Sunday, September 30, 2018

Semi-Random Musings (9)

It’s funny how the visible man and the Lord’s man are often confused.

Years ago, I attended a church where the most noticeable, likable, impressive presence was a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman who greeted visitors warmly at the door week after week. His family was well known and he had been associated with the same church for decades, so his name was one with which Christians from other churches were always most familiar.

It took me a month or two to realize that almost all the spiritual energy in that church was coming from elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong: everyone has his or her place in the Body of Christ, so I’m not knocking this fellow; he was doing what he could. He was a perfectly pleasant, caring person, but he had almost nothing biblical to offer beyond boilerplate platitudes. 

My point is that appearances can be deceiving. The most presentable man is not always the one through whom God chooses to make his voice heard.

For the few remaining Judeans left behind in Israel by Nebuchadnezzar, a man’s place in his religious community mattered more than what he had to say. Thus when the prophet Jeremiah gave them an answer from God they did not want to hear, they blamed a scribe named Baruch, insinuating he had talked Jeremiah into delivering a false prophecy for his own benefit.

In a way, it was an understandable error. When the Lord Jesus walked the earth, a scribe had significant community status; it was likely the same 500 years prior. A prophet who had been recently jailed and systematically disavowed by the local religious elites could hardly expect to compete. Further, Baruch had been tasked with reading Jeremiah’s messages from God in the temple, and had become the public face of Jeremiah’s call for national and personal repentance.

But in fact it was lowly, thrown-in-the-well-in-mud-up-to-his-armpits Jeremiah to whom God regularly entrusted his word. Baruch was simply Jeremiah’s (probably unpaid) amanuensis; a mere penman rather than a mover and shaker. In Israel, if you wanted to know what God was saying, Jeremiah — mud and all — was the real deal.

Aaron served a similar purpose as a mouthpiece for Moses, who at least initially was reluctant to take on a public role. Yet it was Moses who was entrusted with the real message: about Aaron, God promised Moses, “You shall be as God to him.” Again, some Christians in Corinth made the same mistake about the apostle Paul, complaining that “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Yet Paul was the one with the authentic message from God for the Corinthian church.

Some in Paul’s audience, regrettably, were looking for the wrong defining qualities in a man of God, just as the Israelites did with Jeremiah. Given our continuing preoccupation with platform presence, training and charisma, I suspect more than a few evangelicals today are in the same boat.

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Greg Koukl has an excellent post over at the Stand to Reason blog on the importance of never reading a Bible verse on its own.

An example:
“God did not give us 66 books of short, pithy sayings to be applied piecemeal to our lives (with a few exceptions, e.g., much of Proverbs). Most of Scripture is narrative — story. Most of the rest — NT epistles, for example — is argument (making a case) or instruction. Each of these — narrative, argument, instruction — involves a flow of thought within the passage from the larger part to the smaller part.”
As someone who beats the context drum on a regular basis, I could not agree more. Nobody who makes a habit of proof-texting can expect to consistently come away with anything even vaguely approaching an accurate understanding of the Bible.

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It is often noted that Jesus spent a full night in prayer before choosing his twelve apostles. But Luke especially draws our attention to the timing of that choice by opening the account with the words “In these days”.

A quick look at the immediately-preceding narrative strongly suggests the days in question were a time of steadily increasing hostility and (perhaps more subtly) that the Lord himself was primarily responsible for fanning the flames.

When he healed the paralytic and forgave his sins, the response was “Who is this who speaks blasphemies?” When he ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners, the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, and fussed at their apparent lack of interest in visibly fasting and praying as their own disciples did. When the hungry disciples plucked heads of grain, they called them “unlawful”, and when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, they were “filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.”

Whether the Lord was deliberately provoking them or simply being himself, the effect was one of continuous escalation of hostilities. It is in THIS atmosphere that he singles out twelve not just to be his personal envoys but to face the same sort of abuse then being directed his way, and which was already starting to be directed their way, and which he knew full well would only get worse.

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