Summer Book Review: “Knowing Jesus” [Ch. 5]

knowing Jesus PhotoThis summer I’ve been sharing a chapter-by-chapter summary/review of Wright’s Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, a book I thoroughly enjoyed this past year. Have you picked up your copy yet? I encourage you to read along and share comments on here as well!  I think you’ll find it to be a rewarding summer read.

Chapter Five: Jesus and His Old Testament Values

Before I started reading the book, I noticed this chapter in the table of contents, and thought it was a rather odd title. In fact, I’m not sure if I’ve ever read any material on the values of Jesus, much less how those were connected to the Old Testament. But in hindsight, after seeing how the book flows through the beginning narrative of Matthew, values are exactly what emerge in Jesus’ encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

Wright sets the stage well, showing the contrast between chapter three and chapter four, noting that chapter divisions didn’t exist at the time of Matthew’s writing. So the natural sense of his gospel was exactly as Wright observed, namely one of contrast. This juxtaposition of scenes—between the Father’s identification and approval versus the enemy’s attack—is the bedrock for the rest of the chapter and the revelation of Jesus’ values.

Of course, the contrast is heightened by a single question: Where did Jesus turn to face such a challenge? In a nutshell, the Bible; “a word of Scripture.”[1] But what displays Jesus’ values the most, especially as it relates to fighting the enemy and his connection to his identity and responsibility and mission for God and on behalf of Israel, is his use of the Torah. This was a wonderful nugget of truth Wright brought out, and I found myself eager to read on, even though I initially thought this might be an odd chapter. That Jesus rooted all three of his replies to Satan from two chapters in the first part of Deuteronomy was intriguing and beckoning.

The remainder of the chapter did not disappoint. Summarizing God’s intent of the Law, as well as Jesus’ relation to the Law, then to the prophets and the Psalms, Wright painstakingly walks the reader through not just how Jesus viewed the Law, but the purpose of the Law, why God gave it, how the prophets interacted with it, and what response the nations should hold towards it and the kingdom it represents.

Frankly, there were lots of other details in this chapter that gave it a sense much different than the previous two, especially chapter three. This chapter seemed to include much necessary but tangential material, and so keeping the destination in mind was important. I found myself, at times, having to go back to the beginning pages of the chapter to make sure I was not missing the point or losing track of the ultimate goal in the middle of journey. So the sense of this chapter was one of putting the pieces together like a puzzle, whereas in the previous two chapters the sense was one of drawing a straight line and following it.

This is not to say the puzzle wasn’t a joy to put together (or perhaps should I say watch Wright put together?). It was. And when the puzzle was complete, I was more convinced than ever of the Law’s purpose, how to explain it to our flock, and how Jesus connected and related to it.

This was timely, for having just taught through Hebrews, and Acts before that, in which there were several places where the Law was a point of discussion, Wright’s insight further confirmed what I believed and helped me give me better ways of expressing God’s purpose of the Law. You see, no matter what theologians or professors think, the typical American churchgoer misunderstands the Law, and sees it as something that was bad. Something unholy. Something abolished. But just the opposite is true. Paul called the Law holy and good (Romans 7:12), referred to as a tutor (Galatians 3:24), and Jesus actually fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17-18). So it would be wise for pastors to take the necessary time to break down the Law for their people, teaching them more precisely why God gave it and how Jesus fulfilled it.

How? Perhaps Wright provides a hint of what we should do when he explains what Jesus did—taught simply about the Law and obedience. This was one of my favorite “pull overs” of the chapter, for though it didn’t relate directly to his values as revealed in the wilderness temptation, it was convicting, and prompted me towards action. I thoroughly enjoyed Wright’s provocative observations and illustrations centering on how Jesus didn’t make things easy but he sure made them simple and uncomplicated.

This beautiful puzzle was summarized well when Wright, referring to the temptation narrative, wrote, “We see Jesus using his Hebrew Scriptures to define and affirm the whole orientation of his life toward God.”[2] In a phrase, that “whole orientation” was simple obedience, a single-minded, uncomplicated loyalty to God himself.”[3]

That was the single value of Jesus, and it showed in bright colors when he overcame the devil by the word of his mouth.

Chapter 1 Review   Chapter 2 Review   Chapter 3 Review   Chapter 4 Review

[1] Ibid, 184.

[2] Ibid, 189.

[3] Ibid, 193.


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