Lesson 1: Introduction To “Jesus Christ: God Revealed” (Hebrews 1:2-3)Related Media
Editor’s Note: This article is the lightly edited manuscript for the accompanying audio message that Vickie delivered.
During the height of the DaVinci Code media craze, about 10 percent of the books on Amazon.com’s bestseller list were dedicated in full or in part to disproving commonly held beliefs about Jesus Christ and Christianity. More books are still being released embellishing Dan Brown’s theme. One came out recently where the author claims that she is a descendant of Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Fortunately, Christian scholars have written some excellent books proving the DaVinci Code to be full of inaccuracies and outright lies. But, if we are honest, would each of us really be able to answer the question. What do we really know about Jesus? Who is Jesus anyway?
Why is this such an important question? Because the answer determines life on earth and life in eternity.
God has always been the eternal mystery. God created the human heart with an inner longing to know God, even though it cannot always identify that longing. Pascal called it a God shaped vacuum. But how can a person come to know God? Does the universe give us any evidence that God really exists?
Rom. 1:19-20 tells us that God has revealed His existence, divine power and His divine nature through His created world. And Rom. 2 tells us that He has revealed His moral nature through the conscience that all people have that sense of right and wrong. So just from this evidence every person on earth can believe that there is a great and powerful God who has righteous moral standards.
But we still do not really know Him, do we? What is He like? What does He think? How does He feel about people? Is He distant and unreachable? Is He sitting up there waiting to zap us when we sin? Is it possible to know Him personally? God knew our need and the impossibility of our reaching Him through human reason or human effort, so He revealed Himself in two powerful ways.
Heb. 1:1-3 tells us the lengths God went to so that we might not only know He exists but that we may have a personal relationship with Him.
God spoke verbally to men in OT times, either directly or through visions and dreams. He gave these prophets His message to give to His people. Over a period of about 1500 years His Words were written down by about 40 human authors inspired by the Holy Spirit, the divine Author. The Bible is God’s written revelation, inerrant in the original manuscripts. It is our only source for the true knowledge of God
The central message of the OT is that God created men and women for a relationship with Himself. But our sin separated us from God. So God promised to come Himself to redeem His fallen creatures and make it possible for us to be reconciled to Him. God promised that a divine Savior would come to earth and reveal God’s glory to us.
The NT tells us that He kept his promise and the Savior came. He not only spoke God’s Word to us but He revealed God’s nature.
The Son of God is God’s final revelation to us. He is the fullest revelation of God that we will ever have here on earth. Do you not see why Satan has tried through the centuries to distort and deny who Jesus really is? The book, The DaVinci Code is just a warmed over version of the Gnostic heresy of the first 3 centuries that both Paul and John combated so strongly in the NT. But the controversy and the questions it has raised are not unimportant. The authors of a new book, Reinventing Jesus put it this way:
“Attempts to reinvent Jesus are nothing new. The vines of radical skepticism toward the biblical Christ have been creeping up the walls of the ivory tower for two centuries. But only in recent years has such intense cynicism sprouted at the grassroots. And it has spread quickly. The media’s assault on the biblical Jesus, postmodernism’s laissez-faire attitude toward truth, and America’s collective ignorance of Scripture have joined to create a culture of cynicism. In short, society has been conditioned to doubt.”
We in God’s family must examine ourselves to answer honestly 2 questions:
Do I believe the Bible is the inerrant, authoritative Word of God and totally true?
Do I believe what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ, that He was the fully human and fully divine Son of God?
John 1:1 calls the Son of God, the Word for good reason. Words reveal our invisible thoughts. In the same way Jesus made the invisible God visible. How did He do it?
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth....No one has ever seen God but God, the One and Only, who is at the Fathers side, has made him known. John 1:14, 18 (NIV)
When did the Word become flesh? When did God become a human being? God the Son left heaven for a few short years to become a man. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and placed in her womb the Holy one who was the Son of God. When Jesus Christ was born 2000 years ago, God entered this physical world and lived among us. No one has ever seen God’s essence but God the Son has made him visible and knowable. He said Himself, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. John 14:9.
The Son revealed that we have a heavenly Father. And what do we see when we see Jesus? The glory of a God who is full of grace and truth. Our God is not a cosmic ogre waiting to destroy us but a merciful, gracious Father who welcomes us into His family.
This is the distinctive difference between the OT and the NT. The almighty, sovereign God of the OT is the personal heavenly Father of those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. In the NT God is called Father over 240 times as compared to a small handful of times in the OT.
“You sum up the whole of the New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. Father is the Christian name for God.” (J. I. Packer)
This is hard for some of us. If you had a loving, caring earthly father, it is easy to transfer that image to a heavenly Father, just multiply it by a million. But if you had a distant, absent or abusive father, you will have a problem. You will have to disconnect everything you experienced with your earthly father and learn how wonderful your heavenly Father is and choose to believe it.
That is why Jesus spoke so often of God as our heavenly Father. Then His life showed us what the Father is like. But why was Jesus Christ able to reveal the invisible God? Because of who He is. We cannot disconnect Jesus from God. He was not just a perfect man or an ideal example. He was God in a human body. Immanuel, God with us.
Let us look at each of these phrases separately.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory
Radiance means outshining of the brightness of God’s glory. You cannot separate the brilliance of the sun from the sun itself. And you cannot separate the glory of the Son from His deity. He is God. The disciples saw His glory when he was transfigured before them on the mountain.
Representation is the word, “charakter,” only here in NT. It means a mark stamped on something, like an image on a coin. When we see Jesus we see what God’s nature really is like.
Col. 1:15 (NIV) says “He is the image of the invisible God.”
Sustaining all things by His powerful word.
Col. 1:17 (NIV) says, “in Him all things hold together.”
Scientists have never been able to discover the force that keeps the protons and electrons in the atom spinning in perfect order. What keeps the planets and stars in orbit? The Bible says that God the Son is not only the Creator, but the Sustainer of this immense universe.
THINK: If He cares about the atom and the stars, how much more do you think He must care about sustaining our lives, of holding our lives together. We are the ones for whom He came to die. The next statement brings us to that.
After he had provided purification for sins:
Seven words, but what a story they tell.
How did the Son make it possible for us to be forgiven and cleansed from our sins?
He, God in human form, suffered and died on the cross to satisfy God’s justice. He himself took the penalty for the sins of his fallen creation, so that those who believe on Him might have eternal life and fellowship with God. Then He rose from the dead to prove that He was truly the Son of God and to prove that all the sins of everyone who has ever lived were paid for. 40 days after his resurrection he went back to heaven and
He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
This is a very important statement. He sat down because the work of redemption was finished. Do you remember He said precisely that when He hung on the cross?
“It is finished” meant penalty for sin was paid in full.
There were no chairs in the OT tabernacle. The priests never finished their work because there were always sacrifices to be made for sins. Animal blood could not pay for people’s sins. Every animal slain on every altar in the OT just pointed to the future One who would be the one sacrifice for all sins forever, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Heb. 10:11-12 gives us the contrast.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. (NIV)
It is absolutely essential for your spiritual life that you understand that when you study the Bible it is not for the purpose of just learning all kinds of facts about the Bible. You can go to seminary or any other kind of study and learn the facts and stories from the Bible. But if that is all you do you miss the point entirely.
“Suppose a friend had a hotel room in Acapulco overlooking the ocean on his vacation. He comes back and tells you about the wonderful window in his room. It had one large pane of glass, and 4 smaller panes on either side. It was 6 feet long and 4 feet high. Its framework was made of steel that resists corrosion. In fact, he even had the glass analyzed chemically. Would you not think he had missed the point? The window was there for him to see the ocean, not to study the window.”
The Bible is a window. We look through it to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And when we see Him we see God in His essential nature. We see our heavenly Father.
Have you realized before today that the One who died in your place on the cross is really God the Son, your Creator and Sustainer? Have you put your faith in Him alone to forgive your sins, give you eternal life and make you a child of God.
Jesus said, I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, NIV)
You may, with an act of your will, put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ today, right where you are sitting. Just tell God:
I know I am a sinner. I believe that your Son died for me and rose again. I put my faith in Him alone to forgive my sins, bring me to God and give me eternal life.
I would love to talk to anyone who did this or wants to after class.
Our Heavenly Father revealed in Jesus
Our studies this fall will emphasize what Jesus revealed about our heavenly Father while He was here on earth, both in His words and His works. I want you to be constantly thinking that was his purpose as you do the questions at home and during our lessons here:
Jesus is God the Son. He revealed the nature of the invisible God to us. He spoke God’s words, thought God’s thoughts, felt and expressed God’s emotions, did God’s works.
Malachi 3:6 (NIV) I the Lord do not change.
Hebrews 13:8 (NIV) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
The loving, gracious, righteous, compassionate God Jesus Christ revealed is the same today. He is our heavenly Father if we have trusted His Son Jesus Christ.
What he thought then, He thinks now.
What He felt then, He feels now.
What he did then, He would do now.
Maybe you are thinking, So What? What does this mean to me?
It means that your heavenly Father still has compassion for the poor, the oppressed, the helpless and the sorrowing. Your heavenly Father cares for you in the situation you are in right now. Your heavenly Father knows your heart is aching because of the failure of your marriage or the disappointment of children who have turned from the truth and bought the world’s lies. Your heavenly Father knows that your husband has been without a job for a long time. Your heavenly Father knows your needs and He cares. Your heavenly Father knows what sickness has done to your family and He cares. Your heavenly Father knows the difficulties in caring for an aged parent and He cares for both of you. He may not bring relief in the spectacular ways Jesus did while here on earth, but He does give strength, the ability to endure, moment by moment. And that is a quiet miracle, is it not?
Your heavenly Father does send provision for material needs in many unexpected ways, does not He? The anonymous gift of money, the friends who bring meals, who come and relieve you from the constant care of a loved one, the people who pray for you, who drive you to the doctor, who babysit your children. These are just a few of the ways your heavenly Father meets your needs today.
His heart is the same, His power is the same, but his method is different. Instead of Jesus Christ living in one human body on earth as He did 2000 years ago, He sent the Holy Spirit to live in each one of us who have trusted Him as our Lord and Savior. He lives in millions of human bodies. We together are His body on earth.
1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV) Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (Not an option)
He lives in us and through us to touch the hurting world around us.
He said that we would be the light of the world when He went back to heaven. How can people see God revealed in our lives today? How can we let God’s glory shine through our bodies?
Matthew 5:16 (NIV) Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Is it really possible to live in such a way at home and in the community that other people will see our heavenly Father in our everyday actions? That is precisely the reason for which we have been saved. We were not saved to just go on living self-centered, self-serving lives. We have been given a new motivation, a new reason for living and a new power to live.
2 Corinthians 5:15 (NIV) And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
How do we live for Him in practical ways? How can our lives reveal our heavenly Father to others? By doing what Jesus did.
- By showing compassion
- By actively relieving the distress of those around us, first in God’s family, then the community.
- By helping those widowed by death or divorce. Caring for orphans.
- By visiting the sick and sorrowing.
- By showing love and mercy for the aged.
- By feeding the hungry, listening to the confused, sharing our material possessions with the needy.
- By praying for the deliverance of those in bondage.
- By moving out of our own tight circle of friends who buy their clothes at the same shops, drive the same kind of cars and become friends with people out of your social class.
- By helping an unwed mother go through with her pregnancy, providing emotional, spiritual and practical support. It is not enough just to be against abortion.
Most of all, by bringing the good news of the Gospel to those who dont know Jesus Christ, the only way to God the Father. Jesus is the Bridge from earth to heaven, the giver of eternal life.
In His prayer just before his death in John 17, Jesus said to His Father, I have revealed you to those you gave me out of the world. Jesus revealed that we have a good, gracious, strong, merciful heavenly Father who loves us unconditionally.
Let us be willing to lay aside all the distorted conceptions we have of fatherhood and realize that our great God is everything a Father should be times a million.
Let us come with confidence into His presence, knowing we are welcome because Jesus escorts us to His Father’s throne.
Let us begin living as though we believed this is true.
Lesson 2: Miracle At Cana (John 1:32-2:11)Related Media
Editor’s Note: This article is the lightly edited manuscript for the accompanying audio message that Vickie delivered.
God was here! Walking this planet. He lived in an obscure village in a tiny country on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. From the age of 12 till Jesus was about 30 there are no incidents recorded about Him in the Bible. So any stories you hear about the miracles he supposedly performed as a child are the product of someone’s imagination. But there are things we can know about his family life.
Mark 6:3 tells us that Mary and Joseph had at least 6 other children, 4 sons and 2 daughters. Jesus knew what it was to live in a large family and be the only half-brother. Joseph taught him the trade of carpentry and he supported his family by working as a carpenter, because by the time he began his public ministry, Joseph was dead. Jesus knew what it was to work with his hands to earn his daily bread. All the time Jesus lived on earth He never used his power to make life easy for himself.
But now the time had come to begin his public ministry. For months John the Baptist had been preaching that the Messiah was coming and people were being baptized to indicate that they repented of their sins and were waiting for the Messiah (Christ) Jesus started his ministry by going to John to baptize him.
When he came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove.
Now John knew for sure that Jesus was the promised Christ. That was the sign he had been told to look for. After his baptism Jesus went into the wilderness and successfully endured 40 days and nights of fasting while Satan tempted him. He proved his qualifications to be our sinless Savior when he defeated Satan and would not sin.
John 1:19-21 gives us a rapid sequence of events that took place just before the occasion we are studying today.
When Jesus returned from the wilderness John pointed his own disciples to Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Son of God. So these men followed Jesus and brought others. By the time the chapter ends Jesus had about 5 men with him who believed on Him because of John’s testimony and their own experience. These 5 were the first of that special group of 12 ordinary men who lived with Him and were trained by him for over 3 years.
In John 1 we have many titles and names for Jesus:
The Word, the Light, the One and Only from the Father, God, the One and Only, Lord, Lamb of God, Son of God, Messiah or Christ, the Prophet like Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, King of Israel, Rabbi, Son of Man.
Theses titles had tremendous significance for the Jews familiar with OT promises about the coming Messiah. They meant that Jesus was the one they had been eagerly waiting for. What spectacular thing would Jesus use to reveal who he was? Where would he start? Can you imagine what Hollywood would do with an opportunity like that? But Jesus revealed His glory for the first time in a very strange but meaningful way.
Cana was a village in the hills of Galilee. Its location is not certain, but scholars believe it was located about nine miles north of Nazareth. I think it is worth noticing that the human race began with God officiating at a wedding between a man and a woman and the ministry of Jesus, God on earth began with His presence at a wedding. This tells us something about God’s view of marriage which we need to hear in a day when marriage is being avoided or destroyed by abuse, infidelity, lack of commitment and divorce. Actually, when it is in danger of being redefined to allow same sex marriage to be equally normal.
Jesus obviously was not a recluse. He was a social person. He was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to share in the joy of others. This was not just going to a ceremony and reception for a few ours. The wedding celebration lasted seven days. In that day a couple would become betrothed, usually for about a year. This betrothal was as binding as a marriage and could only be broken by divorce. The wedding was celebrated when the bridegroom came to take his bride and escort her to his home, where there would be a great time of feasting, singing, dancing and general rejoicing for a week. At the end of the week the bride would be escorted by her parents to the nuptial chamber and marriage would be consummated. This was obviously a time of great joy.
God wants us to enjoy life, to share other people’s joy, to smell the flowers along the way. He has given us all things richly to enjoy and Jesus modeled that for us.
Mary must have been visiting with their hosts or helping out when she was in on an embarrassing discovery. The wine had run out! Lavish hospitality in the east was a sacred duty. Either they had underestimated the number of guests or they had been skimpy in their provisions. This was not just an embarrassment, it was a disgrace. It was a never-to-be-forgotten social faux pas.
Mary knew where to go for help. She depended upon her oldest Son and he had never failed her yet. This request tells us a little about Mary. She was concerned about other people’s problems. She was not aloof or quick to pass judgment. She wanted to help her friends. Maybe she also thought this would be a super time for Jesus to do something spectacular to reveal who he really was. After all, she of all people knew where He came from. So she simply came to him and stated the problem. His answer seems strange to us.
Jesus knew His timetable. There is a sense of order and destiny in the measured way He moves through the Gospel records. He was not going to do the showy, spectacular miracle to draw attention to himself. He also in a gentle way let his mother know that he was no longer under her authority. Mary did not question him or go away disappointed. She just left it to him to do as he pleased. She trusted him to solve the problem and the next verse records the only command she ever gives in the Bible.
Do whatever he tells you. (NIV)
These words are as relevant to us today as they were to the servants then. You will notice that Mary never focused on herself, but on Jesus. He is the one we come, He is the one who has the power to help, He is the one to obey.
These large stone water jars were used for the ceremonial washing required by religious Jews. Their religion had become almost entirely external with very little impact on their spiritual lives. Can you imagine what the servants must have thought when a guest told them to fill all six water jars with water. That is from 120-180 gallons of water that had to be drawn from the well. But they filled them to the brim and came back for further instructions.
What do you think they thought? They knew these just were just filled with water. How could they take them to the master of the feast as wine? But the lady had said to do whatever this man said and they just obeyed. We would do well to follow their example. Jesus speaks to us today through the Bible. We have in our hands the written record of what he expects his followers to do. It is not necessary for us to know ahead of time just how everything will work out. Our responsibility is to simply do what He says to do.
You may say, “But how can I not be anxious? This is a situation to worry about. My resources are depleted financially, emotionally, spiritually. What am I going to do? I have nowhere left to go.”
Jesus says, “Come to me. Trust me. Tell me what you need and let me provide for you in my own way. I will protect your heart and your mind with my peace. I know it is hard to understand that even in the midst of overwhelming circumstances I can give you peace, but I can and I will. Just keep on believing that I will bring you through and let me take care of you.” Do not be ashamed of feeling inadequate. We were designed to be inadequate so that we will learn to rely on God.
The master of the banquet knew nothing about what had transpired outside. He only knew that the wine had run out and this was a new supply. But it was the best wine he had ever tasted. A wonderful wedding present for the bridal couple. What an unobtrusive miracle. Who knew about it? The servants, the disciples and surely Mary. How did Jesus do it? What did he use? He used what was there, just as would do many other times. The servants, the water jars, the water! He will use just what we are and have to accomplish his purposes in our lives today.
Maybe we should better say a little about wine in that culture. Wine was not to be drunk unless it was mixed with water. The ratio could increase to as much as 12 parts water to 1 part wine. It was one of the methods of purifying water which was not always safe to drink. This miracle is not to be construed as an unlimited license to drink alcoholic beverages. The Scripture has much to say about not drinking new wine, strong drink and mixed drinks. Drunkenness is strongly denounced.
This was the first miracle Jesus performed. Another reason to disbelieve the childhood miracles attributed to him. John uses an interesting word to describe this miracle. He calls it a sign and uses this word 17 times in his gospel. When applied to a miracle this word implies that the miracle is an indication of some power or meaning behind it to which the miracle is secondary in importance. What hidden meaning is there behind this miracle?
First, it proved that Jesus had supernatural power and could use it any way he chose. He could speak, touch, or just simply will it to be done as he did here. His miracles authenticated his person and his message.
He revealed that He is God the Creator. He simply accelerated the process in which rain causes the vine to produce grapes which are then crushed and fermented into wine.
Second, this unique miracle was a sign pointing to what he came to do. The Jewish religion had deteriorated to just being concerned with external cleansing. But it could not provide for internal cleansing. This miracle is a picture of conversion. Jesus changed the water into wine. He changed its nature. He came to change sinners into saints, to give us a new nature. 2 Cor. 5:17 says, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.
Third, wine is a symbol of joy in the Bible.
Ps. 104:15 (NIV) Wine that gladdens the heart of man.
Ps. 4:7 (NIV) You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.
Joy is what Jesus came to give us.
We can have joy because we know that Jesus loves us. We can trust His love and prove it by obeying His Word.
We can have joy because Jesus has given us free access into the Father’s presence and answered prayer through his death and resurrection.
We can have joy in a hostile world because Jesus prayed for the Father to protect us while we live in it.
Does this mean that we are guaranteed happiness? What do you mean by happiness… enough money, no sickness, no difficult circumstances, a perfect job, a lot of friends, a perfect marriage? We usually base happiness on our circumstances. If you are looking for happiness in money, things, status, pleasure, people or accomplishments, there is an important lesson here.
The world’s joy always runs out, but the joy Jesus gives flows forever.
That is why I think He made such an abundant supply: 120-180 gallons of wine. He wants us to know that he gives us abundant joy, a joy that comes from within. It is that settled state of the heart that can rejoice in the Lord in spite of difficult circumstances. Joy comes from being forgiven. Joy comes from answered prayer. Joy comes from knowing you do not have to make it on your own. You have a heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally and will take you through whatever your situation. Joy comes from the realization that this life on earth is not all there is to life. There is all of eternity in God’s presence in our future. And this life is just a waiting room where we grow and mature and learn to trust our heavenly Father.
Habakkuk, that bewildered prophet, saw his world collapsing around his ears and questioned God about it. God’s answer was, “It’s just going to get worse!”
Habakkuk came to the conclusion we all have to reach if we are going to mature.
Hab. 3:17 (NIV) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
What were the immediate results of this miracle of the wine?
Jesus thus revealed His glory. His glory was the glory of the Father.
What do we learn from Jesus about our Heavenly Father?
How many ways can God say “I love you?”
He cares about our everyday problems. He has solutions we would never imagine. God will never turn us away, no matter how unimportant we think something is. God wants to be involved in our lives, not just the spiritual part, but in every area, your job, your homemaking, your relationships, your dating, your money management; everything.
The second result was that the disciples put their faith in Him.
They had already believed, now they believed even more. This is what will happen to each of us who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our faith should not remain static. It grows and matures. Our love increases as we know Him more. And the result of loving Him more should be to live for Him more and more.
2 Corinthians 5:15
Have you trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Do you realize who He really is? God in human form. He came to reveal the invisible God to us. He came to make the way for us to come to God by dying in our place so our sins might be forgiven and we might have eternal life. You may put your faith in Him right there where you are sitting.
John 3:36 (NIV) Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.
For those of us who already know Him, my prayer for us is this:
Rom. 15:13 (NIV) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lesson 3: The Samaritan Woman (John 4)Related Media
Editor’s Note: This article is the lightly edited manuscript for the accompanying audio message that Vickie delivered.
Just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus told his disciples, Go and make disciples of all nations. We know that this is a command for all Christians in each successive generation. Yet I think most of us feel guilty because we hardly ever tell anyone about the greatest gift in the world (salvation through Jesus Christ). But usually our problem is to know how do to do it.
One of the ways is through Friendship Evangelism. The premise is that as we try to win people to Jesus Christ, we must attempt first to become their friends, talk to them, listen to them, invite them to our homes, go places with them, show them love, help them in their need. Then when they see that we really are different, they will want what we have and we can share Christ with them.
We are learning that Jesus Christ was God living here in a human body, fully God and fully man. He revealed the invisible God, our heavenly Father to us in His words, attitudes and actions. He told his disciples He wanted them to be His friends and He showed what true friendship looked like.
Since He is now in heaven, He has given us the responsibility to reveal God, our heavenly Father, through our lives so that others may be born into His family, and He modeled for us in His many relationships how to be a true friend to others.
As we work through our lesson today we will discover principles He modeled that still work in being a true friend.
Jesus’ ministry had begun in earnest and it was attracting attention. He had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover and the religious leaders were beginning to ask questions about him. In order to avoid a direct clash with them at this time He started back to Galilee.
He did not have to go through Samaria. This was a deliberate choice other Jews never made. They hated the Samaritans, they considered them to be racial and religious half breeds. So they went around two longer routes to avoid them. But Jesus went through Samaria because there was someone He had to see there.
To make friends, give priority to people and be available
I think we often give priority to activities, schedules and programs. But people must come first.
They arrived at the little village of Sychar about noontime. The road ran through a valley and the town was up on a hill. The well that Jacob had dug 2000 years before was still supplying water. The disciples went into the town to buy food, but Jesus sat alone by the well. He was tired, hungry, and thirsty, a clear indication of his humanity.
Imagine this woman’s surprise when a Jewish man spoke to her and asked her for a drink. Jesus did something we can learn from.
Use a common point of interest or contact
They were both at the well needing water. She had a jar, He did not. He asked a favor of her, put himself in a position of need. This is not usually our approach, is it? What was even more unusual was that Jews would not use the same utensils as a Samaritan, because they considered them unclean, but this man wanted to use her waterpot. Not only that but a Rabbi never spoke to a woman in public, not even his own wife and he certainly never would have spoken to a Samaritan woman. But man made rules never controlled Jesus. This woman had a heart’s need and He knew he could meet it. There is a lesson for us here.
Do not discriminate because of race, gender, religion or social class
Do we let social, racial or religious barriers keep us from befriending people who need to know the Lord Jesus and who could enrich our lives and broaden our understanding of the love of God for all people. I see wonderful examples of this in Christians who cross these barriers to reach out to immigrants and homeless people all over our city. Others have gone to help those who lost everything in Katrina and other disasters. Notice how Jesus responded to her question.
If you knew the gift of God and WHO it is... (NIV)
Now Jesus began to reveal who He was to her.
Reveal yourself gradually
We cannot make true friendships when we always wear a mask to protect ourselves and hide our real self. I know we can do this from fear of rejection. But people want to know the real you. We must be authentic and vulnerable. Sure, there is a risk involved. On the other hand, we do not want to dump the whole truck load at our first encounter. It is wise to reveal ourselves gradually depending on the person’s response, just as Jesus did.
He constantly exposed himself to rejection, but He never let rejection change His confidence or His worth.
You see, this woman had to trust Him before she could receive His gift. And people have to trust us before they will trust the Savior we say we believe in. Notice how He stimulated her curiosity. What was the gift? Who was He? What was living water?
Living water to her meant a fresh spring in contrast to a pool or cistern. Her answer shows that they were on different wave lengths. She was literal. He used terms that had deep spiritual significance. But he was not discouraged by her cluelessness. Living water was used symbolically in the O.T. to refer to God.
Jer. 2:13 (NIV) My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Many references in the Bible to water do not mean H2O, but refer to the Word of God or salvation. Just as we cannot live physically without H2O, we cannot live spiritually without God, who is the Source of living water. Jesus wanted to satisfy the thirst of her soul. That thirst we were all born with.
God built a thirst within us to drive us to Himself.
But instead we spend our time and energy drinking water from the world’s broken cisterns and wonder why we are still thirsty. Wealth, beauty, art, education, power, pleasure, career, even marriage –all are finally meaningless in the effort to find the essential values of life, to find personal fulfillment, to quench our thirst. Nothing material or earthly can satisfy the thirst of our spirits. Jesus claims to give one drink that will satisfy our heart’s thirst forever. To drink is another way of saying, “to believe.”
Later on Jesus made clear how that thirst for God would be satisfied.
The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence satisfies our thirst for God
Here Jesus identifies living water with the Holy Spirit who indwells each person the moment that we put our faith in Christ. In the O.T. the Spirit came upon people to enable them to accomplish specific tasks, then He could leave. But now He lives permanently in each one of us who belong to Jesus. That is why we will not be thirsty for God again.
Many of us, even believers spend our lives expecting another human being to satisfy that thirst –a husband, either present or future, a parent, a child, a friend. No human being, no matter how wonderful can fill the place meant only for God. There are needs people can meet, and there are needs only God can meet and we should know the difference. This will save us from unrealistic expectations and constant disappointment.
The woman was interested. She was entirely literal. She had a wrong understanding and wrong motives. Cannot you hear her thinking: Would not it be wonderful to never have to come to the well again, never to run the risk of woman gossiping about her. What a deal. But Jesus did not lose patience with her.
Accept people where they are. Do not judge by externals
We must show that we are interested in them, accepting them without demanding that they change first. This is hard to do, but if we are going to tell them that God loves them, it might be a good idea to let God demonstrate that love through us from the start.
Now Jesus abruptly seemed to change the subject.
Jesus knew all about her before he met her. (Omniscience) He accepted her just as she was. This does not mean he approved of her life style. She was either widowed or divorced 5 times. Only men could initiate divorce. Can you imagine what her self image was. The only man that would stay with her was one who would not marry her. Jesus just stated the facts, but He teaches us something important here.
Do not ask someone to trust Christ unless they know that they are a sinner.
The first step towards recognition of a need for salvation is for a person to acknowledge that she is a sinner. Each of us was born a sinner. That is why we sin.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5, NIV)
The sins we commit are just the evidence that we have a sinful nature. We all need forgiveness and Jesus is the only One who can give it. Many times human pride will keep us from admitting our sin. That is why this is important.
Now she sidetracked him into a religious discussion. This will often happen when we try to share our faith.
E.g. If Jesus is the only way, what about the heathen who never heard? Why would a good God let such evil happen?
We can try to answer those questions if they are answerable, but do not let them get us off point.
Do not compromise the truth to win favor.
Jesus was very honest with her. Notice how He used her detour to enlighten her further. He revealed something about God that is nowhere else stated so clearly in the NT.
A time is coming and now has come... (NIV)
His own death and resurrection would bring in a new access to God.
1. The worship of God would no longer be located in a certain place, like the temple in Jerusalem.
2. Samaritans worshiped ignorantly. They had a corrupt mixture of Jewish and pagan religions. He did not use soft soap to win her favor.
3. Salvation is from the Jews. All the O.T. promises about a Savior coming from the Jewish people were true. Jesus in His humanity was descended from Abraham, the father of the Jews.
4. God is Spirit and seeks people who worship Him in spirit and in truth. Worship would not be in man made temples or churches, but in the inner sanctuaries of people’s hearts. God would not be the exclusive property of one race or one denomination. He fills the universe and is everywhere present. But He is also our heavenly Father.
In this exchange Jesus introduces a dimension to friendship we cannot ignore.
True friendship nurtures the spiritual life
All friendships for believers must have a spiritual aspect, either for evangelism or for encouraging and building others up. Friendships will not be deep and intimate that do not nurture the spirit as well.
Well, she did not know a lot, but this was one thing she did know. Samaritans expected a Prophet like Moses to come. Since they did not accept anything but the first 5 books of the O.T. as their scriptures, they did not know the other prophecies about Messiah. They just looked for this Messiah to be a teacher who would explain everything.
This is total self revelation. This the only time before His trial that Jesus stated this so clearly. He revealed His identity to this immoral Samaritan woman, not to the religious leaders or even to His own disciples. This was remarkable in a day when the rabbis taught that to teach a woman spiritual truth was like teaching a dog; that it was better to burn the Scriptures than to teach a woman. But He also models something very important.
Be willing to risk rejection
He had offered Himself to her as the One who could satisfy her soul’s thirst, the Messiah. What would her response be?
She had two choices: faith or rejection. Those are really the only two options anyone has and as we befriend people and witness for Christ, we must make this clear. There is no safe fence to sit on.
But do you realize that we who have trusted Him already must make the same choice daily?
- Do we believe or reject Him when He promises to guide us concerning our future?
- Do we believe or reject him when He says that suffering is a major instrument used by God to build into us the character of Jesus Christ?
- Do we believe or reject him when He says He unconditionally loves us and will meet our every need?
- Do we believe or reject Him when He warns us that the love of money is the root of every kind of evil?
- Do we believe or reject Him when He tells us that knowing, memorizing and obeying his word will keep us from sin?
- Do we believe or reject Him when He says that no one comes to the Father except through him?
What would this woman’s response be: Faith or rejection?
The disciples attitude towards women reflected that of the culture, but Jesus never obeyed the traditions of men that violated God’s value system and they did not dare to question him.
The woman was so excited about her encounter with him that she just left her waterpot and hurried back into the town. Notice what was most impressive to her about their conversation.
“He told me everything I ever did.”
Tell your friend what Jesus has done for you
All any of us have to really share is what Jesus Christ has done for us personally. That is why it is so essential to keep growing in our experience with him and in our knowledge of His Word so that we have something fresh to share with others. We cannot give others water from a dry well.
This could not be the Messiah, could it?
It is interesting to see how her perception of Jesus had progressed as He gradually revealed himself. He went from being a man by the well to a Jew to a prophet to the Messiah.
Cultivate the relationship by increasing self-revelation
Friendships and love grow as we reveal ourselves, accept and trust each other and challenge each other. Friendships are pretty sterile if all you do is talk about surface stuff. We all need friends who know who we really are and love us anyway.
Look at the impact this immoral woman had on her community. The disciples had gone into the town and only brought back bread. She went in and brought back the town. She was someone none of us would want to represent us. But Jesus was not ashamed to be identified with her.
Jesus stayed with these Samaritans for 2 more days at their request. What did he teach them in those 2 days? Their conclusion is revealing.
This man really is the Savior of the world. (NIV)
Jesus had given them a world view. Not just the provincial idea that the Jews had that the Messiah would deliver Israel from Roman rule. The world needs a greater deliverance than that from political or economic oppression. The world needs deliverance from sin. Maybe Jesus even told them He would die for the sins of the world and rise again from the dead and they believed in Him. But how did it all start?
It started with Jesus truly reaching out in friendship to this outcast woman. He initiated the contact. He revealed himself to her because she needed what He had to offer, and He accepted her as she was. He did not compromise the truth to win her favor. She believed him and he quenched her thirst for a secure relationship with a Person, a heavenly Father who would love her unconditionally forever. And her witness to her townspeople resulted in their conversion as well.
Now I would like to go back to the conversation Jesus had with His disciples while she was telling the good news back in town.
The disciples were as literal in their understanding as the woman was. Jesus spoke of the complete satisfaction that comes from doing what God wants us to do. Many of you know the unparalleled joy it is to see a person trust the Savior because of your efforts.
Now as they were gathered by the well, Jesus turned their attention to the town on the hill. A stream of people was already coming down. This was the harvest ready to be gathered in.
True friends share Jesus Christ with others
He tells us here, as he told them, that we all are to be working at gathering in a crop for eternal life. That means we are to be involved in evangelism. One will sow the seed, another water it, another cultivate it and another reap it. But we will all rejoice together. All around us are fields of people ripe for harvest. But we must gather them in. We must learn how to make friends, and be a true friend to them just as Jesus was. Remember, He was called the Friend of sinners.
What does Jesus reveal to us about God, our heavenly Father?
- Our heavenly Father is a seeking God. He initiates relationships
- He knew all about her life. He is omniscient
- Our heavenly Father is Spirit, He fills the universe (omnipresent),
- He values women as much as He does men. He cares for us individually
- He is patient with our ignorance and blindness.
- He leads us gently into light.
- He makes us confront our sins not to condemn but to deliver us.
- Our Father loves us and proved it by sending his Son to be the Savior of the world
- Our heavenly Father wants our worship to be in spirit and truth.
- He wants to use us to bring others into his family.
- He wants to be our Friend as well as our Father.
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, NIV)
That is exactly what he did when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.
He also said,
You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14, NIV)
If sharing your faith is difficult for you, tell your heavenly Father that you want to be obedient, but you need His help. He will show you how to approach a person and what to say.
Let us be true friends to others and introduce them to the greatest Friend of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Lesson 4: The Widow at Nain (Luke 6:17-7:23)Related Media
Jesus was now very active in His public ministry. He was traveling through the villages and towns proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand and His ministry was authenticated by the many miracles He performed. He had chosen His 12 disciples and they traveled with Him. They were back in Galilee and crowds were increasingly following him from all over Israel and neighboring countries
No one had ever seen a man do the miracles He did or heard the words He spoke. Yet busy as He was He always had time to stop and care for that one person with a special need. The crowd was not just a faceless mob to Him. They were individuals in whom He had a personal interest. They were like sheep without a shepherd and He had come to be their Shepherd.
Jesus left Capernaum where He had healed a centurion’s servant from a distance, without even seeing him. Now He and his disciples traveled on down to Nain, a town about 25 miles southwest of Capernaum.
Try to imagine the scene. Jesus and His disciples were approaching the town gate, followed by a large, excited crowd. Suddenly a hush fell on the crowd. There was a funeral procession coming out of the town. A litter with a dead body on it was being carried out to the cemetery. A weeping mother, dressed in widow’s clothes followed. She was accompanied by a large crowd of friends mourning with her. This was a noisy crowd in a different way. They were wailing, weeping and some had torn their clothes to indicate their grief.
The dead man was the only son of his mother and she was a widow. (NIV)
This poignant sentence tells a sad story. This woman had lost her husband, now her son was gone. In that day, parents depended upon their children to care for them in their old age. The death of her only son meant that she would not only be lonely but possibly destitute. Now the Mosaic Law provided for widows, orphans and the poor. They could glean in the fields after the reapers and gather their grain and fruit. There was also a special tithe taken every third year to be distributed to the poor. God warned his people that they were never to oppress or exploit the poor or the widows and orphans.
Ex. 22:22-23 (NIV) Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.
Deuteronomy 10:18 (NIV) He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow.
It was the responsibility of the community to care for the poor in that day. Jewish people today still care for their own to a greater extent than other ethnic groups usually do.
Now Jesus knew all this. He could have just passed by and assumed that this town would rally around the widow and see that she at least had food and clothes.
When the Lord saw her, His heart went out to her and He said, “Do not cry.” (NIV)
Cannot you picture Him? He leaves His followers, walks up to her and with tenderness and compassion says just two words. They would have been unrealistic and unkind coming from anyone else. She had plenty to cry about. To me there is something very comforting in knowing that when I am in pain, God’s heart goes out to me. He is the One who really feels my pain, He cares for me and wants to comfort me. He is not a cold, distant, helpless deity. He is a loving, compassionate Father.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. (NIV)
In 2 Corinthians 1:4-5 He is called the “Father of mercies” and the “God of all comfort.”
But that is not all Jesus said and did. Now He walked over to the litter and touched it. The pallbearers stopped. Imagine what they must have thought. Touching the dead made a person ceremonially unclean. Here was a rabbi, a teacher, doing it. But that still was not all. Jesus then spoke directly to the dead man.
“Young man, I say to you, get up” (NIV)
Jesus stood and faced our worst enemy, Death. And with the ring of divine authority He exercised His power over it. This is the first time He raised a person from the dead. In each of the three recorded cases, He spoke to the corpse. And the dead heard His voice and obeyed. John 5:28.
The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (NIV)
Cannot you sense the gentleness, the understanding, the personal interest in her that these words reveal? Can you imagine the joy Jesus felt being able to do this for her. I wonder if we realize what it meant to Him to reverse in a tangible way, the curse which is the result of human sin. I think He smiled as He saw her tears turn to unbelievable joy. Her son was alive. She would not be left alone. She would see her grandchildren, her future was secure.
What impact did this miracle have on the crowd?
They were filled with awe, reverence, fear of God. They praised God. (NIV)
Surely they were reminded of the dead child that Elisha raised from the dead over 800 years before in the town of Shunem which was just on the other side of the hill from Nain. But did they actually realize that God really had come and was living among them? They may have remembered the Scripture:
Isaiah 35:4-6 (NIV) Be strong, do not fear; your God will come...He will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
This was what the Messiah would do when He came. And that was exactly what Jesus was doing! This miracle also illustrated some important truths. We have seen that God is deeply concerned with our grief and pain. Jesus actively did what He had the power to do to alleviate this woman’s suffering. In this he modeled for us what we are supposed to do to relieve human suffering today.
All around us are people who are hurting, without the essentials to sustain life, lonely, or disabled. Some have suffered broken marriages, or estranged children. Some are homeless, jobless, hopeless, and lost. There is something each of us can do. It may be very small in comparison to their degree of need, but that is not the issue. We can bring a meal, make a visit, bring clothes, blankets, listen to their troubles, pray with them and for them. We can counsel and support women in crisis pregnancies. We can give money so that ministries like Union Gospel Mission and Salvation Army who minister to the down and out so they can continue their work. We can share the Gospel. Remember we are Christ’s Body on earth. He works through us to show God’s love and concern.
We all can and must do something. We cannot close our eyes and pretend there is no one out there that needs our help.
We find the next effect of this miracle in the following verses. John the Baptist had been in prison for quite a long while and he may have expected that Jesus coming would have different results. In his uncertainty he sent directly to Jesus.
The purpose of miracles in the Bible is always to accredit the messenger and the message. Jesus was saying to John:
Remember the prophecies in Is. 35 and 61, see what I am doing, and put it all together.
Thus he reassured John that He was the Messiah.
But I believe this miracle also illustrated visibly what the Lord Jesus came to accomplish by His death on the cross and His resurrection.
2 Timothy 1:9-10
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed (abolished) death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (NIV)
How did death become a part of human existence. It was not part of God’s original design. Adam and Eve were created to live forever. In that beautiful garden God gave them every provision and perfect freedom to enjoy each other, to enjoy life and to enjoy their Creator. There was one prohibition.
Do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the day you eat of it you will surely die. (NIV)
We all know the story. Satan tempted them and they ate the fruit and experienced spiritual death immediately, which is separation from God. We know this because for the first time they were afraid and hid from Him when He came to walk with them in the Garden. Then their bodies began to die and death has been the expectation and experience of every human being since. The penalty for sin is death, both physical and spiritual. Since were each born with a sinful nature, we all sin and we all will die unless the Lord returns first and takes us home.
God commanded an approach to him that constantly reminded his people of that truth. Israel could never worship God without a blood sacrifice. When they sacrificed a lamb, goat or bull, they were offering a substitute to die for their sins in their place. When Jesus began His public ministry it was John who identified him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He was the only substitute God would accept. When Jesus hung on that cross He took the full penalty for our sin in His own person. When he cried out, My God, why have you forsaken me? It meant he experienced spiritual death, which is separation from God. And of course, He died physically. But then he rose from the dead. If there was even one sin that could not be forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ, He would still be in the grave. His resurrection proved that every sin ever committed since the world began has been paid for in full.
But Jesus did even more for us.
Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death that is the devil and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (NIV)
Jesus freed us from bondage to the fear of death
Destroy means to render powerless. Satan has no power over us who have trusted Jesus Christ. And death should hold no terror because for us death is just the doorway that ushers us into the presence of our God and Savior and a glorious eternity.
Are you afraid of death? None of us likes to contemplate the process of dying. But are you certain that there is life after death? Do you wonder what happens to the spirit when it leaves the body? Where does it go? Is there a holding tank, a period of waiting, a purgatory, a testing time to see if we are worthy? Do you think we cannot know if we are going to heaven before we die? If any of these questions concern you, it is entirely possible that you may be afraid of death.
Let us see what the Bible says happens to people when they die.
Remember what Jesus said to the thief beside Him on the cross.
This day you will be with me in Paradise. (NIV)
2 Cor. 12:2-3 identifies the third heaven as Paradise.
The spirits of dead believers go instantly to be with Christ.
Philippians 1:21-23, and 2 Corinthians 5:6-8
But there is still more.
Christ’s resurrection guarantees that believers will also be resurrected.
Resurrection always refers to the body because the spirit never dies.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and 1 Corinthians 15:50-57
That is how Jesus removed the sting of death. Death is defanged. Jesus Christ conquered it by his own death as our substitute and His glorious bodily resurrection. One day He will come for us, both the living and the dead, and take us to be with him forever.
Remember this is only for believers. I hope there is no woman here who has not put her faith in Christ.
I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (NIV)
No other nice place to go--it is either eternal life with God in heaven or eternity with Satan in hell. What does Jesus reveal about our heavenly Father in this episode?
He revealed our Father’s compassionate heart.
His tender compassion for the grieving mother tells us that God’s heart goes out to us in our grief and pain.
But you O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you. (NIV)
His immediate help shows our Father’s availability and readiness to give us strength to cope and provide for us in our various needs.
His personal attention to each of us.
Jesus’ concern for one woman in the midst of the crowd convinces me that my heavenly Father knows me and I am important to Him, just as a mother with 10 children loves each of them personally. He knows every circumstance of our lives and invites us to let Him be involved. He is the only source we have of strength, patience and wisdom.
He reveals our Father’s mighty power, His omnipotence. God has a final purpose for the created universe and is all powerful. Satan is a created being and is subject to God’s authority. Jesus Christ triumphed over death and Satan in His death and resurrection. For all of us who believe in Him death has lost its sting. Death should hold no terror for those of us who belong to Him. That is what He came to deliver us from. This is the glorious future He has planned for us instead.
Our Father’s desire is for us to be with Him forever
Our heavenly Father is preparing for us a home with Him that is so beautiful we cannot even imagine it. What should our response be to such a Father? To believe in the One He sent, Jesus Christ, the Revealer of the invisible God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That includes every sin that you and I have ever committed. Have you personally with an act of your will put your faith in Him alone?
In an interview Rick Warren helps to put our lives in perspective:
People ask me, What is the purpose of life?
And I respond: In a nutshell, life is preparation for eternity. We were made to last forever, and God wants us to be with Him in heaven.
One day my heart is going to stop, and that will be the end of my body but not the end of me.
I may live 60 to 100 years on earth, but I am going to spend trillions of years in eternity.
This the warm-up act, the dress rehearsal. God wants us to practice on earth what we will do forever in eternity.1
We were made by God and for God, and until you figure that out, life is not going to make sense.
1 Interview by Decision Magazine, November 1, 2004. Accessible online: http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?ArticleID=483.
Lesson 5: Invitation To Dinner (Luke 7:36-50)Related Media
How do you classify people? Do you think of some people as more “worthy” of hearing the Gospel? Are there some people you think are such terrible sinners that they are sort of hopeless cases? Sometimes, when you read the paper about a person that has committed a terrible crime, do you almost hope that he never has a chance to be forgiven, because he really deserves to suffer eternal punishment? We human beings have such a different way of looking at each other than God does. I think that there is a little of the attitude the Pharisee in our story displayed in all of us, if we are honest.
Jesus was becoming very popular. And why not? When had there ever been anyone like Him? He healed every kind of disease, He cast out demons, he made the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear and the dead live again. But as His popularity increased, so did the opposition against Him. The Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes or Teachers of the Law had for many years been in the driver’s seat. They were the arbiters of what was right and wrong. They considered the common people ignorant rabble. They were very particular about whom they associated with and judged others the same way.
The Pharisees were a strict religious sect that was based on separation. In fact, that is the meaning of their name, to separate. There were about 6000 of them spread throughout the country. They were teachers in the synagogues and appointed themselves guardians of the proper observance of the law. They added hundreds of rules to interpret the Mosaic Law in order to attain a legal righteousness. They had great influence and even the Roman rulers did not want to antagonize them. The major distinction of the Pharisees was that they gave equal authority to the oral lawCall the additions to the Mosaic LawCas they gave to the Scriptures. They considered their tradition as binding as God’s Word, and many times it directly contradicted God’s Word. We have similar things today. We must always make a distinction between what God’s Word says and the way it is interpreted and applied by men. That is why it is so important to check what anyone tells you with the Scripture.
For instance, the Pharisees despised sinners. And they felt that they reflected accurately God’s attitude towards sinners. By “sinners”, of course, they meant tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves and murderers. They considered themselves righteous because they obeyed the hundreds of rules they had made. They actually taught that there is joy before God “when those who provoke him perish from the world.” In their thinking, God hated sinners and withdrew Himself from the. Since Christ welcomed sinners and even ate with them the Pharisees generally concluded He could not be from God.
This is just one place where we hear their complaint. Of course, Jesus did not mean that there was anyone so righteous that they did not need His salvation. But only a person who admits that he is a sinner is open to the Gospel. The last thing a Pharisee thought himself to be was a sinner.
They had not repented when John the Baptist preached and consequently rejected God’s purpose for themselves. Jesus exposed their closed minds and contradictory standards by His comments in
Purpose: Not Faith, But Judgment
Keep this in mind as we read about their invitation to dinner from a Pharisee named Simon.
Why did Simon invite Him? Was it because he believed in him? Was it because he sincerely wanted to observe Him and check Him out? Or was it because he had already made up his mind and wanted to get more evidence to support his presupposition?
In those days, people did not sit around the table in chairs as we do. They reclined on couches with their heads near the table and their fee extending away from it. It was permissible in that day for uninvited guests to come and listen when an important person was a guest in someone’s home. The needy could also come to receive some of the leftovers. In that town was a woman, a sinful woman, most likely a prostitute. She must have heard Jesus speak on previous occasions. Maybe she even witnessed some of His miracles. In any event, she had believed in Him. When she heard that He was right there in town at Simon’s house, she wanted to show her love and gratitude and did the only thing she knew how to do.
Can you not imagine the scene? Jesus is eating and conversing at the table. Suddenly he feels something on His feet. There is a woman, weeping. Her tears are falling on his feet. She came to anoint Him with an expensive perfume, but before she could even open the jar, she is overwhelmed with emotion. These are tears that expressed repentance and gratitude. Then she stoops and in an act of deepest intimacy and humility, she kneels, takes her unbound hair and wipes his fee. Then she kisses His feet over and over and pours perfume on them. Jesus, who knew her heart and her motives, calmly stays as he is and lets her express in her own way her love for Him. He is not embarrassed nor uncomfortable. He is not annoyed by a crying woman. He accepts us as we are. He knows our motives. He accepts our worship. He knows just what each of us is offering in sacrifice to Him. This woman came with an expensive perfume and poured it all out on Him. The fragrance of her devotion filled the room. No one could miss what was happening.
Can you not see Simon, the host? He is observing the scene wit icy disapproval. What is this notorious woman doing in HIS house? And why has Jesus let her do this to Him? Does not he know what kind of woman she is?
You see, this just gave him the evidence he needed to support his foregone conclusion. His reasoning was that if Jesus were a prophet, He would know what kind of woman was anointing His feet. If He knew what she was He would not let her do it. Since He did let her do it He was no true prophet. This of course was based on his presupposition that God HATES sinners and will not accept them. He did not have to say anything. Jesus knew what he was thinking and spoke to him.
Such a simple story. Two debtors. One owed about $50,000 and one owed $5000 by today’s standards. But neither could pay their debt. Instead of throwing them into prison, or making them work as slaves to pay it off, the creditor just canceled the debts. Both of the debtors were now free of obligation and could go on with their lives. But Jesus’ question was not dealing with the law, but with the heart. Who would love the most? Simon reluctantly gave the obvious answer. Now Jesus makes a very relevant application.
Simon’s polite reception of Jesus into his home had had no warmth of real welcome. His deficiencies as a host showed what he really though of Jesus. Simon did not consider himself a sinner, therefore he had no need of forgiveness and consequently felt no love for Jesus. But what sins does he display in jus this episode?
Pride, hypocrisy, harsh, judgmental attitude, self-righteousness, coldness, lack of generosity as a host, lack of compassion and unbelief in Jesus Christ. These are just the sins we see demonstrated HERE! Jesus in no way implied that Simon’s sins were little, but that Simon did not consider himself in need of forgiveness because he did not believe he was a sinner.
Simon did what you and I usually do. We compare ourselves with other people whose sins are blatant and offensive: the prostitute, the homosexual, the thief, the rapist, the murderer, the pornographer, the drug dealer and of course we come out looking very good. But that is because we are comparing on a horizontal basis.
If we are walking down Main Street, we would see people who are shorter or taller, thinner or heavier, younger or older than we are. But if we went to the top of one of those new buildings and looked down, everyone would look like bugs about the same size.
When God looks down from heaven, he knows that we are ALL sinners. That is why He says:
Romans 3:10-12, 22b-23
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no on who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one… There is no difference, for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (NIV)
We are sinners by nature. The ways we choose to express that nature differ. But that gives us no reason to assume that we have a better chance with God because we are not as bad as other people. In fact, it is often harder for the moral unbeliever to admit that he is a sinner and must come to God the same way as the worst sinner in the world.
Jesus freely acknowledged that her sins were many. And they were ALL forgiven. Why were the forgiven? Because she loved Jesus? No, her love was the RESULT of being forgiven, not the BASIS for forgiveness.
Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven. (NIV)
Your immorality, your greed, your impurity, your infidelity, your breaking of all the laws of God are ALL forgiven. Can you not see the other guest turning to each other and saying, “Who is this that even forgives sins?” They knew that God alone could forgive sins. Luke 5:21. But they refused to acknowledge that Jesus was God in spite of all the miraculous evidence they had seen.
Why was this woman forgiven?
Your faith has saved you. Go in peace. (NIV)
It is faith alone that saves. Faith in who Jesus Christ is God. And faith in what He has done died in our place on the cross and rose again.
She believed in the Lord Jesus and she was forgiven and saved from a sordid life which had no escape hatch. He could say, “Go in peace,” because He not only forgave her many sins, but gave her a clear conscience as well.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished dot God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (NIV)
I think many of us carry the guilt of past sins which God has forgiven because of our faith in Jesus Christ. This guilt eats away at our sense of worth and keeps us from serving God freely. Let us see what God does when we put our faith in Christ, our Substitute, the Lamb of God who TAKES AWAY the sin of the world.
- OUT OF SIGHT, Is. 38:17.
- OUT OF MIND, Jer. 31:34, Heb. 8:12
- OUT OF REACH, Mic. 7:19; Ps. 103:12
- OUT OF EXISTENCE, Ps. 51:1, 2; Is. 43:25; 44:22
This is what happens to your past sins when you trust Christ. If you have never done this, I invite you to trust Him as your Savior today. He is God’s gift. The only way o get a gift is to reach out and take it. That is FAITH.
But how about the sins we BELIEVERS commit each day? Impatience, bad temper, selfishness, self-pity, disobedience, bitterness, malice, criticism, promotion disunity, gossip, greed, materialism, bad use of money, impurity or immorality in thought or deed. How about the person you just cannot forgive? Do you think that a true Christian does not commit sins like these?
1 John 1:7-10
God has provided a way for us to continue to have close fellowship with Him. Our relationship is not broken when we sin; we still are His children. But we do not feel close. We do not feel like reading our Bible or praying. Even coming to church gets to be a drag. God wants fellowship with Him restored because he loves us.
“Confess” means to agree with God that what you have done is sin. As long as we keep calling “sins” mistakes and sicknesses; as long as we keep blaming everything on our background, on what someone else has done to us, we will never take responsibility for our own action s and responses. That is why God requires that we agree with Him that our PROBLEM is sin.
You see, He can forgive sin because the penalty is paid. That is why He is JUST. And He WILL forgive because He has promised to. That is why He is faithful.
But even when we confess, we often do not FEEL forgiven, do we? That is why I believe we ought to always tell the Lord.
“With an act of my will I accept your forgiveness. Now you have to handle my emotions.”
Do you have something you cannot seem to forgive yourself for? Does a little voice inside say to you, “If people ever knew what I did!” Or “How could I ever have done that?”
Satan is called the “accuser of believers.” He is the one who wants you to be crippled by guilt, not Jesus. Jesus shed His blood to give you a clear conscience so that you may “go in peace,” just as He told this woman to. Tell the Lord you accept His forgiveness and you will never bring that past sin up to Him again because, He has blotted it out from your record!
What Did Jesus Reveal To Us About God In This Incident?
- That God wants to reach the moral, upright sinner as well as the flagrantly immoral sinner. He associated with both. He ate with tax collectors and Pharisees.
- That there are no hopeless cases with God. He extends His grace to everyone!
- That God loves and forgives women equally with men.
- There are no second class members of His family.
- That God knows our hearts and motives even when we do not say anything.
- That God will never stay in the box we put Him in.
- That God hates hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
- That God fully forgives ALL our sins and gives us peace.
- That God accepts us individually.
- He accepts our love and worship and the manner in which we express it.
This woman showed her love for the Lord by her weeping, her kissing His feet, and her anointing them with a precious perfume. She loved much because she had been forgiven much.
Do We Really Love The Lord Jesus Christ?
How do we show our love? Or do we show it at all? We have all been forgiven much. The Lord gave His life for us. All he wants from us is that we live for Him day by day.
MEMORY VERSE: 2 Cor. 5:15
Maybe for you the way to live for Him today is to forgive someone that you have not been able to forgive.
Colossians 3:13 (NIV) Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (for Jesus sake)
Lesson 6: Feeding the Hungry (Mark 6:30-42, John 6:25-69)Related Media
What do people all over the world spend most of their time and energy doing? What are the barest necessities of life? Food, shelter and clothing. We spend most of our waking hours working to obtain these necessities. But of them all, food is the most important. Physical hunger is so consuming that we cannot think of anything else until it is satisfied.
Jesus used the legitimate cravings of the body for food to describe a deeper hunger the hunger of the soul for God and the longing for eternal life. And He demonstrated vividly His ability to satisfy that hunger forever. The disciples had been on the road with Jesus for over 2 years. They had heard His teaching and seen His miracles. He had been training them and now it was time to send them out in teams of two.
Do you see what He did? He delegated His power to them to do the same miracles he did. But He also sent them out by faith. They were to take nothing for their material needs. They were to trust God to supply their needs through other people day by day.
Can you imagine how excited they were when they returned? They had cast out demons and healed many sick people. And all of their personal needs had been supplied. What an experience!
Rest and refreshment. Time to be alone with Jesus. Time to relax and share and be restored. How important that is for all of us. Have you ever had an exciting and productive experience and when it was over, there was a letdown? This is the remedy. Time alone with the One who made you fruitful and gave your life an impact.
The people ran around the northern shore of the lake and when the boat landed at Bethsaida, there was a large milling crowd waiting for Jesus. They wanted to see more miracles. This certainly was an interruption in His plans, was not it? How would Jesus react?
He welcomed them and had compassion on them. They were like sheep with out a shepherd. That does not mean much to us today, because very few of us have flocks of sheep. But a sheep without a shepherd has a very short life span. On its own a sheep cannot find safe pasture to feed on or still pools of water to drink. It cannot clean itself, defend itself or find its way home. Without a shepherd a sheep is totally helpless and hopeless and in peril for its life.
Jesus had come to be their Shepherd. So He healed their diseases and taught them God’s Word. This was what they needed most.
The hours went by as the crowd listened attentively. But the disciples began to worry about some practical matters. This was a very large crowd, 5000 men plus women and children; over 10,000 people. There were no Krogers or Tom Thumbs, and no Holiday Inns. How could these people be fed and find shelter for the night? They had better tell Jesus to quit preaching and send them home.
They were right to be concerned, but they had the wrong solution. The answer for anyone’s need is not to send them away from Jesus but to send them to Him. He is the only One who can meet any need we have, physical or spiritual.
But Jesus really surprised them with His answer:
They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat. (Matt. 14:16, NIV)
Who? Us? Surely Jesus did not expect them to buy bread for a crowd like this. Now remember, they had just come back from an extended tour during which all their needs had been supplied as God had motivated others to share with them. Surely they should have considered the supernatural in their equation. But they did not. Are we not like that? We do not remember God’s past provision when faced with a new crisis. Our faith for the new trials we face in the future will remain sturdy if we deliberately remember God’s provision in the past. Each experience should build on the last.
The disciples looked at the impossibilities, not at Jesus’ proven ability. They looked at their own inadequate finances and not at His limitless resources. They looked only to their helplessness and not at His power to work through them. Jesus was giving them the opportunity to be part of a great miracle, the only one that is recorded in all four Gospels besides the resurrection. He wanted to use them and all they could think of was their checkbook balance.
Are they really so different from us? God gives us a challenging child to raise, a difficult marriage, a job that stretches us, a family of origin that was unhealthy, an illness that saps our strength, finances that end before our expenses do. And we look at our inadequacies and poverty and say, “How can I do this? Surely God, you do not expect me to get through this.” And that is true.
He does not intend for you to find the strength you need from within yourself. 2 Co. 1:9 tells us that these things happen so that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God.
John tells us that a boy gave his lunch to Jesus: his five little barley loaves and two small fish. I wonder as the disciples went through the crowd asking for food, if there were others who had food but hung on to it selfishly. This little boy gave everything he had to Jesus and Jesus accepted his gift and used it. I think that children still respond this way to Jesus. That is why we must not wait till they get hardened and unbelieving as adults are before we tell them that Jesus loves them, died for them and wants them to trust Him. In fact, Matt. 18 says that adults must come to Christ humbly as little children do.
The crowd was now seated in orderly groups on the green grass. Jesus stood before them, took the tiny little lunch in His hands, and looked up to heaven. He thanked God and then divided the loaves and the fish. The disciples stood before Him with their empty baskets and he started putting bread and fish in each one. Before their astonished eyes the bread and fish just kept on multiplying till all of their baskets were full. Then they turned and distributed the food to the crowd.
I believe that even as the people reached in and took as much as they wanted, that the bread and fish in their baskets never ran out. Jesus took what was given to Him and multiplied it to feed all of these people. He used the little boy’s lunch and He used the disciples to meet the needs of over 10,000 people. You see, He never expects our resources to be adequate. He just wants us to give what we have and what we are to Him and He will multiply our resources and use us to feed those who are dying of spiritual hunger all around us. But of course, the catch lies with us. How much will we give Him of our resources and ourselves? What was the result?
John says “Everyone had as much as they wanted.”
They all ate and were satisfied. Is not that the way it always is with Jesus? Just as He satisfied their physical need, He is the only One who can completely satisfy our spiritual hunger. This does not mean just the initial act of receiving Him as our Savior. This means that our spiritual life is sustained and constantly renewed by Him alone.
John 6:12-13 (NIV) When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”
We never come to the end of what He wants to give us. He supplies more than enough. He came to give us an abundant life, not just mere subsistence. Nothing wasted: always enough for us to share with others. (One way to measure this is to see what God does with our money when we give it to Him. There is always enough there.)
As wonderful as this story is, there is significant meaning behind it that the Gospel of John goes on to explain. This miracle, in contrast to the others affected everyone there.
John tells us the crowd was so excited by this miracle that benefited all of them that they wanted to take Jesus by force and make Him King. This was not His timetable for that, so he withdrew from them and went back to Capernaum. The next day the people found Him there.
Jesus knew that they were there to get their stomachs full every day. That is how shallow their interest was. But he used their desire for food to teach them that He could give them something permanent-eternal life.
No different than millions of people today. They were so sure that if they just knew that special formula of works they could do, then they could do it and earn eternal life. Jesus answered them in words that could not be clearer.
There is only one work that will give you eternal life and it is not a work at all. It is simply to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. And God will give eternal life as a free gift.
To show you how materialistic and obtuse they were, listen to their next demand.
What miraculous sign will you do for us? Incredible! These were the same people who had all been fed just the day before. Now they challenged Him. They really meant, Moses gave our forefathers manna, bread from heaven, for 40 years. Can you top that? We will follow you if you feed us every day like you did yesterday! Jesus’ answer to this arrogant demand was very revealing.
Jesus here makes the first of seven claims about himself in John beginning with the words I Am. Surely this should have reminded them of the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush, I AM WHO I AM. He is the Bread of life, (bread that is living/or gives life). Really saying to them: Do not compare me to Moses. Compare me to the manna. The rest of his conversation with them shows how God was giving them something greater than the manna that He sent their forefathers every day but Saturday for 40 years in the wilderness.
Sent by the Father
Sent by the Father
Bread from Heaven
They had to pick and eat
We have to believe
They hungered again.
We will never hunger
The manna was just a picture of what Jesus Christ would be when He came to earth. He is the reality.
Sent by the Father.
Over and over Jesus states that the Father sent Him to give eternal life to everyone who believed in HIM.
Just as the manna was for all the 3 million people of Israel. Just as the bread and fish were for all the 10,000 so Jesus Christ was sent for all the people in the world. (50)
Bread from heaven/True Bread from heaven
The manna was bread from heaven. Ex. 16:4. I will rain down bread from heaven for you. But Jesus was the genuine, real Bread from heaven. Six times in this chapter alone He claims heavenly origin.
They had to pick and eat. We have to believe
The manna did not keep them alive just by being on the ground. They had to eat it. It is not enough to know that Jesus came into the world, that He did miracles and that He died for sins. We each personally must put our faith in Him. That is why He kept using terms like eating, drinking, coming to Him. They all involved an act of the will to believe in His Person and His work.
They hungered again. We will never hunger or thirst
They picked the manna every morning for the day. They ate breakfast each day from it. After a few hours they were hungry again and had to eat again and the next morning had to gather it again. Jesus claims to completely satisfy the hunger of the human heart for God forever.
The manna kept them alive physically for 40 years in the wilderness. Though it was bread from heaven, its purpose was earthly and temporal. Jesus is the One Who gives life to our spirits, eternal life. Eternal life is a new quality of life as well as quantity.
They died/We live
The wilderness became one vast cemetery. The manna was just food for their bodies. Jesus gives us eternal life for our spirits now and resurrection for our bodies when He returns. Then we will be with Him in heaven forever.
Now He explained how He was the Bread of Life.
This bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. (NIV)
Can you imagine how repulsive this was to the Jewish mind? Blood was forbidden and human flesh! They missed the point entirely.
You see, again here that Jesus used material and physical things to explain spiritual truth. He used physical digestion to illustrate the process of faith. When you eat food, your body digests it and assimilates it and the food actually becomes part of your body. Jesus was telling them ahead of time that He would die for the world. That death and resurrection is an historical fact. But it does not apply to you unless you believe that Jesus Christ died in your place and you receive Him by faith. Eating and drinking are just another way of explaining what it is to believe. When you do that He comes to live in you and you live in Him.
Gal. 2:20 (NIV) I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
This means that He not only gives us eternal life when we initially trust Him, but He actually lives in us. He is our life. He exchanges our sinful, failing, inadequate life for His holy, powerful, fruitful life. He gives us the strength to endure suffering, He continues to change us and bring us to mature character. In using the term Bread of life, Jesus is really saying that He alone is all that we will ever need to have eternal life, to know God, to be kept secure, to experience resurrection.
What was the result of this revealing discourse with was preceded just the day before by a spectacular miracle that illustrated it so powerfully?
REJECTION! It was a hard teaching to them to “eat flesh and drink blood.” Even though Jesus explained that He was talking about spiritual realities, not literal flesh and blood, they did not believe. And these uncommitted followers left Him.
Can you not hear the pathos in His voice as He turned to the Twelve?
FAITH These men did not understand everything Jesus said and did, but they trusted Him and were committed to Him. This sequel to the great miracle tells us something important. Miracles do not necessarily produce faith. That is why it is so important not to be presumptuous and demand of God that He do something spectacular for you to believe. Jesus Christ has already done everything miraculous that needed to be done for us to believe that the Father sent Him to reveal God to us and to give us eternal life. There are only two responses we can have to the claims of Christ.
Belief or unbelief. This applies to our daily walk with Him as well as our initial birth into God’s family.
What does Jesus reveal to us about God, our Heavenly Father?
- That our Father’s heart is moved with compassion for us as we wander in our hopeless, lost condition.
- That our Father knows both our physical and spiritual needs and provides for both.
- That our Father is not impatient with us even when He knows our motives are self-serving.
- That our Father will multiply what we give Him and use us to have an eternal impact on those around us.
- That our Father will put us in situations that stretch our faith.
- That our Father supplies abundantly, not skimpily.
- That our Father always knows the degree of our commitment from the start.
- That our Father sent Jesus to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. This is the only “work” we can do to be saved. We cannot earn eternal life by our own efforts.
- That our Father gives us to Jesus and he will never drive us away. We are safe forever.
- That it is our Father’s will that believers have eternal life and resurrection.
- That our Father requires that we make a decision. We can choose to not believe in Jesus Christ. But there is no other way to God.
- That our Father provides for our spiritual life to be sustained daily by “feeding on Christ.”
Are you feeding on Christ? How?
Matthew 4:4 (NIV) “Man does not live on bread alone…”
Reading His Word, obeying it, talking to Him, depending on Him and letting Him be our life. Jesus is the one who gives us the strength to face the trials and inequities of life. He is the One who gives us joy that is unrelated to our circumstances. He is the One who will take us all through this life with all of its uncertainties and then take us to be safe at home with Him. He is the Bread of Life and all we need.
Lesson 7: The Light of the World (John 9)Related Media
Light and darkness! What do you feel when you think of light? Of darkness? Do you not have an immediate mood response? Darkness is associated with fear, danger, gloom, coldness, disaster, death, shadows, lostness, alienation and overwhelming evil. The first thing we do when we walk into a dark room is turn on a light. Light means safety, life, direction, warmth, beauty, color, variety, purpose, purity, joy, fellowship, healing and overwhelming goodness.
The Bible has hundreds of references to light and darkness. God’s first recorded words were Let there be light. God is Light. Satan is the prince of darkness. Sin is hidden by darkness and exposed by light. We were born in darkness and born again into light. The contrasts are sharp, unmixed, with no shadows. Light is good, darkness is evil. We must have light to live. Today’s lesson is about two kinds of darkness—physical and spiritual. Of the two the worst is spiritual darkness.
Jesus and His disciples had just celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles which celebrated their years in the wilderness. One of the features of this celebration was the lighting of giant lamps in the women’s court of the temple enclosure. The people sang and danced before the Lord as they remembered that He was their Light in the pillar of cloud and fire all through their wilderness wanderings. During this celebration Jesus had declared the second of His great “I AM” statements.
John 8:12 (NIV) I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
There can be no physical life without the light of the sun, and no spiritual life without JESUS.
This was a claim to be both God and Messiah. The O.T. called both God and Messiah Light. He promised light for all of life to those who believed in Him. But instead of seriously considering Jesus’ claim, the Pharisees challenged and argued with Him for the rest of the Chapter. They were determined to not believe regardless of the evidence.
Their discussion ended with an attempt to stone Him. But Jesus slipped away from them and as He and His disciples went along they saw a blind man sitting there by the side of the road. Blindness is one of the most dreaded afflictions that can happen to a person. And this man had been born blind. He had never seen his parent’s faces, never seen a flower or tree, a river or mountain. Never seen any colors at all. He lived in constant unrelieved darkness. The only thing he could do was beg for a living.
Notice the difference in the way Jesus and His disciples viewed this man.
To the disciples this man was just the trigger for a theological discussion. There was no compassion, no expectation or even a request that Jesus heal him. Jesus had healed blind people before. One of the signs of the Messiah was that He would make the blind see. (Is. 35:5, 42:7) but all they could think of was a question with just two alternatives!
“Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (NIV)
There was a popular assumption that some sin before birth was responsible for congenital blindness. This idea came from pagan sources which believed in reincarnation. This man had sinned in another life. Their other suggestion was that this man had reaped the consequences of his parents’ sins. This of course is possible. (Venereal disease, drugs)
We can see from this that the idea that all sickness or affliction is the result of personal sin is not a new idea. We often believe or hear the same thing today. Jesus gave them an answer that can help us today in trying to sort out the reasons for the trials we may be going through.
Jesus did not mean that this man and his parents were sinless, but that the blindness was not a direct consequence of their personal sin. Really said, “This man is blind so that I might come and cure him and God might receive the glory.”
That is pretty heavy stuff. Think of all the years he had suffered in the darkness. For this moment!
Time does not mean to God what it does to us. If you and I could look at the suffering we are going through and say, ALord, you know all about this. You can change this situation immediately if you want to. But if not, all I ask is that my response and the outcome will bring glory to you. Let other people know that it is only Jesus who enables me to endure this day by day. What a difference that would make.
Day meant the time He had left on earth to finish the work God sent Him to do. Night was coming. His death and the time He would no longer be in the world. Now was the time for Him to do the miracles that proved He was the Messiah. He had said He was the Light of the world and now He would prove it.
Imagine the blind man. He did not know who Jesus was, had never seen him or heard his voice before. Suddenly he felt some wet heavy clay being placed over his eyes. And an authoritative but kind voice said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”
The pool was a good distance away. Jesus did not even tell him why He was sending him there, gave no promise of healing. Would he do it? The man got up and groped his way there with his eyes covered with mud. When he reached the pool he bent down and splashed water on his face. When he opened his eyes he could see for the first time in his lifeClight, color, beauty and human faces. Can you not see him running home, shouting for joy! But notice the reaction of his neighbors.
First they questioned his identity and he had to insist that he really was the blind beggar. Then they were just interested in the mechanics of his healing. There was no sharing his joy in being healed, just one question after another. But all he knew was that a man called Jesus had given him his sight. So they brought him to the Pharisees for further questioning.
Talk about missing the point! The only thing some of these Pharisees focused on was that Jesus had violated their Sabbath rules. They had added hundreds of restrictions defining work on the Sabbath. Making clay was forbidden. And healing someone was also forbidden unless their condition was life threatening. But they argued among themselves because some of the others had sense enough to reason that miracles like this could only be from God.
Even though this man was illiterate, he knew something about the Scriptures and he could think for himself. The Old Testament prophets performed miracles, so this man must be a prophet. This made sense to him. Notice the fact that he had not even seen Jesus yet, but his perception of him was gradually increasing. But the Pharisees were relentless in pursuing their investigation.
“Maybe we are dealing with a fraudulent healing here. Let us find out from the man’s parents if this really is their blind son, and no one else has been substituted for him.”
Notice the parent’s cautious answer. They knew only three things. Their son had been born blind, he now could see, and he was of age to speak for himself. They really did not know how he had been healed and they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue. They knew that was the predetermined penalty for believing that Jesus was the Messiah. This was a kangaroo court. Who would have ever thought that being healed from congenital blindness could cause so much trouble?
Put him under oath to tell the truth. “We know this man is a sinner.” (NIV)
But he was not going to be drawn into their argument. He knew one thing, “I was blind, but now I see.” He stuck to his guns. No one could obliterate the evidence or nullify his experience. All the theological discussions in the world could not erase the reality of what had happened to him. There is no argument that can win against a personal experience. That is why we must always share what Jesus Christ has done for us personally with others--not just give cold facts.
Now they provoked him to the point that he lost his fear of them and became sarcastic. This illiterate beggar had the nerve to challenge them, the strict keepers of the law, and actually imply that they would want to be Jesus’ disciples!
They were the authorities, unused to having their word questioned and here this ignorant nobody dared to stand up against their decision. But the former blind man’s logic was wonderful.
1. Even they knew that God did not listen to sinners but to the godly.
2. But no one had ever given sight to a man born blind.
No record in Old Testament of miracle like this.
3. Therefore this man must be from God.
And you smart people cannot figure that out!
Nobody was going to tell him that this miracle was not from God. He did not care what these influential men with all of their degrees had decided. He was the one who had been blind and now he could see.
Sometimes we have to stand alone against rigid positions people take because of the way they interpret the Bible. We must stand firmly that the only way to God is through faith in Jesus Christ.
I remember when I was about 12 and my mother, sister and I moved to a new apartment. We had a landlady who believed you must worship on Saturday. One day after her efforts to convince us seemed to be getting nowhere, she told me, “You will never go to heaven unless you worship on Saturday.” But I knew she was not right. My mother had shown my sister and me the truth from the Bible and I was able to stand in the truth without doubting.
We must not believe that because something is legal that it is moral (abortion).
We have to help our children in school to realize that they do not have to believe in evolution, just because some scientists with a lot of degrees say that it is the way life came into being. The Bible says God created the world and everything in it.
The Bible says sex before or outside of marriage is wrong even if everyone else says it is OK. Teach them to stand for truth while young.
The Pharisees’ dishonesty, pride and hostility to Jesus were revealed by their response.
How could a person be “steeped in sin” at birth? These experts were sure that his blindness was for personal sin even before he was born. How dare he lecture the righteous! So they excommunicated him. He was cut off from fellowship with the community of his people. This was really serious!
Can you not see him as he started back home. He was mystified, angry and probably a little glum. The day had started with him in his usual place, blind and begging. Now he was penalized because he could see. He was alone. Even his parents had been wishy-washy instead of sharing his joy. Just did not make sense.
This should not surprise us. When we take a firm stand for Jesus Christ the results are not always trouble-free for us. You may not be given a promotion at work. You may be rejected by members of your family. You may lose some old friends. Your children may not be invited to some parties. You may have your good name slandered. Jesus warned that these things would happen.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (NIV)
This man had received his physical sight instantly, and his spiritual sight was increasing gradually. He first called Jesus, “a man they call Jesus,A prophet, then a man from God, but He still did not know Him.
Now Jesus took the initiative again to bring him full spiritual sight. For the first time He actually saw Jesus.
Son of Man was a title for Messiah to the Jews. Daniel the prophet saw all men and nations worship Him. (Dan. 7:13-14) Jesus asked this man, “Do you personally believe in the Son of Man?”
His response was so open. “Tell me who He is so that I may believe.”
Jesus completely revealed His identity. “You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.”
“Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped Him.
He now had both physical and spiritual sight. He had responded to light and was given more light until he could fully see. Rejected by religious leaders. Welcomed by Jesus.
This confrontation is explained by
What a great illustration this incident was. The blind man received his physical sight through the touch of Jesus. When he received further light he believed on the Lord Jesus as his Messiah and his spiritual eyes were also opened.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, claimed to have spiritual sight, but they rejected Jesus, the Light of the world, as their Messiah, so they were spiritually blind. They condemned themselves and remained in darkness.
God is very patient with ignorance. He gives further light. But He will not tolerate arrogance. They remained guilty before God because they claimed to have light while still in darkness. They claimed to be righteous when they were sinners. They rejected the true Light of the world.
Have you ever noticed how many false religions and self-development courses claim to have light? Light from the eastern religions, light from the mystics, light from within, light from the energy of the universe and on and on. This is because “Satan masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Cor. 11:14)
How many followers would he get at the start if he really exposed himself as the prince of darkness? Do not fall for any of these seductive appeals. Light from any source other than Jesus Christ is darkness. He is the True Light that gives light to every man 1:9.
But He is not physically in the world now. Who is the light of the world now?
Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV) You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
Do you see the responsibility that the Lord has placed on you and me? In our daily lives, at home, at work, at leisure, at hobbies, at church, whatever we do---we are to be light bearers. Christ’s light should shine through our words, attitudes, and actions. There is a distinguishable difference between light and darkness. Have you ever noticed how a very small light can overcome a very great darkness? You do not have to be a famous person reaching thousands to be light to the world. You have an area of influence, a place where others are in darkness, where you can shine as light. That is why we must have this as our goal.
John tells us something more in his first epistle.
1 John 1:5-7
In the days when light was given by oil lamps, the wicks had to be trimmed and the glass kept clean for the light to shine clearly. The same is true of us. What part of your life, your thought, attitudes, actions are in darkness? In God there is no darkness at all. When we hang on to favorite sins, we do not have fellowship with God or with other believers. We may say we do, but we are lying. Our light is not shining brightly. Our Father wants us to be in warm, close fellowship and He has provided for our cleansing from these sins that hurt us. The blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from all sin. The Pharisees remained in darkness because they would not confess their blindness, their sin. Let us not let that happen to us.
Is there a particular sin that God has convicted you about? Will you confess and let Him cleanse you? Then as you carefully follow the Lord, you will see the impact you can have on others as His light shines through you to overcome the darkness of the world around you.
What does Jesus reveal about our heavenly Father in this story?
- Our Father is omnipotent.
- Our Father notices and cares for each individual.
- Our Father has a purpose for our lives, even through suffering, that will bring Him glory.
- Our Father takes the initiative to give us both physical and spiritual light.
- Our Father can act in our behalf without a requestCthat He knows our needs.
- Our Father is not limited by wrong human perceptions or bound by man-made rules about what He can or cannot do.
- Our Father is patient with ignorance and intolerant of arrogance.
Jesus revealed that those who do not respond to His light condemn themselves to greater darkness.
Have you responded in faith to the Son of God as the only one who can guide you into the light you need for time and eternity?
Lesson 8: Healing on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17)Related Media
Have you ever sat in church, listening to the soaring music or the impressive sermon, and your thoughts were all turned inward?
Thoughts like: No one here cares that I am hurting desperately. When I first was widowed or divorced or when this illness first was diagnosed, or when my child became a problem, people prayed for me, called me on the phone, visited me, sent me notes. But now that time has passed and everyone is used to me, I guess they expect that I do not need anyone, that I am coping with my problem and that I not really hurting anymore. Maybe they even think that if I were really depending on the Lord, I would be able to handle my situation without any difficulty. But I am in pain and I do not think anyone cares. I sometimes wonder if even God cares!
There was a woman in the synagogue one Sabbath morning when Jesus was teaching there that might have been feeling just like that.
Think about her a little. She was probably middle-aged. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. She had been crippled like this for 18 years! Can you imagine what her life was like? She could not stand at all, could not sit comfortably, could not lie down except on her side. Walking was difficult. Eating could not have been pleasant. Her appearance was pitiful, her face etched with pain. But what had caused her illness? She was crippled by a spirit? This was not a form of arthritis. This was a Satanic attack that affected her body. But do not you think that she also suffered emotionally and spiritually as well? She must have often felt discouraged, depressed, and even abandoned by God. Yet she still worshipped, she still was there in the synagogue on the Sabbath. She still listened to Gods Word. She still had faith. I have to give her credit for just being there.
It is interesting that her condition was caused by a demon. There are many different symptoms mentioned in the Bible that were caused by demon activity: Matthew 9:32-33, dumbness; Matthew 12:22, blindness; Matthew 17:14-18, seizures; Luke 4:33, 8:26, mental disorders, insanity, and abnormal strength. This of course does NOT mean that these conditions are ALWAYS demonic in source. But the Bible clearly says that this condition was. This should teach us that Satan is a real and very busy enemy. Over and over it is recorded that Jesus cast out demons of all kinds. He came to defeat Satan and to make him powerless against believers, and he clearly demonstrated his ability to do this while here on earth. We have to realize that His power and authority over the spirit world has not diminished one iota.
Ephesians 1:19b and 21
That is why we can have confidence that Jesus will protect us. He has authority over everything in heaven and earth. But we must be alert and armored, because Satan does not play fair or come out in the open. He masquerades, sets traps, hides behind fun games, self, development philosophies, even religion. He actively works to fragment our families, to destroy relationships, to cultivate selfishness and independence from God, to make us doubt God’s Word and distrust God’s character.
Peter warns us of that: 1 Peter 5:8. Likewise, Paul tells us about our armor—our protection— in Ephesians 6:10-14.
This woman had been the target of demonic attack for 18 years but it had not destroyed her faith. She was still worshipping God on the Sabbath. As she stood there, bent over, with her head lifted as far as she could, listening to Jesus, and looking at Him, suddenly he noticed
He stopped in the middle of His teaching, pointed to her and called to her to come forward. She shuffled up to Him, surely wondering what He wanted her for. Then He spoke: “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
He spoke these few words, He touched her and she straightened up instantly. She was totally healed and she immediately praised God. Did you notice the word Jesus used? He did not say healed. He used a word that is translated in other places, “loosed, put away, let go, set at liberty and released.” She had been bound by Satan and Jesus set her free.
Can you not imagine the joy she felt and the excitement that ran through the spectators as they realized what had happened? The noise level must have risen as the people turned to each other in their enthusiasm. Suddenly a stern cold voice broke through the furor.
The chairman of the board of elders was very displeased and scolded the people. I think he was just a little afraid of openly attacking Jesus directly after such a display of supernatural power. God had made the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, our Saturday, a holy day, set apart to worship Him. There were 3 major reasons given for Israel to keep the Sabbath.
Exodus 20:8-11 (10 Commandments)— It followed God’s example of doing the work of creation in 6 days and resting on the seventh.
Deuteronomy 5:12-15— It commemorated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Egypt— where they never had a day off and could not worship their own God. God gave them the Sabbath to show them that they were a free people, free to rest from their labor and free to worship their God.
Exodus 31:13— It was a sign of the covenant given from Sinai between God and Israel. God had given them a day off a week for worship, joy, freedom and rest. 1500 years later it had evolved, by the addition of hundreds of restrictions, into a legalistic bondage that was more concerned with external behavior than with human need. The religious leaders watched Jesus like a hawk because He was always violating their manmade rules about the Sabbath. They had had several sharp confrontations with Him and had always come out the losers. In one incident when He healed a man with a withered arm, He reminded them that they would rescue a sheep who had fallen into a pit and a man was more valuable. Then He said: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12, NIV)
Another time He reminded them that, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, NIV)
God gave the day of rest because people need time to relax, regroup, Change their routine, worship and serve God without the pressure of other responsibilities.
Jesus claimed authority over even the interpretation and observation of the Sabbath. Why not? Was not He the One who had established it in the first place? His restoration of the true spirit of the Sabbath had enraged these men so much that they plotted to kill Him because of it. (Mark 3:6)
Now here He was doing it again! The ruler had rebuked Jesus by scolding the people and Jesus answered him. He is a wonderful Defender. Have you ever been unjustly accused or misunderstood and the only thing you could do was to say to Him, Lord, You must be my Defender. You must reveal the truth. There is nothing I can do but trust You. HYPOCRITES! (Originally, a “hypocrite” was an actor who wore masks in amphitheatre plays.) They pretended to be zealous for God, to be righteous. But they were not interested in what God could do in their lives. Their hearts were cold in the face of human need. They had more compassion on their oxen and donkeys than on this poor woman. They released their animals so they could drink but objected when Jesus released this woman, a Jewess, from the bondage of the enemy on the day that commemorated their freedom from bondage. How wrong these men were! They claimed to represent God but they were completely the opposite. Jesus revealed the true heart of God. Jesus exposed their hypocrisy by His true revelation of the invisible God. He hated their pretense and they hated Him for exposing it.
Earlier in Luke He gave a stinging analysis of the Pharisees and experts in the law where He accused them of being only concerned with being externally clean, but inwardly they were full of wickedness. He accused them of injustice and pride. Then He said,
“Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. ...you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering. (Luke 11:46-53, NIV)
Do not you have to wonder what He must think of the greed, lust, and crimes that have been done and are being done in His name today? He still hates hypocrisy. Yet closer to home. Do we make a distinction between what the Bible actually says and what other people say it means? Do we make our application as binding as God’s? That is how legalism flourishes. Always check to see if our applications are consistent and Biblical. When we have a lot of rules about what we can or cannot do in order to make little loopholes that violates the very spirit of God. The religious rulers did that. For instance, they had a rule that you could not journey farther from home than 3000 feet (1/2 mile) on the Sabbath. So the day before, they would go ahead and deposit some food by a stone a half-mile away. That would then become their home temporarily and they could go another half mile, where they had deposited another sandwich, so they could travel another half mile. In this way they found ways around God’s law about the Sabbath, and violated the spirit of this holy day. This is just one example. They had 60 columns of regulations about the Sabbath.
Maybe you are wondering at this point if we should keep the Sabbath today. The Sabbath was given to Israel. It is the ONLY ONE of the Ten Commandments that is NOT repeated in the New Testament. The disciples and the early church worshiped on Sunday, the first day of the week to commemorate the Lord’s resurrection. Sunday is the Lord’s day.
We do not have rules about it in the New Testament. But we do know what they did on the Lord’s Day. They met together, studied God’s word, prayed, celebrated communion, and gave their offerings. Surely the Lord’s Day should have some special meaning for us. It should be a day of worship, learning God’s Word, service, praise and thanksgiving, giving our offerings, joy and rest and a time with family and friends. It should be different from the other six days of the week. After all, we have so much more to commemorate than Israel did: the resurrection of our Savior from the dead.
Look at the effect Jesus had on the people in the synagogue.
Can you imagine what His power and His authority meant to the common people who were under the burden of religious oppression as well as political oppression.
What Did He Reveal About God?
- Jesus revealed the compassionate heart of God in this story. He initiated this woman’s healing.
- He demonstrated that God knows everything, the cause and the cure!
- He revealed some of God purposes for the Sabbath. It was not a day for misery and bondage, but a day for praise and freedom.
- He revealed that God knows the motives of the heart and is not impressed with external behavior that masks unbelief, jealousy, and hatred. GOD HATES HYPOCRISY.
- He revealed that God is greater than Satan and has authority over him.
But now I want to go back to verse 12. Woman, you are set free from your infirmity. The word for “infirmity” is translated in other places as “diseases, sickness, weakness.” It means literally, “without strength.” Very few of us are sick all the time, but all of us know what it is to be without strength.
We ALL have weaknesses. Do not you have things that fill you with dread when you have to face them? Fear of flying, fear of anything. Do not you have areas where you have consistently failed? Are there not relationships that you just cannot handle, people that rub you the wrong way? Maybe your weakness is a sense of worth that you have let someone else impose on you. Maybe your weakness is a habit you have not been able to break. Maybe your weakness is a disposition that always sees the bad side of everything.
Maybe your weakness is a crippling sin that keeps you from going on to maturity in your Christian life. Is it love of money and the things money can buy? Is it a desire to please people more than God? Is it a thought life that you would be ashamed to have projected on a screen for all to see? Is it a selfishness that keeps you from making a commitment to anything that will interfere with your own plans? Is it self-pity, pride, hypocrisy, a violent temper? I have suggested a lot of things to stimulate your thinking, and I may have missed your issue. But you just thought of it, did you not? Jesus came to set us free from our weaknesses. How does He do it?
First, we must come to Him for help.
We come to one who can sympathize with our weaknesses. He was a human being living on this earth, subject to all the temptations we face and He did not sin. He will give mercy and grace to overcome.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
He may not remove our weakness, because then we would be independent. My weakness is given me to teach me to depend moment by moment on His power. His power is demonstrated where I am powerless. This changes my attitude towards my weakness.
Instead of hating myself for failing, I can see this as God’s opportunity to work in my life. God becomes real. Jesus really does live out His life in me. But it is only when I admit my weakness and depend on Him that I will experience His strength.
The Lord Jesus Christ wants to say to each of us today, “Woman, you are set free from your weakness.” He calls you to come to Him for freedom and strength. Will you come?
Lesson 9: The Widow’s Offering (Mark 12, 2 Corinthians 8-9)Related Media
The holiday season is almost here? The day for giving thanks is one week away and the day for giving gifts is almost six weeks away. Giving is on our minds these days. It is fun to think of giving gifts to those we love. It is not as much fun to give gifts because we feel obligated or think that they are expected. Why is giving both pleasure and pain?
Because it involves our treasure and therefore our hearts.
Everyone wants our money. Letters come from every charity, political and religious organization, pleading for our money to continue their work. We give to some, we feel guilty about not giving to others, and some letters we just throw away without a second thought. Our motives for giving are mixed. We think about whether or not we can take a tax deduction. We respond to emotional appeals that are prepared by professional fund raisers and often ignore the smaller, more effective works that do not make such a big splash but really need us more. Extracting our money from us is a big time business.
So it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back when you come to church and the sermon or the lesson is about giving. Should not the church be more spiritual than to ask us to give money?
Interestingly, the Bible has a great deal to say about money. For instance, one verse out of seven in the book of Luke is about money. Money is God’s greatest rival for our worship. That is why Jesus said, Luke 16:13. “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. Paul gave a serious warning when he wrote to Timothy.
1 Timothy 6:6-10
We all know people who have wandered from the faith and brought upon themselves many sorrows because acquisition of money became their god. Maybe it is something you are struggling with even now. The first impressive church discipline recorded in Acts 5 involved money. Ananias and Sapphira both died because they pretended to give more than they did. Since money represents so much danger to our lives the Scripture also tells us how to be free from bondage to it.
The solution: Honor God with your money and trust Him to meet your needs.
It was the middle of the last week of Jesus’ life on earth, just before Passover. He had entered Jerusalem on the back of a colt the previous Sunday to the tumultuous welcome of the common people. He went to the temple daily to teach and had engaged almost immediately in constant confrontations from all the different factions who hated and feared HimCthe Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, priests and teachers of the law. They tried again and again to trap Him into taking positions which would either alienate Him from the people or get Him in trouble with the Romans. Each time He skillfully evaded their traps and revealed their ignorance of God’s Word and God’s ways.
After one such exchange He warned the people:
These teachers and preachers loved the honor and privileges they received because of their position. They did not get paid a regular salary for their work, but were supposed to be supported by tithes and offerings brought to the temple. Jesus accused them of exploiting widows, pressuring the very people they should have protected, women with the most limited means, to give them their property. He accused them of just making a show of spirituality by long prayers, but they were really con men. They loved money and were unscrupulous in getting it. These religious leaders today who preach a prosperity theology which they prove by living in multi-million dollar houses are not just at 21th century phenomena. Notice also that He said they would be severely punished.
When He finished speaking He sat down on a bench opposite the temple treasury. In the women’s court of the temple enclosure, the only place where women could come, there were 13 trumpet shaped receptacles for people to drop their offerings.
Picture the scene. The city was crowded for the Passover celebration. People came from all over to give their tithes and offerings to the Lord. Many rich people threw in large amounts. Can you not hear the sound of their coins clanging against the receptacles? Not only that but Matt 6:2 tells us that some wealthy people even had a trumpet fanfare announce their offering. Unnoticed among these proud and prominent men was a little widow.
She quietly slipped in and put her two tiny coins in the treasury. They hardly made a sound. They were only worth 1/3 of a cent, 1/64th of a day’s wage. This humble widow, poorly dressed, sorry that she could give no more, gave her tiny gift and slipped away hoping that she had not been noticed. But she was!
Jesus saw her and was so impressed by her offering that he called his disciples to him to use her as an object lesson for the kind of giving that pleases God. He said, “She gave more than all the others.”
God has an altogether different way of judging the value of our gifts. We look at the actual amount and are impressed or not impressed by it.
God measures our gift by what we have left for ourselves.
It is not a sacrifice to give 1 million dollars when you have 100 million left. It is not a sacrifice to give $1000 when you are earning $100,000 a year. But it is a total sacrifice to empty your purse into the collection plate when there is nothing in the bank. That is what this widow did. Was not it a little unrealistic for her to do that? After all, does not God expect us to use our common sense?
What was she really saying when she gave all she had to live on? She was demonstrating her faith in God to supply her needs. She loved the Lord and was grateful to Him. She was not embittered by self-pity, she was not expecting any handouts. She was simply entrusting herself to God. He was her Husband, her Provider, her Security. (Is. 54:5.)
She was a living example of Matt. 6:31-34
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father KNOWS THAT YOU NEED THEM. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
By her giving she acknowledged God as the Source of all she needed, that He knew her needs and she was willing to trust Him to provide one day at a time. That is really great faith.
No wonder Jesus commended her. Talk is cheap. Actions are costly. God did not need her money, but she needed to give. Do you honestly think that God was going to let her down after such an expression of faith? I am sure there was bread on her table that day.
1000 years earlier King David had the same perspective about wealth. He gave his personal fortune to buy the materials for Solomon to build a temple for the Lord that David would never see. His example stimulated the generosity of this people and they had a great day of dedication of the gifts for the temple.
1 Chronicles 29:10-16
God is the One who gives us what we have in the first place. It all belongs to Him. When we give to Him we honor Him by acknowledging that He is the Source of all our blessings.
God does not need our money. We need to give as part of worship.
While the whole Bible has much to say about money and giving there are 2 chapters that especially concentrate on the subject and give us some important principles to govern our attitude about money.
The Corinthian Christians had a lot of problems. Some of them were that they were impulsive, changeable and fickle. The previous year they had committed themselves to giving to support the ministry of the Gospel and sharing with the needy and they had started with enthusiasm. But they had not continued and Paul speaks very frankly to them.
He used 3 examples of sacrificial giving to admonish and encourage the Corinthians.
Three examples of sacrificial giving
1.The Macedonian Christians
2 Corinthians 8:1-3
If any people had excuses not to give, they did. They were suffering many hardships. Some had lost their means of earning a living because they were Christians. Some had been rejected by their families. They were in extreme poverty. But they were so joyful in their faith that they gave more than they were able to give. In fact they pleaded to give. No one had to urge them to sign pledges or faith/promise card.
Why were they so generous? They had first given themselves to the Lord. When we give ourselves, it includes our pocketbooks. Paul then says, “Follow their example, finish what you started.” Giving is a grace. God will enable you to give.
2. The Lord Jesus Christ
2 Corinthians 8:9
What a paradox. Jesus left the riches of heaven to become a human being. To live on earth in a humble carpenter’s home. To earn His living with His own hands. He was a poor man. He never owned any property. Then He suffered the humiliation of a criminal’s death for us. But he rose victoriously from the dead. When we put our faith in Him we become heirs of God, all the riches of heaven is promised us in the future and the rich blessings of a right relationship with God is ours now. Jesus gave Himself for us so that we, who were poor, might be rich.
2 Corinthians 8:11-12
Notice how God evaluates our gifts. By our eager willingness and according to our means. Our giving must be voluntary. Notice that God never asks us to give what we do not have, but from what we do have. That is why it is so good to have a percentage as a guide. When you have a little, you give accordingly, when you have a lot, you give accordingly. The O.T. had the tithe, 10% as a guide. But there were 3 tithes taken. (2 yearly and 1 every 3rd year)
Dr. Charles Ryrie estimates that the tithes actually came to about 22%. And beyond that they gave freewill offerings. Whatever amount you decide on, giving a percentage of your income is a good start. Then as you get used to the blessings that come from giving you can increase your percentage. You see giving is not a one-way street. You do all the giving and someone else gets all the benefits. Giving blesses the giver. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Giving is a good measure of your spiritual maturity. Giving is not an option; it is a command. Your love for the Lord is measured by obedience. Generous giving pays wonderful returns.
2 Corinthians 9:6
Action Steps: First, the law of sowing and reaping applies to your giving. If you plant a just a few seeds you get a little crop. If you plant a lot of seed you get a large crop. If you invest generously in God’s program, the returns will be far beyond your imagination. People will be saved in countries you will never go to because you supported a missionary, a radio program, a literature campaign. These people will meet you in heaven and thank you for helping to make it possible for them to be there, too. That is what Jesus meant when He said,
Luke 16:9 (NIV) I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
2 Corinthians 9:7
Attitude: The decision about how much to give is yours to make. Just be sure that you are not giving because someone is pressuring you, but because you are willing. God loves a cheerful giver, a hilarious giver. And God knows exactly the attitudes and motives for our giving.
2 Corinthians 9:8-11
Ability: Do you see what this is saying? God will continue to supply all that you need personally, so that you can continue to give generously on every occasion. He is really saying,
“Put my interests first and I will take care of yours. Trust me with your material needs. I will give you the ability to give abundantly.” Two ways to meet our needs: get more money or spend less.
Accomplishments: What does this kind of giving accomplish here and now?
2 Corinthians 9:12-15
Your giving is a ministry, a service to God. (Priestly service, diakonia, liturgeia) Credited to you. Your giving will supply the needs of God’s people. They will praise and thank God for your ministry.
Your giving is proof of your obedience and a good testimony to others.
People will pray for you and care for you because you have cared for them in your giving.
3. God the Father
2 Corinthians 9:15
He gave His Son for us. Anything we give is in gratitude for this gift which is beyond description.
That leads to the question, where should we give?
How should we distribute the Lord’s money?
- Your local church should have priority in your giving. The salaries, building maintenance, and materials all cost money and you are the beneficiaries. The folks at the Christian Science Church are not going to give to this church.
- Family members in need.
Give to those in need in your own family, e.g. aged parents.
- Ministries that personally bless you.
Diversify: foreign, home, children, education, evangelism, church planting, etc.
- The poor.
First in God’s family, Gal. 6:10. Then to others. We are responsible to care for needy believers. Union Gospel, Salvation Army, Church Mercies Fund, Samaritan’s Purse, etc.
Those who are fighting battles for morality in the public square.
Give purposefully, intelligently and obediently as God lays it on your heart to give. But give.
2 Cor. 9:11 says that God will supply abundantly so that we can be generous on every occasion.
This is such an exciting concept to me. May I give a word of personal testimony? When I was about 12 or 13, I heard a message on tithing and asked my mother if we tithed. She said, “We have so little.” And that was true. She was a widow with 2 daughters to support. But we decided to give our little tithe and we continued to do it. God continued to meet our needs and supply more. He met her needs till the day she died at 80 years of age. And she never had more than a few dollars in the bank. In my adult life, it has been exciting to raise the percentage of my giving from time to time and see God continue to supply so that I can give more.
If you are having financial problems, the solution may not be to get more, but to give more.
Giving to the Lord from what He has given you will break the stranglehold that money and things have on our lives. It is a great step of faith, but God can handle it. He has not broken a promise yet. Are you willing to be obedient to Him in this important area? I am sure Jim Elliot’s famous statement included our money as well as our lives.
“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Jesus used this poor widow’s act of devotion and faith to teach us many things about our money and our God.
What does Jesus reveal about God, our heavenly Father?
- Our Father is the Source of all we have. It belongs to Him.
- Our Father does not measure the worth of our gifts by their size, but by what we have left.
- Our Father looks at the heart, our motive for giving. He does not reward ostentatious generosity for purpose of impressing people.
- Our Father does not expect us to give what we do not have. We are to give from what we have and everyone has something. No gift is too small.
- Our Father will not compel us to give, just as He will not compel us to love Him. Giving is a personal matter.
- Our Father wants us to give voluntarily and generously with faith that God will supply our needs and enable us to keep on giving. Not acceptable if reluctant.
- Our Father will give generously to us so we can continue to give generously.
- Our Father gives eternal returns on our investments. We will leave all our bank accounts, investments and real estate here when we die. But we will be welcomed in heaven by those we have reached through our giving. These are eternal returns.
- Our Father uses our giving as a testimony to cause others to thank and praise God, and to pray for us.
- Our Father Himself is the most generous Giver.
If giving to the Lord has been a problem for you, confess it as selfishness, unbelief, or greed. Then tell the Lord you want to believe Him for this area which has such a stranglehold on our affections. You want to be free from bondage to money. Then decide what percentage you will faithfully give. Do it and see how God will bless you.
When we started this series I said we would emphasize what the Lord Jesus would reveal about our invisible Father in heaven. We have seen Him to be our omniscient, omnipotent Creator, a Father who is compassionate, loving, strong, generous, welcoming, interested in every detail of our lives. He initiates a relationship with sinners and makes them His children by faith. He delivers us from sin. He is patient with ignorance and hates arrogance and hypocrisy. He gives us forgiveness, peace, and joy. He sent Jesus so we could be with Him forever in heaven. Let me remind you of what J.I. Packer said.
“You sum up the whole of New Testament teaching in a single phrase if you speak of it as a revelation of the Fatherhood of the holy Creator. In the same way, you sum up the whole of the New Testament religion if you describe it as the knowledge of God as one’s holy Father. If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his worship and prayers and his whole outlook on life, it means that he does not understand Christianity very well at all. For everything that Christ taught, everything that makes the New Testament new, and better than the Old, everything that is distinctively Christian as opposed to merely Jewish, is summed up in the knowledge of the Fatherhood of God. Father’ is the Christian name for God.”1
1 J. I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 201.
Lesson 6: Principles of Biblical InterpretationRelated Media
As a Protestant I cherish the NT teaching on the priesthood of believers—that each Christian has the right to his own interpretation, but also that each Christian has the responsibility to get it right. ―Daniel Wallace
When it comes to making claims about what the Bible means, sometimes we hear comments from Christians or non-Christians like the following: “Well, that’s just your interpretation.” “The Bible can be made to say anything you want.” “You can’t really understand the Bible. It is full of contradictions.” “No one can understand the true meaning of anything anyone says.” Or, someone sitting in a Bible study might say, “This is what the Bible means to me.” All of these types of comments are about principles of biblical interpretation also called in theological jargon hermeneutics. Welcome to our postmodern world. Pilate’s question lives on: “What is truth? (John 18:38).”
Some issues that we as Christians face regarding the topic of biblical interpretation include: How does divine inspiration and human authorship affect biblical interpretation? What does a text mean? What are some general principles of interpretation? How do we interpret the Old Testament? How do we interpret the New Testament? These are all critical questions for us to consider as we seek to become better interpreters of God’s word, the Bible.
What Does a Text Mean?
The last lesson looked at the topic of inspiration and found that the Bible is both a human book and a divine book. There are certain implications of this for biblical interpretation. The first is that the human authors had a specific historical audience, context and purpose. These authors used their own language, writing methods, style of writing and literary form of writing. The divine authorship of the Bible gives it its unity and the ultimate source of all interpretation is from God. In the book of Genesis Joseph was asked about the meaning of some divinely given dreams and he replied, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? (Gen 40:8).
So let’s just start with the most basic question. What does a text mean? The answer to this question is that a text means what the author intended it to mean. If there is only one thing you learn from this lesson this is it. For a simple example, if you wrote a letter with some statements in it that are a little ambiguous, then what does the letter mean? Does it mean what you intended it to mean or how the readers interpret it? Of course it means what you intended it to mean. The true meaning of a text resides in the authorial intent of the text. This leads us to the first primary and fundamental principle of interpreting the Bible.
General Principles of Biblical Interpretation
Principle 1: Interpretation must be based on the author’s intention of meaning and not the reader. This means we must get into the author’s context, historically, grammatically, culturally and the literary forms and conventions the author was working in. To be able to do this some good Bible study tools are needed since we are 2000 years or more removed from the biblical authors and their context is very different than ours. The first tool that any one should get is a good study Bible with notes that explain historical and cultural background information. Most major Bible translations come in editions with these types of notes but by far the NET Bible with its over 60,000 notes surpasses them all. Get the most extensive Study Bible that goes with the translation you use. After this, good evangelical commentaries are essential tools to study the Bible but make sure to look at a couple to get a variety of perspectives. When someone in a Bible study states what the verse means to him, we need to redirect and clarify that the meaning is what the author intended. After that the question then is how that historical meaning applies to us today. The second principle of biblical interpretation should also be considered foundational.
Principle 2: Interpretations must be done in the context of the passage. What does the following mean? “It was a ball.” Well, the answer depends on the context. Consider the following sentences: The baseball umpire saw the pitch drift to the outside and said, “it was a ball.” We went to the dance last night, in fact it was so formal “it was a ball.” As I was walking along the golf course I spotted something small and white in the tall grass, “it was a ball.” I had so much fun at the game night, “it was a ball.” In each case the word ball means something different. Therefore, context determines meaning! The nearest context must given the most weight in interpretation. First, there is the near context of the sentence, then the paragraph, then the section and then the book and even author. The interpreter should look at all these circles of context to be able to correctly assess the meaning.
Far too often people try to interpret a verse by itself in isolation without looking at the context itself. For example, consider the verse Revelation 3:20 which is sometimes used as an illustration for evangelism. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me (Rev 3:20; NASB).1 If this is all you looked at, it would be easy to understand the verse in terms of someone asking Jesus into his or her life for the first time. But the context in the preceding verse (v. 19) is talking about discipline of those whom Jesus loves, which would most naturally refer to believers. Also, in looking at the larger paragraph the passage is to a church
(Rev 3:14, 22). The verse is really addressed to believers who need to repent from their sin and return to fellowship with God.
Principle 3: Interpret the Bible literally (or normally) allowing for normal use of figurative language. Take the plain meaning of the text at face value. When the literal does not make sense you probably have a figure of speech. For example, Isaiah 55:12 states the trees of the field will clap their hands. Since trees do not have hands or clap this must be a figure of speech. Look for words such as “like” or “as” which can also communicate a figure of speech. Figures of speech and illustrations give the Bible a powerful and colorful means of expression. They are an important part of the normal expression of language.
Principle 4: Use the Bible to help interpret itself. Interpret difficult passages with clear ones. This is sometimes called the law of non-contradiction. Because the Bible is God’s word, and God is true, the Bible will not contradict itself. For example, there are clear passages that teach the doctrine of eternal security, that once a person is truly saved he or she cannot lose salvation (John 5; Rom 8). Some passages in the Bible are very hard to interpret like Hebrews 6:4-6.2 So I would let the overall and clear theology of the Bible influence me that a very hard passage like Hebrews 6 is not teaching that someone can lose his salvation. Also, use the New Testament to help interpret the Old Testament. This recognizes the progressive nature of revelation, that is the Bible is giving more revelation on topics over time. But one must start by interpreting the Old Testament text in its context before a New Testament consideration is made.
Principle 5: Interpretation must be distinguished from application. While there is one interpretation that is historical, there are many applications that can be carried over to our modern context. Build an application bridge from the interpretation to the timeless principle and then to the application now. For example in John 12, Mary anoints Jesus with very expensive oil. The historical context records a historical event. The interpretation relates only to what Mary did to Jesus. What about us today? An application might be that we are willing to give sacrificially for the Lord’s work and give Jesus acts of worship as Mary did. Or when Jesus states the principle in Matt 7 to love one’s enemies it is a general command that I might apply specifically by loving a worker who undermines me or a neighbor who offends me.
Principle 6: Be sensitive to distinctions between Israel and the church and Old Covenant and New Covenant eras/requirements. Promises made to Israel in the Old Testament cannot automatically be transferred to the church in which we are a part. For example, the land promises were given to Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:7) but that does not include me, a Gentile Christian. Christians are not under the requirements of the Mosaic law (Rom 6:14). For example, in Lev 19:19 there is a command “you must not wear a garment made of two different kinds of fabric.” This was a binding command under the Mosaic law but not under the terms of the New Covenant. It is true that certain Old Testament commands repeated in the New Testament are still binding, but this is made clear by their repetition in the New Testament. The church was formed in Acts 2 with the descent of the Holy Spirit and most direct statements to and about the church occur after that. Also, there is a future for national Israel (cf. Rom 11) in which many Old Testament promises will yet be fulfilled and certain practices of the church age will come to an end at the second coming of Jesus (such as the Lord’s supper 1 Cor 11:26).
Principle 7: Be sensitive to the type of literature you are in. The Bible contains many different types of literature: law, narrative, wisdom, poetry, gospel, parable, epistle, and apocalyptic. Each of these types of literature has specific features that must be considered when interpreting a text. Some of these will be examined in the next section. For now we need to understand that where we are in the Bible makes a big difference on how we interpret and apply it.
Interpreting the Old Testament
Narrative Literature: Much of the Old Testament contains narrative literature. First, the passage needs to be interpreted in its historical context and then applications can be drawn from the characters and events. In the book of Judges, only one verse is given to the judge Shamgar. It reads, “After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath; he killed six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad3 and he too delivered Israel” (Judges 3:31). Why did God include this passage? Yes, it records an historical event. Also, the verse teaches God’s delivering power can come in an unexpected way, not with a mighty army but with one man wielding an oxgoad.
Law: Realize that Christians are not under the law as a legal system (Rom 6:14) but that we are to fulfill the principles that stand behind the law of loving God and loving one’s neighbor (cf. Matt 22:37-40)? Sometimes the teaching is carried directly into the New Testament (e.g., Do not murder, etc). Other times, the New Testament takes a text and applies a principle from it. For example, “You must not muzzle your ox when it is treading grain” (Deut 25:4). Paul takes this verse, which refers to feeding a work animal and applies the principle of the Christian worker being worthy of tangible support. Paul states, “Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching. For the scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and, ‘The worker deserves his pay’” (1 Tim 5:17-18, cf. 1 Cor 9:9). In general, if the Old Testament command in the law is not repeated in the New Testament, look for the principle behind the statement in the law and then try to apply that.
Wisdom Literature: Realize that much of the proverbial type of wisdom in the Old Testament is general truth based on observations but not absolute truths or promises. Two good examples are seen in the following: “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (Prov 15:1). Another one is, “Train a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov 22:6). Christians should not take these types of proverbial statements as promises of what will always happen but rather patterns that are generally true outcomes based on observation. A gentle answer will not always prevent an angry outburst but it is much more likely to than a harsh one. Christian parents who have a child who has gone astray from the faith may have done their best to train the child the right way but the child did not take it.
Poetry: Realize that poetry often has a greater use of figurate language than narrative or law. Also, Hebrew poetry’s main characteristic is parallelism. For example, Psalm 24 says, “The Lord owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it. For he set its foundation upon the seas, and established it upon the ocean currents. Who is allowed to ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may go up to his holy dwelling place?” (Ps 24:1-3). Here we have three sets of pairs in side by side fashion with the second reference restating the basic idea of the first. The phrase “the earth and all it contains” is amplified by the phrase “the world and all who live in it”. The phrase “he sets its foundation upon the seas” is rephrased “established it upon the ocean currents.” The question of who is allowed to ascend to the mountain of the Lord is restated “Who may go up to his Holy Dwelling place?” Most English Bible translations will format poetry using indentation, which helps show the parallel ideas.
Interpreting the New Testament
Gospels: Understand that each writer has a specific audience for whom he is writing, and that he has selected his material for them. Matthew was written for a Jewish audience. Mark was written for a Roman audience. Luke was written for a Greek audience. John was written for a universal or Gentile audience. This can help us see nuances or explain differences between accounts. For example, in Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12 Jesus teaches on the hard topic of divorce. Both gospels state that a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. Mark alone though adds the point that if a woman divorces her husband and marries another she commits adultery against him. Why is this difference there? It probably has to do with the audience. Matthew is writing to a Jewish culture in which a woman could not divorce her husband while Mark is writing to a Roman audience in which one could.
Read the gospels not only vertically, that is, understanding what is said in each individual account, but also horizontally, that is, considering why one account follows another. For example, see Mark 2-3:6; what do these various accounts have in common? One can notice that they are all different stories that relate to the conflict that Jesus had with the Jewish leadership. Mark 3:6 reads, “So the Pharisees went out immediately and began plotting with the Herodians as to how they could assassinate him.” The stories are grouped in a way that gives an explanation as to why Jesus was rejected as strongly as he was.
Lastly, recognize that the gospels are in a transitional stage between Old and New Covenants. Jesus lived in the context of Judaism prior to the birth of the church. For example, Jesus is keeping the Old Testament prescribed feasts in many of his journeys to Jerusalem. Also, he is introducing changes that will be inaugurated with the start of the New Covenant. For example, in Mark 7 Jesus declared all foods clean which was a change from the Old Testament dietary laws.4
Parables.5 Parables are a form of figurative speech. They are stories that are used to illustrate a truth. There are parables in different parts of the Bible but Jesus was the master of them and many are found in the gospels (e.g., Matt 13, Mark 4, Luke 15). How then should we interpret the parables? First, determine the context that prompted the parable. Parables always arise out of a context. For example the Pharisees disdain for Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners prompts Jesus to tell a parable about how God loves a lost sinner who repents (Luke 15). Second, understand the story’s natural meaning which is often taken from real life situations in first century Palestine. Third, ascertain the main point or truth the parable is trying to give and focus on this. Only interpret the details of the parables if they can be validated from the passage. Many details are there only for the setting of the story. For example, what is the main point of the mustard seed parable? Jesus stated: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest garden plant and becomes a tree, so that the wild birds come and nest in its branches” (Matt 13:31-32). The parable is an illustration of the kingdom of heaven which starts small but grows to be very large in size. This seems to be the main point. The birds and the branches are probably there only to illustrate how large the tree has become.
Acts. Recognize that Acts is a theologized history of the early church. Acts tells what the church was doing from the human side of things and what God was doing from the divine side of things. For example, consider these passages on the early growth of the church which refer to the same event but from two different perspectives. “So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand people were added”. . . . (Acts 2:41) “And the Lord was adding to their number everyday those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). Here we see what God is doing in and through the church. Also, we need to recognize that the church starts in Acts 2 with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit, the filling of the Spirit, church planting and gospel outreach characterize the events of the book. In addition, some events in Acts are descriptive of what happened not proscriptive of what is necessarily expected in the modern church. For example, Samaritan believers did not receive the Holy Spirit in Acts 8 upon faith in Jesus. They had to wait for Peter and John to get there. When Paul was bitten by a viper in Malta, yet he miraculously lived (Acts 28:1-5). These are descriptions of what happened and are not necessarily normative of what happens in the church today. So it probably would not be a good idea to start snake handling services!
The book of Acts is also a book of transitions. First there are key transitions in biography. This is especially true as the book focuses more on the ministry of Peter in the first portions of the book then shifts to Paul. There is also a transition in ministry focus from the Jews to the Samaritans and to the Gentiles. Lastly there is a geographical transition starting in Jerusalem taking the gospel outward into Samaria, Asia Minor, Europe and eventually Rome. In Acts 1:8 Luke gives us a rough outline of the progression emphasizing the progress of the gospel. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth."
Epistles. Since the New Testament epistles are directed to churches and individuals in the church, they most directly apply to us today. Most commands given in the epistles are general enough in nature that we need to obey them, or in the case of promises we can claim them. For example in 1 Corinthians 15 there is a promise given for immortal bodies and eventual victory over death. These promises are not just for those in the local Corinthian church but the universal church of God.
In the epistles, pay special attention to logical connectors/conjunctions to explore relationships of clauses and sentences. Look for these types of words: “for, “therefore,” “but,” etc. For example Hebrews 12:1 reads, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us.” The word therefore points back to the previous chapter in which Old Testament saints were held up as people who had given a good testimony or witness of faith. The phrase “cloud of witnesses” then would naturally refer back to the people of the preceding chapter. In another example the author of Hebrews writes, “So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe. For our God is indeed a devouring fire” (Heb 12:28-29). Here the word for sets up a subordinate idea giving the reason we as Christians should offer worship in devotion and awe to God.
Revelation. Revelation is the one book in the New Testament that is one of the hardest to interpret. There are several reasons for this. First, there are substantially different interpretative approaches on the overall timing of the book. Some see most of it as purely historical. Some see most of it as yet future. Second, there are many Old Testament allusions in Revelation. Allusions are phrases and references to the Old Testament without an explicit statement by John that he is quoting the Old Testament. So when John refers to the Old Testament he generally does not tell you he is doing so. Third, there is a greater use of symbolic language in Revelation than in other parts of the Bible. Revelation is in a form of literature known as apocalyptic.6
How can one get started? First, the book of Revelation promises a blessing to the one who reads it (Rev 1:3). So we should read it even if we do not completely understand everything. The basic thrust of Revelation’s message is clear. Jesus is coming again and will defeat the forces of evil. We can be assured of this. Other interpretative helps that can be given would be to interpret the seven churches as seven historical churches in existence in the first century A.D (Rev 2-3). Interpret chapter 4 onward as primarily future events from our perspective (Rev 1:18-19).7 Follow a generally chronological view of the book from chapter 4 sequencing the bowls, trumpets and seals, second coming of Jesus, millennial kingdom and eternal state. Use a study Bible with a good set of notes to help frame common interpretations and Old Testament backgrounds. Lastly, become a student of the book and keep working at it.
Conclusion and Summary
Biblical passages must be interpreted according to the intention of the author and in the context in which the statement is made. Interpretation must be distinguished from application. One must be sensitive to what type of literature one is in and how this may or may not apply to a believer in the church age. Interpreting the Bible is sometimes hard work but it’s always worth the cost. David reminds us of the value of God’s word, “They are of greater value than gold, than even a great amount of pure gold; they bring greater delight than honey, than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb” (Ps 19:10).
- What types of interpretations have you heard where you questioned the method of interpretation?
- What would happen to interpretation if the church used reader centered interpretations as opposed to an author centered interpretations?
- How does the Holy Spirit help us in interpreting the Bible (1 Cor 2)?
- If the Holy Spirit is guiding us in interpretation why do godly Christians have differing interpretations on various passages?
- What is our relationship, if any, to the Old Testament Commandments/Law?
- Why are only 9 of the 10 commandments repeated in the New Testament? The Sabbath command is the one of the ten commandments that is not there.
- How does the distinction between the church and Israel affect application of the Old Testament?
- How do you know if something is symbolic or not?
1 The NET Bible gives a translation rendering that helps to alleviate this confusion. “Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20).
2 “For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt (Heb 6:4-6 NET).
3 An oxgoad is simply a long stick with a pointed end that was used to prod animals into walking.
4 He [Jesus] said to them, "Are you so foolish? Don't you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer." (This means all foods are clean.)(Mark 7:18-19 NET).
5 Adapted from Roy Zuck, Basic Bible Interpretation (Colorado Springs: Victor, 1991) 194-226.
6 A scholarly definition of Apocalyptic: “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another supernatural world” J.J. Collins “Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre,” Semeia 14 (1979), 9. Revelation focuses on the future and spiritual world to a much greater degree than other portions of the New Testament and it is communicated in visions and symbolic language.
7 Revelation 1:19 gives a basic chronological outline of the book. “Therefore write what you saw, what is, and what will be after these things” (Rev 1:19 NET). (past: what you saw (Chapter 1:9-20); present: what is (Chapters 2-3); and future: what will take place after these things (Chapters 4-22:5).