Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, welcome to episode 6 of Opening Up the Gospels. In episode 5 I introduced the Biblical concept of "meditation" or "contemplation" of the life of Jesus as the way we grow in our relationship with Him. Like I said last time, don't let the new age ideas of what those words mean trip you up. Biblical meditation is just a prayerful pondering of the scriptures. We see the psalms talking about it all the time. It's not being lost in some transcendent state or going to some other dimension. So when I talk about meditating on the Gospels, we just come to the words and life of Jesus and talk to Him in prayer about it.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar said this about meditation in his book on Christian prayer:
“Unless a person is acquainted with trembling awe, reaching down to the very ground of his being, at the thought of God’s nature (not merely the awe he feels in the face of the “mysteries of existence” and the deep things of the world), he will not be ready for the contemplation of Jesus Christ. At the least, he will need to prepare himself in the school of the Old Covenant. Otherwise he will be in danger of coming to Christ like someone blind and dumb, finding nothing more in him than an example of perfect humanity; such a person would not be contemplating God, but man, i.e., himself. Anyone contemplating the life of Jesus needs to be newly and more deeply aware every day that something impossible, something scandalous has occurred: that God, in his absolute Being, has resolved to manifest himself in a human life (and is in a position to make this resolve effective!) He must be scandalized by this, he must feel his mind reeling, the very ground giving way beneath his feet; he must at least experience that “ecstasy” of non-comprehension which transported Jesus contemporaries (Mk 2:12; Mk 5:42; Mk 6:51)…The multitude’s astonishment was often more in the nature of an external amazement at the miraculous signs; where the praying contemplative is concerned, therefore, his astonishment at the truth he has beheld will be all the more profound. In the gospel, anyone who encounters Christ is impelled either to worship him or to pick up stones with which to stone him. Evidently, the gospel does not foresee any other kind of response.”
(Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Prayer, p 159-60.)
I love that quote. It highlights so clearly some of the aspects I've already talked about in episode 4 and 5 - that Jesus is God in the flesh, and that pondering His life should lead to what Von balthasar calls the ecstasy of non-comprehension that those in the first century felt when they saw Jesus doing what He did. Being forgiven is awesome, but knowing Jesus deeply is the true bliss of being a Christian. Check out episode 1 for more on what I mean by knowing Jesus deeply.
Now when we say we long to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord we have to remember we're not staring into a cloud of sparkly light, we are looking by faith into the face of a man named Jesus. All of our fervent prayers for God to show us His glory are merely prayers to show us more of where He fully reveals Himself - in Jesus. When we seek to hear God's voice, we're drawing near to a real man with a particular tone to His speech, who not only preached and taught often, but laughed and sung hymns with His friends.
Ok, so we’re on board with all this... We know Jesus is the fullness of revelation, He's God in the flesh, and something is being made known and revealed to us about God by His every word and action. So how do we actually ponder and meditate? Here's a few tips:
1) Get in a rhythm - just read one or two chapters of the Gospels every day. This is totally possible for everyone... dont think you have to do an entire gospel in a day.
2) Read them slowly, take them in, but don't stop every single moment to meditate.
3) Then out of those couple of chapters pick one scene to meditate on. Stay narrow and focused on that one scene, and then begin talking with Him. Ask Him to open up His life to you. Believe it actually happened, and
4) start asking questions. "Where was this? What's the context? Who was with you Jesus? What time of day is it? What was it like that day? What was the other guy in the scene like? What was his story?" Imagine yourself actually there, participating in the scene. What are the facial expressions on the faces of everyone else there? What was the tone of Jesus' voice?
Now don't turn it the other way and make it all fairy-taleish again... This is where some historical study helps tremendously - understanding culture, customs, background... talking about some of that is one of my goals in this series as we go along.
And remember, through meditation we're not attempting to draw rigid conclusions, we're just asking questions. The whole point in engaging our heart and our mind is for it to become real to us. As we ponder and dialog, it moves from being an abstract fairy tale to a real forceful scene that actually happened.
Now once it's a real scene to you,
5) what does it reveal about what God is like? Begin to move from the real historical contours of the scene into the theological implications. You can't get into that place until the scene is real first. Remember that the one you're beholding there is not just a good Jewish rabbi, He is God incarnate. He made everything and he's sitting at a table with His disciples eating a meal and laughing - something He did perhaps hundreds of times. Think about that - how many countless times did He do that with His family growing up? What did they talk about over meals? Suddenly God is not a straight-faced, stoic blob of light in the sky somewhere. And knowing that changes the way you relate to Him today.
I want to share a brief example of my own personal meditation on Jesus' life with you so you can feel this a little bit more. Several years ago I was reading John 1 and 2 and decided to meditate on the scene right at the beginning of John 2, the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine. The chapter opens with:
“On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.”
(John 2:1–2 ESV)
It was really the first two verses of the chapter I began to ponder. I began to ask Jesus questions - like did you and your brothers and sisters know the couple? How many people were there? What was your favorite food at the wedding? Think about it - it isn't a fairy tale. Jesus ate at the wedding and remembers how things tasted. So that led me to ask who was reclining at the table with Him? And what were they talking about? And suddenly the scene began to be more real to me as I slowly pondered it. I imagined a conversation with one acquaintance at the table going something like "I can't wait for the harvest this year! The crop is going to be amazing, it's doing so well." And maybe with another one: "My son just started studying the law in the synagogue. I'm so proud of him!" And all the while the picture in my mind of Jesus was of one smiling, eating, and enjoying the conversation. Then I began to think about the fact that the one sustaining their breath and upholding all things by the word of His power was sitting at the table with them, listening and participating with them in their conversation, and probably enjoying every minute of it. And suddenly the Lord whispered a question to my heart: "Josh, I sat around a table giving breath to my friends and listening to them talk about nothing that's going to matter in a couple of years... and you wonder if I hear you when you pray?"
And I lost it... Tears of tenderness began to flow as Jesus was helping my unbelief related to prayer. I saw a dim picture of how glorious Jesus really is as the God who hears prayer. And this all came from a real scene - a real moment in history of when God walked among us.
Right now when you pray, a real man is there in the heavens, and he hears you, and right now Jesus remembers the details of what you’re reading about in the gospels. It moves His heart when you care enough to study the details, to get to know His life. He remembers it. When you, his friend and brother in humanity, his disciple, when you come before him and view his life as precious and say “Jesus, I want to know your story and details”, that moves Him. You can have real friendship with Jesus. Guys, It's not like You’re not Jesus’ buddy, and girls, Jesus is not your boyfriend. But a real friendship with him is entirely possible. Not only is it possible, as i said back in episode 1, it's what it means to be a Christian.
As we look at Gospel events in future episodes, I'll try to give you questions to ask and things to ponder to help make His life real to you. I've posted a document on my website called "50 questions to ask during Gospel meditations" to help your meditation. Check it out under the notes section on joshuahawkins.com.
In the next episode, we'll start to look at the structure of the gospels so we can get a framework for reading them and putting together a chronology of Jesus' life. Subscribe to my channel now! See you next time.