Erwin Schrodinger was a 20th century Physicist who was a buddy of Albert Einstein.
He was brilliant and he was foolish.
He lived with both a wife and mistress at the same time and he was a serial sexual abuser.
He was brilliant academically and a pioneer in the weird world of quantum physics…and he was arrogant and self-absorbed.
He is most famous probably for his thought experiment called “Schrodinger’s cat.”
In this scenario a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both dead and alive…don’t ask I probably couldn’t fully explain if I wanted to
But you can watch a short Ted Talk video if you are interested it’s pretty helpful…just please don’t do it right now.
He was not trying to prove his own quantum theories with his thought experiment but to show their absurdity…they seemed contradictory.
Like a cat that is both dead and alive at the same time.
Ironically, his hypothetical cat has since been used not to demonstrate the absurdity but the strange reality of quantum physics.
The quantum world remains mysterious beyond human understanding.
But not so much that we don’t use what we know in everyday technology.
There are several reasons I’m starting today with Schrodinger and his hypothetical cat.
-Little good intellectual brilliance does you if you have no moral goodness.
Second, most important for today:
-Everyone lives with mystery.
-Mystery is a core component of science and faith, a part of every human’s life.
-But mystery doesn’t mean we don’t have real knowledge that can be applied…it just means we will never have complete knowledge.
Why is there mystery?
Because we are humans…we occupy a tiny little corner of space and time…it’s arrogant and absurd to believe we can ever know much of what can be known.
But, just like you don’t have to unlock the mysteries of the quantum world to unlock your iphone, you don’t to have full understanding of the mysteries of Christ in order to be saved and to live a life of ongoing freedom.
Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great:
He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels, was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16
This is a short summary statement of faith, in the Greek the poetic nature of this paragraph is more easily seen.
It is poetry and it is history.
It is history and it is mystery.
It should be no surprise that we cannot get our minds all the way around Jesus, his incarnation…the doctrine that he is fully God and fully man.
Someone might say, “I don’t believe in doctrine, I just have my own beliefs about God, humans, life.”
That would be your doctrine…there is good (true) doctrine and there is bad (false) doctrine…you want to have true doctrine, because what we believe becomes what we do with our lives.
Again…don’t think the doctrine of the incarnation is a contradiction…a contradiction would be “Jesus is fully God and he is not fully God” or “He is fully man and he is not fully man.”
There is mystery, but no contradiction in the incarnation…God became man while remaining fully God.
We don’t understand how this could be, but that is not a surprise…We are talking about God, so in order to fully hold him in our minds we would have to God ourselves.
In the quantum world, or the very little that we know about it…there are things that appear contradictory but they are actually mystery for now.
A cat is not dead and alive at the same time…even in the quantum world, there is something going on there we don’t yet fully understand.
I suspect Schrodinger’s arrogance kept him from being okay with mystery than is greater than his brilliance.
But the incarnation of Christ is not just mystery…it is history.
We should be confident that the incarnation is actual human history…it happened.
This advent season, the four weeks before Christmas we are going to look at the mystery and history of Jesus…how this should lead to ongoing humility and worship as well as ongoing faithful lives of obedience.
We must not lose our hold on either side of the tension…history without mystery can become mere facts.
And we can presume to know more than we can know.
We can think we have it all locked down and there is no need really to trust God with the mystery of faith because we don’t really have any mysteries…we got it.
Or we don’t believe that which we don’t understand…an arrogant approach.
On the other hand, Mystery without history can become pursuits of spiritual feelings or personal ideas divorced from a real life of faith expressed in faithfulness and in community.
The NONES (none of the above) or “Spiritual but not religious”…tend to be in this camp.
Ironically, when faith is all mystery and no history, then we decide, subjectively, what is real and true rather than God and his word tell us what is.
We bring our current cultural perspectives and personal opinions to decide what is “real” and what isn’t.
This is just another form of pride.
The balance is found in Deuteronomy 29:29…it combines the humility of mystery (we cannot know everything) and the accessibility of history…we are able to know and do God’s will because he has made himself known.
Deut. 29:29 The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.
Mystery=the secret things, they belong to God.
It’s not that God is keeping secrets hidden away…it’s that he is God and some things will always be in the realm of the secret or mysterious…because he is infinite and we never will be.
History=the things revealed. What God has done in time and space.
At Sinai (Law), in the prophets, in Christ, in the Church…all of this is now ours to have and to know and to live…given to us in Scripture.
We have God’s ways and his will in Scripture…we don’t have to guess or make stuff up.
We can obey and teach the next generation to obey…and to live in the freedom of God’s will and ways.
Christians embrace mystery and history (like every other human on the planet does)
But Mystery doesn’t imply that we take irrational leaps of faith…we trust God with mystery because he has shown himself to be trustworthy in our history.
I can get around fairly well on the screen and keyboard end of a computer…but behind the veil of the mechanical processor, and the code magically embedded there…it’s all mystery.
I know it’s science…but it feels like Harry Potter not Steve Jobs is behind my MacBook.
I have a good friend for whom this stuff is not mysterious…so when he tells me something about the mystery side (mystery to me, not him)…
…am I taking an irrational leap of faith when I believe him?
Of course not…it is entirely proper and wise to trust a trustworthy person on things he understands that I do not.
We do it all the time…doctors, mechanics…whatever is mystery to you but not to them…its wise, not irrational to trust them.
So when we say we trust God…we are not leaping into the dark of irrational human faith.
We are simply making wise decisions…good and rational decisions to trust the God who has proven himself to trustworthy…on things that he fully knows but we do not.
Mystery are the true things that we cannot fully understand so we take them on faith in the God who has shown himself to be worthy of our trust, our faith.
But we don’t just live by mystery…we balance it with history.
By history I mean known facts.
But just knowing facts isn’t enough…As James has taught us, we must believe and obey…respond to the facts of faith.
History and mystery are to be combined into active faith.
I am foot stomping this point because we must not fall prey to the idea that we live by faith, while others live by the facts.
I also don’t want you to allow your confidence in what you do know to suffer because of things you do not know or fully understand.
*If someone at your school or work or online asks a question for which you don’t have an answer…I hope you can, in humility, be okay with that.
I also hope, it will not cause you question what you do know to be true…clearly you don’t have to have all the answers in order to have any answers.
Everyone lives by faith and facts.
Glenn Shrivener has said it like this, “Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Atheists believe in the virgin birth of the universe. Choose your miracle.”
Today we begin Advent in the first gospel, first chapter.
Get ready, Matthew begins with some edge of your chair stuff…
1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…
And on he goes until verse 16…
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
A genealogy may seem like a boring way to begin a book but to Matthew’s original readers it was super important.
He is introducing Jesus as the Messiah.
Matthew the tax collector had become a follower of Jesus and he took the oral history of Jesus passed from person to person and from interviews he had done and personal experience he had and collected it into his book.
It is historically accurate but it is not merely a history book, it is a gospel.
A gospel is a specific genre of writing with the purpose of telling the good news of Jesus so that people would believe in him and be born again.
It is news…not advice…not mere biography.
Historian Thomas Kidd did not write his recent biography of Thomas Jefferson so that people would be eternally transformed by his book.
Mostly he wanted to give historical facts about an important historical figure.
Matthew is giving historical facts…in order to move his readers to faith in Christ.
It is more but not less than history.
All four gospel writers give factually, historically accurate information but they do so with different audiences in mind.
Matthew is concerned to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of the biblical story…he is writing primarily to Jewish people.
To Matthew’s first readers this genealogy tells the whole story and it does it in a way that nothing else could.
He is in the line of Abraham
A member of the tribe of Judah, of the family of David.
-The names given, are selected to demonstrate a certain aspect of his lineage.
This is real history…and mind blowing mystery.
How God pre-ordained and directed the wide span of human history to bring about his purposes.
How God did this while keeping human responsibility/freedom intact.
How he choose Moses and yet Moses had to choose to obey.
How he used the rebellion of his people and the Babylonian captivity for his larger purposes, while remaining the holy God of a people who did not have to choose to rebel against him.
Matthew is real history, but not bare history.
Jesus is the climax of the story of Adam in the garden, Abraham leaving Ur, the exodus, David’s capture of Jerusalem, Solomon building a temple, the Fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 and exile of the south in 587.
It is real history…with a live changing purpose.
Matthew begins with genealogy that is really a sort of resume…genealogies said to people of his time, “This is who I am.”
If you look at ancestory.com you find this on the front page:
“Will it work for you? Real customers share what they discovered—and how it changed their lives. You could be next.”
Knowing your genealogy, I hate to tell you, won’t change your life…knowing Jesus is the Messiah…can if you respond in faith.
You can read today of politicians who try to include certain people in their family lines in order to make themselves look better.
This practice is quote old…Herod the murderous tyrant who tried to find and kill Jesus at his birth…purged many names from his own genealogy because he wanted to make his history more perfect that it actually was.
Jesus, God incarnate, didn’t try to doctor his resume.
It is interesting that in the genealogy of the Son of God there are five women, this was unusual for the time
Three of them were non-Jews, outsiders.
One was a prostitute.
One was involved in incest.
Though Matthew was selective in who he mentioned because of his goals, he wasn’t trying to “clean up” the Messiah’s resume…he had a bigger purpose.
Look at how he mentions one of the stars of the genealogy…Israel’s greatest king…David and his mighty son, Solomon.
6and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
Did you catch that?
Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.
Why not just Solomon, King David’s son?
Because David had been immoral and impregnated Bathsheba who was married at the time to a really good man, a better man by far than David, named Uriah.
David had him killed in order to hide his sin and get what he wanted.
No, Matthew is giving history and mystery as gospel…to change lives.
Ancestory.com won’t change your life, Jesus the Messiah, can.
Whether you are an outsider, an insider, a terrible sinner…whoever you are, or think you are…the gospel is good news for you.
Star wars begins with…”A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”
Often fairytales begin with, “Once upon a time”
These are signals that what follows is myth…fun story maybe with a moral…but a myth
We don’t ask the storyteller when they say, “Once upon a time” “When, exactly?”
What galaxy did Luke and Darth live in, I’m trying to locate it on my star map?
There is no exact when or where…this is not actual, factual history.
I tell my grandkids stories all the time…sometimes they ask me to tell them a “real story” they want to know about me as a kid, and other times they say they want a “story, story.”
The difference is easy for the older kids to spot…the younger ones will still ask on occasion…”For real?”
Matthew is grounding his fantastic gospel story in actual history, history as news of what happened and why it happened and what to do with that news.
A gospel is a kind of writing that is about good news.
News is a report of what has happened.
In a newspaper.
You had advice columns and opinion columns and you had news.
Gospel is not spiritual advice or opinions…it is news…here is what happened, what God has done…but news with implications for our lives.
Headlines across the country in 1945 read, “Victory!” “War is over”.
It was news of what had happened, good news, with real implications…rationing is going to end, your loved one is coming home…no one else in your family need go die.
Matthew is writing an account of good news…what has happened in history…with real implications for his readers.
Matthew has not written good advice, he has written good news.
So, after the historically relevant information about the genealogy of Jesus…Matthew, the accountant gives us this…
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about:
Again…we have this amazing intersection of history and mystery.
Not, “Once upon a time in Bethlehem…”
Matthew wrote…”This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.”
Jesus: Is his name telling us of his human nature.
Christ (Messiah)…Is his name telling us of his divine nature
Here is how this great mystery (incarnation) happened in human history.
Then we get facts…Joseph did this, Mary became pregnant in supernatural fashion, all this was to fulfill God’s sovereign plans as foretold many centuries earlier by Isaiah.
If you struggle with the Virgin Birth…don’t start in Matt 1, start in Genesis 1.
“In the beginning God created the cosmos.”
Believe that, because it is both believable and it is true…it is the only explanation that fully and reasonably explains the cosmos.
Believe that and everything that follows is not that hard to believe.
Virgin Birth, miracles, resurrection…all of it.
Matthew is giving news that combines the mystery and history of the gospel into a single-story.
God has made the cosmos, and the humans who live on this little blue planet.
God took on human flesh to dwell among us….he is transcendent and he is imminent.
It is fascinating to me when I read of authors who simultaneously taut the greatness of human beings…we are smart, noble, unlimited in capacity…
Then when the Bible says that the creator of the cosmos cares about us and is involved in the details of human history.
That this God actually has an opinion about what we do and don’t do.
He literally knows some things are bad and some things are good for us to do…imagine that.
They then cry out…”What kind of petty God do you believe in, doesn’t he have better things to do than to be the morality policeman? If he runs the cosmos, why would he care about what little humans do?
Do you see the contradiction…”which is it, are we “all that” or are we “not worth his attention?”
They want to have their cake and eat it too.
Human cannot shake their fist at a sovereign God because they believe that they are so wise.
Then mock the idea of sovereign God who takes interest in humans…who has opinions about what we do with our lives
The truth is…we are not great, smart, unlimited…and yet we are eternal, we are loved, we are full of godly potential.
All that we are, or could be…is fully known and experienced only in relationship to the one who has made us.
Consider which side of the tension you might have the most trouble keeping ahold of.
Mystery side: perhaps you don’t like mysteries or things you can’t explain. You are a problem solver…this is good.
The world needs people wired like you.
But since you are thinker…be sure and think broadly about this.
Can you really know even a fraction of can be known?
Embracing mystery is not an irrational leap into the dark…it is trusting God because he is trustworthy.
He has proven himself most decisively in life, death, resurrection of Jesus.
*Don’t struggle with doubts because there are things that are a mystery to you…of course there are…but not just you, everyone else as well.
Maybe you have trouble holding firmly to the History side: Perhaps you are wired for feeling and compassion and experience. Good for you. We need you.
But you must not trust your feelings and experiences over the facts of faith.
God has spoken in space and time…he is both smarter and a better person than you or I.
If God wants something for someone or doesn’t want something for them…then take his word for it.
He is not mean or petty…when he says “That is good, and that is not, its sin”. He is love and he is great.
In the Bible we have Scriptural doctrine…the facts of faith.
Sometimes good, trained thinkers put these facts together into books called “systematic theologies”…they bless the church with their gifts and efforts.
They are enormously helpful books for understanding how to live out of the facts of the faith…personally and in community.
Scripture is both faith facts AND, not OR…Scripture is a story…the history of God’s saving acts in the life of the Messiah.
We believe the facts of the story of Jesus the Messiah, and we must transfer trust from ourselves to him by faith.
We know what he did, and we know why he did it.
We are respond with our lives…heads, hearts, habits.
In the 19th century and up to today, theologians who did not and do not take the Bible seriously tried to “protect” the faith from the attacks of scientists and philosophers who mocked those who lived by faith…these attackers, presumed to live only by the facts.
So these theologians came up with this idea that there is the world of facts (history, science)…let’s call it the downstairs world.
Downstairs is where the real world exists….a world gyms, and hospitals, and offices, and houses, and boats and cars and banks, science and smart phones, facts and history.
Then there is the world of faith in God…it is all about experience and not something that can be proven…it is not real history, what we see in the Bible is all mystery and no history.
Faith is all upstairs…religious experience, upstairs is an irrational leap of faith.
Downstairs is where we live by the facts.
These people did not protect faith from science and reason by making it an irrational leap…they simply made it irrelevant to large numbers of people.
NO, our lives are a single story…we live with history and mystery like everyone does.
The difference for us is that…our purpose, our destiny…who we are, why we are here, what happens next…is not mystery(we aren’t guessing)…it has been revealed.
Those who do not know God…live with mystery in the veryy things that are most important for us to know.
The secret things belong to the Lord our God.
The things revealed belong to us that we might know and obey and enjoy God.
Be humble…there is mystery.
Be confident and resolutely faithful…there is history.
Live a single story life…where you are the same person believing the same things…everywhere you go, whatever you do.