Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

End of Church Year Quiz: Who Is Jesus?

We have reached the end of another church year.  This is the last Sunday of this year, and next Sunday will be the first Sunday in Advent, the first of the new church year.  So, since it is the end of the year, and we've learned so much about Jesus this year, it's time for a quiz!  Turn to the back of your Bibles!  You didn't know there was a quiz there?  Yes, turn to Revelation 1:4-8, and we can find in verse 5 a definition quiz.  Here is where we will define some terms.  Ready?

Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

So, first definition of Jesus Christ: the faithful witness.  What does this mean?  It means that of all the authorities we can turn to, Jesus is the only faithful witness of reality.  He is the only one who will not lead us astray.  And the Bible is the only place where we can access his exact words.  We have to trust that this book is completely reliable, and then, we must turn to the words of Christ and the words ABOUT Christ (which is all the other words in the Bible) and study them.

Before we found Jesus, we relied on the authorities of this world--our scientists, our experts, our politicians, our judges, our doctors--for knowledge and wisdom.  After finding Jesus we know that he is the only one we can faithfully turn to, because he is the only faithful witness.  Check your answers.  Did you get the definition right?

Second definition: the firstborn of the dead.  What does this mean?  It means that before Jesus died, was buried, and was resurrected, we lived this life and then we died, like a fly trapped in amber.  Stuck in death.  Jesus' resurrection, however, defeated death, punched a hole through death, and found life on the other side.  We must remember that this new life is wholly unlike the previous life.  This is not a Lazarus resurrection.  We don't just return to life only to die again later.  We punch through death TO THE OTHER SIDE, where there lies everlasting life.  This is a different kind of existence altogether, and Jesus was the one who punched that hole through the amber.  He tied a lifeline around his waist and it trails into this life now.  We hold onto the lifeline and when we pass through death, we will not be trapped in the amber.  Jesus has saved us from death.

Before Jesus we lived our lives selfishly, because this was the only life there was for us.  Why not live for this life, since it is all that we have?  After finding Jesus we realize that there is another life beyond this one, an imperishable life, and we now live our lives around that one, which causes us to live our lives differently on this side of death than before.  Check your answers.  How did you do on that definition?

Third, we have the ruler of the kings of the earth.  What does this mean?  Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not from this world.  However, after his death and resurrection, Jesus was put in charge of all things.  Let's look at Paul's letter to the Philippians.

Christ Jesus, 
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited, 
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross. 

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
   and gave him the name
   that is above every name, 
10 so that at the name of Jesus
   every knee should bend,
   in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
11 and every tongue should confess
   that Jesus Christ is Lord,
   to the glory of God the Father. 

After his death, Jesus was highly exalted to be above everything in existence.  He is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.  Before his death and resurrection, the devil ruled the earth.  After, Jesus is restored to his rightful place as king.

What does this mean for us?  Well, this is a difficult aspect of Jesus to define, because we just had a presidential election, and at those times even the most faithful of us desire to turn to humans as our saviors.  Whether you're happy with the results or not, the truth is that the winners in this election have it harder now.  For another four years, the winners will be be putting their faith in an earthly king.  The losers have no choice now but to put all their faith in Jesus, the King of kings.  Before Jesus we put our faith in the authorities of this world, and after we discover Jesus, we put our faith in him.  Check your answers.  Did you get this one right?  How did you on the quiz, did you get a passing grade?

Well, never fear!  I have a bonus question.  Move down to Revelation 1:8: "I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.  Here is another description of Christ.  What does this mean?  According to John 1, Jesus was with the Father at the beginning.  All things were created through him.  He was at the foundation of everything, and so he is the Alpha, the beginning, the start. Place an anchor right there at the beginning of time.  Jesus is also the Omega.  He will be there at the end.  All things will be RECREATED through him.  Put another anchor at the end of everything.

Now stretch taut a lifeline between the two anchors, one that runs through all of our lives.  We don't know when it will happen, but this world will pass away.  It is already passing away.  We need to be holding onto that lifeline, because everything is going to drop away under our feet like an elevator with the cable cut.  We think to ourselves, "I'll just let go of the lifeline for a quick sec, go over here and do my sinful thing, and then I'll run back over here and grab hold again.  I've done it countless times, and there's been no problem, so I'll just do it again.  We don't know what will happen this time, so it is better to keep holding that lifeline.  Pray for God's grace that will compel us to hold onto it, because we want so badly to let go.

Before Jesus came into our lives, we had no hope of salvation.  Now that he is here, we have the ultimate hope of salvation.  Hold tight to the lifeline and thank God for the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth, the alpha and the omega.  AMEN.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Pilgrim's Progress

Then said Interpreter, Come in; I will show thee that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light the candle, and bid Christian follow him; so he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.

Then said Christian, What means this?

The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand: he can beget children, travail in birth with children, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ on his lips: it is to show thee, that his work is to know, and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death.


Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)

The second half of the book of Daniel is an apocalypse, much in the same way Revelation is an apocalypse, and we see things in this passage (Daniel 12:1-3) that we see in the New Testament, specifically the gospels, as to what happens to people at the judgment, the separation of the wheat from the chaff, the ones destined for everlasting life from the ones for everlasting "contempt," as verse 2 says.

Here in verse 3, we have a verse that claims that the wise will shine like the brightness of the sky.  What does this mean?  Does it mean that we will be like the angels, with a halo and harp, glowing like a firebrand?  Will we have our own light source?  The key word here is "like."  Think of the brightest object in the night sky--the moon.  It does not shine with its own light, but reflects the light of the sun.  Likewise, we will reflect the light of the Son, Jesus Christ.  He is our light source, and we reflect him.  Jesus is wisdom, and at the judgment, the wise--those who followed Jesus--will reflect the Son's light purely, like the brightness of the sky.  We don't have to wait for the judgment, however.  We can reflect the light of the Son now, today, although, instead of being covered with pure, reflective moondust, we are covered with the dark rocks, mud, and filth of sin.  However, we can still reflect the light somewhat.

The second part of this verse is equally puzzling.  Who are "those who lead many to righteousness?"  Does this verse mean that unless we are evangelists, converting many, we are doomed?  That sounds like a lot of hard work that, frankly, many of us are not cut out for.  Think about the fellow with a memorized script and a set of statements that are geared toward instigating a rapturous reaction for Jesus.  Is it not the excitement that is appealing, not the Son himself?  Think of this person converting a man named Steve, and at the judgment our evangelist faces our maker and states, "look at my list of converts!  May I shine like the stars now?  Take this man, Steve."

The Lord may well respond, "Well, about Steve: the week after you converted him, he met a woman, and they shacked up together, and it was exciting, too, and she was into witchcraft, and so he tried that, and it was exciting, and then she left him, and so he traveled to a Buddhist community in Australia, and he lived there for a time, because that was exciting, too!"  We can't know what happens to these people, when we use "methods" to convert them.  We can't have Steve handcuffed to us for the rest of his life to keep him in line.

I believe that "leading many to righteousness" is another way of saying, "offering our spiritual gifts."  God has given each of us a spiritual gift, sometimes more than one, that we are to OFFER back to God.  Sometimes we use our spiritual gifts for others, and then we get overworked and burned out.  This is because we are taking our gifts and treating them like work.  However, if we treat our gift as an offering to God, it won't feel like work.  This is essentially true worship, and it is invigorating.  We think that because we don't feel the spirit, we are just going through the motions, but in actuality, we are not offering our gift to God.  God initiates, gives us the gift, we offer it BACK to him, and then he responds with an increase of spirit.

Each Sunday my offering is this sermon.  I study and work on it all week, and now is this time for me to offer it to God.  Everyone in this room happens to be hearing, and even though my offering is to God, everyone here is brought closer to righteousness because of it.  Cathi plays flute each week for us, and before she got all the technicalities down, she thought of it as work, and it was not a worshipful experience.  Now she is familiar with the weekly task and she now offers her flute playing to God each week.  As a result, she feels that she is worshiping.  We are all brought more into righteousness because of it.  These gifts are offered to God, but they are also offered in public, so that we may lead many to righteousness.

What is your spiritual gift?  Are you using it?  Are you bogged down with other things that are not your gifts? If you are using your gift, are you using it as work or as an offering to God?  Look at Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

What is Mary's gift?  Learning.  What is she doing with it?  She's offering it to God. She is not going to run off to the far east and study under Buddha as soon as Jesus leaves the house.  Her gift is solely offered to God, but this scene plays out in the gospel of Luke for our benefit.  Many are made righteous from this passage, as they wish to model their lives after Mary.  When Jesus scolds Martha, he is not telling her that she needs to put down her dishrag and sit at Jesus' feet, too.  He is showing her that as Mary offers her learning to God, so Martha should, too, offer her gift of hospitality to God, and she wouldn't be worried and distracted anymore.  Martha is not offering her gift to God.  How many people are made righteous through Martha when reading this passage?  I'd wager the number is zero.

The final offering is the big one: Jesus' offering on the cross.  He didn't get an elated feeling when he did it.  It wasn't a "mountaintop" experience.  It was a "tomb" experience.  Offering our gifts hurts, because it is sacrifice, the purest form of love there is--agape.  Jesus may have suffered and died, but three days later he had risen, and he is risen.  Sometimes our gifts hurt, and we don't get an elated feeling.  But as long as we are offering them to God and are leading many to righteousness through them, we will continue to reflect the light of the Son in this life and the next.  We gain everlasting life, and we shine like the stars, like the brightness of the sky.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crossing the Jordan

And there went over a ferry boat to carry over the king's household, and to do what he thought good. (2 Samuel 19:18a)

This small piece of information comes to us after the death of Absalom, and King David has been invited back into his kingdom.  The danger is over.  The household of the King now comes to the Jordan and is ferried over to the other side, where David's kingdom lies.  Jerusalem.

When we read these words, our imaginations quicken, and we picture not only the ferry going back and forth across the Jordan, carrying the royal family, but, if we are imaginative, we can see ourselves, at the end of this life, all our worries and troubles and cares behind us, waiting for passage to the other side, to the golden Kingdom.  To heaven.

Myths exist about such a passage.  The river is Acherong and the ferry boat driver is Charon, who usually is depicted as a skeleton wearing a flowing and shredded cloak.  This is the passage across the river of death, and who knows what lay on the other side.

But as Christians we know what lay on the other side: everlasting life.  Eternal relationship with our Lord, the creator of everything.  We are still stuck on this side of the Jordan unless we take the ferry.  This is a true metaphor: we have to get on the ferry.  What is the ferry?  Answers may differ.  Jesus himself is an obvious answer.  The cross is another.  I've talked before about the cross being a sort of second ark that rescues us from the second flood--the eschaton: judgment day.

But what about the church?  The church has gotten a bad rap these days.  The phrase "organized religion" has become detestable.  When we think of salvation, we think of individual salvation, as in, God saves each one of us.  We transfer that knowledge into an idea that we don't need community.  We don't need to be a member of a "people set apart."  I have my personal relationship with God, and that is all that matters.  That's also why we entertain the dubious idea of "deathbed salvation."

Jesus is our savior--yes.  The cross was his vehicle, but the church is our vehicle.  Perhaps you've heard the description of the yawning chasm that is ever present between us and God.  As the story goes, we try and try to cross that chasm or to build a bridge across it, but we never can accomplish this.  God himself must bridge the chasm, and he does so with the cross.  It's a great metaphor, and many people have come to Christ through that metaphor, but the end result is the image of a bridge across the chasm in the shape of a cross, and we still individually--one at a time--cross over the bridge to the other side.

The ferry metaphor is more powerful.  The ferry can be in the shape of a cross, yes, but it carries MANY across the river at the same time.  The people on this ferry are the church, the bride of Christ, set apart.  If we are living the Christian life alone, we may not be on the ferry at all but still on this side of the Jordan, trying to figure out a way across.

Jesus saves, yes.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY life.  But he saves individuals within his church.  He is the ferry man.  We are his passengers.  The church is the vessel across the Jordan.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Widow and the Temple

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 12:41-13:2)

This passage in Mark about the widow and her two copper coins has been used in stewardship campaigns probably for centuries, and this passage holds an essential truth about Christianity.  To give to God means giving everything you have, not just out of your abundance.  It is a powerful message and it deserves to be preached and heard.  However, I want to talk about the story of the widow in comparison with the temple.

The first Bible to have verses was the Geneva Bible in the mid-1500s.  Before that there were no verses.  Before that, in 1227, Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton inserted chapter breaks into his Latin Bible. Wycliffe used those same chapter breaks in the first penned English Bible, and those chapter breaks have been used ever since.  Before 1227 there were no chapters.  When the Gospel of Mark was written, we had KATA MARKON at the top of a scroll and then a whole string of capital Greek letters without spaces that told the story of Jesus.  Those scrolls are gone now, but we still have a codex, which looks more like a book.  My point is that until 1227, the story of the widow and her two copper coins at the end of chapter 12 and Jesus' statement about the temple at the beginning of chapter 13 were right next to each other.

So we first have Jesus pointing out to everyone--disciples included--that this widow has just exhibited the true nature of a Christian by putting into the coffer all that she had.  And then those same disciples go outside and marvel at the size of the temple and its stones.  Jesus has to call them on their cluelessness with the prophecy about that same temple's destruction.  The point is that God is with the widow.  He is not with the temple.  God can be found with the old woman.  He cannot be found in the temple.

This has great implications.  If you are seeking God in a building, you are not going to find him, because he is supposed to be with you already.  If he is not with you, guess who moved?  And if you leave one church for another, because the first church is without God, guess what?  The new church won't have God either, because you are seeking God in the wrong places.

This building in which we worship is not very attractive, but that is not the point.  Where two or three are gathered in his name, there he will be in the midst of them.  We bring Christ to this building, and we worship him in spirit and truth.  If we think he is waiting for us in a building, what are we going to do?  We're going to choose the cathedrals to worship in and not the dingy warehouse or community center.

Have you ever been inside a cathedral?  It's gorgeous! It's breathtaking!  Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!  It is awe inspiring.  You can almost FEEL the Holy Spirit moving around you.  It's exciting, and this is the problem with modern American Christianity today.  We are looking for the excitement, and we are marveling at the size of the temple, and the size of its stones, and we are ignoring the widow.

There is an exciting video on the internet.  I just saw it for the first time this weekend.  I must admit it nearly brought a tear to my eye, it was so powerful, and so I share it with you now.  A painter is on a well-lit stage with a canvas.  There is an audience, but they are submerged in darkness.  He dances about the stage, splashing paint on the canvas, Jackson Pollack style, and what he is making looks like a complete mess.  He's dancing here and splashing there.  The image looks like an incomprehensible blob.  Then, at the last second, he whips the canvas upside down and there is the face of Jesus.  The crowd goes wild!  We hear them cheer from the darkness. The painter throws up his hands in praise.

Click here to see the video.

It's beautiful, and Jesus IS EXCITING.  BUT.  If we are seeking Jesus in the excitement.  If we are seeking Jesus in the upside-down canvas.  If we can only find Jesus in the blazing lights and the cheering and the rock song and the painter and the canvas and the splashing paint.  If we cannot find Jesus in the dark, on our knees, at the side of the bed, weeping.  If we cannot find Jesus while doing the dishes.  If we cannot find Jesus in the mundane.  If we can only find Jesus in the massive temple and not by the side of the widow...

When he hung there on the cross, there was no cheering.  Not even the Roman centurions cheered, because at that moment the sky turned black, in the middle of the day, and there was an earthquake, and people saw their dead loved ones.  It was not a time of rejoicing and yet it was the most important moment on earth.  Ever.

When we seek God, not the excitement, we find the widow.  We stop caring about the temple and we find ourselves putting in our two copper coins--all that we have--everything we've got.  Jacob fell asleep, dreamed of the ladder with the angels ascending and descending upon it, woke up, and declared, "surely the Lord was in this place all along and I never knew it."  Such is God with us.  Emmanuel.  He is with us in the dark places and he is with us in the light places.  He is with us for better or for worse.  Those of us who are married remember that vow, but Jesus said that vow, too, when he married the church.  He is with everyone in this room for better or for worse.

He is with us on the boring train ride, not just the exciting stops at new and unique stations. Jesus is on the train, not just at the stations.  Get on the train and seek him.  Surely he was here all along and we didn't even know it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Greek Bible Study; 11-1-12

John 4:17-21
by Marlene Schumm

The Samaritan woman says that she does not have a husband.  Jesus replies that she is right.  The Greek word for "right" varies from the English translations.  She is living with a man who is not her husband.  She needs to admit that she is a sinner.  She calls him "sir" and says he is a prophet because he knows all about her.  The Greek word for "sir" has other meanings, which must be determined from the context of the statement.  These differences make reading the Greek very interesting.

She changes the subject again, talking about the proper place of worship.  She says that her fathers worshiped on the mountain, but the Jews claim that Jerusalem is the proper place.  The woman at the well was better informed about Jews than today's average person.  Jesus says that there will be a time when neither will be the proper place.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The King and the Teacher

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

The healing of blind Bartimaeus is a wonderful expression of the healing power of Christ.  It is a great proof text of Christ's divinity and salvation.  However, in these few verses lies a microcosm of the gospel.  This is a perfect study of our relationship with God, so let's really analyze this passage and treat it as a parable of our relationship with Jesus.

Obviously, we are Blind Bartimaeus, sitting on the side of the road in Jericho, probably shaking a cup for alms.  We may not be physically blind, but sin has blinded us to the truth.  We are unaware of reality.  Note that Jesus is on his way out of Jericho.  We only have a limited time before he is gone.  There is a sense of urgency here.

"When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth..."  Jesus is near!  We hear that he is near, and we hear from Christians.  Christians are to be the means of grace.  God is drawing us to him, yes, and he does so through the Holy Spirit, but the means of grace is other people!  We help each other come closer to God, through preaching the word or preaching our actions, our behavior.

Bartimaeus' response to the presence of Jesus is one of repentance.  He cries out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"  This should be our initial response to the presence of Christ.  We have heard that the shortest prayer ever is "Help!" and that is true, but it may not be the best prayer.  The Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner" also is a prayer for help, but it is also a prayer of repentance, which is crucial for establishing the relationship between us and the king.  Note the words "Son of David."  This is a call to Jesus the King, the King of Kings, the King of the World.  The king is the one who can forgive, to have mercy on us.  So, too, should we appeal to the king for mercy.

Notice what happens next: the world sternly orders us to be quiet.  "Don't repent!" the world chastises us.  "Where is your DIGNITY?  We bow to NO ONE! Do not submit!  We are Americans!"  This is ingrained in our noggins from birth.  This is the tidal wave of anti-God sentiment we have to break through.  But Bartimaeus cries out all the louder in repentance, and so should we.  "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Our relationship with Jesus is one of balanced response.  God is always previous.  He always initiates the relationship, as we see in this passage.  He has come to our Jericho, and we respond to his presence with repentance.  He then responds to our repentance with a call.  "Call him here," Jesus says.  And the Christians about us identify that call, and they encourage us to get to Jesus.  As Christians, we are to help our fellow men and women, who have repented, and encourage them by saying, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."

Now this is interesting: In movies or our imaginations, we may see people gently guiding the blind man to the savior, because he is blind, you see.  But look at this sentence: "So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus."  This sounds like a call so strong that Blind Bartimaeus didn't need guidance.  He sprang up and made a bee-line to our Savior.  Often we hear about the reluctant convert.  Or that we were dragged into the faith kicking and screaming, but here is a good example of a proper response: one with energy, with vigor, and one that can make it right to our Savior's side, even when we are blind.

So we respond to the call with vigor, and Jesus responds to our response with a question: "What do you want me to do for you?"  Jesus knows the answer, but this is a test.  We can easily answer, "Well, I'd like a new car, and some supermodels, and a whole lot of money!  500 TV channels would be nice!  I know I can't see, but I like to listen to what's on."  Even something simple like "a new begging cup" is possible, but either way, we've failed the test.  The answer--the ONLY answer--is that we want to see again.  We are blind to reality, blind to the truth, and we want to see again.

Notice how Bartimaeus addresses Jesus now.  "My teacher, let me see again."  When we are repenting and desire mercy, we pray to the king.  When we ask to see again, we pray to the teacher.  The king is the one who bestows mercy.  The teacher is the one who can give sight to the blind.  Notice he does not say, "my healer," or, "my doctor."  That is a giveaway.  The historic account is of a physical healing, but the fact that Bartimaeus says, "teacher," proves that we are to look at this passage as applicable to our spiritual healing, to the restoration of our spiritual sight.

Only through Jesus' teaching do we lose our blindness to the truth.  Only through the teacher is our sight restored to reality.  Only through the study of God's word and discipleship are we in any kind of harmonious relationship with God.  And herein lies the problem with most modern churches today.  If there is ANY appeal to the king at all, if there is ANY call to repentance, then the relationship ends there.  Once the person has fallen to his or her knees and wept openly and committed to Christ: CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE ONE OF US NOW!  What about the followup?  You have plead for mercy from the king.  Where is the church now to say, "Take Heart!  Get up!  He is calling you?"  They aren't there.  The repentance is all there is.  Thank God we got the repentance at all.  Most churches don't even go there, or give it lip service only.  Now in the handful of churches that DO call for repentance, the forgiveness and the weeping comes, but then what?  Where is the "teacher, let me see?"

Either we don't get discipleship at all, or, instead of Jesus as teacher, we get the pastor as teacher, teaching a worldly discipleship.  Instead of going to the Word, we go to the stage.  We get Jerry Seinfeld: "what's up with hot dogs?  What's up with airport security?  What's up with cold cereal?"  Everlasting life is knowledge of God, and knowledge of God can be only gathered through his word, through the scriptures.  If I'm not preaching from this book, I'm doing it wrong.

First we appeal to the king for mercy, and then we appeal to the teacher for everlasting life, for knowledge of God, for sight.  Jesus responds, "Go; your faith has made you well."  We have repented, we have been called, we are learning from the teacher, and now we are called to go into our ministry.  Note that Bartimaeus not only regains his sight but follows Jesus on the way.  Is that a contradiction?  How can Bartimaeus GO and FOLLOW at the same time?  Well, it is the true and only path that we must take.  In order to go on our ministry, we have to be following Jesus constantly.  We cannot just drink from the living waters once.  Or weekly.  We must daily, hourly, drink from the living water.  We must daily, hourly, learn at the teacher's feet.  We must live in the Word in order to keep our sight.  God embraces us and keeps us in his teaching, but we respond to God as well.  Every day, we should be kneeling before the Lord and praying, "Son of David, have mercy."  Then, before we open this book, we pray, "Teacher, let me see."

All of that, all that relationship with Jesus Christ is found in those few verses about Blind Bartimaeus.  If we could only preach one passage for the rest of our lives, let that one be the one.  It contains the Gospel, it contains our relationship with God and how we respond to God's work in our lives. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  My teacher, let me see.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Greek Bible Study, 10-18-12, 10-25-12

Verses 10-12 of John 4
by Marlene Schumm

Jesus is traveling through Samaria.  He has a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.  The Samaritans were outcasts, but received Jesus with respect.  He speaks of the gift of God, the living water, which she doesn't understand.  Her world is only of the actual, not the spiritual.  She cannot relate to Jesus, who she doesn't know, as greater than Jacob, who gave the well, which provides for people and cattle.  They believe in something they can actually see.

John 4:13-16
The conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well continues.  Jesus is trying to explain the difference between actual water in the well and the spiritual concept of the living water, which will go on forever.  In v.12 the Greek word used means well, but in v.14 the word used means spring.  The Greek words make it clear that He is transitioning from the actual water in the well to the living water, which will spring up into eternal life.

In v.15 the woman addresses Jesus as "sir," a formal word.  He is starting to impress her, then asks her to bring her husband.

To be continued