I try to read a portion of the New Testament and the Old Testament each morning. This morning’s readings both spoke of the opposition to God’s Word and will. The first was Paul on trial for preaching Jesus and the resurrection. The second was opposition against the Jews rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem after the exile. I’ve been writing this week about God’s will for us expressed in Holy Scripture. This also raises opposition. Our sinful nature hates to be told that we are wrong, that we are going in a wrong direction, that God, in fact, really does know better then we do how we should live. As I said on Monday we don’t believe God. But whenever we are willing to accept any of the truth God has given we find that there is a blessing in doing so. God is a gracious and forgiving Lord. That was the work of our Lord Jesus on Calvary. He is willing to restore all who turn to Him, but we must turn to Him, and not just expect Him to bless whatever we think is right.
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 It is not an ancient and meaningless book that has been superseded by our sciences and better understandings of life today.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.
There is a great outcry today against so called hate speech coming from various groups. There are demonstrations and protest on college campuses against certain invited speakers. A local college in our area had an outcry from students over a bulletin board the Republican Club put up with material they felt was offensive. Certainly there have been some terrible crimes that have happened because of deeply held hateful attitudes, like the murder of a young black Army lieutenant just a week before his college graduation. These acts must be condemned, and punished to the full extent of the law. But we are a nation founded on the principle of freedom, and especially that of speech, press, and assembly. We must be willing to listen to one another even if we don’t agree with what is said. An opposing view, especially to society’s currently held standard of diversity, is not in itself hate speech. Christians are committed to the truth of God’s Word, the Bible. We do speak in opposition to the accepted values of the LGBT community. But we do not, we must not, hate anyone. We are all sinful beings for whom our Lord Jesus died. Yet there are values and standards for life that our God has given for our best good. As believers in Christ, and in the truth of God’s Word, we must uphold these God-given values. By so doing we are not bigots. We are simply trying to speak the truth God has given for the good of all mankind. I would hope it is possible, at least is some areas, to listen to one another without having to shout and demonstrate.
What do you think of your Bible? A strange question perhaps, but think about it. We say the Bible is God’s holy word. Does that mean it is to be worshiped, put in a special place and honored? By no means. On the one hand your Bible is a material object like any other book. It is a possession you have to be used. And I encourage you to use it. Write in it. Underline places you find meaningful. Write notes in the margins. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”(4:12) The Bible is not like a novel to be read once and put on the shelf. It is, in fact, God speaking to you. It is a conversation between you and the good Lord who made you. It is a “living and active word” that speaks to your “soul and spirit”. So the material book itself is only an object like many others we have for daily use. It is the truth that is in it that keep us opening it day by day as the food that sustains our life.
The Prophet Amos spoke to the prosperous Northern Kingdom of Israel. He told them, “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.”(8:11) Our country has a large majority who say they are Christian. We have the largest percentage of people attending church each week of any country in the world. Yet, surveys of Biblical knowledge reveal pitiful results. Many say they honor a book of which they have virtually no knowledge. It is not sufficient to wave it in the air as a good luck charm. Within 40 years of Amos’ prophecy the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”(Matthew 4:4) People may have all the appearances of an active physical life, but without the recreating power of God’s Word they die. I would hope that some could begin to see the Bible as a book of grace, spoken by our Father in the deepest love, seeking the best for us all, and then long to know more of Him.
There has been a lot of debate about filling the Supreme Court seat of Judge Scalia. In one article a former White House counsel for President Obama remarked, “The Supreme Court has not reflected where the American people have been on issues. This is the first opportunity in many, many years to bring the court more in line with the American people.” But, naive me, I thought the Court was to reflect the Constitution, and not the current trends of society. Of course, that is the argument that has been going on for some time between those who believe the Constitution to be a living, changing document, and those who follow a strict interpretation. We do the same thing with the Bible. “Does that really apply today? We know so much more now than when that was written. We must change with the times.” It is the doing away with absolute values in favor of what satisfies our current needs and desires. This has always gotten mankind into trouble. There is a wisdom about life that was written into our Constitution to which we need to pay attention. And even more so the absolute values given in God’s Word, given for our good.
Many people have trouble taking the Bible to be God’s Word. They will point to some of God’s laws or His judgments on people in the Old Testament, or instructions for marriage and family order in the New, and say they can’t be from a good and loving God. But as soon as we start picking and choosing passages we like or don’t like we get ourselves in trouble. The Bible is one narrative, from Genesis through Revelation, of God working to redeem a fallen people and bring them into an abiding relationship with Himself. Even the parts we don’t like have a reason for being in that narrative. It is why we use the principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. Of course, there are many things we have difficulty in understanding, but that is not a reason to dismiss them. God, the Holy Spirit, progressively teaches us truths about our Lord, our life, and the purpose for which He created us. Our task is to continue reading and enjoying the new light He does bring to our hearts. It really is His Word.
Getting children to do something isn’t always easy. Parents will call them to come and they will continue to watch TV or stay at the game they are playing. A second, third, even fourth call will come, usually with increasing volume. God’s people are often like that.The “I wants” are always strong in us. Like children wanting to continue our game we ignore the voice of our Lord. This is stated numerous time in the Old Testament. Shortly before their captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem, God said through Jeremiah, “These wicked people, who refuse to listen to my words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts…”(13:10) Relating to God is not so much a matter of following some set of dos and don’ts, but listening to His voice. He has spoken to us clearly in both Testaments of Scripture. His words are that of a Father who has done all for our good. In listening to His word we learn to know Him, to want to be a part of Him, and to willing yield more of our “I wants” for His direction in life.
My daughter was once talking with someone about reading the Bible. They said, “Once you’ve read the Bible through what’s the point of reading it again. You already know what’s there.” They were treating the Bible like a common novel. Once you’ve got the general story, that’s it. Put it aside. I’ve been reading or hearing the Bible read for more than 70 years, and still find it a thrill. Within the last week a Jewish Christian pointed out a truth about the Old Testament that I had not seen before. It was like finding a new gold coin in a corner of the house. Our pastors, whose lives are spent in the Bible daily, get together annually for further lectures and discussions about God’s Word. That is the point. It is God’s Word, and God cannot be exhausted. Genesis tells us that God walked with man in the Garden before the rebellion. They talked together. Jesus walked for many hours with His disciples. They talked together. God has continually desired to share truths of His life with the people He created. That has not stopped down to this very day, in your very life. Stay in the Scriptures. It is a treasure to be mined.
In the last couple of days I’ve use illustrations of a church organ, a July 4th celebration, and a fireworks display. There are many parables in life. It is why Jesus told so many stories of very common things that the people knew well. The point is that many things in life point us to our relationship with the Lord. Paul wrote that what can be know of the Lord is clearly visible in the things He has made. God has revealed Himself in His holy word, and we share His presence in the blessed sacrament. His Spirit seeks to open our hearts to His life and nature in many things we encounter during our days. Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and it shall be opened to you, Jesus told the people on the mountain side. Let this be the desire of your days, and keep your eyes open. You will learn more of the truth He has for you.