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“You don’t understand what you read,” she said

Our fourth grade teacher gave us reading comprehension tests. We read compositions and answered questions. My grade was a shock. One little letter said the same thing as my teacher. “You don’t understand what you read,” she said.

Literature was a locked book, and I did not have a key.

This afflicted me especially with the Bible. Jesus was hard to understand. He is not like us. His Middle Eastern culture is not like ours. Conversations with him take twists and turns that were not easy to follow.

Even some smart people have the same trouble. The Apostle Philip heard the treasurer of Queen Candace reading the Bible. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

The Church has provided many pastors and teachers to guide me. They give us some keys. Here are a couple that unlock the Word of God. For one, the Bible is a book about Jesus. For another, God speaks basically two words to us, his Law and his Gospel, which are two different kinds of messages.

What good do these keys do? In a given passage, they help us see Jesus rather than missing him, and they help us hear both words God is speaking, not just one or the other.

Consider the well known parable of the Good Samaritan. If we want to refresh our memories, we can read it again in Luke 10:29-37. What does it mean?

Often it is taught that it means we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and that our neighbor is whoever needs our help. We should be like the Good Samaritan and help the man wounded and left half dead. That certainly is true. That is God’s Law, where both Moses and Jesus teach that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39)

But the keys my pastors and teachers gave make us ask, “Where is Jesus in this, and where is the Gospel?” So far we see the Christian but not the Christ, and the Law but not the Gospel.

Here is the Gospel: Jesus is the Good Samaritan. It is we who are like the man wounded and left for dead. We are wounded by our conscience which rightly accuses us of sin. We are wounded by Satan and the world that beat up on us. We are wounded by the Law which is spiritual when it says we have not kept the Law as we should. We are the ones who need to be rescued. Jesus comes along, finds us, and does everything for us to save our lives.

Jesus obeys the Law perfectly for us and dies on our behalf the death for sin that the Law demands. Jesus washes away our sin in Baptism. Jesus gives us true food and drink to sustain us, his own body and blood with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gives us the word of the Gospel saying, God for Jesus’ sake forgives you all your sins.