We still sing “Anywhere With Jesus” in our hymnal and I’m thankful that we do. It’s a wonderful reminder of what discipleship has always supposed to have been about— following. It’s easy to forget these days, you know. In a world where truth has become relative and where Gospel and history rewrites are all too common, it can be a quick and all too easy trip to a discipleship of our own design. We need the reminder, whether by song or Scripture reading, that we are followers of Jesus, and that we need to follow Him wherever He went and wherever He goes. And for many of our day, where He went (and where He didn’t go) is sometimes kind of surprising. Over the next few weeks, with an occasional break, I’d like to look at where He went, with an encouragement to follow Him.
One of the surprising places that Jesus went was to the Scriptures. Now, you may think, “Of course, I knew that.” But let me show you where that went for Him and where it goes for us, too.
The Judaism of Jesus’ day, like today, was full of both Biblical instruction (called the Law) and rabbinic commentaries and commands (called the traditions). Rabbinic traditions had begun as far back as 500BC and held great authority among religious Jews. These traditions (Talmuds, Mishnahs, and Midrashes) we rabbinic judgments on how the Law of Moses (Torah) and the other writings should be understood, practiced, and obeyed. And as the scribes, lawyers, and rabbis discussed Biblical teachings and practices, it was common to hear them quote this rabbi or that rabbi—rather than the Law itself.
This is one of the things that separated Jesus from other religious leaders of His day, Matthew 7:28, 29 “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” Jesus taught on His own authority and quoted from the Scriptures, not from the commentaries or instructions of the rabbis. And it is what made Him odious to many of the religious establishment, He didn’t always play by the rules of “godliness” that they had fine tuned, and He didn’t tweaks that they had set up for the worship
This isn’t to say that Jesus lived totally “off the traditional script”. For example, John mentions in passing that Jesus attended the celebration of Chanukah (John 10:22ff), a traditional holiday, not a God-commanded holiday, that was only about 180 years old in Jesus’ day. He probably dressed like tradition required, washed His hands before eating like the rabbis prescribed, and kept to the traditional Sabbath day journey limits set by rabbinic oral law. But He wasn’t bound to it. Rather, He lived first by and pointed first to the higher authority of the word of God.
We could take the well-known temptations of Jesus in the wilderness as an example (Matthew 4:1ff; Mark 1:12ff; Luke 4:1ff). You’ll remember (or notice) that each time Jesus was tempted by Satan, He quoted the Scripture to be obeyed in that situation (Deut. 8:3; Deut. 6:16; and Deut. 6:13), not one word from the Talmud, Mishnah, or Midrash.
One wonders what He might have said and done, if He had. Perhaps He would have eaten bread made from stones, because one rabbi suggested that the ends could justify the means in extreme situations. Perhaps, we would have jumped from the pinnacle of the Temple, because one rabbi or another might have mentioned that the announcement of the Messiah to the world would be a much greater priority than the command not to test the Lord. Perhaps, Jesus might have bowed to Satan, in order to gain a great physical, political kingdom in the world, as many of the Jewish rabbis taught the Messiah would do, and many hoped for. The story would have been quite different, if He had.
But He didn’t. And this story along with the rest of Jesus’ examples throughout the Gospels stands as a powerful statement to His disciples of all ages. God’s word far exceeds in authority any human commentary, theology, feeling, teaching, study, scientific claim, philosophy, suggestion, loophole, intuition, or reasoning. Far exceeds them, even all combined!
As disciples, this is also where we must go, to God’s word. Few of us may be Jewish, but we still have plenty of traditions and commentaries. Many of them are harmless, some of them are helpful, and some of them are quite harmful; but none of them exceed the word of God. As someone who has engaged in plenty of religious discussions over the years, I feel the Lord’s frustration (Mark 3:5) sometimes, when the person with whom I am discussing religion starts quoting or citing a theologian, a commentary, a philosophy, or some demographic report. I used to be tempted to cite my own list of theologians and commentaries, but then I realized that doing so was nothing more than arguing against traditions with more traditions, opinions vs. opinions, he-said/she-said. It occurred to me that only one “word” was authoritative, and that it wasn’t Luther’s, Calvin’s, Barth’s, Graham’s, or “X” (name your poison). The only “word” that matters is God’s, the Bible.
Follow Jesus, right to the Scriptures.