Back to the Bible!

By Sung Il Lee

Stock hands holding open bible

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. (John 5:39, NRSV)

While serving as a chaplain, I saw a banner, hung at the entrance of Chungmu-si in Korea, saying “Let’s go back to the Bible.” One morning while reading Mark 7, I began to understand what the phrase “Let’s go back to the Bible” meant. Man-made false traditions prevent us from living according to the word. The Pharisees also perverted the law for their own purposes. The word “Corban” is a typical example. In Mark 7, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees about rejecting God’s law to keep their own traditions. Jesus says in Mark 7:11-13:

But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God)—then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.

The Pharisees were giving a religious rationalization of their self-centered lives and giving excuses to God in the word “Corban.” They were not honoring God and not fulfilling any obligations to parents and neighbors. It caught my eye that this corrupt heart and lifestyle was not a problem just for the Pharisees. It is also my problem and our church’s problem.

Ahead of Reformation Sunday, I think about the reasons for returning to the Bible. The reform we must start today should not be just structural change, but a faith and life revolution that changes us. “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye (Matthew 7:3). The kingdom of God cannot come to the church and this earth without a revolution in the personal faith and church life that removes the logs from our eyes.

1. The donkey speaks (Numbers 22:21-35).

Balaam is a money-loving prophet. Balak sent a lot of gold and gifts to Balaam to curse the Israelites. God warns the prophet Balaam through a donkey, who is chasing after an envoy of Balak. It is clear that the donkey still has much to say to our churches today. Peter and Judas have warned the church leaders who “have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness” (2 Peter 2:15, NIV) and the believers who “have rushed for profit into Balaam's error” (Jude 1:11, NIV). Jesus also warned the church in Pergamum through the Apostle John. “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality” (Revelation 2:14, NIV). The donkey's warning is still valid for pastors and believers who love riches more than the Lord.

2. The rooster cries out (Matthew 26:69-75).

Do you remember the crowing of a rooster that brought Peter to his senses? Peter not only denied knowing Jesus three times but also cursed him in the outer courtyard of the high priest's house. The cry of the rooster made Peter remember the Lord's words and repent. We see that Peter's repentance led to the ministry of building up brothers of faith. Luke 22:32 (NIV) says, “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

What kind of brothers are we? Aren't we like Peter, who took a step back when we had to admit and confess the grace that the Lord has given us? Every time I hear a rooster crowing here in Fiji, I look at myself and repent.

3. Lightning rumbles (Revelation 10:3-4, 11:19).

On a hot summer day in July 1505, Martin Luther, after meeting his parents, was heading to the University of Erfurt, where he met a heavy rain and took refuge under the shade of a tree. Lightning struck the nearby tree, and Luther promised to become a monk if he survived the storm. He kept that promise. The thunderbolt that drove Luther into becoming a monk might be interpreted as the voice of God’s wrath, working to revive the fallen church. That wrath was later expressed in the “95 Theses” that sparked the Protestant Reformation and condemned false and unbiblical doctrines of the Catholic Church. The reformation is not over yet because true reform involves a change in the heart and life. Paul's warning that “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23) is heard anew.

4. Babies and sucklings praise (Matthew 21:15-17).

When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, his disciples sang with a loud voice, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:37-38 NIV). When the Pharisees asked Jesus to rebuke the disciples,” he replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:39-40 NIV). All the heavens and the earth praise God (Psalm 19), but only we humans, who are full of self-centeredness, try to give God-deserved glory to ourselves. Even our worship and prayers please people to the point of our needing to question whether our worship and prayers give full glory to God and we give all credit to certain people. I wonder what the little children and stones are saying to us today (like Herod who steals the glory and praise that God deserves, Acts 12:23)?

Donkeys speak, roosters cry out, thunder rumbles, and children's cries ring in our ears. On this Reformation Sunday, I pray that you and I will come to the Lord on our knees, calling on the name of the Lord humbly rather than seeking to reform the system.

Verses marked NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rev. Dr. Sung Il Lee is a missionary to Fiji from the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

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