Friday, January 29, 2010

Why Didn't I See That Before?

I think I've said before that God sneaks things into my Bible all the time. He's really good at it, too (as if God would be bad at anything). What happens is this: I'll be reading a passage I've read a dozen or two times before, or listening to such a passage, and—wham!--something jumps out at me, something I've never before seen or considered. Usually it's a kind of an "Aha!" moment. Sometimes, though, it's a "Duh!" moment.

I know, I know. The words were always there. Right. Got it. It's the understanding of the words that wasn’t there before. But it's usually so obvious that it seems like it's new stuff.

Today it happened again. I was listening to Luke. I have the Gospels on my MP3 player and try to listen to that every day while driving. Not only do I get immersed in the words of Jesus, but I find it helps me drive with more of the spirit of Christ. Which is a good thing for all those people around me. Anyway, there I was, driving along, listening to Luke 16, when I came to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. You know the parable. Lazarus died and was with Abraham. Then the rich man died and was in torment. So he calls out to Abraham and asks him to send Lazarus to bring him just a drop of water. Abraham says that is impossible—the rich man had his good things in life, and Lazarus had only bad things. And besides that, a great chasm separated them.

Now, before we go further, we need a little bit about what a parable is. A parable is a teaching designed to make a point. The point is typically made at the end. But the circumstances of the parable aren't necessarily true, in the sense that the rich man was a specific person that Jesus or his listeners knew. He's a character in a story. For that matter, a lot has been written about heaven and hell from this parable. That really doesn't hold a lot of water, it seems to me. Remember, the point is at the end. All the stuff about the rich man, Lazarus, anf the chasm is part of the setup.

Anyway, on to the "Aha" moment. The rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his house to warn his brothers about what awaits them. We'll pick it up there:

"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

"Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

" 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.' "

At that point, the thought came to me, "Even if someone rises from the dead. Like Jesus did."

How many times have I read that same parable, and missed that it was talking about the resurrection of Jesus? This may not be as big a revelation to you as it was to me. Maybe you've thought of this before, but I can honestly say I have never heard anyone teach on that parable and bring up that point. It's always about how Lazarus cannot go back and warn the brothers. Or it's about how the rich should treat the poor (it is, but that's an issue that Jesus covered elsewhere, too). Mainly, the takeaways I've heard from this parable are about fire insurance. You know, "Do the right thing so you don't end up in hell."

I am just beginning to see the implications of this new understanding. Here are a couple.

Jesus here proclaims once and for all his endorsement of the Old Testament (Moses and the prophets).

If you can't accept the story of God that is told by Moses and the prophets, you're not going to accept the resurrection.

That last point is huge. We in the church, especially the evangelical church, have focused largely on the New Testament to the neglect of the Old. After all, the New Testament is about Jesus! It's about the church! It's the New Testament.

And without the Old Testament, it doesn't have any foundation. We've been guilty of forgetting that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. That was his culture and the culture of his followers. He kept the law. Perfectly. That meant everything from the sacrifice offered for his birth as a firstborn son, to his circumcision, to celebrating the Passover—all of it. It was his perfect sinlessness that made his death the sacrifice that frees us from sin. Without the law, without Moses and the prophet who foretold him, it would not have been possible.

We've also been guilty of thinking of splitting God into the Old Testament God and the New Testament God. We think of the New Testament as the time when God became a Christian. Or we think of God as the mean old man, and Jesus as the nice young fellow who goes around hugging lambs and makes God be nice to us.

In reality, Jesus was there from the beginning. John makes that clear. And if you read your Old Testament and look, you can find him. He is there as "the commander of the Lord's armies", or as "the angel of the Lord." But that's a tale for another time. This tale is about how God continues to sneak stuff into my Bible.

I think they call that the Holy Spirit. And without that, a Bible is just ink on paper.


  1. Great perspective, I have also wondered about that. In our lesson last week, we talked about Mark 11:30, the Pharisees who ask by what authority does Jesus do these things? Jesus, in turn, asks them by whose authority did John baptize? I always thought it was a question to show them more about what was in their own hearts and to catch them at their entrapment. (they wanted victory, not truth?) But my aha moment was that he was telling them that if you don't accept John's work as the authority of God in John, then you won't accept the authority of God in my work or that I am doing God's will according to his authority. This have been apparent to other people who have read this before, but it was a new notion to me. Amazing how his word IS living.

  2. Good Aha moment, Ladybugggg. There is actually more going on there than even what you saw. Jesus' question answered their question, as you saw. But they were asking Jesus who gave him the authority (s'mihah - please don't hold me to the spelling of that)to give new teachings. Basically, there were two levels of rabbis, and only a few who had s'mihah. You had to get it from two other rabbis with s'mihah. Jesus is saying to them, "I got it from John."

    I'll write more about this another time. It is really very eye-opening stuff.