(written in 2010)
How do I understand what I read?
Many times I find myself like the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39, NIV), whom, when asked by Philip if he understood what he was reading from the book of Isaiah replied, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” And he went on to ask, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
Too often I encounter this dilemma when I’m reading the Psalms. When does King David talk about himself, and about the Christ? Why is it that in one chapter, he seems to be talking about himself, then the Christ, then reverts back to talking about himself—how can I be sure I’m interpreting the passages rightly? Did King David know that he was talking about the Christ, or was he talking about himself—unaware that it would be prophetic of the coming Christ? But he couldn’t be unaware. The Jewish people have always known the coming of the Christ, and they were looking forward to it, as all nations—ever since man disobeyed God and the promise was given that the woman’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head.
Jesus the Teacher
Jesus himself has challenged the Pharisees in interpreting the Scriptures. Perhaps, it was to confront them of what they refuse to see, while over-embellishing the Law and overbearing the people to work their own way to salvation.
In Matthew 22, Jesus asked them, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” To which they replied—“The son of David.” But Jesus pursued the question, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ If then David calls him ‘Lord’, how can he be his son?”
But Jesus not only challenged. He also waited for people, in their humility, to ask. The disciples, like children, would often approach Jesus after he’s addressed a crowd, and ask for an exposition of a parable. Nicodemus, a Pharisee himself, sought Jesus (John 3:1-21), and asked how a man can be born again. Still not comprehending after a reply, he insisted—“How can this be?” And even after a rebuke (Jesus said, “You are Israel’s teacher, and do you not understand these things?”), he was not discouraged, but remained Jesus’ faithful follower to the end.
Jesus also gives understanding to those who love him no matter how faint-hearted and small their faith may be, and their understanding feeble. Three days after Jesus was crucified, on the day of his resurrection, two of his disciples were on their way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32; 44-45). Jesus, not yet revealing himself, joined them on the road. The two disciples were discussing and figuring out the events of the past days, and Jesus came to explain the fulfilment of Scriptures beginning from Moses and all the prophets.
After all these things have happened and realisation has dawned on them, they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Immediately they told the others. Jesus, showing himself again, said, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” And in verse 45 it said, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
The Holy Spirit, our Guide and Counselor
How blessed were those children who were always running to Jesus to be able to sit on his lap! Aside from the overflowing love that was in him, I am quite certain he told them a good many stories. How blessed Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus was—to be able to sit at his feet and listen to him speak, unmindful of the passing hours! How blessed was that generation—for Zacchaeus to see him from the top of the sycamore tree, for the bleeding woman to walk behind him and touch the edge of his cloak, for those who dined with him and went with him during his earthly ministry!
How I’ve often wished I lived in that day. But then, I know that Jesus is with us today (Matthew 28:20), through the Holy Spirit (John 16:7; Luke 24:29), and just as he ascended to heaven he will come back. The Holy Spirit is here to continue to teach us and give us understanding. In John 16:13-15 it says, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
Later on, after Jesus has left for heaven, his disciple, Peter, full of the Holy Spirit during Pentecost (Acts 217-36), explained passages from the Psalms, affirming Jesus Christ’s lordship and resurrection, and reiterating that the psalmist was referring to the Christ and not to himself. Paul, after his conversion, wrote letters to the Hebrews and to the gentiles, expounding on the fulfilment of the Law, and the abundance of grace in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is alive, and he is with us, and he continues to reveal himself to us and to teach us through his mercy and grace!
Sharing what I understand
Like the two disciples heading to Emmaus, after a floodgate opening to release overwhelming understanding, I am running to tell of these wonderful grace bestowed to us—the grace to understand!
Like Peter and the disciples at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit can descend on us, giving us the grace to understand the Scriptures. Like the scales falling off from Paul’s eyes after Jesus appeared to him, our spirit of unbelief can be replaced with enlightenment.
Like Philip, we can trust to where and to whom God would bring us. And through his grace, we can share our understanding of God’s Word not through a babble of words and religious jargons, but taking into heart the meaning of each Scripture passage as it has revealed its truth in our own lives. It is usually easy to explain a line of Scripture by assuming, but we realise it takes a different and more powerful meaning when it comes from an insight borne from our experience with God.
Acts 1:8 says, “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
God never stops from challenging those who would not believe in him, God accommodates those who seek him, and God continues to reveal himself to his children.
Genuine understanding is only through grace. And it is available to anyone of us.