“Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).
“Whosoever surely meaneth me.” — Gospel song by James E. McConnell, 1910.
“He included me.” — Gospel song by Johnson Oatman. 1909.
Every Christian I know does this and I do it too. And yet there seems to be no easy explanation for it.
In Scripture, we will be reading where God is telling Israel how much He loves them, how He has loved them from the first, how His love is endless and that He has big plans for them, and what do we do? We copy off those words and plaster them around the house, memorize them, and write them into songs of inspiration. We put them on bumper stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and we build sermons around them.
We revel in those words.
We do this not because we are so impressed by God’s love of Israel nor touched by their closeness. We do it for another overwhelming reason.
We insert ourselves into the story.
We interpret that Scripture as God saying He loves us that much.
And I find that truly astounding.
Untold numbers of Christians claim as their own personal word from Heaven something God said to Israel in Babylonian exile, something meant both to rebuke their presumptions and calm their anxieties. “I know the plans I have for you, saith the Lord. Plans for your shalom and not for destruction, to give you a future and a hope.” You love Jeremiah 29:11 the same way the rest of us do.
It’s a great promise, unlike anything else in all the Bible.
How did we come to this, appropriating to ourselves a promise made to another people in an ancient time and a foreign culture? Jeremiah lived in the 6th century B.C., and yet his words may as well be published in this morning’s New Orleans Advocate or delivered in today’s mail.
The text that awakened me two hours ago was given about the same time to those people needing reassurance that God was not finished with them yet. “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).
Then, there is this from Isaiah 43:1, delivered nearly two centuries earlier. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are Mine.”
God’s people today read that and conclude He is talking to us in so many words.
And He is.
That’s the amazing thing about it.
And we have this: “Do not fear for I am with you; do not be afraid for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you. I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
Was God speaking to His people in the 8th century B.C., a people called Hebrews, or to His people called Christians in A.D. 2015?
We answer with a hearty “Yes! Both!”
As young Christians, we were told that in reading John 3:16 we should insert our own names, making it read “For God so loved (my name), He gave His only begotten Son, that if (my name) believeth in Him, (my name) should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The logical question–the one no one ever seems to ask–is how is it that we appropriate these promises to ourselves? How did this happen?
Are we being presumptuous? After all….
…We don’t read the love letters of Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd and come away with a warm glow, singing about how “Abe loves me; this I know for his letters tell me so.”
…We don’t read Napoleon’s letters to Josephine, Washington’s letters to Martha Custis, or for that matter Harry Truman’s letters to Bess Wallace, and come away inspired that Bonaparte or George or Harry loves us. We read them as history and little else.
So, how did this happen?
Can our faith in Christ and our relationship with His Scriptures withstand a little analysis?
Have we made an overwhelming assumption here, that what God said to one group He says to all? Or at the very least, that what He said to one group of the faithful applies also to the next?
Is there a preacher on the planet who has not sermonized on 2 Chronicles 7:14 as applying to God’s people today? “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.”
King Solomon said the Lord appeared to him at night and told him this, among other things, during the days of consecration of the new temple. The words were addressed to Israel in the Promised Land.
So, how and when did we decide this applies to us?
Are we reading other people’s mail and calling it ours?
Taking verses out of context seems to be the national pastime for God’s children today.
To some, that is the cardinal sin. To them, context is everything.
And yet, they are mistaken.
Context is not everything.
What a scripture writer (“holy men of old spoke as they were moved by the Spirit”–2 Peter 1:21) understood by the words he declared may have little connection with what God was saying, then or now.
The prophets frequently said more than they knew.
Listen to this. “The prophets who prophesied about the grace that would come to you searched and carefully investigated…. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you concerning things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Angels desire to look into these things” (I Peter 1:10-12).
Don’t ask those prophets what their words meant. And–buckle your seatbelt!–neither should you ask the angels. They don’t know either.
“God having provided some better thing for us” is how the writer of Hebrews puts it in 11:40.
God intended it this way.
When Matthew repeated Isaiah 7:14’s remarkable words about how “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they will call His name Immanuel” in his gospel (1:23), he did not feel bound to what the Old Testament prophet understood by that. In context, Isaiah is rebuking a wicked king for his lack of faith and obedience.
Frankly, the rest of Isaiah chapter 7 is of little interest to anyone but seminary professors and Bible students with a love for history. Isaiah 7:14 is a golden nugget in an otherwise unremarkable field. (Matthew 13:44 comes to mind.)
This is for us, as well as God’s people through the ages.
We are not being presumptuous when we respond to Scripture with faith and love.
He knows my name. He loved me before the world began. Jesus died for me.
The Gospel may as well have come special delivery from Heaven with my name on the cover and requiring my signature at the front door.
It’s that personal. It’s that wonderful.
“He includeth me” is the title of a well-loved gospel song from an earlier time. One verse goes: “‘Freely come drink,’ words the soul to thrill. O, with what joy they my heart do fill! For when He said ‘Whosoever will,’ Jesus included me, too.”
The morning after my brother Charlie prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior, I found him lying up in bed waist-deep in the book of Revelation. He said, “Now, that I’ve gotten in on this, I want to see what’s going to happen!”
I’m in on this.
I’m all in.
This is the family story.
When we read the Holy Scriptures, properly instructed by the Holy Spirit, we are reading mail from home.
No wonder we get all teary-eyed and take it to heart.
Letters from home will do that to a person.