Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: Bible

Cure for snakebite

Without a doubt, the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  If you grew up in the church, it was probably the first verse you memorized.  We also see it at various places in the culture – signs at sporting events, on the bottom inside edge of In-N-Out’s drink cup (one more reason to love that place!), on a Monster Jam truck, in songs on the radio, in comic strips, and even in Tim Tebow’s eye black.

John 3:16 is appropriately hailed as “the gospel in a nutshell” as it succinctly summarizes the Good News of Jesus and His mission here on Earth.  Even better, the verse is a direct quote from Jesus, and obviously, He would be the authority on the subject of the gospel.  As a refresher:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

This quote from Jesus comes out of a discussion He had with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was trying to figure out exactly who Christ was.  Just before He says those famous John 3:16 words, in order to help Nicodemus understand what He was about to say, Jesus curiously references an incident from Israel’s past:

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

Jesus compares Himself to a snake?  How does that help?

As Paul Harvey would say – and now, the rest of the story:

When Moses was leading the Israelites away from Egypt toward the land God had promised to the nation, the people routinely became whiny and rebellious.  Each time this occurred, God intervened to bring them back to their senses, forcing the nation to recognize their only chance of survival was to look to God.  This time, God’s “attention grabbing messenger” were poisonous snakes:

Numbers 21:4-9
Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!”  Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.

The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.  Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole.  When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

There is a lot of symbology here.  Bronze is always representative of judgement.  While the snake represented the present danger, it also harkened back to the Garden of Eden where Satan, in the form of a serpent, helped to usher sin into the world and separate people from God.

But of all the parts of this story Jesus could have referenced to help Nicodemus understand the good news of the gospel, Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

What did the Israelites have to do to be immediately rescued from their snake-bitten death sentence?  Only to look at the bronze snake.  Not say a particular prayer.  Not promise to do better.  Not confess all their sins.  No requirement to make God the “Lord of their life” from here on out.  Only to look, because they believed God when He said that was the only thing for them to recover their earthly lives.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus – just like the Israelites looked to the bronze snake – everyone who looks to Him, everyone who believes in Him (no other conditions apply) will have eternal life!

Some may accuse me of “easy believism”, but they’ll have to take it up with Jesus first.

Why would God do such a thing?  Why would Jesus make something so incredibly valuable as eternal life available to everyone who (simply) believes in Him?

It’s the gospel in a nutshell:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Bible: Reading vs. Experiencing

Sometimes, we forget.

We forget that the Bible wasn’t just written, it was lived.
We forget that the person we’re reading about didn’t know the next verse.
We forget the person had feelings/thoughts/worries/doubts in each moment.

The pages of Scripture describe the actions, thoughts, and desires of the individuals and groups who have uniquely interacted with our Creator, in order to demonstrate His love for us. 

But sometimes…we forget…and we just read on through the section, chapter, or book.

For example, we can open our Bibles and find:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

These are the words of an old man encouraging his protégé.  We have front row seats to a watershed moment in young Timothy’s life.  He has been raised and trained for this moment of service in God’s kingdom – and Paul wants Timothy to know the importance of the next steps he takes, ones without Paul’s direct supervision.  But it’s difficult to recognize the weight of Paul’s words, and their impact on Timothy, when we just read through a chapter.

However, when we are on the receiving end of a leader’s call to rise up, something deep inside resonates.  It could be a coach’s halftime speech, a father calling out to his son, or a leader inspiring a nation.  Those moments stir passions in us – even when we witness them in other’s lives, or in a movie.

So, I’m going to ask you to try a little exercise.  Follow the link below to a clip from the movie Miracle, and then read Paul’s words to Timothy again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwpTj_Z9v-c

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Think about Timothy, before and after receiving Paul’s letter.

Why would Paul’s words resonate with Timothy?
Which words stand out?  Why?
How will these words impact Timothy’s motivation and focus?


If Paul said these words to you, how would they impact your motivation and focus?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Our identity in the gospel

The Bible wasn’t dropped out of the sky as a complete revelation of God to mankind.  Instead, the Scriptures were assembled from the writings of God-inspired authors over hundreds of years.  Through these authors, God revealed more and more of His plan for the world and the salvation of those who trust Jesus for eternal life.  This process is referred to progressive revelation.

Therefore, we must consider each section of Scripture in light of the larger context of the God’s story throughout the Bible.  Most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to a particular group of believers or an individual believer to discuss specific topics.  Since the letters’ recipients have already placed their faith in Jesus, getting an “in a nutshell” explanation of the gospel doesn’t appear very often, as the author typically spends his time instructing his readers about the effects of the gospel in their lives or encouraging them to live their lives with eternity in mind.

Paul certainly wrote to the Colossians to give them instruction and encouragement.  However, after he reminds them of where their identity comes from, in verses that follow, he gives them a wonderful “in a nutshell” statement of the gospel message:

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Paul then uses two illustrations that his readers would have been very familiar with.  These physical examples had been previously used to confirm a person’s identification with a group of people.  Both illustrations contain the imagery of a permanent change that takes place in a person’s life. 

Colossians 2:11
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.

Circumcision was the physical removal of flesh that the Israelites performed as a symbolic indication of their identification with God and a separation from the surrounding nations and their gods.  However, a physical circumcision was no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection – our identity with Him is a spiritual circumcision.  In Jesus, we have rejected, or put off, the selfish desires of our flesh.

Continuing with his next example, Paul says

Colossians 2:12
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

The Greek word for baptism means “to be placed into”.  When we are physically immersed in a water baptism, we are symbolically demonstrating what has already happened to us spiritually.  We were set apart and placed into Christ the moment we put our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead

The beauty of our salvation is that we don’t have to try and earn it.  The truth is – we can’t earn it.  God knew that, but still desired relationship with us.  As Paul reminds the Colossians, Christ took care of our sin debt while we were still rebels. 

Colossians 2:13-15
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

While we were still sinners, Christ paid humanity’s sins.  Because of their faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead, God forgave all their sin.  Christ’s standing with the Father is credited to each person who places their faith in Jesus. 

We’ve all had times in our lives where we messed up and afterward we had the offense forgiven, but we still had to live with the consequences of our actions.  However, that’s not the case when it comes to our salvation from sin.  Not only has Jesus erased the certificate of debt but He has also erased…its obligations.  In Christ, we are free from sin – and its penalty.

Our salvation wasn’t secured by some back-door, secret deal, either.  Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified – the kind of death and separation from God that we deserved.  Jesus’ sacrifice was on display for entire world to see.  By His loving actions, He disarmed the rulers and authorities set against us, and, as Paul stated in verse 9, Jesus became the head over every ruler and authority

In these verses, we find that we have been set apart (11-12), our sins forgiven (13-14), and we have victory over forces of evil (15) – all because of Jesus.  That’s the gospel “in a nutshell”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Receiving personal instruction

In one of my year-long college courses, I was fortunate enough that the professor who taught the class had also written the text book.  This might not seem like a big deal from the outside looking in, but it made a huge difference in how we learned from him.  We knew that what he taught us in the morning was going to be reiterated in the same style and with the same emphasis as we read the text in the evening. 

Prof could easily explain how the different sections fit together and even cross-referenced chapters as we were being taught.  He knew the exact layout and intention of each part of the text because he was the one who had put it all together.  There was never any conflict between the teaching and the text – they were from the same man.  Not only was the text well-written for the subject matter, but the class became almost like a personal tutoring session with the author.

We get the same dynamic as we go through the Scriptures.  Although it took hundreds of years and many different authors to complete the text, God superintended the process such that it all hangs together as one, and communicates truth directly from the Creator of Everything to each of us individually.

The author of Psalm 119 did more than just acknowledged this reality of Scripture – he enjoyed it thoroughly.  Take a look through this section and note the role God’s Word plays in the author’s relationship with God.

Psalm 119:97-104
How I love Your teaching!  It is my meditation all day long.
Your command makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers because Your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the elders because I obey Your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path to follow Your word.
I have not turned from Your judgments, for You Yourself have instructed me.
How sweet Your word is to my taste – sweeter than honey to my mouth.
I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.

The psalmist doesn’t distinguish between communicating with God and reading the Scriptures, they are interactions with the same person.  The psalmist gives the reason why he follows what God has taught him when he says for You Yourself have instructed me.  He trusted God’s teaching because it was coming from God Himself.  Nothing was second-hand, there was no need for an interpreter or any guess-work.

And just look at the results of this personal instruction from the Lord – success over enemies, gaining insight and wisdom, the ability to avoid every evil path, gaining understanding, and he can also recognize every false way.  The psalmist has become fully mature because his instruction has been taken directly from the Lord.

The Lord will mature and develop us as well.  He’s ready to give each of us personal, one-on-one instruction.  The teacher and the text are from the same person.  As much as the teaching or writing of others can sometimes help, there is nothing like direct communication and instruction from the Author of Life.  He knows how it all works and why it all works.  

We have an open invitation to be instructed by God Himself.  Will you accept the invitation and meet Him in the Scriptures?

Keep Pressing,
Ken