Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What's He Saying--- to You?

    [ It's been a few months since my last journal.  It occurred to me, while casually reading the Bible, something that should be obvious--- he is my source.  He is our source.  It is in him that "we live, and move, and have our being-- Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" (Acts 17:28; Hebrews 12:2)   So-- we turn and look to him-- not just for inspiration to write -- but as the source and inspiration for life itself ]

   In Ephesians 4:7-10, the Apostle Paul said something quite extraordinary that I had somehow missed before, possibly never having been struck by these words in the exact same way.   Isn't it also extraordinary, and quite miraculous, how these words, penned by man, but inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, can speak to us in new and exciting ways each time that we read them?

   He says,

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says:  "When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people."  (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

   Interesting.  Paul makes a comment and asks a rhetorical queston---
  •  This is WHY it says--- 
  •  WHAT does [ it ] mean ?
    Well--- we'll have to wait until the preacher tells us "why it says" and "what it means", you might say.    No-- if we wait patiently, and read attentively and prayerfully, the Holy Spirit is given to enlighten us to these things.   That is one of his many jobs in ministering to us, the believers and saints of God.   

    That does NOT mean that we should not listen to our pastor or Bible teachers for answers and understanding.   But it does mean that we should NOT solely depend on them.   Martin Luther fought for the "right" for believers to read and interpret the Bible for themselves.  Of course, this is always predicated on our dependence on the Holy Spirit within us to help us and to enlighten us, for without him, we cannot do or understand anything. 

    The subject of Christ's ascension into heaven, and the gifts and calling of believers, is a formidable topic in itself.   But what I'd like to address here is a much more basic truth, and that is that God's Word--- the Bible--- often and usually explains itself to us, if we take the time to seek the meaning-- both universally, and to us personally.

    Paul quotes an Old Testament scripture (Psalm 68:18) and applies it to Christ's ascension.   What does THIS mean?    It means that there are over 300 prophetical passages in the Old Testament that point to and describe the coming of Jesus the Messiah.   Some describe him being 'pierced' (Isaiah 53:5 and Zechariah 12:10) and another even pinpoints the very town in which he was to be born (Micah 5:2).   And there are many more examples.

   If we approach the Bible --just-- as devotional reading, in a spiritual context without an existential reality, we miss the point.   Paul says in 1st Corinthians, "We are of ALL men most miserable" if Christ did not, (in reality) rise from the dead.   (I Cor. 15:13--19)   Our faith is based on history.  It is based upon facts that can be validated and proven.   Not always physically, but sometimes just with plain, old common sense.

   I once had an avowed atheist engage in a three--hour conversation about God and the Bible.  He denied that the Bible could be proven.   He scoffed at the idea of Jesus rising from the dead.   I asked him to consider a passage in 1st Corinthians 15:3--6 ---

  "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep."

   I asked him the question, "When was this written?"  He didn't know.   Frankly, I didn't know exactly, but what I --did-- know (by simply reading the passage itself) is that it had been written recently enough to those events that many of those had been eyewitnesses to Jesus' resurrection were still alive.   Most Bible historians agree that the date of this book was around 55 AD.  Yes--- some of those people had died ("fallen asleep") but ---most--- were still alive.
   Once we agreed to this premise, I asked him, "So--- if most of these eyewitnesses were alive, don't you agree that a lot of scoffers and disbelievers were ALSO still alive?"   Well, yes-- that makes sense too.   And although this letter was certainly meant for and directed to the church, do you NOT think that someway, somehow the contents of it, either by the direct reading of it, or oral dissemination, had reached some of those unbelieving ears?
   My premise was-- and is--- if MOST of 500 men and women who had claimed to actually SEE Jesus Christ alive after his death resurrection were still ALIVE, don't you think somebody, sometime must have challenged this statement by the Apostle Paul?  Don't you think that someone must've stepped forward and said,
"Okay-- just show me ten of them"
 ---or something to that effect?    I think this would be true-- not from a spiritual or historical context, but just from our own common sense.   That one phrase-- "most of whom are still living"--- at least in my mind-- has extreme significance to us, as a major proof of Christ's resurrection/
 He accepted my premise--- but unfortunately, it didn't result in a change of heart.

Reading with an
Open Heart
   Paul states it plainly here--- "This is WHY it says---"  He is spilling the beans.   He is laying it out for all to see, making it as clear as day for us.

   Paul uses the reverse logic of "what come up must come down" (gravity) to apply to Christ. Only his analogy is the opposite.   "What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?"   In other words, "what goes down MUST come up".  It was God's plan that Jesus Christ would rise from the dead and ascend into heaven.

   It is important that we understand what God says.   But it also important that we undertake to act on what he says to us--- to do what he asks us to do.  (James 1:22)   The first step is just having a willing heart to respond to his word and voice.   If we already have decided to follow, he will lead us.  

   In the beginning, Satan tempted the first man and woman by saying to them, "Has God REALLY said...?"   Has God really spoken to the human race?    And does he speak to his children?   The answer to both questions is a resounding "yes."  If you've come to a place where you believe that God has spoken, the next question should be, "What is he speaking to me?"    God speaks in many different ways, but the one way which overshadows and interprets all others is his written word, the Bible.   You may disagree, but it is a dependence on and trust in his Word that protects and enlightens us.   "Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." (Psalm 119:105)

God's Love Letter-- to You
       Sometimes the Scriptures may not say, "This is what it means" as in this passage.  But oftentimes, if we listen and read with an attentive heart, the meaning is clear as a bell to us.  Too many people today are teaching and acting as if the Bible is nothing more than a glorified story book.   It is, in fact, many different things--- but foremost of all, it is God's personal Love Letter to each of us who are his children by faith in Christ.   Treat it in such a fashion.    Open it and read it with care.   And listen to each and every line--- seeing and sensing his presence in each and every word.

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