When Jesus hung on the cross He prayed for the very ones who were crucifying Him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” They were ignorant of God’s good purpose for their lives, and what He was doing for them in this sacrifice of His only begotten Son. In ignorance they were harming the very thing that was intended to give them life. This is Pride Month in our local community. Last weekend there was a great celebration of inclusiveness praising all those lifestyles that God has declared as wrong and destructive of the good He has established for our lives. God is merciful. He is always ready to forgive those who turn to Him. Jesus even prayed for those acting in ignorance, but that doesn’t make it right. People are destroying so much of the good God wants for their lives. Throughout Scripture we see the truth that God’s blessing comes with obedience, but also that His judgment comes with disobedience. Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for all people to come and find true life in Him. And He has given us His Holy Word to be our guide. We would do well to take it seriously.
Do we believe God? Notice I didn’t ask if we believe IN God. The majority of people in this country say they do – in whatever form they conceive of Him. But I’m asking do we believe God? Do we believe what God tells us? We have the recorded revelation of His words in the Bible. One of the amazing things about His Scripture is that He shows the bad with the good. He doesn’t sugarcoat the mess people get themselves into when they ignore His good will for their lives. We are to learn from their failures as well as His direct teachings for our good. But do we believe God? In too many instances the answer is No. We either have no knowledge of what is in between the Bible’s covers, or pick and choose what we like and don’t like, or rationalize them away by saying we have gained so much more knowledge today than they had. There are all kinds of ways we choose to ignore God’s clear Word. The bottom like is that in many ways we simply do not believe God, and it is to our own detriment.
We sometimes like to watch the quiz show Jeopardy. The other evening was a teen challenge night. The three contestants were exceptionally sharp kids. They knew the answers to questions on a wide variety of subjects. They tried to beat each other to be the first one to answer the question. Sometimes Biblical questions come up. That evening one question asked, “What are the first five words of the 23rd Psalm in the King James version of the Bible?” Now that is probably the best know of all passages in the Old Testament. “The Lord is my Shepherd” Not one of the young people even attempted an answer. I find this incredible sad. And it is not uncommon. Most contestants regardless of age usually shy away from Biblical questions. We have become a people learned in all fields of human knowledge, yet ignorant in the one field that really matters. We are smart people without the true wisdom to know what to do with the learning we have. Sad, incredible sad, and it will ultimately lead to our downfall.
Many people read the Bible regularly. Many others have at least some familiarity it. But the whole Bible, Old and New Testaments, only makes sense when seen from its central figure, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus only make sense when understood from who He is, the Son of God in human flesh. And God becoming incarnate in Jesus can only be understood by seeing the reason for which He came. We were separated from God by our sin, by our rebellion from His will. He had created us to be in fellowship with Him, but we had separated ourselves and there was nothing we could do to restore that fellowship. God had to do it by taking the just punishment we deserve into Himself, making atonement for our sins. That is what the cross is all about. So when we read the Bible the cross of Jesus Christ casts a long shadow over every page bringing it together as one book showing the depth of love God has for mankind to bring us back into fellowship with Himself.
I have been reading the Bible for many years. I must admit in its 1500 or so pages there are still parts I don’t understand. The Bible is not like other books that one can read, get the flow of the story line, and move on. Oh, the Bible has a story line, a very important one. It is the story of mankind from creation through the conclusion of earth’s history. One who reads the Bible should have an overall understanding of this “story line”. But there is so much more in these pages. It is a book written by God’s Spirit through human authors. It is “God breathed” (II Timothy 3:16) and therefore is given to help us understand who we are, who God is, God’s purpose for our creation, how we have put up all the stumbling blocks (sins) so evident in our world, and what God has done to redeem His creation. It is God’s hand in the midst of all life, and I really don’t understand how it all works. But then I don’t have to. I have His assurance that He loves all mankind deeply, and that He will not leave us until His good purpose is complete. I keep reading His Word. By His grace I do get to see a few new insight into our life together. And that is a great joy.
I am currently reading a novel set in the time of Israel’s return from captivity in Babylon after many years of living among the pagan religions. The central figure is a rabbi who has been leading them for a number of years. His biggest challenge is keeping them centered in God Word. He studies it constantly himself, teaches it to the young men, and shares it regularly in their worship gatherings. He knows that obedience to God is the only way to have God’s blessing and care upon the people. We, too, emphasize the necessity of reading and rereading the Scriptures, God’s holy word. It is not an ancient and meaningless book that has been superseded by our sciences and better understandings of life today. We cannot understand life apart from seeing it as God intended it to be in His Word. Like the Jewish rabbi it is to be our daily guide and strength.
I have always said that when you read the Bible don’t rush through it. Think about the action that is happening, the people involved, and what might be their motivations. In Mark chapter ten is an account of a young man who ran up to Jesus and knelt before Him. The man ran and knelt. Why? He asked a question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Later in the chapter a blind bagger couldn’t be silenced when he heard that Jesus was coming by. He cried out urgently for the Lord to have mercy on him. There is much more in both of these accounts, but the observation here is the urgency with which both men approached the Lord. Jesus was their hope. Jesus was the source of something deeper in life than they had ever found anywhere else. Our Lord is always extending that something deeper to us. It is a gift that He freely gives. You see, these little phrases in scripture can mean a great deal, inviting us to find true life in our Lord.
Picture sitting with a laptop computer in the lap, a two and a half year old grandchild on one side, and a year and a half old on the other side. I’m trying to find something while little hands want to push buttons on either side. Any attempt find something that might be fun for them to see becomes rather impossible with the constant “me do” on either side. It seems to me a good parable for our times. We have a Father who has give us the good will for our lives. That will leads to what is good for each of us. Yet in our self will we want to punch our own buttons. “We do”! We know better than God does. We choose whatever seems to make us happy for the time. But somehow the screen of life isn’t all that much fun in the long run. It really only leads to confusion. It’s past time that we let our Father show us the right buttons in His Holy Word.
Yesterday I remarked that the judges ruling in the court reminded me of Jesus’ words from the cross, “It is finished”. Jesus taught by using many parables, real life stories that pointed to greater truths of the Lord. Life really should not be about trying to grab a few useful fact and moving on. Sometimes those facts are needed, but even more we need to look around thoughtfully at the world we live in. God, the Holy Spirit, is constantly active in life revealing the good and the bad, what honors God and what does not, where people can share joy and where they hurt and are in need. That insight is not gained from a computer screen, but from meditating upon God’s Word, and observing the life surrounding us. God speaks in many ways constantly seeking to draw people closer to Himself.
Some people have felt that if you read the Bible through once you really don’t have to read it again. But the Bible is not like any other book. When one reads a novel, even a good novel, they know the story. They may read it a second time at a later date, but that is pretty much it. The Bible can’t be set aside that easily, even when one knows the basic story. We call it the Word of God, and for good reason. It is. God is speaking to us in many and varied ways. Further, it is a book that God, Himself, uses to speak to our hearts. The Holy Spirit uses various passages to speak to us at different time and in different needs. A passage that is read ten time will have a new and deeper meaning on the eleventh reading. The Bible is our food for life, and one can never exhaust is nourishment.