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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 112
March 2000

THE BOOK: 2


The Bible on my desk, the one propped up next to the keyboard, pencil holder and coffee cup, is one of those fat, two-handed jobs--you know, the size that really "spiritual" people lug under their arm to church. Along with the Scriptural text, it also contains, in the back, the gospels paralleled; teachings, discourses, parables and miracles of the Lord; chronological charts; lists of prophecies; notes on how to study the Bible; an encyclopedia, concordance, and the usual collection of maps.

Like most people, I was raised in Sunday School with the rule that when one opens to the center of the Bible, it will open to the book of Psalms. But in the center of my desk copy resides, instead, the book of Romans. It's a really thick Bible, you see, which is why--when thumbing through a more normal Bible that contains only the text--I'm always taken aback by the comparatively few pages in the New Testament. Paging through, it always arrives later than expected.

But by God's timetable it arrives at precisely the correct moment.

From His genealogy in Matthew 1, all the way through to the final accounting and benediction at the end of the Revelation, the second part of God's Word is filled with Jesus Christ, the "only begotten" (or, unique) Son of God, "full of grace and truth," the "true light."

He is there, throughout: The Gospels tell of Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection; Acts is the history of the beginning of His church; the epistles from Romans to Jude counsel the new "Christians"--as well as us today--how to live in a way pleasing to Him; and the last book,

The Revelation, is, as the first verse explains, "the Revelation of Jesus Christ.to His bond-servant John."

The entirety of God's word, but the New Testament especially, is the story of God's salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. While it is, in a very real sense, a library of books penned by different authors, it is, even more, a cohesive whole--a seamless narrative written by only one: the Holy Spirit. And there is no better way to understand that lyrical thread of Deity condescended toward humanity than to begin on page 1 and continue at a steady, regular pace until the last word on page 1,309. Then, do it again--and again.

No one can hope to know God unless he has read what He has written. And no one can hope to know Jesus Christ, His Son, without reading what He said--and what the Spirit has to say about Him.

During the summer of 1998 we engaged a local man to paint the exterior of our house. Over a period of four weeks I was regularly subjected to the conversations between him and his small crew--some of whom claimed to be Christians. More than once I listened in stunned disbelief as they exchanged vast quantities of misinformation regarding God, Jesus, the Bible and the Christian life. If they were, indeed, believers--if the Spirit had taken up residence and begun the process of maturing--they were nonetheless wallowing in a sea of gross inaccuracies regarding Spiritual things. From their conversation I took it that not one of them attended church and, more telling, none had read God's Book.

There is study, and there is reading. Study is important, indeed vital. God's Word is a limitless treasure house that yields up wealth to the individual committed to the deep examination of its riches. But study does not replace reading; they are two separate pathways--both leading to the mind and heart of God.

When we study God's Book, we stop on every word, walk around it, turn it over to see what lies beneath, find out where it came from, and how it fits perfectly into its context. We dig deep into each sentence, its structure and rhythm, even to its punctuation. In study we excavate down to the hard bedrock, gleaning every last morsel of truth from a passage. We pause, we linger, we meditate, we argue and consult with others, we agonize over uncomfortable concepts. Study is a full-contact activity.

Reading, by contrast, is just that: reading God's Word much as one would a good novel, or favorite biography. It is digesting the whole of it as a whole. In reading we may pass over history or ideas we don't understand, pausing only long enough to jot down the reference. Reading the Bible is like viewing a forest through a wide-angled lens, rather than crouching to examine one leaf under a microscope.

Reading the Bible is like listening to an entire symphony from beginning to end, rather than just one 8-bar refrain lifted from out of the whole.

INTOLERANCE

Seventy-nine times in the New International Version of the gospels Jesus says, "I tell you the truth." For example, when the people were bringing their children to Jesus for His blessing, but his disciples tried to turn them away, he used the moment for an object lesson about the kingdom.

In the gospel of John He declares

There's a great line in the movie *A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.* In this raucous comedy of errors, a wife-abused husband suddenly discovers that a beautiful young maiden believes him to be her new master. She comes to him in innocent subjection and offers her body to him. Befuddled yet eagerly pleased over this turn of events, the man looks skyward, addressing the pantheon of gods, and says, "A thousand thanks, whichever one of you did this."

Jesus lived in a Roman world, one in which the truth was as cheaply purchased as it is today. And, just like today, there was universal tolerance for any variant brand of truth--except, that is, the real one.

Early on, Christianity was simply another religion added to the long menu of "truths" to which the populace could turn whenever something beyond themselves was needed. Rome was already in the habit of accepting foreign gods into its pantheon--especially those of the Greeks.

But, to the Roman, there was something disturbingly different about Christianity--as there had been something different about Christ. He was not offering just one more truth to be added to the rest, but claimed to know the truth--indeed, was the Truth! This wouldn't do. And, just as today, His was the one truth rejected by a "tolerant" society.

The Necessary Element

The reader must come to the New Testament not with tolerance, but with faith. One may read of the Old Testament battles, the succession of kings, the poetry, the dust-laden prophecies with a measure of detachment. Faith is a necessary component to its ultimate apprehension, to be sure, but it can also be read with at least some profit by the alien.

To the one without faith the New Testament, however, is simply gibberish.

One may come to the New Testament either seeking truth, or believing it already, but to the heart of the scoffer, its pages are laughable nonsense.

FATHER AND SON

Those who are in opposition to the things of Christ like to display their ignorance of His Book by periodically announcing that Jesus--while possibly a good teacher, and all-around nice guy--was certainly not deity because not once, in all the New Testament, did He declare Himself to be the Son of God. I shrugged off this specious scholarship for years until, one day, I decided to see for myself if they were right.

My habit, when faced with the "wisdom" of this world, is to check it against the more reliable wisdom from above. What does God have to say about it? So applying the same method to this quandary I began by asking, Did God say Jesus was His Son?

"This is My Son!"

Before Jesus began His ministry He thought it necessary to be baptized--to, among other things, demonstrate publicly His willingness to take upon Himself the role of a servant for the redemption of man. So He came to the Jordan, where His cousin John was baptizing those who were repenting of their sins. At first John, knowing that Jesus had no need to repent, demurred. But when Jesus insisted, John baptized Him, as he had the others, and then

No matter what Jesus did or didn't say during His subsequent ministry, it began with the strong pronouncement from God the Father that Jesus was, indeed, His Son. Later on in Jesus' earthly ministry there was another supernatural occurrence atop a high mountain in which God reiterated His familial relationship.

The Son of __________

But what *did* Jesus say?

In His prayer, just before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus was pretty clear about the relationship that existed between Him and God the Father.

The skeptic would demand that we make it more fair by taking away the editor's capitalization. Even so, Jesus states the case with clarity:

Who is "Father"?

"Lord of heaven and earth." (Given this, it's doubtful that Jesus was praying to Joseph.)

What relationship does Jesus have with the Lord of heaven and earth?

"All things have been committed to me." (emphasis added)

By whom?

"My Father." (emphasis added)

And if that isn't sufficiently clear, He goes on to explicitly define the relationship He (Jesus) has with the Lord of heaven and earth: "No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."

Some unbelievers have said that Jesus refers to Himself as "Son of Man," but never as "Son of God." But in at least one exchange with His disciples, He associates Himself with both.

Finally, for those who are still unconvinced, there is the following brief exchange between Jesus and the high priest, Caiaphas.

Did Caiaphas believe Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God?

At another time during that same fateful night, someone else quizzed Jesus even more directly.

You may ask me where I live. I might answer, "Look at the address on my electricity bill. Where, then, do I live?" Looking at the envelope, you would answer, "Winterset, Iowa." And I would reply, "You are correct." You might then turn to your companion and say, "Aha! He never said the words, 'I live in Winterset, Iowa.' Therefore, he must live somewhere else!"

And you would be a fool.

I can find no passage in the Bible where Jesus stands before a group of people and declares, in these exact words, "I am the Son of God." But what I find instead are gospel accounts where Jesus repeatedly confirms that conclusion of others. Everyone from His disciples and followers, the chief priest Caiaphas, members of the Sanhedrin--even the demons Jesus removed from the possessed--they all either knew He was claiming to be the Son of God, or knew that He really was.

SURPRISING THINGS

God's Word is made more real by its cast of very real people. It is populated by characters just like us: people both remarkable and common, brilliant and stupid, poor and wealthy; those blithely innocent, as well as those wily and clever. In its pages people are born, they live imperfect lives, and then they die. Righteous people do wrong and sinful people do right. Innocent people are betrayed and evil people get away with murder.

In the pages of the Bible there is unabashed joy, anger, cruelty, lust, holiness, depravity, incest, goodness, greed, treachery, and sacrificial love. These are people cut from the same cloth as we, and their unvarnished, believable lives bring to God's Book an authenticity that, along with the translation of the Spirit, stamps indelibly into the reader's mind the truth of Scripture. And the imperfections endear their owners to the reader's conscience.

As Bad As They Come

It is easy for the casual Christian to set the apostle Paul--evangelist to the Gentiles, and writer of most of the doctrinal epistles in the New Testament--on a high pedestal. Some are tempted to add him to the throne room of God, setting him across from Jesus, to the Father's left. But God always drew imperfect souls to Himself, and Paul was, before his conversion, about as bad as they come.

Saul of Tarsus (Paul's name until sometime early in his ministry) had as his occupation the elimination of this new sect that threatened the traditions and foundation of Judaism. The early portions of the book of The Acts contain a catalogue of his vehement hatred for anyone associated with Jesus Christ.

Even after his roadside conversion by the Lord, Paul was thoroughly human in his imperfections. He didn't always get along with people, and could be less than patient when confronted by the imperfections in others.

On their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas had taken along with them a young man called John Mark--son of Mary, Barnabas' relation, who owned the house in Jerusalem where an early church met. For whatever reason Mark (later to write the gospel account that bears his name) left the two missionaries to return home. Paul considered Mark's leaving to be abandonment, so when preparations were being made for their second journey, and Barnabas suggested taking John Mark again, Paul refused. This disagreement caused a rift between the two, and they went their separate ways.

The Council

With the rose-tinted vision of hindsight, it is also easy for today's believer to imagine the early church as a unified whole--a cohesive collection of wise, saintly souls who, because of their closer proximity to Christ and His disciples, were in possession of a profound faith of which we can only be envious. The truth, however, is a picture that bears a closer resemblance to our own ungainly congregations today.

The early church included debate over doctrine--especially whether believers in The Way should be required to follow, as well, the dictates of Jewish law.

In his response to this, Peter stood and delivered a most eloquent speech refuting the Pharisaic position, which concluded

A Fragile Faith

The members of the early church didn't always demonstrate the sort of unfaltering faith we often ascribe to them. There is an almost comical account in The Acts that reveals a collection of believers with a faith as fragile as ours.

So far so good. Peter is arrested and the church prays for his deliverance. Sounds familiar--and entirely appropriate. There was little the small community of believers could do against the power of the king, so they gathered together in Mary's house for sustained, "earnest" prayer. Only their faith wasn't quite as earnest as their words.

God worked a miracle that night. He sent an angel to rouse the sleeping Peter and to cause his manacles to fall away. The angel told him to get dressed and follow him outside--right through the guards! My, how this must have strengthened Peter's faith; how it must have validated his belief that God would rescue him. Well, actually, his first thought was that he was dreaming.

But Peter quickly came to his senses and realized his rescue was real. He went straight to Mary's house, where he knew the people would be waiting. He knocked at the front gate for entrance, and through the closed gate told the servant-girl who it was.

No, the saints of old were no more pious, no more Spiritual than their modern brethren. They were just normal folk carrying around all the same doubts, questions and guilt common to us.

Reading God's Book we see all of them as they were: just like us. We draw strength and encouragement from the realization that God works His perfect plan through imperfect people. But then, in the same reading, we see the true nature of His perfect Son; here we learn of Him through the words of His only authorized biography.


COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 112
Mar. 2000

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 2000 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 2000 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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