IT’S A NOVEL WITH A MESSAGE: OUR UNITY IS IN CHRIST; NOT THE BALLOT BOX.
This year’s weekly devotional, which we will begin today, January first, is from a brilliant book I found years ago, A Harmony of the Four Gospels by Orville E. Daniel.
In the book, the author takes each incident, in each gospel, and lays them side by side. Then, he has made bold, the unique words, so you are reading a bit from Matthew, and then a bit from Mark, and so on, to get the full story, without redundant reading. It’s really brilliant!
Issy and I both recognize the author had to take some creative license with a few of the dates and locations of stories in his narrative. There are some passages he put together that other theologians may not have put together.
But we agreed to over-look the small things with which we may disagree. This way we can enjoy this unique study of the gospels.
We are graduates of two prestigious seminaries, albeit, very different schools. One is known as very liberal and the other as very conservative. So, if we do not have boundaries, Bible studies done together can be a challenge.
January 1st was a Sunday this year and we began our reading, “Then, because so many people were coming and going. . .”[i]
August A.D. 29, Feeding the Five Thousand
I couldn’t believe how many people were coming and going.[ii] It was so bad; we didn’t have a chance to eat. And I was hungry! Just when I thought Jesus was going to dismiss us to fill our bellies, He said we should go away with Him to rest.[iii]
“To rest?” I thought to myself with anger seething out of me. Rest? I wanted to eat!
Sometimes this Nazarene Carpenter just doesn’t have a clue. In fact, I wonder why I am still with Him. I mean, well, except for the fact they still trust me with the money bag, the fools.
Nevertheless, we got into one of the brother’s boats (it belonged to either James and John or Peter and Andrew). I don’t know, because I didn’t look at the markings, I was just too hungry.
We immediately headed towards Bethsaida, which is a place I like, on the lake of Galilee. It’s on the North East shore where there are lovely rolling hills and lots of solitary places. We were heading toward one,[iv] but all I could think of was food, and holding out till the other disciples would fall asleep, when I could take the money bag, head to the closest town and get my fill of food.
I was hungry, and I realized I couldn’t wait much longer. But of course, the moment we got there, the people noticed who we were, or who Jesus was. And they came to us. Didn’t this supposed Messiah realize they were only coming around because of the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick?[v]
Even I could see that. But what did He do? Even though He took us up on a mountainside, and sat down with us, He still welcomed the crowd.[vi]
I swear, He looked more like a Shepherd showing compassion[vii] on His flock of dumb sheep than the Messiah who would one day rule the nations.
And He didn’t just do this for a few minutes; He went on doing this until late in the day.[x]
Thankfully some of my “colleagues” started thinking right and went to Jesus asking Him to send the people away so they could eat[xi] and then surely we could too!
When I heard Jesus respond to them, I immediately stood up, because I couldn’t believe my ears. He told us to feed them![xii]
What was He thinking? Didn’t He know that would empty our purse? I was running His words over in my mind when He then said, “They do not need to go away. You disciples give them something to eat.”[xiii]
And as if to make His point He asked Phillip where they could buy bread.[xiv] Phillip looked at me, wanting some support, and I held up eight fingers for him. He immediately said, something about eight months wages being needed,[xv] or not enough, or something.
While I still couldn’t figure out what Jesus was even thinking, He had already turned from Phillip and was asking of all of us how many loaves we had.[xvi]
And then Peter came and told Him, “Jesus, here is a boy here with five small barley loaves and two small fish. But, how far will these go with so many here with us?”[xvii]
And then Jesus did something He had never done in the previous two years I had been with Him. After He had us sit the people down in groups of hundreds and fifties, He took the loaves and fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks and broke the food,[xviii] handing us the pieces to share with the crowd.
And He kept breaking.
And we kept giving.
And He kept breaking.
And we kept giving.
Everyone ate as much as they wanted.[xix]
And then we gathered up the pieces not eaten. There were twelve baskets of food left over![xx]
That’s when I counted the groups and realized we had just fed about five thousand men, besides women and children.[xxi]
Jesus mingled with the crowds while my fellow disciples and I were speechless.
In all the time I had been with Jesus, I hadn’t seen anything like this, nor conceived of him doing anything of this magnitude. And that was when my mind began to spin with all the opportunities here. They were so vast and I had never even conceived of them.
No more famines.
No need for hard work, praise Jehovah.
Possibly, no need to be concerned of the future at all.
What a goldmine this was!
I wasn’t the only one who thought this way, for a number of men who had just eaten were heading to Jesus. But then He spoke the words which caused me to realize that this was the beginning of the end of my relationship with this shortsighted Messiah.
He told us to get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side of the lake.[xxii]
“But that’s crazy,” I complained to the other disciples. “Look at those men,” I said.
“I heard them talking; they recognize Jesus is the Prophet and they want to make Him king. By force, if necessary!”[xxiii]
I turned to face them. “Why doesn’t He let us make Him king? It wouldn’t have to be by force. Once the authorities see what He can do, they would make Him a part of their political strategy, and quickly!” I’m sure my eyes were bulging with excitement.
“And soon,” I continued, “We would all have positions of authority and Jesus would be leading the Jewish nation, just like we’ve envisioned and just like our leaders have always told us would happen one day!”
I was ecstatic. But as I looked around at my colleagues, I could tell they didn’t see it. What were they, tired or something? I was raring to go! This was exciting!
I thought for a moment and then realized what this potential Messiah had just done. This man Jesus had just rejected a political kingship. I began to lose enthusiasm myself.
“No, no, no,” I yelled back to the shore. I lifted my fist in defiance and continued, “This isn’t what I signed on for.”
The men around me told me to shut up, and I sat back realizing something inside me had just died.
New Year’s Day, Election Year, Arlington VA
I had Issy read the passage in the Harmony, by Daniel. I have a number of Harmonies, the most famous is A. T. Robertson’s. But for ease of reading, we are using Daniel’s because it keeps us from reading duplicate verses which may be in another gospel.
“So, what’s your thought, baby?” I asked when she had finished reading aloud.
We use three strategic questions when we dig into a passage. A friend of mine, Chuck, who used to be with the Navigator’s (he’s now in heaven), gave me these questions a few decades ago. My wife and I have massaged them a bit, so when we study a passage, we ask ourselves, is there:
- A Surprising Challenge
- An Unusual Promise
- A Job-Related Directive
For question three we turn away from one another and record our own answer as appropriate, without letting the other see. This is a part of our accountability to our competitive employers.
“Yes,” Issy began. “I hate to admit I see myself likened to the disciples here, but I do.”
I chuckled and she went on, “Just because I have a bead on what should happen, doesn’t mean it will.”
I sat there silently, and she continued, “The disciples were done for the day, but Jesus’ compassion for those who were hungry overruled them. They wanted the crowd to go away, but it didn’t happen.”
I chuckled again and said, “Interesting Issy, I saw ‘An Unusual Promise’ in the same portion of this story. The promise was centered on Christ’s desire to comfort.”
She snorted playfully and then asked where I might have seen “A Surprising Challenge?”
“Surprisingly, pun intended,” I said, “it was Jesus’ lack of desire to be a political king. With you and me in the business we are, this is a hard one to swallow.”
“I saw that too, darling,” Issy said as she snuggled into me. Then she went on. “But the ‘Unusual Promise’ I saw was in the actions of the disciples. When Jesus said to sit the people down, they did, even though they only had five loaves and two fish.”
“Hmm, good eyes, babe. I missed that.”
We then both turned to our phones to make our own personal note of the “Job-Related Directive” from the passage.
I wrote two “Job-Related Directives.” One was from the aftermath of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus told the disciples to pick up what remained, so “nothing would be wasted.”[xxiv]
I noted that this is an important principle which I think most people want to live by. I need to help my candidate see this.
The other “Directive” I gleaned from Matthew 14:23 where Jesus goes up onto the mountainside, by Himself, to pray. I was briefly reminded of the different times He prayed. He prayed before choosing the Twelve.[xxv] Jesus prayed after important events, before important events, when He was tired at the end of a busy day and before the start of a busy day. He was disciplined to pray constantly.
I need to. . . No, I must encourage my candidate to have a similar form of disciplined time with the Lord. If Jesus needed to abide in His Father, my boss needs to abide in Him too. Perhaps I can encourage that, somehow.
We spent the rest of the day lazing around since there was no church today. And then we went out for a bike ride. The New Year’s Day weather was not too cold and we have always enjoyed bike riding together.
When Issy turned forty I gave her a real treat. I took her out for a forty-mile bike ride. For weeks ahead of time I built up our miles (without her realizing why), so on her birthday, when we woke up early, I gave her a “gift” bag containing her riding clothes and surprised her with my gift of the ride!
She wasn’t sure whether to hit me, or cry, but then I told her we were going to the theatre afterwards. Fortunately, we got home early enough for us both to take a nap.
I can’t tell you what we saw at the theatre, but every day I enjoy looking at the pictures of us on the forty-mile ride. We have them mounted on our walls.
[i] Mark 6:31a
[ii] Mark 6:31a
[iii] Mark 6:31b
[iv] Mark 6:32e
[v] John 6:2
[vi] John 6:3, 5
[vii] Mark 6:34a
[viii] Mark 6:34b
[ix] Luke 9:11b
[x] Mark 6:35a
[xi] Luke 9:12
[xii] Mark 6:37a
[xiii] Matthew 14:16
[xiv] John 6:5b
[xv] John 6:7
[xvi] Mark 6:38
[xvii] John 6:9
[xviii] Luke 9:16
[xix] Mark 6:42
[xx] John 6:12-13
[xxi] Matthew 14:21
[xxii] Matthew 14:22
[xxiii] John 6:14-15
[xxiv] John 6:12
[xxv] Luke 6:12