In college classes various books are assigned. It is not uncommon for a professor to expect a number of chapters to be digested in a day or two. We manage to do it. We put in the time it takes. We want to understand the material and get the grade in the class. We’ve all done it, even though we may be well past that routine. Our academic and even entertainment reading is good, but it also must be balanced with the Scripture. With everything else we have to do we sometimes find it hard to give time to God’s word. Besides, He isn’t standing over us like a college professor. Yet it is only Scripture that balances all else that we read. It is only Scripture that corrects the errors we read elsewhere. Books can be very helpful, but only one book is the guide for discerning truth and error in all the rest. Solomon had access to all that the world had to give, yet he found only one source of true wisdom. “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails-given by one Shepherd.”(Ecclesiastes 12:11) The words of our Lord are those “firmly embedded nails”.
Luke chapter two has the beautiful account of Jesus birth which we read each Christmas time. The same chapter goes on with His being blessed by Simeon and Anna while still an infant. Then the chapter ends with Jesus in the Temple at 12 years of age. Chapter three picks up with the ministry of John the Baptist and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. We are not told anything about Jesus life between ages 12 and 30. There are a number of early writings that tried to fill in those details, but they have all been considered false and not included in Scripture. All we are told is that Jesus went with His parents back to Nazareth and was obedient to them. And that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”(2:52) We would like to know something of Jesus’ early life, but the Bible is not written to satisfy our curiosity. Rather as St. John tells about what has been included, “these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.”(20:31) Having our curiosity satisfied may be interesting, but only God’s Word to our hearts gives life.
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.