I love scripture.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time memorizing scripture. It was a game, a competition, against other kids in my church, to see who could memorize the most scripture. I remember when I was about 11 or 12 I stood on stage in front of our congregation as our youth leader blurted out books, chapter and verse numbers and I tried to remember and recite the correct verse. Then he would switch to another kid who would do the same. Like a spelling bee, the kid who could not recite the verse correctly was disqualified and had to leave the stage in shame.
All of the verses were from the King James version. They ranged from the familiar (John 3:16) to the unfamiliar (Jeremiah 33:3). I didn’t understand a word I was saying for most of them, but by golly I could memorize and recite them with enthusiasm like a wise pastor.
I don’t remember what verse tripped me up, but I do remember the shame and embarrassment when I froze and gazed out at 200+ expectant spectators. There were still a few other kids on stage, but I was done. I ambled sadly off stage, my head down.
No one said anything to make me feel guilty, but I remember feeling the weight of what I thought was God’s disappointment pushing on every inch of my body.
In hindsight I know God wasn’t disappointed in me.
I now know there is a big difference between memorizing scripture and learning scripture. [Tweet that!]
There is a popular trend in our culture to quote scripture in order to achieve some sort of inspiring message. There’s nothing wrong with this idea. Scripture is very inspiring and motivating and uplifting. But most of the time, what we see quoted is just a snippet of a much more powerful and profound message. We also miss the context in which most scriptures were written (or spoken).
For example, John 14:6, the famous “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” That was among the list of verses I had to memorize, an easy one that was so short and so popular I had heard it more times than I had recited it. For years I never bothered to actually read the book of John, much less the chapter in which this verse was located. I knew Jesus was talking because it says so in the beginning of the verse.
But for years I assumed He was talking to a crowd, much like in the Sermon on the Mount.
But a close read of John tells the full story. Jesus is responding to one of His disciples, Thomas. Starting in chapter 13, Jesus and His disciples are enjoying a meal before the Passover. Jesus knows He is about to be arrested and killed, so He does some amazing things. He washes the disciples feet. He predicts His betrayal, Peter’s denial, His arrest, and His crucifixion. He tells the disciples He is leaving them. The disciples are confused. They don’t understand or believe what Jesus is telling them.
For years I assumed Jesus was speaking to a group of unbelievers.
A close reading of John shows that even Jesus’s disciples doubted His words, His claims to be one with the Father, his claims to be God.
The disciples were unbelievers. But they still followed Jesus.
All anyone needs to do is back up a few verses to the beginning of chapter 14. Jesus says He is leaving and tells His disciples they already know where He is going. They don’t.
“No we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5) Then the famous verse 6 reveals something incredible.
They’ve been following the way this whole time.
It’s kind of like Dorothy and the ruby slippers. She had the way home all along. The disciples had been walking, eating, traveling, and fellowshipping with the way all along.
Jesus follows his famous “way, truth, life” verse with something a bit more harsh: “If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7)
Up to this point, Jesus had performed miracles, fed thousands, and displayed a humility that was unheard of for religious leaders of that time. The disciples should have known who He really was. But Jesus said they didn’t really know. If they did, they would know who the Father was and where Jesus was going. They would know the way.
Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.“ (John 14:8)
Philip needs proof. He doesn’t believe. He needs evidence. “Show us…”
Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.” (John 14:9-11)
Jesus is the proof. Jesus is the evidence. Jesus is the way. [Tweet that!]
It gets better.
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!” (John 14:12-14).
Jesus is the proof. Jesus is the evidence. Jesus is the way.
And if you truly believe this, believe that Jesus and the Father are one, then you will do great things in His name, things that will bring glory to God, and you will do even greater things!
How incredible is that! Jesus told this to a group of doubting, confused, apprehensive, offended, skeptical men who, regardless of their faults, chose to follow Him. And they still doubted, all they way up until his promised resurrection. But if you read the book of Acts, their doubt had become faith strong enough to endure persecution, humiliation, and even execution.
And Jesus tells us now, “I am the proof. I am the evidence. I am the way. Believe in me. Follow me. And you will see the Father.”
I am done with memorizing single verses of scripture. To truly experience the Word of God, I want to read, study, examine, analyze, meditate on every book, every chapter, every page. I want to experience its living breath, to let it pierce my soul and guide my steps as I follow Jesus.
I encourage you to do the same.