3 January 2009

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

An American woman I met this week was telling me about the growing sense of hope in the USA. With the election of Barack Obama there’s a real sense that a new America will emerge with his presidency.

I hate to be a misery-guts, but the track record of world leaders in the past does not give us much confidence. They all seem to start so well but end up disappointing us. The new era for Russia has gone sour. The new era for South Africa has gone pear-shaped, not to mention the once liberated Zimbabwe!

We’ve just been celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with carols saying things like, ‘the hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.’ Indeed, as we read through the Gospels, there was nothing about Jesus to disappoint. He fitted the bill perfectly as the prophesied Messiah and Saviour of the world.

But there was a moment when his followers were really not sure. Three days after Jesus had been dead and buried, two followers were walking along the road discussing recent events, and they talked about Jesus like this, ‘He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…’ (Luke 24:19-21).

Spot the note of downcast disappointment. You see, they imagined that their hopes were dead and buried with Jesus.

In fact, it turns out they were just being very foolish. They had simply fallen for the same thing we fall for – which is not to do our homework. A very short time later, Jesus himself, raised to life by God from the dead, teaches them a lesson. This is what he said, ‘How foolish you are and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ (Luke 24:25-26).

Foolishly, they had not studied their Bibles thoroughly. They’d read the bits they liked, and the bits that sounded good. They stuck to texts they could understand easily, and steered clear of the harder or boring stuff. But that meant their understanding of Jesus Christ was incomplete. And that meant they got him wrong and misunderstood what he came to do. No wonder they were disappointed. He came to save us for the world to come. We enter his glory beyond death not before death.

The point is that if we want to avoid being disappointed with Jesus; if we want to avoid one crisis of faith after another, we need to do our homework. And there are no shortcuts. It means constant, faithful studying of the Bible – the whole of it – steadily, constantly working through not just the ‘easy bits’ but the harder bits too.

Pray to Jesus to open the Scriptures to your mind and to open your mind to understand the Scriptures, and see if your faith is not strengthened and your joy and hope increased.

That’s one good resolution for everyone this New Year – to try and read the whole Bible humbly and prayerfully by 1 January 2010.

Simon Smallwood
Vicar at St George’s