I’ve been reading (albeit slowly) through Isaiah and Romans on my Bible-in-a-year schedule. Although I am at chapter 40 of Isaiah, I keep being drawn back to a passage in chapter 26, verses 18-19.
18 We, too, writhe in agony,
but nothing comes of our suffering.
We have not given salvation to the earth,
nor brought life into the world.
19 But those who die in the Lord will live;
their bodies will rise again!
Those who sleep in the earth
will rise up and sing for joy!
For your life-giving light will fall like dew
on your people in the place of the dead!
On the same day that I read Isaiah 26, I also read Romans 1. The person who put this Bible reading schedule together knew what they were doing by having Isaiah and Romans coincide. Paul begins his letter to the Romans like this:
This letter is from Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. God promised this Good News long ago through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. Romans 1:1-2.
The promised Good News is that God’s “life-giving light will fall like dew” and that “those who die in the Lord will live.” Jesus fulfilled this promise. Though nothing comes of our suffering, salvation and new life have come from His great suffering and sacrifice. The promise was fulfilled in the New Testament, but it was first given in the Old Testament. They are two parts of a continuing story of God’s love and redemption of His beloved people.
There are many who refuse to accept this promised gift of salvation from our Creator. But that’s not new, either. During the time that Jesus walked this earth as a man there were various groups of Jews with differing beliefs about God. Most people are familiar with the Pharisees, as they figure prominently in the Gospels. The Pharisees are generally known as a legalistic sect of Jews who believed in following the letter of the law, and spent a great deal of time interpreting the law. There are numerous passages in the Gospels in which the Pharisees attempt to trick Jesus into breaking the law so that they might criticize Him, such as the accusation of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11) or when Jesus healed on the Sabbath (technically against the law because it was considered work) (Mark 3:1-6).
But I digress. I really want to talk about the another sect, the Sadducees. Generally, the Sadducees were the wealthy class, the aristocrats, and were also in charge of the temple. Although they believed in God, the Sadducees did not believe in the afterlife. They believed that when a person died that was the end, there were no rewards or punishments after death. They held this belief in spite of the passage from Isaiah quoted above.
Okay, I must digress again to tell a little joke. —— Did you hear about the Jewish ruler who didn’t believe in heaven? That’s why he was “sad, you see.” —— I know, it’s stupid joke, but for some reason it always makes me chuckle and helps me remember how to pronounce Sadducees.
I read an article today about C.S. Lewis and there was one part in particular that I really liked:
Lewis didn’t write about the doctrinal squabbles dividing Christian groups of his time, Maudlin says. “He made a strategic decision early in his career to talk about ‘Mere Christianity,’ ’’ Maudlin says. “He never writes about different modes of baptism, different views of communion or anything that separates one church from another.”
That is one of the things that I have always liked about Lewis and that is what makes his classic “Mere Christianity” so wonderful. He sticks to the core of the Christian faith. All have sinned and are separated from God, but God so loved His creation that He sent His only Son to be the life-giving light for a lost world. Lewis focuses on the idea that those who die in the Lord will live!
In Jesus day there were many sects and divisions among the Jewish people. They tended to run along family lines, the twelve tribes of Judah not seeing eye to eye on many things. It is the same today among Christians. We disagree over doctrine and theology, and unfortunately let those differences of interpretation divide us.
This Christmas, I pray we would instead come together on the Gospel that is the core of our faith. Let us look to the life-giving light of the world, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel. Let us always remember that we who die in the Lord will live!