One of my responsibilities is to help my sister-in-love create a bulletin board in the church. The Lord gives her the image and I craft it. She is in charge of inspiration and I am the perspiration. This month, we naturally did an “Easter” theme – based on the song, “Love Grew Where the Blood Fell” and on Luke 22:44: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” My husband crafted a wooden cross and we mounted it to the board. Because we wanted to emphasize the Lord’s prayer of surrender in Gethsemane, we talked about adding the “rock” upon which Jesus prayed. But something stopped me. I went to the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all speak of the anguished prayer in the garden, but there is no mention of a rock; rather, the Scriptures say “He knelt down and prayed” (Luke 22:41) and “He fell with His face to the ground and prayed” (Matthew 26:39). No rock. But, the prayer on the rock is entrenched in our memory of the story. So where did the rock come from? From the 1886 painting, “Christ in Gethsemane” by Heinrich Hoffman. This classic work of art has become part of the story, just as the “Three wise men” have become part of the Christmas story. But read Matthew’s account again – there were three gifts, but no mention of the number of wise men. John Henry’s 1857 song, “We Three Kings” cements the idea in our minds.
I share this to warn you and me – don’t let side stories and paintings and songs and culture add to or take away from the Word of God. Sure, there’s no harm in having a rock in Gethsemane or three kings in the Christmas story (who, by the way, did not come to the manger, but to the holy family’s house about 2 years after Jesus’ birth). But there are other false teachings that slip in just as easily and can do great harm to your faith and mine. Even if it is something you are sure of, go to the Scriptures and verify it. Our own thoughts and recollections can be colored by something as simple as a children’s nativity play. Friend, we need to be like the Bereans – who listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts17:11). I’ve been a Bible teacher for 20+ years, and my sister-in-love has studied the Bible even longer and we both had a rock in Gethsemane. We were both surprised to discover that there ain’t no rock. Beloved, don’t take anyone else’s word for what God said but God Himself. Even mine. Go get your Bible right now and check it out.
“When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 HCSB).
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the start of Holy Week – which marks the days leading up to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. Some denominations don’t make as big a deal over the traditional Holy Week events as others. For 18 years, I was the Admin Assistant at a United Methodist church and Holy Week meant extra work for me. Bulletins had to be prepared for all the services: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Sunrise Service and Easter Worship. For two of those years I also doubled as the custodian and Holy Week meant extra hours scrubbing and polishing to make the facilities shine. By the time Easter Sunday rolled around, I was exhausted.
Since leaving that position, I’ve been able to approach Holy Week with more reflection and worship – and rest. But it makes me think of the Lord throughout that week, how His mind, body and spirit must have been strained to the breaking point, even before the nails tore through His hands and feet. There was no rest for Jesus. There was no shopping trip to buy new shoes and a spring outfit. No day off for Good Friday. No Easter basket piled high with chocolate bunnies. Jesus’ experiences the days between the triumphal entry and the empty tomb were grueling, and they are what make the week truly Holy.
I want to encourage – maybe even challenge you to spend this coming week studying Holy Week in all four of the Gospels – stopping short of the resurrection passages until Easter Sunday. Take note of all that Jesus did and endured in the span of 7 days – and try to envision the physical, emotional and spiritual toil it took on Him. Those passages are: Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 19:28-chapter 23; and John 12-19.
I’m going to do my favorite thing – a deep dive into the Gospel of Luke. I love to study whole books of the Bible, digging in and chewing on the text. There is so much below the surface of Scripture that broadens our understanding and adds color and texture to the inspired Word of God. I hope it’s okay that I share some of my gleanings with you. It’s a slow process – I’ve only gotten through the first four verses of the first chapter of Luke this morning, but already find a wealth of treasure.
Luke was a physician, a companion of Paul and scholars believe he was a Gentile (a non-Jew) and likely a Greek. Taken together, both of his books, Luke and Acts, are a primer and an apologetic for the Christian faith and the growth of the Gospel.
Though he was a disciple of the Apostles of Christ, (v. 2) he was not satisfied to just receive stories about Jesus. He “carefully investigated everything from the beginning,” and put together “an orderly account” of Jesus’ life, teachings, and ministry. He wanted the recipient of his writings, “most excellent Theophilus” – and you and I – to be “certain of the things you have been taught.”
That begs the question: Are you certain of the things you have been taught about Jesus? Or are you just passively listening to Bible stories? That will never stand up under the opposition of the world and the persecution that is coming to believers. Beloved, you need to know what you believe so that you can believe what you know. Do your own “careful investigation.” Don’t skim over three chapters a day on your way to the end of Revelation. Take as long as you need “to be certain of the things you have been taught.” Study the Scriptures like a man seeking buried treasure. Chew on the text like a dog with a bone. Follow cross-references, look up words, read it in different translations, take notes. Ask questions of the text: “Who, what, where, when, why, how?”
The Bible is a living Word, inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God. You and I need to know it intimately. Moses said it perfectly, “These are not just idle words for you – they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47). Are you ready to dig in to the life-giving Word?
Most of us start our Bible reading adventure on January 1 with great promise – until we get to the book of Leviticus. The rules and laws and regulations make no sense to us and frankly, offend our modern sensibilities. Here’s what you need to keep in mind about Leviticus: Through all these rules, God was showing both His absolute holiness and man’s absolute sinfulness. In addition, as New Testament believers, we must read Leviticus with Jesus always in the forefront of our mind, for He fulfills every jot and tittle of the Law that Moses delivered.
For example: consider Leviticus 1:1-2 – The Lord is giving instruction to Moses to give to the people: “When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.” The first thing I see is the word “when.” Not “if” you bring an offering, but “when” you bring an offering. An offering is expected of God’s people. I’m not just talking about a check in an envelope to throw in the plate. I’m talking about our whole selves. Everything we have and everything we are. And the next part of verse 2 brings that home: “an animal from either the herd or the flock.” Herds and flocks were the Israelite’s livelihood, his means of support and the dinner on his table. The offeror was not to bring any animal he could chase down in the wild. It had to be an animal in which he had invested personally, financially, and often emotionally. An offering that would mean a loss to the giver.
And this is where we see Jesus. God offered up on our behalf a personal offering, an offering that was valuable to Him. An offering that would be a intimate loss to Him. His Son. This offering magnifies the holiness of God, for it required the highest sacrifice – not on our part, but on His. You and I have nothing of that great value, so God provided the offering on our behalf. Jesus.
The book of Leviticus is rich with symbolism that points us to Jesus and to the cross. We must read this book with an eye to the greater Fulfillment of the Law. Don’t miss Him as you force yourself to wade through this difficult book. He is on every page.
“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:42
I have been a Bible Study teacher for more than 10 years, it is my passion and my calling from God. I take very seriously the responsibility to “correctly handle the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). I take very personally the care and feeding of “my sheep” as Jesus charged Peter after His resurrection (see John 21:15-17). The spiritual health of those God has entrusted to me is my constant prayer. So last night, when one of my “lambs” called me to share a revelation from God as she meditated on the material we are studying, I was overcome with thanksgiving and my eyes welled up with tears of joy! There is nothing that blesses any teacher’s heart – whether a Bible teacher, school or college teacher or even the master craftsman training his apprentice – like when your student “gets it.” When the bell rings in their heart and the light goes off in their head – and the lesson taught becomes a truth received.
Take a few minutes to read John 4:1-42. Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here.
This account of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well is rich with so many wonderful illustrations, one could write a book from all the treasures in this just passage of Scripture. And I may just do that someday. But I want to focus on verses 28-30 and 39-42.
This woman, with her sinful track record and obvious disregard by her neighbors, went back into the town and told the people to come and see this remarkable Man, “who told me everything I ever did” (v. 29). She wondered aloud if this was “the Christ,” the long awaited Messiah of the Jews. They came, because of her testimony and her witness of the Man. Verse 39 says “Many of the Samaritans…believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony.” But verse 40 tells us that they didn’t just take her word for who this Man was, but they urged Him to stay and they listened to His Words. And the beautiful result is in verse 42, our key verse. “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” They spent two days listening to Jesus, and they came to a personal knowledge and a personal relationship with Him.
Too many of us have settled for a second-hand relationship with God. We go to church every Sunday and listen to the words that are preached. We may go to Sunday School and hear the lesson brought by the teacher from the material of a writer in another place. We may even go so far as to attend a Bible study class and listen to the leader, and read the lesson. But we don’t make it our own. We settle for what someone else tells us about God, and we wonder why He is not so real to us.
God created you that you might have a deeply intimate and personal relationship with Him. Jesus came to interact personally with people, and He sends His Holy Spirit to live in us in the most intimate way. Bible study and listening to godly teachers and preachers is vital to our spiritual growth, but if we don’t take those Words and make them personal, we have full heads and empty hearts.
God knows your heart and your needs, and He has a Word just for you. He has a purpose just for you. You won’t find it anywhere else but at His feet.
I will teach the Word of God for as long as He gives me breath. There is so much to learn, and so much to share, the Word of the Lord never gets stale or boring. But the ultimate goal of every teacher to teach ourselves out of a job – to stir in our students a hunger and passion for the Word, and the God who wrote it. I pray that you make His Word your own, and that you never settle for a second-hand relationship with the God who created you, loves you, and died for you. I pray that you will be able to say, with Job, “My ears had heard of you – but now – my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). Holy Father, thank you for godly teachers and preachers who lead us into the riches of Your Word. Lord, be real to me today. Speak to my heart of intimate things. Draw me to You so that I can know You for myself. Amen.