Put Down Your Bible and Listen

For quite some time, my wife has been listening to the Bible. Every night she crawls into bed and turns on David Suchet's wonderful reading of the NIV translation. (Highly recommended.) And let's be really honest: some of it is a chore. The prophets, particularly, have been downers. You probably should time this so that you don't listen to the prophets during the dark winter hours. Night after night of judgments and threatenings can be psychologically difficult.

But she made it through. And finally the New Testament has begun.

And she told me how different it is. Wildly different.

No, I'm not going down the old well-worn path of how allegedly mean and angry the "Old Testament" God is compared to the "New Testament" God. But I am saying there is a difference. And we talked for awhile about what, exactly, that difference is. The one that she's hearing. I think we found it.

She's been listening, night after night, to the messengers of God. Every prophecy, every book, is filled with these phrases: "The word of the LORD came to..." and "This is what the LORD of hosts says..." and "The LORD Almighty declares..."

And then... Jesus arrives.

Jesus almost never says anything like, "This is what the LORD says." He never claims, like the prophets of old, "The LORD of Hosts proclaims to you..." He speaks in direct address: "I say to you..." If you really stop to think about it, the prophets always provide their credentials at the beginning ("The LORD Almighty came to so-and-so"), but Jesus simply talks. And when he's done he says things like, "my Father testifies about me."

Think about that. Not, "I testify about the Father." It's the other way around. Not, "Let me tell you about the Father," but "the Father tells you (testifies) about me." Jesus is central stage. He's not a third party delivering a message from God or pointing or directing you to God. This is nothing, I mean nothing at all, like the prophets.

Listening straight through makes a difference. You get just a glimpse of why those who heard him in the flesh were astounded. The gospels tell us their reaction: "Who ever taught with such authority?" This is the authority. No longer is God sending messengers. No longer is God's speech a third-person address through a mediator. God has entered his own story. He is the lead actor in the play.

It is a thoroughly remarkable change, and one that we miss entirely by not hearing it. We've got chaptered and versed Bibles. We stick to chapters or (when we're busy) verses, but don't bother with the long slog. But for people conditioned to, "This is what the LORD Almighty says," to hear a Rabbi come around saying, "You've heard it said, but I say to you..." and "truly, truly, I say to you" is a radically jarring thing. Just who does this fellow think he is? The third-person has become first-person address.

People often doubt that Jesus claimed to be divine. There's an entire industry of popular books written on that premise. I suggest they put down their versified Bibles and simply listen. His authoritative volume is deafening.

Brian Mattson