Archive for Bible Study

Fishers of Men: Part 2–Track Record

 

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.  When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

 Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me?  My time hasn’t come yet.”

 His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did.  The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine.  He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first.  They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely.  You kept the good wine until now.”  This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee.  He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.  (John 2:1-11 CEB)

 

Jesus hasn’t even had a chance to start teaching or building into these guys who are following Him.  His disciples have only just met Him and have literally not had time to do anything but get to this wedding, perhaps chatting a bit on the way.  They really didn’t have any way of knowing for sure at this point what they were getting into.

 

But then, Jesus reveals His glory to His new disciples by changing the water into wine.  From that point on, the fishermen were themselves hooked.

 

Now go back to the passage at the beginning of Part 1, where Simon (now called Peter) and Andrew drop their nets to follow Jesus full-time.  This event takes place A YEAR after the wedding at Cana.

 

So Jesus wasn’t just walking along the beach casting hypnotic spells on ignorant and gullible people.  First, they knew their scriptures well enough to know that a Messiah was coming.  Second, John the Baptist had pointed them directly to Him.  Third, they had seen Him perform a miracle firsthand.

 

So by this time, Jesus had an established track record with these guys.

 

Luke 5 goes into much more detail than Mark 1 about what Jesus was doing at the lake that day.  He wasn’t just walking along; He was teaching people at the water’s edge.  Then He gets into Simon’s boat, and has him take it out into the lake a bit, so He is better situated to teach the crowd.

 

Afterward, He has Simon go out deeper into the lake and let down his nets.  This doesn’t make sense to Simon, because they hadn’t caught anything all night.  Nevertheless, Jesus already has enough of a track record with Simon that he does it anyway.  This is what happens:

 

They did it and caught so many fish that their nets began ripping apart.  Then they signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them.  The men came, and together they filled the two boats so full that they both began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me!  I am a sinner.”  Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught.  His partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were surprised too.

Jesus told Simon, “Don’t be afraid!  From now on you will bring in people instead of fish.”  The men pulled their boats up on the shore.  Then they left everything and went with Jesus.  (Luke 5:6-11 CEV)

 

They left everything.  Think about that for a minute.  Think of your job, your family, your house, your friends, your community—everything that makes your life what it is.  Is there anything, or anyone, that could make you leave all of that behind you?

 

If you said no, then consider these words of Jesus:

 

Those who love their father or mother more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Those who love their son or daughter more than they love me are not worthy to be my followers.  Whoever is not willing to carry the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who try to hold on to their lives will give up true life.  Those who give up their lives for me will hold on to true life.  (Matthew 10:37-39 NCV)

 

These fishermen were ready to become man-fishers.  They were expectant, they were vigilant, and they were patient.  And because of this, we are still talking about them 2,000 years later.

 

So what about us?  Are we ready?  Are we willing to drop it all and go fishing?  Does Jesus have enough of a track record with us that we would follow Him wherever He would have us go?

 

If your answer is yes, then it’s time to go fish.

 

Fishers of Men: Part 1–Follow Me

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.  And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  And immediately they left their nets and followed him.  (Mark 1:16-18 ESV)

 

This is one of a plethora of examples in the Bible where context is everything.  Just reading that passage by itself might make you say, “WHAT?  How gullible are these guys?  Was Jesus some kind of Pied Piper or something?”

 

Because it sounds like He was just going for a walk, saw these two guys, called them, and they came.  Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but you have to know where to look.  So here’s some background.

 

Simon and Andrew are brothers from Bethsaida, which literally means House of Fish.  They are working in a commercial fishing business in Capernaum, on the north end of the Sea of Galilee, where Andrew lives with Simon and his wife.

 

Andrew is also a disciple, or follower, of a radical new preacher known as John the Baptist, who was sent to prepare the way for the Messiah, the Anointed One of God who would redeem Israel.

 

One day Jesus shows up where John is baptizing.  John immediately recognizes Him, and points Him out as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Naturally, word gets out about this event.

 

So the next day, Andrew is there along with another disciple by the name of John, who recorded the events of that day in the Gospel that bears his name:

 

The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look!  The Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

 He replied, “Come and see.”  So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  (John 1:35-39a CEB)

 

After spending the day with Jesus, Andrew immediately goes and gets Simon, convinced that he and John had found the Messiah.  So how were they convinced in a single day?  I’m sure it had a lot to do with what Jesus said to them, which the Bible didn’t record, but there is another reason.

 

Andrew and John recognized Jesus as the Messiah because they were EXPECTING the Messiah.

 

Indeed all Jews in that day were, but most of them didn’t know what they were looking for.  Many were hoping for a military leader to throw off the Roman occupation of Judea.  These folks missed it completely when Jesus was in their midst.  Indeed, many of them were among those who eventually had Jesus executed.

 

But John the Baptist knew that the Kingdom of God was another matter entirely.  And he had done his job in preparing the way for those who had ears to hear his message, Andrew and John among them.

 

(Come back for the conclusion–Track Record!)

 

DN=: Part 2–Freedom

“All things are allowed,” you say. But not all things are good. “All things are allowed.” But some things don’t help anyone. (1 Cor 10:23 ERV)

 

We are big on freedom in this country, aren’t we?  We have a Bill of Rights in our constitution guaranteeing us freedom of speech, the press, assembly, religion and petition.  When our soldiers go off to war, we are told that they are “fighting for our freedom.”

 

It’s in all the songs we learn as kids.  America is the land of the FREE and the home of the brave.  We are proud to be Americans where at least we know we’re FREE.  From every mountainside, let FREEDOM ring.

 

Christians are also fond of the words “free” and “freedom.”  We also have phrases that we repeat or sing in songs, such as:

 

  • Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
  • If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.
  • My chains are gone; I’ve been set free.

Nevertheless, Christians can easily fall into the same trap as the rest of the world in the sense of abusing personal freedom at the expense of the freedom of another.

 

FREEDOM DN= LICENSE TO DO WHATEVER WE WANT

 

Within a generation of Jesus’ death, both Paul and Peter were dealing with this problem in the early Church:

 

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? (Galatians 5:13-15 (MSG)

 

Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government. (1 Peter 2: 13-17 MSG)

 

Do you see the tie there?  Freedom = service.  Some translations actually use the word “slave.”

 

Now for Americans, that notion can be jarring.  For Americans of African descent in particular, it can feel like a harsh slap in the face.  After all that this country and its people have gone through to win freedom, God wants us to be slaves again?

 

The original Greek word in Peter’s letter is doulos, which does mean slave, but not in the way we Americans think of it.  When we hear the word “slave,” we think of forced labor.  In other words, a slave’s status is determined by the work the slave does and the conditions under which he is compelled to do it.

 

A doulos, on the other hand, is also a bondservant, or one permanently bound and subservient to a master; however, their slave status is determined not by their work, but by their relationship to their master.

 

The implication then, made by both Peter and Paul, is that to be a bondservant of Christ, one must no longer be a slave to sin.  After all, as Jesus Himself said, “No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24a NIV).”

 

Furthermore, in this context a doulos is a VOLUNTARY bondservant.  We are born slaves to sin, but we CHOOSE to be “slaves” for Christ.  The only way to be in a position to make that choice is to have first been freed from the grip of sin in our lives.  A slave cannot free himself; he can only be freed by the master.  And the Master said this:

 

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  (John 13:34  NIV)

 

And also this:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40b NIV)

 

Therefore, serving God and serving other people are actually one and the same.  So being a doulos to Christ means being a doulos to the world as well, but to its people, not its philosophies.

 

As no one can serve two masters, and as it is impossible to serve both Christ and our own sinful desires, so it is also impossible to simultaneously serve the world while doing whatever we want.

 

This is the reason that no one is justified by their works alone apart from having been freed by the Master, with whom they have a relationship.

 

Which brings up another DN=.

 

(Which will be covered in Part 3–Righteousness)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 4–First Hand

 

 

I received a Bible, probably at about age 9 or so, in Catholic Sunday School, or CCD as we called it.  (This has now been changed to PSR, most likely because “Parish School of Religion” is much easier for a grade-schooler to say than “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.”)  By then, it was already too late for me.  But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The Bible was something we carried to CCD, not something we actually used.

 

Without studying the Bible first hand, you don’t really know anything about the real Jesus, his inner circle of disciples, and how they gave birth to what is now known as Christianity.  It wasn’t until I actually started to read the Bible that I realized that most of what I thought I knew about had been shaped not by the Church, but by popular culture.  What faith I had was based not on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but on that of Cecil B. Demille and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

As our pastors at Cherry Hills say, “You can’t be deeply influenced by something you don’t know.”  The significance is that you can’t live out Jesus’ teachings without having read them yourself.  And even reading about the teachings isn’t enough, because that’s just head knowledge.

 

But the Catholic Church doesn’t even allow for the head knowledge!  If you can’t even go that far, then you are NEVER going to get to the place where head knowledge becomes heart-changing, life altering Truth.

 

And here is where Catholicism begins to break down completely.  Catholics, historically, have not been encouraged to read the Bible.  According to Monsignor Daniel Kutys:

Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study.  That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.  This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.[i] 

 

Although the pope issued this encyclical 70 years ago, there has not been much trickle-down to the laity (i.e. the folks in the pews).  According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Bible Society, in partnership with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 57% of churchgoing Catholics don’t read the Bible week-by-week outside of a Church setting.[ii]

 

Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s (known as Vatican II), the Catholic church has been on a mechanical three-year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, in which they tell their followers that at the end of the three-year cycle, they will have covered all of scripture.  Therefore, a faithful Catholic who attends mass every Sunday is under the impression that after three years, they have had the entire Bible read to them.

 

This is dangerously false.  According to the Catholic Lectionary Website, only 27.5 % of the verses in the Bible are covered by the Lectionary.  And that’s if you go to mass EVERY DAY!  If you’re only meeting your minimum obligation of every Sunday and Feast day, that figure drops to 12.7%.

 

Understand, this is only since Vatican II, when the Magisterium began openly encouraging Bible study.  Before that, when the mass was in Latin and only had two readings instead of three, the figures are even more shocking.  Only 4.7% of the Bible was covered.  Forty-five of the 73 books in the Catholic Bible were ignored completely, including all of the Historical and Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.  [iii]

 

But even if the Bible were being covered completely in the 3-year span, it wouldn’t matter to the congregation, because how is the Bible going to sink in if you’re having it read TO you?

 

Actually, that is possible in certain situations.  For example, back in the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, the only way they could obtain knowledge from the Bible or any other book was to have someone read it to them.  Indeed the worldwide literacy rate today is not much above 40%, with the exceptions of course being in developed nations such as our own.

 

If you were one of those people who could not read, then you would be ready to receive whatever was read to you, because you would know it was the only way you were going to learn.  Your receptiveness would be even more acute if you were prepared specifically to hear what was in the Bible.

 

But this is overwhelmingly not the case in 21st-century America.  I don’t know ANY Catholic who goes to church to hear what is in the Bible (there may be some, but I haven’t met them).  They go because it’s what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night).  It is all part of the tradition (more on this in Part 6).

 

Bible study simply isn’t part of the Catholic culture.  It never has been.

 

The Word of God is proclaimed during the mass, but the people in the pews don’t have their own Bibles to follow along.  At best, there might be a worship aid in the pew.

 

Without the opportunity or active encouragement to be in the Word first hand, Catholics disconnect from the readings.  They are just waiting to hear “This is the word of the Lord,” so they can wake up and robotically respond “Thanks be to God.”

 

How rare is the priest who actually TEACHES practical application of the Bible readings in their homily (a commentary that is the ancient predecessor of the modern-day “sermon”).

 

(I did meet one priest that got it though.  For a more uplifting story, come back for Part 5—Confession)



[i] http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/changes-in-catholic-attitudes-toward-bible-readings.cfm

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News-Releases/2012/Catholic-Bible-Engagement

[iii] http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm


Breaking Catholic: Part 3–Holy Spirit

 

 

You may have heard it said of the Bible “The Word is alive,” or some variation thereof.  Scripture says of itself:

 

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power—making it active, operative, energizing and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [that is, of the deepest parts of our nature] exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 Amplified)
 

However, this is only possible through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the third person of God.  Scripture is nonsense and babbling to those who attempt to read it without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

Now if you are a non-Christian reading this, let me bring you up to speed on the concept of the Trinity.  God exists as one God in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  They are One God, not Three, which is a very difficult mystery to wrap your brain around.  Here are a few illustrations that have helped me.

 

An apple has three parts: the peel, the flesh and the core.  The three parts have different purposes, but they are all still one apple, not three apples. (This illustration is from a book called 3 in 1 (A Picture of God) by Joanne and Benjamin Marxhausen. I found it for my daughter at a rummage sale—at a Catholic household, oddly enough.)

 

Another illustration about the Trinity is H2O.  If you drop an ice cube onto a very hot skillet, it will quickly melt and then evaporate. But for a few seconds, you will have water in all three states: ice, water and steam.  All three are water, and all three exist in the same place at the same time, but each one has unique characteristics and purposes.

 

Finally, the unique purposes of the Trinity have been explained to me by the following illustration.  A father and son are reading quietly in their living room (it could happen!).  They are so into their books, and they have been reading for so long, that it’s starting to get dark.  Dad is comfortable, and he is also Dad, so he says to his son, “Go turn on the lamp.”  The son gets up and turns on the lamp, and they continue reading by the light it gives.

 

The father gives the command, the son carries it out and the power gives light.  In the same way, God the Father gave a command (Let there be light), the Son carried it out (And there was light) and the Holy Spirit brought light to the world.

 

This is how God has worked, and still works, in our world today.  The Father’s greatest work since the creation was to redeem the world and humanity with it.  He gave the order for atoning work to be done to bring us back to Him.  This order was carried out by the Son, who came to the world in the person of Jesus Christ.  And on the night He was betrayed, Jesus explained how the work would be completed in us:

 

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener and Standby) that He may remain with you forever, the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive (welcome, take to its heart), because it does not see Him, nor know and recognize Him.  But you know and recognize Him, for He lives with you [constantly] and will be in you. (John 14: 16-17 Amplified) 

 

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, He made good on His promise:

 

And when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all assembled together in one place, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent tempest blast, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and that settled on each one of them.  And they were all filled—diffused throughout their souls—with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other (different, foreign) languages, as the Spirit kept giving them clear and loud expression (in each tongue in appropriate words).  Acts 2:1-4 Amplified)

 

Now what does all this have to do with Catholicism?

 

Well, the Catholic church obviously does acknowledge the existence of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, they acknowledge Him every time they make the Sign of the Cross, in which they silently (or aloud) say in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  (Any Catholics reading this, you just said “Amen” didn’t you?  Admit it!)

 

But as for me, growing up, I didn’t really know anything about the Holy Spirit.  He was whose name I said when I touched my shoulders whilst crossing myself.  That was it.

 

(So how does one solve this problem?  Come back for Part 4–First Hand)

 

Breaking Catholic–Part 2:The Word

 

 

Catholics do, of course, know about Jesus.  They know who He is, how He died, and that He rose again, which are key elements in the Gospel.  But do they know Him?

 

I can only speak for myself here, so I will do that.  I did not know Jesus when I was a Catholic, either as a child, or later as an adult.

 

God the Father is revealed through the Son, the Son is revealed through the Word, and the Word is revealed through the Holy Spirit.

 

The Catholic church does indeed reveal the Father through the Son.  Jesus as the Son of God is taught.  There is no doubt in my mind that any Catholic with a brainwave knows who Jesus is.  Therefore, they know of the Father.

 

But do they know the Father?  The Father is revealed through the Son, who is revealed through the Word.  The only way you can know what is in the Word is to be in the Word yourself.

 

God’s work from His creation to our redemption is recorded in the Bible, which was written by men under the inspiration (literally, “God-breath”) and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul said:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

 

So the Bible is God’s book about God’s plan to redeem God’s creation written under God’s inspiration by God’s people of old for God’s people throughout the ages, even unto this present age.  Understanding this, is it any wonder that the Bible cannot be understood without God’s guidance?

 

In my adult Catholic life, I decided that I was going to read the Bible cover to cover, as though it were a novel.  I had received a very nice bound Bible from my aunt at my confirmation nearly 15 years before, which had never been out of the box.

 

So one day I decided that I was going to read it front to back to see what was in it.  It was a King James Version (I’ll pause here to wait for the Baptists to stop laughing at the concept of a Catholic trying to get through Leviticus in the KJV—if you’ve tried that, you know where I’m coming from).

 

No matter what the translation, it’s a good bet that if you’ve ever tried to read the Bible like that, you probably made it about 1/3 of the way through.  If you did manage to get through the Pentatuech (the first five books), then you probably got bogged down somewhere in Chronicles and gave up.

 

Obviously, the Bible wasn’t meant to be read this way.  Even in a modern-day, prose-like paraphrase such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message, you’re still going to struggle with the “thick parts” near the beginning.  Unless you’re an architect, you’re probably not going to find much life application in the pages describing all the dimensions and details of the tabernacle or the temple.

 

(For an easier method, come back for Part 3: Holy Spirit)

 

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.

 

Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.

 

Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because he was (futilely) trying to flee from God.  He was fleeing, because God had told him to go and preach in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital.  In that time, the Ninevites were the ultimate “them” to the Israelites.

 

So after his aquatic incident, God gives Jonah a second chance to preach to Nineveh.  He gives the shortest sermon in history, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (Jonah 3:4 NIV).”

 

But then, a curious thing happens.  The Ninevites listen!  And REPENT!

 

So Jonah goes up to a high place where he will have a most excellent view of God destroying “them” down in Nineveh.  Except it doesn’t happen, because God has heard their prayers and is giving “them” a second chance.  Jonah, being one of “us” (that is, Israel), has issues with this.  But listen to God’s response:

 

“. . .  Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well.  Should I not be concerned about that great city?”  (Jonah 4:11 NIV)

 

Jonah is the only book in the Bible to end with a question.  So what’s the answer?

 

Did you notice the theme in the book of Jonah?  Both Jonah AND the Ninevites get second chances.  God does not show favoritism.  Because he made all of us, to Him, there is only “us.”

 

But here’s the catch.  We have to affirm that Truth.  God is willing to include anyone as “us,” but WE have to accept the invitation.

 

We become part of “us” by laying down our pride, which is the mother of all sin, and the creator of “them.”  We become part of “us” by trusting God with our hearts, our fears, our anxieties, even our bodies.  By submitting our will to His, he responds by meeting all of our needs.

 

Now at this point, we still have a multitude of bad habits to break (Lord knows I do), but we have an example to follow in Jesus.  His perfect love drives out fear, the constant presence of His holy spirit keeps us safe from harm (if we let Him), and if we follow Him faithfully, the hope for our future will play out in front of our eyes, day by day.

 

The key word there was “faithfully.”  We do have a part to play in this transaction.  If we allow ourselves to be polluted by the world (James 1:27), and look to the things and people of this world to meet the needs that only God can, then we will become the “them” that we had despised.

 

The Bible calls “them” sinners.  Here’s the clincher—if you look at other people and see a “them,” you are one of “them.”

 

However, if you look at other people, no matter how different they are from you, and still see an “us,” or at least a potential “us,” then that is a sign that the Holy Spirit is within you, transforming you into the likeness of the Jesus, who being one with the Father, created us to be “us.”

 

Possibility or Promise?

 

God’s plan for our redemption didn’t begin with Jesus’ birth.  It started with a promise made to his great37-grandfather, a guy by the name of Abraham.

Back when he was still called “Abram,” God promised him that a son coming from his own body would be his heir.

The thing about God’s promises, though, is that they don’t always come to pass right away.  About 10 years later—still no baby.

At this point, Abram is about 85, and his barren wife Sarai is 75.  She believed God’s promise up to the point of Abram fathering a child, but not as far as her being the mother.  So she suggested that Abram get with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar.  Abram and Hagar were the parents of Ishmael, so God’s promise was fulfilled, right?

Wrong, actually.  God had promised a miracle.  Ishmael was not a miracle, because he was the result of Abram and Sarai taking matters into their own hands.

In other words, Ishmael was possible.

God’s plan all along, though was to establish his covenant with Isaac, the child Abram (now Abraham) had with Sarai (now Sarah) at the appointed time.  The Bible says that Ishmael was mocking toward Isaac, so Sarah cursed him, saying, “that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac (Genesis 21:8 NIV),” even though Ishmael was Abraham’s firstborn.

So what’s the big deal about this promised inheritance?  Well, Isaac was the father of Jacob, later renamed Israel.  He was the heir of the covenant promise made to Abraham, which was to inherit the land of Canaan, known today by his own name of Israel.

And Ishmael?  He became the father of many Arab tribes, including one who had a descendant named Muhammad.  Maybe you’ve heard of him.  He started a religion called Islam.  A lot of people that practice it think they ought to be living in the land of Canaan.  So thousands of years later, there’s still war and stuff over this same strip of land.

And all because Abraham, the father of our faith, didn’t even have enough faith himself to go all in on God’s promise.

So what does this mean to us, the people halfway around the world who only read about the Middle East in our newspapers (or whatever it is that people read today that isn’t a newspaper)?

Well, 37 generations after Isaac, the child of the promise, a boy named Joseph was born.  He had a wife named Mary who had a child named Jesus.  He made a few promises of His own, not the least of which was, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16b NIV).”

Now here’s the interesting bit about that.  In saying this, Jesus extends the promise made to Abraham to “whoever” believes that he is the son of God.  “Whoever” can even include the children of Ishmael, because the inheritance is now for any individual who believes, regardless of their bloodline.

In other words, Jesus is where the promise meets the possible.  He didn’t come just to save white, middle-class Americans like me.  He came to save the Arabs and the Jews too.  As John wrote in his vision of the throne room of heaven:

. . . with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.  (Revelation 5: 9b-10 NIV)

Some believe that peace in the Middle East is possible.  I wonder how a lasting peace could be possible when “possible” was what created their situation in the first place.

God’s promise seems like a better deal to me—a kingdom and royal priesthood made up of ALL who believe.  In heaven, there will be no white, black, Arab, Jew, male or female.  All people will have found their ultimate common ground in the person of Jesus Christ.

Until that day, seek the Truth of God’s promise in your life.  Don’t settle for what is possible by your own efforts.