While it may be easy to discern facts from our study of the Bible, it may not always be so easy to know what those facts mean or what to do with them. How does the fact that the Bible shows us that mankind is on a journey from Eden to Eden restored (the original Eden to the New Jerusalem, the perfected earth) affect us as we are swept along in the inexorable movement of history? For us, if we do not discern the goal – the purpose – of God in that movement, we simply drift along aimlessly. If we are mistaken about His intended end for creation we may be found working at cross-purposes against Him.
For instance, if we are convinced that the present material creation is destined for the trash heap, will we be very interested in preserving and improving it? On the other hand, if we believe that the creation – earth included – will be cleansed and perfected, we will be more interested in protecting and at least preserving as much of its original beauty and vitality as we possibly can. We will also be interested in showing, as much as is within our power, the glory of the future world God has in store for us. We have glimpses of that throughout the Bible. We will do this, not because it is some “law” we have to follow, but in order that we might show the beauty and glory of God to a world from whom that beauty is hidden because they are so blinded by sin and the “god of this world.”
If we are convinced that God created all things because of His love, to show His glory we will love and care the creation He has given us. If we believe mankind was created to possess and to show the likeness of God we will see in ourselves and in our fellow man at least some reflection of that glory and seek to enhance that divine likeness within ourselves while bringing others to share in that task.
But how do we know what we are supposed to be like – what it means that we were created in God’s image? We are told in the Bible that no one has seen God, so how are we supposed to know what we are supposed to “look” like or how are we to know when we begin to show His likeness. If we had never sinned there would never have been a problem with this. Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden. But our original parents sinned and everyone since has followed in their footsteps so that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands” (Romans 3:10-11). Being in sin and hence separated from God, we cannot have the intimate relationship with Him that allows such knowledge as is necessary for the formation of our character in His image.
But God has provided the means by which we may know Him in such a way that we can become like Him. He has done that by coming to earth in the person to the Son and living among men so that we might see Him in His glory. Jesus’ conversation with his disciples shows us how we are to know God.
“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 6:7-9).
Jesus was the living, breathing, touchable, observable, knowable manifestation of God when He walked on the earth. He still is knowable. He still desires that all mankind know Him. He still wants us to become His disciples. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” does not mean to enroll people in the Jesus School of Law and Jurisprudence, but to make them learners of Him. In His school, He is to be the major subject of concentration.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, KJV).
Eugene Peterson’s expanded paraphrase, The Message, expresses this emphatically.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).
Our problem is that we do not understand the concept of being a disciple. Jesus calls us to be disciples. That means that our primary area of learning should be the life and character of Jesus, not just what he teaches. It means to not only follow Him and learn what He teaches, but to learn Him. He is to be the subject of our learning. Matthew 11:28-30 is, in fact, a call for people to become disciples. “The emphasis must be laid on the call, to learn of Him, in opposition to the legal teaching and the burden imposed by the Pharisees” (Matthew 11:29; Lange’s Commentary OT/NT, via eSword). “A disciple did not just want to know what his rabbi knew, he wanted to be like his rabbi, and do what his rabbi did. Each rabbi had a different set of interpretations, which was called a rabbi’s yoke” (House-to-House Heart-to-Heart; http://www.housetohouse.com/HTHPubPage.aspx?cid=3415). The “yoke” of a rabbi was his interpretation or emphasis of the law of God or how to correctly interpret the law.
Rabbis invited people to learn to keep the Torah. This was called taking “the yoke of Torah” or “the yoke of the kingdom of heaven”. Rabbi’s with s’mikhah, (authority, mr), would have a new interpretation or yoke. Torah teachers would teach the accepted interpretations or yoke of their community. (Ray Vander Laan).
Jesus calls us to take His yoke upon ourselves. His yoke is not like the yoke the Jewish rabbis laid upon their disciples, emphasizing memorization of the books of the law, and for advanced disciples, even memorizing the whole Old Testament. “The yoke of a rabbi would help his talmidim to determine how to interpret Torah correctly, so as to best hear and obey God in everyday situations where one command/principal might conflict with another” (http://christianresearchnetwork.info/2008/03/07/jesus-as-rabbi-7-yoking/).
The Jewish “authorities” of His day, Jesus said, “…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” (Matthew 23:4). In contrast to the rabbis of His day, His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light.”
What does all this mean to us in the 21st century? It means that if we wish to know God we must look at Jesus. It means that if we are to know the correct interpretation of the word of God to us today we must look at it through Jesus. It means that if we are to know how to live and be like God today we must know how Jesus lived. It means that if we are to know how God thinks we must learn it by learning how Jesus thought. It means that if we are to know the heart of God, we must know the heart of Jesus.
Sound complicated? Too hard, you say? An impossible task?
Not at all!
“I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Co-authored with Bill Van Dyke, Ph.D, Give Me Liberty: Restoring the Spirit of Jubilee examines the mission of Christ as viewed from the fulfillment of Jubilee and how legalism robs the church community of the joy Jubilee brings.
A Better Way is an exploration and critique of the traditional method of determining Bible authority and suggestions for a better approach to understanding the Bible.