Some readers are very familiar with the Bible, others will be less comfortable with 'Sacred Writ.' But one thing important for all students of Scripture is: "Ephphatha!... (that is Aramaic for) 'Be Thou Open!'" (Mk. 7:34). Jesus often made statements such as: "Whoever has ears to hear, ought to listen!" (Mk. 4:9). We should open our minds and our hearts to the 'Good News', so that we don't miss the Lord's messages to us. We need to heed this admonition: "You are thinking not as God does, but as people do." (Mk. 8:33).
We can all get caught in this trap, of thinking 'in the flesh' rather than 'in the Spirit.' Often, the more 'Scripturally knowledgable' a person is, the more set in their personal interpretations they can be, whether they are correct or not. For example, when Jesus was disputing with the Sadducees, ministers trained in the Sacred Texts, "Jesus said to them in reply, 'You are misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.'" (Mt. 22:29). Those Sadducees must have been shocked (and offended!), yet the rebuke from Jesus should stand out as a reminder to those who are overly confident
in their personal interpretations of the Bible.
Once someone believes there is a Creator, it only makes sense to consult the Word of God to help us with everyday living. It is something like consulting the 'owner's manual' or instruction book for a new car or electronic item. "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When we say that something is 'useful' we mean that it is practical, that it has true value.
God's Word to mankind can give us comfort and aid in times of sorrow and trouble, helps us make sound decisions when we apply the lessons of Scripture to our daily lives and points out for us the "way of salvation".(Acts 16:17). But how can we properly dispose ourselves to the study of the Bible? How do we make ourselves 'be open', and 'have ears to hear' God's Word?
Jesus said "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for
yourselves. For my yoke is easy, my burden light." (Mt. 11:28-30). Jesus, the Word of God (see John 1:1, 14) wasn't born in a royal palace, the Christ was born in a stable. Though Messiah, "the right hand
of the Power" (Mt. 26:64), our Savior humbly accepted His
opponents' accusation: "He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses?" (Mt. 26:65), and verdict "He deserves death!" (Mt. 26:66). Jesus, practiced what He preached. The Lord could have called
"armies of angels" (Mt. 26:53), yet "He humbly accepted death, yes, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8) to give us an example of humility and true love.
When Jesus' disciples argued among themselves about who was the greatest, the Messiah's lesson to them was: "Whoever wishes to be the greatest among you must act as the servant" (Mk. 10:44). We can begin 'to listen', to 'be open' to God's Wisdom and Will when we are meek and humble; when we forsake our own power. In exchange we gain the greatest
Power in the universe! "For it is when I am weak, then I am made strong." (2 Cor. 12:10). In helping others, we follow Him.
Jesus loves us; He loves you personally. "There is no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for a friend." (Jn. 15:13). A friend is a person who cares about you personally. A very good friend is someone who accepts you as you are. Jesus is your best friend, because even though we "all have sinned" (Rm. 3:23) Jesus came "to save what was lost." (Lk.19:10), for "by His stripes we are healed." (Is. 53:5).
Jesus proved His Love for you by dying for you, thus paying "the price (wages) of sin is death" (Rm. 6:23) by His own gruesome death on your behalf. This is a Friend we should all want to know!!
TALKING AND LISTENING
We can talk to God in prayer, and we can listen to Him through His Divine Word. Someone once observed that we have two ears, and one mouth; which means we should listen twice as
much as we talk. It isn't our opinion, or any opinion of man that matters. "What is your opinion?" the jealous high priest asked, and the other 'scripture scholars' replied "He deserves death!" (Mt. 26:66). The once-cheering crowd quickly turns on their Savior (see Mt. 27:20-26). "...broad is the road that leads to destruction..."; often by following others, by following the crowd, we can be led down the wrong path. "Narrow is the gate and restricted the road that leads to
life, and those who find it are few." (Mt. 7:13,14). Jesus taught us: "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life." (Jn. 14:6). How can we know that we are following His Way, and not someone's (our own, or
some other person's) opinion?
The persecutions of the early Christians resulted in a treasure trove of evidence for archealogists and historians in catacombs like the one pictured above. Paintings, inscriptions and sculptures all provide evidence of the actual practices of the Christians in the early years of the Church. There is no need to 'guess' the truths of Christianity. There is an abundance of evidence, both Scriptural and non-biblical, as to what the faithful really believed.
Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God." (Mt. 4:4). This was Jesus' reply when Satan quoted Scripture trying to tempt and deceive 'the Nazarene'. Since the Devil can twist the meaning of the Bible, and with thousands of different interpretations of Scripture, how do we really know
what God means to say to us?
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus was walking with two of His disciples, who at first didn't recognize him. "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures...And it happened that, while He was at table with them, He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them. With that, their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, but He vanished from their sight. 'Were not our hearts burning [within us] while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?'" (Lk. 24:27, 30-32).
Jesus told the Apostles at the 'Last Supper' to "do this in memory of Me." (Lk. 22:19). It's interesting that the disciples didn't recognize Jesus until "He took bread, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to them." Then the Lord "vanished from their sight." and all they saw was His Bread, all they felt was the burning in their hearts..
Jesus warned He'd be "a cause for division" (Lk. 12:51)
and that "false prophets" would come and lead people astray (Mt. 7:15). Our Savior knew that God's word would be twisted by some, but he didn't
leave us 'as sheep without a shepherd.' (cf. Jn. 21:15-17). We need a faithful guide to interpret God's word for us, since thousands of different Christian churches, preachers and sects in the world today prove that the Word doesn't 'interpret' itself: "Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of Scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through personal will, but rather people were moved by the Holy Spirit speaking through the power of God." (2 Pet. 1:20-21) 'Prophecy' means more than just 'prediction' it also means 'revelation'. Since God's Word isn't revealed privately, what reveals it?
Jesus said "on this rock I will build my church." (Mt. 16:18). Singular or plural words 'church' or 'assembly' appear 125 times in the New Testament, so it must be important! Jesus personally identified Himself with the Church (see Acts 9:1-5; 22:4-8; Lk. 10:16), which is sometimes called the Body of Christ, or the Bride of Christ in the Bible. Paul tells Timothy that "the church of God, is
the pillar and foundation of truth." (1 Tim. 3:15). So when Jesus opened the Scriptures to the disciples, it was His Church, the 'Body of Christ' on earth that was to proclaim His Word: "Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of time." (Mt. 28:19-20) Jesus' Church would endure, and was commanded to teach all nations - surely He includes you, me and everyone else!
"GOD's WORD is living and effective, sharper than any double-edged sword." (Heb. 4:12). When Scripture refers to 'God's Word', does that always mean the Bible? At the end of John's Gospel, he wrote: "There are many other things that Jesus did, but if these were all to be described, I do not think that the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written." (Jn. 21:25). It is noteworthy that Jesus taught the Apostles orally, and told them to preach and teach. No where does Scripture say Jesus commanded the disciples to write a book. Luke wasn't an eye witness of Jesus' life, as other Gospel writers were; so he had to gather the oral tradition of Jesus' life and sayings in order to write his Gospel (cf. Lk. 1:1-4). God's Word was first spoken, later some of God's Word was written as a teaching said (cf. Jn. 21:25).
Scripture, properly understood, is a part of God's Word: "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions which you were taught, whether oral or written." (2 Thes. 2:15; see also 3:6). The 'Word' is both written (Scripture) and oral (see 1 Cor. 11:2; 1 Tim. 4:11-16; 6:2-3; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:9-11; 2:15; 3:8, 3:10), and these complement each other, they never contradict each other. The
Biblical evidence of an oral teaching tradition to oppose 'false prophets' logically requires a teaching authority; namely Christ's Church. Are you personally 'open', willing 'to listen' to that authority, since it teaches in His Name?
God's Word can and should enlighten us. He promises "I will never forsake or abandon you." (Heb. 13:5). John the Baptizer foreshadowed part of Jesus' message: "Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" "He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn in unquenchable fire." (Mt. 3:2; 12; cf. 4:17; 13:24-30). Yet no matter how serious our personal guilt, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will
forgive our sins and cleanse us from wrongdoing." (1 Jn. 1:9). Dying on the Cross, Jesus looked down on His persecutors, and said: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing!" (Lk. 23:34). By being 'open' minded and listening to Jesus' Church, we will avoid 'the traditions of men,' which Jesus condemned (cf. Mt. 15:1-9; see also Col. 2:22-23)