Friday, August 04, 2017

Reading Scripture Through the Lens of Christ

Jesus is our key to understanding who God is, what God is like and how we should read the Old Testament scriptures.

This is how the New Testament authors, and even Jesus Himself, defines what it means when we refer to Christ as the “Word of God.”

Jesus begins His ministry by teaching His disciples from the Sermon on the Mount where He quite boldly contrasted His teachings with the teachings of Moses.

“You have heard that it was said…but I say to you….”

Try to understand how radical it would be if someone came to your church and said, “You have heard someone say ‘Love one another as I have loved you’, but I say to you ‘Just love people who love you in return.’”

Hopefully there would be a huge gasp from the congregation at the audacity of this person to stand up in front of everyone and contradict the words of Jesus. Who does he think he is? What authority does he have to correct the teachings of Christ?

But this is exactly the same kind of statement that Jesus makes when He quotes Moses and then corrects that teaching with His own teaching.

This is also why the people are astonished and whisper to one another at the end of His Sermon about the way He taught.

“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.” (Matt. 7:28-29)

Indeed, the authority that Jesus taught with was impressive. He corrected the words of Moses and gave new and more stringent conditions for entering the Kingdom of God, even suggesting that his disciples needed to have a righteousness that surpassed the Pharisees.

This is the significance of pointing out that, at one time God spoke to us through prophets, but now He has spoken to us through His own Son, as the author of Hebrews claims.

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1–3, NIV)

So, today God speaks to us – not merely through the Bible – but through His own Son.

Jesus is what God is saying to us in these last days.

In the past He spoke to us through the Old Testament, but now, God’s message to us is found in Christ.

Remember, Jesus promised us that He would speak to us and that we could hear His voice.

Remember that Jesus promised to send us the Holy Spirit who would live within us and would lead us into all truth.

He even said that it was better for us that He went away so that He could send us the Spirit who could abide within us and teach us the Words of God which He would write on our hearts.

Remember also that we have one mediator between God and us and that this mediator is Christ.

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus...” (1 Tim. 2:5)

Our mediator is Christ.

Not your pastor.

Not your church.

Not your denomination.

Not your bishops, or elders, or deacons.

Only Jesus is our mediator.

Only Jesus stands between you and God. 

Only Jesus connects you to God. 

Only Jesus reveals who the Father is, and what the Father is like.

So, no one – and nothing – else is stands between you and God.

Not even the Bible.

This is what the Bible teaches us: That Jesus is our mediator and Jesus is alive within us and we can hear His voice.

We are also told by Jesus Himself that we have one instructor. Who is it?

“For you have one instructor – the Messiah.” (Matt. 23:10)

Jesus is our instructor. He teaches us. He leads us into all Truth by His indwelling Holy Spirit.

Jesus tells us that He is the Way, and the Truth and the Life. [John 14:6]

This means that any scriptures that do not align with what has been revealed to us in Christ is not the Truth.

Moses even foresaw the coming of one like Christ who would come in the last days to speak the words of God and he said we should listen to him. (See Deut. 18:15-22)

On the mount of transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and when Peter mistakenly assumed that the three of them should be honored equally, God removed Moses (who stood for the Law) and Elijah (who stood for the Prophets) and He left Jesus alone on the mountain saying, “This is my Son. Listen to Him!”

This is our mandate now, from Moses, from Jesus and even from God the Father Himself – “Listen to Jesus!”

This means we need to read the Bible through the lens of Christ if we ever hope to know who God is and what God is really like.

Why else would Paul tell us that “to this day a veil covers [our] eyes whenever the Old Testament scriptures are read and only in Christ is it taken away”? (See 2. Cor. 3:14)

Because, without Christ as our lens or our filter, we cannot properly understand what is truth and what is error.

But now that we have seen and known Jesus, we truly “see the Father” and we recognize the “Truth” when we see it because Jesus has shown us the “Way” to see the Father clearly.

Therefore, nothing is true unless it lines up with the revelation of Christ. Nothing points the way to God unless it aligns with the teachings of Jesus. Nothing contains the words of life unless those words correspond to the words spoken by Jesus.

As Peter exclaimed:

“Where else can we go, Lord? You have the words of life” [John 6:68]

And as Jesus reminded us:

“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” [John 4:39-40]

And as John tells us:

“He who has the Son has life, but he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” [1 Jn. 5:12]

In the same way that without Christ we have no life, it could be said that without Christ we have no truth about God either. His unique access to the Father was one of the central claims of His Messianic ministry, as we have already referenced here.

Jesus is the Father’s preferred method of speaking to us in these last days. Not through prophets or teachers, not even through apostles or pastors, but through His Son.

Does this mean we should ignore those prophets, teachers, apostles and pastors? Of course not. But what it does mean is that if those prophets, teachers, apostles and pastors say something about God that disagrees with what Jesus has already told us or revealed to us, we must hold tight to the teachings of Christ.

For many, this is where they warn us about being deceived or remind us how easy it is to fall into error. As if our best and only safeguard against error or deception is to be found in the security of holy men rather than in the absolute authority of Christ and His Holy Spirit that lives within us.

Let us not fool ourselves. These fear-based warnings are more about a desire to maintain control over people in the Church – to ensure they don’t question the doctrines of the denomination or challenge the teaching of the pastor in the pulpit.

This is why you will never hear sermons about the priesthood of all believers, or the passages about how the average Christian is capable of hearing the voice of God apart from the approved mediators. Because to empower the people of God in this way is to effectively dismantle the clergy class and calls into question the entire status quo of traditional Christianity which is built upon coercion and control.

So, we are told to question our ability to hear God’s voice. We are told to doubt that still small voice. We’re warned not to trust our own discernment. All of this keeps the Holy Spirit of God at a safe distance from the people, only to be handled by the trained professionals in the seminaries.

How do you know if your own church community has bought into this fear of the Holy Spirit? It’s simple enough to determine. Just try to start a Bible study in your own home and invite some of your friends. See how long it takes for someone to question your ability to lead such a study by yourself. See if anyone demands to see your notes or expects you to ask permission from the leadership first.

I experienced something like this at a church I was serving at over a decade ago. A few college students wanted to start a Bible study in their dorm room with some friends. They were told they could not host this study without one of the pastors leading the study, and so they ended up cancelling it.

This astounded me. How could we refuse to allow these twenty-something students to gather and read the words of Jesus together? It was their decision. It was their dorm room. What right did anyone have to tell them they were not qualified to handle the words of Jesus without a professional clergy in the room with them?

We often act as if the Gospel and the Scriptures are too dangerous to be handled by mere mortals. As if the most likely outcome of allowing everyday people to read the Bible would result in confusion and false doctrine, not wisdom, insight and freedom.

Let’s look, once again, at what the New Testament says about all of this:

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18)

“As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing 
teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.” (1 John 2:27)

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” (John 16:13-14)

"I myself am convinced, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14)

"For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (1 Corinthians 14:31)

What I find fascinating is that, according to Jesus and the Apostles, every believer is capable of hearing the voice of God, and yet, in today’s modern church we typically find that only one, or perhaps a few, are expected to hear God’s voice and communicate His will to the Body.

Why is that?

Partly because we have embraced a false Clergy-Laity divide which suggests that only those who have attended seminary or graduated from Bible College are capable of hearing God’s voice or instructing the Body.

As one New Testament scholar, Howard Snyder, put it:

"The clergy-laity dichotomy is…a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only ‘holy men,’ namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity. The New Testament teaches us that the church is a community in which all are gifted and all have ministry.”

Essentially, in spite of the fact that the veil in the temple was torn in two when Christ said “it is finished,” we have virtually re-sewn the veil and re-instituted our own system of professional priesthood.

I would like to suggest that it is time for another reformation within the Body of Christ. One where we demolish the clergy-laity distinctions and empower every member to listen for the still, small voice of God.

It’s also very important for us to spend time reading the words of Jesus ourselves. This process isn’t accomplished in a vacuum. We need to know what Jesus says and we need to become familiar with what He taught. How else can we call ourselves His followers? How can we possibly do what He says if we don’t know what He said?

This doesn’t mean that everyone has the gift of teaching. We still need to rely on one another and trust the Spirit of Christ that is alive in our community of faith to lead us. We need to pray for, and start to develop our gift of discernment. We need to test the Spirits and hold tightly to the words of Jesus, trusting in His Spirit to guide us.

Everyone who is under the care of the Great Shepherd can hear Him speak. We need to learn to trust Him to do that, and we need to learn to trust ourselves – and especially His Spirit within us – to discern His voice.

Like any skill, this may take time to develop. But if we never step outside our comfort zones and move deeper into an intimate relationship with Jesus, we’ll never learn to recognize when He speaks.

What we often forget is that learning and teaching in the Body of Christ isn’t merely an academic process. It’s not the same as taking a class on Trigonometry or how to speak Chinese. In those cases it is necessary to have a teacher – an expert in the field – who fully understands the material and has an ability to communicate the necessary information.

But in the Church, we are not only gathering to understand information about God, are we? Hopefully not.

Instead, when we gather together the Author of the Book is always in the room with us. The main character is close at hand to answer any questions and explain Himself to us.

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20)

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

So, even if the people who have the gift of teaching are not present for one of our gatherings, it's still possible for everyone else in the room to read the Scriptures, and pray, and ask God for wisdom and insight. If they do this they should expect to receive revelation from God Himself through the Holy Spirit.

In this way, the Church is never without a teacher. The expert we require is always present.

Again, this doesn't make everyone in the room a teacher, but everyone in the room does have access to hear the Teacher and share what they learn from Him.

Therefore, it’s still possible for everyone in the Body to come together under the Headship of Christ and share the gifts they’ve received from the Holy Spirit and participate in the life of Jesus together.

We have the living God within us. He is our instructor.

Don’t you think it’s time we got busy listening to Him?



Unknown said...

What about the scriptures in Hebrews 13? Personally, I study the word a good bit, and qualify what comes from the pulpit as truth. However, my pastor studies much more than I, and I actually don't agree with everything he says. Still, I find that the scripture tells me to obey and even submit to him. Are those separate to you?

Keith Giles said...

If you disagree with some of what he teaches, you're already using your brain to discern truth. That's what I'm talking about. The scriptures strongly encourage us to do this. We are responsible for what we believe and why.

The scripture in Hebrews has nothing to do with thinking for yourself, nor do they nullify the call to be Bereans who carefully weigh everything we are told using spiritual discernment and our own ability to hear the Shepherd's voice for ourselves.

Keep it up. :)