Monday, February 22, 2016

When the Truth Confronts You

No one likes to be told or shown that they are wrong. No one. Most of us are quite happy to grasp onto our beliefs despite argument to the contrary. Even if we are confronted with strong evidence that our stated positions are lacking, we will end any sort of debate or conversation with the be all and end all phrase, "Well, we are just going to have to agree to disagree." Such a statement is fine if you are simply disagreeing about an opinion. I mean we can agree to disagree that chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla ice cream or that pepperoni pizza is better than cheese pizza, but when it comes to matters of deep substance, when it comes to matters of truth, we can’t simply agree to disagree. We must have the courage to argue; to debate; to wrestle; and to even change our minds when presented with evidence that we are wrong.

As Christians, this is particularly so because it follows the nature and teaching of our founder, Jesus. Jesus was not an "agree to disagree" kind of guy. Nowhere in the Gospels do you see Him acquiescing to a point of view that is different by simply agreeing and letting that viewpoint go unchecked. Jesus entered into the dialogue, defined His position–which was God’s position, and then pointed out the error of the other view. It cost Him to be less likeable among certain groups, but it also won Him the admiration of many who saw that He was both impartial and consistent as He taught and proclaimed God’s Kingdom. Today’s Gospel lesson is a perfect piece of evidence showing Jesus’ confrontational nature when it comes to matters of Truth.

Let’s set the context once again as we turn to this encounter between Jesus and the Sadducees. Remember, Jesus had entered into Jerusalem with all the markings of the coming Messiah. He cleansed the Temple pointing out how the Sanhedrin or Jewish Religious High Court had used the Temple for their own selfish purposes instead of using it as a place where all the people of the world were intended to worship. The Sanhedrin took objection to Jesus’ actions and wanted to arrest Him and kill Him, but they could not because Jesus had endeared Himself to the crowds. Arresting Jesus without pretense would have caused a riot amongst the people causing the Romans to intervene thereby causing the Sanhedrin to lose their standing both in the crowd’s eye and in the Romans’ eye. Therefore, they had to discredit Jesus and turn the crowd against Him or show that Jesus was a threat to Rome. Last week, the Herodians and Pharisees took their shot with a question about taxes. This week, the Sadducees throw Jesus a religious curve ball.

Now, unlike the Pharisees and Herodians, the question the Sadducees throw at Jesus is not a life or death question. No one is going to kill Jesus or arrest Jesus based upon Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection. The Sadducees are trying to discredit Jesus by making Him look stupid. Little do they know the consequences that will befall them.

Mark tells us the Sadducees–who do not believe in the resurrection come to Jesus. Now, let me take just a moment to explain why this detail is important. You see, Judaism during the time of Jesus was not a united religion. There were many different groups vying for the heart of the populace. There were Pharisees, there were Sadducees, there were Zealots, there were Esseens, there were Herodians, and so on and so forth. Each of these groups practiced the Jewish faith a little different from the others. Each had various authorities they cited to bolster their positions. All of them agreed on the basic tenets of Judaism, but there were other things they disagreed about vehemently. The resurrection was one of them. Most Jews at the time believed that in the future, God would indeed resurrect those who had died as part of establishing the Messianic kingdom. They gleaned their beliefs from portions of the Psalms, Ezekiel, and the book of Daniel. However, the Sadducees did not buy these arguments. The Sadducees were convinced only by the authority of the Torah–the first five books of the Old Testament. If it could not be found in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy, then it was human ideal and not to be trusted.

The Sadducees were convinced there were no referents to the resurrection in the Torah despite many arguments from the Pharisees to the contrary. The Sadducees were convinced that all of the Pharisaical arguments fell short, and they felt confident that they could show how stupid the belief in the resurrection was. They attempted to use that argument on Jesus.

"Teacher," they said, "Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. 20There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left no children; 21and the second married her and died, leaving no children; and the third likewise; 22none of the seven left children. Last of all the woman herself died. 23In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had married her."

Now, my initial answer to this line of thought would be, "What in the world was that woman putting into her cooking?" I mean, honestly, if I were like the fourth or fifth brother in line, I would have been like, "Uh, no thank you. I would rather take the chance of enduring God’s wrath than marrying her!!" But, perhaps this is beside the point.

The point the Sadducees are trying to get across is a point based in the Torah which God was offering both protection for a woman and protection for the blood line of a family. There are certain stipulations that surround this law in the Old Testament, and should you like to delve into it further, you can read about it in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. We will not do that now. What we will do now is follow the train of thought of the Sadducees. They are basically trying to show the absurdity of this scenario. If the resurrection is real, and if we are married to our spouse in the resurrection, then this woman will have seven husbands. There is no allowance in the Torah for a woman to have seven husbands, therefore the resurrection will not happen.

Jesus responds rather harshly and with a great deal of confrontation, "Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?" I want you to stop right there for just a moment and contemplate Jesus’ words. I mean, really just let that sentence sink in for just a moment. How in the world would you feel if someone asked you that question? Don’t you know you are wrong because you neither know the scriptures or the power of God? Jesus cuts the Sadducees to the heart because they prided themselves in knowing the Scriptures. They prided themselves in knowing about the power of God, but Jesus says they are ignorant of both, and He does so in two ways.

First, Jesus challenges their premise about being married in the resurrection: "25For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." Now, some of you might be looking at your spouse right now and thinking, "What? I won’t be married to her in heaven? That’s not what I want!" I am sorry to break the news to you. In the resurrection, there will be no need for marriage. We will indeed recognize one another. We will be overjoyed to see one another, but we are entering into a totally different reality. Angels don’t need to marry because they are totally and completely satisfied by the love of God. We will be like that, Jesus says thus nullifying the Sadducees premise and their logic.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there; He continues on with point number two: and as to the resurrection–whether or not it will take place. Jesus points out a critical text in the Torah. It is when God reveals Himself to Moses in the burning bush. God tells Moses, "I AM the God of Abraham. I AM the God of Isaac. I AM the God of Jacob." God does not say, "I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." No, God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And then Jesus makes another appeal to a belief held by every religious group, "God is the God of the living and not of the dead." If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not to be raised; if they had ceased to exist, then God would not have spoken as if He were still their God! Jesus points this out to the Sadducees, I am sure, much to their dismay.
And then Jesus drives the final nail, "You are quite wrong." "You are way off base." "You do not know what you are talking about."

Oh, imagine Jesus saying that in our cultural milieu today. Imagine Jesus confronting the various religious groups today and saying, "You’ve missed the mark. You are wrong. You don’t understand scripture or the power of God."

You know what most folks would say to Jesus? You know how they would respond?
It’s not hard. We hear the arguments all the time:
"What gives you the right to say that I am wrong?"
"What is the Truth?"
"How do you know the Truth?"
"How do you know your read of Scripture is the right one?"
"We will just have to agree to disagree.

And, of course, Jesus isn’t exactly here to defend Himself. We are. And it is we who bear the brunt of these questions. They deserve some sort of answer as well–particularly if we want to establish Jesus as our authority.

First, we must establish that there is some sort of Absolute Truth. There are some who wish to say that truth is relative or that truth does not exist, but that is an absolutely illogical position to take. How so, you might ask. First off, you cannot start with a self-refuting statement. If you say, "Truth is relative," then the statement "Truth is relative" must be absolutely true. How can that be? Or, if you say, "Truth does not exist," well, then how can the statement "Truth does not exist" be true? It can’t. There must be some sort of Objective Truth giving meaning and, well, truth to our statements.

But now comes the hard part. We can know that there is objective Truth, but we cannot know it objectively. Think about that for a minute. There is objective Truth, but we cannot know it objectively. We are dependent upon that Truth being revealed to us. This is important especially when we get into arguments of a religious nature.

For instance, in the above argument between Jesus and the Sadducees, there are two positions: the resurrection will happen or there is no resurrection. Which of these is True? We have no evidence of resurrection (at least we didn’t at the time)? The two positions are mutually exclusive. They both can be wrong. One can be right, but they cannot both be right. How does one decide? They appeal to the evidence. They appeal to what God has revealed.

As Christians, this is exactly what we do when we enter into arguments of a religious nature. We do not appeal to our own authority. We do not appeal to ourselves. We appeal to Jesus. For if Jesus is who He says He is and did what He said He did, then to use the famous catch phrase of C.S. Lewis: He is either Lord, a lunatic, or a liar.

Jesus, of course, claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed that He was laying His life down for the world. He claimed to be the ransom for many who would reconcile the world unto God. He claimed to be the I AM, God incarnate. He claimed to be the resurrection and the life. He claimed to be Lord of the world. He claimed that God sent Him into the world because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that all those who believe in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Folks may say, "Well, that’s not good enough. Just because He said these things about Himself doesn’t prove that He wasn’t a liar or that His followers turned him into something that He was not." Fair enough criticism. But let’s look at the facts because there have been a lot of people who have claimed to be a Messiah. There have been a lot of people who came along in the history including the recent history of humanity who claimed to be God. What happened to their followings? What happened to their followers after these folks died?

Historically, whenever such folks came about, they would raise a following, but when the leader died, all the followers left. No one stuck around. Not so with Jesus. Everyone thought His followers would disband. Everyone thought the things that He taught would go away. But something happened that changed all that. Something happened that showed that Jesus was who He said He was and did what He said He did. That was the resurrection. Jesus was raised from the dead. Oh, sure, there are those who scoff at the notion and say that such a thing is impossible. Might I remind you that even science cannot say that such an event is impossible–they can only say that it is highly unlikely. If you add up all of the cumulative evidence, you must admit that something happened that unexpectedly changed the fortune of the world–that transformed a movement that should have died–that initiated a movement that has now spread throughout the globe. You can’t escape it. You must wrestle with it.

And when you do; when you delve into the resurrection you come face to face with Jesus. You come face to face with the God who died for you. You come face to face with the Truth who will confront you and love you with a love too deep for words. He will tell you you are wrong; that you are a failure; that you have misread scripture and gone astray, but He will also take you into His loving arms and transform you and your life like nothing else can do. Amen.

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