to experience it.

For many, events like this either becomes a crisis of faith (for believers) or an excuse not to believe (for unbelievers).

Consider Stephen who stood boldly for Christ and was stoned. Afterwards, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2). Have you ever really pondered this verse? Surely the emotions were no less intense for them than they are for us in our losses. To “mourn deeply” has the sense of great lamentation. The literal Greek meaning is “to beat the breast in grief”.  Did they “understand” any better than we do? Surely they did not.

Consider John the Baptist.  He was specially called to serve God from his very conception. He had prepared the way for and even baptized Jesus.  He had taken a bold stand for truth and righteousness before an ungodly king and was beheaded as a result.  Consider his disciples. They had the grisly chore of taking his body and burying it.  What were they thinking?  What a great test of faith they endured. Surely, like us, they wondered, “Why did God allow this to happen?”

Above all, consider the Lord Jesus Christ, who endured such opposition from sinful men and murdered on our behalf.

Some of you have experienced great loss in your life.  I myself have had some deep hurts and disappointments in life that I still simply don’t understand. The life of faith is tested, sometimes greatly.  Jesus forthrightly told us, “in the world you will have tribulation” although we are generally surprised when we do experience tribulation!

But at times of tribulation like this, faith is also demonstrated in such a powerful way. I saw a news report concerning the first Sunday the church in Reading gathered after the accident that killed their pastor’s wife and seriously injured their pastor. Already some amazing things are happening in the aftermath of this tragedy, although perhaps not reported beyond our area as the “newsworthiness” of the event passes.

Today, may those of you impacted by situations that “make no sense” find great peace in these words from the apostle Paul, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4).  He is indeed “the God of all comfort.”

Finally let us again recall the great statement of assurance many of us have memorized in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” In some cases we’ll just have to wait for the other side to see how it works for the good. Through it all, let us stay faithful and have a rich assurance of God’s steadfast love!

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

 

October 18, 2012

The Serpent’s Words Still Echo

This summer I met Clarke Dixon who is a new pastor in our community. He blogs at Pastor Clarke’s Sermon Tidbits, where I found this under the title,  Genesis 3 and The End of a Golden Era

Golden Era is a time we look back upon with fondness, a time we think of as having something special about it. We might think of the golden era of cars, which for me would be the 1980s as I could still do my own oil changes on the cars I owned from that era. Since those cars I have not even been able to find the oil filters never mind change them. And we might think of the golden era for music.  Eighties again with bands like U2, and REM, and other bands I could easily spell. As for the Bible, there is no doubt that Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are a golden era. In those good ole days God “saw that it was good.” Also, Adam was over the moon about his new partner Eve and both of them could enjoy a full relationship with God. All is good. But it didn’t last very long. In fact in my edition of the Bible there are 1048 pages and the golden era is done by page 3! So what went wrong?

We might jump to the conclusion that everything went wrong when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit and that this is primarily a matter of obedience. However things began to unravel before that and in fact the disobedience was a symptom of a bigger problem. What is the root problem? Let’s look at where it all starts going wrong:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”  2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,  3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”  (Genesis 3:1,2 NIV)

You can’t hear the serpent’s tone but you can imagine it: “Did God really say . . ?” I imagine the tone to be one that sows ominous seeds. It is a bit like my Dad’s complaint about how the Irish (which includes my Mum, my brother and I) will ask a question while giving the answer they want to hear: “you don’t really want to do that, do you?” On the lips of the serpent to Eve, “Surely God didn’t say something as silly as that, did he?” The seeds of doubt are sown. Eve corrects the snake somewhat, but then comes the punchline:

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman.  5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:1-5 NIV)

The seeds of doubt give way to a blooming assault on trust.  The serpent’s words may as well be “God is a liar, listen to me for I know better.” This is not merely a matter of obedience, this is primarily a matter of trust as Eve and Adam end up placing their trust in the serpent rather than God. Not only that but Eve trusts her own judgement, and Adam likewise, over God’s:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  (Genesis 3:6)

We live in a time and place where the serpent’s words are like an echo that keeps coming back like a broken record (did I mention record players and the golden era of musical gadgets?); “God didn’t really say that, did he? God doesn’t really even exist, does he? You don’t really believe that, do you? Your religion is full of fools who are lying to you, trust us.” Seeds of doubt in previous generations have given way to a blooming assault on trust in our day. How must we cope as we see the core problem of the fall in Genesis 3, misplaced trust, replayed over and over again in our day? Two things:

  1. Training in apologetics. With Adam and Eve the problem was not merely that they stopped trusting God, but rather that they placed greater trust in the serpent and in their own ideas. And so today, I don’t think the problem is that people stop trusting God, or fail to place their trust in God, so much as they place greater trust elsewhere. Experts say this and that about such and such, and “we trust that, end of story”. However, there are many wonderful experts who have much to say about the same things from a Christian perspective and who evidence a wonderful trust in God. We do well to learn this stuff! There are many great resources for apologetics available, we might even call it a golden era of apologetics (email me for recommendations if you like).
  2. Follow Jesus. Just as there was a temptation at the beginning of humanity, there was a temptation at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. If you take a moment to read Luke 4:1-13 you will see something remarkable. With every temptation Jesus responds to the devil with “it is written” and a quotation from the Old Testament. “Actually, what God says is . . .” and Jesus begins his ministry with a complete trust and confidence in the Father.

As we live in such a skeptical society as ours, assaulting trust on every side as if we are somehow stuck in Genesis 3, let us commit to being more knowledgeable Christians who follow Jesus closely. And remember, by the grace of God the golden era is ahead of us!

April 11, 2011

Laura Story: Blessings

The worship song, and the story behind it:

We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love is way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long we’d have faith to believe

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not our home

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
What if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise

The story behind the song:

There’s also an “official” video of this story available at this link.

Now that you know the story, click and listen to the song one more time.