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Knowing Jesus: Jesus prayed like someone was listening

Knowing Jesus: Jesus prayed like someone was listening

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The phrase “prayer warrior” has come into wide use in the religious world in past years, and while I’ve never really been that crazy about the term myself, it clearly resonates with people. It’s a phrase that seems to me to describe someone who prays regularly and with purpose, convinced that a petition to God will truly bring results. It is a phrase that helps people see their daily prayers as a source of real power.

By that definition, Jesus was not a prayer warrior. He was a prayer general.

When Jesus was on the earth, prayer was a part of his daily life and served as a model for his disciples in the most literal way: on at least one occasion, they came to him and asked that he would teach them to pray.

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” — Luke 11:1 1

This passage seems to indicate an instance where the disciples could see and hear Jesus pray, and it impressed them to the point that they asked him for instruction on how they could pray like he did. We often don’t think of teaching people to pray as we might teach them to serve in other acts of worship, or as we might teach them about doctrinal issues or Biblical stories and truths. But I can imagine the disciples seeing Jesus’ attitude toward prayer and hearing the way that he approached God, and then looking at their own prayer lives and wondering why they couldn’t manage that same level of dedication. That’s a question I ask myself a lot, and I suspect I’m not alone.

Jesus responded first by giving them a framework for prayer, which was intended (I believe) as nothing more than a “starter kit” of sorts — some basic concepts that an individual can take, personalize, build upon and use to understand the basic mechanics of prayer. I don’t think Jesus ever intended for it to be recited as an actual prayer as so many do today.

But the words themselves weren’t really the key to why Jesus’ prayer life was so effective. He follows with an illustration:

And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘ Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” — Luke 11:5-13

Jesus tells his disciples simply this: If you wouldn’t ignore your children when they ask you for help, why would God ignore His?

To Jesus, prayers were the means for him to address his Father. That seems obvious to us, but I suspect that often our prayers are directed more at the ceiling, or the sky, or some far-in-the-distance point where our words will carry and after that, who knows what will happen? It’s difficult for us to imagine “boldly coming before the throne of grace” and speaking to our God as to our own father. It’s not that we don’t believe that’s what we’re doing, it’s just that some days it feels more like hope than settled truth.

There’s a reason Jesus’ prayer were so powerful: they weren’t acts of faith. Jesus knew God was listening to him because Jesus had been to Heaven, and he had seen the Father!

And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42

That’s not to say Jesus didn’t have faith. It’s simply to say that Jesus had first-hand knowledge. Jesus had been with the Father in the beginning. Jesus knew that God heard the prayers of His people, because he had been witness to it. Jesus knew God loved mankind because he was himself the living proof of that love.

One of the central truths of scripture is that prayers of faith work, and doubtful prayers don’t (James 1:6, Matthew 21:21). When Jesus prayed, he prayed with a certainty that we can’t fully duplicate this side of Heaven. That doesn’t mean we can’t pray in true faith and hope, modeling our prayers after our Lord’s. But it does mean that if we’re going to have a truly effective prayer life, we have to be convicted in our faith (James 5:16, Hebrews 11:6).

When we pray to God, do we consider that the God and creator of all the universe—the God who is maintaining all things right now through His own will and power—has given us permission as His children through Christ Jesus to address Him? And that whatever He may be doing, He is now listening?

Jesus knew that to be true, and as a result, he was constantly praying. Let’s work hard to reflect that prayerful attitude in our own lives.

Knowing Jesus: Jesus got angry

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When we think of Jesus, we think of someone who was meek and mild. Drawings of Jesus almost always show him with a tranquil, calm, almost placid expression. We see him as being infinitely patient, perpetually kind, always speaking graciously.

We don’t spend much time talking about the angry Jesus. The Jesus who didn’t speak kindly. The Jesus who demanded much more than many in his audience were willing or able to give.

The same Jesus who turned the other cheek—who did not return evil for evil—still had reason to be angry.

 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand,” Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ” Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. — Mar 3:1-6

There are very few passages that specifically say Jesus was angry, but there are plenty in which the word usage and context would indicate that he was. Whether we want to consider it anger, agitation, irritation or some milder version, we would most likely have witnessed the scene and come up away with the impression that the person was angry.

When Peter tried to correct Jesus concerning his impending death (Matthew 16:22), telling him “This shall never happen to you,” Jesus responded by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” That sounds a lot like anger to me.

What made Jesus angry?

Jesus seemed to become angry resulting from four different scenarios. We’ll talk about all of these in greater detail as we get deeper into the series, but for now it’s worth pointing them out in a more general sense.

Hypocrisy from religious leaders

This is the one I suspect most of us think of first, and with good reason. Jesus spent a lot of time arguing with the religious leaders of the day, leading to his most heated exchanges. Invariably, Jesus’ anger led him to condemn the Pharisees and scribes because of their insincere devotion to piety and the law.

In Matthew 23, Jesus rips the leaders who had been constantly criticizing and undermining him throughout his ministry. Here he pointed out the various inconsistencies between their teachings and actions, calling them “children of Hell” (v. 15), blind guides (v. 16), comparing them to tombs filled with uncleanness and dead men’s bones (v. 27). But the worst rebuke is reserved for their claims to be upright children of Abraham, who loved and revered the prophets sent in past centuries by God:

 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. — Matthew 23:33-35

As we’ll see, hypocrisy was involved in almost all the instances in which Jesus was moved to anger.

Lack of compassion for sinners

Jesus clearly saw this a lot in dealing with men and women who were marginalized from Hebrew society for their sins. There is a difficult balance for a child of God in rejecting sinful activities and lifestyles while continuing to reach out to call the sinner back to the fold. Jesus found that balance, and it greatly bothered much of the religious community.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, ” Simon, I have something to say to you.” — Luke 7:36-40

We’re not told that Jesus is angry here, but clearly he wasn’t happy with Simon’s attitude. I suspect if someone responded to any one of us by turning around and saying, “I have something to say to you,” we would have already felt the sting of rebuke before the thought was complete.

Jesus went on to elaborate, pointing out that this sinful woman was genuine in her sorrow and desire for forgiveness, while the host hadn’t even bothered with the common courtesies typically afforded a guest in that culture (v. 44-46).

Unwillingness to listen

As already mentioned, Peter received a strong rebuke because he was so invested in his own ideas on how Jesus’ reign would work that he simply was not listening to what Jesus was trying to explain to him. It must have been difficult for Jesus to talk about his own death, and there’s nothing more irritating than trying to explain a gravely serious subject to someone who simply dismisses your concerns as invalid.

As seen in the passage from Mark 3, Jesus was angered “because of their hardness of heart”; they were so concerned with holding onto their own traditions that they had lost sight of what Jesus had been trying to teach them: that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Law of Moses taught that the Israelites should do no work on that day (Exodus 20:10, 31:14), but it said nothing about not helping someone in need or caring for someone’s injury or illness, or otherwise refusing to show compassion. Jesus pointed out that they gave more consideration for an animal in a ditch (Matthew 12:10) than they did for someone who wished for Jesus to heal him.

There was likely very little dispute about offering aid on the Sabbath in general, but there was a great deal of dispute about whether Jesus could do so.

Displays of irreverence toward God the Father and His word

The most vivid description of an angry Jesus is found when the gospel writers depict him chasing the money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17). John specifically notes that Jesus is enraged as a result of zeal for the house of God—witnessing it turned into a house of merchandise (and in some cases a dishonest one, at that).

Whatever you believe is meant by the “unpardonable sin” of Matthew 12, it’s clear that it relates to an irreverence toward the Holy Spirit. Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Jesus refutes them with simple logic, pointing out that the Spirit of God is the true source of his authority and power. He then adds:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. — Matthew 12:31-37

Jesus loved God the Father, and was completely devoted to doing God’s will and bringing glory to Him. He would not tolerate refusals to revere God or His law.

Isn’t anger sinful?

As we discussed last week, Jesus lived a life without sin. We never see Jesus becoming indignant because of his own pride or sense of self-worth. He did not return insults when insulted, he did not slander or speak evil of someone out of malice. The implication of Matthew 5:22 would seem to be that we are not to be angry “without a cause”, which is how the New King James renders the verse.

But some things are worth being angry about! Paul, under the inspiration of the same Spirit which came from Christ, wrote to “be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). James wrote that we ought to be slow to anger, because “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

What is the difference between a justified anger and the anger condemned by scripture? I believe there is a clue found in one last example from Jesus’ life.

Jesus’ controlled anger

When Jesus came to Bethany to raise Lazarus, he has an interesting reaction to the scene that awaited him:

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ” Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ” Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. — John 11:32-38

The word translated by the ESV as “deeply moved” is much disputed, because the word itself literally means “to snort like a horse” and is used as its primary meaning to describe a reaction of sternness, outrage or anger. Some translators have softened the meaning because they don’t see how Jesus would be angry in this situation and find the primary meaning inconsistent with the context. Others have noted (and I believe rightly so) the hypocrisy of a group of people gathering to weep and mourn a man whom they will shortly seek to kill in order to disprove the miracle Jesus is about to perform (John 12:9-10). It’s also possible (although less likely to me) that Jesus was angry at mourning that discounted a hope of the resurrection (which Martha confessed to anticipating in verse 24).*

Regardless, the word is only used in scripture three times and carries a connotation of sternness. But there’s something else in the grammar that comes out: in verse 33, we read that Jesus was “deeply troubled.” The term here describes a visible, physical reaction, and based on what I have read, the verb is active; in other words, it could be translated that Jesus “agitated himself.”* Whatever the emotion, Jesus was not surrendering to it, but rather controlling it completely and expressing it exactly how he chose to express it.

When we’re angry, are we in control? Are we angry for reasons that are in line with glorifying God, or are they based on our own injured pride and need for vindication?

Jesus was angry, and did not sin.

*NOTE: I’m not a Greek scholar, so please don’t take my word for anything I say on the subject of translations and grammar. I found the resources below to be of great help, and I’d encourage you to research for yourself to draw your own conclusions.

http://www.gty.org/resources/print/bible-qna/BQ083012

http://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/11-33.htm

 

Knowing Jesus: Jesus did not sin

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The more we know, the more jaded we often become. And as society has changed over time, our need for heroes has changed as well.

There was a time when we wanted people that we could look up to—who were just better than we were in some way, usually in terms of their character. But as time has gone on, we’ve become somewhat jaded as more and more of the people we put on pedestals cannot withstand scrutiny. We idolize athletes for their physical ability and then are shocked to find that their character is flawed. We learn that a large number of so-called public servants are nothing of the kind, and as their deeds come to light, we realize that the image we constructed was wrong, and we often feel betrayed by that. We feel fooled.

It’s just safer to pick heroes who are more like us. They’re flawed, they make mistakes, they don’t force us to evaluate our own moral or ethical character, because they tend to do the things that feel right emotionally. Maybe that’s why our society loves to elevate celebrities who live lives of complete moral abandonment: they’re doing what we wish we could do!

On the other hand, if heroes are too “good,” we distrust them. Or we just find them dis-interesting. We like our role models dark, complex, maybe even a little twisted. We like them in many cases because the anti-hero doesn’t shine a light on our own failings.

More and more, people try to do that with Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t fit the earthly hero mold

“He was just a man. He liked to go drinking with friends. He fantasized about sex. He didn’t care about following the law. He was a lot more like me than the “religious types” have been telling me. And you know what? He didn’t like religious types, either!”

And the only thing those claims are based on is the simple truth that we don’t like the idea of a pure and undefiled savior who might actually demand the same from us. Hebrews 7:26 describes Jesus as “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”

Does that sound like a hero who would fill the theaters? Not from a worldly standpoint, but it’s the kind of hero we needed to save us from our own sins.

We’ll talk more in future blogs about Jesus’ relationship to the law of Moses, the legal system under which he lived. But whatever we say about how Jesus lived and the decisions he made, we have to start with the simple fact that Jesus did all things by the will of God, and without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. — 1 Peter 2:21-23

The penalty of sin is death

Why is this so important to understand? Because it is a cornerstone of faith in Jesus Christ, in that he came to this earth to die for our sins. If Jesus had sinned, then he would have been deserving of the penalty for sin, which is death. We often don’t like to think about that, because it seems so unreasonable that a single relatively harmless act—such as lying, being disrespectful to a parent, swiping something that the other person didn’t even need anyway, or any number of minor offenses—should result in a death sentence.

But that is exactly what the Bible teaches: “The soul who sins will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. — Jam 1:14-15

Why is sin such a big deal to God? Because it is a violation of God’s purity. John talks about the concept of light and darkness a lot in relation to God’s nature, whether because it is literally true or because it is the best analogy available to describe why God cannot abide sin. Darkness cannot co-exist with light, and sin cannot co-exist with God because it is foreign to His nature.

Sin was not in Jesus’ nature

Jesus was tempted “in every respect as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). When we recognize that Jesus was divine as well as human, we can understand how he could withstand temptation time after time, while we find ourselves failing. It was not in Jesus’ nature to sin, because Jesus was divine . But he understands what it feels like when the world and its influences tugs at your being. I’m not sure how that worked, although I have some opinions on it. Regardless, all we need to know is that Jesus lived a sinless, blameless life, and no one before or since has done that (Romans 3:23).

If Jesus did sin, then he could not have offered a perfect sacrifice “one time for all” on behalf of you and me (Hebrews 9:27-28). We would still be without hope, and our guilt would still separate us from God.

That should impact the way we think about sin in our own lives. Do we just accept it? Do we believe that we can come to God and have fellowship with Him if we’re unwilling to deal with the sin in our own lives? Jesus’ message was consistent: if we want to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we need to be willing to repent of our sins and seek a life of holiness (Matthew 3:2, 11:20, Luke 13:2-5).

Are we setting that expectation? Being a Christian means being a disciple (Acts 11:26), which means we try to follow him, emulate him, obey him in every way that we can. We know that we often fail, and when we do, Jesus is the advocate for all who are in his body (1 John 2:1-6, Ephesians 5:23). But are we seeking the Lord when we’re holding on to our own sinful lifestyle?

 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” — 1 Peter 1:14-16

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. — Ephesians 5:1-12

Our message to the world is not that we’re following a flawed, fleshly man who will make us feel good about the people we are now. We’re following the pure and holy lamb of God, who can make us into the people God wants us to be.

Knowing Jesus: Jesus noticed individuals

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One of the things that becomes evident when you spend time in a large urban environment is that there are a lot of people. But sometimes there aren’t a lot of “people.”

We walk through crowds on the way from Point A to Point B. We are surrounded by faces and bodies whose paths just happen to intersect with ours for a few seconds. We are usually oblivious aside from the fact that their presence is what we see as normal city life. If they weren’t there, we’d think something was wrong.

But unless something breaks us out of the routine, or someone does something unusual that catches our attention, we have to really work to make ourselves think of all those faces and bodies as being anything more than scenery and the subject of occasional casual observations.

Now imagine what it must have been like to follow Jesus during his three years on earth. When Jesus walked from Point A to Point B, the “urban environment” basically followed along behind. Thousands of people flocked to him when he taught in the temple, followed him out into the wilderness, even anticipated his travels and ran to meet wherever his boat was going to land.

Jesus looked at those crowds and saw individuals. He saw men and women who were lost, “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). And even while seeing the crowds, he had a knack for finding the soul who had a need and responding to them as a unique individual. Sometimes they needed to be commended (Mark 12:34). Sometimes they needed to be challenged (Luke 18:22). Sometimes they needed to be corrected (Luke 7:40.).

Jesus heard the cry of the blind

In Luke 18, we see a couple of examples as Jesus walked toward Jericho on the way to Jerusalem in the final days of his life. Constantly followed by throngs of people, most of them likely shouting to him and asking him for something, Jesus stopped when he heard a man crying out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me (v. 38)!” (Mark calls the beggar by name: Bartimaeus.)

Jesus probably had a lot on his mind. He understood completely what awaited him at the end of this walk (Luke 18:31-33). But hearing this man cry out—along with the rebukes of those in the front who apparently didn’t think a blind man was worth the master’s time—Jesus stopped the procession and had Bartimaeus brought to him.

Calling Jesus the son of David was significant; it indicated that this man knew Jesus was the seed of the king, and probably that he knew Jesus to be the Messiah, the promised king who would sit on the throne of David according to prophecy (2 Samuel 7:12-16, Isaiah 11:1-5). Much as he does with us today, Jesus always seemed ready to recognize the cry of faith from someone who knew who he was and recognized him as the fulfilled promise of God. And so Jesus healed him.

Jesus saw the spiritually needy

Once Jesus was in the city, the crowds no doubt got even thicker. But one man was determined to see Jesus. Zacchaeus—the “wee little man” that so many of us sung about when we were children—was determined to see Jesus. We aren’t told why; we don’t even know if Zacchaeus knew anything about Jesus. The passage just says that he was trying to see who Jesus was (ch. 19:3).

We do know Zacchaeus was a tax collector, and he was rich, which probably means he was a cheat (v. 8). It’s very unlikely that Zacchaeus would have ever dreamed Jesus would regard him at all. The Jews hated tax collectors because they were traitors to Israel, collecting money for their captors and often doing it with an eye of enriching themselves in the process. He was beneath contempt; why would Jesus ever speak to him?

Why would Jesus speak to a leper? To an adulteress? To a condemned thief? The question answers itself when we know Jesus. Not only did he notice the man climbing up into a tree, but he called him by name and invited himself over to his house for dinner.  And when Zacchaeus repented, Jesus summed it up well: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham. For the son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Whether it was Nathaniel under the fig tree (John 1:48), the tax collector-turned-apostle (Mark 2:13), the woman at the well (John 4), Jesus was always looking for people who were looking for him.

Are we looking for those people as well? Do we notice when people around us are in need? Or do we become so absorbed in our own walk that we miss those who are stumbling around us?

Knowing Jesus: Jesus depended on scriptures

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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

Jesus cites:

  • 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.

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