Things old and new

Matthew 13:51-52
51 Jesus said to them, “Have you understood all these things?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”
52 Then He said to them, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”

I wish I understood the Bible half as well as some people think I do. Even though I write quite often about the Word of God, I really consider myself a lifelong student of the Bible. I wish always to be learning, always gleaning, always seeing things I never saw before. Even though I had read parts of the Bible earlier in my life, I really didn’t become a true student of the Word until age forty-three, and now I suppose I am just trying to make up for lost time. So, when I read a question from Jesus like in today’s verses–“Have you understood all these things?”–I don’t think I have the confidence of the apostles to answer, “Yes, Lord.” At best, I might answer, “I’m trying, Lord.” I hope that’s how most folks would answer–that is, unless they have the boldness to say they already understand it all.

Nonetheless, I suppose I am a modern-day “scribe.” In the Bible–both Old and New Testaments–the scribes are not just the ones who write (as is implied by our modern word “scribe”), but they are also the ones who TEACH. Specifically, they teach from the Word of God.

Nehemiah 8:1-3
1 Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.
2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month.
3 Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.

Today we have all but lost the profession of the scribe. Before the days of printing presses, the scribes copied the Word of God faithfully onto new paper for generation after generation. Since they spent so much time in copying the Word, scribes were also the ones most familiar with it. They knew the exact phrases because they copied them and wrote them out in their own hand and in the original languages. There is some mechanism in most people’s brains that makes a fairly permanent connection between what they write and what they remember, and so scribes became authorities on what they copied. Where the rabbis were the teachers of theology and Bible interpretation, the scribes were teachers of the Word itself.

Yesterday, I had a short conversation with a Jewish friend of mine, and she made the remark, “The festival we’re celebrating–Rosh Hashanah–is recorded in… Well, I can’t really call it the ‘Old Testament,’ since for us it is the ONLY Testament, our whole Bible.” She was right: for a Jew, the only Bible they know is what we refer to as the “Old Testament.” At the time Jesus was teaching, all that the scribes, priests, rabbis, and Jesus’ followers knew as their Bible was that Old Testament. Whatever instruction they had already had or were likely to offer had to come from that Book–that is, until Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Suddenly, with Jesus, there was new teaching going on. And it wasn’t so much all new teaching as teaching from the old sources in a new way. As Jesus said very early, “”Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) Over and over, Jesus would say, “You have heard it said… But I say to you…” At no time did He ever oppose what the law or the prophets said, He just dug deeper into them to bring their truths to the surface, to bring new teachings out of old words.

Jeremiah 6:16-17
16 Thus says the LORD:
“Stand in the ways and see,
And ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
And walk in it;
Then you will find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
17 “Also, I set watchmen over you, saying,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not listen.'”

Because the Jews would not listen, God brought calamity and discipline on them. He sent them into captivity because they did not ask for the old paths–the ways of Abraham, of Israel, of Moses, of David. When they had returned contrite and humble to Jerusalem, they still did not bring forth new teachings out of the treasury of God’s Word, they just compiled their own teachings on top of what God had given them. And so the Pharisees arose and amassed a dark wealth of burdens for the people rather than giving them the true treasures to be found in the Bible itself. Rather than instructing the people in the kingdom of heaven that was to come through the Messiah, they instead instructed the people in esoteric rules and in self-righteousness.

Hebrews 10:19-22
19 Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,
21 and having a High Priest over the house of God,
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

Through His body, Jesus consecrated for us a new way by which to enter the presence of the living God, and He did so not by any newfangled teaching but by strict adherence to the law and righteous judgments of God, and by following with utter obedience the path set before Him by the Father. Out of the treasury of the Word of God, the One who is the Word Become Flesh, Jesus Christ, brought us old wisdom and new life, old love and new salvation, old faith and new mercy.

Because we now have the gospel of Jesus Christ, and because we understand it, we are like the householder of which Jesus speaks. We have a treasury full of good news for the world, and now that we know we have it, we are to bring forth those treasures, both new and old, for everyone to see and know. We are the modern scribes, the ones who have the instruction in the kingdom of heaven, and it is up to us to teach what is recorded in this Word of God. Perhaps you are like me, and you feel like you are just learning all these things. Well, we are in good company, because even those apostles who said they understood Jesus’ teachings were just learning them, too.

Jeremiah 20:9
Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not.

I wish that we were all as passionate as Jeremiah about the treasury of God’s Word, that we all understood these parables of Jesus and felt a burning need to bring forth both old and new teachings from the Bible. My sincere prayer is that all believers in Christ will become those scribes, will become those householders bringing forth treasures old and new, that we will all follow Jesus’ commission to preach the gospel to all creatures, to make disciples of all nations, tribes, and tongues. For although we may not understand all of the Word of God, we understand at least this much:

John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Holy Lord God, this treasure of the gospel has been passed down for centuries by faithful men and women who knew that each generation needed to hear the Word of God. We thank You for this great gift, this wonderful pearl that is the kingdom of heaven now made available to us through Jesus Your Son. I pray, Father, that we will not shut up this treasure but show it forth, both old and new things, for all the world to see. I pray that all believers should not be ashamed but proud for the world to know that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. That is the greatest treasure we know, and that we will proclaim. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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