I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit (I hope) to explain myself a bit. Please forgive me if this gets into a little self-conscious rambling.
I have touched recently on some important doctrinal issues without really addressing them in a doctrinal way. That is intentional, but that leaves me a little self-conscious about it.
I have brushed past many doctrinal issues in this blog, and some of them are themes that I come back to quite often. Recently, I have veered dangerously close to issues like the inerrancy of the Bible and Bible hermeneutics, though I have not used words like that, other than to acknowledge at some points those rocks that exist in the turbulent waters.
I am usually not all that conscious about doctrine in the sense of academic formality or denominational purity. This also is intentional, though it isn’t intended in any rebellious, skeptical or heretic away.
I recently heard a Sermon on Matthew 3:15. The verse was posited for the proposition that believers in Christ should be baptized as a public expression of faith in obedience to God. This is a pretty fundamental proposition that most Christian denominations would advocate in some form or another.
In Matthew 3, John the Baptist has been preaching repentance, turning to God and baptism to make the way for one who “is coming soon who is greater than I am – so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals”. This was Jesus, of course. Then we are told that Jesus went to Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, and John tried to talk him out of it, saying, “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you….” This is the context in which Jesus makes the statement that was the focus of the sermon.
The New Living Translation of the Bible was used for the textual reference. I tend to use the ESV and NASB translations because they are more literal. They are word for word translations, rather than phrase for phrase (or idea for idea) translations, like the NLT. The word for word translations tend to be considered more accurate and more authentic to the original text. These are things I was thinking as I listened to the message, and I wondered what difference a more literal translation would make.
The apostle, John, wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) This was written by a man who, when the chips were down for Jesus, scattered in fear with the rest of the apostles. As Jesus tried to tell them of the need for him to die and be raised from the dead, something the apostles did not understand, he predicted they would all forsake him.
“You will all [i]fall away because of Me this night…. (Matthew 26:31)
Peter might have pumped his chest with bravado as he protested that others might leave Jesus, but he would never leave. (Matthew 26:32-33) But, Jesus knew better than Peter knew himself. He predicted that Peter, though swearing allegiance at that very moment, would deny him not once, but three separate times. (Matthew 26:34)
So great was the fear that overtook the disciples that they scattered after Jesus was taken by the Roman soldiers. Even Peter, who didn’t scatter, but stayed back to witness the interrogation, beatings, mocking and humiliation to which Jesus was subjected, denied that he knew him… three times.
Fear is a powerful emotion. It can overwhelm us and cause us to stumble from the path that we know is right. How do we overcome fear?
How many people have experienced reading the Bible, or trying to read the Bible, before “becoming a Christian”? I did. I took a World Religion class as a freshman in college, and in that class I read the Bible for the first time. I have distinct memories of it.
I am not unintelligent. I was second in my law school class. I say that not to boast, but to make a point. Human intelligence is limited, and in particular, it is limited by our perspective.t
Our perspective is that of a finite being who lives a very, very short amount of time and, then, dies.What can we really know of an infinite God? On our own, given our limited perspective on a very small planet in a small solar system in a vast universe, what can we understand of the Maker of it all? In our 100 years, if we are fortunate to live that long, what we can we really know and understand of the 13.7 billion years of the existence of the universe. From our perspective, we have learned a great deal, but compared to what?
We have only to compare to ourselves – other people with limited perspectives as our own!
And if there be a God of this incredibly vast universe, this God would have to be greater still. He would have to be “other” than the universe to have created it. Things don’t create themselves. This material universe filled with matter and space and existing in time would have to have been created by a timeless, space-less, matter-less (immaterial) God who exists on a “plane” other, outside of and beyond the material world we live in.
The words and thoughts we have to define what that other existence might be like are wholly inadequate to describe it because it is completely other than anything we know. We can only describe it in terms of our existence bounded by time, space and matter, yet we have some sense of something beyond, like prisoner who spent his whole life in a small cell, who sees the sunlight streaming in through the bars of the window above him, but has never seen the sun.
So what does this have to do with reading the Bible?
I realized as I read it in that World Religion class in college that, if God did exist, He would have to reveal Himself to us. We could not reason or research or experiment our way to knowledge of God. That would be like trying to find a painter in the canvass of a painting.
God would have to reveal Himself to us.
And, if God made us, He would know how to communicate Himself to us in a way that we could understand. In my experience, I have learned this to be true. What’s your story?
After Jesus exposed who was going to betray him (Judas), and that Peter, who boldly announced his allegiance, would deny him, he urged the disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled.”
Interestingly, we find that Jesus was troubled, himself, just a short while before as he spoke of Judas, who would betray him. A short time later, as he was still addressing his disciples, Jesus tells them not to be troubled!
The difference is that Jesus knew what was coming for him! The disciples had no clue. Jesus knew that he would handed over to the Roman authorities, tried, mocked, spit on, beaten, scourged, made a public spectacle, nailed to a cross and die there – in just a matter of hours.
The disciples still didn’t understand what Jesus was getting at – what he had been getting at for a long time. Jesus had said similar things many times before. He not only predicted his death, but his resurrection as well. But, his disciples never did realize what he was talking about (until after the fact).
Think about that: the disciples, who lived with Jesus for three years and spoke intimately with him often, didn’t get what he had been talking about throughout that whole time they were with him. They didn’t understand. They needed something more than what Jesus, who was God in the flesh, could give them!
And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:5-13)
Reading through Luke recently this passage impressed me in a way that hadn’t occurred to me previously. We often remember things out of context, but context is important and provides insight, and sometimes even changes what we think we know of the verse, standing alone.
It seems that the ask, seek and knock passage is often remembered for the proposition that God, our heavenly Father, will give us the good things for which we ask, seek and knock because a natural father doesn’t withhold good things for his children. But that isn’t the central point of the passage.
This passage is beautifully laid out in a progression of intimacy that I had not seen before.
“When you have two tuning forks in a room and one begins to vibrate the other will also begin to vibrate if it’s tuned to the same frequency. They resonate. They abide in each other’s frequency.” (Ted Dekker from the Forgotten Way)
If we are tuned to God’s frequency, we will resonate with Him and abide in Him. When we are tuned to God’s frequency, “the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
God’s Spirit and our spirit are like the tuning forks. When we are on the same frequency with God, we resonate with God.