A helpful guide to reading our Bibles more effectively!
When was the last time you heard a sermon, or read a book, in which you thought, “well, I don’t like it, but the pastor, or author, is right?”
I remember a post from a really good Christian man. Someone I respect. He commented that a major Christian publication was “no longer a credible source.” With one swipe of the hand an entire publication was dismissed; as though nothing good can ever come from that source. Simply because an article in that publication disagreed with what he thought.
The problem is that the Bible that I read, actually makes me quite uncomfortable at times.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34)
“If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20)
“Not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead” (1 Pet 3:9)
“Bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col 3:13)
“Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20)
“Woe to you who are rich” (Luke 6:24)
I don’t know about you, but I am not sure I am always ready to take up my cross. I love Jesus and I want to follow Him. And I will do my best to not return an insult to those who insult me. but am I really supposed to “bless” those who insult me?
And how well are we doing as American Christians on the “blessed are the poor” and “woe to you are rich” commands? I don’t think Jeremiah would be too happy with us? Yet, we do Bible studies on Jeremiah and we seem pretty content with ourselves.
Why was Jesus Crucified?
The fact is that Jesus was silenced and eventually crucified. But why? He healed people. He said nice things like “love your neighbor.” Who wouldn’t want Jesus to stick around?
There is an old saying, “no one ever invited a prophet home for dinner more than once.” And Jesus was a prophet.
But we love Jesus! We hang crosses around their necks. We have earrings and piercings and tattoos of Jesus.
I bet if Jesus were here today, if He showed up in most of our churches, many people would not want to hear Him! They would leave. Sure, they might stay a week or two.
But not long after that, they would have had enough of Him!
“Heresy” you may shout!
Go read the Gospels
Oftentimes we tell a co-worker, a neighbor, or a friend, who is inquiring about Christianity to go read one of the Gospels (usually John, but I recommend Matthew or Mark—I think John is the hardest Gospel to understand!).
The Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism. Jesus quickly confronts the religious leaders—those of us on team Jesus are excited!
Then, Jesus gathers some disciples. He tells some neat stories. Again, those of us on team Jesus are excited! He does some miracles. Soon, thousands of people are following—yeah team Jesus.
Things seem to be going along quite well. I mean if we are trying to convince someone to believe in Jesus—so far so good!
The message of love your neighbor and blessed are the peacemakers (if they are reading Matthew and/or Luke) sounds good!
Then, suddenly, Jesus begins to intensify His message. He talks about suffering and dying.
He says that if you want to join His movement you must be willing to suffer and die to yourself: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34)
It seems that Jesus may have needed a campaign advisor. Someone that could have given Him ideas on how to gain a following and keep them!
The miracles and healings and challenging the authorities worked for a while. But excluding the rich, telling people to take up their crosses and follow Him, and asking people to sign up for a death wish, is not a good way to gain a large following.
What started off as a promising movement ends, in all four of the Gospels, in a sad story in which almost everyone has fallen away.
Jesus is crucified.
Mark’s Gospel ends with only a few women reporting that the tomb is empty! The women are told: “go tell everyone!”
But instead of doing so, it says, “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).
Now, why do we suppose that our co-worker, neighbor, or friend is going to be convicted that Jesus is the real deal when they read the Gospel story?
“I’ve been witnessing to them for a while but if I can only get them to read the Bible, then they will surely believe!”
I think that coworker or friend—especially if they have no idea of Jesus or Christianity—who reads the story for the first time, might well say, that’s it? That’s the story?
The Gospel story of Jesus doesn’t match what we usually tell people! Nor, what we have become accustomed to hearing. Jesus doesn’t start a large movement in which everyone is successful. Those who follow Him surrender everything. Often at the great cost.
If our co-worker or friend were to continue reading the book of Acts they would find following Jesus may well mean losing one’s life.
So, how might we learn to trust that we are reading our Bibles well?
To be continued. . . .