Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sermon: Why I Believe the Bible

The Bible is under attack. This is nothing new - after all, Satan has always been attacking God’s word, right from the Garden of Eden: ‘Did God really say?’ However, it seems that the attack has been gaining strength and publicity over the past hundred and fifty years (with the growth of liberalism), and particularly in the past twenty years. Every so often, a new book comes out which ‘disproves’ the Bible, or ‘proves’ that it’s all lies, or claims that Jesus wasn’t how the Bible presents him.

Just this month, we’ve had the latest in this series - The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ - from Philip Pullman. In it, Jesus is just a good man, but there’s another figure, the Christ, who is separate, and does the miraculous signs - just myths and stories later attached to the good man Jesus.

The Bible is under attack. How can we trust God’s word when many don’t believe it? What can we say about it when friends express amazement that we come to church to read the Bible & hear it explained, or give up an evening to go to Bible study or spend time reading it each day?

Perhaps even some of us might express our doubts about the Bible - why do we spend time reading and thinking about it when we could be doing other things when we come together - just an hour of music, or just sitting in silence. Or we hear of some ministers who don’t use the Bible and just talk for a few minutes from Hello magazine or what they watched the night before on TV. Why is it that we believe the Bible, and depend on it?

The good news is that the apostle Peter was faced with a similar situation. Peter is nearing the end of his life as he writes this second letter, and the church appears to be in a dangerous position. False teachers are rising up within the churches, and denying what Peter has been teaching. They’re saying that Peter has been teaching myths and stories, but Peter responds clearly by setting out his message, before appealing to two groups of witnesses - the apostles and the prophets.

So what was Peter’s message? Let’s look at 2 Peter 1:16-21. Verse 16: ‘For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ The power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. When you hear that, you probably immediately think of Jesus’ first coming (which is helped by the reference to eyewitnesses later in the verse). That may be included, but actually, Peter’s concern here is with the message of the power and (second) coming of Jesus - the parousia. In speaking of the Lord Jesus, Peter’s message includes the return of Jesus, but this produces scorn - the false teachers claim it’s a cleverly devised myth.

Yet the emphasis on the second coming, the parousia is right through 2 Peter: chapter 1 focuses on God’s precious and very great promises (1:4) which help us to grow in the qualities of godliness which help us to make our calling and election sure (1:10), never falling, and being richly welcomed into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (1:11). Chapter 2 focuses on the false teachers, and their fate (destruction 2:1,3), with reminders of how God has dealt with the unrighteous in the Old Testament, keeping them for the day of judgement (2:9). Chapter 3 focuses on the return of Jesus, doubted and scoffed at, but sure, because God has promised it - Jesus who will judge the wicked and create the new heavens and the new earth.

So throughout 2 Peter, the focus is on the returning Lord as Saviour and Judge. The false teachers claim it is just a myth, but Peter clearly states that it is the truth. His message is the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to ‘prove’ it, he calls two witnesses.

Witness 1: Peter and the Apostles. The Lord Jesus will return in power because Peter and James and John have already seen a glimpse of Jesus’ glory. Notice in verses 16-18 how many times Peter uses the word ‘we.’ ‘but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory..., we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.’

Peter and James and John saw Jesus’ glory/majesty; they heard the voice declaring who Jesus was; because they were with him on the mountain. Remember, the apostles had been with Jesus for about two years by this stage - they had travelled with him, listened to him, watched what he did, but it comes a week after Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Only then can they get a glimpse of his glory, as he is transfigured on top of the mountain. His face and clothes shine, he unveils his glory briefly, before things are as they were and they return down the mountain. Having seen Jesus in all his glory once, Peter knows that Jesus will return in all his glory for all to see.

[While John doesn’t write about the Transfiguration in his gospel, do you remember what he says in chapter 1? ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen’ what? ‘his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14). It’s the same glory that John sees in Jesus at the start of Revelation: ‘his face was like the sun shining in full strength’ (Rev 1:16)]

But as well as seeing what he saw, he also heard what he heard - the voice of the Father declaring ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ As it is throughout the Bible, the event is accompanied by the explanation - God reveals what the transfiguration means, he gives it the meaning by declaring who Jesus is.

So as the apostles leave the witness stand, where are we? The message is reliable because it is eye witness testimony - isn’t that what Luke says at the beginning of his gospel? ‘Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account...’ why? ‘... that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.’ (Luke 1:1-4).

The Gospels are an eyewitness account of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the Epistles are the interpretation of the person and work of Jesus by his apostles, those authorised to explain their meaning. But Peter isn’t finished. Call the second witness:

Witness 2: The Prophets. ‘And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts...’

The word of the prophets has been made more certain (NIV) - we can depend on the Bible, because what was predicted centuries beforehand has happened. We’ve seen that over the past few weeks in our Christ in all the Scriptures series. We looked at some specific prophecies of the sufferings and glory of the Messiah, and saw how Jesus fulfilled every one of them. We could have chosen any number of other passages and found the same thing. In fact, although that series has finished, there’s a sense in which every Sunday we’re still doing ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’ because they’re all about him!

The prophets saw that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, would grow, would suffer, die a horrible death, and would rise again. There are over 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament fulfilled by Jesus - the word of the prophets is made more sure through their fulfillment - we can depend on what the prophets have said.

Why? How did they get it right, when they lived so long beforehand? Was it just that Jesus realised he had been born in Bethlehem and then set out to fulfill all the rest as well and become the Messiah that way? No! Was it that the prophets just made up stuff in their head - vague stuff that could be fulfilled in any number of ways (you know the way people try to interpret the stuff that Nostradamus said?)? No! We mentioned that there were over 300 prophecies - it’s too specific and detailed. Was it that (as one of our lecturers said) the prophets were just shrewd operators, like political commentators who can read the times and see how the superpowers are moving and try to influence the king? No!

Peter tells us how the prophets got it right, and why they can be depended upon: ‘knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation’ - oh, so where does prophecy come from? ‘For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

Men spoke, yes - the human agency is present, the character and personality and style of the prophet is present; but men spoke ‘from God’ - God is the author of Scripture, the revealer of mysteries, the one who could accurately predict the sufferings of the Christ. That’s what Peter also says in 1 Peter 1:10: ‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.’ Or as our passage puts it: ‘men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.’

As witness two leaves the stand, let’s summarise the evidence. The Bible is to be believed because it is the record of eye witness accounts of supernatural events in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, which were predicted beforehand as men spoke from God.

In fact, 2 Peter has been described as Peter’s 2 Timothy 3:16 - ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God...’ Now, just as Paul says that the God-breathed Scripture is useful for teaching etc, so Peter also applies what he is saying about Scripture, about the prophetic word: ‘the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’

The word of the prophets is described as a lamp shining in a dark place. This echo of Psalm 119 - your word is a lamp to my feet - reminds us of the light that we have in God’s word. You see, we don’t ever really experience darkness like the people in Bible times would have. Perhaps during a power cut, but even then there are the headlights of cars. Yet with no electric light, when the sun went down it was properly dark. It was dangerous to walk about, or to travel at night as you couldn’t see where you were or if there were dangers.

Similarly, we live in a dark world. How can we navigate our way home when the darkness of evil is so great? We need a lamp shining in a dark place - God’s word, the Scriptures - until the day dawns, when Jesus returns (another reminder of the importance of Jesus’ return!) and the morning star rises in our hearts.

How do we hold on and hang in there until the day comes and Jesus returns? ‘pay attention’ to the prophetic word, to the Scriptures. Is that how you would describe your Bible reading? ‘Paying attention’ - or is it a get through a set number of verses or chapters as quickly as possible to get on to the good stuff of the day? Paying attention, or is it scan the words and think, well I know what that says already.

Imagine you were to receive a letter from the Queen. It was her autobiography, and had sent a copy to you. Would you casually throw it aside, or would you honour it, read it carefully, pay attention to it? How much more the word of God, the God-breathed, eyewitness accounts of his Son, in which he fulfills the prophecies written centuries beforehand, spoken by men from God.

This sermon was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 11th April.

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