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Bible Questions: A Short List

Sunday I began the sermon from John 19 and the trials of Jesus with an idea that some of the juiciest places in the Bible are the questions. These lines that end in those crooked little scribbles called question marks are the places we can often fold ourselves into the easiest, with almost instant and always profound application. Here is a list of some of the highlights. I count them down from ten to one, but really, no order is necessary and there are far more than are included here.

10. Who has bewitched you, O foolish Galatians? (Galatians 3:1) Paul’s questioning of the Christians in the region of Galatia regarding false teaching. It is still a legit question for a religiously confused age.

9. What is man (human beings), that you are mindful of him (them)? (Psalm 8:1) A great existential question that leads to a doctrine of humanity, plus the Messianic implications of the New Testament usage.

8. Who touched me? (Luke 8:45) Jesus asked the question he already knew the answer to.

7. Shall I crucify your king? (John 19:15) Nothing makes me come face to face with my own sin like this question. Pilate thinks he is being clever. He is not. He is being theological.

6. Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15) It is the question we all, I think, must answer.

5. Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29) The answer is a story, and the story’s point is that anyone who needs our help is our neighbor. ANYONE.

4. How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:3) The rhetorical question centers the book of Hebrews. The writer’s obvious point: there is no escape.

3. Where are you? (Genesis 3:9) To loosely quote Michael Stipe of R.E.M., that’s me in the corner, hiding from God behind the fig trees.

2. What should we do? (Acts 2:37) The essential question from Acts. The answer: repent!

1. Have you considered my servant, Job? (Job 1:8) The question we never want asked about us in the heavenly ream.

The more I think about this list, I ponder this would be a great sermon series. The series title could be something like, “The Question!” or maybe “Query” or perhaps I’ll just use a giant question mark–maybe in parenthesis (?) or perhaps in backslashes in a cool hip and with it way– // ? //  or maybe like this // ? \\ or perhaps \\ ? //

Yeah, except bigger and with color.

I’ll have to remember to preach this in 2020 or 2021 because this year is already full.

The Old Testament and Resurrection

Yesterday in the Easter Sermon I spent a good bit of time talking about five key verses of scripture from the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, that point to a view of life after death. We would rightly call these resurrection verses in light of Jesus and the empty tomb, as well as the explicit teaching of the New Testament, particularly landmark passages like 1 Corinthians 15.

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Me preaching on Easter, or am I playing Rock, Paper, Scissors?

 

The compilation of these five verses comes from Millard Erickson’s epic theology book Christian Theology, on page 1201 of my copy. It is not in his section on the work of Jesus, but rather on “Last Things” which I find fascinating. So, if you missed them yesterday because you were dazzled by my homiletics (or, like most of the 7 or 8 billion people in the world, weren’t there) here they are.

  1. Isaiah 26:19, “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise.  You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.”
  2. Daniel 12:2  “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  3. Psalm 49:15, “But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself”
  4. Psalm 17:15 “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.”

Erickson doesn’t list Job’s ancient words. I find this to be a glaring omission, for they are the most New Testament sounding of them all and are my personal favorite. As I said, it is part of my funeral liturgy, and for good reason.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-26).

I’d like to point out as well that Erickson does in his work what theologians always do–offer serious caution about reading too much into these words. I know where he is coming from, but I think his caution is too strong. The Bible teaches us about Jesus, and though the language is imprecise in the Hebrew texts, it is still applicable and I believe appropriate at Easter.

JOB’S FRIENDS AND SUFFERING

What do you do with suffering?  More pointedly, what do you do to help other people who are suffering?

Suffering has been on my mind of late, and it is a major part of my new novel (which I’m trying to get published) not to mention a major part of my vocational ministry.  In addition to that, right now my daily Bible reading has me in squarely in the middle of Job.  Job, who was so tortured by The Satan that he lost his wealth, his livelihood, his children, and eventually his health.  He is the pinnacle of suffering.

But alas, three friends show up:  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.  These three friends, along with a fourth one who comes later, named Elihu, speak to Job in his pain.  The things they say are very theologically sound and it is things we would agree with.  For example, here are some of Zophar’s words:

Can you find out the deep things of God?  Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?  It is higher than heaven–what can you do?  Deeper than Sheol–what can you know?  Its measure is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea . . . If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward him.  If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness reside in your tents.”  Job 8:7-9, 13-14 (NRSV)

See, they say good things, so why are they so wrong?  Why does God judge them at the end when he vindicates Job?

Here is why.  They have good theology but absolutely no compassion.  Theology is helpful for people to know before suffering comes and it is helpful long after the suffering has passed, but in the midst; in the midst of pain theology is lousy.  What we human beings need is empathy and care, love and concern.  When helping those who are suffering:

1.  Keep your mouth closed–People who are in pain do not need to hear your words.  There is nothing you can say to make it better, so don’t even try.

2.  Do not defend God or his ways–NEVER NEVER NEVER say something stupid like “God must have a reason for this” and then quote Romans 8:28.  You are not being helpful.  When people say things like that in the midst of pain what they are actually doing is relieving their own tension.

3.  Resist the temptation to rebut the sufferer’s feelings–This was the big sin of Job’s friends.  Whenever Job would complain about his emotional grief, they would give cold, calloused theological and philosophical reflection to try and “help” Job see how he was wrong.  Don’t do that.

4.  Don’t stay away–For all the things they did wrong, you’ve got to hand it to Job’s friends, at least they showed up!  Many of us think “I don’t know what to say or do,” so we just ignore others in their pain.  We don’t call, text or message.  We just wait.  That is the worst thing.  True friendship and love pulls up a chair and sits.

One of the greatest miracles of the Bible is that Job is in it, because it flies in the face of so many of our preconceived notions about the Lord.  In many ways it serves as a textbook to us on how to minister–the do’s and don’ts– to those who are suffering.