We are reading the Bible through together this year, using the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan published by the Navigators. You can download it free of charge from: https://www.navigators.org/resource/bible-reading-plans/
Today’s 4 readings are: Matthew 7:1-14; Acts 10:1-23; Psalm 17, Genesis 37-38.
There is a very timely lesson about Bible reading that emerges out of the reading in Acts today. It pops up in Acts 10:17 (ESV) — 17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood at the gate.
Note first that even the great Apostle Peter, when confronted with this staggering vision – was perplexed about what it might mean. When we are handling the Word of God, we are being met by revelation that God has given to us, and sometimes, we don’t get what it means right off the bat. Don’t feel bad. Don’t be intimidated. It may take some thought, meditation, further study, prayer and consultation with other sources to get to the heart of a passage. You’re in good company. While the main message of the Bible is clear, and the chief facts accessible to most, there are parts and themes and connections that do not lie right on the surface and will require some significant digging to get to. Patient labor will yield rich rewards – but don’t think something is wrong if you have to work for it – we’re dealing with eternal and cosmic truths. In any other field of study, say engineering, mechanics, electronics, sales & marketing, history, mathematics, etc., each has its own unique vocabulary and structure. So does Bible study. Hand in there. You’ll get it.
Note secondly how un-modern Peter is. And by his example exposes one of the chief flaws in Bible study so prevalent today. Note what the text doesn’t say, and then what it does. It doesn’t say: “Peter was perplexed as to what the vision meant TO HIM.” He needed to know what it meant period, before he could begin to ask what it meant to him or how it would be applied in his life. So many today jump the gun in this regard and misread the Bible horribly.If Peter had taken the first approach, he might have concluded that the whole vision was about food, and that even as a Jew, he was now free to eat bacon double cheeseburgers! Whoopee! But the vision wasn’t about HIM, and wasn’t about the freedom to eat non-kosher foods. The vision was about the Gospel, and how it was to be carried to the Gentiles freely – even though most Jews would consider them unclean. Like the unclean animals Peter was to sacrifice in the vision. Peter himself will finally make that connection in vs. 28 “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”
And that brings me to a 3rd observation. Peter still didn’t understand the vision until God providentially arranged certain events so as to make it clear. Sometimes, Scripture doesn’t take on its full force in our understanding until God opens our eyes to it in experience. Some passages, you do your best to sort out but don’t seem to be able to fully get. Don’t get frustrated. Don’t get discouraged. Give the Lord time and space to crack it open for you in His way. And when He does, it won’t just be that you understand it, it will be a watershed moment that fixes the lesson permanently in your heart and mind. When Peter recounts all of this later to leaders in Jerusalem, you can hear the vividness in his retelling of the facts. It would never leave him.
Do your reading. Do your homework. Pray. Don’t jump to conclusions. Find out what it should mean for the whole Church before you try to arrive at what it might mean for you. And trust the God of the Scriptures to bring the necessary light in His time and in His way. He delights to make Himself known in His Word. What did peter find out about His God in all of this? That God was far more merciful and gracious than he had ever imagined.