You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life. John 5:39,40
Now, Lord, You know how absolutely valuable I believe spending time in Your Word, the Scriptures, is. This is our way of spending time with You, drawing near to You. Well, this is one integral way of getting to know You. But this isn’t a warning against the kind of reading of Your Word that is a searching and a longing for You. This is a warning against something that is very dangerous.
There are lots of dangerous things in the world today. I suppose there always have been. Sharks. The movie “Jaws” when I was a teenager ruined me for being able to swim unhindered by fear in the ocean. Sharks are dangerous. Crossing a street can be dangerous. Skydiving can be extremely dangerous. But who would have thought that how you read Scripture could be a dangerous thing?
These were religious men You are speaking to, Jesus. These are the men who have been studying Your Word since they were young children. They are the choice pupils chosen from the young children to go on in the study of Your Word. This has become their life. This is what they write about. This is what they talk with others about. This is what they read and comment on. This is what their whole life revolves around. But You make this amazing statement about them and to them, “You don’t have His Word abiding in you, for you do not believe the One whom He has sent.” (John 5:38)
So, Lord, You are telling me that I can know Scripture forwards and backwards, inside and out, and still not know You? You are telling me that I can know what every Rabbi or commentator has said about You, that I can memorize Your Word, that I can instruct other people in Your Word, and that I can be a very religious person and not know You? Really?
I believe it. I believe it because by nature there is something in us that compels us to want to gain knowledge. Nothing wrong with that part. But that something that compels us to gain knowledge compels us to gain more knowledge than others and it compels us to desire praise for that knowledge. We have this human nature with a tendency to lean toward pride in whatever we do. It tends to desire the praise of men and satisfaction in our own accomplishments instead of You. So, it’s easy to start getting proud of oneself because of what we start learning about You. And then it’s easy to start desiring the knowledge and the praise more than we desire You.
We can get hung up on the words and the rules. We can read the Bible like it’s a playbook. We can read it like a fixer-upper or a self-help book. But it’s not. It’s not about rules and regulations and memorizing so we can spout it off to others. It’s about searching for You in every word. It’s about seeking You and finding out when and how You will be found. It’s all about seeing how we can come to know You, Jesus, and therefore, come to know God. It’s all about being reunited with You.
The Old Testament isn’t about rules and regulations. Sure, it seems really futile. Think about how hard it was to stay ritually clean. There were so many things that you could touch that would defile you. Or, someone defiled could touch you and then all your efforts were shot and you’d have to go through ritual cleaning all over again. So what was the point? That’s the point! We’re sinners. We’re defiled. There is no way that we can keep ourselves clean. It’s futile without You. And Your Word alone doesn’t cleanse us. It’s the real You that we need. I need You. The Word cleanses us but only as it becomes the reality of You. The Word leads us to You, to a real, living relationship through You, and through the Holy Spirit, with the Living God.
When we get “religious” I think we try to fit everything into a box. We try to teach what we know. We follow what we know. And, in a sense that’s all we can do. We can’t teach what we don’t know. But the fact of the matter is, it’s not about me, it’s not about us, it’s about You. Your Word is the Teacher. Your Word teaches of You. And if we are really letting it teach us, and not trying to rewrite it to fit our beliefs and expectations and ideas, then it will lead us to a personal relationship with You.
Knowing Scripture without knowing the Lord can be a dangerous thing. It can lead people to attack sin so much that they hate the sinner. It can cause others to fall away from things of the Lord because of the attitudes they have seen in “religious” people. It can cause us to think we are the one in charge of everyones spiritual and physical well-being. It was “religious” people that wanted to kill You, Lord. And Paul was a “religious” hater too at first. And the more “religious” we see ourselves as, the more knowledgeable we become in our own eyes, the more we push people away. Or, we draw people to us that become religious clones and we create a dangerous breed without knowing it.
I mean, You told these “religious” people, “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.” And that’s so important. Your Word is all about love. You walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. You didn’t have to. Why would You do that? Love. You made a way for them and us to be redeemed. Why would You do that? Love. Zephaniah, an Old Testament prophet, tells this of You, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” How exciting is that? We have a God who experiences joy that wells up into dancing for the love of His people. We have a God who sings joyously over us. Maybe your father never sang like this over you, but your Heavenly Father does!
And then in the New Testament, those things that were foretold of You in the Old Testament were brought to life. Even the part where Moses lifted the serpent on the pole came to pass as You were lifted up on the cross for us. But it didn’t stop there, because You rose just as it was foretold. And it still doesn’t stop there because there is more to be fulfilled. And why is all this happening according to Scripture? Because of Your love for me and each one of the people You created.
That’s Your point here. You loved these “religious” people. You loved them dearly. You loved them so passionately You tried to get them to understand. You loved them so passionately that You gave Your life to ransom theirs. You loved them so passionately that even though You were God, You allowed Yourself to be treated as a man, to suffer pain and loss and the penalty of sin as a man, but to rise victoriously as God to rescue us, to rescue them. And the sad thing is, they had no idea how to reciprocate Your love, because they wouldn’t receive Your love in the first place. They wanted to receive someone else’s love more than Your love.
There are three words that stand out to me today in reading Your whole conversation with the “religious” leaders here. The three words are hear, witness, and receive. When I read Your Word, I must listen to You. That doesn’t just mean to obey Your Word. I must ask You and hear from You how to rightly understand it. It’s not just about the Word going in, I must listen to hear how You want me to understand it. What is the heart of what You are saying? I need to listen for the beating of Your heart in every Word. I need to stop listening to myself and listen to You and for You. When I read Your Word, do I stop to listen from You? Do I stop to hear what You want me to know and how You want me to know it? Is it more than a routine? Is it really spending time with You and letting You disciple me? Do I really hear well enough to understand Your heart?
Your witness is to everything You are and everything about You. It is Your testimony. All of it. To understand the New Testament, we need to understand the Old Testament and vice-versa. It’s a totality of You. Every jot and every tittle is a testimony, a witness of You and to You. Am I allowing Your testimony to speak to my heart? Am I allowing Your testimony to resound inside of me in such a way that I know it so well I can share it? Do I know it so well that I’ve experienced it in my own life? Because Your testimony is not just one of the past. Yours is a living testimony which makes a difference in my life today. Your testimony, Your witness becomes mine.
What do I do with Your Word? Have I received it as Truth? Have I received it as You. Because Your Word apart from You is just words. I know that for a fact because in Your Word You tell me that. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The written word wasn’t even written for us yet. But there You were. Have I received You? Your Word is all about You. It was written about You, for You, and to lead us to You. But until I receive You, the Living Word, I can’t fully receive Your written Word.
Lord, it’s a dangerous thing to live without You. It’s a dangerous thing to get caught up in desiring knowledge and in feeling religious. I don’t want to get caught up in that. I know there is so much I don’t know. And even when I spend my time with You, it’s not because I know so much, it’s just because I want to know You more, so I’m seeking and I’m asking and I’m trying to listen and hear. And I’m trying in every way to experience Your testimony. And, oh, how every part of me longs to continually receive You, not for the first time, but just more and more every breath I breathe.
Continually guard me against pride. Guard me against thinking I know anything without You. Remind me continually that it’s not about how much I know but it’s all about Who I know. Give me ears to hear You as I read Your Word. Give me eyes to see You in Your Word and everywhere. And give me a heart that receives You, all of You for who You are. And as I know You more intimately, allow others to be drawn to You. Make my life and testimony in You one that blesses others just like You. And Lord, there’s someone out there today who’s been being “religious” for a while. Lead them to You. Let today be the day that they hear, see, and receive the Living Word, You, and bring it all together for them.