Have You Not Read?

During the course of the Lord’s ministry, He had many confrontations with the leaders of the Jews. Some of these were so intense that some today are uncomfortable even thinking about them. In Jn. 8:31-59, for example, the Lord spoke very plainly and strongly against these leaders. He openly challenged their conduct, saying that they were “of your father the devil” (v. 44).

In other instances, however, the Lord was more subtle in His criticism of these men. On five occasions in which these leaders criticized the Lord or His disciples, or in which they asked an insincere question, the Lord prefaced His response with a question that hit them like a sledge hammer. He asked, “Have you not read . . . ?”

The first instance was when the Pharisees criticized the disciples for picking heads of grain as they walked through a field on the Sabbath day (Mt. 12:1-2). The second was when some Pharisees asked a question about divorce (Mt. 19:3ff). When children were praising the Lord after He drove the sellers out of the temple grounds, the chief priests and scribes confronted Him about it. He began His response on that occasion with this same question (Mt. 21:16). At the end of the parable of the landowner, the Lord again asked this question of these men (Mt. 21:42). The final incident in which the Lord asked this question was when the Sadducees asked their silly question about seven brothers who had been married to the same woman (Mt. 22:31).

Many times as we read of these incidents we just skip over the manner of the Lord’s response. We rightly focus on the answer He gave on each occasion, and on the lesson from it that we can apply to our lives. However, we may be overlooking an important and timeless principle that is couched in the Lord’s subtle criticism of the Jewish leaders.

When the Lord asked, “Have you not read?”, He was telling them that they didn’t know the Law as well as they thought. He was telling them that they had become ignorant of God’s word. He was indicating that this ignorance was the reason why they had strayed so far from God’s will. This was an insult of a magnitude that we can hardly imagine. These were doctors of the law and the Lord’s question placed them in the category of novices. It is likely that they got the message, and this put-down no doubt increased their hatred of the Lord.

The timeless principle that may drawn from the Lord’s question is simple. We must not neglect reading God’s word. From cover to cover the scriptures call on us to know God’s will and obey it in order to please Him. In Deut. 6: 1-9 Moses commanded Israel to teach God’s will to their children in every circumstance of life so their lives would be prolonged on the land that God was giving them. In Jn. 8:31-32 the Lord told some Jews who believed on Him to continue in His word so they would be true disciples and would know the truth that sets them free. In 2 Tim. 2:15 Paul urged Timothy to be diligent and to accurately handle the word of truth. In Jas. 1:21 James called on his readers to receive “the word implanted, which is able to save your souls”. Peter reminded his readers that God had granted to them “everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3).

The bottom line is this: The scriptures are everything we need to know in order to please God so we may live with Him for eternity. However, we cannot obey what we do not know and we cannot know that which we do not read/study. Therefore, we must take up God’s word daily and make it a living part of our hearts and minds. If we do so, at judgment the Lord will not ask us, “Have you not read?”

A Near-Life Experience

The phrase “near-death experience” is a well known part of our language. Despite its frequent use, it is never viewed as trite. This is because we nearly universally recognize that this kind of incident is not to be taken lightly. A man who suffers a heart attack and flat-lines in the ambulance or on the operating table is well aware of how close he came to death. He typically takes his health far more seriously thereafter. A person who narrowly avoids a life-threatening accident is rarely dismissive of what happened. The reason is that we all understand that there is no coming back from death. One does not recover from death. Even unbelievers recognize this truth.

Most of us understand the significance of a “near-death experience.” It is an object lesson in mortality. Reminding ourselves of our mortality and the fragile nature of human life is an important exercise. It helps us keep our priorities straight as we move inexorably toward eternity. Preachers are particularly fond of drawing our attention to this reality as they try to move us to obey God’s will, and rightfully so. As James wrote, our life is “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jas. 4:14).

The scriptures do not explicitly speak of “near-death experiences” as we refer to them. They do, however, refer to what might be called the polar opposite of a “near-death experience”. This is what may be called a “near-life experience”, and the records of such incidents are sad and troubling.

In Mk. 12:28-34 the text tells of a scribe who asked the Lord what the foremost commandment in the Law was. When the Lord responded to him, the scribe answered the Lord with such obvious knowledge and wisdom that the Lord exclaimed, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mk. 12:34). The text does not tell us if this scribe became a disciple of the Lord. If he did not become a disciple, this encounter with Jesus was a “near-life experience” for him. He was “not far from the kingdom of God”, but he was not in it. Until he entered the kingdom in obedience to the Lord, he would never have eternal life. Until he became a disciple of Jesus, he remained dead in his sins.

Another “near-life experience” recorded in Mark’s gospel is the story of the rich young ruler (Mk. 10:17-22). This young man came to the Lord, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. The Lord’s answer distressed him, because he loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved Jesus. He went away grieving and did not become a disciple. He could have had eternal life, and came very near it, but he went away as he had come, dead in his sins.

The classic “near-life experience” in scripture is the story of Lot’s wife (Gen. 19:1-26). God sent His angels to rescue Lot and his family from Sodom before He destroyed it with brimstone and fire. As the angels brought the family out of the city, they instructed them to flee to safety in the mountains. They also specifically warned them not to look back (v. 17). At this point Lot and his family were nearly saved. Their lives would not be spared, however, until they did all that the angels commanded them to do. The proof is in v. 26, where the scripture says, “But his wife, from behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt”.

Lot’s wife had a “near-life experience” and like the rich young ruler, she failed to take advantage of it. Abraham’s bargaining with God for the city, and God’s gracious provision to bring Lot’s family out of the city went for naught. Lot’s wife had life in her grasp and by her disobedience she let it slip away from her.

The lesson for us to consider is a simple one. The opportunity for eternal life is before us in the message of the gospel as it is declared in the scriptures and proclaimed by God’s people. It is offered to us freely if we are willing to see it and to obey what God requires for us to receive it. There is usually some joy in a “near-death” story, but there is no joy in a “near-life” event. Don’t ignore the eternal life for which the Lord Jesus Christ shed His blood. Say, “Yes” to eternal life by obeying the gospel today, for tomorrow is promised to no one.

Where Were You?

After Job and his friends had argued at length about the reason for the calamities that befallen Job, God spoke to finally set the record straight.  As God began speaking He directed His attention to Job and asked him a pointed question.  In Job 38:4 God said, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell Me, if you have understanding.”

This simple question drew Job and his friends back to the basics.  While they had argued long and hard about Job’s condition and God’s attitudes toward mankind, they had lost sight of the most important aspect of all.  They were not God.  They had done nothing to create or to sustain the world about which they had so forcefully spoken.  Neither did they no much about God Himself.  

God’s discourse over the next few chapters put them all in mind of who He was and is, and what He had done to create and sustain the world in which they lived.  When the Lord finished speaking, Job confessed, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of course can be thwarted.  Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge  Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2-3).

Job’s confession demonstrated the personal character about which God bragged to Satan at the beginning of this book (Job 1:8).  Job, in this simple fashion, acknowledged the awesome power and majesty of Almighty God.  He declared that God, alone, is great and that the musings of himself and his friends were weak and pitiful in comparison.

This incident calls to mind the proud declarations of unbelievers today who seem to go out of their way to discount or call into question the power of God.  In places of natural beauty, such as the Grand Canyon or the lonely buttes of Monument Valley, AZ, they speak glibly about the lengthy processes of wind and rain erosion which created these marvels.  If one raises the prospect of God’s hand in making such things, the response is regrettably negative.  

So also for the stars in the heavens and the wonders of human life.  The unbelievers argue forcefully and arrogantly about “Mother Nature” and the “fact” of human evolution.  They browbeat those who attribute these things to the hand of Almighty God.  And one wonders if God the Father, looking down on us, isn’t saying, “Where were you?”, when He did them all.

King David wrote, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” (Psa. 14:1).  The leaders of the Jews attributed the signs of our Lord Jesus to the power of Beelzebul (Mt. 12:24).  Sadly, there are still such people around us today.  One cannot deny the power and work of God and be pleasing to Him.  One may not believe in the hereafter, but God’s word declares its reality.