Tag Archive | "Jesus"

A Message on the Ground

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In John 8, we read about an incident that occurred during the ministry of the Lord Jesus.  The Lord had been teaching in the temple, and a group of scribes and Pharisees came to Him.  They brought a woman they had arrested for adultery, and asked the Lord what He had to say about it.  In John 8:5 we read their question:

 

Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 

 

These men didn’t want the Lord’s help in making a decision.  Instead, they wanted Him to say something they could use against Him.

 

The Lord didn’t answer their question.  Instead, He did something curious.  John 8:6 states:

 

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

 

We don’t know how long this continued.  In any event, we learn that the men kept asking their question.   John 8:7-8 tells us:

 

So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

 

The Lord finally gave them an answer when He said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”  Of course, that wasn’t the kind of answer the men were hoping to hear.  However, notice what the Lord did before and after He spoke to them: He wrote on the ground.  What did He write?  The Bible doesn’t tell us, but it is possible to give an answer to this question.

 

 

Walking on the Sea

 

In several places in the Old Testament, God tells us something about Himself.  Some of these verses deal with ways in which He demonstrates His great power.  For example, in Job 9:8 we read this about the Lord:

 

Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.

 

Recall that in the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1, God tells us that He created heaven and earth:

 

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  

 

The first part of Job 9:8 certainly seems to be a reference to the creation as revealed in Genesis 1:1.  Now notice the second part of Job 9:8: “treadeth upon the waves of the sea.”  The word translated “treadeth” (Strong’s number H1869) is translated in several different ways; but it mostly has the idea of someone walking over something and pushing down on it so that it is bending under the person’s weight.

 

Next, consider the word translated “sea.”   That is Strong’s number H3220, and it’s used 396 times.  Most of the time, it’s translated as “sea.”  Finally, consider the word translated “waves.”  That word is only translated as “waves” in this one verse.  It’s Strong’s number H1116 (“bamah”), and it’s translated as “high places”100 times out of its 102 uses.  From many Old Testament verses, we know that high places were associated with idol worship; so we should be alert for spiritual meaning in any verse with the word “bamah.”  However, based on the context of Job 9:8 we certainly see a picture of God walking on the waves of the sea.

 

Interestingly, that’s what the Lord Jesus did one stormy night.  In Matthew 14:23-25, we read:

And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.  But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.  And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.

 

The disciples saw the Lord walking in the “midst of the sea” as their ship was “tossed” with waves!  The account goes on to tell us they were so terrified at this sight that they cried out in fear.  Even though it was a very disturbing experience, these men were privileged to see the Lord Jesus demonstrate to them in a unique way that He is God.

 

 

Through the Midst of Them

 

In Luke 4, we read about an occasion when the Lord Jesus taught in a synagogue in Nazareth.  The Lord had already begun His ministry by that time (Luke 4:14-16), and people throughout the area knew about Him.  The Lord Jesus had been brought up in Nazareth, so one might think the people there would have been happy to hear the Lord teach in their synagogue.  However, God’s message is not something unsaved people can accept.

 

The Lord Jesus reminded the people in the synagogue that there had been severe need in Israel hundreds of years earlier during the great famine of Elijah’s day (1 Kings 17), but Elijah wasn’t sent to help any of them.  Rather, he was sent to a poor widow in the city of Sidon (Luke 4:25-26).  Also, there had been many lepers in Israel at that time, but God sent Elijah to heal only Naaman – who was a Syrian (Luke 4:27).  For us, the lesson from these examples is that God chooses when and where to save people.  Salvation isn’t a matter of descent or birthright, and it isn’t up to man to decide that he wants to be saved.

 

When the people heard what the Lord had said, they were so enraged that a group of them grabbed Him and brought Him up to a high location outside the city to throw Him down – as we read in Luke 4:28-31:

 

And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.  But he passing through the midst of them went his way, And came down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath days.

 

It wasn’t in His plans to die that day, so the Lord Jesus simply passed “through the midst of them and went his way.”   There is no reason to think that the Lord struggled to get free or talked His way out of the situation.  Instead, He just used His power to transform Himself.  That’s how He was able to pass “through the midst of them.”  With this incident in mind, read Job 9:11:

 

Lo, he goeth by me, and I see him not: he passeth on also, but I perceive him not.

 

This verse is telling us about something God can do (see also Deuteronomy 23:14).  When we read this verse from Job and remember what the Lord Jesus did on that hill outside Nazareth, we see it was another way in which He demonstrated He is God.

 

 

He Maketh the Storm a Calm

 

Much of Psalm 107 deals with God’s control over nature.  Some of its verses (see Psalm 107:23-25) show us a picture of men in a ship at sea when a storm arises.  Notice verses 28-30:

 

Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.   He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.   Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.  

 

It is the Lord who “maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.”  Do these verses remind you of anything?  In Mark 4:37-39, we read about an occasion when the Lord Jesus was with His disciples on a ship:

 

And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.  And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?  And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

 

The disciples who witnessed this event were amazed at what happened.  Did they know about those verses from Psalm 107, or realize that their Master had just done something only God can do?  Probably not, for in Mark 4:41, we read:

 

And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? 

 

Unlike those disciples, we have the whole Bible and are able to search out these things.  Some of what we discover is that the Lord Jesus proved by His miracles that He is God.

 

 

The Finger of God

 

Do any of these miracles help us know what the Lord Jesus wrote on the ground when the scribes and Pharisees came to Him that day?  They do, but only if you know about something else in the Bible.

 

In Exodus 20:1-17, we find the Ten Commandments the Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20, 23).  These were written on two tables or tablets of stone.  The Bible reveals there were actually two sets of these tablets. Moses broke the first set in anger when he came down from the mountain and saw the golden calf that his brother Aaron had made (Exodus 32:17-19).

 

The Lord then had Moses carve out another set of tablets (Exodus 34:1) and again ascend Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:2-4).  Moses was up there with the Lord 40 days and nights.  When he came down, he brought the second set of tablets.  They were kept in the ark and survived for centuries (2 Chronicles 5:10).

 

The Bible indicates that God Himself wrote on both sets of tablets.  However, in verses applying to the first set we learn something that helps us to understand what the Lord Jesus did that day when He wrote on the ground.  In Exodus 32:15-16, we read:

 

And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.  And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.

 

Now notice what we read in Exodus 31:18:

 

And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

 

Here, we learn how God wrote the “testimony” or law on stone: He did it with His finger!  By keeping this in mind and remembering that the Lord Jesus demonstrated by many miracles that He is God, we can now understand something about John 8:6:

 

This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

 

It was no miracle for the Lord to stoop down to the ground and write.  Almost anyone could do that.  However, when the Lord Jesus did it, He showed the scribes and Pharisees that it was He who had given Moses the Ten Commandments.  Just as the miracles demonstrated that the Lord Jesus is God, so did this simple act of stooping down to write on the ground.

 

Some Overlooked Words

 

Although the Bible doesn’t tell us so, it is very reasonable to conclude that the Lord Jesus was writing out the Ten Commandments that day.  It was a way to show the scribes and Pharisees that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and that it was He who brought the children of Israel out of Egypt.  The story of the Exodus is very relevant for Christians today, because it shows us a picture of God’s people (represented by Israel) being rescued from spiritual darkness (represented by Egypt under the pharaoh who ruled at that time).

 

The Ten Commandments are also very relevant today.  Even many people who are neither Christians nor Jews have read these commandments.  They are even displayed in public at some places.  However, often when we see them in print or in public we find that they begin with Exodus 20:3:

 

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

 

This verse is listed as the first commandment.  The Lord Jesus may have had enough time to write out those words while He stooped down to the ground.  However, in all likelihood He didn’t start His writing with that verse.  It is actually the preceding verse that has the first words the Lord spoke to Moses when giving him the Ten Commandments.  These words are often omitted when we read the list, and are found in Exodus 20:2:

 

I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

 

Did the Lord Jesus write those words on the ground?  We can’t say with certainty, but it appears very likely He did.  His writing that day would have been consistent with everything He did and taught during His ministry of about three and a half years.  In many ways, He revealed that He was the God of ancient Israel.  That was the real message on the ground.

 

 

Thoughts on the Historical Jesus

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The approach of Easter engenders thoughts about what has been called “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” the life and death of Jesus the Christ.  Throughout the millennia since the historical Jesus walked this earth, men have argued, fought, and died over questions of his Divinity.  Today, even among Christians, his life and death stir controversy as some claim the imminence of his long-awaited Return (see our previous article on Harold Camping and Family Radio).


Accepting Jesus as God and the second member of the Holy Trinity, however, one still ponders questions that for humankind remain unknowable.  As a God-Man, Jesus was both fully human and fully Divine.  As such, was there a time in his life before which he knew not of his own Divinity, and if so, when did he realize that he was God?  What influence did the environment in which he was raised have upon him?  How did the people who knew him best view him?  The Bible provides little insight on most of these issues, as it is silent on the majority of Jesus’ life.


Yet, if one considers the life of Jesus and his message of love in the context of Jewish history, certain patterns of speculation begin to emerge.


“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

(Matthew 22:37-40)


In these four brief sentences, Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, summarizes the teaching of the Law and the Prophets as found in sacred Jewish texts and establishes the foundation from which the Christian religion would germinate.  Living in a period of great oppression, Jesus was well aware of the might of the Roman occupation as well as the hunger of the Jewish nation for a Messiah, a warrior-leader who would vanquish their oppressors and restore God’s people to preeminence in ancient Palestine.


Jesus was well-positioned for ultimate leadership, springing from the merger of the kingly and priestly bloodlines of Joseph and Mary.  His formative years were spent in the insurrectionist-hotbed of Galilee, removed from the direct, daily Roman influence experienced in Jerusalem and dominated by members of the Zealot movement from which some of his disciples were drawn.  Living within that environment, he undoubtedly knew many men who dreamed of a day when the Romans would be overthrown by force and the nation of Israel restored.


At some point, however, Jesus parted ways with the Zealots who likely championed him as he gained followers.  Perhaps, he came to the realization that violence begets nothing but violence.  Perhaps, he understood that any campaign against the might of Rome could gain little more than temporary victory and would ultimately be crushed, further exacerbating the lot of the Jewish people.  Regardless of the process of reasoning and enlightenment, Jesus began preaching the gospel of “love,” love both of neighbor and of enemies.  He taught his disciples to “turn the other cheek” in response to provocation.  These concepts, in all likelihood, deeply disturbed his Zealot followers and supporters – Judas Iscariot among them.  Even more disturbing from a Zealot perspective, however, was Jesus’ comment on taxes: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”


With waning Zealot support and increasing Roman interest in this preacher, teacher, and healer commonly known as the “King of the Jews,” Jesus, in the final weeks of his life, knew that his fate was sealed.  Whether Judas betrayed Jesus for turning his back on his Zealot followers or in the hope that this would initiate the violent overthrow of the Romans that he desperately desired, the die was cast.  Jesus was crucified and bodily resurrected from the dead.  In his victory over death that first Easter Sunday almost 2,000 years ago was born a religion surrounding the precepts and teachings of this God-Man.


Yet, detractors over the intervening centuries have been in no short supply.  Most recently, in 2007, Oscar-winning director James Cameron and Emmy Award-winning documentary film-maker and journalist Simcha Jacobovici co-produced a documentary that posited the discovery of Jesus’ family tomb containing ossuaries with the bones of Jesus, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, his brother Jose, and other family members.  If true, this would have been the archaeological find of all time.


It would also have been a major blow to Christianity, denying the possibility of a bodily resurrection.  That Jesus’ entire being, body and soul, was taken to Heaven following his crucifixion and entombment is a major tenet of Christian belief.  In Roman Catholicism, it is also firmly believed that, at the time of her death, Jesus’ mother Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven.


The uproar surrounding the release of this documentary was, of course, predictable, with experts lining up on both sides of the issue.  Non-believers were more than happy to have this “proof” that Jesus was nothing more than a man.  In fact, short of having a sample of Jesus’ DNA from the time of his life with which to compare, no accumulation of evidence could possibly prove with absolute certainty that the bones in the ossuary marked “Jesus, son of Joseph” were those of the Jesus whom many around the world refer to as “the Christ.”


And, in my humble opinion, I do not know if it really matters.  We are all products of our Creator and, to that extent, our growth, development, and growing awareness of our roles in this world are Divinely inspired.  Whether Jesus was a man on a mission either from his people or, as I believe, from his Heavenly Father, his message of “love” is nonetheless valid.  War, violence, and tyranny, as we have studied historically and witnessed in our own lives, are self-perpetuating.  Jesus, perhaps better than most, knew this and taught his followers the power of love and non-violence.  It is a lesson that we should all take to heart, regardless of our religious beliefs.


As for discovering the truth about Jesus, bring it on.  In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus himself is quoted as saying “…for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth.”  And, “the Truth will set you free.” 

The Hope Still Lives

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Christmas Peace

“In the background of the consciousness of the world, waiting as silence and moonlight wait above the flairs and shouts, the hurdy-gurdys and quarrels of a village fair, is the knowledge that all mankind is one brotherhood, that God is universal and impartial, Father of mankind, and that only in that universal service can mankind find peace, or peace be found for the troubles of the individual soul.”  H.G. Wells, Outline of History (1920)

 

The Christmas season has always held the promise of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”  For Christians and others who immerse themselves in the Season’s Spirit, we become a little friendlier, a little more thankful, and a little more considerate of others at this time of year.  Oft expressed is the hope that we can carry forward and live the “Christmas Spirit” each and every day.

 

Of course, we cannot.  Unfortunately, the world, on the whole, is not a friendly, grateful, or considerate place.  People, by their very nature, are egocentric and guided by self-interest.   The marketplace of ideas – religious, philosophical, political, cultural, and social – is highly competitive at best and utterly ruthless at worst.  And, the purveyors of ideas often seek victory not merely in that realm, but in the physical world as well.

 

Organized religions and governments have long understood the importance of ingraining particular concepts and ideas in the minds of their adherents and subjects.  Control over thought spreads to control over discourse and ultimately to control over mind, body, and soul.  With every side convinced of the rectitude of its position, the clash between people of opposing ideas becomes a battle for global domination.  A primary source of discord in our world, its progeny include hatred, terrorism, and war.

 

This scenario, however, need not be the model for our world.  If we only admit to the premise that God is impartial and that, in human affairs, there are no absolutes, then we can become more accepting of different cultures, philosophies, races, and religions.  With acceptance comes a subtle, and yet very important, shift in perception.  Rather than viewing an individual as a member of a particular group, we can see him clearly for what he truly is, a member of the human race, the brotherhood of mankind.

 

And, who is it that is greatest among mankind’s brotherhood?  Almost two thousand years ago, Jesus provided the following answer to that question:  “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35).  Whether you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, a prophet, or an ordinary person, the model of service to one another that he advocates is our best hope for peace in our world as well as our own personal lives.  And so, this Holiday Season, keep the hope and spirit alive, serve others.

Wealth in Poverty

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Beatitude

To Jesus in the Gospel of Saint Luke is attributed the expression “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  For me and, I am certain, most others, the thought of impoverishment is anything but a “blessed” state in which to find oneself, whether one’s poverty is material or spiritual.  And so, is Jesus telling his audience to hang in there and suffer in this life to be rewarded in the hereafter?  Perhaps, but I think not.

 

I believe that the meaning has more to do about the nature of poverty, rather than its earthly manifestations.  One who is impoverished lacks the resources to adequately provide for himself and, by extension, others dependent upon him.  These resources are in part material, like money and property, but also spiritual, as in strength, confidence, vigor, and other intangible assets.

 

Those in the throes of poverty are emptied of all resources, like a once overflowing stream reduced to a trickle by a lengthy drought.  Bereft of most forms of sustenance including, in many cases, their human dignity, the impoverished cannot be said to live so much as exist.  Surely, no one would willingly submit to such an existence.

 

And yet, the state of impoverishment can be a “blessing,” depending upon your perspective.  In common understanding, wealth is synonymous with material gain and pride in achievement or station in life.  To be and to remain “wealthy,” however, requires maintenance, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  How many of us have come to the realization that our material possessions own us?  How mentally and physically draining is it to preserve one’s reputation, image, or area of expertise?  How often has ego, born of confidence and unrealistically high personal expectations, limited our abilities to relate on a purely human level with others?

 

Wealth creates its own baggage in life and, like the links of the chain borne by Jacob Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens’ classic – “A Christmas Carol,” its weight can grow over time, robbing its possessors of the freedom that they believe it provides them.  Poverty, in contrast, can be liberating.  Unfettered from concerns about possessions and social standing, the impoverished, emptied spirit can humbly seek new opportunities, form new opinions, and establish new relationships.  It is this “blessed” state of poverty that I believe Jesus was establishing as a condition for those seeking initiation into the “kingdom of God.”

 

As so often is the case, meaning in life is defined by contradiction.  In weakness, one is strong.  Through despair comes hope and compassion.  In humility, one is glorified.  In poverty, one gains true wealth.

Master Your World

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Heaven and Hell on Earth

Children have a simplicity and clarity of thought that can be both amusing and illuminating for adults.  Cognizant of the duality implicit in the human condition, they both reflect and explain philosophical issues in unexpected and, often, thought-provoking ways.

 

Several years ago, I was conversing with my great-nephew Nicholas, at the time seven or eight years of age.  As often happens in these discussions, Nicholas surprised me with unique takes on age-old areas of speculation, in this instance – the nature of the Divine and the afterlife.

 

With an unabashed innocence typical of his age, he expounded to me his thoughts on eternity.  In so many words, he expressed his doubts about the nature of a Deity who personifies absolute goodness.  Reasoning from his own experience, he expressed the fact that his own behavior is “sometimes good” and “sometimes bad.”  In his judgment, therefore, God can be both “good” and “bad.”  Extending his analysis from the Divine, he concluded that any otherworldly location must reflect both God and its inhabitants.  Thus, he indicated that a Heaven of pure goodness and a Hell of profound evil are not likely.  Rather, he stated that we will all likely go to “Heavell,” encompassing the “good” of Heaven and “bad” of Hell, at the end of our earthly lives.

 

Nicholas’ analysis is both simple and profound.  The concepts of an afterlife and a destination for each of us – based upon our beliefs and behavior during our earthly lives – are manmade and reflect the duality of nature to which we are all witness.  Our innate senses of balance and justice dictate that the inequities that we experience, see, and/or perpetrate in this world must in some sense be rectified – if not in this life, then in another.

 

But, what if any afterlife that we may experience is not a correction, but rather a continuation of our lives on this plane of existence?  Then, we may find that the “Heavell” of Nicholas’ perception is as likely an explanation of an otherworldly universe as any posited. 

 

Strangely, the Western notion of “reward and punishment” is based more upon myth and tradition than upon any definitive inspiration from the Divine.  The Bible, representing the “Word of God” for the majority of the Western world, is singularly silent on the concept of “Heaven.”  Could it be that we have misunderstood or misinterpreted, intentionally or otherwise, the teachings of Jesus and others whom we credit as the architects of Western thinking on this subject?

 

Perhaps, the concept of “Heaven” as a distant, otherworldly reward is a fallacy or an incomplete truth.  Maybe, “Heaven” is a part of any and all existences that we may experience, if only we recognize it.  And, the same might, conceivably, be said of the concept of “Hell.”  Perhaps, “Heaven” and “Hell” perpetually permeate and intertwine with our lives and potential afterlives, with the state in which we find ourselves determined not by God, but by us individually.

 

In this regard, each of us can “reward” or “punish” himself, simply by his own perception of his life’s experiences.  Perhaps, this is the nature of the “dominion” that God conferred upon man in the Genesis narrative (Genesis 1:26 et seq.) and that Jesus spoke about in the beatitude “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).  Whether considered a source of earthly or Divine wisdom, these passages clearly evidence the insight that we each determine and orchestrate, to a surprisingly large degree, our own life experiences.

 

Consider how differently two people can interpret the meaning of the same event, say an illness.  One person, bemoaning his fate, may view it as a curse; another, reflecting on the opportunity provided by the illness for positive change, as a blessing.  More important, however, than outward optimism or pessimism is one’s inner expectation.  The “inheritance” of which Jesus spoke and “dominion” promised in the Genesis narrative come only to those who open themselves to all the opportunities availed them by a universe of infinite possibilities and approach life’s journey with faith that the right choices among these opportunities will illuminate the way enabling them to clearly discern the paradise that exists, albeit murkily for most, in all outward experience.

 

If you want to be the master of your life’s experience, then acknowledge and cultivate control over your contribution in the here and now.  Our external experiences mirror our internal state.  This is at the heart of the message for which Jesus lived and died and is representative of the “Holy Grail” for sincere seekers of the “Truth.”

 

From the Cross, Jesus responded to one of the thieves with whom he was executed “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  Even as you approach death, you can control your world.  “Heaven,” “Hell,” or “Heavell,” you choose.

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