Day 305 (Nov. 1): Jesus is betrayed and arrested, Jesus prays at Gethsemane, Peter denies Jesus, high priest questions Jesus,

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

John 18:1-2

Mark 14:32-42

Matthew 26:36-46

Luke 22:39-46

Mark 14:43-52

Matthew 26:47-56

Luke 22:47-53

John 18:3-24

Questions & Observations

Q. (Mark 14:32): Do you know what the name “Gethsemane” means.  Just wondered if it is of any significance.

A. It means “oil press,” referring to the large press for the olives trees in the area. Remember the hill they are walking towards is the Mount of Olives.  Olive oil was a precious commodity in the ancient world, and used for all kinds of things.  As to significance, well, I would say you would be hard pressed (pun intended) to miss the notion of Jesus feeling “pressed in” on all sides when He is praying among an oil press.

Q. (14:34): What does Jesus mean by “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”

A. Jesus knows the agony that awaits Him, and it surely caused His human self to be anxious and grief stricken.  He was under so much pressure, that He felt that He was going to die.

Q. (14:36) And what does he mean by “cup of suffering?”

A. Over the next 20 or so hours of this story, Jesus will suffer unbelievable agony before He dies.  He is thinking of it as a bitter cup that He must drink.

Q. (14:38): Is Jesus just warning to be careful of temptation, because it is seriously easy to give into?

A. Almost all of His followers will abandon Him by the end of today’s reading.  I would say that is falling into the temptation to flee.

Q. (Mark 14:45): Why a kiss?

A. In Jesus’ day, a rabbi or other teacher would have been greeted by a student or other person wishing to show respect by offering the person a kiss on the hand or cheek.  So don’t miss the irony of Judas using a symbol of love and respect to betray His master.

O. (14:48): Jesus delivered a good punch here when he asked them why they didn’t arrest Him in the temple.  And, from what we read, Jesus was harmless and unarmed, so why did they come to get him with such force.

Q. (14:500): I guess the disciples ran because they were afraid that they may be arrested too?

A. Yes.

Q. (Matthew 26:50): I wonder why Jesus calls Judas his friend?

A. I believe that Jesus still considered him a close friend.  He loved Judas just as much as His other followers.  Judas’ actions (and ours as well) did not keep Jesus from loving him and calling him friend.

Q. (26:51, 56): I know Jesus healed the priest’s slaves’ ear because Jesus said that his arrest must happen in order for the scriptures to be true.  But, are we to follow in Jesus’s non-violent example?  I don’t recall Jesus hurting anyone as a form of punishment. Also, Rob can you tell us who said this prophecy in the OT?  Why was Jesus’s death necessary?  It was foretold in the OT.  My guess is that nothing else worked long-term for making the Israelites see the way, the truth and the life.

A. Isaiah in particular wrote about the Suffering Servant (which Christians consider to be a Suffering Messiah), and the classic passage for such examination is Isaiah 53.  What Jesus is referring to is the path that He will walk to heal all of us.  As Isaiah predicted, by His suffering, we are healed.  As to why it was necessary, let’s revisit that one when we get to the actual crucifixion: the imagery there will be helpful for a full understanding of what is going on, at least as much as I am privy to.

Q. (John 18:3-11): John has probably the most different account of this encounter.  Why is John much more descriptive of Jesus greeting the religious officials who were going to arrest Him?  In v. 11, Jesus says, “Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”  I would think that this would be addressed to future readers to mean that we must follow the path God gives us even if it includes suffering.

A. John spends more time than any other Gospel on the last night of Jesus’ life (He will be dead before sundown the next day), so it is little surprise to me that he gives some details about the Garden that the others do not include.  As to why Jesus said, “I’m going to drink the cup the Father has given Me,” it is significant because HE WILL.  I wouldn’t try to read too much into what He is saying, Jesus is describing a plan already in motion that God the Father has set in motion.  What Jesus is saying here is that what will happen to Him is no accident: it is His very purpose in coming to earth.

Q. (John 18:15-18): Why was it important for Peter to deny Jesus?

A. Peter failed his Master at the worst possible time, after BRAGGING about how HE WOULD NEVER FAIL.

Day 300 (Oct. 27): Jesus foretells the future destruction and suffering, Jesus second coming will be obvious,

Can you believe it?  We have made it to the 300th day of this year-long journey.  And, the best is at the last.  We are seeing what Jesus was like and how He wants us to be to become the Kingdom of God.  If this is your first time, visiting this blog, welcome.  At BibleBum, we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1. Enjoy!

Mark 13:1-23

Matthew 24:1-25

Luke 21:5-24

Mark 13:24-31

Matthew 24:26-35

Luke 21:25-33

Questions & Observations

Q. (Mark 13:14-23, Matthew 24:1-25, Luke 21:5-24): So, I think that the sacrilegious object in v. 14 is Satan?  Rob, I know you can explain what is going on here much better than I could?  It sounds like Satan comes to test us before Jesus gathers His followers.  The false messiahs and false prophets come from Satan?

After reading all of these versions of the same story, I have more questions.  These accounts are written like they are for Judea only, when the end of the earth would be who knows when and for all people, right?  And, how are we to know who is a false prophet if they can do great signs?

A. So there are several things going on here, and I will try to sort them out.  One of the most important things to understand is that when Jesus refers to the “last days,” He is not speaking strictly to the end of the earth.  To Him (as best we can interpret it, frankly these verses are not always clear), the Last Days began with His incarnation (or He might mean His resurrection), but either way, they refer to more than just the last few days of the planet as we would likely describe it.  Jesus means that the Last Days will continue UNTIL His Second Coming … to be discussed frequently in future readings.

Now one of the things that Jesus tells us will happen — and did in 70 AD — is the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman general Titus (who would later become Emperor).  Note what Mark tells us in 13:30: this will take place within a generation, which as we have come to see in our readings, a “generation” means 40 years.  We are around 30 AD now (33 AD is the most commonly given date for Jesus’ passion), so that means Jesus is EXACTLY right about how long it will be before this sign is fulfilled.

Jesus speaks of other things as well, especially as it relates to the coming persecution of the early Church, which we will read about, and the way that the persecution will be used to spread the Gospel message.  Jesus begins to talk about the Second Coming, mostly by noting that it will not be like His “first coming”.  What He means is that in His Second Coming, everyone will know about it — in the same way we know that when we see vultures we know something is dead, there is no missing the sign).  Jesus will continue to discuss His Second Coming in the next sections of the reading, so let’s see how He tells us more about what is to come.

Q. (Mark 13:30-31) Rob, please explain these verses if you can.

A. Just as I mentioned in the last question, these verses are split among the two topics Jesus is discussing: the destruction of Jerusalem is coming within the generation, and that in the end, all things but Christ’s rule will pass away.  We just don’t know when!  As we keep reading, this will become clearer.

Day 295 (Oct. 22): Kingdom of Heaven likened to vineyard workers, Jesus tells disciples of his impending suffering, Jesus teaches about serving others, Jesus heals blind men, Jesus seeks Zacchaeus, story of ten servants with talents

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Matthew 20:1-16

Mark 10:32-34

Matthew 20:17-19

Luke 18:31-34

Mark 10:35-45

Matthew 20:20-34

Mark 10:46-52

Luke 18:35-43

Luke 19:1-27

Questions & Observations

Q. (Matthew 20:1-16): I understood this until the last sentence.  To me, this is like welcoming people to the Kingdom of God: It doesn’t matter when they come in as long as they do their work and believe.  They will get the same reward.  But, why would the last be first and vice versa?  Just because the first workers complained?  I would think they would all be equal.

A. In the general sense, it is talking about the great reversal of the Kingdom: many who were first (first picked in this story) will be last (paid last in this story).  Jesus is pointing out that not only will there be a reversal, but there will be some surprises along the way.

Q. (Mark 10:32-34, Matthew 20:17-19, Luke 18:31-34): I just noticed, of these three, Luke’s account is more intimate.  I like how Luke 18:31-34 reminds the disciples that Jesus is just going through what the prophets foretold.  So, really, no one should be surprised — except that they did kind of talk in generalities.

A. Note what Luke 18:34 tells us: that the minds of the disciples and Jesus’ followers were kept from seeing what was going to happen clearly until after it was over.

O. (Mark 10:35-45): I bet if all the leaders and bosses realized that they should be humble to those whom they oversee, the world would be a better place.  So, when anyone of authority is chosen, their relationship abilities should be heavily factored in to their selection.  Also, I notice another difference between the OT and NT.  While most of the OT was trying to get the Kings to behave in a godly manner — remember that God never wanted them to have a King, because He was their King and their need not be any other — but they very rarely did (maybe David did a little, but I can’t recall a time).  He wanted them to serve the people, not their own desires.  And, here, Jesus doesn’t a complete 180° and reaches out to the sick, blind, crippled, prostitutes, children — the ones who are totally overlooked by the vast majority of leaders.  As a modern aside, there have been areas that take on welfare themselves by empowering people and it works.  Why not use this model and roll with it.  Perhaps it’s a threat: The powerful think they have to have people under them.

Q. (Matthew 20:29-34, Mark 10:46-52): Jesus way of being a leader is so far different than any other we have seen.  While those with Him are hushing — I guess out of supposed respect for Jesus — these two blind men who are shouting to Jesus for help, Jesus goes to the blind men.  He is really there to serve everyone, and the more humble the better.  Also, when someone calls to Him because they believe, He reaches out to them.  Many — I would say most — leaders just have this air about them that doesn’t consider the suffering of the lowly.

A. Perhaps in reading through the Gospels it becomes more apparent why people have followed after Him for more than 20 centuries.

Q. (Luke 19:1-10): A great story that I have heard since I was a child in Sunday school, and singing the familiar song, is Zacchaeus.  I have never paid attention to the last verse though.  What does Jesus mean by “lost”? Is it everyone who is not following Him or just those who haven’t realized the power of God?  How about those who are sinners, but not seeking change?

A. I rather doubt Zacchaeus was seeking change before he met Jesus, so that certainly could qualify as being “lost”.  Zacchaeus was a corrupt tax collector who had taken advantage of his position to exploit the people of Jericho.  He was driven by greed and not by compassion, and I suspect this is what Jesus has in mind when He said that Zacchaeus was lost.

Q. (Luke 19:11-27): The Bible says that Jesus used this story to explain to the people that the Kingdom of God will happen, but not for some time.  So, I gather Jesus was telling the people to use their time wisely and make a much larger yield to His harvest (rapture).

A. Honestly, I am not completely sure what He means, but I don’t put a ton of stock in the idea of the rapture, and I hope to be able to share with you why as we continue our readings.  But as to your suggestion of using your time wisely, I would say that this is profound Biblical truth.

Day 285 (Oct. 12): Jesus heals blind man, Jesus asks who people think He is, Jesus foretells His death, three disciples see Jesus glowing alongside Elijah and Moses

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Mark 8:22-30

Matthew 16:13-20

Luke 9:18-20

Mark 8:31-9:1

Matthew 16:21-28

Luke 9:21-27

Mark 9:2-13

Matthew 17:1-13

Luke 9:28-36

Questions & Observations

Q. (Mark 8:26): Why did Jesus tell the healed man to not go back to the village on his way home?

A. It is most likely because it would not have been possible for him to keep his healing a secret, which keeps with our secret Messiah theme of Mark.  Symbolically (something I’m sure not lost on the writer), it can be interpreted as saying, “there is no going back the way you came.”

Q. (Mark 8:27): Why does Jesus keep asking his disciples who others believe He is?

A. Keep?  As far as I know, He only did it once, but it is simply recorded three times.  As to why He is asking, my suspicion is His desire to help His disciples see a crucial issue: it does not matter what the crowd sees and believes, what matters is what YOU believe.

Q. (Matthew 16:15-20): Why is Jesus calling Peter the “Rock” and what is Jesus talking about when He says that the church will be built on him?

A. Well, the most obvious answer is that Peter (Petros in Greek) means “rock” —  it was a new name or nickname Jesus gave to Simon when He called Peter into service.  Peter/Simon will be the true leader of the Apostles after Jesus’ death and resurrection, so it will truly be upon the rock — Peter himself — that the foundations of the new church will be laid.

Roman Catholics go a step further, and make the argument that what Jesus is telling Peter is that he is to be the head of the church for all time, and that he is to pass his power down via succession to men after him.  Since Peter ends up in Rome — more on that later — he is known as the first Bishop of Rome.  Today, that same position goes by a different title, but it is still the same office: Papas or Pope, the single leader of the one billion Catholics worldwide.  The Papal office makes the claim that there is unbroken succession between the man sitting in the Bishop’s seat now, Francis I, and Peter himself, 2000 years ago.  Other branches of Christianity — notably the Orthodox church — reject this position, and the role of the Bishop of Rome has literally divided the Church for more than a thousand years.  Protestants, of course, have their own reasons for rejecting the Papal office, and generally acknowledge Peter as being gifted with only the first, not eternal, leadership of the Church on Earth.

Q. (Mark 8:34): The Israelites wouldn’t know what “take up your cross” means.  Can you explain this?

A. Oh yes they would.  There are several reasons for that.  First, crucifixion was not originally a Roman punishment: it had its origins in the Middle East around the time the Jews were in exile.  The Persians and Medians both practiced a form of crucifixion, and it is likely many Jews died this way.  But it was the Romans who PERFECTED the art of the slow and torturous death upon a cross in the manner we see Jesus crucified in.  But, very sadly, the Romans crucified Jews for centuries before Jesus came onto the scene.  Very often — as Jesus will — the victims were forced to carry their cross as part of a shaming ceremony to the place of their execution.  Around 88 BC (so we’re in the vicinity of Jesus’ lifetime), more than 800 Pharisees were crucified by the Romans.  The execution line stretched for hundreds of yards, and it was surely a gruesome display.  The reason?  A powerful warning to any who would undermine Rome: this can happen to you.  In Jesus’ day, it was a common place punishment for criminals and those who chose to undermine the state.  Know about “taking up a cross”?  It was probably a weekly occurrence.

Q. (Mark 8:36): Name that tune!  V. 36 is a popular song right now on the radio.  Anyone want to find the song and then we’ll see what we can do.  Do the people have any concept of soul?

A. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coHKdhAZ9hU

Here’s the song, good one.  Most Jews in Jesus’ day believed in some sort of state of immortality, and that God would raise them to new life on the last day.

Q. (Matthew 16:27-28): I thought Jesus was our savior and God was our creator.

A. Jesus is our savior, but He is also going to be the Judge of all humanity.  This is one of the most common refrains of the NT: Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Q. (Luke 9:26): So, we are not to be ashamed of God.  That can be a tough one until you understand the importance of life.  There are a lot of people out there who go to church, but won’t pray.

A. Prayer is certainly important, but ultimately Jesus desires us to be changed by His efforts, and prayer is only one avenue of it (albeit an important one).  The question we have to ask ourselves is “are others capable of seeing the work God is doing in my life, or not?”  If we are making an intentional effort to conceal our faith, well, then I’d say Jesus’ warning is a stern one.

Q. (Mark 9:2-13): Is it important who Jesus revealed His secret too?

A. If you mean is there something significant about Peter, James, and John, then yes.  They are Jesus’ inner inner circle, if that makes sense.  They are the three men, even among His apostles, that are closest to Him, and will most closely share His journey.

O: (Matthew 17:5-6): This is an incredible time.  God has known all along that He was going to sacrifice His son and now after hundreds or thousands of years, he finally has to go through with it.

Q. (Matthew 17:12): Have we read anything about Elijah returning?

A. Yes.  We read about his parents and his birth in Luke 1, John talks about him in John 1, and Jesus is talking about him here.  We addressed who Elijah is — not a reincarnation of the man himself, but the voice of a Prophet — a few days ago, but I can’t remember the reference.

Day 273 (Sept. 30): Jesus fills fishing nets, Jesus heals leper and draws crowds, Jesus heals paralyzed man, Jesus calls Levi (Matthew) to follow Him, fasting appropriateness

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Luke 5:1-11

Mark 1:40-45

Matthew 8:1-4

Luke 5:12-16

Mark 2:1-12

Matthew 9:1-8

Luke 5:17-26

Mark 2:13-17

Matthew 9:9-13

Luke 5:27-32

Mark 2:18-22

Matthew 9:14-17

Luke 5:33-39

Questions & Observations

Q. (Mark 2:5): Why did Jesus say his sins were forgiven?  I do understand that by saying that He was using God’s authority, which is something Jesus was trying to “prove” to the people.  But, what sins did this man have that caused him to be paralyzed?  There is something that Jesus knows about the man that is not revealed in the Scripture?

A. Jesus is not saying that the man is paralyzed because of his sin (if he had, then forgiving the sin would have brought about the healing!)  It appears that having this man know he was forgiven for his sin (whatever it was, we have no idea) was what Jesus knew was best.  Jesus looked at this helpless man, and began with his heart!  What an amazing insight into Jesus’ character.

Q. (Matthew 9:4): So Jesus knows our true self … what our heart seeks?

A. Yes.

Q. (Matthew 9:6): The scripture says that Jesus has God’s authority on earth.  So, when we talk to God or Jesus, how do we know which one to pray to?  I always pray to God, but I say “in Your sons name, I pray.”  I don’t know who to appeal or turn to with different issues — God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.  Can you help me understand this?

A. Hum, I do want to address this, but let’s wait, because Jesus will have a lot to say about prayer, including whom we should pray to.  Patience.

O. (Mark 2:14): I think we are up to 7 disciples now.  5 more to go.

Q. (Mark 2:22): What’s a wineskin?

A. A wineskin was a storage device that newly fermented wine was stored in during ancient times.  It was typically made of (sorry in advance, this is a big gross!) an animal bladder or stomach.  The idea here was to put the new wine into a new “skin”, because as the wine continued to age, it would produce air and expand in the “bag.”  But, as you might imagine, you could only do this once: if you already had a stretched wine “bag,” you couldn’t put new wine in it and start the process over — the “bag” was already stretched out and you risked losing both the bag and the wine if the “bag” burst.  Yuck!  Moving on…

Q. (Luke 5:39): Do you understand what Jesus is trying to say in this passage about the old wine skins being “just fine?”

A. He is criticizing those such as the Pharisees who are content to keep the legalistic ways of the past, rather then “try” the Gospel.

Day 272 (Sept. 29): Jesus begins preaching, Jesus heals sick boy, Jesus calls on fishermen, Jesus cast out evil spirits, Jesus set on spreading the Word, crowds follow Jesus

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Mark 1:14-15

Matthew 4:12-17

Luke 3:23a

John 4:46-54

Luke 4:16-30

Mark 1:16-20

Matthew 4:18-22

Mark 1:21-28

Luke 4:31-37

Mark 1:29-34

Matthew 8:14-17

Luke 4:38-41

Mark 1:35-39

Luke 4:42-44

Matthew 4:23-25

Questions & Observations

O. (Matthew 4:12-17): Rob, from this reading, I can better understand what you kept saying in the OT that those directions from God were specifically for the Israelites.  Here we see that one prophecy is true.  I know you also said we could apply them to our lives, if it fits.  But, here we see that the OT prophecies are fulfilled in the NT — just another avenue of validity to the Bible.

Q. (John 4:46-54):  This was the second.  The first was turning the water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1-12):  I do notice that both of these accounts came from John.  Is that a pattern?

A.  Yes, John uses the miracles in his Gospel to point to the identity of Jesus as God in human form.  Because of that, the miracles he includes are very purposeful.  He will include 7 miracles, he calls them signs, (not counting the resurrection), which are accompanied by the so-called 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus about who He is, so watch for both of those in John’s Gospel.

Q. (Luke 4:16-30): This is a very revealing sentiment.  It does seem like those who you grow up around are not privy to what one is capable of.  They tend to be disbelieving and thus walk on their friend’s/family member’s ambition.  Is this what Jesus is talking about?  Any insight to the reason for oxymoronic tendency?

A. I think when you know someone’s history (as this whole town would have known Jesus’), you tend to, as you say, see what they are capable of — if it is radically different from what your previously thought about that person.  The people of Nazareth knew Jesus as a laborer/carpenter, and they knew His earthly father.  (Side note: Joseph is not mentioned again as a player in this story, so most scholars assume that he has died before Jesus begins His public ministry.)  Because they knew all this about Him (Nazareth was not a big city), it surely was strange to hear Him proclaim Himself as the one that Isaiah spoke of 800 years before Jesus read them.

Q. (Mark 1:16-20): Here Jesus doesn’t mean to throw our jobs away, right?  Just maybe if they are jobs that involve sin or maybe aren’t what one is being called to do?  This scripture is saying to throw your troubles, treasures and old ways aside and follow him.  Don’t hold on to what you are used to — the old ways — and ignore the Savior and righteous way that stands before you.  And, more importantly, it is saying that nothing is more important for these men (how about us?) than to bring others to God.  We don’t need fish, Jesus is our food.  This can serve as a test of faith for all of us, right?  I do notice that Jesus is not appealing to anyone (that we know of) to be his disciple who has wives and children at home.

And, we pick up two more disciples: James and John.  That makes six (Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael)

A. If you’re asking if God would NEVER ask us to give up our jobs to serve Him, well, He would, and He does.  But if you’re asking does He expect us to abandon our lives to follow Him, I would say that is not the standard.  Jesus called these men for a particular mission.  They would be responsible for learning from Him and changing the world after His resurrection.  Fishing would seem a lot less important at that point.

Q. (1:21-28): I would tend to think that drawing this evil spirit out had the purpose of showing that Jesus rules over evil.  I know there have been movies about evil spirits, demons and exorcisms, but I have not heard of any real ones in modern times.  Maybe there are.  But, I would think that the sole purpose of this demon being present would be to help Jesus establish his power and authority.

A. You’ve got the idea, but don’t forget Jesus’ love for the man himself, and the desire to see him freed from his bondage to this demon.

O. (Matthew 8:14-17): We are up to four-plus now: water to wine, heals government official’s son, cast out demons and now heals Simon’s mother-in-law and others that same night.

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Day 271 (Sept. 28): Nicodemus questions Jesus about being born again, John the Baptist exalts Jesus, Jesus lights up lives of Samaritan village

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

John 3:1-36

John 4:1-45

Questions & Observations

Q. (John 3:1-22): Nicodemus acknowledges Jesus’s power and comes to Him to seek answers about being born again.  I don’t understand why Jesus answers in riddles instead of more directly.  Is it that Jesus knows Nicodemus’s heart, so He knows He will not understand baptism and getting to heaven?  How could Nicodemus understand baptism when it is a fairly new concept (except for you explaining how the priests were cleansed with water in the OT)?

A. I honestly have no idea why Jesus answered in the way He did, but apparently it was what Nicodemus needed to hear.  Our former pastor, Isaac, once gave a sermon about this encounter where he noted that Nicodemus probably went away from this encounter with more questions than answers.  But since he had this personal encounter with Jesus, the questions faded in significance.  He has met the Man, and so the questions no longer mattered.

I think the baptism question is understood as being something that was fairly new, but not brand new — John may have been doing it for some time before this encounter, and as I mentioned, this tradition is grounded in the priestly washing and ritual cleansing ceremonies of the Jewish faith.

Q. (John 3:16): This is probably the most recited verse in the Bible.  And, simply put, is beautiful and direct.  So, if you believe that Jesus is God’s son and our Savior, then you will live eternally.  But, in 3:5, Jesus says that we must be “born again” if we ever want to see the kingdom of heaven.  So, baptism has two purposes: to repent and wash away your sins and to receive the Spirit.  But also, when I was baptized, I was asked if I believed that Jesus was God’s son.  This is why they ask that, because you won’t receive the Spirit if you don’t believe in Jesus?  Since I was baptized so young, I often wonder if I was of the right, mature mind to do so.  I do feel the Spirit in me, but not all the time.  Many times my personality dominates, but the Spirit is getting stronger.  Like I said before, I never had that “wow” moment when Jesus came into my life.  It just seems like He was always there because I grew up going to church every Sunday.  I was 9 or 10 years old when I was baptized. I worry that my baptism wasn’t “official” in God’s eyes.

Then, there is the question about all those people who are good people, but have had little or no exposure to Jesus.  Will they be saved?  There are so many topics to discuss on baptism.

A. Wow, that was a mouthful.  Let’s untangle one of your famous 10 question questions!  (I kid!)  While baptism is an important part of the act of becoming a Christian, it is NOT what saves us: only the blood of Jesus does that, at least that’s my understanding of baptism and atonement.  Baptism is a public declaration that one has decided to follow Christ, but it does not do anything to change our state in God’s “eyes”: it is our faith in Christ that changes our standing, not immersion in water.  That’s why the questions and public declarations are so important: THEY (representing your faith) are the true mark of salvation, and what allows for the presence of the Holy Spirit to enter into our hearts.  So with that understanding, I think it is safe to say I feel no worry about your baptism being “official” to God — it ultimately matters far less than your heart and desire to be like Christ RIGHT NOW.

Alright, we’re heading for some pretty deep water in the “what about people who are good but don’t know Jesus” issue, one that has no simple answer.  I call this the “Gandhi Scenario,” since he is the most common “good person” named when this issue comes up.  I’m going to tell you my opinion, but since we’re dealing with issues of salvation and afterlife, I really can’t say I’m any sort of expert.

First, as the OT has long established, there are no “good people.”  Every human who has lived from Adam and Eve on down has chosen the path of sin and turned away from God.  So trying to say that there’s “good” people out there who just haven’t heard the Gospel is stacking the deck on this question.  It simply doesn’t in any way match what Scripture tells us (take for example, Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 6:13, and Psalm 14:1-3).  One of the central understandings needed to fully grasp Christianity is the gravity of our situation: we think of ourselves (and others) as good people who just need a little “help,” but the reality the Bible points to is that we are impossibly corrupt people who have hearts of stone and no desire to follow after God!  None!  It is not simply that we want help but can’t get it, it is that we flatly REJECT the very notion that we need God’s help.  The ship is going down, and we say, “I’m fine on my own” to the person (Jesus) offering us a lifejacket.  THAT is our reality, so let’s dispense with this “good person” nonsense.  We can see this truth in the people that others have throughout the generations seen as the most holy or righteous: these individuals (I’m thinking of Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi just as two examples) are quick to say they see the corruption in their own souls, and no matter how “holy” the world sees them, the rightly see themselves as not measuring up to God’s perfect standard without His help.  So even the people who others would declare, “that’s a perfect, holy, good person” would turn and quickly say, “not compared to Christ, I’m not.  I’m hopeless without Him.”

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s address the major issue here: the necessity of having to have the Gospel preached to you in order for you to have salvation.  To be honest, this question has at its heart a core of distrust in God.  If we learned anything in the OT, it is that God is the Being who can be trusted.  As you noted, this verse (John 3:16) is everywhere, and it declares God’s everlasting love for not just His people, but the entire world — past, present, and future.  That doesn’t mean that God will ignore or not punish our sin, but that in the midst of all else, Scripture declares a love of God for His creation.  So it seems incredibly unlikely to me that God would declare eternal damnation upon a soul simply because that person never got to hear about Jesus.  Can we see God saying, “well, I’d love to admit you into heaven [we’ll deal with THAT misconception another day], but you never heard about my Son, so you’re out of luck.  Say Hi to the devil for me.”  Honestly, does that sound like the logic of God?  It certainly doesn’t to me.  In my opinion, each of us will be held responsible for acting on the information we know, not on the information that we don’t.  This is the same way I resolve all sorts of sticky issues that non-believes like to throw at Christians: what about the mentally handicapped?  What about infants who die?  What about Gandhi? Etc.  God is just, as He proved to Abraham — the Lord of all earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25).

One more thing: just because I have made the above statement (God will do what is right) does NOT mean that I am convinced that all will be saved (a position known as Universalism).  I am simply stating that when all is said and done, each of us will know that God has done what is right and just in each of our eyes.  We will not be able to cry out to God, “it isn’t fair!”: God will have made all things right, and justice will be done.  Count on it.

O. (4:1): At many, many points in the NT, Jesus is concerned about crowds.  Here, we see that Jesus is getting a lot of attention and so He flees.  In a previous Bible study looking at the book of Mark, we discussed reasons that Jesus would have steered away from crowds: the larger the crowd, the angrier the Pharisees became; He tried to reach those in the countryside away from the larger cities; and Jesus needed to rest and the crowds wouldn’t let him.  I think the first reason was the dominant one in the study.  I just found another reason in the next day’s reading (Mark 1:38-39): he moved on to spread the word.  Upon going to my thinking spot (lol, can you tell my daughter has read A.A. Milne?), I can see where Jesus would speak and do a miracle or two, then his work was done there.  The people either accepted or proclaimed Him or they didn’t.  If they didn’t join in, staying there would only breed more rejection and then his life would be in danger.  So, why not spread the news in other places and harvest more believers!

O. (4:15): I never thought about the very nature of water before and how good it feels to the human body.  Swimming, drinking, bathing, splashing it on my face is all so refreshing.  There is nothing like it.  Then, to think Jesus is all that for eternity.  Nice symbolism.  Our bodies are made up of 70-some percent water.  Jesus should be more than that.  Just think how refreshing water is and then how refreshed Jesus can make us.

Q. (John 4:34-38): So, I understand that Jesus is finishing the work of God here.  God’s work is giving the people His Word and now His Son.  Jesus’s end of it is to spread the Word, be a live demonstration of God’s promises making more believers to the Kingdom of Heaven?  Although, we are nowhere near the awesomeness of Jesus, we are supposed to take His example and apply it to our own lives.  I do struggle with hearing God.  I listen for Him, but many times I do what I think is right in His eyes.  I have the Word to guide me and the Spirit, but many times I don’t know whether to take Road A or Road B.  Specifically, I have plans to expand this blog into something else.  It just popped into my head once when I was with my daughter and we immediately started brainstorming.  I assume this idea and some others that are related to it are from the Spirit.  But, since we are scraping by financially — God is providing what we need when we need it — I keep feeling the guilt for not bringing home a paycheck.  My brain says to keep charging ahead and I pray that my husband’s business will start earning more money (which it is picking up).  The waiting is so hard!

Back to the scripture.  I love how it says that some may plant, but He sends us to harvest things that we have not planted.  And we will all come together to gather the harvest (people brought to eternal life).  I like the picture painted here of God’s people working as one, all enjoying the harvest, not one taking credit for his/her work.

A.  Me too.  This is one of my favorite chapters in all of the Bible (John 4).  Watch for other references to Samaria and Samaritans in the coming days, and let’s talk about who they were at a future date.