11 December 2010

Matthew 17:10-13

"So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands" (v. 12)


Why are there always arguments among believers about the ways of God? Surely the Scriptures have revealed God's purposes and actions? But anyone reading the Scriptures will be confused by their untidiness, their complexity and the lack of an overall plan. The Bible is notoriously the cause of the fiercest arguments between Christians. 

God typically works in hidden ways. There is no blinding light. God seems to insist that God's invisible and inaudible operations are discerned by human beings in and through the confusions and complications of everyday experience. The claim to 'see' God is always controversial - such are the limitations of human wisdom and insight, coupled with our moral ambiguities and ego-centric prejudices. 

We appeal - rightly - to Jesus to help us to map out God's ways with authority. But Jesus, like John the Baptist (his much admired contemporary and collaborator), was in his time the cause of confusion, uncertainty, controversy and conflict. Some who heard John and Jesus recognised their prophetic roles. But the leaders of the people could not, or would not, recognise their divine authorisation. People in positions of power feared the worst. They made martyrs of them both. 

Jesus - but only he - had a clear conviction about John as the second Elijah. Jesus had taken sides in contemporary disputes about the interpretation of Scripture. He affirmed what one set of theological experts (the scribes) controversially drew out ofMalachi 4:5-6, that Elijah must come again finally to prepare people for the advent of God's kingdom. The irony was the scribes could not see what Jesus saw - that their own expectation had been fulfilled before their eyes. 

The significance of Jesus' own life was similarly hidden from the vast majority - as God's judgements regularly are. Even his disciples failed fully to grasp the point about Jesus. It took the top-secret transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9), the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit - mysterious events in themselves - to enable the disciples to get some degree of clarity and conviction. 

To Ponder

Vigorous, even heated, discussion of the meaning of Bible passages tends to be a marker of a lively Church. What is your experience of sharing in a Bible study group?

The Church has from time to time summarised shared insights from generations of careful Bible study - in the Creeds, for example. What best helps you to understand the historic creeds as a framework for Christian faith?

How does the Church's fellowship help you to live your faith as well as understand it?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Deeks

The Revd David Deeks is a retired Methodist minister. He has always focused on theology and spirituality as practical themes.

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