I am not sure if an imagination is supposed to come into play when reading the Bible. After all, have you ever been in the middle of communicating a thought when the person to whom you were speaking began to inject his or her views and conclusions into your tale? Invariably, when the listener becomes the speaker, the story can have a dramatically different outcome. I sure don’t want to do that to God’s narrative.
The scriptures are inspired, inerrant, and infallible. They serve as the rule of faith and practice. They were fully authoritative as they were given by God through verbal inspiration and have been kept pure by His providential care. I believe that. I hold to that basic tenet of Christianity.
Yet, on the heels of that catechism’s declaration, I must confess that I cannot shut down my imagination when reading Bible stories. Suffice it to say that I endeavor only to supply fictional background to the adventures of the biblical characters rather than to change the heart of intent of our Father’s immutable truth. (How’s that for a disclaimer to what I am about to do?)
Have you ever tried to visualize the tale of Jonah and the fish? What a whale of a story we could build! Securing his freedom from the will of God (or so he thought), Jonah set sail on a ship heading in direct opposition from where God told him to go. A storm ensued and Jonah ended up overboard. Surely somewhere in those less than ideal circumstances our traveler must have begun to question if his choice to go AWOL on God had been correct.
Perhaps Jonah’s arms were flailing wildly as he searched for a piece of wood or debris to help him stay afloat. Under a dark sky and in the black sea, the pounding rain and rough waves would have assailed him. Surely, he squinted his eyes as he attempted to survey his plight and find his salvation. What happened next? Did something brush his leg? With a pounding heart, did he frantically pivot back and forth to discover what creature of the sea might be lurking? Did Stephen Spielberg’s soundtrack from Jaws begin to echo in his ears?
There it was – his passage back to the will of God. Oh, I doubt if Jonah actually said that to himself when the huge fish finally came into focus. I doubt if worship and faith were his initial responses. He probably wasn’t even delighting in the fact that some day he would have the biggest fish story of them all!
In one gulp, the sea monster swallowed up the preacher. The dimly lighted sky disappeared and all that remained was utter darkness. The smell of sea air changed to the pungent odor of dead fish. The sound of the storm was muffled while his screams of terror amplified in the echo chamber of the creature’s belly.
Three days of hopelessness! Three days of prayer! Three days of self-reflection! Three days of repentance! And all the while, the fish was traveling in the direction that God had told Jonah to go. Amazingly enough, just about the time that Jonah got his heart straight, the fish arrived at Jonah’s port of call. The fish must have decided that this one was too small to keep because he threw him back into the water.
Emerging onto the shores of Nineveh, gastric-juice-bleached skin and all, Jonah preached with such personal conviction that the town was converted. He must have told one fish story that everyone believed.
The Cry for Help
The cry for help comes in different forms. Sometimes, you see it when the eyes are downcast and tears cascade down the cheeks or because the shoulders are drooped and the hands hang limply at the side of the afflicted one’s body. At other times you hear it when the troubled person cries out for help because the suffering soul cannot be silenced in its moment of distress. Whether spoken silently or spoken audibly, the cry comes. The cry can be heard. Those who are arrested by the cry hear the call to action. Love demands and love responds. Help is on the way.
Recently my grandson came upon a season of crisis. Challenges without and stress within produced a difficulty that rose beyond his ability to overcome without the aid of others. Graced with a family that is tightly woven together with the cords of love, he was immediately surrounded with help. Who of us has not been thrust into similar circumstance? I remember my bad accident that demanded the ER, surgery, healthcare givers, and the support of my family. I recall this past year’s hurricane in Florida that threatened the security of my daughter and her family and that necessitated temporary housing, assistance with the basics of life, and emotional support. The cry for help comes at one time or another from each of us and to each of us.
The Bible tells the story of a man named Jairus. He was a ruler in the synagogue: a man of influence, a leader of the people, a helper of the multitudes. He had doubtless heard his share of tormented cries arising from challenging circumstances. The present day had brought him to his own calamity. His daughter lie severely ill and, apart from immediate intervention, would soon die.
Jairus lifted up a cry for help. His was an unconventional call but the emergency demanded it. Jairus knew about a healer in the town whose name was Jesus. However, the rulers in Israel had not approved of or affirmed this man. Jairus’ companions would condemn their preeminent leader violating protocol, departing from the agreed-upon propriety, and breaking from the religious correctness. But Jairus could not stifle his cry. The muffled silence demanded by his position could not be suppressed. The aggrieved father sought out the healer and fell at his feet in worship. “I pray thee,” the needy man cried, “come and lay your hands on my child that she may be healed.”
Jesus heard the cry. Jesus agreed. The crowd was large because the multitudes had heard of Jesus’ miracles and also sought him for his boundless mercies. But Jesus followed Jairus. Jesus was motivated by his cry. Along the route, word came that the child had died. Those who carried the news suggested, “Don’t trouble Master anymore; your daughter is dead.”
One can hardly imagine the emotional pit into which those words must have cast Jairus. Could he even hear or comprehend the words which Jesus uttered, “Be not be afraid; only believe.”
This journey toward wholeness may have begun by the promptings of a father’s desperation but the momentum shifted. Jesus went from being led by the needy to leading the needy; from being persuaded to help to persuading that his help was the answer no matter the level of desperation. Love had placed the demand and the greatest love had responded. Help was on the way.
The story ends with the child being raised from the dead. Jairus’ daughter received an even greater miracle than the cry of her father had requested. Whether the synagogue leader would be accepted by his peers or not did not factor into the joy released when Jesus answered his cry. What a story! What a truth! Our cries for help only initiate a process. Our helpers stand ready to walk alongside on our road to recovery and ensure that we reach our victory. To my grandson and to all of us whose life’s journey brings us to an edge of calamity, may we be surrounded with those who aid. May Jesus journey with us. May we find new life at the end of our difficulty.
The Power of the Empty Tomb
The Roman military had been enlisted to secure the peace of the city during the recent days of Jewish unrest. Throughout the Roman occupation of Israel and its capitol city, Jerusalem, there had been various conflicts that had arisen due to small insurgences to overthrow Rome’s domination or because of protests against increased taxation. The present turmoil was unique, however, because this disorder arose from infighting among the Jews. Pilate did not care which faction won nor did he care how the religious hierarchy maintained their power base, but he did care about the stability of the city. He knew Rome was watching and his political future would be evaluated based upon his handling of the dissidents of Israel.
Every Roman soldier was aware of the past days’ events: the midnight trial of the man named Jesus, the demands from the Sanhedrin for Roman assistance, Pilate’s attempt to circumvent his culpability by sending the trial to Herod’s jurisdiction, and ultimately the crucifixion of the man given the title ‘King of the Jews.’ Facts mingled with rumors about the curious events circulated throughout the military ranks. Although some soldiers had heard the message of the Galilean and seen his miracles, no man dared to offer any voice in opposition to Pilate’s course of action because they knew their superiors were listening.
At the request of the Pharisees, Pilate ordered that the tomb of Jesus be secured. The religious leaders were apprehensive about the fate of his remains. Based upon Jesus’ claim that he would rise from the dead, they feared that his followers would steal his body and boast that he had, indeed, been resurrected. A sentinel was ordered to seal the huge stone covering the mouth of the cave in which the body was placed and to set round-the-clock lookouts. The boldest and bravest wanted the assignment, because the whole city was watching. Successfully accomplishing the primary objective of guarding against intruders, securing the body, and maintaining the honor of Rome’s military prowess might procure a promotion.
On the last evening of the set watch, the unexpected occurred. The perimeter was breached. An intruder, whose very appearance struck so much fear in the warriors that they were powerless to fight, unsealed the grave and rolled back the stone. One look inside revealed that the body of Jesus was gone. Immediately, another apprehension fell upon the guards. They had failed their mission. Someone would need to know, and they would need to answer. There would be dire consequences. More than promotion or reputation was at stake. They might have to pay with their very lives because their magistrates were both watching and listening.
The empty tomb changed the promotion the centurions hoped to receive, thwarted the ambitions of the Jewish religious hierarchy, and frustrated the dictates of Pilate. The best attempts of those parties to secure their desired futures were, doubtless, foiled by an empty tomb. Not only then, but now, the resurrection of Christ still has the power to change anticipated outcomes. From the Pilate-type person who refuses to rightly acknowledge Jesus’ role as savior hoping to instead receive the accolades from lesser potentates to the combatant-type man who thinks he can use his physical or mental prowess to guarantee that God’s inerrant word will fail, the empty tomb testifies to the only valid authority in whom man can place his hopes.
In contrast, any and all who place faith in Christ and His promises even when popular opinion might suggest such a stand to be unwise, will find a future that guarantees everlasting reward. And, for those who believe that God is both watching and listening to a faithful witness, the empty tomb removes the fear of death both in this life and that which is to come.
The young man had every advantage available in his society to prepare him for success and for his dreams to come true. He was born into the aristocracy. His intellect was keen, and he was educated by the finest scholars. Life was supposed to unfold just as he and his parents had determined.
Then came the invading armies, the national occupation, and the deportation of all leaders plus a large portion of the population. Daniel found himself in Babylon. He had lost his family, his homeland, his future, his aspirations, his whole identity. He and other children, who were of the king’s seed and of the princes of Israel, were taken into King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. There they were made eunuchs and placed under a mentor who would oversee their schooling in the language and the cultural practices of the Chaldeans. They were to be converted, reformed, and transformed from Israelites to Babylonians.
Daniel would have had every reason to be angry at God. He could have turned his back on his faith, rejected the God of his fathers, and blamed the religion that had formed and shaped his past. He could have, but He didn’t. Daniel turned his heart to God. He decided to live a life of uncompromising consecration. He allowed his faith to sustain him and empower him to overcome the most difficult of trials.
Perhaps Daniel remembered the words of wisdom that were imparted to him from his parents. It could have been that the Holy Scripture, which would have undoubtedly been part of his training, came rushing back to his memory. Possibly God spoke a soft inspiration into Daniel’s ear giving him the fortitude to remain faithful. The Bible does not tell us the direct source of Daniel’s devotion, but it does communicate that Daniel’s faith sustained him and provided the foundation for miraculous displays of God’s delivering power.
I have met people who blame God for the problems in their lives and, consequently, abandon a life of faith. Trials come for many reasons. In the case of Daniel, his nation had failed to honor the God of their forefathers and had ceased to obey the commandments delivered to them through Moses. They had sinned. They had incurred the results of wrong choices, positioned themselves to reap what they had planted, invited the negative sanctions of unrighteous living.
Daniel had not personally disobeyed the commandments of God, but his nation had. His leaders had. His government had. Daniel along with his generation and all the inhabitants of Israel were forced to suffer the trials of Babylonian captivity. The Bible says that “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when the wicked bear rule, the people mourn” (Prov. 29:2).
In the presence of a powerful foreign king, surrounded by lifestyles that lacked virtue, and inundated with an idolatrous worship system, Daniel lived. He walked in compliance with God’s Word. He served the earthly king without compromise while obeying his Heavenly King without concession. God prospered him by giving him the highest positions in the land and protected him when his faith brought him persecution. Daniel’s faithfulness played an important part in the deliverance of his entire nation.
Believers should be instructed by Daniel’s walk. In a time when our nation’s choices have created economic and social hardships, may the Daniels of our day refuse to abandon their faith and choose to lead uncompromising lives of dedication to God.