December 19, 2013

Eternal Lifebouy

Although there are not many direct references to swimmers or divers in the Bible, there are a few points about actions in water I’d like to mention. The first is sort of tongue-in-cheek but there is theological significance behind the story.

2 Kings 6:5-6 ~ But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.” Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float.”

We see an iron axe head float in this passage. I admit, it is not a swimmer in the strictest sense but it does indeed stay buoyant in spite of the physics that should’ve forbid this phenomena. We see Elisha being not only a prophet and miracle worker in this incident but we also see him being more or less an overseer of a men called to ministry as prophets. Not only does God end up supernaturally lifting an axe head out of the water through the power of the Spirit with Elisha, he is used the same incident to lift up those around him in teaching.

This is a continuation of the story that left off in 2 Kings 4:44. The account continues after God had blessed a school at Jericho and it had grown exponentially. With growth comes the need to expand building(s). In the process of expanding, a log is being felled and the prophet's/feller’s axe head ends up in the water much to his consternation. Iron tools were precious and were hard to come by during this time and to lose it is traumatic and a severe loss. Having borrowed the axe, the cutter’s angst would’ve been doubly magnified.  Unlike today, this loss would’ve been quite substantial in terms of finances and loss of labor time.

Having seen where it fell, the student was honest enough to report it to Elisha. Elisha throws in a stick where it fell and the Lord raised the iron head so that it floated against the laws of physics. We see glory given to God on many accounts here. The axe rises as do the spirits of the observers. In lifting the axe, the faith of those who saw and read about this account are raised or increased also.

What we should also see is that the student had lost the tool while in the service of the Lord. Our Master will provide us the tools we need when in His service. He will never send us out unprepared. It shows that the Lord can recover what we have lost in service to Him no matter how irretrievable it seems. God can not only restore what we need…he can also restore us.

The last thing I should mention is the condition of the axe itself. Axes of the time usually were crude and unpredictable. So much so there was a Mosaic law passed in the event of an accidentally airborne axe head. My guess is they were prone to failure since there are even stipulations about axe heads and their failure in the Law of Moses. It is in the context of the cities of refuge.

Deuteronomy 19:4-5 ~ ““This is the provision for the manslayer, who by fleeing there may save his life. If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past— as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live…

This can possible be seen in a metaphorical manner. The Lord may provide us with tools we need for the job but stewardship of them is our task. We need to keep our axe sharp. We must keep our tolls honed for duty. Everything is God’s but we are charged with the upkeep of the things we have been given responsibility over. This doesn’t just apply to physical tools either. It could be stewardship over our gifts, our family, our children, or in exceptional circumstances… the responsibility of an entire church congregation. Regardless, we should never take any of these charges given to us lightly. We will be held accountable for everything we have been given by the Lord when judgment day comes.

John 21:7-11 ~ That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When ~and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.

Much has been written on things such as Jesus’ call to Peter to feed His sheep in this chapter. Another focus has been the number of fish and other peculiarities of this meeting with Jesus. I will not dwell too much on these things other than to mention that the recording of exact amount of fish is unique. My guess is this exact number itself is not significant but the catch itself must have been so much out of the ordinary that the disciples felt it worthy to count or number the total. Trying to read anything else into this leads to pointless conjecture.

Peter’s spiritual insight about who is standing on the shore is razor-sharp. Being true to his impetuous unpredictable nature he jumps into the water from a perfectly good boat. What makes this incident even more amusing is that he essentially does it in his underwear (v.7). In today’s understanding to be wearing a tunic was to be essentially naked. This was to not prevent him from swimming properly. In other words his haste is so great he did not want to be impeded. The boat with a fishing net dragging behind it would’ve been quite slow.

What I find interesting is that the disciples are being called by thee Fisher of Men and they are told what to catch and where to catch it. Having not succeeded getting fish under their own approaches they are told to drop nets again as directed by God. The results are obvious. They are then told to bring their catch. Jesus’ catch (the disciples), are being asked to bring from their catch (fish). Verse is even more specific and seems to allude to something more poignant. The net is drawn up and it contains not just any fish but μεγάλων / megalon “great” fish. The great apostles who have been drawn up from a sea of humanity are now asked to bring great fish to the Lord to feed people.

This comparison is so thick with imagery, it is hard to ignore. It would be expected that in a net there would’ve been “throwaway” fish. The text says otherwise, it is filled with great fish but the net has not failed. Those caught by Jesus are going feed others with what they have been given by God. This is the same mode of passing of the Gospel that has been used since the Resurrection. In this church there will be those like the disciples that stayed in the boat and not act or react immediately.  There will also be those like the impetuous Peter. Ones that are chomping at the bit to be with Christ’s side doing His work basking in His glorious presence. Neither should be faulted for their reactions. What should be seen is that all eventually reach Jesus.

The fish having being caught will need to die to nourish the one who have caught them. Just as the disciples of Christ need to die to self to gain true life absorbing the truths of Scripture and the Gospel. To maintain spiritual life one must die to self-importance and pass on through teaching the truths of God. Thereby it is God who feeds them. It is further paradoxical that it will be Jesus Himself who will die on the Cross to give that life that will be passed down disciple to disciple until modern day. By dying for us to cover sin, the curse of death is then overturned.

In Jesus' immersion into death, he gave all those that trusted in Him an eternal life-preserver. This is how we need to approach the work that Jesus has done. He has thrown the preserver into the water as we flail in distress. Whether or not we take hold of that life preserver is our choice. It is a choice we will be held accountable for. We are responsible for our choices. It is then no surprise that the Baptism of the believer which is also an immersion or dive into water then symbolizes the death of the believer to their old life and a resurfacing in the new. In these stories the thing that restores what is lost, saves the life, restores the life or recreates the life of the one who submerges the Lord.

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