“He can’t see the forest for the trees.” So goes the old saying. For those unfamiliar with it, it means that a person has become so absorbed with the minute details that he has lost sight of the big picture. None of us are immune to this problem.
It’s an accusation that Jesus levels at the Pharisees at the end of John 5. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” [John 5:39-40] and “… if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” [John 5:46].
Pretty serious accusations considering that the Pharisees revered the Scriptures. They treasured them, committing huge swathes of their Bible (our Old Testament) to memory.
It would be fair to say that they knew the Scriptures inside-out, upside-down, and every other which-way. It was their favourite point of discussion, debate, learning, writing, and study.
“Not good enough!” Jesus tells them. “You’ve missed the point.” And so can we…
It’s not unusual for Christians – when they have gained some in-depth knowledge of the Bible – to want to discuss it, and debate it, and study the finest details of it.
Not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t get the impression that I’m critical of studying the word of God. Don’t imagine that I belong to the ‘Just believe it – it doesn’t matter what it means’ camp.
I commend studying the Bible – and studying it deeply. Anyone who has to preach and teach the word of God fails his congregation if he is not studying it. And he will have to answer to God one day for his failure – a sobering thought.
But… why are we studying it? That’s the important question. Are we studying it like the Pharisees did – to find things to argue about; to find things to shore up our position; to find rules for living so that God will give us the eternal life that He owes us for our good behaviour (… as if!)?
Or are we studying it to find the One who it speaks of – Jesus Christ? Are we studying it to learn the truth of who He is – God in the flesh, infinitely perfect, infinitely holy, infinitely loving, infinitely merciful.
And are we studying it to find the truth of who we are? Rebels, alienated from God, proud of our superior knowledge or purer blood-lines or greater wealth; sinners, rotten to the core, deserving only of eternal punishment.
For that is what these Scriptures tell us about Him, and about ourselves. And rather than becoming points for heated debate, this knowledge should drive us to our knees, crying out for mercy at His hands.
You want to see a good illustration of the difference between the two types of people? Read Luke 18:9-14. The tax collector may not have been a great Bible scholar, but he knew enough to know he was a sinner, unworthy of anything good from God. The Pharisee on the other hand – the one who knew the Bible inside out – he thought God owed him something for his great knowledge and good behaviour and pure bloodlines.
No, the Scriptures tell us the truth. We need truth today more than ever. Bombarded by fake news, mindless distractions, misinformation, outright lies and cover-ups, truth – eternal truth – is all that we have to hold on to.
And there is only one place to find eternal truth – in the Bible. So study the Scriptures. But study them to find Him who offers life through them – Jesus Christ. For every word of the Bible is designed to reveal Jesus Christ and point us to Him for salvation.