“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” John 5:39 ESV
Sherlock Holmes. The British fictional detective known for his genius in solving crimes. His skill in the art of deduction, theory, and logic inevitably led him to find his man. As a keen observer, he noticed even the smallest details. Evidence which left a trail of facts. A trail he knew would take him to the culprit.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day also searched for facts. Facts they had hoped would lead them to their long awaited Messiah. Unfortunately, for all their searching they never got their man. We may ask, why?
The scriptures may be compared to a road map. Their intent is to lead a person to a destination. We might think they will lead us to heaven or put us on a course to the good life; and they may, but not necessarily so. And obviously, not everyone that reads the bible believes they are divinely inspired. There are numerous liberal theologians as well as antagonists who search the biblical texts only to bolster their case against it. And there are others, with unbelieving hearts and perhaps with some curiosity, open the bible to escape some personal crisis or to question, with an unregenerate mind, the truth they hold. And then there are those who like the Pharisees, pride themselves in ongoing study and knowledge of the scriptures who miss the point of the texts entirely.
Now these words, in the gospel of John, were spoken by Jesus to theologians. To the religious leaders of his day. To scribes, who insured textual integrity by the accurate transmission of the Old Testament canon. He spoke these words to religious lawyers, who studied and applied Mosaic law in the legal system which adjudicated Jewish life and law. He spoke these words to the Pharisees, who were the religious voice of the day, who saw themselves as Israel’s teacher’s; guardians of the nation’s soul. A kind of spiritual police who sought to keep the Jewish people set apart from the corruption of Gentile paganism and practice.
We, as Christians, if we are not careful can make the same error these religious leaders committed. Thinking that if we increase our knowledge and are diligent to understand the scriptures, somehow these can bring us soul saving results. We may, however, see with the understanding of the mind, while the heart remains spiritually blind (Matthew 23:16).
Unless I am misunderstood and you get the wrong idea let me say a brief word about what I am not saying. What I am not saying is that we should not studiously or devotionally read the word of God. We should do so repeatedly and often. But unless the word of God is illuminated as a vibrant vehicle for increasing faith, pointing us to Christ, opening our spiritual eyes, and constantly changing the course in our lives to a heavenward goal they remain powerless in themselves to enliven the soul. After all, Satan can quote scripture (Matthew 4:10) and is more versed in the bible than any one of us, though for the purpose of twisting it (2 Peter 3:16). The word of God is mighty in power but it is not magic nor is it something akin to the proverbial guidance found in a fortune cookie. Yes, it is living, active and faith igniting (Hebrews 4:12) but it is of benefit only to those who are a tune to and abiding in the Christ of God.
The scriptures, for the sincere believer, therefore, possesses something much more important than mapping out for us a good religious way of life. Ultimately, the word of God intends to lead us to God’s son, Jesus Christ. For years I could’t see the forest through the trees. And though I considered myself to be a religious person I had not known Jesus Christ as a real, living person, who could, by the grace of his redeeming work in the heart, become the dominating presence in my life. And that is why the words spoken by Jesus throws so much light on the importance of the biblical texts. This is also precisely where he found the Pharisees to be (Matthew 22:9). And though they were ardent biblical legalist’s and practitioners, immersed in the traditions of their self-righteous teachings (Matthew 15:6), they were light years from the God they prided themselves to know.
If we think however, that any one of us could have out-theologized a Pharisee or scribe we would have been quickly shamed by our scant knowledge of the Bible compared to those learned scholars. Raised in the religious teachings of the Torah (the first five books of Moses), the Pharisees and scribes also knew the canonical accounts as spoken by their prophets and the written record of the miraculous events which marked their religious history.
However, steeped in holy writ, according to Jesus, they missed the whole point of it all. They highly esteemed the written word, the letter of God’s law, but were blind to God’s Word become flesh (John 1:14). They prided themselves in the words on the pages of the testament but not the Word of Life (John 5:40). They painstakingly poured over every jot and tittle of scripture (Matthew 23:24) but stumbled over the words of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:23). They were looking for a Messiah with a royal background (Matthew 22:41-43) not a common carpenter’s son. They sought a warrior type like King David, but ignored the fact that David first held the rod of a shepherd before he took up the scepter as Israel’s king. Jesus would do the same, typifying the prophetic descriptions first as a good shepherd before sitting as King on the right hand of his Father at his ascension.
Now can you imagine taking a road trip to some new place you had never been only to express joy and excitement over the map and the brochure that described it and contained photos of the place you came to see? You park the R.V. and prepare lunch next to a beautiful location but you spend the rest of the day rereading the traveler’s guide, checking out the map and looking at the pictures in the brochure. Ignorant of the fact that you have reached your destination, not once do you look out at the amazing scenery or walk about the surroundings. Well, this of course would be foolish for anyone who really desired to see and experience the place. Nobody would do such a thing. But when it comes to knowing God many do just that. Perhaps more unwarily that the Pharisee but similarly none the less.
This is how Jesus saw it. The religious scholars had been so taken up with the map of scripture they failed to see the destination when he stood right in from of them. Jesus didn’t fault them for their desire to understand and study the scriptures. But he pointed out very clearly that all that they had given their lives to, as dedicated yet erroneous in their understanding of them which they had demonstrated (Matthew 22:29), they fell blindly short of seeing Christ himself, of whom the scriptures spoke.
There were many occasions, for instance, when Jesus told parables. But it wasn’t the stories themselves or the words of the parables that gave enlightenment it was their meaning and who they pointed to. When Jesus told a parable he often began with the phrase, The Kingdom of God is like… a mustard seed…a pearl of great value…a farmer who sowed seed…a woman who lost a coin…a fisherman’s drag net…But it was not enough to understand the story and all it’s symbolism. The real meaning was hidden (Matthew 11:25), yet revealed to those to whom God willed to reveal it. The life changing message of the story was not the story itself but what it meant in empowering and enlightening a person to see the Kingdom of God (Luke 8:10) to which the hearer could give their life pursuit in apprehending and living it. Without this illumination from the Spirit of God it was just another nice thought provoking story.
My point is this: Let us not read the bible only to expand our knowledge about it’s every detail. But let us seek God for his illumination. That by his Spirit-led revelation it may cause us to apprehend the life giving Spirit of God who stirs in us a passion to live for Christ. For it is, as Jesus said, the scriptures which speak of him. Every biblical story, event, narrative, dialogue, prophecy, and book in the bible is wrapped up in Christ. Opening the scriptures then, is to unwrap what’s hidden of Christ and bring it to light by faith and understanding as God reveals it to and in us.
No, once we behold the beauty and glory of the destination we no longer need to stare at the map, like a person pointing to places on a map and studying the map’s geography. Once more, I didn’t say we didn’t need the map. We most certainly need it. It guides us to further exploration and discovery of some new wonder or to revisit a place that intrigues our sense of beauty and delight in the Lord. It is Christ- the place or, should I say, the person of wonder and inexhaustible admiration and praise. He is the destination that the scriptures guide one toward.
The next time you read the bible you may want to ask yourself the question, How does this text point me or speak to me of Christ? Like Sherlock Holmes we should search the overwhelming evidence of the bible which points to Christ. Don’t fall short as the Pharisee’s did. Read and search the scriptures with the expectation to see something marvelous about Christ because the scriptures speak of him. As Jesus said,
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…” John 5:39 ESV
Is it any wonder that the scriptures declare Jesus to be the Word of God? (John 1:1)
It most certainly is. A wonder of wonders!
Copyright © Steve Covarrubias June 2015