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Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
June 15th, 2022
“Many who heard [Jesus] were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him?’” Mark 6:2
In addition to the many societal problems we seem to be enduring recently (which I discussed in last week’s devotional), we seem to be in a renewed period of “culture wars”, debates over issues covering everything from sexuality/gender to reproductive rights to political vilification. I have to be transparent that, in addition to the personal level, I experience trepidation on a pastoral/professional level in trying to anticipate navigating questions and conversations about such topics. So many of them are not really discussed in the Bible, yet, we are called to “be ready in and out of season” (2nd Timothy 4:2).
So I look to Jesus. What would Jesus say? How would he navigate such issues? The obvious answer is deftly and wisely, perfectly! But how does that play out on the practical level?
So I ask myself: What were “culture-war” type issues in Jesus’ time and place during his ministry? And upon looking, we find many. There was the issue of the Roman occupation of Israel during this time. There were issues between the Jewish subgroups of Pharisees & Sadducees. And there were debates as to just how to enforce Moses’ law in such an environment.
We’re likely familiar with the stories in which people tried to ‘trap’ Jesus in impossible scenarios. But each of the ones we’ll look at below have to do with these “culture war”-type issues. The first is the time Jesus was asked about paying Roman taxes (Luke 20:20-26), the second is Jesus being questioned regarding marriage in the afterlife (Mark 12:18-25), and the third is about Jesus being grilled regarding stoning a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:3-11).
So, first: regarding the tax question and the issue of Roman Occupation: Jesus is presented with a seemingly impossible binary choice: to affirm the paying of exaction of pagan occupiers or not? To answer the one way would be popular with the people, but attract the ire of Rome, and certainly distract from Jesus’ Spiritual purpose in his preaching. To answer the other way, however, would be to offend everyone from the Pharisees to the Zealots. But Jesus does an amazing thing: rather than simply answer “yes” or “no”, he nimbly evades their ‘cage’ of merely two answers by affirming God’s supremacy, and putting money in its true place: ‘If Rome cares about these pieces of metal so badly, then give them their pieces of metal’ (my paraphrase). He contrasts that with what God is due, and how much that is more important (many times over!). The people are, rightly, astonished and impressed by his answer, and question Him no more.
Then, the issue of marriage in the afterlife: the Pharisees and Saducees had perpetual debates about whether an afterlife existed at all: so a group of Saducees presents Jesus with, again, a seemingly impossible scenario, in which a hypothetical multiple times-married woman ends up with multiple husbands in the (supposed) afterlife. Jesus rebukes the premise of their question and responds that people will be similar to angels in their non-marrying status in heaven. Again, his critics are silenced, and slink away sheepishly.
And finally, Jesus is publicly pressured to answer as to whether a woman caught in adultery should be stoned, as Moses’ law insists. Again, rather than go with the seemingly necessary “yes” or “no” diametrically-opposed choices, Jesus takes some extra time, subtly pointing out the woman’s accusers’ secret sins to them (Desire of Ages p. 461), and stating that whoever had no sin could rightly throw the first stone. And the woman’s accusers backed away, ashamed and humiliated. (Interestingly, using this metric/standard, Jesus Himself very well could have done so himself! But he didn’t, living out the principle of John 3:17, that he had come to the world to save rather than condemn people).
So what do we see in each of these 3 cases? Rather than submit to his accusers’ pre-packaged “boxes” of binary choices, Jesus impressively chose a 3rd way which elevated principles upward and forward, rather than conforming to presumed conclusions.
Could we, as church members, be called to do something similar in the current ‘culture war’ environment of society? “Are you for or against Black Lives Matter?” “Are you for or against the LGBTQ movement?” “Are you for or against abortion?” “Are you for or against gun rights?” “Are you for or against Trump and the narrative of what happened at the last election?”. Notice: with any of these, if we say a simple “yes” or “no”, we’re going to make friends of some and enemies of other (and no-doubt the forcefulness of the ‘dislike’ of the one group will be stronger than the ‘like’ of the other).
So what if, in each of these (and other) scenarios, we rather directed people’s attention upward to God and positively forward to understand the issues in a new context? This would no-doubt take supernatural wisdom, creativity, and nimbleness beyond what we naturally possess. But the Bible clearly says that God/the Holy Spirit can supply wisdom, and even words, when asked for! “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5. “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14:26. “Do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Luke 12:11-12. Admittedly, that last quote is about more serious situations of arrest, and defending oneself/one’s positions publicly, but couldn’t it also be true in a lesser sense in individual situations? Is this not something we should pray for in personal interactions?
I can’t spell-out for you how you should answer any of the societally difficult questions posed 2 paragraphs up; your responses will of course need to be determined by what you know of the person asking you the questions, and just how they’re posed. But I think to depend on Jesus’ example, and the Holy Spirit’s wisdom are the only way to rightly navigate these discussions.
God of course would not have us get distracted and “into the weeds” of these societal debates and issues. We cannot let them distract from the main purpose we have as Christians: to witness well to a loving God who plans to solve all issues shortly. We need to have a God-honoring, encouraging response to all of these issues, and we cannot let them take our primary purpose, our “eyes”, off of God’s great plan of salvation and promise to rescue his faithful people at Jesus’ 2nd coming. Let any discussions on the topics above be bridges to speaking positively of God, His Word, and His will in our lives, and may we be faithful in honoring Him in all we do and say.
As I leave you today, I want to quote a verse that, as read, deals with temptation. Study Bible footnotes will contain a note here that says the word can also be translated as “tested”, so I have put it that way in the example below. Again, I ask if this principle couldn’t also be true for giving wise, creative, and “out of the box” answers that open up people to higher considerations and conversations in daily life?
“No test has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1st Corinthians 1:13
I hope that we can always be praying for, looking for, and finding, those “ways out”, both in our temptations, and in our “tests” of giving good answers as Christians, to tough issues.
May God bless the remainder of the week for you and your families.
Pr. Mark Tatum