We can miss the point while reading the bible! We humans need inspiration, empowerment, knowledge, faith, hope, love. And then we read the bible and partly we might find those things there. But sometimes it just doesn’t work. Could it be that the main point of the bible is not a thing, but a person? Because if you look for a person, namely the person of Jesus Christ, you’ll find him. Always. He is the point.
The people surrounding Jesus where avid readers of the word of God. Still, when the Living Word of God appeared, they didn’t recognize Jesus for who He was. They missed the point while having memorized the book about him!
John 5:39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (NIV)
How was this possible? How can we miss Jesus? I’ll link my ideas with a text out of our church’s bible challenge, because there, in John 6:30-59, Jesus has a discussion with other people on how to read the bible. A commentary points out “this passage is a regular Jewish midrash, or homily, on Exodus 16:15 and Psalm 78:24, which Jesus quotes in John 6:31. Jesus paraphrases, explains and expounds in a manner characteristic of ancient Jewish teachers” (IVP Commentary, NT, pp, 279-80)
1. reading to get your fill
John 6:25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” (NIV)
The question wasn’t the real question. Not “how did you come here?” but “What can you do for us today?” The people who were looking for Jesus where looking for him because of the blessings they had experienced a chapter before at the feeding of the 5000. This had to be an amazing experience! Of course they wanted it again! Wouldn’t you?
eat for life instead for life hacks
If you follow what the bible teaches you, your life will become fuller. The bible tells you to not cheat on your taxes. That’s good advice. It tells you to work hard. Most probably your life will be better if you follow that. But if life hacks from the bible is the reason I’m going to the word, I’ll be disappointed, because blessings, no matter how big, will eventually get old. Don’t miss the point while reading the bible! Go after the bread of life. Go hard after Jesus. Jesus is the bread that doesn’t get old.
2. reading as a repeat
John 6:30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”” (NIV)
Now that Jesus has claimed, he’s the real deal, they want proof. “If you are, who you say you are, give us bread like Moses! Manna came for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. If you offer us that over this length of time then we will believe. Get to work, Jesus.” They where so focussed with the bread from the past (the day before and the bread of their ancestors), they failed to see bread being delivered on that very day.
eat for today
Similarly, we can read the bible as bread from the past. We know our favorite passages. We know how God talked to us there. But if we treat the bible as bread of yesterday, it is actually going to taste hard, tasteless and full of mold. “Give us today our daily bread!” This is where change starts, this is where revelation happens. Not in the past, not in the future, now. Read the Bible for today. Jesus is the daily bread.
3. reading with too much familiarity
Familiarity is dangerous. No new employee at a zoo gets injured when he feeds lions the first time. It’s once he’s too familiar with them that he stops to pay attention. When we stop to pay attention we miss the moment where God speaks. If you have grown up with bible stories, this could be your danger. You hear the stories of Sunday school in the back of your mind, while reading the stories. We know how the stories of our heroes of faith will end, heck we even know their moral. But did the people in the real stories? One of the issues with the people surrounding Jesus in John 6 was, they where familiar and knew who Jesus was. Except they didn’t. Familiarity kills revelation.
John 6:41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” (NIV)
eat with attention
What can we do? The obvious one is this: Read what is there, not what you have heard. Pay attention. (He’s still a lion, after all). Here are a few popular misconceptions of the bible that sound just too familiar: Money is not the root of all evil, Noah’s ark hadn’t a pair of each animal, Not three kings visited Jesus, when he was a baby, we don’t know that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, Adam and Eve probably didn’t eat an apple.
Their issue though wasn’t attention. It was unbelief! Jesus point this out:
Johannes 6:43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. …
Stop grumbling! Grumbling was the habitual way to asses everything for the people of Israel in the desert! In the end they even grumbled about manna! And now the people around Jesus were grumbling again! It was a form of unbelief.
Open your heart while reading. He is drawing you towards the bread of life. Feel this pull! Enjoy being invited to eat.
4. reading for someone else
Maybe this never happened to you, but to me it did: You where reading the bible and thought: “This is an amazing passage for such and such. If only such and such could read this! Her / his life would be so much better.” Or even this: “If only so and so would have read this, my life would be so much better!” And here is the first trap we create for ourselves: We read the bible for someone else. Especially if you are not only feeling responsible, but you are actually carrying responsibility for people, like your kids, your connect group, your church, there is a huge danger in reading the bible and missing the point, because you are reading it for someone else.
Johannes 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
eat as an encounter
It is not only for us that we read the bible. But it is ultimately on us. It is on us to make this about encountering Him before anything else. Come to Him. It is on us to believe. Believe in Him. The living Word of God is here to satisfy. That doesn’t mean hunger and thirst in our souls does not rise up every day. It means now we know what it’s for. (John Piper here). This is the point of the bread of life. To still my hunger and to quench the thirst of my soul.
5. If you still miss the point while reading bible
You are trying so hard not to miss the point while reading the bible. You are reading with all efforts to meet Jesus. And nothing happens. And now?
John 6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
It’s on Him. He will give it to you. And by faith you will never miss the point while reading the bible.