Walking is one of the best ways of talking. Being in motion frees the mind and heart. Fresh air, legs moving and blood pumping inspire the back and forth of conversation. So, I love our cover painting, “Emmaus Road,” by Liz Swindle. On Easter afternoon, two disciples walk and talk with Jesus through a tree tunnel. A white light from back down the road illumines their path. Perhaps its source is the empty tomb from which Jesus has recently emerged. The tall, leafy dark trees would be unlikely in Israel. But Swindle depicts something beyond the literal landscape. This scene evokes Eden, the garden in which the LORD once walked with his beloved creation. We lost Eden through our sin. But with the resurrection, new creation has dawned. Our long estrangement from God is over. The earth greens forth deep, rich life. Once again, as the old hymn says, “He walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own.” Can you imagine what you might ask Jesus if you had a two hour walk with him? That’s the inspiration for this year’s Lent focus.
This study has been transformative for me! Even after a half century of pursuing knowing Jesus, this year I came to see him through fresh eyes. I had never considered as a whole the range of requests made to him. Everyone asked things of Jesus, whether family or enemies, the broken or the proud, the seekers or the demonic. The more I read, the more I grew in awe of Christ’s replies. Jesus answered with brilliance, wit, wisdom, compassion, resolute purpose, true-heartedness, keen insight and tender mercy. There’s never been anyone like him in the world. Not before or since. No one comes close to this young rabbi from the north country. Just listening in on how he answered us in word and work leads me to love him more. I got so much from the preparation that I am eager to be your guide through the requests and replies of Jesus we find in the gospels. I believe you’ll never be the same either!
Let’s take a moment to set the context, and then we’ll see how this daily guide can work in practice.
The eternal Son of God came to us as the man Jesus. He was born of Mary, and she taught him the Scriptures as a boy. Jesus learned carpentry from Joseph in the village of Nazareth. He went to synagogue. He rested on the Sabbath. And all along, he interacted with people. Jesus engaged us in conversation. Even his teaching style invited interaction. This was not an aloof Savior! He was God with us, relating to us person to person. No other faith on the face of the earth describes a God such as this!
So Jesus is not merely a formula for salvation. He did not come just to die. He’s a person, and every part of his life is essential to the remaking of our humanity. Reading the accounts of Jesus’ life, I’ve been struck by the number of times people asked Jesus questions. He truly listened to them with full regard. Then, his brilliant answers, often in story form, changed lives. Jesus’ personality was electric and compelling. Jesus discerned hearts. He let himself be moved deeply by suffering. Yet he resolutely declined to be distracted from his mission. He parried challenges and exposed hidden motives. Many people made huge requests of Jesus. He replied to genuine need with mighty acts of love. Yet he refused to be co-opted for any agenda but that of his Father: to seek and to save the lost. So, “Christ gave significance to everything that he ever touched by word or deed, and bestowed importance on every man he encountered.”1 This he did from his birth, through his ministry all the way through his death, resurrection and ascension.
Now here’s the wonder. This Jesus still meets us in the record of his words and actions! With just a little imagination, we can quickly identify with the people in the gospel accounts. This Lent, we can have a fresh encounter with Jesus by discovering how the requests others made of him remain the ones we make today. His answers to disciples and Pharisees, the wounded and the wealthy, the grieving and the self-sufficient, can become life-changing replies to us.
We will be concentrating on the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three are called the Synoptic Gospels, from a word that means “with a view together.” They overlap in recording many of the same events and words of Jesus. Yet, like looking at the facets of a diamond, each also gives an important and unique perspective.
1 F. van der Meer. Early Christian Art. (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), pp. 125-126.
How to Use This Book in Twenty Minutes a Day
If I’ve been even reasonably faithful in interpreting these stories, and if you make even a reasonable attempt at engaging them, you can’t help but be transformed. Why? Because we’re questing into Scripture, the very Word of God. Specifically we’re delving into the three gospels that witness to the events of the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, in his days among us. The Holy Spirit delights to take the words and doings of Jesus in history and make them vibrantly present in our lives. We simply cannot be the same after sincerely encountering Christ in his Word through reliance on the Holy Spirit! Jesus will comfort, challenge, overturn, establish, rearrange, settle, encourage, spur us and much more. We will meet him in our requests and his replies. What could be better?
So we will take up 42 gospel encounters in which a question or request was directed toward Jesus. Each day will follow this pattern:
Every day, two Scriptures will appear in boxes. I’m asking that we each read these verses, both aloud and prayerfully. By the end of the 42 days, we will have them committed to memory! These passages are important. The first shows how much Jesus prized our participation in his life and ministry. He wants us to ask him!
The second shows how reliant we are on the Holy Spirit to do the work of bringing Scripture to life inside our hearts. We don’t take for granted the Spirit’s work, but daily invite him to connect us to Jesus more and more:
Read aloud these two verses each day to show that you are indeed asking for the Spirit to bring you closer to Jesus through his Word.
In this section we set the context for the story we are contemplating. We make note of those who are making the request and what we can know about them.
The Question Within the Question
Next, we take it deeper by exploring the motivations underneath the request. We excavate the heart motivation. That gives us opportunity to make connections to our lives today. Though we are separated by centuries and cultures, the human heart stays the same. At that level, we can presently relate to the Bible characters.
Then we listen to how Jesus replied. We note what he discerned in the questioners. We explore the stories he told, the healings he enacted, the corrections and the encouragements he gave. This is where we hear Jesus speak to us!
Finally, we respond to Jesus’ response through prayer. I’ve provided some words for you to use, but always in hopes that you will move into your own prayers and interaction with Jesus.
I’m excited to take this journey with you, dear congregation, and I pray that each and all of us will experience the wonder of interacting with our savior in a personal, transformative way!
P.S.: A Word about Jesus’ Healings
In ten of our stories, Jesus marvelously delivers people from physical and/or spiritual infirmities. At first these can seem rather daunting to relate to because such dramatic miracles seldom happen in daily life. So it’s helpful to consider the context of these healings. They occurred in the midst of a fallen world that has not yet been fully remade. These miracles were foretastes of the Kingdom of God Jesus inaugurated but which will not reach completion until his return. In other words, the dramatic deliverances were like watching a time-lapse photograph. We see happening in a moment signs of what is to come at the end of time as we know it. In that glorious future, we will experience the resurrection into renewed bodies in a renewed world.
Meanwhile, in this present age, every person Jesus healed still had to die as we all do. Further, Jesus healed many people, but not every single ill or oppressed person he saw. The healings and deliverances he performed were signs of the greater miracle that Jesus in himself was remaking our humanity, and that, by faith, we could share in that new creation. What mattered most in the healings was the connection to Jesus created by his loving action and the reaching, trusting, life-changing faith of those who were healed. Every deliverance we will read about has a spiritual dynamic to which we can relate. So, we realize that the gospels present, in accelerated form, the transformation we undergo through the whole course of our lives.
Finally, as we dive into this study, I want to acknowledge my joyful debt to David E. Garland’s commentary on Luke in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary series. Professor Garland writes with clarity, insight, integrity and faith. He offered a treasure trove of insights into Jesus’ interactions.