January 25, 2017

How can an open book be closed — or truly open?

I’ve heard that there are people in Israel who have memorized the entire Old Testament. Given my difficulty with rote memorization, I find that entirely amazing. However, even more amazing is that memorizing, even just reading, does not equal understanding. My own experience proves it. So does this incident from the New Testament . . .

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:26–39)

This man could not understand the Scripture even though he was educated, worshiped God and could read! As for me, I read the Bible for seventeen years before Jesus walked into my living room and instructed me to its meaning. Prior to that, it was merely a jumble of words read partly as a ritual and partly because of my mother’s example. As today’s devotional reading says, it is quite possible to read and even memorize it and yet gain no spiritual benefit from the Word of God. For that, everyone needs the Holy Spirit. (See 1 Corinthians 2:11–16)

Understanding the Word of God is about seeing Christ in everything. Philip preached Jesus to that man. As for me, I didn’t know Jesus and missed really seeing Him in the Bible. Therefore, what I read made no sense to me.

Understanding the Scriptures is about reading with a humble, submissive, and obedient faith in Christ. The eunuch showed those qualities as he willingly surrendered to believer’s baptism. I can recall my ‘pre-Christ’ days — full of pride, resistance, disobedience. No wonder I didn’t get it.

Understanding the Word of God also causes rejoicing in Christ. Once the eunuch understood, ‘He went on his way rejoicing.’ In those early years of my life, I read out of duty so I could check it off as done. Such a routine did not produce in me the joy of knowing Jesus.

Understanding the Scriptures ought to cause a reader to seek the salvation of others. This eunuch went on his way back to Africa and history says he took the gospel to many. I read the Bible but didn’t tell anyone I was reading it and couldn’t share with others what I didn’t understand myself.

Jesus, on that day when You changed my life You also began teaching me what Your Word means. Now I can see You in its pages. Now I want to obey you and appreciate Your great joy. I also want to share You with others. Surely Your Word is remarkable, but even greater is Your amazing ability to keep it closed to those who have no faith in You and yet open up its wonders to those who by faith have been transformed.

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