How To Open the Scriptures
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s a common element in many different stories, books, and movies to have a hero who is just naturally good at what is needed to save the day. It might be a young boy who effortlessly pulls a sword from a stone that no one else can budge. It might be a warrior who can easily tap into some mystical power that’s a struggle for anyone else to access. It could be a pilot or driver who can speed and steer using pure intuition instead of needing years to practice. Oh, they might have one or two bumps along the way, or possibly even need three tries, but it’s rarely more than that. They’re just naturals at opening the door to exactly what’s needed.
Understanding Scripture is not like that. At all. In our reading today, we have Jesus appearing to the disciples just after He rose from the dead. He has to tell them to not be afraid—He’s not a ghost. He’s not a malicious spirit only pretending to be Jesus. He has the pierced hands and feet, He has flesh and bones. He even eats right in front of them to put aside all doubts. But they still aren’t quite grasping what it all means. Yes, it’s been foretold in the Scriptures. And yes, they spent every day of the last three years with Him explaining the Word of God to them. But understanding the Word is not a task for naturals. It needs something else from outside of us to open it. It needs to be unlocked by the Author Himself.
So we read that Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Now I suspect that when many of us hear that phrase, we think that by His willpower alone, or maybe through some mysterious process, He turned the key in their minds that was always there, but just needed to be clicked. But that’s not what happens here. Look again closely at what Luke tells us. Jesus says, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you. This is what I was telling you all along, but now it’s being lived out before your very eyes—that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” And then, by pointing to how all of those writings, the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, were about Him, then Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He opened their minds to understand by explaining that it was always about Him all along. “Thus it is written, in all of these places, in all different sorts of ways and words and pictures, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.”
That’s the key to understanding the Scriptures, the whole Bible, even what we call the Old Testament. Now in our own skeptical age, we’ve heard objections to this: There’s no way that they authors of the Old Testament could have been talking about Jesus, since He lived thousands of years after some of them. Prophecy isn’t real. It’s coincidence, or a common mythological theme, or was written later. But none of those objections have really held up. The manuscripts that have been discovered through the years are ancient and virtually unchanged from what we have today. There may be some common themes with the mythologies of other religions, but at the core, what the Old Testament and Jesus say are so drastically different, that it’s impossible to see them as woven from the same cloth as these other religions. And for a believer in Christ to not believe in prophecy—well, that’s simply an untenable position to hold. If we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and all-knowing, if we believe that the Holy Spirit, who inspired those authors, really proceeds from the Father and the Son, is also God and all-knowing, why would we not believe that the same Holy Spirit could record those things ahead of time, even if it is veiled until the resurrection of Jesus? What Jesus’ resurrection does is remove that veil so that we can see it clearly.
So what we do whenever we look at the Scriptures—Old Testament or New—is to look for Christ. Where is He in that particular story or account? How does it teach us about what He does in His life, His death, or His resurrection?
This is where I’m going to depart from my typical sermon. We’re going to look at some scattered examples of where Jesus is found in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms; and it’s going to be some examples that aren’t necessarily in our readings. Let’s begin with the Law of Moses. There are some very obvious places where Jesus is waiting for us, like the Passover lamb, which has to be spotless and without blemish, sacrificed, and the blood over the door spares the household from death. The sacrifice is also eaten every year while the people of God remember how they were saved from death. The connections to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world are easy to find. But what about something less obvious, like when Moses writes in Exodus that the children of Israel were traveling through the wilderness and they could only find bitter water—bitter being code for “poisonous”. The people grumbled against Moses because they were thirsty and the only water they could find was deadly. So the Lord showed Moses a tree, which Moses threw into the water, and the bitter water became sweet—that is, the poisonous water became fresh.
Where is Jesus in that writing in the Law of Moses? Well, in short, we have something deadly that’s threatening to kill God’s people—the poisonous water, and it’s only when a tree is thrown into it that it became safe and not a threat anymore. The tree is a foreshadowing of the cross of Jesus. When the cross of Jesus is added, the threat is taken away. He absorbs the poison at His cross—the poison of sin, the poison of death, whatever poison—and we’re kept safe by Him. The water, which would have killed us, is now safe and life-giving, a pure Baptism to strengthen and refresh us on our journey. “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses must be fulfilled.”
Then there are the prophets, so many through the millennia, who told of the coming Savior. Some did it in bright, clear words, like Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” But what about all those other strange accounts of the prophets, like Elisha and the widow who had nothing to eat and no money to live on? The prophet told her to go and borrow all of her neighbors’ vessels: jars, bowls, pots, and not too few; lots of them. Then she was to go in her house, shut the door behind her, and begin pouring from her single jar of oil into all those other vessels. As one was filled, she was to set it aside and start pouring into another. And eventually, every single vessel was filled. The oil from her jar kept flowing until every vessel was full, then it stopped. Elisha the prophet told her to go and sell the oil and pay her debts and then live off the rest for daily food.
Where is Jesus in that obscure passage from 1 Kings? We have someone in great need, in great debt, and through the miraculous generosity of God, her debts are paid and she has enough oil to make her daily bread as well. And the vessel that gives and gives and gives beyond what anyone even thought possible is a foreshadowing of Jesus, who pours out His blood for the sins, the debt, of the whole world. It’s no coincidence that it’s also oil that poured out here, that rich substance used to anoint prophets, priests, and kings; even as we are anointed as heirs of God and a royal priesthood by the blood and Baptism of Jesus. “Everything written about me in the Prophets must be fulfilled.”
Jesus also tells His disciples that everything about Him in the Psalms must be fulfilled. There are the easy ones, “The Lord is my shepherd,” or even Psalm 22, which Jesus cries out from the cross, describing His crucifixion in shocking detail a thousand years before it happens. But then there are those others that are less obvious, like Psalm 8: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and have crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands.” This appears to simply tell us humans our place in the universe and praise God for creating such a wonderful creation. But pay close attention, because it actually tells us about Jesus. The phrase, “son of man” is a clue. Jesus was indeed, in His birth, life, and crucifixion, lowered. Even though He was God, He did not count equality with the Father something to be grasped, so He willingly subjected Himself and was for a little lower than the angels. Yet, because of His obedience to the Father’s will, because He accomplished the salvation of all mankind on the cross and rose victorious from the dead, He has been crowned with glory and honor, sitting at the right hand of the Father, having dominion over all the works of His hands. “Everything written about me in the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
We don’t have time to go through all the Scriptures right now to find Jesus in all these places, but hopefully this gives you an insight on how to do it. Look for the wood of the cross, look for the anointing of Baptism, or the feast of the Lord’s Supper; look for life overcoming death in the resurrection and the triumph of our Lord and God over everything that would threaten His people. Those things all testify to Jesus. They do God’s work at that time. They also point to the greatest work He would accomplish through His Son. “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” May our resurrected Lord open your minds also to understand the Scriptures, and in understanding, may you believe in His name, His life, and His victory. In the name of Jesus, our resurrected Lord and God. Amen.