Monday, March 20, 2006

David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop II: Digging Deeper for the Meaning

Summary of the second in the series of Project Timothy workshops on "Getting the More Out of Your Bible" (the summary of the first installment is here):

Two Major Questions
There are two major questions which we should ask of the text:
  1. What is the text saying? This is broad overview, from an aeroplane, of the whole text.
  2. What is the author's purpose is saying this?
What is the text saying?
We will have to look at this major section by major section.

David Jackman's Bible Reading WorkshopSummary of Passage So Far (1 Peter 1:1-12)
Last week we saw that in 1 Peter 1:1-2, there are 2 ways of seeing yourself as a Christian: (1) as aliens and strangers in this world; or (2) as God's elect people. 1 Peter 1:3-12 (1:10-12 can be added to 1:3-9) is about the great salvation; the salvation that was predicted by the prophets and promised by God. And they were not talking about their own salvation but they were speaking to us.

The Theme Tune of 1 Peter 1:13ff
In 1:11, salvation is all about the suffering of Christ and the glory that follows. 1:13 starts with a "therefore" (when we see a "therefore", we must ask ourselves what it is there for). If you have grasped the truth of 1:3-12, then you must grasp the implication in 1:13ff. Jesus obeyed God, suffered and was glorified. To follow Jesus is to live like Jesus. So we too are to obey (which is to live appropriately, in self-control, discipline and holiness in 1:16) and suffer and we too will be glorified.

Here we have the link from doctrine to application; from teaching to life.

Can you see where else this suffering-glorification pattern comes up in the rest of the chapter?
  • 1:19 and 21 - the pattern develops more as the passage progresses. Jesus is the perfect unblemished Lamb. There is reference to the Lamb's precious blood (referring to his sacrificial death) and that God raised him from the dead and gave him glory
The theme is this: Jesus' sufferings and the glory that follows. Our suffering and the glory that follows. This means that in this world, we must live very different lives.

(The big picture is that we must live differently and we can trust that God will deliver what he has promised. We are to love each other deeply from the heart (1:22): this means at full stretch, like a sprinter in the Commonwealth Games, stretching towards the line with all they've got.

Therefore, it is not that I try to be Christian when I feel like it. No. If I have been changed by the gospel, by Jesus, then the life who is in me will change me to love other Christians deeply. It is not fake. It is not that I say "Oh! I do love you!" but inside you mumble,"Well...not really...". It comes from our heart, from the inside. Because Jesus is changing us from within.)

The overview, the view from the aeroplane, is that Jesus is the pattern and we must follow in his footsteps.

Where else do we see this pattern in 1 Peter?
  • 2:4-5 - Jesus was rejected by men but chosen by God;
  • 2:12 - how Jesus took his suffering leaves us an example to follow (not, of course, that we can suffer for him, because he suffered for our own salvation): he did not retaliate, he did not utter any threats. Jesus was an innocent sufferer. He did not deserve to suffer. When people mock your Christian views or persecute you for being Christian, you might think,"Why are they doing this to me? Why do I have to stand for this?". But if you act like Jesus, you will have to suffer like him, not retaliating, but trusting in God;
  • 3:1 - "likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands". Not that wives are to suffer at the hands of their own husbands(!), but to follow the submissiveness of Jesus to the Father;
  • 3:14-15 - if you recognise Jesus as Lord and suffer for it, don't be afraid, because God's blessings will be upon you;
  • 3:17 - it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil;
  • 4:1 - "since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking". The theme tune is coming through;
  • 4:12-13 - again, we see the pattern of suffering leading to glory. So that you may be overjoyed when he comes again. If you will not bear the cross, you will not wear the crown. You do not float up to heaven on a cloud or pillow or rose petals. It is hard work.
(Jesus is not a remote person but a living person who will help you to live for him.)

We have gone up into the air, as it were, and gotten an overview: Jesus gives us new life and we are to live different lives in this world because we belong to Jesus. We are to show his love in this world even though we may be persecuted.

Digging Deeper by Asking Questions
Ask questions of the text: look for surprises and difficulties. Don't assume that you know the text well. For example, in 2:4, how can stones be "living"?

To understand the text, we must get our fingers in it, by asking questions, like kneading dough.

[A time of group work]

Q: How can something which is rejected by men be precious to God (2:4)?
This probably means there is a different set of values.

Q: Why is Jesus described as a "living stone"?
In 2:6, he is also described as the chosen precious cornerstone. The stone is used as a foundation. What is being built on top of it is not dead but living, because all the people who build the church are living. Peter is using a non-material imagery to fill out a greater understanding of Jesus. The cornerstone lines up all the other stones in the building. The other stones take their measurement from this stone. The capstone is the chief stone that finishes off the building. And Jesus is both the cornerstone and the capstone.

Q: What are "spiritual sacrifices"?
The metaphor moves from buildings to the priesthood to spiritual sacrifices. In the building, we act as priests offering spiritual sacrifices - serving Jesus, sharing the gospel, giving up our time for Sunday school for the salvation of children. "Spiritual" because it is for the spiritual good of others, and "sacrifices" because we give up something for it. We are the priesthood because we now have direct access to God, the curtain has been torn into two.

Q: Is there a conflict between the promise in 2:6 that we will not be put to shame and the expectation of suffering?
No. We have to look into this quote. If we had more time, we would be able to go into this a bit deeper. This quote comes from Isaiah 28:16. The context is that Israel was afraid of being overrun by the Assyrians. Instead of trusting God, they made alliances with their enemies instead, with Egypt. On the day of battle against the Assyrians, the Egyptians simply didn't turn up and the Israelites ran away in shame.

There are two types of people: (1) those who trust in Jesus and for whom Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation in their lives; and (2) those who reject Christ and they stumble, they fall over him. They fall over God and fall over the gospel and injure themselves.

Q: Why all the names in 2:10?
This was what Israel was called in the Old Testament: chosen by God, holy and able to offer sacrifice s to God. The purpose of this was to proclaim praises of God. What a great and wonderful change that is for us! Once we were not a people and now we are!

Q: What does 2:11-12 mean?
This is a continuation of the holiness theme. Why do people accuse us? It could be because they don't like that you are not falling into the same sins as they are. They may not like our Christian testimony. They may accuse you of being bigotted or arrogant, stuck-up.

Why will they glorify God on the day of visitation? There may come a day in your friends' lives when Jesus will work in their lives and your good deeds will prove that he is real. They will remember that they saw Jesus in the lives of the Christians they knew. [During the break, people said they thought this was a bit far-fetched. Shouldn't the day of visitation be the Last Day? After the break, David said that his interpretation came from the original text. John Calvin was also of the same view.]

Why is Peter writing? Why did he put it like this?
We must look at the connectors within the passage. "But" - means contrast. There are comparisons - "you also", "like". There are also repetitions of words or ideas. Look out for cause and effect - because X is so, Y follows.

Summarise Passage
Try to summarise the passage. Some time ago, in Sunday School, we were taught this rhyme:
What have I learnt about Jesus and God
What have I learnt to cause shame
What have I learnt about following good
What have I learnt is a promise to claim
(It's not a very good rhyme, but it's useful.)

What have I learnt about Jesus and God?
I have learnt that Jesus is the cornerstone, the capstone and the living stone who is chosen and precious to God, as are those who believe in him.

What have I learnt that I have to confess to God?
Usually, unlike 2:11, we do not live as foreigners and aliens in the world. We are too much like the world. Like what was on one university student's wall: if we were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence against us?

So what do we have to repent of or confess in our private time with God, who in his mercy forgives us over and over again?

What have I learnt about following good?
That it's worth doing it! It worth being consistent! God, in his mercy, can use our lives to turn other people around!

What have I learnt is a promise to claim?
In God's mercy, he made you his child, so that you can sing his praises. So be thankful and grateful and claim your promises: pray that you will be someone who will sing his praises.

So ask yourselves: what have I learnt about Jesus, myself, how to act and what has been promised?

(Now promises are always connected to commands. When God commands us, he always gives us the means to fulfil them. Sometimes, people give us commands we can't fulfil. But God gives us the power to do them. He will never ask us to do anything without empowering or equipping us to do it.

Look at Abraham in Genesis 12: "Go to the land I will show you". "Go" is the command. "The land I will show you" is the promise. If Abraham didn't fulfil command, he wouldn't have received the promise. If he didn't go, but said,"Oh, I'll just sit here until you tell me where I'm going and giving me the route or a map", he wouldn't have received the promise. If we just sit here and say no, we won't do as God commands until we get a sign or we feel like trying, we won't receive the promise. And as we receive the promise, we will want to obey.

The Bible is full of promises with commands.)

Reading Other Parts of the Bible
There are different types of material in the Bible. The Bible is made up mostly of stories, because (as we saw last week) God acts in history and explains what he is doing and why he has done it.

Stories always center around a problem that requires a resolution. At parties, when you're telling stories, you go,"Oh and you won't believe what happened next!" and there is a surprise resolution.

The difficulty with stories in the Bible is that we don't read them as Hebrew stories but as Western stories.

Take the story about the 3 little pigs: the first one built a house of straw, the wolf blew it down and ate the pig. The second pig built a house of wood, but the wolf blew that down and ate up the pig. The third pig (a highly intelligent, first-class honours pig) built a house of brick and the wolf couldn't blow it down, so he came down the chimney. But the pig had a big pot boiling there and destroyed the wolf.

I haven't told that very well, just given you the bare facts. But everytime you get to the third pig, you know there's going to be a surprise. So Western stories put the climax at the end. You can't say, there was the first pig, then there was the third pig and oh...let's see...there was also this second pig there...

Hebrew stories always center around what happens in the middle. You go into the story, something in the middle changes everything, then you go out of the story.

Let's look at 1 Samuel 7. Remember that all stories are about resolution of a problem. A long long time ago, the Ark (the symbol of God's presence with the Israelites) was taken by the Philistines. So God was not at the heart of Israel. The problem was how to get God back into the heart of Israel.

In 1 Samuel 7:3 we see the command and the promise: "if you are returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines". Are you going to obey the command? Only if you believe the promise. In 7:4, the Israelites make a good start. In 7:6, they pour water, recognising that God's cleansing power and they fasted, a sign of contrition and repentance. And everything looks fine. They've turned to the LORD and the LORD has promised to deliver them from the Philistines.

Then, oops, the Philistines turn up (7:7). The Philistines were probably thinking, here the Israelites are all gathered together for a religious festival. What a good opportunity to massacre them. And they moved against the Israelites and the Israelites were afraid (which is an understatement if you were going to be massacred).

So the real problem is: are the Israelites going to trust God this time? They do. They don't run to get their armour or weapons but urge Samuel to keep crying out to God (7:8). So Samuel very deliberately takes a lamb and offers it as a sacrifice to the LORD (7:9). And all this time, the Philistines are marching in (BRRMMM! BRRMMM! BRRMMM! You can just imagine the sound effects if this were a movie). And they're coming nearer...Then in 7:10, you have the resolution: God sends thunder, not just ordinary thunder but the mighty demonstration of God's power and routes the Philistines. In 7:11-13, the Israelites give chase, kill them and set up a stone in memory of this incident.

So this is a story about the Israelites and how they learnt to trust God. 7:8 is the turning point in the story. In trusting God in our lives, we know that he will never let us down or let us go.

We are not to ask "Who am I in the story?" This is not a moral. It is not "we are to be like Samuel or David or Moses or Samson (oops! Not him!). This is not why the characters were written. They are not written about me or you.

What have I learnt about God?
He always keeps his promises (1 Samuel 7). The Christians whom Peter was writing to in 1 Peter are in heaven tonight.

What have I learnt about myself?
About trusting God, about God's forgiveness, about how God will save us if we cry out to him.

What promises are there to claim?
God will deliver us.

We are not to say "Ooh! I rather like that character, it must be about me!"

There are other techniques for different kinds of literature in "Opening Up the Bible".

Next week, we'll be doing that bit about the spirits in prison in 1 Peter 3. As homework, list down all the practical things/commands that Peter tells his readers to do. We'll be looking at the application; how the passage relates to us today.

I. The Beauty of Things and David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop
II. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop II: Digging Deeper for the Meaning
III. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop III: Sharpening the Application
IV. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part I)
V. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part II)



At March 21, 2006 11:19 pm , Blogger kelvin said...

Hi Shadow, I like to know what you think of "Da Vinci code". I have not read it personally.

At March 24, 2006 12:42 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

ARPC will have a series on the Da Vinci Code in the next few weeks. I'm sure Shadow will have to prepare for that too. ;)

At March 26, 2006 11:06 pm , Blogger shadow said...

Hey Kelvin, yeah, we're all trying to borrow a copy off someone but no one seems to have the book. Everyone's not wanting to add to Mr. Brown's coffers.

But anonymous is right. We'll be doing a series on DVC in the next few weeks. Will keep you updated!


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