Jesus Came to Save Us from the Bible (A guest post from Ed Cyzewski)

 

 

Following the Bible’s teachings on the Sabbath can be exhausting.

Seeking the freedom of scripture can lead to bondage.

Drawing near to the teachings of scripture can lead us further from God.

This is the paradox Jesus faced in the Gospels. It’s a tension that runs throughout the many stories where ordinary people, experts in the law, and religious/political leaders rejected the allegedly “heretical” teachings of Jesus in favor of their take on the Law.

They had an air-tight systematic theology that was supposed to keep them from error. They never thought that their greatest barrier between themselves and God would be their reading of Scripture itself.

* * *

The story of Jesus healing the crippled man in Jerusalem is particularly illuminating about the ways scripture can be used to obscure God.

The people of Judea knew this crippled man. They’d walked past him for years as he begged by a popular pool just outside the city walls. When Jesus healed him and he walked down the street, carrying his mat on the Sabbath, they chose to overlook the miracle that had just happened. In fact, the restoration of this man was the last thing they cared about. A supposed Messiah had broken the Law, and they had to shut him down before he further threatened their teachings.

Now if we saw a well-known cripple in our neighborhood get healed, you’d think we’d all rush to his side to hear the story. We’d throw a party. We’d brew the finest fair trade organic coffee in town. We’d order a big cake—the kind that’s actually good, like a cheese cake.

What gives? Why would the people of God reject the work of an apparent prophet?

* * *

The short answer is that they were devoted more to the Scriptures than to the God of the Scriptures.

The Jewish leaders had systems for interpreting and obeying Scripture, and as they tried to be faithful to the commands of God, their focus shifted from, “How can I become a devoted follower of God?” to “How can I become a devoted follower of scripture?”

The shift is subtle but unmistakable with the results it produces.

The Sabbath itself wasn’t used to find God. Following the Sabbath itself in a particular way became the means AND the end. Never mind one’s spiritual condition during the Sabbath. Never mind the healing that should take place. Never mind God’s concern for those who are broken and hurting. So long as you were resting properly, you were considered faithful.

The people existed to fulfill the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath existing to fulfill people.

I could be wrong, but I think Jesus asked the man to carry his mat in order to confront the Jewish leader’s obsession with properly obeying the Sabbath. He forced the religious leaders to choose between their allegiance to God or their interpretation of Scripture.

What did they care about more: healing a man or keeping the Sabbath perfectly?

It’s striking to think that Jesus wanted everyone around him to believe that he was breaking the law. On several occasions in the Gospels he made similar challenges where he left no doubt that he was flaunting the standards of those around him. He didn’t enter into a nuanced discussion about what it really meant to break the law or to observe the Sabbath. He didn’t quibble. He took action that drew an unmistakable line in the sand between the way he read the Bible and the way others read the Bible.

The question wasn’t if he was keeping the Sabbath checklist perfectly. The question was whether he was using the Sabbath for restoration, as intended by God. The Sabbath was made to benefit people. In and of itself, the Sabbath did them no good if they simply obeyed the teachings of Scripture that governed it.

The Sabbath only benefits us if we use it to draw near to God. That’s the larger lesson that looms over the Gospel stories.

So many people preferred to make obeying the Bible an end in and of itself without actually seeing it as a means to find God. They weren’t able to rest in God because they were too busy arguing over what you could carry, how far you could travel, and how to prepare a meal.

They wore themselves out trying to rest “biblically.”

I don’t see Jesus telling us to slack off in our scripture reading or to make up our own rules. Rather, he’s calling us to keep the purpose of Scripture in mind. Is our reading of Scripture leading us closer to love of God and love of neighbor? Is our reading of Scripture leading to spiritual restoration or exhaustion on the Sabbath?

I like knowing that I’m right about the Bible. I want to know that I’m taking the right course of action in my life, that I’m living “biblically.” I’m the one asking, “Am I doing this right?” More times than not, Jesus pointed people away from questions like that.

Jesus wanted the former cripple and the Jewish leaders to see the work of God around them. He challenged them to move beyond their “insider/outsider” categories and their obsession with getting every detail of the Bible right.

The Spirit of God is present among us today with the power to heal and to restore. For years I struggled to see that. I was too busy trying to follow the Bible that I failed to see Jesus reaching out beyond the words of Scripture, asking, “Do you want to get well?”

 

Learn more about the doubters of Jesus and what their stories mean for us today in Ed’s book Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus.

 

Ed Cyzewski is the co-author of Unfollowers: Unlikely Lessons on Faith from the Doubters of Jesus and The Good News of Revelation. He shares his imperfect/sarcastic thoughts on following Jesus at www.inamirrordimly.com and lives in Columbus, OH with his wife and son.

 

  • Jesus Tavern

    Perfect post. Good stuff here. I’ve felt this way for years and you did a way better job articulating it than I ever would. Ironically, this post reminds me of two passages of scripture that support this thought. Jesus says in John 5:37-40 “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” And in John 6:29 Jesus says, “This is the work of God: to believe in the one he has sent.”

    Keep fighting,

    Josh Jones
    http://www.jesustavern.com

    • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

      Exactly. That’s practically my life verse now. Ha!

      • Jesus Tavern

        Hey Ed, I would be honored if you would consider doing a 15 minute phone interview with me for the Jesus Tavern Podcast. Check it out and let me know what you think. The episodes are available in iTunes as well as http://www.jesustavern.com/menu.html.

        Keep Fighting

  • AlissaBC

    This was so good for me. Thank you.

  • Herm

    “Seeking the freedom of scripture can lead to bondage.”

    John 1:1-5
    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

    John 14:15-17
    “If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

    John 14:25-27
    “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

    Ed, I am savoring your book “UNFOLLOWERS”. I have read every word through John the Baptist and am struck with the fact that the Mandaeans today have gone no further. I recommend to all to get UNFOLLOWERS and then invite the Holy Spirit to read alone with them aloud in their heart and mind.

    • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

      Thanks Herm!

  • http://monologuingme.wordpress.com David

    Fantastic piece. Thank you

    • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

      Thanks David.
      I also responded to your comment on my blog, which hopefully cleared up what I was saying. Thanks for reading!

  • http://barbarah.wordpress.com/ Barbara H.

    While I get what you’re saying and agree the Pharisees missed the point, sentences like “Drawing near to the teachings of scripture can lead us further from God” and your title seem to place the fault on the Scriptures. The Pharisees problem, besides missing the main point, was overshooting what the Scriptures said in order to be “safe,” leading to ridiculous rules about things like not spitting in the dirt lest you inadvertently make mud and therefore “work” on the Sabbath, when that’s not what the Scripture taught at all. The Living Word (John 1:1) does not contradict and oppose the written Word of God that He inspired, but He does challenge our misinterpretations.

    • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

      Yes, the Bible wasn’t the problem per se, but relying on the Bible rather than a dependence on God means one must be, in a manner of speaking, “saved from the Bible.” :)

  • pastordt

    Spot on, Ed. Just perfection. I’m writing about the Bible this week – last week in a series I’ve been tending for 8 weeks now – and would love to link folks back to this. Is that alright by you and Micha? You speak my heart here, Ed. And I’m loving your book – it’s on my Lenten pile.

    • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

      Thanks Diana. Link, quote, and whatever else helps. The chapter about the Judeans from Unfollowers has more about this story if you want to pull in some additional details as well.


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