Think for a moment what it must have been like to grow up as a Hebrew in ancient times. At some point you would have realized how odd your life was compared to other people. Everybody around you just assumed that there were many gods. Yet your faith taught you that there was only one God—and that this God has a special love for Israel, even though Israel was never large or powerful. Then there was the law to follow. You would have been taught to embrace all kinds of rules regarding diet, ritual cleanliness, and the like that other people would find simply perplexing.
At some point I imagine you would have asked somebody the questions, “Hey, why in the world does our faith require so much of us? And why do we do things that make us so strange in the eyes of the world?”
The answer for these very understandable questions is found in the Bible itself. In chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, Moses explains to the people he’s leading through the wilderness that it’s going to be important for them to tell their children the story of their faith.
Look, Moses says to the parents, there’s going to come a time when your children approach you with questions. They’re going to want to know why we have all these strange laws and rituals.
Like any parent, Moses knows that it won’t be enough to just tell the kids what to do. They’re going to want reasons. So he continues. When they ask you about all these things, you tell them this: we were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of there with a mighty hand. He brought us out of Egypt so that he could bring us into the Promised Land. Everything we do now—every single one of these laws and rituals—is meant to remind us of God’s salvation and our identity as God’s people. We have a story with God, and every one of his commands reminds us of that!
Notice the idea that Moses is trying to get across: God’s Word is meant to work goodness in your life. Everything that God has given to us in Holy Scripture is intended to be a means of grace to us. That’s why he tells the Hebrews to pass on all the words he has given them: “You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deut. 6:6–7).
Moses is the first great prophet of the Old Testament. He speaks the word of God, to give spiritual nourishment to God’s people. This is what all the subsequent prophets do as well—Isaiah and Jeremiah, Amos and Micah—as they are sent by the Lord to guide Israel toward faithfulness. The prophets are the mouthpieces of God’s word to his people.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find Jesus speaking about the power of the Scriptures as well. Once when Jesus was in Jerusalem teaching, he confronted his audience with a stark claim about the Bible’s message. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life,” Jesus says to them, “And it is they that bear witness about me.” Then he adds, “Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” ( John 5:39–40).
It’s a profound moment in the Gospels. Christ calls his listeners (then and now) to read the whole of the Bible as pointing to himself. All that God is doing, all that Israel and the church have been struggling toward, all that the promise of salvation contains—these are all bound up in the life of Jesus Christ. He isn’t trying to take authority away from the Scriptures. Far from it. He’s actually giving the Scriptures even more authority by claiming that they are pointing to the very source of life and salvation. Himself.
Jesus’ teaching is important if we want to understand how the Word of God is present in the words of the Bible. It isn’t the ink and paper that makes the difference. Rather, it is the presence of God’s message within the Bible that is important. When the apostle Paul wrote to his assistant Timothy about the Scriptures, he said that they are “breathed out by God” and useful “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Paul was talking about the teaching contained within Scripture, the teaching of God’s good news about the Lord Jesus Christ. God has spoken to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and God still speaks through the revelation of his word in the Bible.
This means that to understand the power of Holy Scripture, we must take it seriously in our study and devotion. Immerse ourselves in it. Become familiar with it. Commit ourselves to reading it with purpose. Learning a verse here and there, or half paying attention during the Sunday sermon in a casual, as-you-feel-like-it-sort-of-way is not going to get you very far. What we need is to embrace the Scripture as the very thing that points us to Christ. As Jesus tells us, by searching the Scriptures we can come to him and find true life!
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