[This entry follows a sermon preached at Gray Road Baptist Church, entitled "Jesus: Lord of All Nature." Click on the title to listen to the audio.]
It is sometimes dangerous to become too familiar with certain texts in the Bible. I can already hear the objection: "Dangerous? How could being familiar with the Bible be dangerous?" Well, I do not mean that learning more from any given text of Scripture endangers us. What I mean is this: when we feel overly familiar with a particular text, we can pass over it to get on to other things.
We may be reading along in our M'Cheyne Bible Reading Plan, reading our way through a particular book of the Bible, or doing our daily devotional that takes us to various places in the Bible from day to day. When we get to John 3 or Philippians 4 or Romans 8, we come to familiar texts...texts about the sovereignty of God in salvation, the necessity of belief in Christ, the method to battle against anxiety, the security of the believer in Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit. As we read, we might be tempted to think, "Yeah...I've read this before. I need to get on to something new," and so, we pass right over these familiar texts.
I want to suggest to you that this is a tragedy. When you find a fishing hole with an abundance of fish, you don't just casually move on. You come back to that spot over and over and keep casting your line until you get every last fish. It is foolish for the hungry person to look at that fishing hole and think, "Yeah...I remember the great taste of the fish from that spot, but I'll pass today." It is equally foolish to know the spiritual food that lies in a familiar text and walk away simply because we "already ate there." As we read the Bible, we come as hungry people...people who do not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
In looking at Mark 4:35-41, we see that Jesus calms the storm. We've heard this story in Sunday school since we were children, we had a poster of the event in our classroom, and we acted it out in our youth group. As adults, we may skim over the story because it is so familiar, and if anyone should try to teach it to us again, we almost dare them to teach us something we didn't already know. Such familiarity can be destructive!
Well, I have three pieces of good news for the teachers (like me) and for the learners (like me). First, going back to familiar places in the Scripture can bring new insight into that text and can, at times, correct wrong views we previously had. When Mark tells us of Jesus calming the storm, (1) He does so to show us Jesus Christ, the Son of God...pointing to His humanity and His divinity and His power over nature. (2) He is not writing primarily about our storms in life, but what he writes about Jesus is certainly applicable when we face life's tempests. (3) The disciples' weakness is clear against the backdrop of the Jesus' strength. (4) Jesus overcomes the cowardice in the disciples by producing the fear of God in them. (5) The way the wind and sea obey Jesus demonstrates what Jesus is looking for when He says "Listen...let him hear...pay attention" (4:3, 9, 23, 24). Something in that brief list (or something else from the sermon) may be a new insight to you...if so, praise God!
The second piece of good news is that there are times that studying familiar passages corrects wrong thinking. We may have completely convinced ourselves of the meaning of a given passage, and in studying it again, God graciously sends His Spirit to correct our errors. We may see the context more clearly, and that corrects our understanding. We may get some help from a Greek or Hebrew lexicon, and this gives us greater insight into the actual words being used...words that may not translate well into one English word. It's not necessarily that we have been believing heresy; instead, we may have just not seen everything as clearly as God means for us to see it. I've been corrected like this many times, and I suspect that this kind of Spirit correction will continue to happen as I study the Scripture.
The final piece of good news for us all is the answer to questions like these: "What if there wasn't any new insight? What if everything the pastor said was already something I understood? What if the illustrations were the only thing I hadn't heard before?" Here's the good news...that's okay. Time and time again, the Scripture calls us to remember. We are to remember God, His character, His work, His Son, and more. Peter writes these words: "This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder..." (2 Peter 3:1). Apparently, having reminders of things we already knew is important.
When we are reminded, though, we must not be apathetic toward what we hear. We must resist the temptation to tune out the teaching. Instead, we should remember the purpose of a reminder...it is given so that we won't forget. Think of Mark 4 for a moment...how tragic it would be to lose a grip on the divinity and humanity of Jesus! And, even if we do not lose a grip on the concept, we need to be reminded of where the Scripture teaches us such wonderful truths. When our friends concede that Jesus was a man but don't know why we believe He is also God, we should have a biblical answer. Mark 4 reminds us of the biblical answer.
The longer we study the Bible, the more often we will find ourselves in familiar passages. As we study these passages, we may find a nugget of truth that we had missed previously. God may correct some errant interpretation that we have held in the past. Or...we may find that we really have squeezed every last drop of truth out of the text. Whatever the case may be, we should praise God for the work of His Spirit in teaching us. We should praise God for the truth of the familiar text. In the midst of this knowledge, we should examine ourselves to see if we are doers of this familiar Word or hearers only (James 1:22). Finally, we should be challenged to make more of the Scripture as familiar as this text is.