Some days ago I talked to a young man in his late teens. And to my utter surprise he had never heard the story of David and Goliath. He had no notion of it. He never even heard the names. Nothing. So I told him all that had happened and he was simply fascinated. But what I enjoyed the most about our conversation was the feeling of painting on a blank canvas. Since I was his original source I could create the story in his mind without spoiling it. And I hope I did a somewhat good job.
A while back I had a totally different encounter. And to use the image of the canvas again, this one was more like layers over layers of paint leaving nothing more than a chaotic mass of dirt. This man’s argument against Christianity was simply how ridiculous it is to see the Old and the New Testament as one book. When it was so obvious that they had nothing in common. And it was one of those conversations were I had to think about his argument for a while to find a witty comeback. And after some more thinking I realized that I somewhat understand his problem. The New Testament is to the Old what the last chapter of a crime novel is to the rest of the book. It is not about looking at a story in search for bits and pieces of truth. Everything is revealed and when you read the book again you will see how obvious it was. But he couldn’t see it for his canvas was already full. The only way for him to understand now is when the canvas is cleaned and the picture can be repainted.
I had to get a part of my picture repainted two weeks ago when I read the story of David and Goliath mentioned above. I admit, the change was not a huge one, but let me still use it as an example. At the end of the story there is a verse I had probably read dozens of times, never grasping its meaning. It says that David took the head of Goliath to Jerusalem. That sounds disgusting and it becomes even more so when we keep in mind that Jerusalem was not part of Israel until David conquered it some decades later. And all the time he carried a token of the first mayor victory God had given him. The more I think about that, the more I realize that I have to rethink the ways I remember God’s work in my life. His victories want to be remembered and items can surely help. But all along I thought I knew.
Often I heard Matthew 18:20 (“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”, ESV) used as sort of proof that Jesus is in a meeting. Sometimes it was incorporated into a prayer like that. “You said that when two or three are gathered in your name you are with them. And we are so many more.” And it felt like forcing God’s presence by a sheer number of people. But couldn’t Jesus have said “For where at least two gather in my name…”?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God is in big and in small meetings. But Matthew 18:19 is clearly about prayer. And from my own experience praying with one or two others is a lot more intense than praying together with hundreds of people. It is more personal and less general. So could Jesus be hinting towards the idea that praying in a small group of close friends is somewhat special?
In Mark 10 we find a situation where the disciples discuss their ranks. Who is bigger than whom? And Jesus jumps in with “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44, ESV) And for years I saw a ranking right there. Of course there is only one servant of all. Jesus. So ok, he is number one. And the next is the one who serves just a little bit less. And the third again a little bit less. And so on. But when we think about the people we are physically able to serve, we have to acknowledge that nobody can serve more than a mere fraction of what Jesus did. And then again all we do is much inferior to what He did. And I come back asking myself: Is Jesus saying that He is the first one in His kingdom and everybody else is equally important?
I learned that I should have treasures in heaven. And coming straight from Jesus (e.g. Matthew 6:19-24) it is surely a good thing. But that begs the question: What kind of treasure? People I heard about this subject seemed to have the idea of every good deed we do becomes a gem in our heavenly treasure chest. But in all my expeditions into the Bible I never found anything to back up that claim. On the contrary our good deed seem to have no effect on the afterlife. Believing in Jesus does. What I found was a rather surprising interpretation by Paul. He mentions the word “treasure” only twice in his letters (2 Corinthians 4:7, Colossians 2:3) and in both cases he unmistakably refers to Jesus. So what if the treasure we have in heaven is not a chest of gold and gems but simply and only Jesus?
These are all interesting questions and I don’t pretend to know the answers. I am even convinced that I don’t know them. And I am far from planning on lecturing anyone one “the true meaning of Scripture”. But I do think that it is important how we read God’s Word. Every right and wrong thing we hear about God and His Word fills the canvas of our heart. The truth brings order and beauty, the wrong stuff brings chaos and destruction. Unfortunately it is almost impossible to distinguish the two. That makes it so crucial that we read the Bible with an open heart and an open mind. Because what we think to know about God might be faulty. And sometimes it helps to take a step back, to look at the whole picture, and to see if it shows God in all His glory. And the parts that don’t, might have to be repainted.