A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on August 12, 2012.

Matthew 22:23-33

Morning Prayer:

Our Father, we confess that we have spent much time looking for you.  We have looked for you in tragedy in order that we might find some mysterious purpose that you have for us.  We have looked for you in relationships in the hope that we might learn about you in the way that someone else loves us.  We have looked for you in joy that we might offer thanks for your bounty towards us, and we confess that we have looked for you in moments of despair, wondering if we ever again might be warmed by the light of your presence.  Teach us how to be found by you.  Teach us how to open our hearts to your presence and how to trust your everlasting arms even when we do not see them.  Teach us how we might recognize your work in the world and how we might be touched by your spirit.  O God, when we cannot find you, we trust that indeed you have already found and are loving us.  Speak to us.  Call to us from scripture.  Send your spirit upon us that your word would not simply be leather and red letter but life, and that it might be the measure by which we hear your voice.  Inspire our hearts to perceive even as you inspired Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, and all the others to write.  Teach us to open ourselves to the power of your word so that our very lives might change and that our hope would always be secure.  Speak to us from this word.  In Christ’s name we pray.  Amen. 

Meditation Text:

      (The Bible) is a big book, full of big stories with big characters.  They have big ideas (not least about themselves) and make big mistakes.  It’s about God and greed and grace; about life, lust, laughter, and loneliness.  It’s about birth, beginnings, and betrayal; about siblings, squabbles, and sex; about power and prayer and prison and passion.  And that’s only Genesis.            

                                           —N. T. Wright in Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

What could the power of God do for you?  If you could channel it into your life and could somehow bring it to bear on those issues, problems, and circumstances of the day, what could the power of God do in your life?  What good would it do? 

Perhaps it might provide wisdom to rise above current problems.  Have you ever noticed how much effort and energy we spend sometimes on a given problem?  It seems that we can never find a new, different, or creative way to deal with it and we just keep running the same efforts at the problem as we have run at it before and we keep getting the same results.  What if the power of God could come into our lives and inspire our wisdom and our creativity and give us a new insight so that we might take on this problem in a new way?  What could the power of God do for you?

What if there is ongoing challenge in your life?  Sometimes I think the soul is like a muscle.  You use it and you use it and you use it, and finally it is just worn out.  You are just too tired.  The soul has been working on these things and we feel as if we have come to the end of our own strength.  Could the power of God re-enforce our strength?  Could it be like an extra hand that lifts us up?  When our soul has passed muscle-fatigue level, could it lift us up and help us do something that we no longer feel that we can face?  Could it put hope back into our hearts?  Could it push back the shadows of darkness that seem to fall across the path where we cannot see our way forward?  What could the power of God do for each of us in our lives if we could have it?

Hopefully, we are past most of the immature answers or illusions of things that we would like the power of God to do.  Somewhere along the way, we have a vision that if we could get the power of God and the right spiritual gifts, we could really wow people or be powerful, popular, or wealthy.  Hopefully, we are past those.  For all the things that really matter in our lives, what could the power of God do for us?

I often hear, What does this passage of scripture have to do with what you are going to talk about today? so let me tell you.  Jesus has come to Jerusalem and Jerusalem is the center of religious life in First Century Palestine.  At the center of religious political power are the Sadducees.  The Sadducees are a fairly narrow group in number and a fairly narrow group in their outlook on life.  They only take seriously the first five books of the Old Testament—the Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  That’s it.  They pay no attention to the Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah or Jeremiah—only to the first five books.  Consequently, because in their minds there is no mention of the resurrection in the first five books, they (as opposed to the Pharisees) do not believe in the resurrection and Matthew tells us this as they come to Jesus. 

They have a riddle that they have prepared for Jesus.  They think it is a really good one.   So they say, “Now, teacher, since you are so smart, just say a man marries a woman and he dies without child and Moses says that his younger brother would take her for a wife.  There are seven brothers.  Each one dies and the woman is married to each one in succession, and then she dies.  Tell us, O Wise One, whose wife will she be in the resurrection because they all had her.”

This is really a property rights question.  In our world, we think it is a relationship question, but because of the way customs were then, all of the men had possessed her so who gets to own her when they come to the resurrection?  If you wanted to think of it in terms of relationships, she could not be wife to all of them.

Jesus says, “You do not know the scriptures or the power of God.”  

Then he goes on to tell them a word about resurrection, and you miss this if you don’t understand they only believe the first five books of the Bible.  Jesus quotes from Exodus, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  I am the God of the living, not of the dead.  You make a mistake because you do not know the scriptures and you do not know the power of God.”

The language would allow this to be two different things.  It could be, “You don’t know calculus and you don’t know Russian.”  It is two different things.  But most likely, it is one thing because of the other.  “You don’t know the scriptures and, therefore, you don’t know the power of God.”  The power of God is there for the asking, the understanding, and the receiving if you knew the scriptures.  We know this is true if we look at several different experiences in our lives.  The word of God—the Scriptures—is the power of God.

If you look back across the last century or so, every totalitarian nation that there has been has put down the Bible and considered it an opiate for the people, a fairy tale, etc., but at the same time, they are collecting all the Bibles, banning them, and burning them.  If it is a fairy tale and merely an opiate, what are they so afraid of?  What are they scared of?

If you go all the way back to England in the 15th and 16th Centuries, people who translated the Bible into English so that the common person did not have to try to read it in Hebrew, Greek or Latin, met some of the most hideous deaths because the kings and queens had them executed for giving people the Bible.  Why is somebody afraid of people getting the Bible?  If you pick up the Bible and read something as simple as, “Jesus Christ is Lord,” then that means that all other kings and everyone else who sits on a throne are not the people who get our ultimate allegiance in life, and the Bible becomes a very subversive book.

If you are in a totalitarian state and you want people to only look to the government and state for their lives and livelihood and you read in the Bible, “We do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” suddenly people have access to something that gives them life that the state has no control over and people become very afraid.  They don’t want people to have that kind of power, hope, word, and resource.  So they ban it and burn it.

Do you realize there are approximately 50 nations in the world today where it is as dangerous to smuggle Bibles into the nation as it is to smuggle drugs or foreign currency?  You can take for yourself any of these things.  You can take enough American dollars, enough of your prescription that is in the appropriate container, and your own personal Bible, but if you try to take prescription drugs to distribute, a large amount of currency to give away, or extra Bibles to distribute, in approximately 50 countries around the world today, you can get arrested and potentially executed.  The Bible, the scriptures, and the word of God are as dangerous as people having access to money and it is as dangerous as drugs given away in an improper way.  The Bible is a very dangerous book to people who want to keep control.  The Bible is such a hopeful and helpful book because, from it, we hear the very voice of God speak to us. 

We don’t need history, newspaper headlines or current events because we know from our own experiences that we have picked it up and turned a page and it has hit us right between the eyes.  We have been challenged by something and have read something that will not let us live the same way that we did once before.  We know in our own experience that there is something about this book that is different from other books.  There is power in it, and if we knew the scriptures we would indeed know the power of God.

This is the power of God.  It convicts us of sin.  It calls us to a higher level of living.  I don’t know who first said it, but it is a great line:  “It afflicts us when we are comfortable, and it comforts us when we are afflicted.” 

We run into people of other faiths, and they know their book better.  We walk away from that and we think, I really need to know the Bible better.  We are able to understand that what they are able to quote gives them a leverage on us that if we just knew the Bible that well, we know that we could be better witnesses for Christ.  We know that the power could somehow be brought to bear on the issues of life that are most important to us.

There is so much here that is available everyday that we don’t pay attention to.  Sometimes we think the words sound trite and other times we hear them and we recognize what peace they bring.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.  He leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul.  He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his namesake.  Yet, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.  Thou anointest my head with oil.  My cup runneth over.  Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”[1]

On a day when we are so sure that we are good enough to save ourselves, we open up the Bible and we hear Jesus say this:  “O generation of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak good things?  For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.  A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.  But I say to you that every idle word that you speak, for that you shall give account thereof on the day of judgment.  For by thy words, thy shall be justified and by thy words, thy shall be condemned.”[2]  We know we need grace and hope. 

“There is a day coming when God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.”[3]

Chances are, you are familiar with all three of these passages.  What if we really knew them?  What if we could find them, quote them, and at least have access to them, and not only these but others for all the circumstances?  If we knew the scriptures, would we not know the power of God?

Most sermons like this usually end with:  You really ought to read the Bible.  Let me put it this way:  We all could read our Bible.  We all could study the scriptures.  We all could know the power of God.

[1] Psalm 23

[2] Matthew 12:34-37

[3] Revelation 21:4-5

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