Wednesday’s Bible Study was one of those magical times when everything you’ve planned for the evening gets pushed aside and the Holy Spirit takes over. We started out talking about the work of the Holy Spirit in teaching and leading us in our study of the Bible and the next thing you know that is exactly what happened. No one seems to know how it quite happened but the Spirit led us into a discussion that was most helpful to all of us.
There is a definite correlation between the study of the Bible and the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit in understanding the theology and practical application of what we have read. In John 5:31-47 we have a court scene in which Jesus calls forward a number of witnesses to testify to the religious leaders that He is none other than the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God, and thus Savior of the World.
One of the witnesses Jesus calls up is the Scriptures. He of course is referring to the Old Testament and He makes it very clear that those writings pointed forward to Him. “You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:39, 40
The Jewish leaders were diligent Bible students who could recite long passages of the Scriptures at will, but they lacked understanding. Though they thought they were studying the Bible to develop a greater knowledge of God they were in reality only studying to reinforce their preconceived ideas regarding the writings.
Jesus couldn’t be clearer when He tells the religious leaders, “yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Leon Morris, in his wonderful commentary on John writes, “Had they rightly read the Scriptures they would no doubt have come to recognize the truth of His claims. But they read them with a wooden and superstitious reverence for the letter, and they never penetrated to the great truths to which they pointed. The result is that in the presence of Him to whom the Scriptures bear witness, in the presence of Him who could have given them life, they are antagonistic.” Morris, The Gospel of John, pg. 330, 331
Let’s not beat around the bush but instead be right up front. The reason so many people misinterpret scripture is because they either don’t want to believe what they are reading or they have preconceived ideas and read with blinders on. The Jewish establishment read and reread the Scriptures and somehow missed how they related to the coming of the Messiah. Yet today many Christians read their Bibles faithfully and miss the message of grace that streams out to us through every page.
I grew up in a tradition that saw the Bible as the place you went to prove you had “the truth.” As a result much of, at least in my case, my Bible study was little more than searching Scriptures to prove the doctrines of my denomination were right. I soon learned where to find many of these teachings and how to link the verses together, but I wasn’t drawing closer to the God of the Bible. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the denomination I belonged to because most churches approach the Bible in somewhat the same manner. It is just that I was so busy trying to prove the doctrines relating to Jesus that I missed the grace of Jesus that the teachings were pointing towards.
But the charges Jesus is making towards the religious leaders in verse 40 is much more serious than missing the point of what you are studying. He says that when they read and do understand what is being said they make a conscious decision not to believe it. These men study continually and when they do discover the truth concerning the coming Messiah and how the writings of Scripture point to Jesus, they purposely ignore and reject the evidence.
Remember Jesus’ words in Luke 13:34 “O Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, that killed the prophets, and stoned them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you would not!” When we read Scripture we need to be open to what the Holy Spirit is teaching and leading so that we can be receptive to His guidance.
As Christians it is imperative that we have right teachings and doctrines, but they are not a means unto themselves. They point to a relationship with Christ that is freeing and transformational. Doctrine that is not grounded in a spiritual renewal within the life of the believer ends up only being empty words. We leave people scratching their heads and wondering what in the world we are trying to say. But, when the teachings of the Bible speak to us through the power of the Holy Spirit something transformational takes place within our heart.
I know some of you reading this post are already shaking your head and have decided that I have no place for sound doctrine in my world view. But many others of you understand what I am saying and have experienced the same joy of discovering the grace of God that sets us free from the bondage of sin and death through the words of the Bible.
We can teach ten, twenty, thirty doctrines or whatever your particular church deems necessary for your indoctrination into their fellowship, and if all those teachings don’t have a practical application that draws us closer to God then we are in the same boat as the Jewish leaders of verses 39 and 40.
Please find a Bible study group that focuses on knowing Jesus and immerse yourself in growing in the study of the Word of God. A number of us Wednesday evening had tears in our eyes as we studied and prayed for our families and friends. There was a power in our prayers because we were applying what we had just studied concerning prayers for the sick to the reality of our daily lives. Our study wasn’t theory but a transforming power of the Holy Spirit that rose up our supplications to God.
Just a quick note, this evening, April 11 at 7 o’clock I will be speaking on prayer at the (87o) Grandame Street Church in Fredericton. Saturday I will also be speaking at 11:00am and 2:00pm in the afternoon. If you are in the area please come along and study with us on the power of transforming prayer in our lives.