Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Word

I'm one of those strange individuals who actually loves study.  I have spent much of my adult life studying...all sorts of things, actually.  When I went to seminary in my 40s, I was like a sponge.  I just couldn't get enough of the history, the theology, the conversations and seminars.  I lapped it up like it was spilling all over the place, and I might miss something.  I was privileged to sit beneath really wonderful teachers, learned men and women who challenged me to be more than I knew I could be as a student, as a believer.  And some of them had such deep understanding of scripture, you can't imagine, if you haven't sat where I did.  They knew scripture forward and backward, and up and down. 

Of course, they'd spent their life at it.  They had degree after degree in semitic languages, Biblical Studies, spiritual theology, systematic theology...all those studies that aided the teaching.  I remember when I was an undergraduate, being impressed with an Old Testament prof who read the texts straight out of the Hebrew, translating as he spoke.  But then I got to seminary, and every second prof seemed to have that ability--and some of the students grew pretty proficient at it as well. 

But last night, as I was reading, I came to Psalm 100, where the Psalmist speaks of us being the sheep of His pasture.  Immediately, of course, I thought of John 10, where Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd, and my sheep know my voice."  What occured to me last night was that Jesus, from a very early age, knew the Psalms.  This Shepherd reference wasn't the only time He quoted the Psalms. Think of His words from Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (perhaps quoting the entire Psalm). And He knew His prophets, and the Patriarchs.  But here's the thing.  Jesus was a carpenter from a back-desert town.  There is no story of Him having gone to Hebrew school, having studied long and hard to learn the scriptures.  Probably, given the trip He made with His parents at 12, He participated in synagogue.  But there is no earthly reason to assume He spent hours and hours learning the Hebrew Bible.  He was a carpenter in His early years, working with His hands. 

But at twelve, He knew the scripture well enough that He baffled the men who spent their lives with their heads buried in the Torah.  And from His first sermon, He quoted not simply the texts of the Old Testament, but understood who He was in relation to those texts.  Flesh and blood didn't reveal all those texts to Jesus.  He hadn't made a list of prophecies (as I have) and checked off how He fulfilled them.  No, Jesus gained His understanding of scripture not from His mother's side of the family tree, but from His Father's.  Everything He did--and said--came directly from His Father. Everything was completely purposeful.  Can you imagine sitting under such teaching? Can you imagine all the mysteries of the universe, all the paradoxes in scripture being understood by the one you are listening to?  Our pastors and teachers are human, with human flaws and partial--through a mirror--comprehensions.  Yes, they are filled with the Holy Spirit (hopefully!), and He reveals to them things they would never get if left alone.  But it takes years of study, years of prayer, years of submission to the Word to understand and preach the Word.  Jesus had a PhD in the Word of God without ever taking a single seminary class.  He embodied it in His very self.  He was the Word of God before there was ever a Word from God.

When I read these prophecies last night--especially in Matthew, which is crammed with them, crammed with all the ways Jesus is the fulfillment of them--I have a new brilliant appreciation, not only for the Incarnate as my Savior, but for Him as the wisest, most learned theologian who ever lived.  I don't suppose this is the revelation to all of you that it is to me today, but it gets to me.  I have memorized a lot of scripture in my life,--entire books, in fact--but He, well, He just knew it. No memorizing necessary.  Because, after all,  He was it.  The Word made flesh also means that He made even the driest pieces of it alive and new--as He spoke them.  Pretty cool, if you ask me.

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