Week 8, Day 2: The Jesus Lens
Imagine if you heard from someone that your best friend, someone you love and trust, had done something completely out of character. What would your first reaction be? Would you immediately believe the person who’d told you, or would you think that that wasn’t something your best friend would do? Wouldn’t you first assume that what you know about the person you know is true (that he or she is trustworthy and responsible) and then try to figure out what really happened? We can draw a similar analogy with how we understand the Bible and, specifically, how we understand the Bible through Jesus.
READ: COLOSSIANS 1:15-20
Jesus is what our faith is all about. Jesus is the one who shows us what God looks like; Jesus is the one who shows us what we are to be like. Jesus is our model and our example; Jesus is our Savior and our Redeemer; Jesus is our Lord and King. Jesus is the one who reshaped history, who split time in two. Jesus is the one about whom the Bible is talking, the one to whom the Old Testament points and whom the New Testament reveals.
As such, we should read the Bible with Jesus as the lens. The theological way of putting this is that Jesus is our hermeneutic; that is, our interpretative key. We understand everything in Scripture through what we learn from and about Jesus, including how Jesus interpreted and reinterpreted Scripture.
For example, the Old Testament law taught equal retaliation: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. However, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well” (Matthew 5:38-39). In saying this, he was raising the standard from one of retribution and compensation to one of love, and establishing love as the higher human calling.
In another instance, Jesus reinterpreted the Old Testament, saying, “You have heard that it was said, Don’t commit adultery. But I say to you that every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28). Here, Jesus was again raising the bar on Christian ethics, stating that we are responsible and answerable for our thought life as well as our actions.
As a kid growing up in church, I used to memorize Bible verses. One such passage was the Great Commission, Jesus’ final words in Matthew’s Gospel:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)
I still remember those verses; I still take seriously the call to disciple-making, to recruiting followers to live in the way of Jesus. But I was never taught to memorize Jesus’ first words in Luke’s Gospel, his opening manifesto, his mission statement, his inaugural address:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me. He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
In referencing the prophet Isaiah’s words, Jesus was doing two things. First, he was proclaiming that the mission he had been entrusted was one that had implications for every sphere of every life and for every sphere of all of life: not just health for one’s spirit (understood as a disembodied part of one’s being) but whole-person health, not just figurative life but literal life, not just restoration for individuals but for all of creation.
Second, Jesus was offering his reinterpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy; he left out a line about “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2, NIV). This was a significant omission at the time, for the Jews, living under Roman occupation, would have held onto that hope in God’s righteous judgment on their enemies. In not quoting Isaiah exactly, and in following up this passage with a comment about God’s welcome to those even outside of Israel, Jesus was pointing to God’s outrageous and extravagant inclusiveness, a message his hearers were not particularly excited to receive — they even tried to kill him (Luke 4:22-30)!
Jesus is the truest representation of what God is like and therefore what we are to be like. If that is the case, all of Scripture — which points to Jesus — must be understood in light of Jesus, who he is and what he said and did. If Jesus is the fullest embodiment and clearest revelation to us of what God is like, and if we believe the Bible is the word of God, then the two should not be incongruent or contradictory — and where they are, the likelihood is that we are misunderstanding or not seeing the full picture, and we must seek to understand everything in light of Jesus, holding the unclear — that which we do not or struggle to understand — in light of the clear — the person and life and love of Jesus.
One practice I try to engage in consistently in learning to live is not simply reading the Bible, but reading the gospels even as I read other parts as well. This way, I try to keep Jesus in front of me at all times; he is our lens for life and for reading Scripture.
REFLECT & RESPOND
Head: How well would you say you know Jesus, as revealed in the gospels?
Heart: What are some Bible passages that you find difficult to understand? What difference does it make to look through the lens of Jesus?
Hands: At some point in the next week or two, schedule an hour for yourself to read through one of the four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John — in one sitting. Write down some of the things you learn about Jesus.
Lord Jesus, I trust you. Help me to understand your words. Amen.
All of Scripture must be
understood in light of Jesus,
who he is and what he said and did.