Legend has it that a reporter asked Michelangelo, “How did you create this amazing sculpture from a block of marble?” His reply has fascinated everyone for hundreds of years.
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there. I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” ~Michalangelo
I always wonder how the great artist knew the sculpture was in the marble block. I have discovered that art is the language of God. Michelangelo spoke the language of God.
My favorite sculpture of Michelangelo is The Pieta (Picture), Mary carrying Jesus’ body on her lap after the crucifixion. I can gaze at the picture of it for a long time and feel taken away in amazement, as if I see God’s fingerprints on it.
Sometimes people ask me to prove God’s existence. Art is evidence of God’s presence. All these great artists, Michelangelo, Leonardo DaVinci, Beethoven, Mozart, William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, and you name it, not to mention King David and Solomon, showed us God’s existence through art. They speak God’s language and give me a thirst to speak the language of God.
In fact, the entire Bible is a piece of art written by those who understood the language of God. That’s why it’s filled with poetry, psalms, parables, prophecies, proverbs, profiles, and philosophy. Art needs interpretation, and that’s why some parts of the Bible are hard to understand until we are fluent in the language of God.
One day I discovered a story in a book written 2,400 years ago by the Taoist sage Zhuangzi which reveals a secret to speaking the language of God.
The Woodcarver Qing received an assignment from the king to carve a bell stand for the courtyard (Picture). He did a marvelous job, and people everywhere came to admire the bell stand at the palace.
They said, “This bell stand is so stunningly beautiful. It looks like the work of God.” They visited the woodcarver’s home to interview him about his secret to reaching the pinnacle of artistry. Qing said, “I am a mere woodcarver, far from an artist. If you want to know how I carved it, here is what I did.
“Since this project was for the king, I realized I must concentrate my energy to get the job done well. So, I fasted for seven days. After three days of fasting, I stopped caring about my compensation; after five days, I could ignore my reputation; and after seven days, I had even forgotten my reservation—my ego had disappeared.
“By that time, I had lost all my distractions and became one with the Holy Spirit. Then I went up to the forest hill to look for the tree for the bell stand. I look for the one with the bell stand in it. When I found it, I cut it down and carved it out. The outcome was what you call the work of God.” (End of story.)
The woodcarver stayed humble and didn’t even think of himself as an artist because, like Michelangelo, he felt his art already existed in the tree. He just revealed it by chipping away the excess. His secret of seeing the sculpture in the raw material is setting aside his ego. He did it through fasting. Michelangelo did not disclose how he achieved that state, but this story gives us a clue.
Jesus fasted for forty days to set his ego aside even though he was the Son of God. In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus gives us more clues to speak the language of God. Let’s find out!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to John 4:3-30. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
He left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. (John 4:3-30).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s Word. Thanks be to God!]
The story begins with a divine appointment. It says,
He left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. (John 4:3-4).
In those days, when the Jews traveled from Judea to Galilee, they skirted Samaria because the Jews and Samaritans despised each other. It was not safe for the Jews to go through Samaria. But it says Jesus had to go through Samaria as if God told him to go.
How does Jesus know that he must come to Samaria? We can dismiss it by saying, “Well, because he is God.” I don’t like easy answers. Jesus knew he must come to Samaria to meet this woman, just as Michelangelo knew the sculpture was in the marble block. They knew because they understood the language of God.
According to his biography, Michelangelo was a very spiritual man. He believed we should have direct communication with God, which got him into trouble with the organized religion because, in those days, the Roman Catholic church taught people that they could only talk to God through priests. Sadly, the church punished him despite his art showing evidence of God’s presence with him.
Don’t we all want to speak the language of God so that we can sense God’s presence, know God’s will, and discern what we need to do in our lives? Maybe we can also produce art and masterpieces.
Art is not limited to sculpture, painting, poetry, and music. There are many forms of art. Architecture, cooking, decoration, gardening, and technology are all art. Nowadays, I treat each of my sermons as a piece of art. Every week, I paint a picture of God for you from the Bible. To do that, I have to learn to speak the language of God. I am not fluent, but still learning.
Do you know your life is a piece of art? Jesus is chiseling off your superfluous material to reveal you as a masterpiece. Let’s look at how Jesus chiseled off the excess to reveal the beautiful Samaritan woman.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:7, 9)
Middle Eastern noon is the hottest time of the day. Women came out to draw water early in the morning or the evening and chitchat at the well. But she came out alone at the hottest time of the day, revealing she tried to avoid people. She had something to hide.
Jesus surprised the woman by asking for a drink because, as mentioned, they despised each other. You can see Jesus is an artist. A piece of art usually surprises people and draws their attention. She refused to give it to him because they didn’t share the same utensil for food or drink. Then Jesus said,
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10).
Jesus used another poetic metaphor, “living water,” and offered to quench her spiritual thirst. She seemed confused about Jesus’ figure of speech. So Jesus explained.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14).
She now seemed to realize Jesus was unusual. So she asked for the living water to see what it would be like. God’s grace is free but not cheap! Jesus wanted to chisel away her inflated ego by asking her to bring her husband here—the messy life she tried to hide.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” (John 4:16-18)
A person beaten up by life often has an inflated ego. It’s like inflammation over the wound. I know it personally because I also have an inflated ego growing up in a dysfunctional environment and was diagnosed with PTSD.
Jesus tried to chisel away her inflated ego, but she tried to change the subject.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20).
Since Samaritans were not welcomed at the temple in Jerusalem, they established a new temple on Mount Gerizim and declared it holier than Jerusalem. Here, we see she is religiously savvy, but she was confused about the language of God—does God speak Samaritan or Jewish? Jesus answered,
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24).
Sin God is spirit, the language of God is not verbal or ritual but revelational. It requires “spirit and truth.” That is an Aramaic figure of speech for “sincerity.” All the rules and rituals of the two temples didn’t change people. The fact that they hated each other showed they were not spiritually mature. God wants sincere worshipers. She seemed to get it. Now, Jesus struck the last chisel.
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:25-26).
It’s like a confession. The woman said she knew, a strong statement of faith. She sensed Jesus must be the Messiah, and he confirmed, “I am He.” Now she became alive like a sculpture of a beautiful woman revealed from the marble block—like a caterpillar emerging into a butterfly.
Jesus sowed a seed of subversive movement in her to reform Samaria, Israel, and eventually the entire world without arm forces. A non-violent subversive movement is Jesus’ mission and should be our mission. I would like to adorn it as the “metamorphosis movement.” Now the woman began to fly.
Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:28-29).
Imagine the contrast. A good artist uses contrast effectively, called chiaroscuro. A woman who hid from the public suddenly ran into the city, excitedly announcing the Messiah, exposing her past without shame, and inviting people to listen to Jesus.
That’s an excellent example of “spirit and truth,” with nothing to hide. It’s a state of egolessness. She has become a soul-winning artist.
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” (John 4:39).
God’s language is spoken in spirit and truth. Paul called it “a truthful heart.” Let’s look at another great artist in history, King David, who described it poetically,
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Ps 51:6 ESV).
He said God loves a truthful heart, another way of saying “in spirit and truth,” and God teaches you wisdom secretly in that condition. That’s why Michelangelo and other great artists couldn’t explain how they did what they did. Their wisdom comes through secret revelation to a truthful heart.
Lent is a season for us to surrender, letting God chisel the excess away from us, teaching us to speak the language of God, and making us artists in whatever we do. I am looking forward to seeing your masterpieces sooner or later!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.