Posted on September 10, 2014
#70: Are You Spiritually Fit?
Body builders are disciplined people. I have sons and brothers-in-law and friends who push themselves to work out each day, refusing to skip a day. They know how difficult it is to re-establish a routine if they let the daily habit slip. They want to be strong and well-conditioned, so they push themselves to do what’s necessary for top fitness. It takes resolve. But the results are worth the effort.
We can learn a lot from them about spiritual strength and fitness. How can we build ourselves up in our faith, protect ourselves from wrong thinking, and enable ourselves to encourage and support each other? Jesus gives a clue in today’s verses from Mark’s gospel.
Read Mark 12:18-27, and the same account as recorded in Matthew 22:23-33.
The Sadducees were a small but powerful Jewish sect who favored friendly relations with Rome (the nation that ruled over the Jews). Some of them had just heard Jesus confirm that paying taxes to Rome’s Caesar was a proper thing to do (Mk. 12:17)—a position they agreed with. Now they came seeking His approval for another cherished belief.
The Sadducees didn’t believe in spirit beings like angels or demons, nor in an afterlife. With no stakes in heaven or hell, no promise of eternal reward or threat of eternal punishment, their religion was bland. In their view, this life—and the law of Moses that taught how to live it—was all there was. They saw the Pharisees’ long list of do’s and don’ts as a waste of energy, and constantly battled their religious rivals. If they could get Jesus’ agreement that the idea of an eternal existence was impractical, His vast following might be swayed in their direction. So they brought to Jesus a hypothetical (and highly unlikely) situation.
The law of Moses endorsed a custom called Levirate marriage* (in Deuteronomy 25:5-6), when a man would marry his brother’s widow, then father a son in his dead brother’s name. This would ensure that
• the deceased brother’s name would “not be blotted out from Israel” (Deut. 25:6)
• the widow’s property would have an heir
• the widow would have someone to take care of her in her old age.
Referring to this practice, some Sadducees quizzed Jesus, “Suppose a woman’s husband died, leaving her without children. Then suppose, one after another, she married her husband’s six brothers, each of whom died childless. Then she died. In the afterlife, whose wife will she be?” (An odd question from men who didn’t believe in an afterlife, wasn’t it?)
This was probably one of many moments when Jesus heaved a sigh of frustration. Then He skillfully destroyed their case in three parts:
• First, the reason for their wrong thinking. Their error stemmed from a lack of scriptural insight and from their ignorance about the power of God.
• Second, the marriage issue. “When the dead rise, marriage won’t be a factor. They’ll be like the angels, neither marrying nor being given in marriage.” (Note, Jesus didn’t say they’d be angels—He said they’d be like angels in this aspect.)
• And third, the concept of an afterlife. “Haven’t you read in your beloved books of Moses how God said to Moses, ‘I AM the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’? He’s not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
Then He finished with, “You are badly mistaken!”
Jesus pinned the Sadducees error on two factors: they didn’t know the scriptures or the power of God—deficits still at the root of wrong thinking today. Simple logic tells us, then, that we can protect ourselves from error by knowing the Word and knowing the power of God.
This knowledge isn’t just factual—the kind that could win a Bible trivia game—though that type of knowledge is a good foundation. This knowledge provides experiential evidence that supports our faith. (Check out the encouragement in 2 Peter 1:5-8 to add to our faith, knowledge.) It’s based on personal interaction with a great and powerful God. It’s mature, well-developed, confident insight—the ability to see things rightly based on what you’ve learned. In fact, the word Jesus used for “know” (oida) in His comments to the Sadducees is kin to a Greek word for “see” (eidon). Over time, we become discerning, able to see what’s best (Philippians 1:9-11), and able to avoid what’s detrimental.
When you spend time studying the Word of God, when you journal His goodnesses in your life, when you review His power at work in the lives of people of faith (in the Bible’s pages and today), when you acknowledge His answers to your prayers, you strengthen yourself against deception. These activities amount to a spiritual workout. Though challenging to start and build into a routine, they’re a premier activity for a Christian. The results are worth the effort.
Do you want to be spiritually fit? to strengthen the muscles of your faith? to know the scriptures and the power of God? Make a daily commitment to learn from the Word and to watch for, and really see, God’s power.
* A little extra about the custom of Levirate marriage from the ancestors of Jesus. . . . This custom actually preceded the Law. One pre-law example was Tamar, who married Judah’s son Er. When Er died without an heir, Tamar was given in marriage to the second son of Judah, Onan, who also died childless. By rights, she should’ve then been married to Judah’s third son—but because Judah feared that he might lose another son due to what we might call a “black widow effect”, he stalled. So Tamar took matters into her own hands in a story packed with drama and intrigue. You can read it in Genesis 38!
This same custom was called into play when Boaz wanted to marry Ruth, but had to defer to one more closely related—called a kinsman-redeemer. When that man relinquished his right to marry Ruth (and at the same time his right to any property Ruth owned), Boaz happily married her (Ruth 3:1-12).
Judah, Tamar, Boaz and Ruth are all members of the human ancestry of Jesus.
© Diane McLoud 2014