Nearly half of the 130 ships that sailed in the Spanish Armada in 1588 never returned to home port. And, of 30,000 men aboard, two-thirds died. The survivors often wished they had, for shipboard conditions afflicted all with horrible sufferings. Crashes on the Irish coasts and subsequent imprisonments deepened their afflictions. When one survivor later wrote an account, he said he knew that his experiences wouldn’t be fully understood by the readers; that a great gulf always existed between those who actually suffered and those who merely observed it in others. Yet his witness would give a small detail of the infinite sufferings he had known, and it would be profitable to that end. (David Howarth, Voyage of the Armada, 243, 207)
In John 9:25, the former blind man’s witness had that effect. Something wonderful had happened to him, and he had to tell someone about it. Thus, when encouraged by the Pharisees to deny Jesus’ role in his healing, he refused. He wouldn’t argue theology with them, but he would argue personal experience. There were things he didn’t know, and he wouldn’t speak of them. But he wouldn’t be silenced about things he did know—and he knew he had been blind and that Jesus had been the source of his new sight. That he would tell to anyone.
Like the blind man, we need not be ashamed of our personal experience with Christ, even if it’s denied or repudiated by others. Obviously, superficial experiences can substitute emotional feelings for the rock-hard reality of Jesus Christ. But if Jesus has changed us, it must be shown and told. As long as our experience is biblically-based and spiritually-accurate, we never need be ashamed to express it. Like the blind man, we cannot help but speak of what we know. We won’t be silenced just because we may not know everything.
German bacteriologist Robert Koch approached the study of microbes objectively and selflessly. He studied carefully, anticipating questions and problems. He actually studied his work as if it were another person’s. Always open with his opinions and ideas, he served as prototype of the scientist who knows he’s only searching for truth rather than one who’s found it. And he always modestly appraised his efforts.
As he said in John 18:19-21, Jesus conducted that kind of open, public ministry, so all could hear. True, he oftentimes explained in private things not fully understood while preaching, but that’s not unexpected. The Jews could never say that Jesus organized a secret society or sect, open to but a few. All who wanted could stand, listen and ask for explanations. He had come to reveal, not hide, God’s truth.
Some people seem to think that the deepest things about religion and God must be confined to the fewest possible persons. Some of the cults have made great claims to truth because their leader was privately contacted by Jesus and given exact instructions. Christianity, however, began as a public faith and remains such. Its claims are best seen when put to a public test. The Christian faith isn’t a monastery where its sacred truths are kept from all contact with people. It’s a daily public forum where its truths are applied to, and pass, the tests of life. The hidden agreements and conditions in human treaties can embarrass their authors once known. The Bible has nothing to hide and, consequently, nothing to fear, however many read its words.
When Queen Elizabeth I ascended the English throne in 1558 she carefully chose counselors to guide her through the chaos of the times. As her secretary and principal advisor she picked William Cecil, who was to serve 40 years. Even at the time of his selection his reputation had preceded him. In the installation ceremony the Queen said she picked him because she knew he would always be himself—incorruptible to gifts or honors; honest, without thought to her feelings or wishes; and confidential in all matter that demanded secrecy or circumspection. (Durant, History of Civilization, Vol. 7, p. 6)
When the Pharisees criticized Christ for being his own witness they were really telling him to stop preaching, to keep quiet, to say no more. Whatever reasons they gave, they simply wanted him to be still. Christ responded by saying that he had to reveal himself. Light has to shine, by its very nature. To be true to itself it can’t help but be itself. As the world’s Light, he had to reveal God’s will. That’s why he came. Just because the leaders didn’t want to know didn’t mean Christ wouldn’t inform. He had to be himself. He had to be true to his nature. He could never be false.
Christians must have an invariable disposition to reveal their faith, optimism and confidence. Light and salt, Jesus said, when describing us…innate, instinctive qualities that penetrate and transform situations and circumstances. Jesus couldn’t help revealing himself. Can we? Are we true to his nature? Our faith overcomes, if we give it a chance to prove itself. Do we?
Isaac Chauncey had charge of the American forces on the Great Lakes in the War of 1812. He proved a masterful organizer and outstanding shipbuilder. But he had no ability to fight with his ships. His British counterpart suffered the same defect. Throughout the spring and summer of 1813 both leaders built bigger and bigger ships, but never used them. They would tentatively spar with each other but then retreat to their safe harbors to build again.
In John 7:40-42, the Jews hearing Christ had the same problem. His teaching struck them forcefully, and they discussed what it meant. Some thought him a prophet; others considered him the Christ. But others couldn’t imagine the Christ coming from Galilee. Their arguments and debates led nowhere. Like Chauncey on the Lakes, the Jews never used the evidence Jesus presented to reach a conclusion about him.
Many people continue this procrastination. They make a policy of irresolution, and hoist themselves on questions and explanations, doubts and reservations. They’re always coming to, but never arriving at, a decision. They can sit for hours discussing Christ, but won’t spend a few minutes asking what it all means.
We must never substitute anything for action. Ignorance, reservations, sins all must yield to evidence. Either we come to a conclusion that Jesus is what he claimed, and obey him; or he isn’t and we can safely ignore him.
But let’s have none of the nonsense of continually asking more questions, to keep from making a decision. Most people’s trouble isn’t in the lack of evidence, but in their lack of courage or willingness to act on the knowledge at hand.
By 1787 the opportune time had come for the united colonies of America to create a nation of states. Since the end of the Revolution each colony had governed itself, loosely overseen by the Articles of Confederation. The effort had proved a glaring failure, and the leaders gladly received the call for a Constitutional Convention for the summer of 1787. Five years earlier the colonies wouldn’t have been ready, since they still jealously guarded their own privileges. Five years later the violence and bloodshed of the French Revolution would have divided the colonies into separate ideological camps.
As John 7:30 stressed, the “right time” figured prominently in our Lord’s ministry. Foes repeatedly threatened his life. But he never feared he would die prematurely. He knew he would live until just the right day in the right week in world history. Until that time came, his enemies could bluster and threaten all they pleased. He paid no attention and continued to devote himself to his work and ministry.
For us there continues to be a right time for everything—to build a building, to hire added staff in a church, to accept a new career opportunity, to buy or sell in the stock market, to speak to someone about Christ. Passed by, that particular best time might not come again. Other opportunities may, for they come fresh each day. But the “best” time may never come again, at the time when a thing can be done easiest at least expense for the maximum benefit of the largest number of people. We should think about that when we want to procrastinate in starting a Bible study, making a call, coming to church or accepting Christ as Savior. For do we want to live in remorse for having missed the one best chance for serving God?
Wycliffe translator Lois Dodds describes the change God’s word brought to the Condoshi people of Peru Before Christ, they practiced headhunting, wife beating and vengeance on their many foes. The Bible radically altered that lifestyle and brought the fruit of the Spirit.
During one Bible study, however, the men found Ephesians 5:25 at odds with their whole cultural tradition. They could understand the demand for children to obey their parents, they said. They could easily grasp the command for wives to submit to their husbands. But the command to love one’s wife as Christ loved the church stuck in their throats. Could the scripture possibly mean what it seemed to say?
When the translator insisted that it did, whatever their customs, one of the leaders turned to the people and said, “Well men, if that’s what God days, we’ll have to think more about it. But it really is difficult.”
We often experience a struggle when confronting a scripture that contradicts all we’ve believed, known and accepted. The Jews of John 6:52 found it true, as Christ taught about offering his flesh for the world. And, arguing from a purely physical view, they couldn’t fathom Christ. Perhaps some wished to believe. Others didn’t. But whatever, they all came to grief over an idea that they had never entertained before. Unlike the Condoshi, however, the Jews made no effort to “read it over” and think about it. They rejected it because they couldn’t understand it.
Many people instinctively reject any scriptural idea they haven’t entertained before. Rather than giving themselves time to become familiar with the idea, they take the Jews’ way of rejecting it. It isn’t what they’ve always believed, they say, so it can’t be so. How much better to say, “I’ll have to give that more thought.”
The earliest polar explorers ignored Eskimo methods and traditions of travel. Instead of exploring in winter, they tried summer travel to reach the Pole. Instead of dogs to pull sleds, they used sailors to lug boats across ice to open waters. Instead of shooting caribou and seals for food, they shot birds for sport. It finally dawned on the Europeans that the Eskimos knew their homeland better than anyone else. And when the explorers began imitating the native’s curious ways, they enjoyed progressive success in their explorations.
The Jews in John 6:41-43 grumbled at Jesus when he taught that he had come from heaven. Against their complaints he asserted his authority, encouraging them to look at him from God’s standpoint. After all, it was God’s world Jesus came to save, not theirs. And that salvation would come in God’s way, not theirs.
So many continue to carry on such combative arguments with God that they spare little time to listen to God. Convinced of the certainty and truth of their opinions, they give no serious consideration to God’s truth. In fact, many, who have never read the Bible have still decided that it isn’t true.
God will have his way. He has revealed himself. It’s presumptuous, in the light of that, to say it isn’t so. Theologians may still be uncertain whether God has spoken. That only means they’re still trying to get to heaven their own way rather than accepting God’s method. They may be explaining God, but they’re not experiencing God. The Eskimos knew their world better than any explorer just passing through. God certainly knows both of his worlds better than any of us aliens passing through this one to the next.
A man wrote to Dear Abby, extolling his good looks, athletic build and general, all-around attractiveness. So what was his problem? He complained that every girl he dated couldn’t resist him and wanted to get serious. But he liked his independence and had no intention of surrendering it, at least for some time. His question: what did he have to do to get a few laughs with no commitments? Abby replied that he should take a hyena to lunch.
Blessings without obligation; joys without accountability; privileges without responsibility. How many want the one, but not the other?
The official from Capernaum, John 4:46-53, couldn’t take Christ’s benefits so lightly. When he realized that Jesus had restored his son’s health at the exact time he promised it, the father and his entire household believed. That belief, of course, implies a commitment to Christ as Lord and Leader. From that time, those who received Christ’s blessings became his conscious followers. Nothing less would suffice.
Nothing less ever has or will. Once we come to Christ, and accept the benefits he offers, we must commit our way to him. We can’t play games, like the man in Abby’s column. Once we experience the Master’s grace, we indebt ourselves to him. All of Christ’s miracles and teachings had one goal: to bring committed faith in all who received them. Then, and then alone, were they complete. And if miracles had obedience as their goal, can we possibly think that salvation of our souls has anything less in mind for us? All the blessings we receive from Christ obligate us to a corresponding discipleship. Indeed, can we possess it without a corresponding assumption of its duties?
Jacob De Shazer served as bombardier-gunner on one of the planes that catapulted from the carrier Hornet April 18, 1942 for a strike at the Japanese homeland. After successfully dropping its bombs, the plane crashed and the airmen parachuted into Japanese-held territory. Thus began a 40 month horror that brought the survivors an animal-like existence that threatened their survival. De Shazer himself developed huge boils and often fainted in delirium.
As the war turned against the Japanese, the guards were often more sympathetic to their POW’s, even offering vitamins, medical treatment and better food. As important, the prisoners received books to read, including the Bible.
From the time he opened God’s word, De Shazer experienced a profound change in his life. He read and re-read the words until he memorized them. As he memorized they began to alter his thinking and behavior. He no longer hated the guards, even though they still brutalized him. His fear of torture fled before the greater awareness of God’s presence in his life. The Bible alone, unencumbered by commentaries or dictionaries, exercised that sovereign power. Just God, his word and a human in desperate need.
The Samaritans would understand that, as seen in John 4:41. Jesus performed no miracles for them. He simply taught and preached, and his word alone convinced, changed and converted them. It still does that today where it’s read, preached and taught; old habits fade and new goals emerge. We do things we never dreamed we could—love, forgive, pray. We surrender things we never dreamed possible—grudges, drugs, immorality, pride. Wherever the Bible is turned loose and preached, taught or read!
In August, 1982, a farmer in Tecate, Mexico lowered himself by rope into a 66 foot well to shut off a defective pump. When he didn’t return to the surface his wife descended. When she failed to return, three sons lowered themselves one by one. They didn’t return. Two men followed. Neither returned. Then two more men followed.
Of the nine who descended into the well, seven died almost instantly and an eighth later. The ninth somehow survived. The first victim and all his would-be rescuers had died at the hand of carbon monoxide, that unseen, silent, deadly assassin. Good intentions fell before a power too great to overcome.
The way out of sin would be sure, Jesus promised. He had come to successfully bring forgiveness to all who believed in him. Death would bow to him and to all who made his life their own. But only he had the power to save, without losing both himself and the object of his effort. No other rescue would be available; no other rescuer would ever achieve his success.
Humanity hasn’t learned this yet. In every age humans have descended into the pit of distress, fear, defeat and death. And others just like them, with the same frailties and limitations, have tried to extricate the stricken, only to find themselves victims of the same infamous power. How often we have sought the answers to death by consulting the dying. And how often we have looked for hope to those who, like ourselves, are hopeless.
We must not only be rescued from sin and death; we must be saved by someone able to save himself in the process—Jesus Christ, who lived, died and lived again, forever and ever.