They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Building a Cathedral

Note: This short, multi-layered parable has been around since at least the 1500s and has been delivered with variations to promote salesmanship, team unity, and to motivate businesses and professionals to achieve their potential. It has been attributed to many famous people, from Michaelangelo to John F. Kennedy. Who the author or characters are is not nearly as important as the timeless message it conveys. The following version was presented in a Biblical seminar setting a few years ago by Ray Vanderlaan. This parable is at its best when cast in the light of what our mission is in the Kingdom of God. I hope you enjoy!

St. Peter's Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica

In 1546, at age 71, near the end of his career, Michaelangelo received his greatest and final commission. He was appointed by the Pope to be the chief architect on the restoration project of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He obviously looked at this huge project as a very somber and important task because he would be creating a space where people would go to meet, learn, and worship the God of the universe. He wanted the cathedral to be perfect in every detail. He immediately set out looking for assistants that would have the same mindset, approach, and passion for this project as he did.

Work had already been going on at the St. Peter’s church for forty years, so Michaelangelo went to the construction site to observe the workers there, hoping that he would find some inspired individuals to be his apprentices and assistants. He viewed and interviewed several bricklayers on the site, but was discouraged at their motivations for their work. One bricklayer, when asked what he was doing, just replied, “he was laying bricks to make money to feed his family”. Another, recognizing the famous painter, wanted the notoriety, pay, and advanced career status that would go with being an assistant under Michaelangelo.

As he continued around the project, he spotted an older gentleman who was also a bricklayer, mixing his mortar cement on the ground with a hoe. The man worked the cement back and forth, very purposely and steadily and never slowed or even looked up from his task. After watching the man for some time, Michealangelo stepped up beside the man and asked him, “Sir, what are you doing”? The man stopped the hoe in mid-stroke and looked up with a look that said, “

Sir, I am very busy and don’t have time to answer your obvious question”. However, he quickly replied with a certain enthusiasm in his voice, “Sir, I am building a cathedral”! It was said, that Michaelangelo hired him as his assistant on the spot.

What are the analogies and applications that we can take away from this wonderful story? Three people were basically doing the same work; one looked at it as merely a job, the second, his career, but the third viewed his job as a calling. The old man saw his job of mixing cement and laying bricks as not just a bricklayer, but as a man called by God to complete a task for his glory. He had a much higher meaning and purpose to his work than did his fellow workers. He was able to see the big picture, even though he was doing a job many would consider mundane and unimportant.

Can you see the big picture in the job you are doing and the life you are now living in? Do you realize the difference you are making right where you are? What is your purpose in life? How are you approaching the job that God has given you to do? Whether you are a janitor or a CEO, God has placed you there and you are an important part of building His cathedral. Each one of us has been left here to mix cement and lay bricks for the kingdom of heaven and to make God’s name known. Our mission is to advance that kingdom one square inch, one day at a time, by the way, we live and interact with people around us. Let’s make it our calling!

Verses that go along with this story:

  • Colossians 3:17-” Whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus”
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31-” Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of the God”
  • Ecclesiastes 9:10-” Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might”.

A Fire of Burning Coals

When Jesus was raised from the dead, both Matthew (28: 7 &10) and Mark (16:7) record that Jesus instructed the disciples that he would go ahead of them and would meet them in Galilee. He had actually told Peter the same thing even earlier, on the night of his arrest (Matt 26:32) The text, however, doesn’t record if the disciples were expecting and looking for Jesus when they did go back to where they had been discipled by their rabbi for the past three years. We do know from John’s account that a large portion (7) of the disciples were in the Galilee one week after the resurrection (John 21:1-3). The event we will look at today in John 21 is often referred to as the” Miraculous Catch of Fish”.

In this story, Peter decides to go fishing in the Sea of Galilee (called the Sea of Tiberius in this account) and the other six disciples decide to go with him. The text records that they fished all night but caught nothing. (A funny side note is that in both instances in the gospels where it records the disciples fishing, (Luke 5:4-7 and here in John 21), they don’t catch any fish!)

Early in the morning, Jesus appeared on the shore, close to where they were fishing. He calls out to the seven and asks them if they had caught any fish. They answered, “No”, but didn’t realize that they were talking to Jesus. Jesus then told them to throw the net on the other side and when they did, they caught so many fish that they couldn’t pull the net in. Because this was exactly what had happened to Peter in the earlier fishing incident in Luke 5, Peter realizes that it has to be Jesus on the bank! He shouts, “It is the Lord!” and immediately jumped into the water to get to him. (Read the whole account in John 21:1-14)

Here is the cool part of the story and something that you might not have picked up on if you didn’t know something about Old Testament imagery. In John 21:9 it says, “when the disciples got to the shore, they saw a fire of burning coals, with fish on it and some bread”. Why would the text say, “a fire of burning coals”? Don’t all fires have burning coals? Why do we need to know that extra detail? What do burning coals represent in the Bible? In Genesis (Ch.15) and Exodus (Ch.3 and 19 for ex.), God is represented by and is associated with smoke fire, and burning coals. In 2 Samuel 22:9, David describes God with burning coals in his mouth. Burning coals in the text are a metaphor for the presence of God. In Proverbs 25:21-22, it says,” if you are kind to your enemy, you are heaping burning coals on his head”. Does that mean that you are trying to hurt him or make him feel bad? Paul later quotes this same verse in Romans 12:20, to explain, “if you forgive someone who has wronged you, then you are bringing the presence of God into the situation by heaping God (burning coals) on them. So, what does this have to do with the situation in John?

Who was the first disciple who ran to meet Jesus at the fire of burning coals? Peter, who just a week earlier had denied his Lord three times and hidden during the crucifixion! Did the author mention the burning coals to let the informed reader know that Jesus was going to forgive Peter and show him God’s presence like the verses in Proverbs and Romans say? Was Jesus going to heap burning coals on Peter? In the very next verses, Jesus forgives Peter and reinstates him and commissions him to be the one to feed the sheep. Did Peter feel forgiven?

We know from the text in Acts that Peter is back again at the forefront when the day of Pentecost comes in Acts 1 and 2. Three thousand people were saved and baptized in response to his powerful message (Acts 2:41). Peter goes on to be a major figure in the book of Acts (Ch.s 3,4,5,8,10,11) and is the founder of the New Testament church. He wrote two books that are in the canon of scripture (1 and 2 Peter) and church history records he died by crucifixion in Rome, just like his rabbi. Because Jesus forgave him and heaped burning coals on Peter’s head, Peter was set free to be one of the main figures in the spread of Christianity from Rome to the ends of the world.

P. S. It also says that they caught 153 fish. There has to be some reason that the number 153 is given! You can look it up and several ideas have been presented, but it seems that God has hidden that one pretty well! We will ask him someday.

Public Service Announcement

Site Maintenance

This site has recently moved to another server.  In an ideal world, such a move would have been transparent to our readers.  Alas, the move did not go as smooth as we hoped and this blog has been up and down for the better part of two days.  Please bear with us as we continue to make changes to the site.  In the interim, should you notice anything awry with the blog’s operation, please tell us about it in the comments section below.

Please note that you may need to update your bookmarks and RSS feeds to point to (notice the capital “A” in Acts242) and respectively.

Mount Sinai & The Mount of Transfiguration

I continue to be fascinated by the fact that the whole Bible is really just one interwoven story. The Hebrew (Old) Testament continually surfaces in the stories in the gospels and conversely the stories in the gospels are foretold and prophesied throughout the Hebrew Testament. One unbelievable example of this is found in the similarities between Moses’ trip up Mount Sinai in Exodus 24 and Jesus’ experience on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17 (also found in Mark 9 and Luke 9). Let’s take a look at these two stories and see if possibly Jesus, the second Moses, was emulating and fulfilling what had happened to Moses himself during the Exodus. At this point it would be helpful if you took the time to read all accounts of both stories.

  1. In both stories the main characters go up on a high mountain with God
  2. In both stories three men go with the main character. Moses takes Joshua, Aaron and Hur and Jesus takes Peter, James and John.
  3. In both cases, a cloud covered the mountain.
  4. In Exodus 24:16, it says,”For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the 7th day the Lord called to Moses. In both Matthew and Mark, the gospel writers are careful to tell us that it was six days that Jesus took the disciples upon the mountain.
  5. In both stories nothing happened for six days and then on the seventh day, God spoke.
  6. In both stories God spoke from the cloud
  7. In both stories God’s glory appeared and changed or transfigured the appearance of the principal figures as they were spoken to by God. (See also Exodus 34:29-30)
  8. The Glory of God “settled” on both mountains (Exodus 24:16 and Mark 9:7)

The Hebrew word for settle is “shakan” (Strong’s 7931) and means, ”to settle temporarily or to tent, or abide in a temporary dwelling.” Is it possible that Peter realized that Jesus was reconstructing the Moses story? Is he thinking, “What can we do to bring shakan like the Moses story?” So he says, “Let’s build something temporary (like shakan) – let’s put up some tents to duplicate the Sinai experience.” In Hebrew, the word mishkan, a derivative of shakan is used to say tent or tabernacle. Shakan is also where we get the word Shekinah, to mean God’s glory, or the divine presence. Peter wasn’t just trying to think of something to do, he knew the story!

Luke adds a wonderful exclamation point in his account of the transfiguration. It says in Luke 9:31, ”They spoke of his departure”. The Greek word for departure is “Exodos” (Strong’s 1841) and when “Exodos” is used in the New Testament, it is almost always used in conjunction with the actual Exodus story. The use of this Greek word wonderfully links Jesus death and resurrection with God rescuing his people out of Egypt.

Further proof that Jesus was fulfilling his role as the second Moses is found in Deuteronomy 18:15, where God tells Moses that, ”He will raise up another Prophet that will be like me” and then says, ”Listen to Him.” These are the exact same words that God uses at the transfiguration (Matthew 17:5): ”This is my Son, Listen to Him.”

This comparison of Mt Sinai with the Mount of Transfiguration is just another convincing proof that the Bible is one long thread that is intricately and brilliantly woven together. We just have to look for the connections.

Site Changes

As you may have noticed, the site is undergoing a few changes.  We recently switched to the WordPress blogging platform which provides us with significantly more options and design flexibility.  The presentations and old material will be migrated over the next few weeks.  Please enjoy the series of posts in the interim.


Steve Dodson

Thoughts at the Red Sea

Shore of the Red Sea

Shore of the Red Sea

After spending the previous evening reliving the “night of watching” on the banks of the Red Sea, we went the next morning to another Red Sea location to film the story of the Israelites coming out of the water. There, it was brought home to me again, that they didn’t know the ending of the story like we did when they stepped in between those two walls of water. The story says that the Egyptians rode into the Sea after them. Will they come out on the other side also? Ex 14:30 says the Egyptians were laying dead on the shore, so they must have gotten pretty close in their pursuit. How would the Hebrew have people felt? What kind of power is this? Ex 14:31 says “when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in Him and in Moses his servant.” They got it! YHWH is God! And they broke out in song in chapter 15 “I will sing to YHWH (not other gods) “He has become my salvation.” He divided sea, this is my God! I’ll leave everything behind, no more Egypt and their gods. The parallels of crossing the Red Sea with our salvation are amazing. Calvary is our Exodus and the Red Sear our baptism. When the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, it was a birth canal through which a new people were born. The water is the grace part of salvation. We had to make a commitment by following Him and stepping in the water, but it was all God that took us through to the other side. The Israelites were saved by grace, just like we are – God took them out. At some point in our salvation experience we had to say, this is my God! I believe Him, I know Him now”, just like the Israelites did.

Celebrating the Crossing

Celebrating the Crossing

The people praised Him there on the banks of the Sea. The Hebrew can be translated not only to mean to “give credit” but also “oasis” or pleasant place to live” and can be translated “This is my God; I will be the place He lives”. The concept of us being God’s temple was already here at the Red Sea. The Israelites were saying, we can’t offer much, but if you want us, we give you our all! They danced for joy because Pharaoh was right behind them ready to wipe them out and YHWH saved them. Can you see why they would be so overwhelmed that they would jump for joy and sing?

A Jew will tell you that this is where the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven began. God acted in great power, like a king and his people called him King. To have a kingdom, you must have a king and his subjects.

If you continue to follow the parallels, being saved was not the end of the story, it was merely the beginning. If the water was the grace, then the desert is the response. We are not going to get to stand on the bank forever. Now comes the obedience part. God says, I not only want you to call me Lord, I want you to make me Lord by the way you live your life. I am going to show you what it means to make me Lord. Jesus said, “your kingdom come, your will be done.” We didn’t have to do the will of the father to get across the sea; we just had to make a commitment (that’s the grace part). Now let’s go out into the desert and let me start shaping you into what I want you to become. That’s the obedience part. He doesn’t want you to just tell him. The language He wants is obedience – now make me Lord, by the way you live. Obedience is never a burden, it is never legalism; rather, it is pleasing to God. Would you marry someone who only loved you because of what they got from you? When He takes us out of bondage and saves us by his grace, we have to leave all of Egypt behind. We must leave all the other gods, no matter how big. We can’t still have Egypt in our soul, we must leave it. God gets the Egypt out of us by taking us to the desert. We shouldn’t look at the desert as a disaster, but as a honeymoon where we get to know God and his provision for us. Be careful about how far you take grace. God did it all; He brought us out of bondage and put us on the banks of the Red Sea. But his salvation didn’t stop there, it started there. Now we have to go to the desert of life with Him and let Him shape us. We are working out our salvation.

Philippians 2:12b-13: “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”