If I were just beginning to read the Bible, I would expect it to be difficult. After all, if the God of the universe puts His thoughts into a book, it makes sense for some of it to be beyond us.
If I were reading the Bible for the first time, I’d get a modern more readable translation. How to do that? Go to Lifeway Christian Stores and spend an hour checking out all the versions.
If I were reading the Bible for the first time, I’d enlist a great friend or two to take my occasional phone call so I could say, “What does this mean?”
And, if I were reading the Bible for the first time, I would do this:
–Move to the New Testament first. This means ignoring (for the moment) the first two-thirds of the Bible.
–I would begin reading at Matthew chapter one and read large portions each day.
Jesus Christ was the First. The Most. The Best. The Last. The Everything.
Scripture ransacks the human language looking for superlatives enough to give mankind some kind of idea who this Person was who was born of a virgin, lived without sin, taught us of Heaven, and died in our place. His resurrection and ascension forever secured His place in the history and thought and conversation of this small planet.
Earth has never seen another like Him. He is unique.
Christianity and the Christian life are all about Jesus.
Regardless of what they tell you, the Christian faith is not about love.
It’s not about morals and doing good.
The Christian faith is not about helping one another and be ye kind and see you in church.
“He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14).
The Lord is under no illusion about us.
The Creator remembers He made us from the dust of the earth. He knows we are made of humble stuff.
And yet He loves us anyway and wants to do amazing things for us. How terrific is that?
He knows He got no bargain when He saved us.
No doubt He lowered any expectations He had concerning us from the first.
When we sin, the only one surprised is us.
“Now, in the morning, having risen a long time before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place, and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ But He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth'” (Mark 1:35-38).
“I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I’m late! I’m late!” So said the white rabbit as he plunged into the hole.– From the Walt Disney movie “Alice in Wonderland.”
I have a hard time turning off my inner engine.
A typical situation looks like this: I’m packing the car in order to leave as soon as possible for a long drive to a preaching assignment. Do I have everything? Have I canceled the newspaper for the days I’ll be gone? Do my children know where I’ll be? Am I taking my laptop? Do I have the phone charger? My extra dress shoes? Enough shirts?
All the while, I’m keeping an eye on the clock. I know how long the drive will take and when I’m expected. The first meeting is tonight. I’d sure like to get there in time to check into the hotel and rest for an hour.
Hurry. Hurry, and hurry some more.
In the car finally and heading out of town, my inner engine is still at warp speed.
“One said to Him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with you.’ But He answered and said to the one who told Him, ‘Who is My mother and who are my brothers?’ And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matthew 12:47-50).
I’m so sorry, Catholic friends. But Scripture will not allow you to worship Mary.
There is no place for Mariolatry, as it is known, in the life of Jesus’ disciples.
We will give her the honor Scripture gives her. We have no trouble calling her blessed, for who would not be blessed by being chosen to bear God’s Son into the world. But no, she is not “the mother of God.” Any way you slice it, the only way you can make Scripture justify worship of Mary is to ignore everything but a few selected verses.
A woman called out of the crowd to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you! And blessed are the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus’ answer is significant. “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28).
Jesus would not allow people to make of Mary more than she was.
“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then, they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world'” (John 4:39-42).
Paul Harvey used to call this “the rest of the story.”
We preachers dearly love the Lord’s encounter with the woman at the well, given in the first half of John 4. It’s insights and teachings, its power and pathos, make it one for the ages. But the story does not end the way we generally conclude it, with her rushing back into the town to tell her friends about the Man she had met. There is more.
As the townspeople flowed out to meet the Lord, they begged Him to stay, which He did. Then, two days later, when He left, Jesus left behind a lot of new believers. That’s when some of them gave us the memorable statement which I’m calling “overlooked scripture.”
“Now we believe…not just because of your testimony that He told you everything you ever did…but because we have met Him for ourselves, and we know that He is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
That’s strong stuff.
“The Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)….” (John 4:1-2)
Baptism has bumfuzzled God’s people from the first.
Where did the practice originate? Answer: Evidently from the Old Testament practice of drenching a newly ordained priest (Leviticus 8:6). Later, some say, the “pouring” was given to proselytes coming into the Jewish faith from the world. So, when John the Baptist arrived and began calling people to wade into the Jordan for a dip (which is the literal meaning of “baptize”), while people thought he was strange, no one seems to have questioned the practice. Oddly, he was baptizing Jews, not Gentiles and not proselytes.
When our Lord was baptized, it signaled His coming out, His going public, His announcing to the world His identity. That moment, in my thinking, was the first time Satan knew beyond a doubt who the Messiah was. He knew the Lord was there somewhere, for he could read Scripture. But Jesus had done no miracles and singled Himself out in no way that would cause the enemy to identify Him. But Satan was on the alert. He listened to John preach and knew to be expecting the Christ. And then one day, Jesus of Nazareth walked into the water and the heavens opened and a voice from the sky shook the landscape.
And that’s when Satan knew.
“No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13).
Jesus knows about Heaven.
He should. He’s a native.
When He speaks of Heavenly things, everyone else on the field should retire and every mouth be closed. No one else carries the credentials Jesus does regarding the divine.
I wonder if people have ever considered the width and breadth and depth of this statement, given by our Lord to Nicodemus.
(It’s not that certain scriptures are lost, misplaced, or denied. Rather, they’re usually surrounded by other better-known texts that tend to suck all the air out of the room. We’re going to present a few articles on some of those overlooked scriptures. No particular order.)
“Now, when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
Is it possible that for some to believe in Jesus and still not be saved?
Doesn’t Scripture make belief in Him the essence of salvation? Immediately after our text, we have the Lord’s encounter with Nicodemus with the iconic John 3:16 which states that “whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Earlier, John 1:12 had said “…to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
And yet, our text makes it clear that some who “believed” in Jesus were not born again. The reason given is a fascinating one: Jesus did not believe in them.
When have we ever given thought to whether Jesus believes in us?
“Always be ready to give a defense (answer) to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear, having a good conscience….” (I Peter 3:15-16).
Knowing you believe is not enough.
You should be able to state why you believe.
(And, it’s not enough to say, as a Mormon did to me once, “This is true because it gives me a warm feeling inside.”)
Most of us would require more reason than that to stake our lives on a teaching or doctrine.
I’ve been loving the last chapter or two of John Ortberg’s 2008 book “Know Doubt.” And I’ve been doing something I rarely do: Reading the final chapter of a book I never actually finished.
I have hundreds of books I never finished.
In most cases, life intervened and something came up and I just never got around to finishing that book. At any given time, I’ll have a half-dozen books going. (At this moment, there are 10 books on the table beside my bed. Ten. I’m embarrassed to admit this.) And some books just get lost in the shuffle and I never finish them, although I enjoyed them and had good intentions.
While searching for comments and insights from Christian writers on the Trinity for a recent article, I found myself absorbed in Ortberg’s chapter on “Why I believe.” I read a page or two and stopped. I would read more and stop. I found myself wondering: How does Ortberg do this? How can he know these things? How can he read those books he talks about and understand them? (Some I started on, but could not understand and abandoned, but here he is quoting some profundity I had missed.) How can Ortberg fill one page with so many delicious quotations?