(This post is the Introduction to the series Experiencing Jesus Opens the Bible. The other posts in the series are Part 1 – Drawn by the Holy Spirit, Part 2 – The Word of the Lord Appeared, and Part 3 – A Low Whisper, and Part 4 – Seeing Jesus.)
Do you know Jesus through the Bible or experience?
The Bible is an amazing book. I believe studying the Bible is important. That is why I just spent every day last year reading and writing about the Bible on this blog.
However, we often fail to recognize something very important, which is that we come to the Bible with certain presuppositions about who God is. For the most part, these presuppositions about God formed before we even knew they were forming. Forces that unknowingly form our presuppositions about God include parents, friends, pastors, churches, culture, and society. Of course, there are many more.
As we study the Bible, we think we are discovering truth. But, oftentimes, we are simply finding evidence in an inspired book that strengthens and hardens our presuppositions about God.
Why does that happen?
How do we guard against that?
What do we need to stop that from happening?
Not any experiences.
Not all experiences.
But a certain, specific experience.
Why does the Bible strengthen and harden our presuppositions about God?
Because we have not experienced the life of Jesus Christ.
How do we guard against the Bible strengthening and hardening our presuppositions about God?
By experiencing the life of Jesus Christ.
What do we need at all times to stop the Bible from strengthening and hardening our presuppositions about God?
Experiences with the life of Jesus Christ.
I was inspired to think about this by a comment from Blaine Keller on my post “What Love Is or What Love Does?” Blaine stated how his understanding of the Bible was changing. I mentioned how I had changed by a direct encounter with Jesus. Blaine said he would love to hear about this direct encounter some time.
As I thought about the discussion with Blaine, I realized how much my experiences with the life of Jesus Christ changed my thinking. Further, I realized that in almost every case I experienced the life of Jesus in some specific way and then my thinking, particularly my presuppositions about God that I approached the Bible with, changed as a result.
At roughly the same time I was having this discussion with Blaine, I read the first blog post in a series titled “Our Need for Religious Experience” by Richard Beck. He made the connection that people, particularly younger adults, do not desire to go to church anymore because they were not having religious experiences with God there. Beck argued that the problem was not so much with the church. Rather, the problem was that we have closed ourselves off to religious experiences. I think we can extrapolate Beck’s point to Bible study as well.
People do not want to read the Bible because they have not had an experience with the life of Jesus Christ.
People read the Bible wrongly because they have closed themselves off from experiencing the life of Christ in their daily lives. It has become more or less an intellectual pursuit. Then, there is nothing standing between their presuppositions about God and the Bible. The Bible becomes their presuppositions about God.
People experience the life of Christ in their daily lives, but that experience does not line up with what they are taught about the Bible in church. So, they turn away from the Bible or want to get rid of the Old Testament because they deem it offensive to the life of Christ they are experiencing.
But, instead of not reading the Bible, using the Bible to harden and strengthen our presuppositions about God, or turning our backs on the Bible in whole or in part, we should allow our experience with the life of Christ to change our presuppositions about God that we bring to the Bible. We should allow our experience with the life of Jesus Christ to be the foundation of our belief of who God is and what God is like. When we do this, the Bible becomes an entirely different book, and we see God in the Bible in an entirely different way.
That our experience with the life of Jesus Christ changes our understanding of the Bible is found within the Bible itself.
John 5.36-40 says, “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard and his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
John was the greatest person of the Old Testament. Therefore, he had the greatest testimony of the Old Testament. But, Jesus’ testimony was even greater than John’s. Jesus’ testimony, the works that he was doing, bore witness about himself and that the Father sent him.
Amazingly, Jesus, the most important person in history, didn’t write a book to reveal who God, his Father, was. He did works. He did things that could be experienced. Jesus did things that people could see, hear, and touch. Therefore, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1.1-3)
Why could the Jews Jesus was speaking to in John 5 not receive his testimony?
Because they were locked into a certain way of reading scripture formed by their presuppositions about and traditions of who God was and the messiah, Jesus Christ, would be. But, instead of looking to the scripture for eternal life (a.k.a God), Jesus told these Jews they needed to come to him. They needed to experience him, his testimony, his works. Then, these experiences of the life of Jesus Christ would change their understanding of scripture.
We read something similar in Luke 24. Two disciples were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Jesus was crucified. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened when a stranger asked them what they were talking about. The two disciples didn’t know it, but the stranger was Jesus.
Jesus went on to tell the two disciples that it was necessary for everything that happened to have happened. “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24.27) Even though this stranger, who was Jesus, had just explained all scripture to them in a new and different way, these two disciples still were not getting it.
What caused the stranger to be revealed?
What caused them to see Jesus?
What gave them the full understanding of what Jesus was teaching them about the scriptures?
An experience of the life of Jesus Christ.
“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?'” (Luke 24.30-32)
It was when Jesus broke bread with the two disciples that they understood everything. It was then that they realized their hearts were burning within them as Jesus revealed to them the truth of scripture.
Of course, breaking bread is symbolic of the breaking of Jesus’ body, the giving of his life, for us. When we experience Jesus giving his life for us, the breaking of bread, it changes how we perceive and understand scripture. Then, our hearts begin to burn within us as we read scripture.
Burning symbolizes purification throughout the Bible. So, as we experience the life of Jesus Christ, he interprets scripture for us in a way that our hearts are purified. Therefore, the presuppositions about God that we brought to the Bible are burned away and we are left with the pure image of Jesus, and God, as the only thing that the Bible bears witness to.
Study the life of Paul and you will find the same thing. He had an experience with the life of Jesus Christ that radically changed the presuppositions about God that he brought to scripture. Paul wrote about this repeatedly in his letters, perhaps most clearly in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4.
So, over the next few posts, I will share some of my significant experiences with the life of Jesus Christ that changed the way I read and understand the Bible.