The Sun of Righteousness

There’s been a phrase stuck in my head since our study of the minor prophets last year. It came to mind over and over — in prayer, randomly while thinking about something else, and after hearing someone had died (which happened quite a lot last year). The phrase comes from Malachi 4:

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” says the Lord of hosts. (Mal. 4:1-3)

The Sun of Righteousness | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo Credit: “Sunrise” by Always Shooting

Obviously a prophetic context, but what might it mean for us today? What can we learn from, and about, “the Sun of Righteousness” and the “healing in His wings”? Read more

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Thoughts on John 9

I don’t often spend most of a week studying just one chapter of the Bible, but John 9 captured my attention and didn’t let go. It is the story of Jesus healing a blind man, and unlike many miracles which are recorded in just a few short verses, this story takes up an entire 41-verse chapter.

This chapter is packed full of interesting things to learn. I focused on three main points that I noticed for this post, but I’m sure there’s more. If anyone else feels moved to study John 9, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

A Reason For Suffering

Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3)

The assumption the disciples made is all too common, even today — that the bad things which happen to us and others are a kind of punishment. Sometimes, however, God allows trials of various sorts to affect us because they fit into His plan for doing good. In this particular case, the man’s blindness was used to introduce him to Jesus and demonstrate to other people that Jesus is the Son of God.

It worked, too. This healing caused a huge stir in the Jewish community. This was partly because of the spectacular nature of the miracle, and partly because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. As the Word of God, Jesus was the One who told Israel about the Sabbath in the first place — He knew how to keep it holy. Doing good on the Sabbath wasn’t a sin, but it did anger the Pharisees because it violated some rules they’d added.

 Therefore some of the Pharisees said, “This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. (John 9:16)

Though they publicly condemned Jesus, they weren’t so sure behind the scenes. This miracle made them think, and I wonder if some of them eventually became believers. Nicodemus couldn’t have been the only Pharisee wondering if maybe, just maybe, Jesus really was the Christ (John 3:1-2).

A Simple Testimony

After he was healed, the man who’d been blind doesn’t leap, shout, and tell everyone what happened. He didn’t do anything to call attention to himself, and only talked about the miracle when people started asking him what happened.

He answered and said, “A Man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and I received sight.” (John 9:11)

After hearing this, the people took him to the Pharisees and he repeated his story again (verse 15). Not believing him, they called in his parents, who were scared of being excommunicated and wouldn’t say anything except to affirm that he had, indeed, been blind (verse 18-23).

So they again called the man who was blind, and said to him, “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner.”

He answered and said, “Whether He is a sinner or not I do not know. One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:24-25)

I think what the Pharisees were trying to do was convince this guy to say God healed him, and leave Jesus out of it. That never works — for “whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either” (1 John 2:23). When the Pharisees kept pressuring him, this man delivered a very simple testimony that enraged the Pharisees, who prided themselves on their intellect and knowledge of God.

The man answered and said to them, “Why, this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from; yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” (J0hn 9:30-33)

There’s something to be said for paying attention to “the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). The man who went with the simple, obvious explanation — that Jesus is a good man who performed a miracle — was much closer to God than the thoroughly educated church leaders.

A Personal Connection

After testifying to Jesus’ work in his life, the Pharisees excomunicated the formerly blind man (verse 34). This relates back to an earlier verse, which tells us “the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). This doesn’t sound so bad to us today — if we get kicked out of one church there are plenty more right down the street. In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time, though, it meant banishment from religious life.

In his definition of aposunagogos (G656), Zodhiates notes that the highest degree of “casting out” (there were three) is “an exclusion from all the rights and privileges of the Jewish people, both civil and religious. The offender was considered as dead.” Jesus warned His followers about this possibility in John 16:2. Following Jesus was a huge, dangerous step for Jews. It meant risking isolation from other people and, if you believed the Pharisees, from God.

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said to him, “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

He answered and said, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”

And Jesus said to him, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.”

Then he said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Him. (John 9:35-38)

We don’t often see examples of Jesus making follow-up visits with people He healed, but it is clear from these verses that He was keeping track of what happened with this man. As soon as He heard about the Jews excommunicating the formerly blind man, Jesus tracked him down to encourage him and confirm his faith. This man was cast out by the Jews, but he was welcomed by the Messiah.

I’m touched by the personal attention Jesus gave this individual, and the parallels with our own calling. Jesus healed him, apparently without being asked to, and changed his whole life. In much the same way, God may call us when we’re not even looking for Him and don’t know how desperately we need His life-changing power.

This healing opened the blind man’s spiritual as well as physical eyes. Many of us today can relate the rejection he experienced when he started to share the story of how Jesus touched his life. I hope we can also relate to the comfort of having a personal connection with this great Being, who doesn’t leave people alone to navigate their new-found faith.

If We Are The Body

If we are the body, why is HIs love not showing? marissabaker.wordpress.comToday’s post is inspired by a Casting Crowns song called “If We Are The Body.” I’ll add a video of it at the end of this post, so you can listen to it if you’re not familiar with the song. It is basically a challenge to the Christian church — if we really are Christ’s body (and we know from verses like Colossians 1:18 that we are), why isn’t the church as a whole acting more like Jesus Christ?

Arms Reaching

♪ ♫ But if we are the body, Why aren’t His arms reaching?

Do we have the same kind of compassion that Christ showed? He wept over Jerusalem because His people rejected His attempts “to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matt. 23:37; Luke 19:41-42). He was constantly reaching out to help, encourage, and teach people.

But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)

Each of us can bear witness to the compassion and mercy of God in our lives. Take just a moment to think about all the forgiveness He has shown you, all the times He picked you up out of hopelessness — and then look at the next chapter in Matthew.

When Jesus sent out His twelve disciples, He instructed them to do the same thing He was doing: “preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt. 10:7-8). It’s this last sentence that I want to focus on. Are we giving compassion, forgiveness, and help to others as freely as Christ gives those things to us? Or are we holding ourselves back from reaching out to certain people?

Hands Healing

♪ ♫ Why aren’t His hands healing?

We often seem to gloss over the phrase “gifts of healing” when reading about spiritual gifts in the church. We say that since we don’t see people today performing the same kinds of miracles that were happening in Acts 3:1-10 and 5:12-16, that these gifts are not present in today’s church. Paul did not, however, indicated that there will be a time when certain gifts simply are not around.

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, (1 Cor 12:7-9)

If we are the body, why aren't His hands healing? marissabaker.wordpress.comThe word translated “healing” here is iama (G2386). It is much like our English word, and means a “cure, the result of the process of healing.”It is used in the gospels of Christ healing with a touch or by a “word of power.” Of the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Zodhiates points out that iama is always plural, and that the Lord gave “gifts or abilities to provide the means of various healings in His divine providence whether they be with or without medicine.”

I suspect that the gifts of healing can include a wide range of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Some people have a gift for counseling others through emotional distress. Others with a gift for physical healing might practice a form of medicine. Those with a gift of faith can pray, trusting this promise:”the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15).

There is no reason to assume the lack of showy miracles means there are no gifts of healing in the church. Not every person in the body of Christ will have a gift of healing (1 Cor. 12:28-30), but if those who have been given this gift are using it, then the overall body will have healing hands.

Words Teaching

♪ ♫ Why aren’t His words teaching?

The verse I most often see/hear people turn to in the context of the church’s responsibility to teach is at the end of Matthew. Jesus told His followers, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations … teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Often, I think churches approach this verse one of two opposite and extreme directions. One is to adopt disciplining the nations as the chief and greatest occupation of the church. The other is to ignore it completely and say it’s not our place to “shove our religion down someone’s throat.”

As in many things, the balanced view is both rarer and a better goal. We cannot afford to ignore a clear instruction from Jesus Christ to teach, but if we adopt this as the one great commission of the church, we risk overlooking Christ’s instruction to “feed My sheep” — to care for and teach people who are already in the church. In Paul’s continuing discussion about spiritual gifts, he says,

Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. (1 Cor. 14:12)

The reason to want spiritual gifts is so that we might build-up, teach, and help each other within the church. Then, when conditions inside the church are as they should be, God will bring in new believers.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)

How many of our church congregations would inspire this kind of reaction in someone who just walked through the door? TV shows, radio spots, websites, magazines, and booklets might help someone find a church group, but it’s the people who will inspire them to stay. If a new believer doesn’t see evidence that God is truly among us and hear His words being taught, they will keep looking for a church that actually acts like part of the body of Christ.

Feet Going

♪ ♫ And if we are the body, Why aren’t His feet going?

If we are the body, why aren't His feet going? marissabaker.wordpress.comWhen studying for this section, I was surprised to find how prominently feet figure in the Bible. The Lord “will not allow your foot to be moved” (Ps. 121.3), He delivers “my feet from falling” (Ps. 116:8), and His “word is a lamp unto my feet” (Ps. 119:105). The Israelites “feet did not swell” during all their years of wandering in the wilderness (Neh. 9:21). People sat at and anointed Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38; 8:35; 10:39; John 12:3). Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (John 13:5-6). John the Baptist’s father prophesied that he would “guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

Where our feet are going indicates the direction of our lives. Are our feet headed toward evil, such as “feet swift to shed blood” (Rom. 3:15)? Or are our feet beautiful like “the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace,” and shod with that same gospel as part of our spiritual armor (Rom. 10:15; Eph. 6:15)?

In Jeremiah, it says that “it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps” (Jer. 10:23). The only one who can direct our steps rightly is God, and He directs us to walk in the steps of Jesus.

For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps (1 Pet. 2:21)

The context here is that to endure “grief, suffering wrongfully,” is commendable before God because it gives us the opportunity to mimic Christ’s actions (1 Pet. 2:18-20). As His body, we must be willing to walk in His footsteps, wherever that might lead.

He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. (1 John 2:6)

Love Showing

♪ ♫ Why is His love not showing them there is a way? There is a way

Love — agape (G26) — is the key to relationships. It is called “a more excellent way” compared to gifts of leadership, prophecy, healing, and working miracles. Even “the best gifts” are of no value if separated from love (1 Cor. 12:28-13:3).

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

Jesus said that love among the breathren is how the entire world will recognize us as His disciples. This builds right upon the idea of someone being able to walk into a gathering of the church and see “that God is truly among you” (1 Cor. 14:25). As the discussion continues, Jesus also connects love to the idea following in His footsteps.

This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

Like in 1 Peter 2, following Christ includes the very real possibility of suffering. Here, with the focus on love, it also includes the idea of voluntary sacrifice for the good of another person. That is the kind of attitude that the entire church is to have.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. (1 Cor. 12:26-27)

I am so blessed to regularly fellowship with a congregation like this. As we individually and collectively grow more and more like Jesus and learn to use our spiritual gifts “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” we will be better able to serve Him by serving other people (Eph. 4:12).

Bad Girls of the Bible

I’ve been reading a series of three books by Liz Curtis Higgs titled Bad Girls of the Bible, Really Bad Girls of the Bible, and Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible. The first book was decided upon for a book club at church, and once I’d finished it I tracked down the other two from the library. Higgs’ writing style is a little more informal than I usually like (I found myself skipping some of her “Lizzie style” commentary), but I like the short fictionalized stories that begin each chapter and bring the woman’s story into a modern setting. I also appreciate spending an entire chapter discussing the Biblical accounts verse-by-verse, and sometimes even word-by-word, since I don’t always take the time I should to really think about the people in the Bible. I’ll talk about the first two books in the series now, but I have enough to say about Slightly Bad Girls that I think I’ll save it for another post.

Bad

Higgs’ reason for studying less-than-perfect women is that they can “show us how not to handle the challenges of life.” They can also be more relatable than women who seem perfect, and studying the weaknesses we share with women who stumbled can help us avoid pitfalls in our own lives.

The women discussed in this book are Eve, Potiphar’s Wife, Lot’s Wife, The Woman at the Well, Delilah, Sapphira, Rahab, Jezebel, Michal, and The Sinful Woman. I was really impressed with the fiction in this book. Eve becomes a sheltered rich girl, Delilah is a hairdresser, and Lot’s Wife a woman who refuses to leave her home near Mount Saint Helens. The fiction story for the Woman at the Well isn’t quite as well done, but it’s hard to come up with a modern fictionalized character to stand-in for Jesus so I think we’ll cut the author some slack.

Really Bad

I read these books slightly out of order, so this is the one I just finished. The title is a little misleading — it’s more like additional bad girls, rather than girls who are worse than those in the last book. Higgs describes the difference between the two books like this:

If the first Bad Girls of the Bible was all about grace, this second one is all about the sovereignty of God, the unstoppable power of God to accomplish his perfect will, no matter how much we mess up.

This book covers the Medium of En Dor, Jael, The Adulteress, Athaliah, Bathsheba, Herodias, Tamar, and The Bleeding Woman. What struck me most about this book was the Bleeding Woman’s story (from Matt. 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). This woman was bleeding for twelve years — that’s 4,380 days, plus a few extra for leap years. According to Levitical law, she was ceremonially unclean the entire time (Lev. 15:19-27). She couldn’t touch anyone, and probably had to live alone because everything she came in contact with became unclean. Can you imagine people not even wanting to be in the same house as you for twelve years? I like solitude as much as the next introvert, but that’s way too much alone-time.

When Jesus healed her, He took away not only her physical infirmity, but also her separation from other people. And He talked to her in public — not something teachers normally did with women, especially women who were still ceremonially unclean (Lev. 15:28-30). She is also the only woman in the Gospels who Jesus calls “daughter.” What an incredible story!