One of the most significant things that we know about Jesus is seen in the only story we have of his childhood. Jesus’ parents discover that he is missing from the family caravan leaving Jerusalem, and eventually he’s found in the temple (Luke 2:46-47), “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”
Luke writes that Jesus grew in wisdom, and when we next see Jesus, it is as a man fully equipped to apply and teach the word of God (Luke 4). He stands up to the temptations from Satan with the same response each time:
“It is written.”
Jesus set an example we absolutely must follow in the way that he treasured the word of God. David wrote “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97), but Jesus’ relationship to the law was even more intimate:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14
Jesus understood the word of God better than anyone before or since, because it was part of him. He was the author of that law, and he was the physical embodiment of God’s word. In submission to God, he constantly pointed people back to the word.
The value of the Old Testament
By my count, Jesus quotes or references material from at least 15 different books in the Old Testament. That includes acceptance of the Septuagint as authoritative across all types of writing: law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), history (1 Samuel, 1 Kings), poetry (Psalms), and prophecy (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi). Some claim that he cited as many as 27 of the 33 books.
Regardless of the number, Jesus confirmed the value of all the Old Testament writings, indicating that even the Psalms of David were both law and prophecy (Matthew 22:42-44), because they were inspired of God. That doesn’t mean David and the psalmists were inspired in the way that an artist is inspired by a sunset or an inventor is inspired by an observed challenge. It literally means that the psalms of David, the prophecies of Isaiah, and the writings of Moses were all breathed out by God (2 Peter 1:20-21). And Jesus treated them with an appropriate level of reverence.
Understanding how to apply scripture
Jesus shows us the value of a deep knowledge of God’s word that goes beyond simply reading the text, but reading and understanding context, being able to make applications and growing in an understanding of God’s nature and His will for us. He provides an example of proper use of scripture in refuting the Pharisees’ accusations about his disciples working on the Sabbath:
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” — Matthew 12:3-7
- Direct command: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” Hosea 6:6
- Approved example: David is permitted by virtue of specific need to eat of food that by law he was not authorized to taste (1 Samuel 21:1-6, Leviticus 24:5-9)
- Necessary inference: If the priests were commanded to perform “work” on the Sabbath day in order to carry out the worship on that day, then it is logical to say that there are examples where doing God’s will should not be prevented through observance of the Sabbath regulations on work – which in most cases were derived from the Jewish rulers’ interpretations of the idea of “work”, rather than the simple command not to work.
That is the essential model for understanding, interpreting and applying scripture. He does not appeal to opinion, human precedent, teachings of leading theologians, popular sentiment, or even conscience. He simply shows that the Pharisees were misapplying scripture because they did not fully understand it.
The word of God as our source of life
Jesus’ reliance on the word, reflected his teachings. When he told the Jews that he was the bread of life, and that his words were spirit and life (John 6:63), he was reflecting his own attachment to the word. When answering Satan in Luke 4, he quoted from the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 8:
And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land… — Deuteronomy 8:2-7
He understood a principle that the Hebrews were meant to learn from their time with Moses in the wilderness: that they were sustained not by their own ability or skill, but by listening to and obeying all that God said.
Imagine being the hero in a movie where you’re required to land a pilot-less plane, with only the instructions from the tower to help. How closely would you follow? How intently would you listen? That is the way in which Jesus viewed God’s law. It is literally the source of life, because it connects us to God. And it is the means by which God guides us into “a good land:” our eternal inheritance.
If the Bible is our lifeline to God, how well do we know it? Is it a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)? Is it dwelling in us richly (Colossians 3:16)? Are we able to handle it properly with the understanding of how to apply it to our lives and to our efforts to teach others (2 Timothy 2:15)?
Jesus didn’t just love the word. He lived it. So should we.