How do you read your Bible? What’s your general approach? Aside from setting aside a specific time, identifying a suitable place, and choosing a practical reading plan, how do you prepare your mind and heart for the joyful task and privilege of absorbing the word of God?
Or, to put the question another way, who is your model for Bible reading? Do you read the Bible the way Jesus read His Bible?
Lord willing, in August of this year I’ll have the honor of speaking at the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention in Bangor, Northern Ireland. It’ll be my second visit with these godly and missions-minded saints. I’ll have the honor of giving two evening addresses and leading their daily Bible readings. I’ve selected as the theme for the daily readings: “Reading the Bible Like Jesus.” What I have in mind is a brief survey of passages where Jesus handles the scriptures and reveals for us how we should approach the sacred text. Here’s my assumption: We read our Bibles best when we read it the way our Lord read His.
Consider the famous passage near the end of Luke’s Gospel. Our Lord said:
“‘These are my words that I spoke to you while was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’.” (Luke 24:44-47).
How does Jesus read the Scriptures?
First, the Lord read the Scriptures autobiographically (v. 44). He makes a stunning claim 400 years after the close of the Old Testament: The Scriptures contained things “written about” Him. In fact, by citing “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,” Jesus claims that there’s something about him in the whole of the Old Testament. There’s no part of Scripture where His story does not emerge. There’s no part of our Bible’s, then, that can be adequately read without coming to see Jesus in some form.
Second, the Lord read the Scriptures teleologically (v. 44). Okay, that’s my fancy word for the day. It means Jesus read His Bible with fulfillment in view. He taught the disciples to consider “everything written about me… must be fulfilled.” The prophecies, patterns, types and history have an end point in mind, namely, Jesus. They point to Him; He fulfills them. The unique thing about this “autobiography” is that God wrote it before the life was lived. We write our autobiographies during our lives and after we’ve lived a while. God wrote the account of His Son over centuries and centuries before His Incarnation and earthly ministry. All of history was moving to Jesus’ climactic fulfillment. Proper reading of the Bible requires an instinct for getting to Christ and His fulfillment of God’s promises and plans. He is the end to which all history heads.
Third, the Lord read the Scriptures in a Gospel-Centered Way (v. 46). I know, “Gospel-centered” is all the craze these days. But it’s actually a lot older than faddish marketers make it sound. Being gospel-centered dates back to Jesus–and even further back since Jesus sees the gospel in the Old Testament Scriptures He read. Reading the Bible well means not only looking for Jesus but looking specifically for the redemptive purpose and work of Jesus. The Old Testament contains the prediction of Christ’s suffering and resurrection, and the hope of redemption through repentance and forgiveness of sins. The Bible contains a missionary impulse and plot. Notice that this redemption is “proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” When we read our Bibles we ought to gather a sense of God’s salvation through Christ, of atonement, of victory over death and sin, of the centrality of missions and preaching the gospel, and the privilege of playing our part in the salvation history of God. Like those early disciples, we “are witnesses of these things” (v. 48).
All of this has implications for how we are to read our Bibles. Three obvious ones come to mind.
1. If Jesus read the Bible autobiographically, then we must read it biographically. In other words, the Bible is not about us. Not in the most immediate and important sense. The Bible is about Jesus and to read the Bible well means delaying questions like “What does this have to do with me?” or “How can I apply this to my life?” until we first thoroughly know what the Bible has to do with Jesus and how it applies to Him. If we read the Bible autobiographically we’ll actually remove Jesus from the story or relegate Him to a lesser role. What a tragedy that would be! We should read our Bibles the way John the Baptist “read” his forerunner role: “He [Jesus] must increase; we [the reader] must decrease.”
2. If Jesus read the Bible teleologically, then we must read it with visions bigger than our lives in mind. There’s a place–an important place!–for applying the Scriptures to our lives. We are to “live… by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Yet, our smaller stories nestle in a larger over-arching story. The larger story focuses on the glory of God in Jesus Christ in the redemption and damnation of sinners. The larger story calls us outside of our smaller selves to live beyond ourselves and there truly become ourselves. It calls us to lose our lives so that we might find them. Any reading of the Bible that makes us more focused on ourselves and teaches us to shrink back or hold our lives dear is actually a misreading of the Bible. It is to read the Bible with our goals in mind rather than God’s. We’re made for bigger things, grander visions.
3. If Jesus read the Bible in a gospel-centered way, then we need to read the Bible in a gospel-centered way. The Lord taught His disciples to read their Scriptures in a way that revealed His suffering, death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. They were to read their Bibles in such a way that they would be repentant, constantly turning into this good news that redemption had come in Christ. We need to find that message on every page of the Bible so that we can treasure that message every day of our lives. We need to read our Bibles this way so that we may be the witnesses we’re called to be and proclaim the message entrusted to us. How wonderful it would be to be able to share the gospel with family, friends and the nations from every type of biblical literature in ways natural to the text! That’s our goal and that’s our privilege if we learn to read the Bible the way our Master did.
So, do you read your Bible the way Jesus read His?