“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.” (John 5:39)
John’s whole gospel is a testimony that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Christ, the long-promised Saviour. John constantly explains why he believes that Jesus really is the Son of God. In this passage from John, Jesus is explaining why the Jews should believe that he has been sent by God.
When Jesus talks here about the Scriptures, he most likely refers to the Old Testament and, by implication, the old covenants that God had made with the Jewish people. By Jesus’ time, the people had a misguided view of how the Old Testament writings should be interpreted.
The commandments of God were meant to be guidelines for living in a way that spread God’s love to all those around them. Some of the laws regarding food, worship and festivals aimed to reinforce that the children of Israel were set apart by God to be a special people. Sacrificial rituals reminded people of their sins and dependence on God for forgiveness.
This meaning of God’s law had become corrupted. The laws were treated as a recipe for salvation. By carefully making sure none of the ritual laws were broken, one could hope for acceptance by God and eternal life as a faithful servant.
Jesus tells the Jews that they have it all wrong. The Old Testament Scriptures are not a recipe book for salvation. Instead, they are a record of a God that keeps calling his people back time after time when they reject or ignore the most important commandments — to love God and love each other. As Jesus explained to the disciples on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, the Scriptures are a promise that God will send a saviour to people who can never save themselves.
Today, we can still make the same mistakes about the meaning of Scripture. It is not a rulebook to decide who is right and wrong, who is “in” and “out”. It is God who judges at the end of their lives. Instead, it is a testimony to God’s love, incarnate in Jesus Christ, and a call for us to respond to that love by loving each other and loving God. We are to simply proclaim the life of Jesus in how we live, and what we say. We do not convert anyone; that is the Holy Spirit’s job. We simply share the love of Jesus.
God of love, send your Spirit to guide us as we read your Scriptures. Help us read with the eyes of the gospel and the light of the resurrected Christ, who alone is our hope and our salvation. Amen.