Have you never read?
Jesus asked this question a few times, but it wasn't asked from uninformed people who didn't know the scriptures. Jesus asked this from pharisees, scribes, sadducees, and even high priests too, whose knowledge of the Word puts today's teachers' to shame. They have definitely read the scriptures, not just several times, although they haven't paired it with deeds. When Jesus asked „Have you never read?”, He was completely aware that they read it, instead, with His question He hinted at a further question: Why don't you do it?
„But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,”
Perhaps the knowledge of the scriptures is in vain? By no means! Instead that the knowledge wasn't paired with observance.
„Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you--but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
This particular „heavy burden” that is „hard to bear” is not to be thought of as God's law, which clearly shows in Jesus' speech, as He asks us for the observance of Mosaic laws.
„The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you--”
But what is this particular „heavy burden” that is „hard to bear”, if not God's law? While reading the gospels, we find many stories where Jesus raised His voice against man-made laws. This is exactly what it's about in this situation too, Jesus referred to man-made laws as unbearable, which we can also read about in Acts as well:
„Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?”
And afterwards we can read about the observance of Mosaic laws:
„For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues."”
The gentile converts went to synagogues too, they were taught to observe Mosaic laws (which is ultimately God's law), and they didn't only go there to listen, but also to act observantly. As it is also written:
„Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
Yet many people preach that we don't need deeds, this is how many deceive themselves, even up to this day. Just like how in today's era, fresh Christians are told to read the Word and pray often, the gentile converts were given a few regulations as a base, not given in its entirety, as if these are the only few commandments needed. In fact, most Christians don't even live by these few laws:
„but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.”
If these are the only commandments to be observed, then perhaps we're allowed to murder or steal? Have we realized that this is not a complete list? Jesus taught us about this too, as adultery doesn't start at physical contact (Matthew 5,28). Since 'intent' includes that if he could do it, then he would do it as well! Then there is the prohibition of drinking blood, yet this isn't taken seriously either. Even if they don't drink blood on purpose, they aren't striving to clean meat from its blood. But let's read this chapter continuously and in a bigger context to get a clearer image:
„But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses." The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, "'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.' Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues."”
Although most people of today consider the Mosaic laws outdated, but according to the apostolic declarations they are still relevant. Not even because these are Moses’ laws, but for the very reason that these are the Everlasting God’s commandments, through which He declared His will to everybody. Let's read our opening verse again:
„You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,”
Many misunderstand this too, as many consider the knowledge of the Word in vain, thinking that it's enough to recognize Jesus, as the Word was given for this. But Jesus didn't tell us to ignore the scriptures, instead, that our eternal life does not lie within them. In other words, we can possess perfect knowledge, but that alone will not win us salvation.
„If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Love is key, but we know it well that love's meaning is entirely different from what most of us know today.
„And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
In other words, the fulfilling of the law, and its observance is love.
„Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
Regarding the fulfilling of the law, let's read Jesus' words as well:
„"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.”
A foolish perception of this verse has been widespread, that the reason Jesus fulfilled these, so that we don’t have to! In that case, what does „Jesus dwelling within us” really mean? Just as a name, nominally? Because as it is known, Jesus does not change, which is why through Him dwelling within us, He will fulfil the Father’s commandments, too. If someone claims that Jesus dwells within him, but denies it with his actions, then that person deceived himself, not only lying to God, but lying to himself as well. It’s not enough to read the Word, it must be kept as well. We are not to strive for perfect knowledge alone, as if it isn’t paired with real love which is the fulfilment of the law, then the perfect knowledge will not save anyone from Gehenna / hell.
Even today, many strive for the perfect knowledge and perfect creed, through which they see the way to restore the Church. While creating various creeds isn’t the correct way, but to accept and believe in what Jesus and the apostles taught. Our creed must be the Word of God, and not to deceive ourselves!
Author: Antal Farkas