Those Tiny Vignettes We May Overlook in Scripture

The BIble has a lot more interesting stories than simply the oldies but goodies.
The BIble has a lot more interesting stories than simply the oldies but goodies. (Lightstock)

Vignette: noun; a short descriptive literary sketch. 

These are short excerpts from Scripture's narrative of the salvation story that I find fascinating and in many cases, parable-like because in a brief story or a few lines they encapsulate so much of God's message. They are so short, however, they often get overlooked.

Only those who stroll slowly through the garden of God's Word, taking time to notice the petal of each flower, only they see and appreciate and benefit. (I'm thinking of several articles with perhaps 20 vignettes in all.)

Take a look at these and see if they aren't loaded with importance....

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1. Lazarus on the front porch in Bethany (John 12:9-11). Brought back from the grave after four days of bodily decomposing, the man of Bethany required no book tour or television crew to attract a crowd. He sat on the front porch in a rocking chair–that's how I figure it, at any rate–so that people arriving in Jerusalem for Passover streamed out the Eastern Gate, down the Kidron Valley, and over the Mount of Olives for a glimpse of the man dead four days! No one had ever seen such a thing. The crowds kept coming.

He was quite the attraction. Lazarus was the talk of the town. And as a result, Jesus was the Man of the hour.

Many believed on Jesus because a man sat on his porch doing nothing but smiling.  Lazarus was Exhibit A of Jesus' power over death, hell, and the grave.

Ya gotta love it. (In some ways–but different, of course–the Lord wants you and me to be Exhibit A of His power to change lives (See I Peter 2:9-10).

The enemies of our Lord were infuriated and came to a decision: they had to do something quick to put a stop to the Man of Galilee.

"Let's kill Lazarus." Seriously. That's what they decided.

What a one-track mind these guys had. Jesus had already demonstrated that tactic didn't work anymore. But death is the big gun in the enemy's arsenal. Rob him of that and he is powerless.

Lazarus laughed. When will the enemy ever get it?  (Answer: He still hasn't. All over the world, God's faithful are being martyred for their faithfulness to Jesus. The archenemy of all that is holy still thinks if he can kill enough believers, everyone else will be frightened into submission. But there is an elementary law of physics Satan never has learned: Fire burns brighter under pressure).

2. The women who supported Jesus and the disciples (Luke 8:1-3). This is the only place where we're told the women were responsible for supporting the Lord and His disciples with their contributions. "From their substance," Luke says.

For many reasons, I love this.

Not only were these women funding the travels, they accompanied our Lord and the disciples to the various cities. Some or all "had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities." The women were among the Lord's most faithful disciples.  Maybe not "apostles," but they were definitely disciples.  Some stood near the cross when our Lord died (see Luke 23:27,49,55). The women did not flee like several of the disciples did (Matthew 26:56), but took careful note as the Lord's body was taken down from the cross as to where it was laid (Luke 23:55). Later, "they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils." "Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they and certain other women with them came to the tomb ... " (Luke 24:1).

Thank God for the faithful women. As a young pastor, I recall hearing preachers speaking disparagingly of women taking the leadership roles in churches. And yet, the church I was serving at the time would have died many times over its 20-year-history without the dedication of devoted godly women. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).  At what point are we going to start believing this?

The Pharisees in the room will read the above and decide I am a liberal. They could not be more wrong. I am a Bible-loving, Jesus-worshiping, sold-out disciple of the only Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. All I want to do is know His word and live it and then teach it. If you and I disagree on any of these points, let us do so in love but not as the world does.

3. Barnabas departs from Antioch in search of Saul (Acts 11:25). A revival had broken out among the Gentiles of Antioch of Syria.  The believers at Jerusalem had sent up Mr. Encourager, Barnabas, to check into these matters (see Acts 11:22). Once he saw that the Gentiles, surely the unlikeliest of all people, were turning to Jesus in large numbers, Barnabas remembered the man who had been called by God as an evangelist to those very people (see Acts 9:15).  As far as he knew, Saul had returned to his hometown of Tarsus, banished from Jerusalem in a manner of speaking, because his brutal tactics of evangelism had ended up making more enemies than friends. Acts 9:30 tells how the Jerusalem brethren slipped him out of the city to Caesarea and sent him home.

I think we are safe in saying the Lord was giving Saul time to rethink matters. The fiery young evangelist had "gone up like a sky rocket"–and had come down just as quickly.  Soon, no one was inviting him to preach. His parents must have wondered about their brilliant son, the honor graduate of the rabbinical school in Jerusalem, who was now back living in his old room and making tents for a living. (Admittedly, we're talking from silence and supposition here. Scripture omits any mention of what Saul was doing during this interlude. But many a faithful servant has had to learn the hard way what it means to be "put on a shelf" for maturing).

Acts 11:19 is one of the most important sentences in this history of this small planet. "Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul." Once Barnabas matched God's man with the field of service, nothing was ever the same. (Has anyone ever fully calculated the debt the Christian church owes to Barnabas? It is massive, to be sure.)

We who work in church leadership are always trying to match up the called of God with the appropriate opportunity and the need for which God has prepared them. Doing this well is one of the most exciting aspects of Christian service. (To our shame, we have sometime short-circuited the situation and stuck uncalled, ill-prepared people into slots where they proceeded to do more damage than good.  Let us believe Matthew 9:38 and ask the Lord to raise up workers for a particular harvest, then wait until He does.)

4. Paul and Silas give a midnight concert (Acts 16:25). The two missionaries had been brutally beaten, their bleeding backs left as open wounds, and locked into stocks in the interior part of the Philippian jail—all for doing nothing more than trying to bless people with the good news of Jesus.

We can only imagine their pain.  But their faith was truly amazing. "At midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." (Please memorize this verse. You are going to need it).

Does anyone suppose Paul said, "You know, Silas.  I just feel like singing"? Not in a million years. They were both hurting so badly. Maya Angelou's first autobiography carried the wonderful title, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Sometimes, you have to choose between singing and crying.

They were "praying and singing hymns" by faith in the living God whom they knew was still on the job and present in that very room. (Oh, how Heaven must have loved their song. I tear up at the thought.)

How they "felt" had nothing to do with anything.

Had I been in their place, what the prisoners would have heard would likely have been bellyaching. "Where is God?  We came to Philippi to bless these people and look how they've treated us. Why have they done this to us? I'm going to rethink my call if this is how congregations treat their ministers."

We are such crybabies. These two men knew that being thrown in jail was part of God's plan to reach certain ones who would not be coming to their church revival (See Matthew 10:16ff).

The prisoners were listening. They'd never heard anything like this. And so was the jailer listening, which explains why a few hours later he burst in and fell on his face before them when the earthquake awakened him. He demanded to know "How can I get what you have?" (Acts 16:30)

It's fascinating to notice how, after the jailer gets saved, he proceeded to do something that he would have died rather than do earlier: he took Paul and Silas out of the jail.  He woke up his wife and mother-in-law to prepare some breakfast for them, while he applied salve to their backs and the missionaries spoke about Jesus (Acts 16:32-34).

I do love this story. It ranks up there with the greatest and most beloved stories of Scripture.

5. When a Bible scholar gets saved, Scripture becomes a new book to him, forever yielding additional treasures (Matthew 13:52). The Lord said imagine a homeowner who goes into his treasure–perhaps his attic–and checks on all his valuables. Each time he goes, he finds something new there. He would go often, wouldn't he?

That's the way with scribes (experts on Scripture from their lifetime of copying manuscripts) who receive Christ as Savior. Now, they return to those beloved texts and see them in a new light.

After Saul of Tarsus came to Jesus, he spent a full three years in the desert rethinking all the Scriptures as he had learned them (see Galatians 1:17-18). He was discovering the treasures God had put throughout His Word, which Saul had never noticed because of the scales over his eyes. Now that he was seeing through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, he was finding gold nuggets everywhere. This is why Paul's writings are saturated with Old Testament references and re-interpretations as to what he had been taught in the rabbinical school.

God will do that for you and me, too, even if we did not come to Christ the way Saul did.  Personally, I've been saved since I was 11 years old. But to this day, each time I return to a scripture, no matter how familiar, I find something new. It's truly amazing, and something that can be said of no other book anywhere.

I do love this book. How about you?

After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.

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