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Trust the Bible
by Tony Grant,
Preached at York SC 09/17/00
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of John, chapter 17 and follow along as I read verses 13-19. Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
13 And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.
14 I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
15 I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.
16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
We are talking about the Bible today. Let us admit that the Bible has its difficulties, and its problems of interpretation. Consider the sentiments expressed in especially Psalm 137:8-9, "O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us - he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." This is one of the "Imprecatory Psalms"--which contain harsh curses upon enemies. Some critics have judged that these sentiments cannot be reconciled with the New Testament God of love, and on the surface of it, they have a point. In talking with people about the Bible it seems to me that each person has their on particular scriptural difficulty. The floating axe-head, the conflicting numbers in Chronicles and Kings, the universal flood, the talking donkey, Christ walking on the water, the smiting of the fig-tree, the mini-resurrection when Christ was hanging on the cross. Many sincere believers worry about those kinds of verses.
Now I acknowledge that problem verses exist. Believers have always recognized as much. Augustine wrote about some of them 16 centuries ago. Christians have been considering them during the millennia and answering objections to them from cynics, despisers of the Gospel, right up to the liberal critics of our own day. Nothing changes in that respect.
There are biblical difficulties, but most of these difficulties are greatly exaggerated and have no bearing upon our salvation. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way, "All things in scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear to all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them." (I,VII). Thus, the Bible is the Book, that every generation is summoned to read, understand, and proclaim. This Word is the Word of God for salvation.
Our attitude toward the Bible then is of crucial importance. Some people say that evangelical Christians make too much of the Bible. They dismiss the phrase, "The Bible says," with the comment that anything can be proved from the Bible. They believe that the Bible is utterly unacceptable in this modern age, that it is scientifically and intellectually impossible for Christians to believe it. They think it wrong to try to unite around a book. "Let us unite," they say, "around the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Truth." They are right in saying that we should unite around Jesus. Jesus should be our authority. But in proclaiming Jesus to be our authority, in uniting around him, we find ourselves also uniting around Scripture.
Let us consider the Person of Jesus Christ
Who is this extraordinary person? He claims preexistence, saying, "Before Abraham was I am." He claims absolute equality with God, saying, "I and my Father are one." The first chapter of the Gospel of John says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1-2). And John goes on to identify Christ as the Word.
This, then, is the Jesus Christ of the Bible. He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He upholds all things by the Word of his power. Nothing happens without him. All the laws of the universe are his. One day He will come again in power and glory to take apart this universe atom by atom and put it all together again as a new heaven and a new earth.
Everyone must stand before Christ. We shall meet Him and hear from His lips the destination where we will spend eternity. When we see him, we meet ultimate and final reality. Christ is God. He is the whole form of God and the very Glory of God. In Jesus Christ, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found infinitely and immeasurably. Thus, we confess the infallibility of Jesus Christ, and that means he can say nothing wrong.
Jesus was free from all the prejudices, misconceptions and traditions that cluttered His age. Some religious people living then thought that it was wrong to eat ears of corn on the Sabbath day. Some believed it was wicked to eat food without first correctly and ceremonially washing their hands. Others thought it was right for a man to divorce his wife for any reason if she offended him. Some thought they might be freed from the responsibilities of caring for aged parents by simply pronouncing the word, "Corban," meaning "my help to you is a gift of God." Some thought it acceptable to love their neighbors and hate their enemies. Jesus was surrounded with the confusion of people who were children of their time, but he was not a child of the first century. He was God's "Holy Child Jesus," and He corrected His generation on all such issues and many more. He stood against the tide and against his foes, even unto death. He could neither be bought nor bribed. He could not be won by a smile or intimidated by a frown. He never taught error. This is the Son of God who said, "I am the truth," and it is around this Christ that we unite.
This leads then to another question: How did this Christ, who was God incarnate, view the Bible? Jesus used the Old Testament Scriptures in all sorts of circumstances. When the devil attacked him at the Temptation, He quoted from the book of Deuteronomy three times. "It is written," the Son of God said as the ultimate answer. He also used Scripture to answer His enemies. He said to the Pharisees, "You err, not knowing the Scriptures". He encouraged people in their faith through the Bible. There was a man, Cleopas, and his companion, who were distraught walking along the road to Emmaus. Jesus had been crucified three days earlier and the bottom of their lives had fallen out. The Risen Lord helped them get on with their lives and trust in God completely by opening the Scripture. He began with Moses and then appealed to the prophets. He showed the two men all the details about himself in the Old Testament, and he judged them to be "foolish and slow not to believe the Scriptures." Jesus totally trusted the Word of God and totally obeyed the Word of God.
Jesus quoted from every part of Scripture. In some 179 verses of his teaching, he refers to the Old Testament--this is about ten per cent of his recorded sayings. Jesus appeals to virtually all those passages that people grumble about today. He refers to Genesis 2 saying "In the beginning God made them male and female." He refers to the murder of Abel; he reminds his audience of Lot leaving Sodom with fire and brimstone falling upon it. He refers to Moses being spoken to at the burning bush, Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, the men of Nineveh repenting, Namaan being cleansed from his leprosy, Elijah going to the widow of Zarephath, and the Queen of the South coming to Solomon. The teaching of Jesus is full of the Old Testament.
Jesus also teaches a doctrine of Scripture. He calls the Scriptures "the commandments of God". He refers to them as "the Word of God". When He repeats words from a Psalm he says, "David himself said in the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 22:41-45). That is to say, the spirit of revelation came upon David and then he wrote the 23rd Psalm or other Psalms. Jesus also said that the Bible was going to endure, saying, (John 10:35). "Verily, I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away not one jot or tittle shall in any wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled." In John 17:17, he says the Scriptures are true. He said, this is an authentic book. This is the genuine article.
So we have seen, firstly, who Jesus Christ is, God incarnate, and secondly, that He taught the doctrine of the truth of Scripture. If He is our Lord, He binds us to this same attitude. The disciple is not greater than his Master, thus our master commits us to believe and trust the Bible.
Thirdly, the Lord Jesus gave His Word to the apostles
Paul was conscious of the spiritual source of the gospel that he preached. When he spoke to the Galatians (1:11-12) he said: "I certify brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." So Paul and the apostles knew that they were passing on something, that they were heralds declaring a message that they had received from someone greater than themselves, to whom they must answer for the stewardship of the message.
Paul says, "I am handing on this great New Testament teaching about the Lordship of Christ, his incarnation and redemption, the meaning of his sufferings, his resurrection from the grave." This teaching did not originate with the apostle. He 'received' it. But he did not get it from human sources, not even from the other apostles. He got it directly from Jesus himself. Like the prophets who were called into the presence of God and came from that presence with a word burning like fire in their bones, so Paul went to Jesus and came from him with good news for all people.
This doctrine of revelation was found throughout the early church. Thus 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." 2 Peter 1:21 adds, "Prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." That attitude to the Hebrew Scriptures they learned from the example and teaching of their God and Savior Jesus Christ. So the early church had the same approach to Scripture as their Lord himself. The apostles quote almost every part of the Old Testament. The only book from the Old Testament that is not quoted directly in the New Testament is the book of Esther. In the letter to the Hebrews, where David or Isaiah are being appealed to, the author to the Hebrews prefaces his quotation with the words, "God said" or "the Holy Spirit says" (note the present tense, "the Spirit says." The Word given by the Spirit is not something done in the past; it is a living reality). Paul in Acts 24:14 confessed that he believed in everything that was written in the law and the prophets. In other words, if it were found in the Bible Paul believed it. This is how God had taught him to respond to Scripture.
The Lord Jesus and his apostles believed all Scripture to be inspired, that is God-breathed, that is, the very breath of God. If you asked the Savior how comprehensive is this inspiration, He would answer that, "not a jot or a tittle of the law shall pass away until all be fulfilled."
Inspiration means that God supervised the writing of the whole of the Scriptures. The Bible is the Word from God. Almighty God controlled and overrule the operations of his chosen human authors as to ensure that they said what God wanted them to say, and wrote what God wanted them to write. This is not strange. If God can make the universe and raise the dead, he can prepare a person in his providence so that the person inscribes what God wants.
It is interesting in Revelation 10:4, where John is about to write down some words, God intervenes and says to him, "Write them not". So God assisted the human authors of scripture as they used their distinctive personalities, their minds, memories and emotions to write what God wanted written and not what he did not want written. God freely enabled the authors of scripture to draw upon their own experiences and education, yet, in all their writings, God determined that they freely recorded what he wanted recorded. Because God wrote scripture through human beings who operated in certain cultures and societies, the assumptions of those human beings and their cultures are reflected in the Bible. That is why when our bible study looks at I and II Kings we have to do some learning about how things were in the tenth century b.c. Further, there was no destruction of personalities in the writing of scripture. Paul remained different from John and from Luke. Writing scripture was not dictation on God's part. Human beings wrote what they wanted to write, but it was what God wanted.
Having said so much then, how can we justify our own coldness to Scripture? I began by saying there are difficulties about the Bible, but the greatest difficulty of all is not the Word, it is us. In the first psalm, we meet the blessed man. We are told that, "His delight is in the law of the Lord and in that law does he meditate day and night". Here is a person who really loves the Bible. He loves the Bible because he loves the Lord.
This is a searching test for any believer, not only that we have the correct doctrine of Scripture, and read it diligently every day, and sit under the best preaching that we can hear each Sabbath, but more than all those things, that we love the Bible.
Unfortunately some people--I mean good Christian folk--come at God's Word with a sort of grim determination. They say, "I study the Bible because I have to, because it is food for my faith, it is part of my discipline, it is a task, given me by God." That is true, but if that is our attitude, then the whole element of delight has passed away and we have ceased turning to God's Word for pleasure. When we want delight we go to something else; but we go to God's Word for duty, discipline and information--which means that we do not want to go to God's word at all, but this is not the attitude of God's man or God's woman. It is the attitude that we find even in church today though. We have lost the joy of being in God's Word. The blessed man who is described for us in Psalm 1 delights in the law of the Lord. His pleasure is religion. His chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That is his preferred use of his time. When he has time, you find him reading the Bible, meditating on it, reflecting on the law of God. He loves the Bible! He is intrigued by God's word, never growing weary of it, but increasingly struck by the evidences of its inspiration, the marvelous accuracy of its thought, its stirring concepts. He is moved by the details of its language; he is taken up by Scripture.
That is the way we ought to be. Let us hold fast then to the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says that scripture was "given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life." (I, II) When we submit to Christ as our Lord and God, then we ourselves will echo his words that Scripture is true--As Jesus says in John 17:17, "Your word is truth"--and apply those words. If you think about it, the very demons believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Demons are very orthodox. They know that the Bible should be the rule of faith and life, but they do not do it. Believers so love and delight in the Word of God, that they are eager to apply it to their lives and obey its commandments. Amen.
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Last modified October 7, 2000