God in a box.
As they were growing up, all three of my sons had little boxes to keep special things they loved and valued. From time to time, I would see Matthew pull out his box to put in another prized sportscard. As a little guy, Dylan always had favorite rocks in his little red box...and then funny thing, I remember when Danny asked for a small safe--just a little box would not suffice. You see, because he shared a room with Dylan, he would often find his favorite socks or something else missing, so he decided a little safe was in order! Grins.
Now this is not so funny - some times we keep God in a box.
So did the first century Jews to whom Jesus came.
Today as we study the second half of Paul's sermon in the synagogue, I pray that God will make his Word come alive for all of us, so that it will become alive IN all of us~ Acts 13.26-43
The Bible verses are in black; my explanation in blue.
"Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The Gospel is for EVERYONE! The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. This is interesting because Paul takes the blame off the Jewish people as a whole, and instead confines it to those who had been in Jerusalem as Jesus ministered, was arrested, and crucified. They were blind and did not 'recognize' Jesus as Messiah. Why? Jesus didn't come and perform in the way in which they had expected; he did not overthrow Rome--as they were certain the Messiah would do when he came. They had God in a box. Paul is saying to these who were one step removed from the action in Jerusalem' here's what happened. . . now can you see it?
Paul continues, "When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people."
Those who had been with Jesus from Galilee down to Jerusalem had known Jesus from the start of His ministry through His resurrection. Some had known Him since childhood days in Nazareth. And of course, so many of these also saw and talked with the risen Lord in the 40 days between the resurrection and His ascension into Heaven.
"We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: " 'You are my Son; today I have become your Father. 1 'I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.2 'So it is stated elsewhere: " 'You will not let your Holy One see decay.3. For when David had served God's purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay. Jesus did not decay!
At this point, I bet you Paul leaned in to his audience, and looked them in the eye as he was getting to the most important message in the world, passionate that they understood and responded to what he was telling them about Jesus Christ. "Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified (made right in the sight of God), from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. The Law was powerless to save men; it only show(s) where we lack, but doesn't make up for our lack. Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: " 'Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.'"4
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. Acts 13.26-43
Did you see it? The notion of keeping God in a box, restricted to the set of behaviors we think He should have. Of course, if we dig into Scripture, there is so much we can know about who God is--including His character and his heart and then by having a relationship with Him, we can know him experientially, but as for knowing what he will do, how He will regularly act, and what his timing will be, we don't. He is God, and we are not. The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up.5
People have settled for a God "on call," a God available for crises and fiascos, who does a bit of juggling with weather patterns and parking stalls but who otherwise remains unobtrusive as a chambermaid, tidying things up while you're at brunch, leaving a crisp sash of tissue around the lid of the toilet bowl to let you know all is in order. The problem, obviously is that this god so kind, so shy, so tame has nothing to do with the God of the Bible. . . the God whose Spirit broods and dances, the God who topples entire empires, sometimes overnight, the God who reveals himself in the Christ who looks big men in the eye and says, "Follow me," and then walks away, not waiting for a reply. . . The Lion of Judah is fierce, wild and good. . . 6
So, how do you keep God in a box? Do you not go to Him with your deepest needs and desires, because, "well, He's probably too busy, or doesn't care that much anyway"? Do you believe He'll do "ABC" but never 'XYZ'? Do you limit Him with your weak faith? Do you keep Him in a box by not surrendering all of yourself to Him? O, please, may we have our concept of God...Who He is, what He does, and how He does it, marvelously expanded and gloriously enlarged!
1 - Psalm 2.7
2 - Isaiah 55.3
3 - Psalm 16.10
4 - Habakkuk 1.5
5 - Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell
6 - The Holy Wild, Mark Buchanan