Monday, March 5, 2012

How To Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

I have been looking at a book entitled How To Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens – A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture by Michael Williams, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary (PhD University of Pennsylvania). In this book Michael Williams endeavors to take the reader through all the books of the Bible and give us a glimpse, a suggestion, as to how that book reveals Jesus.

In a very short introduction, Williams likens the content of the Bible to a jigsaw puzzle, while Jesus is the picture on the box that shows us what the finished product will look like. As we all know, assembling a jigsaw puzzle without that picture is a daunting task indeed. Consequently when the Bible is understood (assembled) correctly it will present to us a picture of Jesus. The justification for such an approach is based on such New Testament verses as Jn 5:39 NIV – “These are the very Scriptures that testify about me” and Luke 24:27 NIV “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Since we know that it is about Jesus ahead of time it will help us to understand what the Holy Spirit is communicating to us through scripture.

Each chapter follows the same pattern. He begins by giving us the “overarching theme of each book”, followed by how that theme “finds its focus in Jesus”. He then “explores how this focus in Christ is subsequently elaborated upon in the New Testament.” “Finally, [he] consider[s] what that fulfillment in Christ must necessarily entail for believers.” (pg.10). He also throws in a memory passage for good measure, evidently intending for this book to be not only a guide, but to be a study guide.

For my review I have chosen the chapter on the book of Numbers. Michael Williams names the book of Numbers as the Promised Rest. The theme of this book is that “God chastens his disobedient people but  reaffirms his intent to bring them into the Promised Land”. With this in mind he gives us a memory verse of Num 14:18 NIV 'The Lord  is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.

Williams writes that in Numbers we see that God has a problem bringing his people into the Promised Land. There are disobedient and at times quite faithless. They rebel against their invisible God as they see the physical superiority of the opposition who already dwell in that land. “This situation raises a theological problem that will ultimately find its resolution only through the Jesus lens: How can God punish the rebellion and faithlessness of his people and still bless them?” (pg. 26) In other words “ how could God’s holiness and justice allow him to bless his people whose faith always wavers and whose obedience always falters?” (pg. 26)

Now we apply the Jesus Lens. With this lens we see that only Jesus was fully obedient. He was the only one who had the ability to pay the price for our sin. “When we believe in our trusting, obedient Lord and what he has done for us, the way is clear for us to enter God’s promised rest.” (pg. 27) At this juncture Williams quotes Heb 4:3 NIV “We who have believed enter that rest”.  It is only through Jesus that we can claim and experience the promised rest of God.

The next section is the one that considers the contemporary implications of what was seen through the Jesus lens. “We, as God’s people today, also have a Promised Land before us. It is a place of fellowship with God that characterizes our salvation in Jesus Christ. When we, like the Israelites, allow the big challenges of life to cause us to forget the even bigger power of God, he disciplines us so we don’t stray far from the real peace, security, and fulfillment that are found only in our relationship with him.” (pg. 27) Williams’ point is that God’s “discipline leads us to the place of rest” (pg.27)

His final section he calls “Hook Questions”. These are questions that are to be asked of ourselves as we try to incorporate into our lives the implications of the book of the Bible we are studying. One of these is “In what ways have you already begun to know God’s rest?” (pg.28)

This book will be a help to those who are just beginning to think about the meaning of the Scriptures. The attempted scope of the book necessarily limits its impact. This is too bad because I have a passion for this topic and sincerely hope that Christians will read the Bible as God’s Word to us. But the oversimplifications, the truncated manner of dealing with the topics, can at best only touch the surface.

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