You can read the Bible in many ways. You can read it silently or aloud, or you can listen to someone else read it. You can take it in pieces, by verse, section, or chapter, or you can take it in great big chunks, whole books at a time.
I recommend all of those. Your brain will process the text differently each time, partly because it’s entering by a different route.
My wife and I were driving home from visiting her family this last weekend, and to pass the time we listened to an audio version of the Gospel of Luke, pausing now and then to talk about some point or other. It’s about a five hour drive, so we got most of the way through the book before we got home.
One great thing about listening to the Bible this way is that it lets you see broader trends that you might otherwise miss.
For example, Luke liked to present dichotomies. Do this, not that. This thing, not that thing.
The humble, poor, kind, and obedient, not the rich, proud, disdainful, and disobedient. The worshipful prostitute, not the inhospitable Pharisee, Simon. Treasures in heaven, not treasures on earth. Rock, not sand. The one grateful leper, not the ten who were ungrateful.
I hadn’t noticed that before.
There is one example of these comparisons that connects to another pattern I heard in Luke: Foreign cities that have never heard the Gospel will fare better in the final judgment than will Israelite cities that refused to heed the great miracles that were done there.
People usually had intense emotional reactions to Yeshua’s miracles. They ran the gamut from joy to terror.
Except in Nazareth, Yeshua’s home town. At Nazareth, Yeshua did a few miracles, but their apathy and disbelief kept him from doing much more. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they said.
And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24 ESV)
Even demons had a more positive response than did Yeshua’s own family and friends. In Luke 4:34, a demon acknowledged his power and position: “I know who you are: the Holy One of God.” Then it obeyed him. In 8:28, another demon called him “Son of the Most High God” and begged him for mercy. In 9:42, yet another demon, who respected none of Yeshua’s disciples, immediately obeyed his command to leave.
What was the biggest difference between Nazareth and those demons? Familiarity.
The people of Nazareth knew Yeshua when he was a child. They grew up with him, and they saw him playing with other children. They knew his parents, his grandparents, and his siblings. They were comfortable with Yeshua, because they thought they knew him.
The demons, on the other hand, really knew him in a way that no mortal ever could. They didn’t like him, as I’m sure many of his neighbors did, but they knew the reality of his raw, unparalleled power, and they were terrified of him.
The people of Nazareth had no fear of the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, and so he could do nothing for them. Wherever the people feared God and the growing reputation of Yeshua–at Nain in chapter 7, for instance–he raised the dead, healed the sick, and drove out unclean spirits.
The only difference between Nazareth and Nain was the level of familiarity and comfort that the people had toward Yeshua. The people of Nazareth saw him as an odd but friendly boy, while the people of Nain had heard the amazing stories that were spreading across the countryside, and they were afraid. They approached him on the road eagerly, but nervously. When he healed their sick and raised their dead, they were astonished. They were both joyful and even more fearful than before.
Perhaps we don’t see the miracles they saw because we don’t see the God and Messiah that they saw.
Consider the songs we sing in our churches.
He touched me. He guides me. He’s my hope, my support, my rest. I love him dearly, and I’ll follow him everywhere. Yadda yadda.
There’s nothing wrong with those specific words; they’re all great sentiments. There are many Psalms that sound very similar. The problem is that they’re all sentiment and no fire. They’re all “Me and Jesus,” and very little glory and majesty.
Why don’t we sing more hymns like Psalm 9 (written by David)?
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
When my enemies turn back,
they stumble and perish before your presence.
For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;
their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.
But the LORD sits enthroned forever;
he has established his throne for justice,
And he judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with uprightness….
(Verses 1-8 ESV)
Or Psalm 76 (of Asaph, also from the ESV)?
In Judah, God is known;
his name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
his dwelling place in Zion.
There he broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah.
Glorious are you, more majestic
than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep;
all the men of war were
unable to use their hands.
At your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.
But you, you are to be feared!
Who can stand before you
when once your anger is roused?
From the heavens you uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth. Selah.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise you;
the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.
Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;
let all around him bring gifts to him who is to be feared,
who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.
Wow! What a God our Savior is!
God’s power is truly incomprehensible and it is all concentrated in the one man we know variously as Jesus and Yeshua. As Asaph wrote, our God, YHWH Elohim, is to be feared even by the most powerful men on earth. They are nothing to him. He brushes them aside like gnats.
We must never be overly familiar and comfortable with God. He is a consuming fire and a jealous God who will not stand by forever while his name is profaned and his people ignore his laws. Eventually, there will be an accounting, and every person will be repayed according to his deeds.
Many preachers today love to talk about how forgiving and gracious God is (And they’re right!), but they mistake his patience for apathy. They tell their flocks that God no longer cares about sin, that anything you do after the cross will never count against you. It’s all just love and bacon pancakes from here to the streets of gold.
Sin is a non-issue with God, but religious people make it a major issue. This is because they do not understand the new agreement. -Creflo Dollar
The Holy Spirit never convicts you of your sins. -Joseph Prince
In 2005, we were the first church in America to endorse marriage equality. We’re doing justice. -United Church of Christ
What nonsense! “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) I know that those preachers have read the Bible, but they are truly the blind leading the blind, because they haven’t even seen what is so clearly written.
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. -Yeshua (Luke 13:5 ESV)
Yes, our Lord is patient. Yes, he is forgiving. No, your good works will never earn you a place in heaven. But none of that means that his standards of behavior have slackened by a single letter.
God’s Law still stands today as the eternal measuring stick for those who would call themselves his people. There is no division in that Law. There is one Law for one People, and unless you repent, you too will hear those dreadful words one day:
And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ -Yeshua (Matthew 7:23 ESV)
Trust in God’s faithfulness to forgive, in Yeshua’s blood that removes the stains of sin from our souls, but never forget that God is a force more powerful than anything today’s cosmologists have yet imagined, and he has rules for his house.
Go ahead and memorize Psalm 23–it’s beautiful and definitely worthwhile–but memorize Job 38 and 39 along with it.
Until we learn to fear God in all his power, I fear that we will never see his true power in our lives.