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Week Five | Reading About the Messiah

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Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus Online Biblical Study
Reading Assignment – Chapters 9 & 10
Listen to the Audio version | Reading Time: 5 minutes

Growing up in the church, as I sat in my seat next to my mom and my grandma, wearing a Sunday dress and lacy socks, we would hear the liturgical readings for each Sunday of the church calendar.  

From the lectern, the first reading would be read to the congregation.  Next, we’d do some old-fashioned hymn signing.  The second reading was given before the choir sang their anthem.  Then, the preacher would stand at the pulpit and ask the congregation to stand, if able, to receive the Gospel reading for the day before giving their sermon.   Eventually, the service would wrap up with a final hymn.

It used to frustrate me to no end that it seemed as though some head honcho in the church developed a list following my standard, flip-and-point method of selecting which Scripture passages to read.

April 7th, Good Friday
First Reading:  Isaiah 52:13–53:12
Psalm: Psalm 22
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:16-25
Gospel Reading: John 18:1–19:42

The adults may have understood the Biblical connections, but it was lost on me.  

But, just as author Lois Tverberg has admitted, the Old Testament in our Bibles was rarely touched.  Unfortunately, I was never truly taught how to read my Bible, so those cryptic passages, full of symbolism and wild imagery, seemed to be disjointed and out of place.

What I would give to go back and whisper into little Bree’s ear the lessons I’ve learned from Lois and the Judaic concept of “stringing the pearls” of Scripture and bring the awe of God’s splendor in the beautifully interwoven narrative.

Memory is Critical

It’s hard for us to even imagine reaching for a book on a shelf, opening up Google on our phones, or saying “Hey, Alexa” to recall some random fact or Scripture reference.  However, in antiquity, the transfer of knowledge was not given in the form of a textbook but from mouth to ear.  There was a great dependency on memorization and “encyclopedic recall.”  

“Literacy was not required to be very knowledgable in the Scriptures.”

Lois Tverberg, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Pg. 185

The education system during the first century was centered around the synagogue.  Starting at the age of 6, Jewish boys would attend the Bet Sefer, the “house of the book,” or the school that was adjacent to the synagogue, and work towards the memorization of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew (and Christian) Bible, by the age of 10.

“It was also typical for boys to repeat their lessons as they strolled along the dusty roads…”

Lois Tverberg, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, Pg. 183

At this stage, most boys would go home and begin to learn the family trade, but the students who were the best of the best would continue in their schooling at the Bet Talmud, the “house of learning,” where they would study the rest of the Scriptures (the Old Testament), committing them to memory by the age of 14.

It’s at this stage of learning where we see young Jesus, at the age of 12, teaching in the Temple.

Just as Jesus continued His education, only the cream of the crop would go on to attend the Bet Midrash, the “house of study,” where these young men would study to become a rabbi or teacher of Scripture.

Can you imagine holding the contents of the Old Testament in its entirety?
Maybe if we could delete all of those random lyrics and jingles from our memories, we might have a bit more room for one more passage! 

Reading about the Messiah

“Much of the reason we’ve found Jesus’ words so hard to grasp is because we are so unfamiliar with the Scriptures he loved—the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings.”

Lois Tverberg, Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus, pg. 190

But their learning of these ancient words was not just verbatim or quick recall, as we learn and study to pass a test, storing information in our short-term memory, “… the memory skill that was important for participants to have was the ability to mentally locate a text in a wider context, not recite an entire book by rote.” Pg. 185-186

We allude to a great example of the stringing of pearls from the baptism of Jesus from Lois’ book, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, in our blog post, Stringing the Pearls Together.
(pearl strung!)

It was not uncommon for “… other rabbinic teachers would not just match one or two references but several, deliberately linking together passage after passage.  This practice called ‘stringing pearls,’ forced the audience to listen attentively and quickly leapfrog across Scripture in order to catch the preacher’s point.” Pg. 189-190

Our Western education systems are very Greco-Roman in practice, focusing on the acquisition of knowledge and understanding, which has distanced us greatly and ultimately placed blockades before us in being able to approach Scripture with such care and devotion.

Lois Tverberg shares this sobering thought from Sandra Richter, from page 190:

“…the church does not know who she is because she does not know who she was.”

Because the Church no longer knows who she is, it has left us feeling disconnected and detached from the Scriptures, leading to my puzzlement as a young Bree.

Whereas “Preachers over the ages could allude to a verse and expect listeners to catch their reference” (Pg. 186), young Bree could not see the string connecting the pearls of the Good Friday readings below:

1st Reading:  Isaiah 52:13–53:12 – The Suffering and Glory of the Servant
Psalm: Psalm 22 – One of the Messianic Psalms
2nd Reading: Hebrews 10:16-25 – Access to the Most Holy Place Through the Blood of Jesus
Gospel Reading: John 18:1–19:42 – Jesus Arrested, Tried, Condemned, Crucified, and Buried

Bree of present-day looks at this list very differently.  From the Scripture headings and focus of each passage, I can see clearly now how reading each pearl of a passage can be strung together with the next to bring a more familiar and intimate knowledge of our Messiah, Jesus, our Rabbi, and the greatest gift He gave, of Himself to reunite creation with God.

Next Sunday, as you explore the contents of your church bulletin or read a string of passages in your Bible study or reading plan, ask God for His help to see the beautiful string of pearls He has strung for you to know Him better.

Interested in additional resources about stringing pearls in Scripture:
Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg
Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg
– Kristi McLelland’s podcast, Pearls
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament by D.A. Carson & G.K. Beale

1. Memorization played a key role in the education of ancient Judaism
2. Rabbinic teachers would not just match one or two references of Scripture but several, deliberately linking together passage after passage. 
3. That as Westerners, we can benefit from looking beyond the surface of a list of Scriptures to find the string of pearls, leading us to a heart knowledge of God.

How old were you when you realized that the verses read in church services were not as random as they appeared?

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Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus | Lois Tverberg

A 7-week study considering what it might be like to sit down beside Jesus as He explained the Bible and find fresh, practical insights for following our Rabbi’s teachings from a Jewish point of view.

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