A Sermon by Reader Ian Lawrie
Bible Sunday – 23 October 2016
Isaiah 45.22–25, Romans 15.1–6, Luke 4.16–24
Soon we shall be celebrating Christmas when we shall remember especially God’s gift to the world in His Son Jesus Christ. We are grateful for this and for all the other gifts which we receive. But perhaps we forget God’s other outstanding gift to us, the inspired Word of God; God’s Word given by God, and written down by man under God’s inspiration. In the Christmas readings we are caught up in the beauty of the first chapter of John’s gospel, ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ – The living Word – Jesus Christ. But perhaps we fail to attach to the Bible the full significance of the ‘Living Word of God’. So on this, Bible Sunday; let us think about this wonderful gift of God to us.
The world, is full of information of different sorts, so let me give you a thought to ponder. ‘Of all the books published in the world, the one which gathers most dust is the Bible!!’
There are more of Bibles for a start, but sad to say they are on average probably the least read. Now I will not embarrass you by asking you to raise your hand if you have actually read the Bible from cover to cover, rather than some selected passages. We do usually read the books we buy but somehow maybe the Bible gets left out. Perhaps we look on it as a reference book. Even then, gone are the days when ship’s captains would exchange signals with Bible references. And only a few newspaper crossword puzzles include clues based on Biblical characters. Anyway, such use can hardly be described as reading the Bible.
What keeps us from reading our Bibles? You might ask how such a collection of books can be a ‘Living Word’? You might wonder how a book written some 2000 years or more ago can have any relevance in this wonderful scientific and technical era: an era which 10 or 20 years ago people thought they had almost all the answers. Could it be that today, when neither scientist nor economist, nor politician is so confident about the way ahead, that we can find that the Bible really is relevant? Could it be that in a world so singularly lacking in leadership that there is really only one leader who can guide us at this time and He will do this through ‘His Word’ and by His Spirit?
Let us look for a moment at the contents of the Bible. Let us examine this book or collection of books and determine what it is and what it is not. Starting with the ‘NOTs’.
It is not a history book; though its accuracy of historical detail has been proved again and again and continues to be proved by archaeological discovery and from other non-Biblical sources.
It is not a book on military tactics; yet a British major, Vivien Gilbert, in the First World War, who found himself stationed near Michmash in the hill country north of Jerusalem recalled that he had seen the place mentioned in his Bible. Turning to 1 Samuel chapters 13 & 14, he read of how King Saul’s son, Jonathan passed between two sharp crags, entered the Philistine camp and overpowered the garrison in a night attack. He located the rocks and using exactly the same tactics as Saul & Jonathan, repeated the victory in defeating a force of Turks.
It is not a book on geology yet its descriptions of various mineral deposits, including oil, have proved invaluable to the Israel of today. Just in case you think I am confusing the type of oil, the Bible refers to is pitch which is a very thick crude oil. Where did Noah get his pitch for his ark? Where did Moses’mother get her pitch for the basket? And even more explicitly Isaiah 34.9 talks of streams of pitch in Edam, which is just north of the Sinai desert. You may possibly recall that oil, not far from there, was the cause of a significant land dispute between Israel and Egypt.
It is not a book on agriculture yet modern Israelis coming to a desolate land years ago could in less than 25 years restore a ravaged land through studying the agricultural pattern of their ancestors as recorded in the OT. Of course, as you might expect, some of them did their own thing, and did not do so well! Those who planted orchards where it said orchards, pomegranates where it said pomegranates, vines where it said vines, prospered, just as did their forefathers.
It is not a book on medicine; yet if more notice had been taken of the standards of hygiene set out in the book of Leviticus, tens of thousands of people would not have died under the surgeon’s knife or afterwards from gangrene; and tens of thousands would not have died in childbirth up to well into the 20th century.
It is not a book on psychology: yet modern group therapy has only recently realized the significance of ‘Confessing your sins to one another’. Unfortunately, it leaves out an essential element. Forgiveness of sins can only come through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Therapists do not like that part of the book so they leave it out and in consequence the patient suffers.
You may be surprised to learn that scientists at a National Centre for Atmospheric Research have concluded in a study, that the children of Israel could indeed have crossed, on dry land, the Reed Sea which is near the Red Sea, just as we can read in Exodus. So what really is the Bible? It does seem to be pretty useful in the things, it is not meant to be. Clearly, even some of the older parts of the OT of the Bible are more up to date than we imagined. The Bible is even more useful in the things that it is meant to be.
First and foremost the Bible is God’s primary means of speaking to his people. Romans15.4 tells us ‘For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.’ In 2 Timothy 3.16-17 we read ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that we may be complete, equipped for every good work.’ The Bible is God’s means of revealing His will and His purpose for us His children. It is God’s means of telling of His love and of His salvation through Christ Jesus in His sacrifice on the cross. It is God’s means of telling us of the glorious resurrection and ascension of His Son, and of our heritage with Him. It is God’s way of revealing to us our mission as the body of Christ in this world, and the power and authority He gives to His people through the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is a book of relationships; God’s relationship with us, and our relationship with one another. And in a world in which man’s relationship with man is a mess, let alone man’s relationship with God, the Bible is highly relevant today, in the home, in the office and in all the affairs of man.
We can see in Abraham a pattern for obedience and faith as he left the highly comfortable and civilized city of Ur to travel through life to another land guided by a God who was always faithful to his promises.
We can see in David a man after God’s heart. A man, who in spite of his awful sins turned again and again to his Lord in dependence on His loving mercy and forgiveness: and we can see in Saul, a man who, in spite of his calling to be king, rebelled against God in his heart, and paid the price for his rebellion.
In Elijah we see a man of faith who could stand alone in God’s strength, before King Ahab and 450 prophets of Baal, and call down fire from heaven. A man, who knew the might of God, and yet who fled in fear from the hand of Queen Jezebel a little while later.
In Isaiah we can see a man whose prophetic vision of Christ still leaves one speechless when one hears it as part of the Christmas story and realizes that that it must date at least 200 years before Christ and many would date it much earlier.
Even before we reach the New Testament, we can see what God can do in man and how He can guide and direct His people. Sad to say, we can also read of the consequences of man’s rebellion against God’s ways and man’s determination to do his own thing.
From Genesis to Malachi the Old Testament points to the one redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ: the one saviour who alone can lead God’s people to freedom: the one who alone has paid the price for the sin of mankind.
The New Testament unfolds the life, the teaching, the miracles and the salvation through Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. There too, stands revealed the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church; a church full of zeal for the Lord; a church filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. And just as Christ is a pattern for us to follow individually; so, Christ’s body, the church, is a pattern for us to follow corporately.
The early churches had their failings and disagreements, just as we today have ours. And in their difficulties, they were guided and exhorted by the apostles, those sent out by the church throughout the known world. And they listened because they sought to follow in the apostles’ teaching, just as we are called to do. They sought to be a holy catholic (universal) and apostolic church. A body of people set apart for God, showing forth the message of salvation to the world, irrespective of colour or race, according to the apostles’ teaching. And we, some 2000 years later have that same teaching of the apostles set down for us in the NT.
So when we take up our Bible to find out the will of our heavenly Father, when we seek to draw closer to His Son Jesus Christ, or when we desire even more the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives; remember that we take a book written by men, translated by men but inspired throughout by the Holy Spirit. And remember too that whether you take up the Authorised version, or the Revised Standard, or the New International Version or whatever translation we read, that same God, who revealed Himself to men of old; that same God who sent Jesus into the world; that same God who inspired men by the power of his Holy Spirit will give us understanding, will open our eyes if we ask Him to do so. For God will indeed, by the power of His Spirit, reveal to us the Living Word of God. He will reveal to us that Word that is for us the Way, the Truth and the Life. So enjoy reading God’s Word for He desires to speak to each one of us.
Now to Almighty God, Father Son & Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due, all power, might, majesty, dominion & power, now & for evermore. Amen