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A community changed

First things first. If you’re reading this and you haven’t read Scott’s blog post from last week, stop, read that, and then come back here. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.

If you’re keeping up with the Lenten Reading Plan, congrats! You’re a little over halfway through the book of Matthew. If you’re not keeping up on the Lenten Reading Plan, no worries! You can catch up on Matthew 1-18 in about 30-45 minutes depending on how fast you read. How do I know this you ask? Let’s just say I had some catching up to do. Whether you’re right on schedule with the reading, playing catch up, or for some of you, reading ahead, (you know who you are, stop making the rest of us look bad please) there’s a comfort in knowing that many of us are doing this together, as a family. 

As Christ followers in the year 2017, we have the opportunity to read through the four gospels, the life of Jesus, on our own, most anywhere, and anytime we like. Most all of us, whether you know it or not, carry these gospels with us everyday in our purse or pocket; and, with a free app on your smart phone, you have access to multiple bible translations and paraphrases anytime, anywhere. Even with this kind of access and even as we attempt to read through the gospels before Easter arrives, we so often approach scripture in solitude—in the haze of an early morning or the quietness of a late night. While the time of day that we come to the gospels hardly matters (as coming to them at all, in and of itself, is a step in the right direction), the solitude and isolation in which we read often leaves us wanting more. Don’t get me wrong, individual reading and study is fantastic and even essential, but the individual is and becomes more, as part of a group, a family, a church. When our individual experience is balanced with reading and study in community, the gospels, and scripture in general, take on a whole new life.

Whether we read through these gospels with a few of our closest friends or our home groups, scripture is often better understood, and honestly often more interesting, when we do it together. There’s this guy who shows up later in the New Testament, (I know, I know, we haven’t gotten there yet) named Paul and Paul uses an analogy of the church as a body in a letter to a church in a town called Corinth. If we think about that analogy as it relates to reading and studying scripture as a family, together, we’re left with the reality that some of us who are “eyes” are able to actually see what’s going on. Playing that out a little further, the “eye” needs to hear from the “ear” and the “ear” needs to hear from the “hand” how the “hand” is feeling. It’s only when we spend time together as “ears’ and “hands” and “eyes” and “heads” and “shoulders” and “knees” and “toes” that we are able to hear and feel and think and see the insights and experiences of others, which in turn shapes and molds us into something that we haven’t been before—a family, a church changed together by the life of a guy named Jesus.

When as communities and families we are changed by the truth of the gospels, we are ready and we are set to do this thing that Jesus refers to as bringing heaven on earth—to bring the truth of grace and the truth of love and the truth of redemption, restoration, and resurrection to a world that could so desperately use more of that grace and more of that love and more of that restoration. Let’s get on that!

Why read the Bible and why read the gospels?

Before we answer the two part question above, I’d like to tell you why we’re asking the question. Lent is a time of reflection over Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection leading to Easter Sunday. We’re asking members of the ZPC family to join us in reading the Lenten Reading Plan which covers reading all 4 gospels in 40 days, plus 6 Sundays as catch-up days. It’s reading 2 or 3 chapters a day. You can find the Lenten Reading Plan on the front page of zpc.org or in print at the welcome center. So if we’re going to ask you read the Bible, and specifically all 4 gospels, the question is why?

The Bible is God revealing himself to his people. If we are to know God more deeply and to follow him, we need to know what God says. We find that in the Bible. It is God’s Word to us, written by human hands and inspired by God’s Spirit.

In Hebrews 1 we read, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”

God spoke. God spoke the world into being in Genesis 1. God spoke through prophets with names like Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah to speak to God’s people. God spoke through life stories of real people – like Abraham and Sarah, Joseph and his brothers, Samson, Ruth, and David and Nathan. You might want to look up Nathan and David’s intense conversation in 2 Samuel 12.

Then God spoke through Jesus. Hebrews says that Jesus is God’s Son – the exact imprint of God’s being – who walked and talked as a human with other women and men in a real place 2,000 years ago. So we read the Bible – and the Gospels – because God speaks to us today. He speaks through Jesus.

The Gospels are historical narratives that tell Jesus’ story – his birth, his miracles, his teaching, his friends, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. But they are more than just history. They are proclamation of truth for a reason. We are people in need of rescue, and God has sent his only Son to rescue us when we can’t save ourselves. Four authors tell the same story from four personal viewpoints, inspired by the Holy Spirit. Mark was written first, and is a little shorter in length. Matthew and Luke borrow much from Mark and expand on it with their own viewpoints. Matthew speaks to Jews in that time – telling them why Jesus is the Messiah for them. Luke speaks to a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience and is very orderly in his style. John includes much of Jesus’ teaching in longer chunks, and opens chapter one with a cosmic viewpoint of who Jesus is. Go ahead and skip ahead to read John 1!

Being a Christian since about age 8 and going through seminary and working in a church, I can safely say I’ve read the gospels many, many times. I’ve read certain verses hundreds if not thousands of times. Yet…God uses stories Jesus told, or stories about Jesus, to be fresh and meaningful for me even now!

In the summer of 2016, I had the chance to travel to Israel and to Jacob’s Well – the site of the story of “the woman at the well” in John 4. Being at that location and then re-reading the story several times since last summer has made that story come alive for me. It feels fresh and challenges me to tell others about Jesus – as the woman did to the people in her town. It challenges me to study Jesus for myself, so that I can know him better, as the people of Sychar did when they came out to meet Jesus and spend time with him.

During Lent, I want to meet Jesus again and spend time with him again. He intrigues me. His message is compelling and his stories grab my interest. His life of sacrifice and humble service, even as the Son of God, draws me in and makes me desire to know him and follow him.

So join me and many other ZPCers in reading all 4 gospels between March 1 and April 16. If you want to interact with the story, keep looking for these blogs and short postings on the Zionsville Presbyterian Church Facebook page. Or join me in the ZPC chapel for a face-to-face “book club” for up to 30 minutes of discussion on what you are learning in the gospels. I’ll be there Thursdays at 12 noon and Sundays at 8 am during Lent.

God reveals himself in the Bible and Jesus is revealed in the gospels. So open up the Bible – and the gospels - to see Jesus!

What are some things that stood out to you in this week's readings?

Posted by Scott Shelton with 1 Comments

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