How to Understand Scripture – Part 4

I can hear folks now, “Seriously?!? I’m supposed to take time from my busy day to read a post about how to read the Bible?” And my answer is “Yes!” Not only that, but I would suggest you read the whole series! It’s a hard sell – convincing folks that they may not know how to understand Scripture the way they should. Lot’s of people have been reading it their whole life! But over the last 100 years our culture has radically changed the view of Scripture in the eyes of most believers. We’re all seeing God’s Word through tainted lenses and most of us aren’t even aware we have any lenses on at all. I know, it’s a hard sell. But please take the time to read through not only this post (part 4 in our series) but through the entire series from the beginning. I think you’ll be glad you did! But let’s get on with it and look at our 3rd rule…

Compass

Rule #3      

G.U.A.R.D. Always look for Christ

 Awareness that Christ is the focus of ALL Scripture, both New Testament and Old Testament

 Imagine this… You’re walking through a hot and barren desert. The sun is beating down on you from above and intense heat is coming up from the sand beneath your feet. You haven’t had water for days and with the high temperature and lack of shelter, you know the end is near if you don’t find help…soon! Stumbling wearily on, your thoughts scramble desperately searching for a way to get out of this nightmare. Suddenly, you remember a conversation you overheard on the airplane when you first set out on your trip. The two men seated behind you had been talking about a beautiful village built on an oasis. It was said to be overflowing with friendly people, great food and clean, cold water. Come to think of it, the men on the plane had stated it was just north of your current position! Excitedly, you pull out your compass. “There is hope!” you say to yourself, “I just need to carefully examine this tool and it will lead me North, and to life!!” But then confusion sets in – you can’t remember which way the needle on the compass points!! It seems to always point the same direction, but is that direction North, or South? Or is it West maybe?? Depending on which way you face, the needle points at a different letter on the compass face, so those little letters offer no clue!  You’re fully aware that you really should know where the needle is pointing, but in your dehydrated and exhausted state, your brain has stopped functioning the way it should!! Disoriented and confused, you collapse on the ground in a hopeless heap…

Does it sound odd to you that someone in a life threatening situation could be confused about which way a compass points? It shouldn’t! Without food & water, logic and understanding soon fail because the mind is weakened. I submit to you that the current state of American Christianity is in a similar condition. Having not been fed the proper nourishment that comes from sound teachings properly explained from God’s Word, it is now stumbling, weak, and confused. To be brutally honest, it’s close to collapse! If we the professing American church do not remember (and soon) which way the needle points, we too will soon be a hopeless heap!

The focus of Scripture (like a compass needle pointing North) is Jesus Christ. This is true of both the Old and New Testament. Jesus. Not me, and not you. You’re not in there… anywhere! Seriously!! A disturbing trend in today’s Christian culture is the belief that we can read ourselves into the Bible. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the story of Joshua at the battle of Jericho preached in such a way that I am in the place of Joshua, my troubles in life are in the place of the intimidating Jericho fortress, and the conclusion being that I must go out in faith and trust God for a victory in my marriage, finances, relationships or whatever. Today’s modern preacher seems to make every passage of Scripture a metaphor or an allegory about our lives. But the simple fact of the matter is that the account of what happened at Jericho isn’t about me at all, it’s about Christ! In fact, Jesus and the Cross is the main character and/or theme of the entire Bible. I can be sure of this because Jesus Himself told us in the Gospels. Look at what He says in the book of Luke:

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.   Luke 24:27

 “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”     Luke 24:44-45

Did you catch that? The commandments of Moses, his books, as well as the prophets, psalms and all the Scriptures existing at that time (think Old Testament) are teachings about Christ![1] So many folks seem to think that the Old Testament is simply a book filled with situations that we are to use as templates, metaphorically inserting our own life circumstances into these various historical accounts so as to glean some insight as to how we are to live. But this isn’t true! The things that are recorded in the Old Testament happened because they were decreed by God and they are meant to teach us about and point us to our savior. They aren’t given as an effort to provide pop-psychology lessons or some form of therapy, nor are they there as an encouragement to pursue a business venture. Now, obviously not every syllable of the Old Testament is some kind of shrouded message or code regarding Jesus, and it shouldn’t be read that way. But the general themes, larger accounts and thrust of the Old Testament is indeed pointing us to Christ in some way. Whether it be a foretelling of His coming, a history of His bloodline, or some other facet of His work, it’s all about Him!

Speaking of the Old Testament, a lot of what you will find there is history. You’ll read about wars, heroic deeds, family stories and all sorts of other things that happened and were written down.  It’s in looking at these that many modern readers teachers make a HUGE mistake. They take a historical account, and turn into something you are supposed to go do also. Just because the nation of Israel marched around the walls of Jericho doesn’t mean your church is supposed to march around the new building they want to buy. Seriously, it doesn’t. This idea of taking a history lesson and turning into an action plan isn’t only ludicrous, but it also veers you off into a self-centered reading of the material instead of learning the true point of the passage. This mistake is made by a lot of modern preachers when covering the Old Testament, although they do it on New Testament texts as well. See if you recognize this passage:

 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.   Acts 2:1-4

 Have you ever heard a preacher recite this and then use it to teach that modern-day believers are to speak in tongues? I have. Regardless of your position on this often debated teaching, the simple fact is that you cannot decide whether the practice of speaking in “tongues” is correct or not by looking at this passage alone. Why? Because this is a historical passage, not what is called a “prescriptive” passage, meaning this simply tells us what happened, not what we are supposed to go do now.[2] If we want to fully understand the truth of “tongues” we need to look at all occasions where people experienced this phenomenon, all teachings regarding it, and any prophetic references to it.

The point is this – be sure to read historical accounts as history and try to understand what happened, why it happened, and why it was recorded. Don’t read them as an instruction manual for your own life. That was a bit off-topic, so let’s get back to learning how Jesus is the center of the all Scripture…

Let’s go to our example of Joshua at Jericho again; exactly how does Joshua foreshadow Jesus Christ? Well, let’s think about it – Moses, the one who delivered the law of God, couldn’t take the chosen people into the Promised Land because he was forbidden. But Joshua (who in Hebrew has the same name as Jesus) led them across the Jordan into the land of promise. Then, the great obstacle of Jericho was overcome by the hand of God rather than the strength and abilities of those receiving the promise. Could it be that this is all a foreshadowing of Jesus leading His people across the Jordan River (death) and into a Promised Land that they neither deserved nor could obtain by using their own strength and abilities? After all, he took them to a place that Moses, the figurehead of the law, could not. The entire theme of Joshua is the recorded proof of God’s faithfulness to His covenant people. How might this affect our reading and understanding of this book?

What about other Old Testament accounts? Moses striking the rock in the desert? Yup, Jesus is the rock out of which flows life![3] What about Moses lifting up a brass serpent on a pole to offer healing to all who had been bitten by a viper? This also points to Jesus, the one who was lifted up on a Cross as an offer to heal those who had been bitten by sin, which is all of us.[4]  There are indeed applications for you and I in the Scriptures, lots of things we need to learn and apply, but they can’t be properly drawn out until we first understand the true meaning of the text itself. We do that by understanding the context (the big picture of what is happening) and also that that Jesus is the center of Scripture and that the Cross is the center-point of Jesus’ incarnation.

 Remember:

We have it from the mouth of our Lord Himself… It’s all about Him! Whenever you read Scripture, don’t look for yourself…look for Christ!

-And-

Since it’s all about Him, if you are taking in a teaching, song, or sermon that never mentions Christ and His Cross, it’s a BIG sign of trouble!

 NOTES:

[1] The writings of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms were the three categories the Jews used to divide what we call the Old Testament.

[2] I’ve also heard this error called “making the narrative the normative”, meaning someone will take a historical account & teach that what is seen there should be normal for all.

[3] 1st Corinthians 10:4

[4] John 3:14

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