“Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.“
The renowned rock-star and apparent literati, Frank Zappa, is known for his chart-topping contribution to humanity’s musical heritage which includes a song featuring the lyrics, “She’s a Valley Girl … Valley Girl … She’s a Valley Girl … Okay, Fine … Fer sure … Fer Sure … Valley Girl.” But Zappa is also, believe it or don’t, the source of the pithy quip popular among book lovers: “So many books, so little time.”
Bibliophiles may, however, be too quick to join in Zappa’s literary lament if a recent study from the Yale School of Public Health is valid. In 2016, Yale researchers released a report stating that “book readers lived an average of two years longer than non-book readers.” Contrary to Zappa’s assertion, the research seems to indicate that, actually, the more you read, the more time you’ll have to read.
Life-extension via literacy aside, in our world where the capacity for sustained thought might be best exemplified by YouTube’s “Skip Ads” wizardry that allows us to fast-forward after only 6 seconds of marketing infringement on our incredibly valuable entertainment time, the fact seems lost that the nearly ubiquitous presence of the video medium itself subtly signals an attack on human cognition. In a very broad but real way, we read to think; we watch to be entertained. As Neal Postman, in his must-read tome Amusing Ourselves To Death, has said, “People will come to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.”
It is precisely that “capacity to think” that Yale researchers found was stimulated by book-reading. “We found that book reading provides more of a survival advantage than reading newspapers or magazines,” said the study’s lead researcher. “We believe this is because books offer stronger cognitive engagement because they’re longer and there are more characters, more plots to follow, and more connections to make.”
While not too many years ago, the medium of printed books was presumed to be under doom-spelling attack from eBooks, the fact is that in 2018 some 696 million printed books were sold, an increase of 1.3% over the prior year. Meanwhile digital book sales decreased by 3.1% over the same period.
Though there is no reported correlation between Yale’s “book reading means longer lives” study and the subsequent increase in print book sales, there is one other statistic that almost makes this hopeful book selling/book reading data superfluous. That statistic is this: Every day … EVERY SINGLE DAY … some FIVE BILLION YouTube videos are viewed by over 30 million daily visitors to the site. FIVE. BILLION. VIDEOS. PER. DAY. Just for context, it took McDonald’s about 64 years to proudly proclaim “300 Billion Served.” YouTube does it in about two months.
The Will of God
Now, let’s shift gears and consider the seemingly ever-difficult question: As a Christian, what is God’s will for your life?
From the outset, we understand that the gospel is both historical, propositional truth about the Person and work of Christ, and that the first “will of God” for everyone is to repent and believe (Matt. 4:17, Mk. 1:15, Lk. 13:3, Acts 2:38, 3:19, 2 Pet. 3:9). The will of God for every sentient soul begins with obedience to this divine command. It is eternally foundational to everything that concerns man and pleases God.
But the question of God’s will specifically for the Christian is one that can find even the most pew-seasoned, but biblically casual, faith-professor head-scratching and navel-gazing. Many professing Christians in the church today simply seem not to know the answer. But the biblically-astute believer, in whom the “Word of Christ” richly dwells (Col. 3:16), would rightly respond with the succinct words from Paul: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thes. 4:3).
The fact that believers are to be, and have been, sanctified, “set apart,” is the divine intent and providential effect of genuine regeneration. Though we remain in the world, we are no longer of the world. We’ve been consecrated unto God in Christ. Indeed, if we love the world, according to the Apostle John, the love of God is not in us (1 Jn. 2:15). As J.C. Ryle said, “We must be holy, because this is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
That the will of God for the believer is holiness is repeated throughout the New Testament. Peter exhorts in his epistle, “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). Paul, correcting the chaotic Corinthian church for its worldliness, wrote, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-16). The author of Hebrews commands believers to pursue “sanctification [holiness] without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Again, Paul, this time to the Romans, gloriously outlines God’s purpose in His redemptive plan saying that those “who are called according to His purpose” have been “predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:28-30).
We are, then, salvifically called to holiness, and we find Jesus, in His high priestly prayer, asking the Father explicitly for it. (John 17:17). No greater assurance for the irrevocable certainty of our holiness, of our consecration before God, can be had than Christ's own prayer for it. But Scripture also commands us to holiness. God’s purpose in saving us is to “conform us to the image of His Son” and our pursuit of a transformed mind (Rom. 12:2) that results in Christlikeness are two sides of the same coin of sanctification. As Charles Spurgeon said, “In holiness God is more clearly seen than in anything else, save in the Person of Christ Jesus the Lord, of whose life such holiness is but a repetition.”
So, the correct answer to the question What is God’s will for the Christian’s life is “be holy.” But this answer may still leave many Christians with a caricatured cartoon question mark hanging where the halo of holiness should hover. The right answer, holiness, may likely lead to another question, “Okay, how is holiness had? How do I become holy and Christlike?”
Have You Not Read?
It is the answer to this second question, “how do I become holy?”, that actually gives to us the most fundamental “will of God” for our lives. The answer to this question is presupposed by the very existence of Scripture itself and it is brilliantly, albeit rhetorically, exemplified for us by our Lord in Matthew’s Gospel.
In six particular passages, our Lord engages in dialogue with the religious elite of His day. In each of His responses, Jesus asks the foundational question, “Have you not read?” In this question, our Lord exhibits the first and fundamental expectation of God for His people: we are expected to have read, and be reading, His Word. We are, ever and always, to be hearing the Word of the Lord (Jer. 22:29) and to be “doers of the word” (James 1:22).
In the six “Have you not read?” dialogues recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus not only gives specific answers to specific questions, but He also points to the very nature and character of God, and to His own redemptive mission in the world. While the elites of Judaism had most certainly read the Scriptures Jesus cites, He chides them for their failure to understand the Word rightly and to obey it humbly and charitably. In effect, by asking “Have you not read?”, the Lord is making clear that the first will of God is to know the mind of God by reading the Word of God. Those who, Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “abide in my word,” are “truly my disciples” (John 8:31).
Have You Not Read? – God Is Sovereign
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Matthew 12:1-4
Ever eager to find Jesus a blaspheming Galilean sinner, the Pharisees regularly attacked Him and the disciples for presumed breaches of the law of the Sabbath. The law actually contained a restriction against labor for profit on the Sabbath, but not against grain-plucking in order to eat. The Sabbath attacks of the Pharisees against Jesus must be considered in the light of the whole of Scripture, particularly with what Jesus Himself taught about it. His clearest comment regarding the Sabbath comes in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
The Lord then is teaching much more than simply the right understanding of the Sabbath, what is permissible for it and what is not. He is also pointing to the very creation of the Sabbath day which, of course, speaks directly to God’s sovereignty over creation itself. The Sabbath day was “made,” and it was “made” by God as a blessing for, not a burden to, man. Jesus is pointing to the very sovereignty of God who is the Author of time, and who alone has authority to establish His purposes for time, as well as to dictate to men who live in time what is permitted in it. So, in teaching about the Sabbath, Jesus is also teaching the sovereignty of God, a “Have you not read?” truth abundantly strewn across the pages of Scripture.
Have You Not Read? – Jesus Is God
“Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. Matthew 12:5-7
From the same passage of Matthew comes the second “Have you not read?” The Pharisees, blinded by their self-righteous antipathy against Jesus, presumed to not only nobly defend the law of the Sabbath but the sanctity of the temple itself. Jesus, however, teaches that not all labor on the Sabbath is forbidden since the priests themselves, whose duties were required on the Sabbath, would otherwise have been deemed lawbreakers and defilers of the temple. Instead Jesus points out the Pharisees have “condemned the innocent.”
Yet more profound than Jesus’ explanation regarding the Sabbath is the stunning claim of His own deity. “Something greater than the temple is here,” He says. Jesus then buttresses His rightful expectation of acceptable worship by citing the words of God through Hosea (Hos. 6:6),” I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice.” If the Pharisees had been able to favorably answer “Have you not read?”, they would have recognized Jesus as the Christ, as sovereign God, and the One to whom loving worship was expected and due.
Have You Not Read? – God Establishes Order
Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19:3-6
Again under assault by the Pharisees, Jesus is asked about divorce. In the chronology of Matthew this is the third “Have you not read?” example. In this case, our Lord cites Genesis (Gen. 1:27, Gen. 2:24, Gen. 5:2) affirming the creation of “male and female” and, by the joining together of the two, the creation of “one flesh” in marriage. The answer, then, to the question of the divorce is settled by the Lord, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”
Though these Scriptures – and Jesus’ clear affirmation of them – are under seemingly inexhaustive attack in our day, what His quotation of Pentateuch truth teaches is not only God’s view of gender, of sexuality, of marriage, and of divorce, but an even larger truth. In this “Have you not read” case, Jesus reveals that it is the sovereign God who alone establishes order in all areas of His creation, beginning with the family. Man has no right to alter what God has established.
Have You Not Read? – Jesus Is Glory Incarnate
But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant and said to Him, “Do You hear what these children are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘OUT OF THE MOUTH OF INFANTS AND NURSING BABIES YOU HAVE PREPARED PRAISE FOR YOURSELF’?” Matthew 21:15-16
While the religious elite of His day were regularly seeking to trap, test, and prove Jesus a blasphemer and sinner, they were consistently indignant at Him. Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem the final week leading up to His crucifixion, featured in this fourth “Have you not read?” excerpt from Matthew, finds them perhaps at the apex of their indignation. Though they knew the “wonderful things that He had done,” they could not bear the popular praise for Him from even the children at the temple. Most likely these children were largely comprised of 12-year old boys who had come to celebrate their first Passover.
Though the religious elite scorned Him, Jesus was not lacking praise and, to their chagrin, He made no attempt to silence the children's praise. Rather, Jesus utters another “Have you not read?,” quoting David from Psalm 8:2 which affirms the praise due to God because of His unspeakable glory – “How majestic is Your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1). By this reference, Jesus is again asserting His own deity. God will have His praise because of His glory, and Jesus is no less than the very glory of God incarnate (Heb. 1:3) and thus eternally worthy of such praise.
Have You Not Read? – Jesus Is Who Dies, Resurrects, and Redeems
Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD,AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’? “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. Matthew 21:40-43
Continuing to trace Matthew's “Have you not read” passages, the fifth instance arrives in Jesus’ parable of the landowner (Matt. 21:33-46). In this parable Jesus again refers to Scripture which His hearers would most certainly have read. This passage opens with Jesus’ reference to Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5) and closes with His citation and exposition of the messianic Psalm 118. Our Lord couples these two texts and exposits them as prophecy regarding His death and His resurrection.
The MacArthur Study Bible notes, “The stone … rejected”… refers to His crucifixion; and the restoration of ‘the chief cornerstone’ anticipates His resurrection. … ‘The chief corner stone’ … [is] cited by Jesus … to suggest that the Son who was killed and thrown out of the vineyard was also ‘the chief corner stone’ in God’s redemptive plan.” Jesus’ hearers did not miss the point: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:45).
The intent of this “Have you not read” was to highlight the redemptive plan of God that would be solely carried out by the Son, Jesus Himself. That plan called for the unthinkable death of the Son of God atoning for the sins of His people, and His resurrection from the dead conquering death for those whom He would graciously redeem and reconcile to God. As would play out within mere days, it would be seen that this Jesus is the God-Man who dies, resurrects, and redeems.
Have You Not Read? – Jesus Is The God of Life
“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I AM THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” Matthew 22:31-32
The final “Have you not read?” passage (Matthew 22:23-33) features Jesus’ conflict with the Sadducees questioning Him about marriage in the resurrection. Though the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, their efforts were another attempt to doctrinally disqualify Jesus in His capacity as “Teacher” (Matt. 22:23). Jesus indulges their question by citing Moses, whom the Sadducees recognized as the sole Old Testament authority. The Exodus 3:6 citation precedes the revelation to Moses of God’s own name: “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14), a text with which every Jew was familiar.
Jesus’ answer by citing the Scripture of God’s revelation of Himself as the “God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” was to show that, though these patriarchs were dead, God was still their God, for, in Him, they lived. “He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” MacArthur notes that “This subtle but effective argument utterly silenced the Sadducees.” Jesus’ “have you not read” exposition revealed to His hearers that God is the God of life, not of death, and, we know from His glorious words in John's Gospel, that Jesus Himself is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Have You Not Read? Is God's Will
“The Church is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it.” J. Gresham Machen
This takes us full circle to the opening consideration of books vs. video. The world may be increasingly consumed with the “technologies that undo” its capacity to think, but it is not to be so for the Christian. The Christian knows that “in the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1), not “in the beginning was the video.” Our mind is to be consumed by thinking on things above (Col. 3:2), not with thoughtless and incessant distractions by amusements below. Researchers may well have proven that reading books extends life, but Christians aren’t concerned with temporal life extension; our days are sovereignly determined (Job 14:5, Ps. 139:16). Rather our focus is on knowing God through faith in Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3). It is the incarnate Word of God revealed in the inscripurated Word of God by which we are redeemed and reconciled to God, our names recorded in the Lambs book of life(Rev. 20:15).
Frequently we consider Paul’s words, “So faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), only in the context of evangelism. While that is certainly valid, for the gospel is the “power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16), we often fail to apprehend that His Word-borne power isn’t exhausted when He has employed it in the salvation of a sinner. Indeed, His infinite power in and through His Word for salvation is only the beginning. Our saving faith and our sanctifying faith comes from our consistent hearing “the Word of Christ” (Jn. 1:1, Mt. 7:24). The Word of God is our daily bread (Matt. 4:4).
In Jesus’ dialogues with the unbelieving religious elite of His day, He could rhetorically ask, “Have you not read?,” knowing that, by and large, they had indeed read but didn’t understand. In our day, however, “Have you not read?” often isn’t merely an indictment against understanding, but one against ignorance. As Spurgeon noted in his day, so too in ours: “There is enough dust on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.”
As we come to worship, let us thank God for His gift of the gospel of grace that has brought us to repentance and salvation. Let us praise Him for the gracious gift of sanctification, of conforming us to the image of the Son of God. Let us know that in Jesus’ question, “Have you not read?,” He has revealed to us the fundamental will of God for our life, that we hear His Word, obey His Word, and abide in His Word that we may truly be distinguished as His disciples and so “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).