Friday, February 8, 2008

Missing the Point!

"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts."

-Jesus of Nazareth
(John 5:39-42)

As I read the Gospels I am constantly struck by the interactions of Jesus and the Pharisees. The Pharisees were known as some of the most religiously devout men in that time. They poured over the scriptures day and night and set up all manner of rules and regulations with a desire to become more "Holy". In the midst of doing this they became experts in the minutiae of the most obscure Bible passages. They were so caught up with trying to find God that they ended up missing him when he was standing right in front of them.

It is easy for us to look back on those Pharisees with contempt and haughtily laugh in disgust at their foolish actions. However, it is easy to then turn around and do the exact same things that they did. As people who claim to follow Christ, I am amazed at how often we resemble the Pharisees in our thoughts, words and actions. We care more about what people think than we care about people (please know that I am speaking first and foremost of myself).

Here Jesus is talking to the Pharisees. He says you are "diligently seeking the scriptures". That seems like a compliment, right? Today he might say, "you are actively pursuing your degree in religious studies." Or, "You faithfully attend Sunday Sermons and Bible studies every week." Or, "You religiously devote yourself to a daily reading of the Bible and quiet time."

At first glance, it is easy to say "Yeah, of course I do. What's wrong with that?" His response is that in the midst of doing all these things that are about him, we refuse to come to him. The Pharisees were constantly busying themselves with every kind of religious activity, but in the end they were far from the heart of God. They were so far from God that they were the ones who paved the way to the death of Jesus.

Several summary thoughts:

1) Jesus did not say it was bad to study the scriptures. A cursory reading of the Gospels will demonstrate that Jesus is well versed in the Old Testament.

2) In his recitation of the greatest commandment Jesus says to "love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength". In order to love the Lord with all of our mind, we obviously need to study.

3) In our study of scripture we do not merely seek Biblical trivia as though we are cramming for a bubble-test to get into heaven.

4) We study as a way of "coming to Jesus"

5) We study so that we learn what it means "to have the love of God within us"

6) We don't want to pave the way to Jesus' death, but we want to pave the way to life with him. To do that we must first "come" to him.