I want you to see the Bible with new eyes. I want you to be able to read it with understanding and although the gospels are written in a narrative form they are not novels. I want you to be able to read a part and know what it means.
When Jesus began his ministry, he wanted everyone to have access to the holy writings. He was unhappy that the most holy parts were restricted to the priests and scribes. Did you know that when some texts of the Old Testament were being taught to new priests the teacher and student had to go into a darkened room and the teacher would whisper the text?
Some parts were considered so holy that they were not only in a darkened room but they covered themselves in a cloth as well.
The description of God in Ezekiel was one such text. The coming of the Christian Church forced these texts into the open, so that all could read them, and then an amazing thing happened … not all at once but gradually, so by the fourth century the powers who controlled the Christian Church began to close down the openness that Jesus had fought so hard to achieve.
Constantine, who himself was not a Christian, held a conference of bishops at Nicea, which is a suburb of Constantinople the city he built as his capital to rule the Western World. Here is the clue, for the bishops were to define the beliefs of Christianity. There was as much political as there was religious activity, and Constantine, who understood little of the background of this religion, backed the people from Rome … probably because he understood them better as they were principally Latin speakers.
A formula for belief was eventually hammered out when the majority of bishops could agree to the wording. What happened to those who could not agree or sign the final papers out of conscience? They were banned and dismissed as heretics, and those whose aim was control, once again shut down the freedoms that had come with the emerging church.
That was why the Romans were interested in the church in the first place, control.
The church had grown so big, it influenced the whole empire, and so the Emperor annexed it as a tool to keep control of the people through religion rather than the sword. It took more than a thousand years before those brave enough to fight the system were able to break out and read the scriptures once again without hindrance, and it took the Reformation to achieve it.
For those who didn’t break out and stayed within the depleted Church of Rome, they had to wait to the Second Vatican Council of the last century before they could read the scriptures unhindered. Even then, any book about the Church or the Bible had first to be approved by the Church Authorities in Rome. Those who defied them were excommunicated. It was Nicea all over again.
Now you may say to yourself, “I can read what I like and no one will hinder me,” but is that true?
What has happened in the modern church is what has happened to it in the past starting in earnest at Nicea … you are in, or out, based on your belief that is orthodox or heretical. In other words you can only believe what was believed before to be accepted. To have a change in belief everyone has to agree, and that is difficult in a positive way so when it does happen it comes slowly by stealth and negatively.
Two such beliefs going through this process are the virgin birth and evolution … evolution has been on the go as a theory for nearly two hundred years, so no one is rushing this, but the Genesis account is still the official line of many churches.
All this that I have been telling you is a lead to today’s theme of the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan. What actually happened was that Jesus, real name Yeshua, was interested in John’s proclamation that the world was about to end, and God was to bring in a new kingdom in which he, God that is, would be the only ruler.
This kingdom was no ordinary kingdom. In this one there would be no sickness and no death because, it was believed, both of these were brought on by sin. There would be no sin in this kingdom ruled by God.
Yeshua, who was a poor man who worked on building sites, was attracted to this message because he wanted to be in on this new kingdom in which the wicked rulers of the age would be disposed. That was the promise. “He (God) has cast the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.” This was the promise and Yeshua wanted to be in on it and that was why he was here before John the Plunger along with lots of others with the same frame of mind.
Of course, later on in history, when the church that developed out of the Yeshua-followers got bigger than that of John the Baptizer, the leaders didn’t want anyone to think that their Yeshua was in any way inferior to John, even though it was Yeshua going to John and not the other way about, so they rewrote the sequence to even up the score.
Theologically this may be correct, but historically it is not.
This is where we need to be able to read the bible with understanding. It is not a document of historical accuracy, it is a document of theological truths, and we have to know the difference if we are to make sense of it, and if we are going to allow the church to advance and help to keep it relevant in the world. That is … if our church can absorb new learning without falling apart, because those with the new learning are branded as heretics, which is the case at the moment.
I will bet that hardly anyone here reads the bible either regularly or with understanding when they do. That is why it doesn’t make an impact on lives or change the way people live and that is why the world is in the mess that it is.
We need to know that Yeshua made a mistake along with John the Baptizer. It was not God who would bring in this brave new world unaided, it is us.
Don’t wait for God to do it we have to do it ourselves. Yeshua almost got it right, the meek will inherit the earth, sickness won’t completely disappear, but it will be substantially reduced, death won’t end in the way he imagined, but death will not be as it was.
Where the two of them, Yeshua and John, were right was in the repentance and changing of life-styles to allow it to happen. In that regard Yeshua was the greater of the two and his message is still worth repeating to all.
If this good news message was not just preached and taught in Venezuela, but practiced by the majority, this country would not be facing the difficulties it now has to bear.
Has no one ever heard of loving your neighbor as yourself?
Not as an abstract proposition but as a practical way of loving and living … it is called the golden rule. It is centuries older than Yeshua and can be found in Leviticus.
Why, in God’s name, don’t we do it and stop this anguish?
Are we not baptized also? Are we not people of the new kingdom? Then why don’t we live as though we are?