Come Close the Heart of Jesus: Read the Old Testament

Jesus knew the details of his death long before he was crucified. Consider the following specifics, which Jesus shared with his disciples before they arrived in Jerusalem:

For he [i.e., the Son of Man] will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise. (Luke 18:32-33)

Notice the precision of Jesus’ advance knowledge. He knew there would be mocking and shameful treatment; that someone would spit in his face; that the whip would tear his back to shreds; that he would be crucified. Jesus even knew that he would rise again on the third day.

How? How did Jesus know these details, all of which came to pass? What is the explanation of his prescience?

Some will answer, incredulously, “Well, of course Jesus knew these details! He was God in the flesh! He knew everything!” It’s true that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God, who possessed startling prophetic insight through the Spirit. But that’s not the best answer in this case. Listen to the explanation that Jesus himself gives for his foreknowledge:

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” (Luke 18:31, emphasis mine)

Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.

Jesus knew the Bible. He had heard and read and memorized the Scriptures all his life. His self-understanding and God-appointed mission had come into focus through the word of God. The details of Jesus’ death were known to him not solely because he was the second person of the Trinity, but because he had read them in the Bible.

1. Jesus knew he would be crucified.

He had read of the bronze serpent lifted on a pole and knew it was a prophetic type of his own death (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14-15). He knew, as a curse-bearer, that he would be hanged on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23).

2. Jesus knew he would be killed by the Gentiles.

He had read the prophecy of David: “For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet—I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” (Psalm 22:16-18; see Matthew 15:22-28 for a clear indication that Jesus understood the metaphor of dogs to include Gentiles).

3. Jesus knew he would be mocked, spit upon, and flogged.

He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

4. Jesus knew he would be raised from the dead.

He had read David’s prophecy: “My flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption” (Psalm 16:9-10; see also 30:3; 49:7-15; 68:20).

He had read Daniel’s prophecy: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

He had read Isaiah’s prophecy: “When his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:10-11; see also 26:19).

5. Jesus knew he would rise on the third day.

He had read of Jonah being three days and nights in the belly of a great fish, and understood this to be a prophetic type of his own death and resurrection (Jonah 1:17; Matthew 12:40).

He had read Hosea’s prophecy: “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hosea 6:1-2; see also 13:14).

Jesus knew the details of his death because he had read the Bible.

That’s neat, but what does it mean for us? To begin with, it means that we can trust the Bible. All that was written about the Son of Man was indeed accomplished. The prophecies came to pass. We can confidently build our lives and stake our eternal future on every word God has spoken.

Additionally, it means that we must learn to read the Bible the way Jesus did. Jesus understood that the Bible was speaking of him. We go astray in interpretation when our dominant impulse is to understand every verse in light of ourselves. Following Jesus’ own method of interpretation, we must first understand how Scripture finds its fulfillment in him. Only then can we make accurate application to our own lives. In other words, a sound interpretive path isn’t BIBLE VERSE(S) ► US. Rather, it’s BIBLE VERSE(S) ► FULFILLMENT IN JESUS ► US.

Finally, it means that one way of getting close to Jesus is to read the Old Testament. Read the New Testament too, by all means! But don’t minimize the value of the Old Testament in getting to know Jesus. After all, the Hebrew Scriptures were Jesus’ Bible. As Christopher Wright thrillingly puts it, you can be aware of this every time you open the Old Testament:

These are the words [Jesus] read.  These were the stories he knew. These were the songs he sang. These were the depths of wisdom and revelation and prophecy that shaped his whole view of ‘life, the universe and everything’. This is where he found his insights into the mind of his Father God. Above all, this is where he found the shape of his own identity and the goal of his own mission. In short, the deeper you go into understanding the Old Testament, the closer you come to the heart of Jesus.

The Old Testament may be a surprising place to come close to the heart of Jesus, but it is a sure place.

Iron Chariots Aren’t Easy

 

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The promise was clear:

For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong. (Joshua 17:18)

But the people faltered:

And the LORD was with Judah, and they took possession of the hill country, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley because they had iron chariots. (Judges 1:19)

One of the reasons we compromise when tempted is that not compromising feels too hard. We don’t want to work at overcoming temptation, if by work we mean anything other than tossing up a God-help-me prayer, followed by hoping that the enticement evaporates immediately. Judah likely made the same error when seeking to drive out the inhabitants of the plain: Those iron chariots are too hard to deal with. 

The Lord would have propelled Judah to victory had they trusted his promise and pressed hard. Let’s learn from their mistake.

The Problem with Omniscience

And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.” (Deuteronomy 31:16-17, italics mine)

Can you imagine waking up one morning with omniscience? No longer is your knowledge confined to your own experience and learning, but now you know everything. Everything. You would never make a bad investment, because you know the return it will yield. You would never get a speeding ticket (speaking hypothetically of course), because you know where every policemen is hiding. You would never have to read a book or watch the news or go to school, because you know all there is to know on every subject. This list of potential realities could go on forever.

I think we would hate being omniscient.

Although knowing everything presents some advantages, my guess is that most of us would loathe omniscience because of what it would do to our relationships. Think about it: How would you handle knowing everything that everyone will ever think or feel or do or say regarding you? Relationships would become extremely difficult if not impossible. You would know every bad thing a person will do to you in the future—mocking, anger, betrayal, abandonment. Consequently, relating to them in a loving manner beforehand would be hard. Sure, they may be speaking kindly and acting friendly now, but you know what they are going to do. Would you still marry this person, or maintain your friendship, or lovingly give yourself away for their benefit?

God would. The nation of Israel was poised on the edge of the land God had promised to give them. God had graciously delivered his people through forty years of wilderness wanderings. He had revealed himself in dramatic ways. All the while God knew that his people would prostitute themselves and forsake him, breaking the covenant he made with them. Yet he continued giving himself away in love to these future backstabbers.

How could God do this? Here are two explanations. (1) God related to Israel not only with a mind that knows perfectly but with a heart that loves perfectly. God’s love enables him to pursue relationships with people he knows will fail to love him in return. The cross of Christ powerfully demonstrates this truth. (2) God related to Israel based on the state of their hearts in the present rather than on the state of their hearts in the future. Deuteronomy 31:17 makes clear that it would not be until the very day in which Israel turned against God that his anger would be kindled. Surely this is how Jesus could wash Judas’s feet despite knowing what Judas was going to do a few hours later.

We should be profoundly grateful for both of these truths. In Christ, God loves us in spite of all the sins we will commit in the future—which, by the way, is a cause for pursuing holiness, not an excuse for pursuing sin. And God relates to us based on the present state of our hearts toward him. We will never displease our Father over something we have not yet done, even when he knows we will do it in the future.

And even then – even when our future sin becomes a present reality – God’s displeasure results in fatherly discipline rather than judicial condemnation. Praise the Lord! God’s knowledge of us never outruns his love.

Omniscience would be a terrible burden for us. It would wreck all of our relationships. But it’s no problem for God, whose perfect knowledge is matched by perfect love.

You are never more exposed than before God’s all-knowing gaze. And in Christ you couldn’t be safer.

King David Had Ups and Downs

You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)

I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. (Psalm 6:6)

In some days happiness. In other days sadness. In all days prayer.

Jesus Left Out “In Jesus’ Name”

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When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, he left out the phrase “in Jesus’ name.” Was it an oversight? A slip of the divine mind? Everyone knows that a prayer doesn’t count without saying those words! Yet in the Lord’s Prayer–our model for praying–Jesus doesn’t include them.

Father,

hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.

And lead us not into temptation.

(Luke 11:2-4)

Though the phrase “in Jesus’ name” isn’t present, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer in Jesus’ name. The first word makes it so, and every successive line depends upon it.

Father – How can one rightly address God as Father? Only through Jesus. By trusting in the Son of God, you can pray as a child of God. The Son’s Father becomes your Father when you receive the Son by faith (cf. John 1:12; Gal 3:26). Outside of Jesus, you can’t get past the first word of the Lord’s Prayer.

Hallowed be your name – Can a person honor God as holy while dishonoring Jesus? Jews and Muslims try to do so. Yet “no one who denies the Son has the Father” (1 John 2:23). To hallow God’s name necessitates hallowing Jesus’ name.

Your kingdom come – Is there any other way for God’s kingdom to come except through Jesus? It’s a laughable question. Jesus is the King.

Give us each day our daily bread – Through whom do we receive all the blessings of the Father? Jesus has purchased grace for every need.

Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us – Is any sin forgiven apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus? God pardons our sin in no other name.

Lead us not into temptation – On what basis does the Father empower us to escape temptation if not through the Spirit of Jesus, who triumphed over sin and Satan?

Jesus didn’t include the phrase “in Jesus’ name” in the Lord’s Prayer, but he didn’t have to. From the opening address to God as Father, through each petition that follows, the Lord’s Prayer is profoundly dependent upon the person and work of Jesus.

So, don’t think of “in Jesus’ name” as a mechanical, or even a magical, conclusion to prayer. Much better would be to pray your entire prayer with Jesus in mind, because you grasp how gloriously central he is to everything God is doing in the world and in your life.

 

It Matters Where You Look

Remember, therefore,

it is not your hold of Christ that saves you—it is Christ;
it is not your joy in Christ that saves you—it is Christ;
it is not even faith in Christ, although that is the instrument—

it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore,

don’t be fixing your eyes so much on your hand with which you are grasping Christ, as on Christ;

don’t be looking at your hope, but to Jesus, the source of your hope;

don’t be looking to your faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith.

We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul.

If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Simply keep your eye on Him; let

His death,
His sufferings,
His merits,
His glories,
His intercession,

be fresh upon your mind;

when you wake in the morning look to Him;
when you lie down at night look to Him.

Oh! don’t let your hopes or fears come between you and Jesus; follow closely after Him, and He will never fail you.

       My hope is built on nothing less
       Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness:
       I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
       But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

— Charles Spurgeon, “June 28 – Morning,” Morning and Evening

Throw You Like a Ball

The book of Isaiah is, among other things, a repetitive call for humility before the might and majesty of God. One of the most gripping images of God taking down the proud is directed toward Shebna, a man who built monuments to himself. In addition to what appears to be straight-up mockery (”O you strong man”), we are given an unforgettable picture of Shebna’s end:

Behold, the Lord will hurl you away violently, O you strong man. He will seize firm hold on you and whirl you around and around, and throw you like a ball into a wide land. (Isaiah 22:17-18)

Two quick takeaways: (1) Don’t overlook the rich imagery of Scripture, especially in prophecy and poetry. As you read, let the multitude of metaphors light your imagination on fire. Can’t you just see strong Shebna being seized, whirled around and around, and violently hurled through the air like a ball being thrown so far away you can’t even see where it lands? Dadgum. That’s quite a picture. Train yourself to see these pictures in the Bible. Imagery is everywhere, on every page. The Bible is 3D, so don’t just read it. See it.

(2) Quit trying to be awesome. “Hurl you” and “whirl you” and “throw you” are not things you want God to do to you. Here is the one to whom God looks: “He who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (66:2).