“And lo, there is light! Evanescent and tender,
It glows ruby-red where t’was now ashen grey;
And purple and scarlet and gold in its splendour
Behold, ‘tis that marvel, the birth of a day!”
From “Sunrise on the Coast” ~ Banjo Patterson
Jemimah glanced at the clock again, and swallowed hard. Despite the confusion that still wrapped itself like tangled vines around her heart, it was far too late to ask anything more of Michael. She looked up at him, expecting to see him ready to pack up.
"Go on," Michael prompted instead, smiling widely as he obviously read her thoughts. "I can last as long as you can!"
"Well, without youth on my side, I certainly can't.” Nan chuckled, and got up from the table. "I'll see you in the morning - don't be too late though. And Michael? Can you set the dishwasher going when you take the supper things through?”
When Nan left the room Michael turned back to Jemimah. "So what on earth do we do then to become a Christian?"
"Well ... yes." Jemimah's mouth dropped open as he pre-empted her question.
There was a teasing tilt to Michael’s mouth as he regarded her. "Wasn't Jesus' answer to Nicodemus enough for you? That you must be born again to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?"
Jemimah shook her head, her eyes prickling with tears of frustration. He must think she was dumb if she still couldn’t understand it after he’d taken all this time to explain. "But if we can't make ourselves be born again - how can we do anything?"
Michael reached over and gave her hand a squeeze, releasing it after a moment to help himself to a biscuit, and hold out the plate to her.
"What did Lazarus have to know?” he asked as she waved away the plate of biscuits. “He heard Jesus calling him and he came. It is clear in the Bible that being born again is God’s work and mysterious - but at the same time the HOW of being saved is incredibly simple. Offensively simple, as Paul describes it. Again and again we're commanded to simply repent and believe. If God makes us aware of our sinfulness and our need for him - we must repent of our sins and come to him in faith.”
Michael flicked quickly through several passages and read them out to her. “You see God makes us able to respond - and then our responsibility is to respond. This is why we can freely tell others of the message of salvation through repentance and faith - knowing that those who seek him, God will make able to find him.”
He looked her in straight in the eye. “Is that helping?”
Jemimah nodded slowly. It was definitely becoming clearer, but it still seemed a big step from seeing it in the Bible to figuring out how she could put it into practice in real life.
“Okay . . . how about I try one more passage then, before we leave it for tonight?” Michael must have read her thoughts again.
“If you want to know how to tell someone how to be saved - the ultimate example is Jesus Christ himself. Let’s look at his conversation with the rich young ruler in Mark chapter 10. "
Michael took a couple of sips from his tea, then leaned forward and pointed to the passage.
"Good teacher - how do I inherit eternal life?” he read. "It seems like a done deal already - this earnest young man is asking how to be saved. But Jesus doesn't immediately lead him in a sinner’s prayer, or tell him four steps to take - he stops and turns the young man's focus immediately to the nature of God. It’s as though he holds up his hand and says, ‘Before we start talking about you and your eternal relationship with God, let's remember who we're talking about here.’" Michael smiled as he spoke, making Jemimah’s heart glow with the reassurance that he didn’t mind taking all this time to go over her questions yet again.
"Jesus reminds him upfront that only God is good - and we soon discover why. As the young man talks about the way he has kept all the commandments - or so he thinks - it’s clear he thinks he's pretty good. So then Jesus, with love in his heart for this man, exposes this young man's sin of covetousness that separates him from God and eternal life. When Jesus tells the man that if he wants to inherit eternal life, he must give all his wealth to the poor and follow him, the young man goes away sad. You see, while he wanted eternal life, Jesus showed him that he actually loved something far more than God and wasn’t prepared to repent of that sin.”
Michael watched her, his forehead pinched in a deep crease. “Can you see that shaking the young man’s hand and assuring him that he would go to heaven because he said he believed in God and wanted to obey him would have been the worst thing you could have done for him? We can use all kind of methods, enticements or pressures to lead people to make a 'decision', but if God himself does not change the heart, all you've done is help them deceive themselves.”
Jemimah nodded slowly and then sighed. “Was the young ruler ever saved?”
“The Bible doesn’t say. Perhaps he was convicted by his unrighteousness and later came to Christ for forgiveness - but at least he was no longer able to delude himself that he was good in the eyes of God,” Michael shrugged as though he shared her sympathy for the young man, “It was a sobering experience for everyone who witnessed that encounter. No matter how good we think we are, sin is an impossible barrier between us and God - until we see that, and our helplessness, we won't taste eternal life. We must die to self – our own efforts, our pride, all that we hold dear. See what Jesus said as he watched him walk away.” Michael ran his finger a little further down the page. “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God - It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it would be for a rich man to come to God.”
"Yes, it would be extremely hard - just like the camel would have to give up everything it was carrying to fit through such a small opening," Jemimah nodded.
"Extremely hard or impossible?" Michael quirked an eyebrow. "I know that the needles they had back in those days must have been bigger than the tiny metal needles we use these days - but still, the idea of fitting even the smallest camel through the eye of the largest needle was clearly impossible."
"But the Eye of the Needle was a gate into Jerusalem, wasn't it?" Jemimah asked, remembering clearly one of her Bible story books. "And it was such a small gate that the camel had to be completely unloaded, and then had to get down on its knees and crawl through backwards. I thought the whole point of that illustration was that we had to give everything up, even our dignity, to come to God."
"So, if we try hard enough, a dead person can bring themself back to life?” Michael shook his head. “No, there is nothing about a gate and the extent of effort needed in the picture Jesus uses - it's an illustration of impossibility. They'd just seen what happened with the rich young ruler. If Jesus really had given them an illustration of the extent of effort a man needed to exert to get himself through the gate - what would their reaction have been? Relief, that there was hope for everyone, if they just tried hard enough? But their reaction was the exact opposite - they were astonished, saying "That's impossible! Who then can be saved?” If a rich man's chances of being saved are even less than the ridiculously impossibly idea of a camel going through the eye of a needle - what hope has anybody got?”
Jemimah read over the passage again, perplexed by the conflict between what she’d always believed and what Michael had pointed out to her.
“Would you come up with the idea of a gate simply by reading the passage?” Michael asked her as she looked up from the Bible. “If you'd needed that extra information about the various gates into Jerusalem and their nicknames to understand how we could be saved - surely God would have included it? No, the Bible itself makes clear everything we need to understand what it says - we only need to add complicated historical or cultural footnotes if we can't or won't accept what the Bible is teaching."
On the sheet of notes, he wrote the phrase ‘For sinful man, entering the kingdom of God is impossible' then immediately beneath it he added in bold capitals ‘BUT GOD' and looked expectantly to Jemimah.
"But what is impossible with man is possible with God." Jemimah read out Jesus’ words from the following verse in Mark 10 and sank back against the chair.
“But God,” Michael repeated. “Possibly the two most wonderful words in the Bible: But God. Here they are again – in Ephesians chapter 2:
Michael paused in his reading. “And just when it all seems too grim, come those two incredible words, But God.”
“And you were dead in the trespasses
and sins in which you once walked,
following the course of this world,
following the prince of the power of the air,
the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience
- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh,
carrying out the desires of the body and the mind,
and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
He slid the Bible closer to Jemimah and she continued reading from where he’d stopped.
“But God, being rich in mercy,
“I . . . I think I can see it now,” Jemimah said, so aware of Michael’s nearness that she barely dared to raise her voice above a whisper. “But I’m not sure I can quite . . . put it all together to make sense.”
because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ
—by grace you have been saved—
and raised us up with him and seated us with him
in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches
of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
For by grace you have been saved through faith.
And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
"That's okay. I've noted down the main scriptures we’ve looked at, why don't you take them with you and work your way through them again in your own time?"
"Thank you, I certainly will. But, would you mind writing down those other verses you read out before, too? About repenting and believing?"
"Sure. How about I find them again, and you note them down?" Michael handed her the paper and the smooth metal pen, still warm from his fingers, and began to flick through the pages of the Bible again.
Jemimah had written several references when Pastor Turnbull cleared his throat from the doorway. “And I thought I was having a late night. Have you two got any idea of the time?”
Jemimah looked guiltily toward the clock, her eyes widening when she saw it was after one o’clock.
“After the day you’ve had, Jemimah, I thought you’d be in bed hours ago,” Pastor Turnbull continued. “You don’t need to solve everything tonight, you know. The old fella mightn’t be nearly as attractive as the young bloke here, but I can probably still help you out if you haven’t had all your questions answered before Michael heads back to Sydney.”
Jemimah's face blazed with colour even as he winked to reassure her he was only joking.
Oblivious to the effect of his father’s teasing, Michael leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms behind his head. "Mmm, I have no idea what happened to the time – you’re right, we really must call it a night. There's only a couple of verses left anyway, I might just have a last cuppa while we finish them off. Can I make you one, Jemimah?"
“Thank you.” Jemimah kept her face averted as he unfolded himself stiffly from his chair and headed past his father to the kitchen.
"I'll see you both - later - in the morning then," Pastor Turnbull said, then turned back to Jemimah. "I should have warned you – once Michael begins talking about theology he could be there till dawn.”
Was he gently letting her know not to think too much Michael’s attention – that he’d spend as much time with anyone interested in talking about the Bible?
“No, no – I’m not tired at all,” she began but Pastor Turnbull waved away her protests with an indulgent smile and disappeared down the hall.
It was amazing how she hadn’t noticed the time passing, Jemimah thought as she turned back to her open Bible, but it was probably because understanding what Michael was talking about was so terribly important.
"Lord, help me get this all straight,” she briefly closed her eyes to pray, “I really do want to understand Your truth." Her eyes felt dry and a little gritty when she opened them again, so she let them shut for a little longer, her thoughts returning to Michael.
He’d been sitting here with her for hours – and no matter how many times she’d asked the same questions, he’d never seemed the least bit impatient.
She'd never met anyone who so totally loved the Word like he did; his brown eyes literally glowed as he turned to passages that seemed as familiar to him as old friends, his long, square tipped fingers tracing out the verses with reverent affection.
The more time she spent in Michael’s presence the more she cherished every little thing about him. The way the freckles stood out along his fingers and the back of his hands, like chocolate sprinkled on the top of hot coffee. The fluorescent shirt he'd worn for the truck-stop night made him seem older and more workman-like, and Jemimah couldn't help the thrill that came in knowing a mature man like him had spent so long contentedly speaking with her.
That it must be purely because he felt it his duty to explain these unfamiliar doctrines to her didn't take anything away from her appreciation of the privilege. Although she knew better, it was only a small step from reality to imagining Michael being with her simply for the pleasure of her company.
Jemimah’s favourite places from home came to life in her mind, suffused with a magical glow at the thought of sharing them with him. Perhaps a picnic overlooking the beach at Newcastle, and afterwards walking up to the lookout - the wind blowing off the ocean as she leant into his strong chest.
She could feel the warmth of the sunshine through her eyelids, the heat of his hand on her shoulder.
"Jemimah . . ." The way he said her name, as soft as the eddies of sand that danced across the dunes, made her heart sing.
She snuggled her cheek against him, the skin of his hand that held her shoulder feeling as manly as it had looked as he'd turned the pages in his Bible.
"Jemimah . . ."
But they hadn’t been looking at the Bible up on top of the lookout above the ocean . . . .
Something clicked, unpleasantly, in the back of Jemimah's consciousness.
"Jemimah." Michael’s voice came again a little more firmly, and Jemimah's eyelids flew open. She was looking straight into the depths of his eyes, and before she was fully aware of exactly what was happening she saw the amusement crinkling their corners.
"I'm sorry to disturb you," he said, gently withdrawing the hand she'd captured between her cheek and shoulder. "You were fast asleep."
Jemimah blinked, desperately wishing she were still dreaming and that she hadn't really snuggled against his hand when he tried to wake her. But it was all too true - and her burning cheek felt bereft and bare where his hand had been.
"I'd love to know what you were dreaming about," he continued, picking up a cup and handing it to her. "It must have been pleasant from the smile you had. It seemed a shame to wake you - but I couldn't leave you here all night. Look, you've got an imprint from the edge of your Bible."
He reached out and lightly touched her cheekbone, sending wild flashes of electricity buzzing through her skin. "Dad was right - I should have sent you off to bed hours ago."
His concern was nothing more than brotherly, but that didn't moderate the pounding of her heart. Embarrassed again by her childishness, Jemimah hurriedly picked up her cup and took a mouthful, only to find it far hotter than she'd expected.
She forced the hot liquid down, but her reaction sent tea spilling from her cup and onto the table. With exquisite grace, Michael pulled a serviette from the sideboard and had it wiped away before Jemimah could do so much as apologise.
He shook his head ruefully. "I wish I’d just let you be - you're all shaky from being startled awake. Here, I'll finish these notes while you have your tea."
Michael retrieved the notepad from in front of her, and Jemimah watched as those long, chocolate sprinkled fingers from her dream moved fluidly across the paper.
"Thank you so much," she said softly when he handed the paper to her a few minutes later, "I can't tell you how much I appreciate you taking so much time." For me . . . .
"Don't mention it - and try not to let these things we’ve been discussing get out of proportion. Just keep leaning on God and taking things step by step - everything will slide into place in His timing."
He rested his hand on her shoulder as he rose, and Jemimah felt again the heat burning through like when her dream had betrayed her. Surely he must feel the thudding of her heart?
Jemimah breathed again as he moved away to gather their cups. On her third attempt, she managed to tuck the sheet of paper into her Bible just as Michael paused in the doorway.
"And don't get up too early tomorrow - oh, no - this morning,” he said, “or I'll feel even worse about keeping you up so late."
As he headed for the kitchen Jemimah let herself into Angie’s room, her heart still skittering randomly.
If even now, in this twilight mood of exhaustion, she felt mortified about what had happened - dropping off to sleep in front of Michael and snuggling against his hand as she dreamed of him – she had no idea how she’d face sitting across from him at the breakfast table in the bright light of morning.
© R. L. Brown 2008