“The Scriptures, nor the Power of God”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
This world takes the Bible for granted, failing to appreciate it for what it really is. It’s always there, always available, easy for us to access, carried around in our pockets in the form of smartphone apps so that it creates not the slightest inconvenience, in this day and age, to have God’s Word with us no matter the location, no matter the time, no matter the occasion, basically for free.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when you’d have had to buy a Bible, in order to have access to God’s Word. At least they were cheap. Not so long before that, they were expensive family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Before that, they weren’t available to the common people, being held securely by Catholic clergy—and in Latin. They were generally fastened to pulpits with actual chains, and for a long time, in many places, possessing and even reading the Bible in private was banned by the Catholic church.
None of that rises to the level of difficulty Christians faced before that, however, because in the early 4th century AD, the Roman emperor Diocletian mandated the destruction of all Christian Scriptures in the midst of his efforts to eliminate Christianity. Even before that, while the church was flying under Rome’s radar, the Scriptures were scarce, difficult to come by, difficult to replicate, and treasured deeply. This scarcity didn’t cripple the attempts to spread the Gospel, though. The church spread rapidly, even though it was persecuted, and even though its foundational texts were scarce.
This followed a period of what Amos called a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord.” In that time, he said,
They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8.12)
We have no such shortage. In fact, we have an abundance. Yet, how much do we appreciate it? We’d miss it, if it disappeared, as with other things we take for granted, but it’s all too easy to ignore it, while it’s in front of our faces.
The Jews in the 1st century were in a situation fairly similar to ours, in which centuries of a culture that enormously valued God’s word had led to an astonishing availability of the Old Testament texts, as well as a literate society encouraged to read, as well as memorize, vast portions of the Law, Prophets, and Writings. Many of them kept those traditions; but many others thought of them as antiquated, excessive, and unnecessary. The religious-political sect called the Sadducees fell into this latter category.
On one occasion, some of these fellows tried to trip Jesus up, by presenting a hypothetical case to be adjudicated:
The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” (Mt 22.23-28)
It’s quite a conundrum, especially because we’re just not accustomed to this sort of law, and struggle to see the rationale behind it. But Jesus’ answer is beautifully simple:
“You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” (Mt 22.29-32)
His argument hinges on the tense of a verb. God said, “I am the God of Abraham,” not “I was the God of Abraham,” and Jesus says that this implies Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob aren’t forever gone, not annihilated in the sense that the Sadducees thought. This wasn’t exactly an obscure reference, it’s from Exodus 3, when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. We teach that story to little kids. But these people hadn’t paid attention to the details, and were thus led astray. They didn’t know the Scriptures, or the power of God.
How in the world could they attain resurrection and heaven, without believing they existed? They had the tools, of course, and they thought they had the answers. But although they had easy access to the Scriptures, they didn’t make use of them. They didn’t study them. They didn’t take them as seriously as they should have. They believed they already knew the whole truth, and missed out on God’s plan as a result.
Today, we have even better access to the Scriptures than the Sadducees did, and on top of that, the New Testament, in general, speaks much more clearly about things like resurrection and final judgment. God has made it easier for us than ever before to learn and understand his word and his will. But it still requires effort on our part. In order to do his will, we need to know what his will is. In order to know what his will is, we’re going to have read what he said.