By Ricardo Graham
The science of mechanics known as ballistics deals with the propulsion, flight and impact of projectiles. Projectiles such as rockets or bullets have their own path or trajectory. When the point of origin of a bullet is known and its trajectory is plotted, its destination can be predicted.
Jesus’ teachings were like “bullets of truth” that penetrated the minds of His listeners. All of His words were filled with spiritual, life-giving truth — truth that left the listening masses chagrinned, challenged and changed.
When Jesus hit the target, nothing was left the same. The woman at the well was confronted with her stark reality and need for God as Jesus spoke of her life with six different men and challenged her to drink of the “living water” (John 4).
But Jesus did not teach the disciples and His followers everything that He knew, or reveal all truth. “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).
Why is this so?
Jesus had to hold back because of — to be blunt — the dullness of the human mind.
“The human mind is capable of acquiring truth at a limited rate.” Due to the effects of sin, we cannot understand and implement truth quickly. Our weak minds cannot fathom the mysterious ways of God, and we are unable to understand the deep secrets of God. Paul explained this by saying, “Now we see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Even if we could understand the things of Christ, we could not endure them. It has been said that “to hear much and understand little is oppressive.” There are truths that demand a pure, unselfish and brave heart in order to be borne.
Beyond this lack of capacity, many of us are unable to understand all truth because we are — again, I’ll put it bluntly — lazy. “Sometimes a spiritual lethargy prevents the acquisition of further divine truth” (SDA Bible Commentary, v. 5, p. 1048). When we have become sleepy in a spiritual sense, truth cannot be perceived as well as when we are spiritually alert.
Another thing holding us back from complete understanding is our cultural conditioning. Oftentimes our habits and the ways we have been taught limit our ability to see clearly the truths that God has in store for us. We are not able to perceive things being different from the way we’ve always understood them to be. This type of — shall I be blunt again? — pigheadedness can stand in the way of the acceptance of new light.
Our spiritual conditioning also can prevent us from understanding deeper truths. Sinfulness stops us from accepting all of God’s truth in any age. Be it in the time of the disciples or in the 21st century, our sinful, wicked hearts prevent us from accepting what God says. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
And finally, Jesus had to tell His disciples, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now,” because of their spiritual immaturity. However, He didn’t just leave them (or us) to flounder and stumble alone. Jesus commissioned the Holy Spirit to complete the spiritual education process that He initiated, continuing the process of presenting truth.
Jesus told the disciples what they were able to understand — that which they had the capacity and/or willingness to accept. By word and example, He introduced new information. By doing this, Jesus was able to “push the envelope,” to reshape the thoughts of His followers without losing them. He carried them to the limits of their tolerance with the truth that He presented.
Why did Jesus proceed in this manner? When I attended seminary, one of my professors had a poster on his office wall. It was a photograph of a rag doll being pressed in a vise. The caption read, “The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable!” We recognize this as the process of cognitive dissonance that occurs when new information is received that doesn’t conform with what our knowledge base or belief system previously contained.
For example, when we are taught to believe in Santa Claus and we find out that he is not a real being, it creates a cognitive dissonance that causes misery. First we are shaken; then sad acceptance yields to freedom as we accept the truth about the myth. We soon adjust to the liberty that exists when we know the truth.
New spiritual truths are understood only in the enlightenment brought by the Holy Spirit. Spiritual things “are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we find new nuggets of truth that were previously unseen, unappreciated and not understood.
Truth is progressive and dynamic and not static. Our understanding of truth continues to grow and develop as we follow the trajectory of the teaching of the Master to its logical, irrefutable conclusion. The Holy Spirit reveals to us the path of Jesus’ teaching so that we may follow the trajectory to the target, which is Christ-like living.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus set new paradigms in place. His actions and His words shifted people from the old way of life to the newness of life in Him. Our Savior was not imprisoned by the traditional teachings of His time. Jesus was a change agent in all things, including the status of women. Jesus liberated women.
After the fall, we find that the woman was to look to her husband for leadership. Jesus’ entire life was spent in redirecting humanity from sinfulness to righteousness. Jesus wants to take us back to where we are supposed to be. Redemption in the fullest sense means not just being restored to a relationship with God. It is seeking to follow the trajectory of Jesus all the way to the target, to the bull’s eye.
What is the bull’s eye? Equality and unity in the church. There can be no unity without equality and inclusion. The church must seek to follow the natural progression of Jesus’ trajectory, all the way to the mark.
Inclusion, rather than exclusion, is the goal of God. He seeks to include all who will accept Him by faith (John 3:16). Scripture is replete with references regarding the inclusive nature of God as revealed by Jesus.
That which prepares us for inclusion is not gender, race or social standing. It is the Holy Spirit’s ministry that qualifies us for service in the church, the Body of Christ. Full and complete participation is granted because of the Holy Spirit. All will not do the same thing, but all are to be included and represented in all phases of the work of the church, both local and universal.
According to the prophet Joel, the Holy Spirit will be poured out on everyone: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit” (Joel 2:28-29).
During Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the followers of Jesus with power, Peter remembered Joel’s prophecy as he saw it being fulfilled before his eyes (Acts 2:17-18). It is the Spirit-filled life that is used by God in all phases of His work.
The Holy Spirit began to convict those believers that human beings are all equal and united in Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).
In Christ, Gentile and Jew are brothers and sisters; in Christ, women are to be recognized as partners with men in preaching the gospel; in Christ, slaves and master face each other. In Christ, neither heritage, social status or sex is the last word; rather, Christ is. No one is superior or inferior in Christ. “The elevation of woman to equality with man is the direct result of Christian teaching and practice.” In the sight God, all people are the same. Race, social status, and gender are unimportant to God.
But of course, it is more complicated than that. Paul also wrote, “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence” (1 Timothy 2:12).
What was Paul writing here? A letter of advice to Timothy. The SDA Bible Commentary explains: “In the days of Paul, custom required that women be very much in the background. Therefore, if women believers had spoken out in public or otherwise made themselves prominent, these scriptural injunctions would have been violated and the cause of God would thus have suffered reproach.”
We must remember that God spoke to and through a patriarchal, male-dominated society. The men in biblical times were, to put it bluntly, sexists. We should not, however, assume that because the society was sexist that God is sexist or that the modern church needs to be.
When we follow the trajectory of Jesus’ life and teachings, we find that, with God, women and men are equal in status.
All are sinners and all need salvation. All are empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry and service to the Lord. As Peter discovered, God does not show favoritism: “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34).
The church must follow Jesus all the way, by following His path, His trajectory. All people must be involved in meaningful ministry, as Jesus would have it.
Abridged version of a sermon Ricardo Graham originally preached Oct. 8, 1994, at the Sacramento Capital City church.