How to Study Your Bible in 2020

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

How to Study Your Bible in 2020

By Matt Smethurst 

Ever heard the parable about the man who, in order to discern God’s will for his life, would open his Bible and read whichever verse he saw first?

One day, as he was going through a difficult time with his family, he sought the Lord’s guidance. Opening his Bible, he pointed to a random verse. His finger rested on Matthew 27:5: “Then Judas went away and hanged himself.” Puzzled by these directions, but still hungry for a word from God, he called a “do-over” and flipped to another page. His eyes settled on Luke 10:37: “Go and do likewise.” Flustered but chalking it up to coincidence, the man decided to give his method one last chance. Saying a quick prayer, he flipped the page and placed his finger on John 13:27. There, staring up at him, was a command from Jesus: “What you are about to do, do quickly.”

It’s a humorous anecdote, but it illustrates a serious point. Misusing the Bible is easy; “correctly handling” it is not (2 Tim. 2:15).

In my little book Before You Open Your Bible, I explored nine heart postures that are helpful, even necessary, for rightly approaching God’s Word. But what happens when the prelude ends and you begin reading? What then?

1. Observe: What Does It Say?

The first step is observation (or perhaps better, comprehension). Whenever we open God’s Word, our most fundamental task is simply to see what’s there.

The good news is that observation isn’t complicated. It mainly consists of reading slowly and carefully in order to gather the basic facts of who, what, where, and when. Good questions to bear in mind include:

  • Are there any repeated words or ideas?
  • Who is speaking or writing?
  • To whom are they speaking or writing?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • Where is this taking place?
  • Are there words that show chronology?
  • Are there contrasts, comparisons, or conditional statements?
  • What is the logical progression in the author’s argument?
  • Are there words that indicate atmosphere, mood, and emotion? Figures of speech?
  • What are the section divisions and linking words?
  • What don’t I understand here?

Biblical observation doesn’t have to be some drawn-out, laborious process. You don’t need to consciously ask and answer each question. The more you engage the Bible, the more alert you’ll become to such things. (By the way, it’s best to work through whole books of the Bible from beginning to end, rather than adopting a “popcorn” approach that ignores context and bounces randomly from one passage to another.)

2. Interpret: What Does It Mean?

The next step is interpretation. You’ve considered what the passage says, but what does it mean?

Read the rest here.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

Sharing today from The Gospel Coalition.

Why Did Jesus Need to Be Baptized?

By 

If we were to compile a catalog of practices that are essential to the Christian faith, what would be included? Among other essentials, baptism would certainly need to be high on the list. Baptism is one of the means by which Jesus commissions his followers to make disciples (Matt. 28:18–20). It’s also central to the preaching of the gospel at the inception of the church at Pentecost (Acts 2:38). In short, the idea that Christians should be baptized—regardless of when or how—is central to the Christian faith. This should come as no surprise.

What may come as a surprise, however, is that Jesus himself was baptized. Baptism wasn’t just something Jesus commanded his followers to do, but an experience he also underwent. As familiar as we may be with the Gospel accounts, the fact that Jesus submitted himself to baptism may still strike us as odd.

The plot thickens even more when we consider that the baptism Jesus submitted himself to was John’s baptism, which is described as (1) accompanying “repentance” (Matt. 3:2); (2) in conjunction with people “confessing their sins” (Matt. 3:6); and (3) as the means by which to “flee from the coming wrath” (Matt. 3:7).

It doesn’t take much pondering to realize that this doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of what the New Testament says about Jesus—that he was God’s virgin-born (Matt. 1:19–25), sinless (2 Cor. 5:21Heb. 4:15), perfectly obedient Son (Heb. 5:8–9John 17:4), fully pleasing to the Father (Matt. 3:17), who pre-existed as divine but laid aside his glory to take on flesh (Phil. 2:5–8). Nonetheless, Jesus says it is fitting and appropriate that he be baptized (Matt. 3:15).

All this leads to an important question: Why did Jesus need to be baptized?

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Both Mark and Luke record this story but don’t raise the question (Mark 1:9–11Luke 3:21–22). John’s Gospel doesn’t give us the events of Jesus’s baptism but emphasizes the same effect as the other Gospels—that the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, anointing him as the Son of God (John 1:32–34). Only Matthew raises the issue by including a piece of the story that the other Gospel writers don’t—John himself was hesitant to baptize Jesus. John, aware that Jesus wasn’t just another person coming to repent and confess his sins, protests: “I need to be baptized by you, but you are coming to me?” (Matt. 3:14).

Jesus’s answer to John’s reluctance is instructive, both in answering our question and also in revealing an important aspect of Matthew’s theology. Jesus said, “Let it be so, for it is fitting in this way for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). This is a weighty answer, containing two words—“fulfill” and “righteousness”—that are central ideas in Matthew’s Gospel. Something important is going on here.

Nonetheless, Jesus’s response to John remains a bit esoteric for most readers today. So allow me to offer the following paraphrase: Jesus is fulfilling his role as the obedient Son of God by practicing the required righteousness of submitting to God’s will to repent (i.e., to live in the world wholeheartedly devoted to God).

Read the rest here.