“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” – Luke 4:16-21.
Christians generally believe in the words of the Bible. We believe in the things scripture says about God and the things he has done. The story is not always the same when it comes to the things that the scriptures say to, or about us, as individuals. When people read declarations such as, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), there is no struggle to believe it because their daily sinfulness validates it. People die daily so verses like “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) are relatable. There is less or no struggle, to believe the ‘negatives’ of scripture.
But is that what the Bible is essentially about? While death is the end of all who reject Jesus, what does the Bible say about you who have believed in him? And I am not mainly talking about the general things that scripture says to all who believe. For instance, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Every single person who believes in Jesus has eternal life. That is the promise Jesus made here; it applies to every believer. But if you are God’s child and the Bible is his word, does he (God) have only general words to say to you? Is there nothing that applies to you as a person, or an individual, that your Father says to you from his word?
God is a Personal Father
The Bible is not meant to be just a book that you read daily because you were told that Christians should have time with it daily. More than a general message from God, the Bible is God’s word to you as his child. Many believers fail to live full lives because they either do not know, or they fail to believe, what the word of God says about them. Part of enjoying the Christian life is seeing yourself in the light of scripture, believing what the word says about you or to you and living in the light of that truth.
He says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Those plans are already spoken in his written word, the Bible. Do you know them?
Some things in scripture were said specifically to certain individuals. When God promised to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the sand on the sea shore, that promise was personal to Abraham. Some promises were made to Israel as a nation, like the promise to gather them from the four corners of the earth and return them to the Promised Land. Some things were spoken to the Church, like the promise to build the church and the gates of hell being unable to prevail against it. So if none of the promises were made with your name attached to them, how do they become yours personally?
Jesus in Scripture
In the reference scripture at the top, Jesus entered a synagogue in Nazareth and a scroll (the form in which the scriptures were held at the time) was handed over to him. He opened it and found a passage from Isaiah which said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When he was done reading, Jesus returned the scroll to the attendant and declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” A scripture that didn’t have the name of the son of Joseph attached to it, how did the Saviour come to appropriate that passage to himself? Faith. It mixed with faith in his heart; he believed it spoke to, and about him. He allowed that to define his life and ministry while on earth. That is something you would see Jesus doing all across his life as recorded in the Bible. When he healed the sick, it was because Isaiah had said, “He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4), or that Hosea had written, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). Asaph the Psalmist sang: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter hidden things, things from of old” (Psalm 78:2). While others may have considered that a song that Asaph sang about himself, Jesus read that and saw himself in it; he spoke to the people in parables. David sang: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’” (Psalm 110:10). Though the Jews saw this Psalm as Messianic, they saw the Messiah in purely human terms, as a physical descendant of David, and thus inferior to David. In Matthew 22:41-46, Jesus however pointed them to this psalm as referring to a Messiah who was greater than David. He saw himself as the Messiah that scripture spoke about. Even when he faced rejection from his people, he saw that that was already spoken concerning him. The writer to the Hebrews says, “When Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me … Here I am –it is written about me in the scroll – I have come to do your will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:5-7). That was Christ seeing himself in Psalm 40:6-8. Some psalms for example, speak in a narrow sense; they are messianic and prophetic, speaking only about the coming Messiah with no direct significance to the Old Testament period. Some however anticipate the Messiah but also have a meaning in a contemporary context of the writer. In Psalm 40, David may have both spoken about himself as well as prophesied about the coming Messiah. Whatever it was, Jesus saw himself in that scripture. In that, he shows us how to relate with the word of God; to see it as speaking to us personally. That is an example you should follow. Even when at the time it was written, a scripture was spoken to/about someone specifically; the Holy Spirit can still quicken that scripture and use it to speak to your life and circumstances today.
You and the Word of God
If you are in Christ, you are a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are not who or what your family history or background says you are. You are chosen by God (1 Peter 2:9); your sins are forgiven (1 John 1:9); you are salt and light, no longer darkness (Matthew 5:13-14); you are a child of God (1 John 3:1); you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:31); you are an heir of God, a co-heir with Jesus (Romans 8:17); you are, through the gospel, heirs together with Israel. All that God promised Israel is yours; all that God promised and gave to Jesus, is yours to share with him.
Should you also read the scriptures and appropriate every promise or prophecy to yourself because it sounds nice? Can you for example, also claim to be the promised messiah? No. Like I said earlier, some of the promises in scripture were tied to specific people and have been fulfilled; there are some that apply to the church today. There are yet some that apply to individual believers, including you. Generally, it calls for prayerful, Spirit-led consideration of the word to understand it. Again, even what was said to someone specific at the time of writing can be quickened by the Spirit and used to minister to you today.
In the moment that you read a passage, how does it become yours? How do you appropriate it even when it doesn’t bear your given name?
Sometimes when you read a text with some portions marked by a coloured highlighter, those coloured portions stand out from the rest of the text. You may find plain text appearing to your mind in relevance like it was highlighted. When you get into such moments, it is not the time to rush but to linger and ponder over such portions of scripture until they grip you. You will have a deep conviction that the message before you is for you. Your heart will be filled with joy. Such a text will usually linger in your heart; the length of that lingering will partially depend on what role it is to play in your life, whether momentarily or as your life’s mission. If the message in the portion of scripture you read is for a lifetime mission, it can fill you with what I term a ‘restless rest’. That means you will find rest that you have landed on what you were born and born again for, and yet be restless until you begin to live it out. The Spirit will continue to nudge you in the direction of fulfilling the instructions in that text of scripture.
Fighting for the Truth
Jesus said you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). No wonder the god of this age fights to keep people from seeing the truth of God’s word. Even Jesus who knew himself through the word, the enemy didn’t give up trying to get him to doubt his place in God. During his temptation of Jesus, Satan repeatedly said, “If you are the Son of God,” (Matthew 4:1-11). The Son-ship of Christ was not a matter of “if”; it was settled in heaven, yet the enemy tried to tie it to certain conditions he set. Jesus didn’t allow him; he countered him with scripture: “It is written”. Don’t think he will just stand by and watch you find your identity and purpose in scripture and live happily ever after. He will fight it by attempting to sow doubts in your mind. Like Jesus, fight it with scripture. Even when you pass through difficulties that look like they negate what you have believed, hold on to the word and see it come to pass. Remember Joseph.
The Bible is not just to be read dutifully. When you read it, see yourself in it and live a full and fulfilled life.