I wrote a Bible study last year, although it is probably more like a Bible journaling guide than study. It was one of my highlights from the last few years. My dining room table became my study spot. It was literally covered for about 6 weeks with commentaries, papers, books, my computer, and other supplies. It was my happy place. I felt joy and thankfulness every day! Don’t get me wrong, it was challenging as well. And I had help. My friend, Jennifer, cheered me on, edited, and formatted to help create a version that could be shared with people at our church! I told her it was like she was an angel from heaven. Seriously, I still am overwhelmed by her work and generosity today!
It is called Hope Rising and follows Jesus’ last days on earth, his death, his resurrection and the days following his resurrection. It is about the intersection of suffering and hope. Here is a snippet from the letter at the beginning.
“This study contains tools, encouragement, and prompts to awaken the dialogue between you and God. The magic and goodness does not lie within these pages. The magic and goodness lies between you and the creator of the universe who wants to speak to you and reveal himself to you in ways that will both surprise and challenge you.”
I was prompted by both boredom and inspiration today to share it here for those who desire something to help guide and stir conversations with God these days around Easter.
So, we are jumping in the middle. Grab a Bible and a notebook. Here is a sampling…..
SETTING THE SCENE
In the last few days we have witnessed the sacrifice of true love. The deepest love sacrifices something dear to oneself for the benefit of another. In our first scene, we saw Mary and her jar—a sacrifice risking looks and judgement from others, extending to her finances, all in the service of Jesus. Then, in the second scene, we saw Jesus using constraint and showing compassion toward his disciple-turned-traitor and his cohorts, unlike the natural reaction of his other disciples. Instead, as pictured in Isaiah 50:7, Jesus sets his face like a flint toward where he knew he had to go and sacrificed his heart and emotions. Soon this sacrifice would extend to his physical body.
It is hard for us 21st century Western humans to grasp the significance of a foot washing. If you happen to hate feet you may more fully grasp it. What can we compare it to? A valet. A pedicure. A foot doctor’s examination. A dirty diaper change. A hotel cleaning service. Maybe we need to watch Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs TV show to help get the idea.
All I know is that the job of washing feet was normally reserved for the lowliest of servants. Even peers didn’t usually wash one another’s feet. For Jesus, their teacher and leader, to even suggest washing their feet was a shock. This is pure role reversal. It made no sense. Keep in mind, in first century Palestine, most wore sandals. Their feet would have been pretty dirty from walking the dusty roads amidst the people and animals. When Jesus “took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist” he took on the dress of a menial slave.
Even though the dots are not all connected here, this scene is rich in symbolism of where the Old Testament law points, and what is about to happen next. The first two chapters of 1 John, written by the same author as this scene, speak similarly of the ongoing need for cleansing from our sins; how we fall short of perfection. But Jesus stooped down to serve and give of his whole life so we could be free… clean… forgiven.
Read John 13:1-20, taking it in slowly.
Remember, one of our goals is intimacy with Jesus—to know him, to share life with him. The men and women who lived with Jesus and experienced these stories firsthand wanted us to know him, too. (1 John 1:1-4) It is their joy for us to take part with Jesus and experience his love and serving. See him bending to wash your feet and serve you today.
OBSERVE THE SCENE
When and where did the scene take place? Who is in the scene? What did each person do? Observe and describe what you see and hear. Notice. Pay attention. Write down any parts that jump out to you.
DEEPER INTO DEFINITIONS
Remembering from previous scenes, learning the Greek definitions of words from the original text that have been translated into the English words in our bibles can shed new light on the text for us. Here are a few from today’s scene:
“loved” (John 13:1) ~ agapao The original Greek word agapao means: to esteem; love, indicating a direction of the will and finding joy in something or someone.
“the full extent of” (John 13:1) ~ telos The original Greek word telow means: an end; term; termination; completion. Particularly, only in respect to time. More accurately stated, “he loved them unto the end.”
“servant” (John 13:16) ~ doulos The original Greek word doulos means: a slave; one who is in a permanent relation of servitude to another, his will being altogether consumed in the will of another.
Considering the meaning of the original Greek words above, what new insights do you have about what happened in the scene?
Read Philippians 2:5-11 and Psalm 51:1-7.
What light do these scriptures shed on the scene?
As you go about your day or night, consider a phrase from the story that strikes you and ask God to give you insight into the meaning.
I hope you are seeing something new and refreshing about Jesus. When I really started to observe carefully what he did and said—how he asked questions, pushed back, challenged, affirmed—I grew so deeply in love with him. A key to the mental shift from seeing the Bible as a far off story not related to our lives today, to an interactive and applicable story for you today, is to continue to insert yourself into it. Of course, this needs to be done thoughtfully and wisely. For example, you can’t always just flip to a page and do what is stated there, or you might find yourself walking around naked like Isaiah, or marrying your cousin, like Isaac. The Bible is filled with surprising, weird situations pointing to cultural differences that are sometimes hard to understand. But we can get to know God more as he reveals his character to us through these stories. And as we get to truly see and get to know Jesus, some things become more clear along the way. What will we become more aware of today?
Read the scene from yesterday again slowly. Try reading it out loud especially if you have not ever done this before.
GOD AND HUMANITY REVEALED IN THE STORY
Who is God? (Father, Son, or Holy Spirit) What does this scene reveal about who God is? What’s true about Jesus here? What is he like?
Ask yourself, “Who am I?” What does the scene reveal about us as humans? What is true about you? What are we like?
Who can you relate to in the story? Why?
HOW THE STORY TRANSFORMS YOU
Ask God to reveal to you your beliefs. Not the ones you know or think you are supposed to believe but what you are believing beneath the surface, maybe even subconsciously.
What do you believe about God right now? What do you believe about yourself right now? What do you believe in relation to the text?
Ask God, “What are the lies I believe about you, God? What are the lies I believe about myself? Is there a truth you are revealing to me through this story about you or me?”
Sit and listen to God. Wait. Write down any thoughts coming to mind. (This process may continue on throughout the week or longer)
WHERE THE SCENE TAKES YOU
“But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
[2 Corinthians 3:16-18, NLT]
Who changes us? Who can make us more like God, in character and action? It is the Lord, God himself, who changes us. We have this hope of being made more and more like him. This is truly amazing! I don’t know about you, but I need some changing! Right now, I could rattle off a list of what I would like him to change in me. Let’s continue to enter into this sometimes difficult but amazing process.
Write out a prayer to God in response to what the Spirit is revealing to you. Ask God to do what you cannot, to transform you and make you new…
Is there one thing God is highlighting for you? Is the Spirit leading you to take any action steps or make any changes in your daily life?
I hope you enjoyed this sampling. I plan on sharing two more excerpts in the next few days. More than anything I hope these words and prompts help create space for the Father, Jesus and Spirit to speak and work in your life.