Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Seeing What We Want to See

Life of Christ 84

          Jesus is at the point in His ministry in which He has clearly turned away from offering Himself to Israel as her king and into the pathway that would lead Him instead straight to the cross. The Apostles, who gave up everything to follow Israel's Messiah, were not expecting this. They shared the traditional Jewish understanding of the day that the Messiah would sit on David's throne, and be the king of Israel. So Jesus takes great care, beginning with the hinge pivot point in Matthew 12, of explaining and emphasizing to His Apostles that He will soon die.

          Just after Peter's great confession of faith and the founding of the Church on that confession, He does it yet again. 'From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day' (Matthew 16.21). Peter's reaction, voiced as the mouthpiece of what the rest of the gathered Apostles thought and felt, was completely contrary. 'Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee' (Matthew 16.22).
          Why did Peter voice such opposition to the idea of Jesus' death? Because the Apostles wanted to see the prophecies regarding the triumphant, reigning Messiah come to pass. They didn't want to see the prophecies regarding the suffering Messiah come to pass. Both sets of prophecies are in the Old Testament, and they point, as we understand it now, to the same Messiah but in two different advents. The first time He came to suffer and die. The second time He comes to rule and reign. But this dichotomy produced puzzlement and confusion in interpretation, and the Apostles, with their hopes, dreams, and very lives invested in Jesus' claim to the messiahship chose to cling to the optimistic side, even when He was plainly telling them otherwise.
          In this I see an interesting truth: all too often we see in the Bible only what we want to see.
          To me, one of the marks of maturity in a believer, is when he begins to seek in the Bible for what God says, period – regardless of whether that makes him feel badly, regardless of whether it calls for him to do more, regardless of whether it asks him to give something up, regardless of whether it seems to be, for the moment, bad news, and regardless of whether it is hard to do or to understand. He has grown to the place where he just wants to know what God says. He seeks, as much as possible, to lay aside his own desires and wants in order to discover God's desires and wants.
Joseph Prince
        This is out of step with the times in our day. Last week, while I was watching the Cubs lose yet another game in the late innings, I channel surfed during a commercial break. I stumbled across a blow dried, leather jacket wearing, well-spoken preacher holding court before at least ten thousand people. It turns out his name is Joseph Prince, and he has a church of 30,000 members in Singapore. He runs around with Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and Creflo Dollar. His television program, 'Destined to Reign', is broadcast worldwide. I hadn't watched him for five minutes before I figured out he was a prosperity gospel preacher. Now I freely admit that I'm not a Joseph Prince expert, but based on what I saw on his show and later on his website I'm betting there are whole sections of the Bible that he doesn't preach. Passages such as, 'These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth' (Hebrews 11.3). Passages such as, 'Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution' (II Timothy 3.12). Passages such as, 'If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf' (I Peter 4.16). Passages such as, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me' (Matthew 16.24).
          Scripture is clear about such wolves in sheep's clothing: 'Men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself' (I Timothy 6.5), yet their ministries are exploding in popularity in Asia, South America, North America, and Africa. Why? Because those tens of thousands packed into the New Creation Church in Singapore, and the hundreds of thousands that tune into Prince's TV show, and the millions drawn to copycat ministries all around the world are looking into the Bible and seeing what they want to see. They want to see that they have the power to speak a word of blessing and chase away evil spirits and ill health. They want to see that God has promised them money and success. They want to see in the precious blood-stained gospel of our Saviour an earthly prosperity that guarantees them health, wealth, and happiness, and since that is what they want to see in the Bible it is what they find.
          As a young teenager I thought God had revealed to me, in the prophecies of Isaiah, the devotional psalms, and the epistle of Jude, the name of the girl I was going to marry when I grew up. Interestingly, it was the name of the girl I wanted to marry at that moment. I saw in the Bible what I wanted to see – and I was flat out wrong.

          Beloved, let us not make the mistake the Apostles made with the prophecies regarding Jesus Christ. Let us not make the mistake that the millions of prosperity gospel adherents around the globe make. Let us not make the mistake I made as a young man. Instead, let us see in the Bible what God actually put there rather than seeing what we want to see.

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