Faith Among Skeptics

Daily Reading
Genesis 13 (Listen – 2:16)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

Matthew 12.6

[Jesus said,] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

“Modern philosophy has been inhospitable to the soul,” laments Alan Mittleman in the Harvard Theological Review. [1] No longer just the soul, but anything non-physical is called into question or explained as a consequence of material realities. (Love, joy, and pain are each given physical root in chemical responses.) How are we to deal with things of faith which transcend the concrete?

In some ways this isn’t just a modern problem. Timothy Keller explores a real philosophical challenge from the first century though a fictional conversation between a Roman and his Christian neighbor. Watch the disconnect between religious Roman life and Christianity, as well as the beauty of a faith which transcends the zeitgeist: 

The [Roman] neighbor says, “Oh, you’re a Christian. That’s great. I love religion, all the pageantry. That’s really wonderful. Where is your temple? 

The Christian would’ve said, “We don’t have a temple. Jesus is our temple. He has fulfilled it. He’s the final temple. We don’t need temples anymore.”

The neighbor would say, “Well, you have no temple? Where do your priests operate?

“We don’t have any priests. Jesus is our Priest. He’s the final Priest. He has put priests out of business. We don’t need any mediator. He’s the Mediator.”

“No temple? No priests? Where do you do your rituals, the things that make you acceptable to God?

“Jesus is our sacrifice, so we don’t have any more sacrifices.”

Finally, the neighbor says, “What kind of religion is this?” 

The Christian would say, “It’s no kind of religion at all, because we didn’t get a religion; we got a person. We don’t have a God so high up there we need a religion to sort of get in connection with him. ‘Come in, God. Come in.’ He came to us. He died for us. He came into our midst, and now we don’t have a religion. We have a person.”

Prayer
God we are so thankful we’re not called to earn you, but called to know you. We acknowledge that your ways are beyond ours. Give us faith to trust and knowledge to understand. We want to know you. We want to be articulate about who you are — sometimes in conditions hostile to things of faith and spirituality. Give us grace, boldness, and wisdom as we have opportunity to share who you are and what you’ve done for us.

Miracles and Parables Among Skeptics
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1]  Alan Mittleman (2014). Making the Case for the Soul in an Age of Neuroscience. Harvard Theological Review, 107, pp 485-493. | [2] Keller, T. J. The Lord of the Sabbath. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006.

Go and Learn

Daily Reading
Genesis 9-10 (Listen – 7:19)
Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)
*We’re reading and listening to the NIV this year. See why.

Matthew 9.13
[Jesus said,] “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Pharisees were liberal in their view of who could have God’s presence, says Hebrew University Historian Daniel Schwartz. [1] There was no debate among Jewish scholars in Jesus’ day that Israel had broken God’s covenant with them. The key question of their time was how the covenant could be restored — and the answer extended from theology into the reality of everyday life.

The Sadducees believed God’s presence could only reside in a certain kind of person: those born of the proper lineage and actively participating in Temple life in Jerusalem. This was a significant problem for most ancient Jews as they were spread throughout the Near East. Moving was almost always an unthinkable risk since land was life in an agrarian society. The Pharisees grew in power because they offered Jews outside of Jerusalem an alternative. In short, they believed keeping the law was the way a person’s standing with God was restored. They were fastidious about the law because it was their only hope.

The Pharisees and Sadducees each crafted a way for a person to restore their relationship with God through their own volition. The Sadducees wanted people to give up on their cities, neighborhoods, and vocations, believing God’s plan was limited to a particular culture and place. The Pharisees looked at their Scriptures like a rulebook, missing—in Jesus’ opinion—the entire point of the Scriptures.

“Go and learn” is a rabbinic phrase which means the hearer has missed something in the Scriptures and needs to study with greater attention. Jesus wasn’t a sage who commanded his followers to study the laws and do their best to conduct flawless lives. Any prophet could have done that. Jesus’ foundational claim was that he was the Son of God who came to extend God’s mercy to the world. Restoration was possible through him.

Prayer

Thank you, Father, for extending your mercy to us. Thank you that your love isn’t limited to those who obey best, or are born to the right family, or live in a particular culture. Guide us to read Scripture in such a way that leads us to be dependent on you and not on our own strength. Help us to extend your mercy to those around us in ways that lead them to you. 

This Week: Anger and Forgiveness, Miracles and Mercy
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Weekend Readings

Saturday: Genesis 11 (Listen – 3:47); Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)
Sunday: Genesis 12 (Listen – 2:50); Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)

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FAQs

How can I make a tax-deductible donation? Click here.
How can I get these devotionals in my inbox? Click here.
What is the reading plan this blog is based on? Click here.

 ___________________________________

Footnotes

[1] See Daniel Schwartz’ discussion on requirements for God’s presence inside Jewish Movements of the New Testament Period in The Jewish Annotated Study Bible, pp.526-530. Oxford University Press, 2011.