Category: What Are Mysteries?

Finding the Truth

The Scientific Method?

One calling of God for the Christian Church is to be a vital channel for Truth in today’s world.  The Apostle Paul wrote, concerning this calling, the following message to Timothy:

14 I am writing these things to you, hoping to come to you before long;15 but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (I Timothy 3:14-15)

By general consensus, however, our culture today assumes and supposes a scientific basis for all valid knowledge, not seeking Truth from God’s “pillar and support” Instead, the world’s scientific pillar is described as follows:

“a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.” (Source)

This procedure assumes that the resulting conclusion will be the “truth” since it is based on facts that are tested through research and proven hypotheses.
Ironically, however, many influential academics and intellectuals have concluded that “absolute truth” is unknowable and cannot be found because it does not exist, a conclusion that contradicts the basis of the scientific method. Since an absolute truth is always correct, regardless of one’s ability to discern, or discover, any particular truth, those who seek to learn the “truth,” often deny the possibility that it even exists because of their own inability to find it.

An Age-Old Question

This is not a question that has arisen only in the modern scientific age.  Rather, the question arose in ancient times, and it was particularly revealed in the discussion between Pontius Pilate and Jesus Christ, when Jesus was on trial before the Roman ruler in Jerusalem:
37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” 38 Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38)

Thomas, a disciple of Jesus, yet another doubter like Pilate, received an answer from Jesus about finding the way to the truth.  Jesus made the following statement about finding the truth in a conversation with His disciples:  

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas *said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. (John 14:3-6)

And later, just before His crucifixion, Jesus prays the following prayer for His disciples, both those with Him and those who would be His followers in the future:

13 But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:13-19)

Significantly, when Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth,” He confirmed the first verse of John’s Gospel, a passage where John declares that Jesus is divine, the very Word of God Himself:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:1-5)

Jesus Christ, therefore, is declared to be the manifestation of God’s truth, the Word of God through whom all things are created.  He is the Light that came into the world.

Unfortunately, even though this Light shines in our dark world, those who live in darkness cannot see the Light for their eyes are blinded.  And since the Light is allied with Life, those who cannot understand the Truth cannot obtain the Life that He was sent to confer upon everyone as a gift of God’s mercy and grace.

Revelation, Not Intellect

This is not to assert that the scientific method is the means Christians should use for gaining God’s Truth.  Instead, the mysteries of the Kingdom of God are obtained through revelation, and only those who seek Him will receive these revelations.  Jesus said, 

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:6-8)

Jesus Himself gave His insights to Pilate, as well as other religious leaders, who then turned on Him, trampling the truth under their feet while seeking to tear Him to pieces.  Likewise, we must be discerning, seeking God’s guidance as we seek to fulfill Christ’s commission to spread His Word throughout the entire world.  We must recognize that some will not receive the Truth we have received from the Holy Spirit, and we may experience persecution for sharing the Word of Life, even though we are walking in the Light.

Likewise, we must be discerning, finding the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we seek to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission to spread His Word throughout the entire world (see Matthew 28:19-20).  We must recognize that because we find God’s truth through revelation, some people will not receive the Truth we have received from the Holy Spirit, and we may experience persecution for sharing the Word of Life, even though we are walking in the Light. Christians are despised for not being scientific enough, even though this scientific method is denigrated by those who believe they have discovered the truth through its use. Even the Apostle Paul was called a “babbler” (Acts 17:18) because he dared to share the spiritual insights he had through personal revelation:

Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me. (II Corinthians 12:1-6)

Notice that in this passage, Paul relates that he received the “truth” (v. 6) from the visions and revelations he received from the Lord.  The truth was communicated not through the scientific method, but through “inexpressible words,” or in another word, “mysteries” which cannot be communicated directly, but only through the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Because of Paul’s faithfulness to these secrets, or mysteries, he suffered extreme persecution, as he explained to the Corinthians:

23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. (II Corinthians 11:23-27)

Indeed, I believe that another period of persecution is coming to all who will be faithful to God’s calling, just as the early disciples of Christ faced extreme persecution.

Conclusion:

It may be unsettling to learn this, but our brains are not the source of Truth. Instead, Christ Jesus and His Word is the source of God’s Truth, and we learn the Truth through “revelations” that come from God Himself through the Holy Spirit if we will only seek Him.  

Decades ago, people came to believe that “everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion.” However, such opinions derive merely from what has been heard and decided by the individuals’ brain choices, and not by direct revelation of the Truth from a loving and Holy God. Unfortunately, “majority rules” is likewise not an indicator of Truth.  Many horrible leaders in history have brought terrible disasters upon multitudes of people because their followers were convinced to become like sheep, all gone astray over the cliffs of false teachings and doctrines about what is True.     

People need only read the multitudes of “comments” following controversial articles on the Web to see that people disagree vehemently about the nature or substance of the “Truth.”  Unfortunately, therefore, the “Truth” is rarely discovered because the writers simply resort to name-calling, persecution, and threats. Subsequently, people who disagree are labeled as being a “bigot,” “stupid,” “uneducated,” or lacking in “tolerance.”  More and more, therefore, those who are “outside” the boundaries of what is considered true (from common perceptions derived from media representations or polling questionnaires) will be subject to various kinds of persecutions.

 

Note: For more on this topic, see the following blog article from www.biblicalmysteries.com.

 

 

 

 

True Discernment

Leaven

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth…

Teaching college freshmen, I often found that many students at that age had difficulty understanding irony in human communications, not so much spoken, but written irony.  The developing brain that many once thought was mature at the end of the teenage years, instead continues to grow and develop even as late as the mid-twenties.

I would give my freshmen class an essay to read and ask them to state whether they agreed or disagreed with the author.  Unfortunately, most students agreed with the author, not realizing that the article was written ironically.  In other words, the article conveyed a position on a controversial issue that was the opposite of what the author actually believed, just to show the absurdity of the position. 

One essay, for example, proposed that doctors should not be compelled to tread AIDS patients because the doctors might also become infected. 

The students, taking the author’s words literally, decided that it was indeed reprehensible that doctors were being forced to expose themselves to a dangerous disease to provide treatment, in spite of the Hippocratic Oath they had taken.  The students didn’t realize that the author was using a heavily ironic tone to convey his disgust that any doctor would refuse to treat an ill patient.  They didn’t discern the weighted language the author used that revealed an opposite meaning from what the words seemed to convey.

…Not According to Fleshly Wisdom

In the 16th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we find a several stories that are exceptionally enlightening, though they aren’t ones that attract much attention, mainly because their deeper interpretations may not be immediately apparent, and the stories need to be analyzed and interpreted.

Jesus has just had an encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees, who have formed an interesting partnership since they usually disagreed on so many doctrines and teachings.  In this case, they are colluding to test or to provoke Jesus by asking Him for a “sign,” presumably to demonstrate to whether He has come from God. 

Jesus asks them why they cannot discern “the signs of the times” when they can correctly predict the weather based on the color of the sky, either in the morning or the evening.

Being able to understand the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, however, does not depend on human, or fleshly, wisdom.  Yet it is clear from Jesus’ words in this passage that the means of understanding are comparable.  They merely apply to different realms, either the natural realm or the spiritual realm.  The Apostle Paul teaches that the natural man cannot understand or accept the things of the Spirit of God.

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (I Corinthians 2:14).

Leaving the Sadducees and Pharisees behind and going to the other side of the lake, Jesus is still recalling the confrontation, saying to His disciples, ““Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). 

What follows is an excellent example of how the disciples use natural, human thinking rather than spiritual discernment.  Since they had come without bread to eat on their journey, they thought Jesus was speaking about literal bread since He had mentioned “leaven.” 

This leaven consisted of a portion of the fermented dough used in a previous baking and mixed with the new batch of dough, causing  the new mixture to rise also since leaven grows and permeates the entire mixture.

Because of its association with the Passover–the Jews only had unleavened bread with them when they left Egypt–and the fact that it was forbidden in all offerings to the Lord made by fire, leaven was metaphorically seen as a corrupting influence.  This is why Jesus uses this metaphor to describe the teachings and practices of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

What seems confusing is why Jesus says His disciples have little faith when they misunderstand His admonition to beware of the “leaven” of the Jewish teachers:

You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? 10 Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up? 11 How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  (Matthew 16:8-11)

 In this case, Jesus is reminding them that their food will be provided for them on their journey, even miraculously if need be.  Don’t you recall the ways thousands of people were fed with just a few loaves that God multiplied before you, He is saying?

It wasn’t literal bread He was talking about, however, and He is telling them to use spiritual discernment to understand His meaning.  In effect, He is warning them not to be like the Pharisees and Sadducees, who were able to discern the weather naturally but  could not discern spiritually. 

We also must beware such “leaven,” even though the influence of the Pharisees and Sadducees is no longer present today.  The same insistence on legalism, only interpreting the Scriptures literally, seeking proofs of God’s existence, or looking for “signs” to show His presence, all  demonstrate a lack of faith.  Why?  Faith is the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

A FINAL NOTE:

Finally, see how the following passages from the Apostle Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians and his second letter to Timothy relate to these issues:

For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you.  (II Corinthians 1:12)

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling [i.e. dividing] the word of truth.  (II Timothy 2:15)

These verses demonstrate in brief how to read and interpret the Scriptures.  They should not be used for “proof-texting.”  We must not select verses or passages  merely to uphold or validate our own ideas and theories.  Instead, we need to seek to know the mysteries, or “secrets,” that only God by His Holy Spirit may reveal.

True teachers of the Word must also reveal the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives (Galatians 5:22-24).  Be wary of those who are merely trying to sell their books or messages on recordings.  Be wary of those who try to attract followers to themselves instead of to Christ, or those whose lives seem to focus on material goods or popularity. 

Much against my better judgment, the church where I once was pastor many years ago invited a guest speaker who ended up using the following old trick:   “I know there are twelve people here who need to give $100 dollars today.  If they do, the result will be five people saved in the mission field as a result of their gift.” 

This guest also invited two couples to lunch, telling them that he had a special ministry for them.  He ended up trying to enlist them as workers in a pyramiding sales “ministry,” and guess who was at the top of the pyramid?

The Church today is under  fire from those who believe they can see through  the hypocrisy of Christians and Christian leaders!  Too often these  people are unaware of their own hypocrisy, yet we must do all we can to purge the true Church of all such leaders, as well as seek ourselves to follow Christ truly in all godliness.

Crossing the Mystical Divide: Nicodemus

File:William Brassey Hole Nicodemus.jpg

Nicodemus, whose story is found in  John’s Gospel (3:3-21), is described by John as a “ruler of the Jews” and a “man of the Pharisees,” one who has seen Jesus’ miracles and appears to believes that Jesus has come from God, “For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (vs. 2).   

Unlike in the passage from Mark’s Gospel, Chapter 1, where Christ taught the multitudes publicly from the ship set near the seashore, John’s Gospel notes that Nicodemus came at night, seeking an audience in private.  Other Pharisees or Sadducees confronted Jesus publicly, but only to attempt to prove Him to be a false teacher or a blasphemer. 

Much has been made of Nicodemus’ nighttime visit:   Was he afraid?  Wanting to avoid the crowds?  Seeking anonymity? Intimidated by the other Pharisees? 

We can only speculate, but my sense is that he wanted to avoid peer pressure or persecution from his fellow Pharisees, so he sought out Jesus privately. 

Since Jesus does not need to speak obscurely with Nicodemus as He did to veil divine truth from the “unseeing” multitudes (Mark 4:11-12), He does not speak to Nicodemus in parables.  Still, Christ speaks in figurative language, using a metaphorical “analogy” which attempts to approximate the revelation of God’s ineffable (inexplicable) truths through natural examples or parallels in meaning.

Jesus’ words are filled with layered (multi-dimensional) meanings which are ridiculous if taken literally, yet Nicodemus continually fails to understand Christ’s meanings.  He cannot cross the chasm  between Christ’s mystical words and the transcendent truths which lay underneath the surface.

Nicodemus opens the conversation by noting the signs Jesus has performed, signs which Nicodemus took to be evidence of Christ’s divine calling.  Jesus, however, ignores the compliment to speak directly to his visitor’s personal needs: 

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?  (John 3:5-10)

 This passage is significant, for it relates such spiritual insights as being “born again” of the Spirit, yet ties this  mystery of spiritual rebirth to natural, physical events:  childbirth and the blowing of the wind.

Presumably, Nicodemus, as a spiritual guide himself, should have been able to make the revelatory leap from physical birth to spiritual birth, from the wind to the moving of the Spirit, yet he cannot resolve the paradox of Christ’s mystical discourse.

Nicodemus’ intellect prevents him from entering the mystical realm.  Even a direct confrontation with the tangible Word of God, Jesus the Logos, is not sufficient to open his eyes to see spiritual truth.  Nicodemus’s demands for interpretation ends the mystical discourse, for Jesus concludes the following:  “12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).

Even at the end of the conversation, Nicodemus continues to ask how spiritual rebirth may be possible.  As a teacher and master in Israel, his intellect interferes with his spiritual sight, which like the Holy Spirit is not tied to human language or logic, for the Spirit blows where He wishes. 

Ultimately, however, Nicodemus defends Jesus before his fellow Pharisees and the Chief Priest (John 7).  Before condemning Him, they should investigate who Jesus is.  And later, we find that Nicodemus risks even more persecution by partnering with Joseph of Arimathea to embalm Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.

 

WHAT DO WE LEARN?

In order to cross the gap between the natural realm (what may be perceived with the five physical senses) and the divine realm of the Spirit (what may only be perceived by the born-again spirit), the seeker after God must be completely transformed into a new creature—like Christ himself, one born of the Holy Spirit  Thus, spiritual rebirth, as seen in John’s Gospel, is brought about through faith—believing on Jesus as the Christ.

Elsewhere, this initial mystical experience is compared not to rebirth but to the eating of Christ’s body and drinking of His blood, leading to the resulting “oneness” with Him: “I am the bread of life . . . If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever” (John 6:48, 52). This faith is essentially a resolution to believe not in a creed or ethical system but in the person of Christ Himself.  It is a total dedication to follow Christ even to the death if necessary—hence His command to take up the cross and follow Him.

This faith precedes mystical insight, yet throughout his writings the apostle John insists that faith is aligned with experience and tangible, historical events. Still, John’s use of the tangible amounts to a symbolic approximation of the mystical, for Christ’s miracles represent the signs of Christ’s divinity, evidences that Christ has bridged the  chasm between the world we see and hear with the heavenly realm of God.

Suspended between Heaven and Earth, Christ’s cross bridges the gap. Thus, the believer’s willingness to follow Christ wherever He may lead, in spite of the seeming foolishness of the path, is the first step in the believer’s initiation into “the Body of Christ,”  the “Church,” or the “fellowship of the saints.” It is also the necessary precursor to receiving mystical insights and divine illumination.

The believer is seen as passing over from death to life, from darkness to light, not as a future hope but as a present reality, thus revealing the essence of the believer’s paradoxical position in both the present physical world and the transcendent Kingdom of Heaven.  We are in the world, but not of the world. 

As the Apostle Paul writes in his  letter to the Ephesians, 

“In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will [emphasis mine], according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. …15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”  (Ephesians 1:8-17)

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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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