On July 9, 1982 at 10:30 in the evening, my life changed forever. I don’t mention that moment in time simply because, without a hand being laid on me I was saved, miraculously healed and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit – though it is all that. I mention it because that’s when the Word of God first became alive to me. It’s not that I hadn’t studied and read portions of the Bible before – because I had – in fact, quite a lot. But for the first time I actually desired to read it for more than an attempt to get a good grade in a theology class, or to appear knowledgeable in front of a group of other religious people. I began reading it to get to know God and to know what He thought of me, and what His plans were for me.
And so I began doing what many of you probably did and may still do – I went from church to church, from evangelical meeting to evangelical meeting, thirsting for the knowledge of the Word that God had revealed to these preachers and teachers. And I began carrying a pocketful of highlight pens around with me – to every church service, to every evangelical meeting, even when I did my own Bible reading. Pink and yellow, even light blue and green, and violet – and before long, my Bible began looking like a rainbow throughout.
It wasn’t long before I also began keeping a couple of Bibles in use at all times: one I called my working Bible, another that I kept at home, and used for my daily reading and meditation. My “working Bible” followed and continues to follow me to church, and to counseling sessions and into many hospitals and nursing homes. Actually the only part that’s survived over the last three decades is the leather Bible cover, which is the best $10 I’ve ever spent. Twenty-eight years ago I bought it from a teenage girl in a Young People’s Church that Sandy and I pastored. Her father had lost his job and was making a lot of crafts to support his family. This cover has survived more than one worn-out-from-use NKJV.
Anyway, a few years ago, a former pastor of ours began his message by reading 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Then he opened his Bible and held it up revealing pages highlighted like mine at the time in a rainbow of colors. He repeated the 2 Timothy scripture. “All Scripture .…” His message then encouraged the congregation to focus on the non-highlighted verses in their Bible. That day I put away my highlight pens.
Like every other Christian, I have my favorite scriptures that have spoken to me in times of turmoil and need; yet I try to pay attention to every word in every line I read. The result is that the Holy Spirit often draws my attention to otherwise obscure verses and characters in the Bible.
Many a hidden message
Such was the case this past week when I was asked to speak at a luncheon and fellowship. I felt the Lord leading me to encourage these lovely people; some who have had difficult upbringings. To do this, He led me to study and share the “born-again,” regenerated lives of two young people who grew up in the household of Herod the tetrarch (Herod Antipas) – the very man who murdered John the Baptist and who lived a corrupt and debased life with his own niece. Manaen and Joanna may not be household names to most Christians, yet their names are recorded in heaven’s book of life.
According to Acts 13, Manaen was among the Antioch prophets and teachers who gathered to fast and pray and lay hands on Saul and Barnabas and send them on their first missionary journey. While Luke 8 identifies Joanne as one of the women Jesus healed of evil spirits and infirmities, who then joined His band of followers, even providing financial support for Him and His apostles. Later chapters describe how she was also among those women who followed Jesus to the cross, then to the tomb, and who even showed up Easter morning, planning to anoint His body – instead finding angels guarding the empty tomb.
While the details of their lives and how they came to be saved are sketchy, there’s much we can read between the lines to give us encouragement in our own walk with God. Somehow both Manaen and Joanna found God in the midst of one of the most evil families in history. Manaen was the foster-brother of Herod Antipas; while Joanna was the wife of Antipas’s steward. Manaen was probably brought up and educated in Rome with Antipas and his brothers; while Joanna’s husband likely was the tutor of Herod’s children, in addition to being tasked to manage his property.
Even their names reflect their new lives in Christ: Manaen means comforter or consoler; while Joanna’s name means “Jehovah has shown favor.” They were both persons who Jesus healed and set free, and who came to honor Christ. In other words, they were just like you and me.
Some theologians believe that Manaen was the “nobleman from Capernaum” described in John 4, who came to Jesus when his son was dying. It might have taken something as dramatic as a miracle to change the heart of the foster brother of Herod. A father, reluctant to leave his very sick son even to seek aid, tries to convince Jesus to “come down and heal his son.” Jesus increases the nobleman’s belief in His power by showing him that his words take effect without regard to distance, and the man’s faith grows. He even leads his entire household to the Lord.
Joanna, a sick woman healed by Christ, becomes a loyal witness first in the Herod household, then a generous supporter of Christ and His followers as they preach the good news throughout Galilee and Judea. Her joy turns to sorrow as she observes, then mourns His death and prepares to anoint His lifeless body. But the joy returns as she becomes one of the first to proclaim her Lord’s resurrection.
What God did for Manaen and Joanna, He’ll do for anyone who asks and seeks His help. We were each created to add value to the world around us – no matter what our station in life or what difficulties defined our past. God sees the potential in each of us – because He planted it there.
God made each of us exactly the way He intended, and He equipped us with everything we need. We have the strength (through His Holy Spirit) to stand strong in the midst of difficult situations, and the wisdom it takes to make good decisions. Each of us has an assignment; but we also have access to the gifts, talents, and knowledge to accomplish it. We have more in us that we realize, and we can accomplish more than we ever thought possible.
The next time you are tempted to skip over a few verses of scripture because it seems dry, or merely is a list of saints’ names or the like, reconsider that the Holy Spirit may well want to open up to you (perhaps for the benefit of others as well) some amazing truth in those “dry” words. For “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable ….”