By Ron Schwartz
The Word of Truth
Acts 3:1-8 (KJV)
1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.
What do you see in this scripture?
Some of you would say ‘faith,’ while others would say ‘boldness.’ Still others might respond ‘the power of God,’ ‘spiritual gifts,’ or ‘confidence.’ I’ve asked this question of many people over the years and I have yet to hear this reply: ‘Me!’
The doctrine that Jesus taught His disciples (including Paul) contained no theory. It was all about a way of living. He instructed His followers in discipleship, He counseled them against hypocrisy, and He explained to them the scriptures. Hence, the disciples went forth practicing this same doctrine and teaching others to do so. For this reason, the first century Church knew great power, growth, and authority. They simply believed and obeyed the gospel they received.
When we consider the Church described in the Book of Acts we must ask, “What happened?” How did the Church go from a vibrant, growing assembly of believers (who preached the same message as Jesus and demonstrated His power) to the stagnant, powerless, divided Church we see today? What happened? The answer is simple: sin and compromise.
For example, the military has devised a way to keep missiles from hitting the jets at which they are shot. It’s known as a countermeasure. When a jet detects that a missile has it locked on, it begins to release chaff. Chaff is a reflective material like tin foil that creates a cloud behind the jet. The cloud of chaff becomes larger and larger, causing the missile to home in on the center of the cloud. The larger the cloud becomes, the further away from the jet the missile will explode. The missile misses the mark, just as we do when we sin (as we all know that “sin” means “to miss the mark”). The example demonstrates not just what sin is (missing the mark), but possibly more importantly, how it comes to be so prevalent in the Church.
In the example of the missile, the jet represents the truth. When we embrace the “Word of Truth,” we hit the mark. As decades and centuries have passed since Jesus and His apostle preached the gospel, a cloud of doctrines and traditions made by men have grown around the Truth. Today, it has become almost impossible to find the Truth as men glorify and promote their doctrines and traditions. However, as in the case of the missile, the jet stayed the same, and so does the Truth. The gospel we believe and preach should be the same as the gospel preached by the apostles. It is not dispensational, it is not a respecter of persons (as though it were just for the early apostles), and it never ever changes. It is timeless!
Where should we worship?
John 4:5-24 (KJV)
5 Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph…
20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.
21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.
23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.
24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
In this story, Jesus comes to a well situated on a mountain that Jacob once owned about 2,000 years before. There He met a woman who needed an answer to her question, the same question men have been asking since the dawn of time: where should we worship?
She explained the argument to Jesus as she understood it. Why do the Jews worship in Jerusalem? There is nothing holy concerning that city. It’s just a place that your King David decided to use. Is he greater than Abraham or Jacob?
She was correct in that God was with Abraham and Jacob, and that they did worship God on that mountain. However, God moved on. About 500 years after that, we find God on a different mountain giving the law to Moses, and His people worshiped Him there. But God moved on. About 500 years after that, we find God coming down to inhabit the Temple in Jerusalem. Once again, His people worshipped Him there. But something was about to happen to the Temple. The Veil was about to be ripped from top to bottom, and God was going to move on once again. Jesus spoke this to her when He said, “the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
Throughout history, each time God has moved, men have tried to bottle it and define it as a recipe for success. This is how most denominations have come to be. Great men of faith have walked before us and we seen, heard and marveled at their works and relationships with God. Following them, men attempted to imitate their form of worship in a hope of having what they had. But it is nothing more than an imitation, and God has moved on. As great as men like Luther and Wesley were, they were just men, and they are now dead, just like Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. God does not acknowledge you in your affiliations. If He did, then we should build a church on top of Mount Sinai and worship God there.
Consider this woman’s question. She had been so distracted by the religious arguments of the day that she never even noticed that the answer to her question now stood before her. God was in Jesus, and through His son He had returned once again to the mountain where Jacob had served Him in the past. It is not the well, nor the mountain, no place that is special: it is God. It is not the church we attend or the doctrines to which we hold that mean anything. It is all about God.
Like this woman, sometimes believers are so enamored with their buildings and doctrines that they never notice that God is not present in their midst. Is it possible that we have become so lost in the doctrinal discussions of our time that we completely miss the fact that God is not present with us?
Why do we do what we do?
Acts 17:16-23 (KJV)
16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.
17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.
19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?
20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.
21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)
22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.
23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
Imagine Paul in the marketplace looking to purchase food. A man passes by with a large basket of dates and figs.
“Kind sir, may I purchase some of those dates and figs?” Paul asks.
“No,” the man replies briskly, then turns and places the fruit methodically on an altar. Paul cannot help but notice the inscription on the altar: To The Unknown God.
As the man turns to leave, Paul asks him, “What god do you worship here?”
“I don’t know,” the man responds.
“What’s his name?”
“I don’t know that either.”
“But you do know that he requires dates and figs?”
“No, I don’t know that either.”
Very puzzled, Paul then asks, “Is there anyone in this city who can answer these questions?”
“Well… I think there was at one time an old man who knew something about this god, but he died before I was born.”
By now Paul can hardly contain himself. “Why then do you bring him figs and dates? How do you know that is what he wants?”
The man thinks for a moment, then answers, “Well, because my father brought figs and dates and so did his father.”
Paul considers this for a moment. “Just what did your father do for a living?”
“Both he and my grand father raised figs and dates, and so do I.”
Finally, a bewildered Paul makes this observation: “So you worship — you don’t know what — a god — you don’t know who — in a way — you don’t know how.”
Ask yourself these questions:
- Why do I worship God the way I do?
- Why do I serve God the way I do?
- Why do I believe the doctrines I do?
Can you answer these questions? Then ask yourself this: do you believe and worship the way you do because that is the way your church does? Have you ever sought out the scriptures to KNOW that you know that the worship, beliefs, and doctrines you hold as sacred are indeed the very gospel Jesus and his disciples taught?
Years ago, when I first became a Christian, I began to see discrepancies between the Bible and the practices of the church I attended. I remember asking my counselor why things were done as they were. His reply is something that I continue to hear from believers to this day: “There are over 100,000 people who are a part of this denomination. If we are wrong, wouldn’t you think that someone would notice it?”
Is not this the same argument that each denomination uses? Are they all correct in what and how they practice what they believe? It’s not just denominations who believe numbers equate to truth. Even small gatherings of believers can find themselves congregating together around an idea or a man and not around the Word of Truth. We must always come back to this very question: do I hold fast to the doctrine taught by Jesus and his disciples?
The Space Shuttle and ruts in the road
I want to share with you something that is sometimes taught to engineering students. When the opportunity rises, examine a picture of the Space Shuttle. It has a huge tank attached to its underside and two solid fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) attached to the sides of the tank. The solid fuel rocket boosters have been problematic for NASA. Everyone either remembers or has heard of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Challenger exploded minutes after launch because of one of the SRBs. The engineers who designed the Space Shuttle wanted to make the SRBs shorter rather than long and slender (like a pencil). So, let’s do the incomprehensible and ask the question: why are the SRBs designed as they are?
As it turns out, the SRBs are manufactured at a factory in Utah. From the plant in Utah, the SRBs are shipped by train to the launch site. To get to the launch site the train must travel through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs must fit through that tunnel, which itself is only slightly wider than the railroad track. So, let’s ask the next question: why are railroad tracks the width they are?
Railroads throughout the United States are 4 foot 8.5 inches between the rails. Well, that seems like such an odd number, so let’s ask the next logical question: why are they 4 foot 8.5 inches? Because that’s the width they were built in England, and it was English immigrants who built the railroads in the United States. This goes all the way back to the 1800’s.
Okay, then why did they build the railroads in England to this specification? It turns out that the first railroads were built by the same people who built the tramways (or trolley cars). Okay, so now we’re back to the 1700’s. Before you ask, the tramways used this same specification (4 foot 8.5 inches) because they were built by the same people who built the wagonways and wagons. Now were back into the 1500’s, still with the same specifications.
Wagonways were nothing more than wagons pulled by horses across a primitive wooden rail system. The people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used to build the wagons and wagonways. Wagons were used for thousands of years and the standard wheel base (4 feet 8.5 inches) has always been the same. I know what you’re going to ask next: why were wagons built to this specification?
The first primitive road system in Europe was the ancient Roman road, built primarily for the Roman Legions. These roads were built out of solid rock, and they were about 6 feet deep. Because of their design, they tended to last for centuries, and they were found all over Europe. As it turns out, these roads had grooves that had been worn into them after decades and centuries of use by the wheels of Roman chariots. Therefore, the people who built wagons had to build them so the wagon wheels fit perfectly in the groves. If they did not, the wagon would tear itself apart.
We have now arrived at the last question: why were Roman chariots built to this specification? As it turns out, the Romans built their chariots to be the same width as the two horses that were destined to pull it, that is, 4 feet 8.5 inches. So the next time you see the Space Shuttle ready for launch take a good look at the SRBs and consider the fact that their diameter was determined thousands of years ago by the width of a couple of horses.
Isn’t it interesting how one tradition led to the next and the next and the next? One tradition led to a standard. That standard became a rule that eventually became a law. This law is now so engrained into our transportation system that it will probably never be changed. Go to some railroad headquarters and them if they can change the width of railroads. In doing so, trains wouldn’t require as many cars to transport goods, and they would not need to be nearly as long. Their reply is predictable: the cost of such a change is too great. Every train and every track across the continent would have to change. It’s much easier to leave things as they are.
How much is this like believers of today. I constantly meet believers who struggle with the Word of Truth. They recognize that their lives are not in alignment with the scriptures, but neither are those of the others in their church. If no one else is changing, why should they?
The Sheep Market
John 5:2-9 (KJV)
2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.
3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.
4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.
5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.
6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?
7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.
8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
Now, the Bible never actually says that anyone was ever healed there. The man suggests they were when he said, “when the water is troubled… another steppeth down before me (John 5:7).” Remember the (Catholic) stories of the children and women who have reported to have seen the virgin Mary at a particular place? What followed each of these encounters is that the spot eventually becomes a shrine, a spot where miracles are alleged to take place for centuries that follow. Now I ask you, is this God’s way? Does God tend to select a parcel of ground and then bless it? If so, maybe we should build a church on Mount Sinai where God first met Moses, where the law was given, and where His covenant was made with man. Surely, that must be a holy place, no?
Perhaps it goes more like this: a prophet once stood in that very spot and said, “One day a man will come here and trouble the waters of Israel. He who steps into the water will find rest, but he who waits will know no peace.” Then followed years, decades, and quite possibly even centuries of the story being told and retold until it eventually came to take on a completely different meaning. First, it was a “man sent from God.” Later it became “a messenger from God,” and eventually “an angel of the Lord.” Finally, the story became that that very spot that was blessed and destined to become a shrine for the Divine (rhyme not intended). What if that was not what the prophet had intended at all? What if it was a prophecy about Christ that men had enshrined (they have a habit of doing that)? Going a step further, what if from time to time, as wind whipped across the water, people claimed to see an angel. Then through the hysteria of the moment as people pushed, shoved, clawed, and screamed while trying to enter, someone would claim healing. Have we today ever heard or witnessed anything like that?
Perhaps over the course of time, men became enamored with their traditions and legends, and the original prophecy was completely lost. Perhaps what they came to accept as truth had no foundation in the truth at all. Perhaps the original word became so misinterpreted that, when the prophecy was fulfilled, no one there understood. It is quite possible that Jesus came as the man who troubled the waters of Israel, and we know that there were those who freely accepted Him as Lord and those who drew back.
Try to imagine what it would have been like. Jesus shows up as that messenger of the Lord and the one who troubles the waters. He stood there able to heal and deliver each soul but no one noticed Him. He had the power to give life and healing to all who were present, but no one sees Him. Why? Because they were too busy with their shrine. They were caught up in their legends and habits and didn’t notice that the prophecy was being fulfilled right before their eyes. Once again, why? Because that’s how they always did it. That’s the way their fathers did it, the way their fathers’ fathers did it, and no one dared to challenge the accepted standard.
I believe that we can and should question the standard. Are our actions and our faith rooted in the Word of the Lord or in generations of legends and fairytales that we have accepted as the truth our whole lives long?