Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Communion: Different from all other nights (John 13:16)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

We are here to re-create, in abbreviated form, the events of an evening two thousand years ago, when Jesus and a small band of his followers met to observe the LORD's Passover in obedience to God's command through Moses.
Exod 12:14 This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance.
As the disciples gather with Jesus to celebrate the Passover seder, they know that this night is different from all other nights. The liturgy reviews God's deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The participants eat bitter herbs to remind them of the bitterness of bondage and matzah (unleavened bread) to recall the haste of Israel's departure. It is not a somber occasion, though, for the evening has a festive atmosphere, with four cups of wine representing different aspects of divine intervention. The participants recite the exodus story, sing psalms, pray, and discuss the significance of God's grace.
On this particular Passover, though, Jesus will do things a little differently. He will take the matzah and the third cup of wine, and he will give them an additional significance that points to God's deliverance from another kind of bondage. At every Passover thereafter, his disciples will remember their physical redemption from slavery and their spiritual redemption from sin. This night is different from all other nights, even from other Passovers.
Nevertheless, Jesus must prepare them in at least one more way for what lies ahead. The apostles have heard his instruction first hand and have witnessed his numerous miracles. After his death, people will look to them for guidance. They will no longer just be disciples but teachers in their own right, responsible for many more people than ever took part in Jesus' earthly ministry. The temptation to capitalize on that role and to abuse their responsibility will be significant.
They have already exhibited an interest in position and power and, on several occasions, Jesus has had to adjust their priorities.
Matt 18:4 ...whoever humbles himself like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Matt 20:26b ...whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant[.]
Matt 23:12b ...whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Earlier this same evening "a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest" (Luke 22:24). So here, at his last seder before the crucifixion, Jesus addresses the issue one more time.
John 13:4 ...he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Communion: What's good about Good Friday? (Luke 23:54)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2000

Christian tradition calls the Friday before Easter "Good Friday." The gospel writers make no such identification. Luke, for example, says that...
Luke 23:54 It was [the] Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
That common designation would apply to any Friday. Why does the church assign special, positive significance to this Friday? What's Good about Good Friday?
  • On that day almost two thousand years ago, God's people were subject to Rome and could not govern themselves.
  • The High Priest was a political appointee and not from the lineage God had chosen.
  • Three men were executed that day and, while two of them deserved their punishment, one clearly did not.
He was in the prime of life, a successful and popular servant of God who modeled the pious and peaceful existence to which he called others. Nevertheless, jealousy and fear compelled religious leaders to conspire against him.
  • After one of his own followers betrayed him, they seized him, gave him a mockery of a trial, and turned him over to Pilate, the local representative of their oppressor.
  • When Pilate could see no reason to hold him, they pressured the Roman governor to release a convicted thief and murderer rather than the innocent man and then incited a mob to cry for his crucifixion.
  • There was no appeal, no last-minute pardon, and in the horrified presence of family and friends, the man suffered a prolonged and excruciating death.
Such a travesty of justice is certainly not good. So, why do Christians call this Good Friday?
Even given what we know of the man—that he was God incarnate—does not mitigate the horror of this day. In some ways, it only makes matters worse. During his entire life on earth, he had enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship with his Father in heaven, but on the cross that union came to a sudden and painful end as he cried out: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?" (Aramaic; Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34). Then he
died—God the Son died! This was very bad, and God the Father responded with prophetic portents of doom. Luke records that...
Luke 23:44b ...darkness came over the whole land... 45a for the sun stopped shining.
 Matthew states:
Matt 27:51b The earth shook and the rocks split.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Communion: The curtain torn (Mark 15:38)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

Our attention during Passion Week is usually on the final experience of our Lord, especially his trial and execution. The gospel writers point us in that direction, describing Jesus' last hours in great detail. In the course of their narrative, they make other observations as well, including the reactions of various witnesses at his crucifixion: the crowd who mocked him (Luke 23:35-36), the criminal who appealed to him (v. 42), the women who mourned him (v. 48), the centurion who acknowledged him as the Son of God (Mark 15:39). There is another reaction, as well, one that is less obvious because the writers present it as more of a miraculous event and mention no particular individual with it. That event is The Curtain Torn, which we will examine briefly as we continue our Meditations from Mark.
Mark's gospel is the shortest of the four, only 16 chapters to Matthew's 28, Luke's 24, and John's 21. Mark says nothing about Jesus' birth and early years (as Matthew and Luke do) but begins immediately with his baptism. He does not record the Sermon on the Mount (as Matthew and Luke do) or the Upper Room Discourse (as John does). He includes only eight parables (versus 26 in Matthew and in Luke). Hence, it is interesting to note what he does include, especially when it seems to be an obscure detail that does not appear crucial to his narrative.
One such example is in the description of Jesus' crucifixion, where Mark records in...
Mark 15:38 The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
This is not a unique observation; Matthew (27:51a) and Luke (23:45b) both mention it as well. Nevertheless, no one at Jesus' crucifixion would have seen it, and Mark's account would flow quite smoothly without it. Look at the verses before and after.
Mark 15:37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.... 39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, "Surely this man was the Son of God!"

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Communion: The Bowl of Betrayal (Matt 26:20-25)

THE BOWL OF BETRAYAL (Matt 26:20-25)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

What Christians observe in the Lord's Supper is a highly abbreviated form of the Passover seder that Jesus and his disciples kept annually. The morsel of bread and the thimble of juice represent two elements of a much more elaborate meal. The church's brief review of Jesus' words about his body and blood is a small part of the conversation he had with the disciples. Much more took place that evening.
The Passover is a festive time, an opportunity to look back and to celebrate the miraculous deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. It is a happy occasion when family and friends gather to enjoy a meal and to reflect on God's great goodness to His people. That is how Jesus and the disciples probably celebrated it during their first and second years together. The third year should not be much different, and the disciples are likely expecting the holiday to be much the same as it was before. What they do not realize is that one of their number has been planning something quite despicable, and his plot will set in motion a very different set of events than in holidays past.
The Passover meal has several symbolic elements, representing different aspects of the Israelites' condition before God delivered them.
  • The bitter herbs recall the bitterness of Israel's bondage as Pharaoh forced the people to serve him.
  • The unleavened bread, also called the "bread of poverty," reminds participants that Israel was poor in Egypt, and that the people had to leave quickly, before their bread could rise.
  • The lamb reviews the Israelites utter dependence on God in believing that the sacrifice they made, whose blood they applied to the doorposts, would cause the angel of death to spare their homes.
As these elements appeared at each annual observance of the Passover, they reminded the people of what the Lord had done for them in the past and inspired their hope in His good plan for their future. On this, Jesus' last Passover, one of the elements, the bitter herbs, would again have a negative association.
Matt 26:20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me." 22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, "Surely not I, Lord?" 23 Jesus replied, "The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl [of bitter herbs] with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born." 25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, "Surely not I, Rabbi?" Jesus answered, "Yes, it is you."

Friday, March 23, 2018

Communion: The Bread of Affliction (Matt 26:26)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2003

The gospel writers have preserved for us a good portion of Jesus' life and ministry. Luke opens his book, saying,
Luke 1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you... 4 so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
Nevertheless, "an orderly account" does not mean an exhaustive account. There is a limit to what these authors could record and, of necessity, they omitted many things, John closes his gospel with that admission.
John 21:25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Some omissions are obvious. There is little about Jesus' early years, particularly his adolescence. Other omissions are less evident, especially to the modern reader, who may not be familiar with the cultural background of the period. For instance, none of the gospel writers explain the significance of the heavenly voice the disciples hear at Jesus' transfiguration. Being able to fill in these details does not change what we believe, but they can add dimension and texture to what we read, enhancing our appreciation of what took place some 2000 years ago. Such is the case with The Bread of Affliction.
When Jesus met with his disciples in the upper room, he was observing a tradition God had instituted 1500 years earlier, upon delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. At that time, God said to Moses,
Exod 12:14 This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD—a lasting ordinance. 15a For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.... 17 Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.... 20b Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread.
The reason for this memorial was to recall the haste with which Israel had to leave Egypt. Pharaoh's refusal to free God's people elicited God's wrath in a series of plagues that culminated with the death of all firstborn in Egypt. At that point,
Exod 12:33 The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country. "For otherwise," they said, "we will all die!" 34 So the people [of Israel] took their dough before the yeast was added, and carried it on their shoulders in kneading troughs wrapped in clothing.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Communion: The Cup of Redemption (Matt:26:27-29)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2004

Much of what we read in the New Testament is fairly transparent. That is, we get the gist of what the author is saying from the context. Because we are not the original recipients, though, and are, in fact, considerably removed from them by history, culture, and language; there are details we miss. To overcome our deficiencies in this regard, we investigate those areas of difference to gain insight beyond what is apparent on the surface. The communion service we observe is part of the more extensive Passover seder (service) that God commanded Israel to keep. Jesus and his disciples, in obedience to that command, met together for the seder just before his arrest. During the service, Jesus referred to the elements in a different way, and though we have some understanding of the significance of that event, by digging a little deeper, we may grasp more clearly what it meant to the disciples and increase our appreciation of its implications for us.
The Passover seder that God instructed the Israelites to keep consisted of three essential elements: the Passover sacrifice, "along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast" (Exod 12:8). With time, other elements became customary as well, such as the four cups of wine each participant drank. As a symbol of joy, wine was part of every festival, including the weekly Sabbath. Why Passover should have four cups, while other festivals had only one, is uncertain. Was it because that holiday, celebrating as it did God's deliverance, was the most important of the feasts, or because the lengthy recounting of the story and the singing of so many psalms made the celebrants thirsty? We do not know. According to tradition (j Pes 10:1; 37b-c), the four cups (two before the meal and two after) represent the four acts of God in Exod 6:6-7.
Exod 6:6 "...say to the Israelites: 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you  with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7a I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God."
Each cup has a different designation in the Passover liturgy that corresponds to what God accomplished in the exodus.
  • From the phrase "I will bring you out" comes the Cup of Sanctification, because by removing Israel, God initiated the separation (or sanctification) of His people from the Egyptians and from all other nations.
  • From the phrase "I will free you" comes the Cup of Praise, because by delivering Israel, God did so much more for His people than ease their bondage that they can never cease to praise Him.
  • From the phrase "I will redeem you" comes the Cup of Redemption, because by purchasing Israel's freedom, God acquired servants, though with an unusual intent (which I shall explain in a moment).
  • From the phrase "I will take you" comes the Cup of Acceptance, because by receiving Israel as His own, God demonstrated His boundless love (cf. Ps 136 ir )

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Communion: A hymn of thanksgiving (Matt 26:30)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2005

Scripture and song are important parts of our devotional expression. They focus our thoughts and convey our feelings. We enjoy especially reading biblical passages we know almost by heart or singing old hymns. We do not have to struggle to understand them—we have already done that—we can simply confirm their message. The familiar gives us a sense of comfort and continuity. It brings order, even if only briefly, when everything else around us seems in chaos. Liturgy reminds us that some things do not change, that it is good they do not. Familiar forms give us an opportunity to take stock of our situation and help us to pull some of the disparate elements of life back together. So it was for Jesus and the disciples prior to his arrest, for we read in....
Matt 26:30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
The feast days of Israel serve this same purpose. Passover, for example, recalls the people's slavery in Egypt and God's miraculous deliverance. Every year on the same day, they gather to rehearse the wonder of that moment in history. To help in this review, God commanded the people to include in their celebration a retelling of the exodus and reference to certain symbols of the exodus. The specifics of implementing these instructions—how the Israelites would tell the story, what other foods they could eat, the additional customs they might develop to enhance the commemoration—these He left to them.
As time passed, certain practices became common-place, such as the four cups of wine and the ceremonial hand washings, so no matter where God's people might be—in the land of Israel or in the Diaspora—no matter what their condition—free from outside interference or under foreign rule—the regularity of this religious observance, conducted year after year in much the same way, reminded them that the great God they serve does not change and that His commitment to them abides forever.
In Jesus' day, the Passover seder (service) included chanting a section of the Psalter entitled the Hallel, so named because the same call to worship appears several times: Hallelujah! This collection, Pss 113-118, extols the greatness of God and His compassion for Israel and is particularly suited to the celebration of God's deliverance. The melodies varied from community to community, but they were common tunes learned from childhood that linked participants with seders past.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Communion: The Garden of Agony (Matt 26:36-46)

THE GARDEN OF AGONY (Matt 26:36-46)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2006

There are probably times, perhaps several times, when you wish that you could predict the future.
  • Will I get that job I want?
  • Whom will I marry?
  • What are the next winning lottery numbers?
There are other times when you are just as content not to know what lies ahead.
  • Will I have a car accident this year?
  • What medical problem will I face next?
  • When will I die?
Prescience, knowing what the future holds, is not necessarily a good thing.
When Jesus left heaven to take on human form, he left behind many of his divine prerogatives and took upon himself many of our human frailties. Paul writes that Jesus...
Phil 2:6 ...being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be [retained], 7 but made himself nothing...being made in human likeness.
As a result, he experienced...
  • Temptation
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Thirst
  • Loneliness
One of the divine attributes Jesus surrendered, at least in part, was his prescience, his knowledge of things future. For example, when his disciples asked when the messiah would reign, Jesus said...
Mark 13:32 No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Still, there were events Jesus was able to predict. What was especially clear to him was his own destiny. He explained repeatedly to the disciples...
Mark 16:21 ...that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things...and that he must be killed....
Knowing such an ordeal lay ahead of him must not have been easy for Jesus and, as the time draws near, his inner turmoil becomes evident in The Garden of Agony. Matthew provides the fullest version of that struggle in chapter 26, beginning with Jesus' reluctance, his desire to avoid the cross.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Communion: Who killed Jesus? (Matt 27:1-10)

WHO KILLED JESUS? (Matt 27:1-10)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

After an accident or a tragedy of some sort, there is often an inquiry to determine the cause or the responsible party. The death of the messiah elicited this same question: Who killed Jesus? The church Fathers had their own answer—the Jews killed Jesus—and that, unfortunately, was the common if not official Christian position for centuries. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ raised concern in the Jewish community that the film might revive this view. It is ridiculous, however, to make such a sweeping judgment against an entire nation...and in perpetuum. Religious leaders in Jerusalem were by no means united in their opinion of the Galilean rabbi. Some opposed him, but others supported him, and still others were neutral toward him. Furthermore, most Jews lived in the Diaspora and probably never even heard of Jesus until after his death, if at all. No, "the Jews" did not kill Jesus.
A more accurate assessment, one that is gaining popularity (again) in Christian circles, is that the Romans killed Jesus, specifically the local representatives of Rome in Jerusalem. No matter what the Jewish Sanhedrin ruled, only a Roman court had the authority to prosecute capital crimes. It was a Roman governor who sentenced Jesus and Roman troops who crucified Jesus.
Nevertheless, while this second explanation is more precise, it deals only with the legal and final cause of Jesus' death. A more measured and comprehensive analysis must include a multitude of contributing factors, from the first plot against him to the last blow of a soldier's hammer. Matthew, who describes events after Jesus' arrest and arraignment before the Sanhedrin, offers two additions in this mix of responsible parties: the religious authorities and a trusted disciple.
Matt 27:1 Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. 2 They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. 4 "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility." 5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. 6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Communion: A spiritual chain reaction (Rom 5:1-2)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

When one event precipitates another, which then precipitates another, we describe that series variously as a chain reaction (nuclear physics), as a cascade (chemical engineering), domino (political theory), or a snowball effect. These are all terms for events that occur in science, politics, or nature, that is, in the physical realm. What we do not often consider is that a similar process occurs in another realm as a result of Jesus' sacrifice on our behalf—A Spiritual Chain Reaction. The apostle Paul describes this series in his letter to the church at Rome. In Rom 5, the apostle lists four consequences of Jesus' death, four ways that believers benefit from what others might regard solely as a tragic event.
Rom 5:1 ...since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
While the rabbi's crucifixion was, indeed, an excruciating experience and a travesty of human justice, it made possible for us what would have been impossible otherwise. As we prepare for communion, it is appropriate to consider these four accomplishments and, perhaps, to enhance our appreciation for the fullness of our salvation. To help in our reflection, I will also include excerpts from four hymns that show how others have considered these accomplishments as well.
Because of our sin, the penalty of death hung over us. We were destined for hell's punishment, to face eternity in suffering and separation, and there was nothing we could do to change that.... Graciously, God did something by sending His son to bear the punishment we deserved. So the first consequence of Jesus' death is that we have...
  • Justification before God
The penalty of sin no longer threatens you. Jesus endured the punishment you deserved, and God has wiped your slate clean. As Elvina Hall wrote (1865),
Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.
One of the decidedly negative affects of our sin is that it put us at odds with God. We were not simply neutral, minding our own business and going our own way. We opposed Him at every point His agenda differed from ours. That placed us in the enemy camp. In fact, Paul says later, in v. 10, "we were God's enemies." That is how God viewed us, and that is how He planned to treat us (and we know how that would have ended). Thankfully, He made it possible for us to change our status, and the second consequence of Jesus' death is that we now have...
  • Peace with God
You have been reconciled to Him. No longer His enemy, you are now His friend. More than that, you are also His child. As Charles Wesley wrote in Arise, My Soul, Arise (1742),
My God is reconciled; his pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Communion: At the right time (Rom 5:6,8)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2007

We live in a time-conscious society, where much of life runs on a schedule. We have to be here or there at a certain time in order to get this or that accomplished before we move to the next appointed task. Some things are flexible, in that it matters little if we are early or late (e.g., doctor appointments). Other things, though, are on a strict timetable, and to deviate even a little would cause a problem. How would you feel...
  • If the airplane you booked left fifteen minutes before you arrived at the gate?
  • If your dinner guests came thirty minutes after the meal was out of the oven and on the table?
  • If the electricity went off while you were watching the season finale of your favorite T.V. program?
The Greek poet Hesiod (c. 700 BCE) said, "right timing is in all things the most important factor" (The Theogony I. 694, quoted in Bartlett 1992:55), which has entered modern parlance in the abridged version, "timing is everything."
God is also concerned about timing, and His timing is impeccable. That is, when He decides to do something, it is never too early or too late but always "at just the right time." Because God does not necessarily explain His actions to us, much of what He does or why He does it remains a mystery. There is one event, though, that the apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church at Rome, an event
whose timing was crucial to its success and critical to our salvation. He says in...
Rom 5:6 ...at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.... 8b ...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We do not normally regard a person's death as timely, because the end of life signals the end of a person's productivity. When he has "shuffled off this mortal coil" (Shakespeare, Hamlet III, I, 56; quoted in Bartlett 1992:196), sometimes prematurely, before reaching his "threescore years and ten" (Ps 90:10). Then, especially, we regard such a person's death as untimely. Many in Jesus' day probably viewed his death that way, as untimely. Killed in his early thirties when his career had only just begun—it was the tragic loss of a promising figure. What made Jesus' death different, though, was that it was not about him, about what he lost; it was about us, about what we gained.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Communion: Total recall (Rom 5:6,8,10)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

I am a fan of science fiction, a genre of film and literature that looks to the future and speculates about what could be. One such movie (1990) explores the potential of technology that can record a person's memories and allow other people to share his experiences vicariously, in a virtual reality. The plot is about a variation on that theme, whereby a person's memories are erased and replaced with new ones. He has a new identity, completely different from his former life, about which he remembers nothing. When the star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, discovers that his friends, his job, even his wife are not the originals but replacements to conceal this procedure, the story follows his attempt to recover his true past, his quest for Total Recall.
While you have not had your memory erased, as time goes by, your recollection of the past does fade. If enough time passes, you may forget many things. For those who have been Christians for several years, especially if you accepted Christ while in your teens and have been involved in the church your entire adult life, your memory of what it was like before you knew God has probably dimmed considerably. One thing you may have forgotten or may never even have known, is the seriousness of your situation before the course of your life changed. At this point now, you are looking forward not backward, anticipating what God has in store for you in this world and the next. What purpose could there be in dredging up the past? All that matters is that God has forgiven you. Right?
Please turn to Romans 5, where Paul concludes a discussion of salvation with a retrospective on what life was like for his readers before they turned to God in repentance and faith. He wants them to apprehend the disastrous nature of their previous condition, so they can appreciate the glorious nature of their present condition. He reviews their former situation—and he includes himself in the description—using three increasingly dire terms. This is what it was like for them and, in case you have forgotten, for you as well. In v. 6, he says...
  • We were...helpless.
This is not the image we like to project. We want people to see us as capable and in control. At that time, though, whatever face we showed in public did not represent what was underneath. We were weak, perhaps not physically but morally (so "ungodly"). We were "incapable' of working out any righteousness for ourselves." In that state, we had nothing to offer anyone in exchange for aid—certainly nothing God might want. We were helpless...and it got worse, because in v. 8, Paul says...
  • We were...sinners.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"No one to help me" (John 5:1-18)

"NO ONE TO HELP ME" (John 5:1-18)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise, if you can find the right venue to employ it.
When Jeff, a navy lieutenant was assigned to sea duty for the first time, his father-in-law asked him if he thought there was a way to continue his daily fitness program. Jeff said there is an exercise room on board, then added, "There's a large swimming pool too...if you can keep up with the ship!"
Swimming is an excellent form of exercise, if you can find the right venue to employ it. Jerusalem during the first century had several pools, but they were not for exercise. Many pools were for ritual cleansing, but one in particular, The Pool of Bethesda, was a therapy pool, not for people recovering from a malady but for people who wanted to be cured from a malady, like the paralytic who needed assistance getting into the pool but lamented: There is "No One to Help Me."

On a trip to Jerusalem (probably) during the Passover celebration, Jesus went to a local pool that supposedly had curative properties (perhaps because of "mineral elements;" and attracted people with various infirmities. There he met a man who had been a regular attendee at the facility for several years, always hoping that he would benefit from the pool's medicinal reputation.

I. Jesus meets the paralytic (John5:1-7).
John 5:1 Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed., 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, "Do you want to get well?" 7 "Sir," the invalid replied, "I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me."
A tradition grew up around the healing properties of this pool, such that people would go there or be brought there in the hope that they might experience its miraculous powers. Evidently, the rule is "Only those who come first (daily?) are served." Jesus chooses this man, who is there but not mobile enough to get in the water, to receive his ministration. There were probably others at the pool that day, but Jesus chose to direct his attention and curative ability to this man.
A. The man desperately needs the rabbi's healing.
Before Jesus heals the man, though, he checks the paralytic's sincerity: "Do you want to get well?" (v. 6).
B. The rabbi questions his desire for healing.
It is strange to ask someone who "had been an invalid for thirty-eight years" (v. 5). Why would he not want to walk again? Has the paralytic grown accustomed to his plight, perhaps enjoying the sympathy it generates in others? Whatever the reason, Jesus wants the paralytic's request to be direct and unambiguous.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

“Water to Wine” (John 2:1-12)

“WATER TO WINE (John 2:1-12)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Most mothers are proud of their children, especially if they have become successful:
The first Jewish President of the United States phones his mother in Queens and invites her to come for the weekend at the White House. She says, "I'd love to, but it's too much trouble. I mean, I have to get a cab to the airport, and I really hate waiting on Queens Blvd.... He replies, "Mom! I'm the President! You won't need a cab. I'll send a limo for you!" His mother replies, "I know, but then I'll have to get my ticket at the airport and try to find my seat on the plane. It's just too much trouble." He replies, "Mom! I'm the President of the United States! I'll send Air Force One for you. It's my private jet!" To which she replies, "But when we land, I'll have to carry all my luggage through the airport and try to get a cab. It's really too much trouble." He replies, "Mom!! I'm the President! I'll send a helicopter for you with my Secret Service detail. You won't have to lift a finger." She answers, "Yes, that's nice, but I'll still need a hotel room, and the rooms are so expensive." Irritated, he answers, "Mom! I'm the President! You'll stay at the White House." She responds, "Well...all right...I guess I'll come." The next day, she's on the phone with her friend Sandra. "So, Gilda, tell me... what's new?" Gilda replies, "I'm visiting my son for the weekend." "The doctor?" Sandra asks. "No." Gilda replies, "the other one."
Most mothers are proud of their children, especially if they have become successful. Mary was probably proud of her son, Jesus, although she did not brag even after he turned "Water to Wine."
Jesus has assembled his disciples and is about to begin his public ministry. There is one obligation yet to fulfill.
I. Jesus attends a wedding reception at Cana (John 2:1-6).
John 2:1 On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine." 4 "Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied. "My time has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
Besides this wedding reception at Cana, the gospels record little interaction between Jesus and his mother:
  • There is a trip to the temple during his youth when he declares: "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:9).
  • There is an impromptu appearance during a session with his disciples, when he asks, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" (Matt 12:48).
  • There is her visit to him on the cross when he instructs John: "Here is your mother" (John 19:27).
Apart from these events, the gospels record no interaction between Jesus and his mother.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Rabbi-Talmid relationship

Dr. Paul Manuel—2012

Jesus had many followers, those attracted by his teaching. They were disciples or talmidim, and their commitment varied, from nominal adherents to fervent devotees. Jesus placed exacting demands on his followers.
Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.... 33 In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
Some demands were more than his followers were able or willing to abide.
John 6:60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" ...66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Those who remained with him held the title disciple, which generally describes the close (sincere) follower of a respected teacher.
Most Christians' first encounter with disciples is in reading the New Testament, but discipleship was not an innovation of Jesus or even of the Late Second Temple Period. As the Jewish historian Josephus notes, this arrangement had existed for hundreds of years, at least since the time of Moses. Moreover, other religious figures, besides Jesus, also had disciples (John the Baptist, Pharisees).
Disciples came from a variety of backgrounds, both occupationally and educationally. Jesus accepted disciples who were...
  • Fishermen
  • Taxmen
  • Scribes
  • Militants
  • Politicians
Some disciples were in training for a specific position:
  • Prophet
  • Apostle
  • Evangelist
The rabbi generally chose the position he thought best suited the student.
Although most disciples were male, Jesus had several female followers. They were not called disciples and may not have been (officially) considered as such, that term being applicable only to males (so their distinction from "the Twelve").
Luke 8:1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Dining with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Everyone knows that one of the major food groups is chocolate. What everyone does not realize is how vital chocolate is to sustaining life. Follow this case in point:
A good piece of chocolate has about 200 calories. Steve enjoys two servings per night, and a few more on weekends. He consumes about 3,500 calories of chocolate in a week, which equals one pound of weight per week. In the last 3-1/2 years, Steve has had a caloric intake of about 180 pounds of chocolate, and he only weighs 165 pounds. So... without chocolate, Steve would have wasted away to nothing about three months ago!
Ergo, chocolate is vital to sustaining life.
Chocolate was an Aztec food that originated in Mesoamerica about 1900 BC. It did not reach the Middle East until long after Jesus' day, so it was not part of that cuisine. It is amazing Israel survived without it. NB: Israel has some very good chocolate now, so the people are no longer deprived of this life-sustaining staple.
Jesus is traveling from Galilee, and he is passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. This is a familiar trip, one he has taken annually since he was very young: "Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover" (Luke 2:41). Now a respected teacher with his own disciples, his reputation is such that he attracts a crowd wherever he goes, and this journey is no exception. Jesus pauses along the way when someone catches his attention and ends in his "Dining with Zacchaeus."
I. Zacchaeus attends a public assembly (Luke 19:1-6).
A. He watches Jesus from a tree.
Luke 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
As a high-ranking ("chief' v. 2) government contractor, Zacchaeus makes a lot of money, in part because he sets the tax rates, which does not endear him to the local populace. Consequently, most people have a very low opinion of him and of tax collectors in general.
When Zacchaeus hears about Jesus' visit to the area, he looks for a vantage point to view the procession that will inevitably accompany the famous rabbi. He will probably not find a good place along the road, not given his short stature. Besides, who will want to stand next to a tax collector? The place he chooses, while it allows him easily to see Jesus, also allows Jesus easily to see him, and the tax collector draws some unexpected attention that culminates when....
B. He welcomes Jesus to his home.
Luke 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Jesus' circumcision and consecration (Luke 2:21-24)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

The parents of an infant have many challenges that are simply part of their new responsibilities.
Jack and Jill, both graduate students, recently celebrated the arrival of their first child. At Jill's insistence, they had paid their entire medical bill and were now worried about meeting other payments. They were discussing their sad financial situation one evening when their son demanded a diaper change. As Jill leaned over the baby's crib, Jack heard her mutter, "The only thing in the house that's paid for, and it leaks."
The parents of an infant have many challenges that are simply part of their new responsibilities. The parents of the messiah have many challenges that are simply part of their new responsibilities, such as seeing to "Jesus' Circumcision and Consecration."
When God delivers the Israelites from slavery in Egypt He does not set them free only to wander in the wilderness aimlessly. They are now His people and, as such, they enjoy the protection of His presence with them even as He expects their compliance with His commands for them. Some commands apply to the whole nation, like the Sabbath. Other commands apply only to a portion of the nation, like those governing the addition of a newborn male, commands about circumcision and consecration.
What God does with circumcision is actually the renewal of an old practice He instituted centuries earlier:
I. Circumcision is a practice God established through Abraham.
A. It entails a surgical procedure.
...on every infant male eight days old. The timing is very specific and, although Abraham was unaware of the reason, it is probably because circumcision is a minor operation for a newborn male, with a fast recovery time, and the eighth day presents the lowest risk of bleeding.
Circumcision is a foundational element in Jewish society. Even though it only includes half the population, circumcision still marks participation in the Abrahamic covenant and is a requirement to eat Israel's annual rehearsal of the exodus—the Passover seder:
Any uncircumcised male...will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant (Gen 17:14).
An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the Lord's Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. (Exod 12:48)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Ananias—Heeding God's call to support (Acts 9:10-19)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

Most students do not look forward to exams. Consequently, part of the relief of graduating is knowing that you will never have to take another test...or so you think.
A teacher, a thief, and a lawyer all die in the same freak accident. When they reach the pearly gates, St. Peter tells them that, unfortunately, heaven is almost full, so they each have to answer a question correctly for admission. The teacher is first, and St. Peter asks, "Name the famous ship that was sunk by an iceberg?" "Phew, that one's easy," says the teacher, "The Titanic." "Right," says St. Peter, "you may pass." Then the thief gets his question: "How many died on the Titanic?" "That's tough," the thief replies. "Fortunately, I just saw the movie. The answer is 1500 people." So he passes through. Last, St. Peter gives the lawyer his question... "Name them."
Tests do not end with graduation and, while there may not be an entrance exam for heaven, there are occasions on earth when God will ask something difficult. When that happens, I hope you are up to the challenge, as was the person in this morning's passage, the only New Testament example in the series: Ananias—Heeding God's Call to Support.
The response to Peter's sermon on Pentecost marked the start of significant growth by the church. On that day alone, "three thousand were added to their number" (Acts 2:41). With the healing of a lame beggar in the temple court, "the number of men grew to about five thousand" (Acts 4:4). Even "a large number of [temple] priests became obedient to the faith" (Acts 6:7). Given this rate of increase, the reform movement Jesus founded had the potential to spread throughout most of Judaism within a few years. Alas, the gospel had its opponents, those who viewed the messianic message as heretical and who attempted to suppress it. The murder of Stephen at the hands of an angry mob emboldened the opposition in Jerusalem and initiated "a great persecution" (Acts 8:1) that caused many believers to flee the city. Not satisfied with their dispersal, a most ardent adversary named Saul attempted...
Acts 8:3 ...to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.
Saul then sought to expand his heresy hunting to include Jewish communities outside Israel, such as the sizable one in Syria.
Acts 9:1b He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
Saul's goal was not merely their incarceration but their execution. Luke calls Saul's intention "murderous" (Acts 9:1), and later, Saul himself says...
Acts 22:4a I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death....

Monday, March 5, 2018

Isaiah—Heeding God's call to speak (Isa 6:1-13)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

Life is full of frustrating experiences, situations that try our patience and make us wonder if a particular task is worth the effort.
A teacher was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his boots. He had asked for her aid, and she could understand why. Even with her pulling and his pushing, the boots resisted. By the time the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost sobbed when he said, "They're on the wrong feet." She looked and, sure enough, they were. It wasn't any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her composure, though, as they worked together to get the boots back on—this time on the right feet. He then announced, "These aren't my boots." She bit her tongue rather than scream, "Why didn't you say so?" Once again, she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off. Then he said, "They're my brother's boots. My mom made me wear them." She didn't know if she should laugh or cry, but she mustered up the grace to wrestle the boots on his feet again. "Now, where are your mittens?" she asked. "I stuffed them in the toes of my boots."
Life is full of frustrating experiences. When such a situation is God's doing, it really makes us wonder, as it probably did for Isaiah—Heeding God's Call to Speak.
After Solomon's reign, when the United Kingdom split into northern and southern factions, the rulers of these two entities did not always follow God as they should. In the Northern Kingdom of Israel, all the kings were apostate. Despite repeated prophetic warnings, they forsook the Lord and embraced the gods of the surrounding, pagan nations. In the Southern Kingdom of Judah, those who occupied the throne vacillated between serving the Lord and serving idols. They, too, had the benefit of a prophetic witness, calling for righteousness and devotion to God alone, but not all the Judean kings heeded that call. In both kingdoms, as is often the case (even today), the general populace followed the lead of their rulers. Good kings had a good influence on society; bad kings had a bad influence on
The eighth century BC saw the ministry of several prophets: Amos and Hosea in the north, Micah and Isaiah in the south. Isaiah, perhaps the most well-known and well-respected of these divine spokesmen, seems to have had free access to the royal court of Judah and used that access to represent God before the king. Early in the prophet's ministry, perhaps even before he assumed the prophetic mantle, Isaiah had a disturbing vision. Please turn to Isa 6, where the new prophet receives a command from God, and...
I. The order is startling (Isa 6:1-8)
Isa 6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. 5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Send me!"

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Samuel—Heeding the call of God (1 Sam 3:1-18)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

Because children will often test the limits of acceptable behavior, it is important for parents, youth leaders, coaches, anyone who works with them, to establish clear boundaries from the start, to make sure they know who the boss is.
A schoolteacher injured his back and had to wear a plaster cast around the upper part of his body. Fortunately, it fit unnoticed beneath his shirt, so he did not have to explain his condition to everyone he met. On the first day of the new term, still wearing the cast under his shirt, he discovered that he was assigned to the toughest class in the school. It was a particularly hot day, so when he walked into the rowdy classroom, he opened the window as wide as possible before sitting at his desk. A strong breeze made his tie flap around, annoying him and causing a titer among the students that grew louder as he kept trying to rearrange it. Finally, fed up with the flapping, he grabbed the stapler from his desk and stapled the tie to his chest in several places.... Discipline was never a problem after that.
Proper discipline can prevent problem behavior. Without such restraint, however, the natural tendency some children have to indulge their sinful nature can run unchecked. At that point, the only thing left to do is to watch them self-destruct. That was, in part, what Samuel did with the sons of Eli, Heeding God's Call to See.

At this time, a couple from Ephraim dedicate their son, Samuel, to the Lord, which means they relinquish their claim on him and leave him in the care of the priests, whose ranks he will eventually join. While Samuel is still a young boy, God speaks to him. At first, Samuel thinks it is the voice of Eli that he hears, until Eli realizes it is the Lord.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Moses—Heeding God's call to service (Exod 3:1-14)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

There are sayings that advise us to be cautious, such as, "Look before you leap" and "Watch your step." Many times these warnings are just figures of speech, expressions that admonish us to be careful. Other times they are quite literal.
Driving down a country road, Dennis came up behind a Mennonite buggy. This was not an unusual sight in southern PA, and normally he would just go around it. The road, however, curved too much to see if any cars were coming from the other direction, so Dennis came to a virtual crawl. What he noticed—and would certainly have missed had he simply passed the buggy and moved on—was a hand-printed sign on the back of the carriage that read: "Energy efficient vehicle: Runs on oats and grass. Caution: Do not step in the exhaust."
In our passage this morning, Moses gets a similar warning to watch his step but for an entirely different reason. He is about to encounter the Lord, and the very ground of that meeting place is holy. It is the prelude to a remarkable series of events, and Moses soon finds himself Heeding God's Call to Service.
The history of God's people suffers a significant gap in the biblical record. After the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—their descendants spend over 400 years in Egypt. The only description of that period, though, is a single verse in the opening chapter of Exodus...
Exod 1:7 ...the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.
That is not much to say about four centuries, and it raises many questions.
  • Did God appear to the people during this period?
  • Who served as the great religious leaders, the stalwart examples of faith?
  • Did the Israelites' spiritual condition keep up with their numerical increase?
We do not know the answers. When next God speaks, however, He does include some theological education.
Before we get there, though, let me make one observation: While this series about Heeding the Call of God focuses on men, I do not want to give the impression that women play an insignificant role in the history of God's people. On the contrary, as we make our way to this next subject of our investigation, it is not the men who distinguish themselves. They are, in fact, conspicuously absent from the narrative. Recounting these events, the author of Exodus, acknowledges the crucial role of women in advancing the divine plan.
  • When Pharaoh attempted to disrupt that plan by killing all newborn males, the text says nothing about the fathers' reaction but does tell how...
Exod 1:17 The midwives...feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.
  • When the infant Moses was in jeopardy, it was not his father who intervened but his sister, encouraging another woman, Pharaoh's daughter, to care for the child.
Without the actions of these women, there might not have been a Moses, Heeding the Call of God. That is just an aside to help keep us men from thinking too highly of ourselves.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Jacob—Heeding God's call to safety (Gen 46:2-7)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

No one likes to be in a hazardous situation and, given the choice, a person wants to extricate himself as quickly as possible. There are, however, some circumstances that might cause hesitation in responding to a possible rescue.
A farmer decided his injuries from an accident were serious enough to take the trucking company responsible for the accident to court. In court, the company's lawyer questioned the farmer. "Didn't you say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine?" The farmer said, "Well, I had just loaded my favorite mule Bessie..." "I didn't ask for any details," the lawyer interrupted. "Just answer the question. Did you not say, at the scene of the accident, 'I'm fine!'" "Well," the farmer replied, "I had just put Bessie into the trailer...." Again the lawyer interrupted. "Judge, I am trying to establish the fact that, at the scene of the accident, this man told the highway patrolman that he was fine. Now, several weeks after the accident, he's trying to sue my client. I believe he's a fraud. Please instruct him simply to answer the question." By now, the judge was interested in the farmer's answer, so he said to the lawyer, "I'd like to hear what the plaintiff has to say about the mule." The farmer thanked the judge and proceeded.. "Well, I had just loaded Bessie into the trailer and was driving her down the highway when this semi ran the stop sign and hit my truck. I was thrown into one ditch and Bessie was thrown into the other. I was hurtin' pretty bad and didn't want to move, but I could hear Bessie groaning and knew she was in terrible shape. When a highway patrolman arrived, he heard Bessie's moaning, so he went over to her. After he looked at her, he took out his gun and shot her. Then he came across the road and said, 'Your mule was in such bad shape, I had to shoot her.... How are you feeling?"
There are times when a person might hesitate in responding to a possible rescue. A similar hesitation may have been the initial response of Jacob—Heeding God's Call to Safety.
The author of Genesis records highlights from the lives of the three Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—including some of their encounters with God. To each of the patriarchs, God made the same promise:
  • To Abraham, God said...
Gen 17:8 "The whole land of Canaan.. I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you...
  • To Isaac, God said...
Gen 26: 3b "to you and your descendants I will give all these lands."
  • To Jacob, God said...
Gen 28:13b "I will give you and your descendants the land..."
The Lord made this repeated promise a prominent component in the patriarchs' expectation of what He would do. When God then appears to Jacob and tells him to leave the land...
I. The order is surprising. (Gen 46:2-4)
Please turn to Gen 46, and we will look at Jacob's response.
Gen 46:2 . . . God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, "Jacob! Jacob!" [He replied: Hineni] 3 "I am God, the God of your father," he said. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes."

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Abraham—Heeding God's call to sacrifice (Gen 22:1-14)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

When adults are kidding, sometimes children take them seriously. The opposite is also true. When children are kidding, sometimes adults take them seriously.
The boss of a big company needed to call one of his employees about an urgent problem, dialed the employee's home phone number, and was greeted with a child's whisper, "Hello." Is your daddy home?" he asked. "Yes," whispered the small voice. "May I speak with him?" The child whispered, "No." Surprised and wanting to talk with an adult, the boss asked, "Is your mommy there?" "Yes." "May I talk with her?" Again the small voice whispered, "No." Hoping there was somebody with whom he could leave a message, the boss asked, "Is anybody else there?" "Yes," whispered the child, "a policeman." Wondering what a cop would be doing at his employee's home, the boss asked "May I speak with the policeman?" "No, he's busy", whispered the child. "Busy doing what?" "Talking to Daddy and Mommy...and the fireman," came the whispered answer. Growing concerned and even worried as he heard what sounded like a helicopter, the boss asked, "What is that noise?" "A hello-copper" answered the whispering voice. "What is going on there?" asked the boss, now alarmed. In an awed, whispering voice the child answered, "The search team just landed the hello-copper." Alarmed, concerned, and even more then just a little frustrated the boss asked, "What are they searching for?" Still whispering, the young voice replied along with a muffled giggle: "ME."
Hide-and-Seek is not a game to play with God. (The prophet Jonah tried that and became fish food.) Not only is there no place you can hide from God, when you hear His voice, you had best answer, Heeding the Call of God.
There is a little Hebrew word that appears in scripture well-over 1000 times. Because of its frequent occurrence, many readers tend to overlook it. Even modern translations often ignore it. When we encounter this word in the KJV, our impression is of a quaint, archaic form of speech. No one uses it today, but in the biblical period it had several practical functions. The Hebrew word is traditionally rendered "behold." One of its common uses was in response to a call, in which case the word adds at the end, which means "I," The result is: Hineni. Try it. This is something you can use to answer people and to impress them at the same time. So, when someone asks, "Where are you?" You can respond..
This word is particularly significant in answer to God's call, and there are only six people in scripture who hear the divine summons and respond in this way: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, and, in the New Testament, Ananias. It sounds like an exciting prospect—to get a call from God. ("Wouldn't you like to get a call from God?") For these men it is exciting...until they hear what God has to say. Then it is probably distressing, even frightening. What He expects of them is not easy, but the Lord apparently regards it as essential to His program. The only question is: Will they heed the call?