As many young brains take up the great task of learning to read, it's a good time for the rest of us to join them. In a post a few weeks ago, I considered some of the biggest and most common mistakes we make when reading our Bible: reading with doubt, with division, and with dissection. I'm convinced those errors are plaguing many churches and Christians, rendering large parts of the Bible confusing and irrelevant.
So, how should we read the Bible? Most simply, we should read the Bible the way Jesus does. We honor Him by watching and listening as He teaches us how to read God's Word accurately.
We honor Jesus when we use the same glasses He did. In Luke 24, Jesus meets up with a couple disciples mourning His death and rather than simply proclaiming His resurrection to them, he begins with a rebuke. "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Lk. 24:25-26) What was their fault, their foolishness? Not understanding how all Scripture had been foretelling the very thing they were mourning.
Then Jesus began the greatest Sunday school lesson ever taught: "Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (Lk. 24:27) Using the well-known nametag for the Old Testament ("Moses and the Prophets"), Jesus gave us all His own reading glasses.
"Micah told you where the Christ would be be born. Moses told you He would be a great prophet. Zechariah told you he would come riding on a donkey into Jerusalem. Isaiah told you He wouldn't look like anything special, but would be the suffering servant, destined to take the stripes you deserve. David told you He would be raised from the dead and ascend as the 'Lord of glory' to His throne...which book have you been reading this whole time?"
So when we read, we honor Jesus by starting with this conviction, that the whole Bible is about Him. We aren't the main character in this story, He is.
We honor Jesus by paying attention when He teaches the Bible. A large part of the Sermon on the Mount is taken up with Jesus teaching God's Word. The Pharisees made their living teaching the Bible. But they had so twisted God's Word--by ignoring, rejecting, adding, and subtracting--that Jesus' style of teaching seemed heretical to many. Which is why He has to say something like this: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Mt. 5:17)
This is how Jesus understood His ministry: it was all about the Scriptures. When He taught, he was teaching the Old Testament. When He lived and died and rose from the grave, He was fulfilling the Old Testament. Like a hoarder, Jesus refused to throw anything out. Everything in the Old Testament Jesus either kept or fulfilled. Listen to the next verse: "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until it is all accomplished." Unlike so many who just ignore the Old Testament or say that it was for another time, Jesus taught the opposite.
But conversely, we dishonor Jesus when we ignore the Old Testament. Can you imagine reading only the second half of an amazing book and then telling the author how much the story meant to you? We dishonor Jesus when we believe the law doesn't apply to us anymore. Rather, when you read the Old Testament, recognize that everything you read is something He fulfilled at the cross and/or something He preserved so you could continue to benefit by it. Jesus' ministry was never getting rid of the Old Testament, but picking it up off the ground, dusting it off, prying off everything the Pharisees had added and presenting it to us in all its cross-centered glory.
We honor Jesus when we give Him the right place in our Bible. As Paul wraps up his final letter to his protege, Timothy, he's getting ready to charge him to "preach the word!" (2 Tim. 4:2), the Old Testament he had learned from his mom and grandma. Paul reminds Timothy of important truths about those sacred writings. First, they are "able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Rather than encouraging Timothy to move on from the Old Testament, he urges him to "continue" because those same Scriptures make people wise for salvation. If that was true for Timothy, it remains true for us. The whole Bible, from beginning to end, is able to make us wise for salvation.
What Paul is encouraging Timothy to do is one of the great ways we honor Jesus: by giving Him the right place in our Bible. By that I mean we read our Bibles with this purpose: to be "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." So we pick it up, not just to find help for some specific problem we're facing, but always to find Jesus and the way of salvation. Rather than starting with the little things, start with the big thing and let that shed light on the little thing.
A few simple points of application:
- Read the Bible. Don't just read blog posts about reading the Bible.
- Read the whole Bible. Pick a reading plan and work your way through the whole thing.
- Read the whole Bible for what it is, the great story about Jesus (not you). Though it is for you, it isn't about you. It is “God’s witness to God’s work of saving sinners for God’s glory” (J.I.Packer)
- Be relentless in working to understand every passage in light of the big story.