BY WINSTON DAVENPORT, MARCH 19 2014
I have spent the past several weeks reading only the Gospels. Tackling a single chapter a day, I've felt an emphasis on the importance of meditation rather than intellectual study, allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal the Father's heart behind each word. The experience has been nothing less than exhilarating. The revelation that has impacted me the most is how clearly Jesus demonstrated the true Gospel in His ministry.
The Bible is full of history, rules, poetry, prophecy, personal instruction, and wisdom. Written over the course of thousands of years, much of it seems difficult to reconcile. Theologians have pored over the Scriptures endlessly, and will continue to do so for the rest of time. Myriad disagreements and disputes have arisen regarding almost every issue in the Bible. From baptism to the Trinity, from Original Sin to who wrote the Book of Hebrews, quarrels are congregant around the pages of Scripture. So how can we make sense of it all? How do we know who is right or wrong? Should we become trained scholars ourselves, dissecting the Holy Book like a biology assignment? Perhaps we shouldn't even try—leave it to the professionals, instead.
Ever since Adam and Eve's Eden exile, mankind has sought to understand the Divine, sweating out their theories and speculations. Who is God? Why is God? How is God? Protestant denominations are still being formed as a result of these disagreements, while Catholics are encouraged to simply believe what is taught by "the Mother Church" in Rome. From all around the world, through all the pages of history, people are trying to figure out God.
If you've ever spent time in the Old Testament, you can easily see that the Jewish faith was slackened with error. These people, God's chosen race, were continually at odds with the Creator. Idol-making, covenant-breaking, Law-obsessed descendants of Abraham were certainly sure of their religion, as evidenced by the arrogance of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes. Yet even their own sects were heavily divided, scattered and confused—organized disorganization. Strangely enough, the same can be said about the Church today.
So amidst all of their wanderings, suppositions, and hypotheses, God sent them a depiction of Himself, transcending all the ambiguous words of their Scriptures. And in doing so, He gave a clear picture of His nature, not to the Jews alone, but to all of us. What God was unable to communicate through words, He plainly communicated through the Word--Jesus Christ.
You see, words are futile. Every language in the world—Hebrew, Greek, English—has its limitations, is ripe for misapprehension. It's difficult to "figure out God" when all one has to work with are the same languages that were deliberately confused by God Himself in an admitted attempt to divide, not unite. God scattered the children of men from the Tower of Babel by segregating their languages, preventing all occasion for inter-correspondence. The Bible says He "confused the language of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:9 NASB). So with humanity's muddled lingual abilities, is it any wonder that the Old Testament Scripture became so convoluted, so ineffective at drawing men to the Father, at revealing His love for them?
But what was unclear through the Law and the Prophets was forever clarified by the coming of the Son of God—Jesus made flesh. He came to set right the misunderstandings, to illuminate the darkness, and most of all, to reveal the character and nature of the unseen God. Jesus said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9 NASB). He didn't claim that "He who has read the Bible has seen the Father." In fact, Jesus never even claimed the Old Testament as His own word. He frequently said, "It is written in your Law.... You have heard it said.... You have heard that the ancients were told...but I say..." (see Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32). Remember, Jesus told the Jews, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life" (John 5:39-40 NASB). I've heard many teachers claim that "time spent in the Word is time spent with Jesus." But Jesus's own words here clearly invalidate that assertion. You can know the Book inside-out and still miss Him entirely. The scriptures teach us about God ("they testify about me"), but the apostle Paul said, "[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1:15 NASB, emphasis added).
Interestingly, the Book of John says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14 NASB). The "Word" of which John speaks is not referring to the Bible. He is speaking of Jesus, who "became flesh." Nowhere are we instructed to believe that the Bible is God or that it is the perfect expression of Him—the "image of the invisible." I am not minimizing the Bible, not in the least. But I am suggesting that for a completely accurate, inerrant understanding of the Father, we go straight to Jesus, God incarnate, rather than a book that Jesus Himself only claimed was "about" Him. In this way we can avoid making the same mistake as the Jews.
What the Scriptures were unable to accomplish due to the frailty of human language—as well as men's inability to discern and believe them in the first place—God did by sending His Son. Any uncertainty or conflict in our understanding of the Bible can be easily resolved by looking at the Word incarnate: Jesus. As Bill Johnson says, Jesus Christ is perfect theology. Any notion you have of God that cannot be clearly seen in the life and ministry of Christ should be scrutinized. There are times when I simply cannot understand certain scriptures, cannot reconcile what the Book says with who I know my Father to be. In these moments, I take my confusion to the throne, to Jesus. I say, "Jesus, I may not understand this event, these words, this story. Though I could explain it theologically, I still don't understand how God-Who-Is-Love could have acted this way in the Old Testament." Then my intellectual uncertainty becomes swallowed up in the beautiful revelation of Jesus. Jesus the man. Jesus, the image of the invisible.
We are not called to piece God together using various Bible verses. For many years, archeologists have been unearthing ancient dinosaur fossils, assembling the bones in an attempt to replicate the creature as it was during its life. Recently, the authenticity of many of these replicas has been challenged. They have discovered that bones attached as teeth were actually talons, that jaw bones should have been fastened to the shoulder, and other misunderstandings. Finding the fossils is one thing; assembling them to accurately replicate the real dinosaurs can be educated guesswork. Sometimes I believe that Christians try and use the verses of the bible, attempting to assemble God, to replicate who He was in Bible days.
However the best replica of God is Jesus, His Son. The books of the Law and the prophets are not written for us to have a better understanding of God. In fact, though we can glean many things from these ancient texts, they were not written for us at all! Listen to what the Bible says:
In many separate revelations [each of which set forth a portion of the Truth] and in different ways God spoke to [our] forefathers in and by the prophets, [but] in the last of these days He has spoken to us in [the person of a] Son.... He is the sole expression of the glory of God [the Light-being, the out-raying or radiance of the divine], and He is the perfect imprint and very image of [God's] nature.... (Hebrews 1:1-3 AMP)
Notice the contrast the writer makes: The prophets spoke to our forefathers, but to us, in the last days, God has spoken differently. His revelation to us is through the person of the Son, Jesus Christ. The scripture goes on to say that Jesus is the sole (only) expression of God's glory and nature. What this means is that, if all you had to go on was the Gospels, the stories of Jesus, you would have a pure understanding and depiction of the Father. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9 NASB). I believe that though the Old Testament paints some clear and difficult pictures of God's nature, if they are not also seen in the person of Jesus, you're misunderstanding them. Let me put it this way: You are not obligated to believe anything about God that isn't seen in Jesus. If you want to see the invisible, look at the visible. Jesus is God, made perfectly visible. His life was the ultimate demonstration of the Father's heart. Not only that, His life isn't over! He is still living today!
Let me encourage you to spend time in the Gospels this year. Read them over and over again. Meditate on them. Visualize the stories and recollections. Picture yourself there, in Galilee. Allow yourself to see Jesus speaking His words. Interact with Him. See Him healing the sick and teaching you to do the same. Envision him forgiving the adulterous woman, feeding the multitudes, and spending time with little children. If you want to know God, start here. By filling your mind and fixing your eyes on Jesus, the character and nature of the Father will become fully actualized inside you. Seeing Jesus as He really is will cause you to imitate Him. "We will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2 NASB). God doesn't want to be studied; He wants to be known. Jesus is the only way for us to truly know the Father.
BY WINSTON DAVENPORT, MARCH 19 2014