Searching the Scriptures: Jesus and the Man Healed on the Sabbath

2014-05-21_2001

In an early chapter of John’s Gospel (ch. 5), Jesus contends with the Jews who were seeking to kill him because he had healed a man on the Sabbath Day, a man who had been ill for 38 years.  The paralytic man was seeking healing at the pool near the sheep gate, called Bethesda in Hebrew, yet he had no one to carry him into the water where he believed he would receive healing.  If he could only be first into the water, when according to legend an angel would stir the water, the man believed he would be healed.

If you will recall, Jesus sent a blind man to a similar pool for healing, the Pool of Siloam, which is also in Jerusalem (John 9:1-11).  Jesus had mixed his own saliva with dirt and covered the man’s eyes, then commanded him to go and wash.

Yet in this earlier case at Bethsaida (John 5:1-9), Jesus doesn’t even assist the man into the water.  Instead, he tells him to simply get up from the ground, pick up his bed, and walk. 

2014-05-21_2020Immediately, the man becomes well, but since the healing occurred on the Sabbath, the Jews were critical of the man for carrying his bed on the holy day.  When asked who had told him to carry his bed, the healed man replies that the One who healed him had also told him to take up his bed.  When asked who had healed him, the man replied that he did not know who his healer was.

Later, the healed man met Jesus in the temple, who exhorted him to live a sinless life.  The man subsequently reported to the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.  Therefore, after confronting Jesus, the Jews began seeking to kill Him, not only because from their mistaken perspective Jesus was breaking the Sabbath by healing the man at the pool.  Plus, Jesus had led the healed man to break the telling him to carry his bed.  Ultimately, they accused Jesus of referring to God as His own Father, thus making Himself equal with God.

Jesus’ response to these men is especially significant, for He provides insights into the uses of the Scriptures in our own lives.  He says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.”

What does this passage tell us? 

First, the Scriptures alone do not bring us life or healing.  In themselves, these words are merely “black marks on white pages.”  Clearly, the words in the Scriptures in themselves did not bring life to the Jews who were confronting Jesus, for he tells them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39-50 NASB).

Jesus tells His accusers that He will not accuse them before the Father; instead, Moses is the one who accuses them:  “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (46-47).

What brings Christ’s words to life, therefore?   They must be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit, who is our Teacher, the one sent by the Father to teach us all things.

We must seek and find the true meanings of the Scriptures, not simply assume we know what they signify based on common knowledge, worldly wisdom, or those who may be false teachers. 

Read this passage in the first Psalm:  

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

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Seeing Beyond the Literal: 3-D

Reading Beyond the Literal

Magic Eye

As a literature teacher, I often referred my students to stereograms, often called “Magic Eye Pictures.”  Try doing a web search to find some of these pictures on the Web.  These pictures were very popular several decades ago during the 1990s, so many people today may have not heard of them today.

Briefly looking at the pictures will show arrangements of shapes and colors that merely seem like beautiful patterns, but nothing more.  However, by using a special visual technique, one may suddenly see another image emerge that is no longer two-dimensional.  Instead, a three-dimensional image may appear from the designs, perhaps of a shark or a pirate ship, for example.  (See the descriptions and examples at this web site:  http://www.magiceye.com/about/about.html)

Students who see these images always react with delight and enthusiasm, much like seeing a 3-D film for the first time.  In many ways, it parallels a seeker of God’s wisdom who suddenly is enlightened, for quite often joy is the result.

My purpose was to show my students that a story or a poem may actually be nothing more than black marks on white pages to unperceptive readers.  However, the best  texts will engage the reader to the point that a third image, or even multiple images, may appear with depths of meaning.

Unfortunately, we often find ourselves reading whole paragraphs or pages and not even remembering what we have read.

By both reading and meditating on the Word of God, however, we become so absorbed in the meaning of the text that we are no longer aware of the words on the page (see Psalms 1).  We experience the delight of hearing personally from the Holy Spirit and are filled with joy at the revelations we receive.

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What Are Mysteries?

MYSTERIES

Musterion_in_Greek

The Greek word shown above is musterion, as it is spelled in our alphabet.  It is the word that is the basis for our English word “mystery.” 

Yeah, you are probably saying, “It’s all Greek to me!” 

However, Jesus’ teaching relates that mysteries are secrets that God wishes to make known to His people.  God wants you to know His secrets, but His wisdom may only be revealed to those who are earnestly seeking His wisdom through the Holy Spirit, having been given new life through Christ Jesus.

After telling the gathered crowd His parable of the “Sower” (see Mark 4), Jesus relates the following to His disciples, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables.”  What does Jesus mean?

First, the most basic understanding of Jesus’  parable is not to be found by taking the story literally.  So often we are told that the Scriptures must be interpreted literally, according to their most basic meanings.  At the literal level, the story tells how a farmer sows seeds to obtain a future crop, and unless we are interested in the history of horticulture or farming, the story gives us little we don’t already know.  Therefore, Jesus’  purpose was not to instruct farmers on growing crops or planting in good soil as opposed to hard, rocky ground that may be filled with weeds.

Instead, by applying this story in a deeper sense and finding the underlying “mystery,” we may find what godly wisdom is, knowing the plans and purposes of God.

Jesus gives us an interpretation of His parable because even his disciples were unable to comprehend the story’s meaning.  He asks them, “Do you not understand this parable?  How will you understand all the parables?” (4:13).  Clearly, understanding how this parable functions will enlighten us in terms of how all of Jesus’ parables function and much more.

WORLDLY WISDOM VS. GODLY WISDOM

Reading in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1:18-2:16), we find a remarkable statement that reveals some of the principles of biblical interpretation:

Copy this site to your Web Browser for the passage: 

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=I+Corinthians+1%3A18-2%3A16&version=NASB

  • We cannot rely on human wisdom to understand the wisdom of God.  In fact, God has made the wisdom of the world to be foolish (1:20), and neither the “signs” of the Jews, nor the “wisdom” of the Greeks revealed to humans that Jesus Christ is both the wisdom and the power of God.
  • The Apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians not with clever speech or worldly wisdom.  Instead, Paul says he spoke God’s wisdom in a “mystery,” the “hidden wisdom” which God predestined  before the ages to our glory.  Merely reading the Bible like we would a daily newspaper, therefore, will inadequately reveal God’s wisdom to us.
  • The wisdom of God is received not through the spirit of the world but through the Spirit of God (2:12) so that we may know the things God has freely given us (2:13).  Paul says that he speaks not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught in the Spirit, “combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (2:13).  Therefore, we cannot use “common sense” or what “seems right” to determine what the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to us.
  • Only a spiritual person, one inspired and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, can understand God’s wisdom and insights because they are spiritually understood (2:14).  Therefore, discernment is necessary to know whether the interpretations we are hearing or receiving ourselves are God-given.
  • God’s mysteries are spiritually discerned and understood, Paul says, because “We have the mind of Christ” (2:16).  In addition, we have the Holy Spirit as our teacher, the one imparted to us by Jesus himself!  Speaking to his disciples, He said, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  But when He, the Spirit of truth,comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.  He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and disclose it to you” (John 16:12-14).  Therefore, since Jesus related that “My sheep hear my voice and another they will not follow,” we may confidently respond to the wisdom revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s teaching in these verses should help us all understand more fully how to hear from God, read the Scriptures, listen to sermons, and read Christian literature.  The Word of God is unfathomable, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).  Therefore, merely looking for simplistic meanings (literal only) is meaningless.

WISE COUNSEL ON INTERPRETING THE WORD OF GOD

  • The Apostle Paul counseled Timothy, his disciple, to work diligently (or study) to show himself approved by God, accurately handling the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15).  Therefore, we need to be wise, not foolish.  We need to seek the counsel of wise teachers who evidence to “Fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) and are recognized as Pastors and Teachers in the Body of Christ.  We cannot fall into the trap of thinking, “I have no need of you” (I Corinthians 12:23), for we are all part of the Body of Christ.
  • We must avoid what I call “Bible Roulette,” merely opening the Bible with our eyes closed and pointing with our fingers to a passage.  What if a person were to point first to where Judas went out and hanged himself after betraying Christ, then pointed again to another passage that says “Go and do likewise”!
  • Realize that God will not contradict Himself since He is the Lord who will never lie or deceive.  All interpretations of the Scriptures must find agreement with what the Bible says elsewhere, while we must understand that His ultimate purposes and will were not always apparent at first.  Prophecies, for example, may speak of times in the future, even hundreds of years distant.

Please be aware that the terms “mystical”  or “mysticism,” as they are commonly used today are not to be confused with what I mean in these blog posts.  In no way am I condoning the following:  “Belief characterized by self-delusion or dreamy confusion of thought, especially when based on the assumption of occult qualities or mysterious agencies.”  Nor am I alluding to the kinds of stories Arthur Conan Doyle relates about Sherlock Holmes!

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