Updated: Sep 29, 2020
When you read the Bible, what is your goal? Is it to learn what God wants you to do, or maybe it’s to fulfill your religious duties? Or maybe reading the Bible is something you don’t like to do because it’s confusing and leaves you feeling guilty. I’ve read the Bible with hopes to learn what is expected of me, and many times, just because I knew I was supposed to. But reading out of obligation rarely results in consistency or passion. So, how should we approach it? God does want us to learn what to do and what he expects of us, but there’s something else he wants even more. He wants us to know him. Before Jesus, people needed to know the law of Moses in order to get right with God. They tried their best to follow rules and delivered sacrifices to God to make up the difference. They did this because their sin created a giant void between them and God. God’s whole purpose for us is relationship. He gave us his son so that a new agreement could be made between him and us, allowing us to focus more on growing our relationship with him rather than focusing on doing enough. So when I read, I look to learn something new about who God is. I tend to spend a lot of time in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) so that I can watch as Jesus interacts with people. I read hoping to learn what he loves, dislikes, how he teaches, what he values, and how he thinks/operates. We have sort of a predefined version of Jesus in our heads. What you might find if you read this way, however, is that he is way more complex than we could have ever imagined.
Pick a chunk of scripture from the gospels and try answering these questions:
Your first reaction?
How does this apply to our lives?
What does this tell you about Jesus?
This approach helps us to learn how we’re supposed to apply what we’re reading into our lives, while also seeking to learn something new about Jesus so we can grow our relationship with him. Take a look at Matthew 9:9-13:
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Jesus sees Matthew, a tax collector, and asks him to follow him. Seemingly without question, Matthew agrees and celebrates with a big dinner. The big religious guys don’t like it. Jesus tells them that he came for people who are just like Matthew.
Your first reaction?
(Here is where you can put out all your questions, your confusions, what surprises you, etc.) Why were tax collectors so looked down upon? Even Jesus pointed to tax collectors many times when trying to get his listeners to think of people who were shifty and sinful. (A little google search may come in handy to help point you towards some answers.) The reason for this collective disdain was that people didn’t exactly enjoy paying money toward the oppressive Roman empire. Also, it was common (and expected) that tax collectors would ask for more than what was required and keep the extra for themselves. They were typically Jews, and because of their extra cuts, they were pretty wealthy compared to their struggling, law-abiding fellow Jews. Because of this, they were often viewed as traitorous. So why would Jesus choose Matthew to follow him? I wonder if Jesus intentionally picked a person in this role to follow him in order to stir things up?
How does this apply to our lives?
One application takeaway is with the lesson Jesus taught the snobby Pharisees. They didn’t see a need to repent for sins because they believed they were doing enough. Using Jesus’ metaphor, you have to actually recognize you’re sick and seek out a doctor in order to be healthy. As Jesus pointed out in his Sermon on the Mount (specifically Matthew 5:17-30), it is impossible for us to follow the law of Moses close enough to become right with God. We simply can’t do it. We need a savior, and we need to recognize our need for him in order to restore our relationship with God. (Matthew 19:16-30) Another important takeaway is how [not to] treat people who we deem to be worse sinners than us. The Pharisees believed sinners should be shunned. When we think we are better than people who sin differently than us, or when we treat them as outcasts, we are just as bad as the Pharisees. The Pharisees stood as religious leaders, yet all they could offer people was a set of rules. Conversely, Jesus offered people forgiveness and hope. He viewed sinners as spiritually sick people who could be healed. We can do the same when we approach people, focusing less on their sin and more on pointing them toward Jesus and the freedom he brings.
What does this tell you about Jesus?
(So we learned what we should take away from the story and how to change our approach to looking at our own sin and the sin of others. But what did we learn about Jesus? If you find yourself saying, “We need to…” throw it into the application section. This section is strictly to learn about Jesus. It may not change anything you do, and you may not know how this new knowledge will affect anything, but it will grow your intimacy with Jesus. When you are dating someone or getting to know a new friend, you don’t spend your time together milking them for knowledge or advice. You want to get to know them, what they like, what they like to do, what they dislike. Everyone wants to be known and understood, so part of loving someone is getting to know them without the intention of gaining something from them in the process. It is pure and it is solely for the purpose of growing closer. Do that with Jesus!)
What we learn here about Jesus is that he cares more about a willingness to drop everything and follow him than he does the good works we do or how many rules we follow. He spoke gently to those who were sinful, rejected, and worn, yet he was harsh with those who thought themselves to be good, worthy, and powerful. He values loyalty, risk, and sacrifice. He doesn’t get too impressed by our stats or our good records, because even the best record is not worthy of him. Even with this, he loves us, and meets us where we’re at. He loves seeing and facilitating transformation. He can identify someone who is shapeable and willing to learn, and he will do great things through them. He is the master artist, and we are his clay. He is determined to transform ugly things into beauty.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I were to stop my study with what I learned in the application, I would leave feeling convicted, but with a sense of guilt as well. I’d be thinking, “I have a lot of work to do. I want to set people free, not oppress them more. Man, I’ve done that before without meaning to.” I’d leave feeling convicted to change, but what fuels that change in our lives? It takes the Holy Spirit working in our lives to really catapult change. But to power that, we need a close relationship with Jesus. That’s where the “What does this tell you about Jesus?” part comes in. When I leave my study there, I find myself filled with a passion for Jesus. I understand a bit more about him and what he values, and it makes me love him even more. My love for him brings me closer to him, allowing him to transform me. Two birds, one stone; less guilt and more change. The application section leaves me feeling convicted; the "about Jesus" section gives me hope that Jesus will turn my conviction into transformation.
Ashlee is a wife and stay-at-home mom, an eager follower of Jesus, and a chronically loud-laugher. She loves finding new ways to look at the Bible, in hopes to grow closer to Jesus and to find fresh ways to learn and teach others.
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