Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Have you ever taken someone’s words and used them against them? Better yet, have you ever taken someone’s words out of context and used them against them? It’s funny how often we do this sort of thing without even realizing we are doing it.
“Hey, honey, I thought you were going to do that project for me today?”
“Today? When did I say I was going to do it today?”
“Well, you said you would get to it whenever you had some free time, and you’re not doing anything right now…”
If you’re married, I can almost guarantee you’ve had a conversation that resembles something like this. There are so many other moments in our lives that are taken out of context as well, and at the top of this list is our faith.
It’s incredible how much of what we believe, and what we read in scripture, is influenced by what we experience or what we want scripture to say. The irony in all of this is how much we look down upon the religious leaders of Jesus’s day, namely the Pharisees, for doing the same things that we often do today.
Let’s look at an example of this.
During Jesus’s life and ministry there was an overwhelming expectation within the minds and hopes of the Jewish people that a “messiah,” a warrior-like ruler, would rise up and overthrow the Roman empire. This belief was common among the Jewish people. Everyone hoped and longed for this figure to arise. “Where did the people get this notion though,” you may wonder. Read what Daniel 7:13-14 says, and see what you think.
“13In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
This passage was a vision of the prophet Daniel, and it would have been recorded hundreds of years before Jesus came, and long before the Roman empire began to rise. It is easy to see in this prophecy where all the Jewish people would have gotten the idea of a warrior-messiah.
God never explicitly said, through this prophecy, that the messiah wouldn’t be a warrior-king. God never said he wouldn’t overthrow Israel’s oppressors. And since God didn’t explicitly say what this figure would exactly be like, the Jewish people simply filled in the blanks. Was it wrong of them to do this?
I don’t know that it was wrong of the Jewish people to expect a different messiah than what Jesus was, but where they did err was in how they received the One who came.
It wasn’t just the Pharisees who were wrong in their reception and expectation of Jesus either, but the disciples misunderstood as well. In fact, even after spending three and a half years with Jesus, they still couldn’t shake their original expectations of the messiah. This is clearly evident in what happened hours before Jesus was crucified, in the moment after Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
“49 When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.
51 But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.’” (Luke 22:49-53)
How is it, that after three years of living alongside Jesus, listening to Him teach, and closely watching all His actions, that these people still expected Him to be a rebellion-leading warrior? How is it that after intently studying the scriptures for the entirety of their lives, that the Pharisees and religious leaders couldn’t understand Jesus was who He proclaimed to be?
Could it be, that it is simply difficult for us to separate what we want to be true, hope to be true, and expect to be true from what actually is true?
If this is the case, and I very much think it is, then how do we discover Jesus? How do we understand Him? How do we get to know Him, without ourselves getting in the way?
Honestly, I think we simply need to read His story. It is important for us to study who Jesus, what He taught, and what He did without our own preconceived notions of what we expect Him to be and say. It is vitally important within our faith that we take time to study the authentic portrait of Jesus that is found in the gospels. It is important that we take time to truly get to know Him.
As we do take time to know and understand Jesus, it is important that we remember what He had to say about Himself.
“17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
Jesus came to earth to fulfill what He was meant to do, but in order to truly discover what He came to do we have to read His story with unhindered lenses. We have to truly open up to the truth of Scripture, and ardently ask for God to clearly reveal to us who He is, as seen through the portrait of His Son.
Questions for Reflection
1. Take time to read through the entire gospel of John. Try to do it in one sitting if possible (it will take about an hour). If not in a single sitting, do it in the course of no more than three days. When reading, don’t think about Jesus in our context, but simply out of who He clearly is. Pray that God opens the gospel up to you.
2. What stands out about Jesus after reading through the gospel of John in one sitting? What specific insights are clear now that weren’t before?
3. What are some attributes of Jesus that we place on Him? Meaning, what are some things that we think about Jesus, that aren’t necessarily true in accordance with Scripture? How are these dangerous within our faith? How can we combat our tendency to picture Jesus on our own terms?