40. Can I Trust the Bible?

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 40. Q.2. Can I trust the Bible?

1 Tim 3:16,17   All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Continuation:  In the previous study, at one point I used the words, ‘We can read the Bible, study it in depth, find out all about its origins etc., and become completely assured as to it veracity, its authenticity and accuracy.”  One might have thought that such an exercise should, after all these years of so much scholarship and so many books written in this subject, be unnecessary, that there should be do doubts, no uncertainties about these things.

Concerns: But the reality is that a new generation comes along that displays serious concerns (my concerns about them, not their concerns!) that have been having a negative effect in recent years on parts of the Christian community, invoking uncertainties. My concerns are:

  1. Inadequate Historical Reading: These people clearly have not read the incredible writings of such people as Josh McDowell (yes, even the updated version ‘The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict’ was right back in 1999! but still stands as a monument to apologetics), have not bothered to investigate the wealth of knowledge and scholarship that goes to being assured about the origins of the Bible.
  2. Inadequate Apologetics Reading: There is also obviously an absence of reading of such great writers as Norman Geisler and many other scholars who seek to make sense of the Bible and come up with legitimate answers.
  3. Inadequate Bible Reading: The Liberal critics who appear to be having a voice in parts of the church today (haven’t they always been there in the background) demonstrate two worrying characteristics: first, their knowledge of what the Bible says as a whole, seems very limited and, second, they appear to come from a materialistic stance of unbelief that question the very basics of belief in the divinely supernatural (no miracles, no prophecy etc.).

From these inadequacies, unbelief spreads but it demonstrates two things: first an absence of knowledge in such semi-believers and, when it is accepted by the Christian community, second, a poverty of teaching in many churches to equip believers so they know a) what the Bible is, b) it’s origins, and c) why is can be trusted for accuracy and authenticity.

But??? But, you may be saying, you have not been giving me helps to trust the Bible. Well, actually, indirectly, yes I have. I have put before you suggestions of approach, scholars to search out, books to read that will give you understanding of why you can trust the origins of the Bible, trust the historical content of the Bible and its general accuracy. Beyond that – and those previous things are massive areas of study which, if you aren’t a great reader, you will have to trust me about, and maybe ask your pastor, minister, leader, to teach on – the biggest issue is will YOU become a Bible scholar? All I mean by that is will you (and any questioner you find yourself with) take the trouble to read the Bible? I recently heard of one local young woman who read the entire Bible in the 40 days of Lent and is now going to reread it in the chronological order (not the book order) that things happened. There is someone of credibility!

In approaching understanding the Bible may I suggest you need to set yourself a curriculum of study: a) catch the ‘big picture’ of what the Bible is all about – see my series ‘Big Picture Studies’,  b) focus on Jesus in the Gospels – read a Gospel a week, c) catch something of the historical narrative of the Old Testament – my series ‘Struggles of Israel’ does something of this.

That is just a start to catch something of the overall content of the Bible. I have been reading and studying and writing on the Bible for approaching forty years. You can trust it and the more you read it the more assured you will be about it, and about your faith.

It’s claims: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. God breathed? “given to us by inspiration from God” (the Living Bible paraphrase version). That is the ultimate summary of what the Bible is.

The Problems: But it is sixty-six books, can that apply to them all? Yes, why not? That doesn’t mean that every book is full of truth. Job, one of the most difficult to read, comprises largely of conversations between Job and his three ‘friends’. The only trouble is, they don’t always speak truth. Oops! Then there is Ecclesiastes, the best read for modern cynics because it shows the hopelessness of life without God, the testimony of a jaded Solomon late in his life when he has allowed himself, after a life of mega-success, to be seduced away from a relationship with God and now feels helpless. Yes, see the truth it conveys. Then there are records of bad people. That is not the Bible justifying them, but simply revealing them for that they are.

Then there are multiple viewpoints that I so often liken to a variety of reporters at a car or train crash, each reporting from their viewpoint. Oh yes, God inspired each of these ‘reporters’ to write what they saw from their perspective and that ends up creating an amazing ‘painting by numbers’ end work that is brilliant!  So yes, there is a human element, a human dimension, in it all but that just adds to the beauty of what is there –  or at least it does when you read it!

Attitude: Possibly there is no book like the Bible that reveals the sort of people, the sort of heart we may have.  If you come with a critical, jaded, distorted perspective of life, as can be seen in some well known atheists, you will read and walk away still criticising because you just couldn’t see it. However, if you approach it with the heart of a learner, a seeker, you will indeed find a book that thrills you with its wonder, its truths and so much more. Yes, sometimes those truths are uncomfortable. I have often written about how the nation of Israel shows up the sinfulness and stupidity of mankind. It is not that their history is unique (although it is)  but it is they just show us what we’re all like. They are given amazing revelations of God, His words, and His will, which initially they receive joyfully, but as time passes they drift away from God into superstitious folly that brings self-destruction – just like us. It’s all a matter of attitude.

On one hand there is the need to use your mind, but on the other there is the need to be childlike in having a simple, straight-forward approach to this unique book.  I am sorry if this ‘study’ was not what you expected, because I did not take you though detailed studies, but I have:

  • directed you to the resources,
  • challenged you to check your heart and your attitude, and
  • challenged you to set a life-long goal of reading the Bible

and IF you will do these things, you will not regret it and find that you have been “completely assured as to it veracity, its authenticity and accuracy.”   Moreover, you will have been fed and nourished and will find that you look at the world in a new way, where so many of its uncertainties are put into perspective and are removed as worries. Enjoy!

38. An Outflow

Short Meditations in John 7:  38.  An Outflow

Jn 7:38  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

It’s hot, it’s the middle of the ceremonies of the last day of the Feast and the priest has just poured out the water that reminds them of the provision of God in the Exodus, and Jesus snatches the focus away from the priest by crying out “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”

There would be a pause and perhaps a moment of silence before chattering and then Jesus continues with these words above. As we said yesterday, some might have wondered was Jesus a water carrier, had he skins full of water with him – but no, he stands there uncluttered. They look and they wonder. What did he say? The Scriptures?

The unknowing look confused, the knowledgeable run their minds through the Scrolls they know.  “The words of the mouth are deep waters,  but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.” (Prov 18:4) That doesn’t seem to fit. How about the river flowing out of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision? (Ezek 47) There are the streams of water in Psa 1:3, there is the deer panting for streams of water analogy in Psa 42:1 and then there is, There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Psa 46:1) and there is the Exodus reference in psalms, “he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers.” (Psa 78:16,20). There is Isaiah’s promise (?of the end time) streams of water will flow on every high mountain and every lofty hill.” (Isa 30:25) and “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.” (Isa 35:6) and “I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isa 43:19) and so it goes on and on.

Yet none of them exactly fit what Jesus is saying.  The Old Testament was full of these many references to God’s provision of water, of streams (plenty of water!) but now Jesus is declaring something completely new. These streams of God’s abundant provision will come FROM WITHIN YOU! How can that be? Is this for special people? Who  does this apply to?

Whoever believes in me.  Whoever? Anyone? Any believer? You just have to believe and you’ll have this abundant supply from God? Believe what? Believe in Jesus, that he is who he said he was and is – the Son of God come to save the world. And the fruit of his work? I can have this abundant supply of God, this supply of life, flowing up from within me, not just a sip but a stream! Wow! Hallelujah!

3. Challenged by Scripture

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 1 – Falling Short?

3. Challenged by Scripture

Matt 16:18   I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Acts 9:31  Then the church … enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

A Brief Pause: We are considering the need to look afresh at what constitutes this thing we call the Christian Church, looking hopefully with humility and grace, while facing the instances of the Church falling short of what it should be, but seeing these as goals to be dealt with, not causes of guilt, failure and discouragement. A concern for people and a desire to encourage love for one another, is also another motivating force in our quest to review modern church life. But there yet are other things that press us on as we consider the need to go down this path. The first of them is the way we approach Scripture and the challenges it brings us.

Refocus: Previously I shared about some people I know who have had a less than wonderful experience of church. Those were all negatives, but you may not have had such experiences and think your church life is something quite different, something good. (If that is so, I am pleased for you.)

I did wonder about painting some big brush-stroke pictures of churches that I have experienced and may be the sort you attend. The danger of doing this is that I could appear destructively critical and that’s not my intention.  Anything I write, is with the intention of getting us to look at what we are doing and ask the question, “Is there something better than this that the Lord wants for us?” Now the problem is that until we work our way through the teaching about the Church in the New Testament, we may think we are all right, and any comments that I may make at this point in these word-pictures will really need the support of the content that will follow in the rest of this series, so be patient with me please.

Open to the Bible? But this talk about the New Testament teaching raises an important assumption here. First, I believe what the Bible says – all of it – and so I do not believe we can shrug off particular verses because we either do not understand them or they scare us. Let’s check ourselves with a few New Testament quotes.

For example: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Heb 12). Take it at its face value and it means that the Jesus who ministered on earth for three years, is the same Son of God who continues to minister on earth today, through his body, the church, as we’ll see later. And when Jesus said, “Anyone who believes in me will do the works I do,” (Jn 14:12) what does it mean but that we, the Church are to be doing exactly what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels, and if we are not, there is a goal to go for.   Now these may be foreign verses for some and if they are, may I invite you to hang around and see how they can possibly be worked out, rather than run away to something more comfortable.

More Wonderings: I am provoked to ponder on these things whenever I pick up my Bible, especially the New Testament, it seems. Acts 9:31, for example, speaks about the way the very early church started to grow. I was struck by the description of it: “Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit…..”   Trying to be honest, I wonder how many churches that I know (and even more I know nothing of) could say that this is a reasonable description of them, that they are “living in the fear of the Lord”.  Where is this holy respect for the Lord of glory, a respect for a God who shuts churches down (Rev 2 & 3) and even takes His children home to glory prematurely (see 1 Cor 11:30)? Do we even believe in a God who does this? And how many of us, I wonder, could say that, as a church, we know what it means to be “encouraged by the Holy Spirit”? Just wonderings. What picture of ‘church’ does the New Testament convey? Is there something more for which we should be aiming? I believe it is there to be seen in the pages of the New Testament.

Now if you thought you passed the tests of belief in what you read in the paragraphs above, how, for example, did you react to my references in the paragraph above to Rev 2 & 3 and 1 Cor 11? I said nothing there that those passages don’t imply or say specifically.

Preparing the way of the Lord: To prepare ourselves for the days ahead, may we give thanks for all the good things we know of our local churches but pray and ask the Lord, is there something more He wants us to become, to more fully express Him to the watching world. If we can face the truth, we must acknowledge that mostly the number of believers in the West has been declining over the past twenty or more years and our influence on our societies have been negligible. If that wasn’t true, our societies would not have been declining spiritually and morally in that time in the way that they have. But peering into the future also means we face the challenge that the Bible teaches that one day Jesus is going to return in power. What will he find when he returns?

The Coming of the Lord?  Put most simply we have two options. First, we can sit back and just watch the continuing decline and continuing growing dissatisfaction within the church and wait for the Lord to come either in revival (of which there are some signs around the world) or in the Second Coming (and I do believe that event is possibly rapidly approaching). Second, we can ask the Lord to teach us to come in line with His word and be available to His Spirit, so that the Bride will be much better dressed when the Bridegroom returns (see Rev 19:7,8).  Jesus once asked a very simple and short question which I find echoes around in my mind: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) Something to ponder on, and we’ll look at what that means at a later date.

Back to the Beginning:  So Jesus said, I will build my church.” I keep finding I come back here. What sort of Church does Jesus want, what is he working towards. I recently came across some notes from the past that I had when, over a decade ago, I asked our church to each paint a vision of the church they felt Jesus wanted. Here, to conclude, is part (and only part) of one of those ‘visions’ to whet your appetite.  See how it grabs you, just some of the possibilities:

  • “It would be a place where learning was normal, new believers shown the way, introduced to the Bible, prayer, fellowship, worship and witness, and introduced to the life in the Spirit, introduced to gifts and abilities in the kingdom of God, released, and equipped to find their place in the body that expresses the kingdom of God.
  • It would be a secure place where healing from the past can be received and enabling given to face the challenges of the present. It would be a place where each person knows they are loved, supported, encouraged and empowered to become the person God has designed them to be, individually and within the body. It would be a place where practical and financial needs are shared and met together, and life changes brought about.
  • It would be a place where outsiders are welcomed in and shown the reality of the love of God in word and deed, and the possibility of a new life, forgiven, cleansed, and set on a new path, a life where the power and the personal word of God was shared, received and used to bring change of life. It would, in other words, be a city on a hill whose light shines forth to transform the community.”

Just possibilities. These were, as I said, just some of the things put forward. What would you like to add to a picture of what the Church could be like? Make your own list, and then pray for those things to come perhaps.

5. Long-term Plan

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  5. God’s Long-Term Plan

1 Pet 1:18-20   you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.

Every now and then as I am reading the Bible a word or phrase stops me in my tracks. Reading the other day, in the verses above, it was that phrase, “chosen before the foundation of the world.” I marvel every time I come across this idea, that God’s plan of salvation was not something dreamt up along the way when mankind seemed to be going off track, but was something He worked out BEFORE He made anything. But it is not just one odd verse, it comes up again and again:

Jn 17:24  you loved me before the creation of the world – Jesus with Father in loving relationship.

Eph 1:4   For he chose us in him before the creation of the world – agreed how we would come, who would come

Rev 17:8  The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world – saw who would not come

Rev 13:8  the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world  – agreed Jesus would die

2 Tim 1:9  This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time – agreed God’s grace would be given us

Tit 1:2  eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time – agreed he would give us eternal life

There it is; including our verse above, seven times in the New Testament, references to the fact that the Godhead planned this before anything about Creation happened. But the more you think about this the more amazing it becomes. God planned for Jesus to come as a sacrifice. This means that God knew that we would fall and that sin would enter the world.  And still He went ahead and created this world as we know it. He made us in His image and yet He knew from the outset that we would turn our backs on Him.

Now in a previous series of these meditations I have pondered on the will of God and one thing we do know about it is that it is perfect. In other words you cannot improve upon it. So although God did not invent sin, He knew that it would soon exist in any human being He made with free will. Sin is simply self-centred godlessness, and He knew that if He gave us free will, we would be free to turn away from Him, become self-centred and godless and therefore our thinking, speech, and behaviour would become unrighteous (deviating from Gods perfect design for us).

Now there is something else about the Lord that appears in Scripture: He appears to know everything before it happens and yet He also seems to live in the present. He knows long term history before it happens yet when sin starts to abound on the earth He is grieved. Perhaps an answer to this quandary comes from the thinking of C.S.Lewis who imagined history as a line like a road down below with God looking down on it from about, outside of time. Thus from above He can see the whole scope of material time-space history and knows everything that is coming and everything that has been. But the truth is that He is God and the Bible shows us Him interacting with His world and so He is not only above it looking down on it but He is also ‘down here’ being part of it, and in that sense He experiences it ‘as it happens’.

Thus (because He is God) He both knows it all AND experiences it in a moment by moment experience. Thus one part of ‘Him’ knew that the Cross of Calvary would have to happen at a given point of history but the other part of Him (that lives in the here and now)  experiences it as the here and now. Thus for Jesus the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, he came down from heaven (see John’s Gospel, chapter 6) and knew in his mind what would have to come when he reached the age of (about) thirty or thirty three, but the actual experience of it was a real to him as it would have been to you or me.

Was the crowning work of salvation the fact that God comes and dwells in all believers, and is able to do that because of the work of the Cross, and thus is able to share intimately with us as we experience the day by day living out of the time-space experience? Perhaps that was stage one, stage two being us going to be with Him in eternity (heaven) and be one with Him there.

Yet the marvel of all of this is that the Lord didn’t merely plan it as an academic exercise before He uttered a creative word, but planned a material history in which He would come and express Himself and live out and share in the experiences of each of us. That is what love does; it wants to become united with the object of love. It an only be that love that energises the Godhead to share in and experience our lives which are always (even after conversion) so far short of perfection. But He is here, sharing with us in our trials and tribulations and our struggles and strivings to help and bless us, for that is what love does. How incredible! Hallelujah!

11. Spin a Coin

Meditations in Acts  : 11 :  Spin a Coin

Acts 1:24-26 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Perhaps we don’t get the significance of these verses until we line them up with say what happened in the church at Damascus a few years on: “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2,3) Do you see the difference?

In today’s verses we have prayer plus spinning a coin (well that would almost be the modern equivalent, although of course we do still draw lots). I mean, to be fair to them, this does seem similar to the practice of the Urim & Thummin of the Old Testament period but that is still very different from what we find in the church period, which is after Pentecost. Spinning a coin, drawing cards or whatever other method you use is very impersonal and requires no direct contact with God. It almost forces God to act in its thinking, i.e. we are going to do this so God will you add your bit to this by determining which named card will come up.

This is where this between Christ and the Spirit-interim-period that the disciples are in at the moment, is so different from pre-ascension and post-Pentecost. With Christ they could talk directly to him and get their guidance. Once the Spirit came, they had another Counsellor who could speak to them directly.

Please note that they had what we call the Old Testament Scriptures and indeed they made reference to them (and the Gospels are full of such references) but they could only be used for general guidance. It still needed the Holy Spirit to impress on them the significance of the particular Scripture but that wasn’t so good as the Spirit imparting a prophetic word that directly applied to a specific situation and made clear the intent of God for them. This is the difference between being in the period of the Spirit (post-Pentecost) or before it.

We really do need to emphasise this difference because it is crucial in modern church life. It is the difference between relying upon the written word (in this case in the Old Testament only) or on the word plus the Spirit. It should never be one or the other but always, both!  Now the danger here is that some of us who are Christians may feel defensive here and shout, “Sola Scripture,” the word alone, which tends to be our cry when we seek to oppose beliefs in part of the Church that relies upon Tradition plus Scripture, when appealing to matters of authority.

Now we must be quite clear that Scripture IS our ultimate authority and anything that goes contrary to it must be considered error – whether it be preaching or prophecy or words individually received. Anything that leads us to think or live lives that are contrary to the teaching of Scripture is error and is to be rejected.

However, we have only got to study the pages of the Acts of the Apostles to realise that the guidance and direction of the Spirit is essential for some specific guidance situations.  First of all, in simple power or boldness cases, in the new era, it is the Spirit who empowers and directs God’s servants, e.g. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them….” (Acts 4:8)  Later on when they prayed, they used the Scriptures as the basis for their praying (see Acts 4:25,26) but it was when the Spirit came on them that they spoke boldly (4:31). So much for empowering, how about guidance?

It was an angel that directed Philip to leave his evangelistic campaign and go south (8:26) and then the Spirit who directed him to the Ethiopian (8:29).  It was in a vision that the Lord directed Ananias to go to Saul (Acts 9:10). Similarly it was in a vision that Peter was prepared to meet Gentiles (Acts 10:10-) and it was the Spirit who prompted him to go to speak to them (10:19).  It was by the Spirit that Agabus prophesied and warned of a coming famine (Acts 10:29). It was the Spirit that directed the church at Antioch to send out missionaries (Acts13:2). It was the Spirit who directed Paul where not to go (Acts 16:6,7).

Thus we see from these many examples, that the life of the church and its guidance should be a flow of the Spirit. This in no way denigrates the Scriptures, but simply means that we are living in a period of grace where the Spirit has been imparted to every believer and as such, we now have a means of communicating with God where, if we are living in harmony with Him, and are being obedient to Him, God will direct us personally and directly. This is, I believe, THE challenge for the church today. Will we be a church of the Word AND the Spirit?

17. Word of the Lord

Meditations in 1 Peter : 17 :  The word of the Lord

1 Pet 1:24,25   For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

As I have studied Scripture over the years, one of the secondary benefits of it, I have come to see, is that I have learned to appreciate words, For example these two verses above start out with that simple word, “For. But then I notice that the previous verse also started out with the same word: For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (v.23). “For” is a link word that ties together sentences or verses. This particular little string started in verse 22 which concluded with: “love one another deeply, from the heart.”

So the meaning becomes, “love one another (v.22) because you have been born again by God’s word (v.23) and because God’s word is always the same and so applies just as much today as when He first spoke it. (v.24)” There you are, we’ve given away the meaning without looking at it deeply, so we’d better go back and examine it and see why we have concluded that.

The end result (loving one another) comes about because we are new creations, who have been born again, and we’ve been born again because of the impact of God’s word, applied to us by the Holy Spirit. In this Peter described God’s word as “living and enduring.” It is alive and it remains or goes on. When God speaks a word, it always has impact. The world came into being by God’s word. He spoke and things happened. When God spoke prophetically in the Old Testament the word was ALWAYS fulfilled. There was often a fulfilment in the immediate future, but often the fulfilment was centuries later. God never wastes words, He never speaks meaningless words. Often we may not understand what He says or we may misinterpret what He says, but when He speaks of future events they will always come about.

To emphasise this Peter quotes Scripture. He does this a number of times in this letter. Bearing in mind that originally he had been a simple fisherman, this suggests that he probably had the traditional Jewish upbringing with learning at the local synagogue. If not, he has certainly learnt something along the way in life. His master had justified all that had happened by use of the Scriptures (e.g. Luke 24:25-27) and so he had come to understand the foundational purposes of the Old Testament.

So we find him now quoting Isaiah 40 verses 6 to 8. It is a word that contrasts human beings with God’s word.  Human beings are frail and last only for a time on this earth: All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.” That is the clear message of these words. We are compared to the grass or to the flowers in a field. There one minute, but gone the next. That is the way of human life. We look into the possible future and think eighty years or so is such a long time – we’ve got all the time in the world, we think – or we look back over a ‘long’ life and think how much has happened, but in comparison with eternity it is less than a drop in the ocean. The older you get the more you tend to find timing rushing by. Where did that year go, we exclaim?  Or maybe we find ourselves declaring, “How fast the children have grown up!” This is nearer the truth. Time seems to fly by and suddenly we are counting days that must be left to us. The grass is withering and the petals on the flower are falling. That is what human life is like. But God’s word is completely different.

Human words are spoken – and forgotten! Human words can create or destroy but they are so limited and so easily forgotten, but when God speaks His words are embedded in the very existence of life and reality, and will remain there for the rest of time.  When God speaks His words become part of the world and they will remain there as a living reality, becoming part of the energising force of life, waiting for their time of fulfilment and even perhaps becoming part of the energising that brings about the fulfilment, and once fulfilment has occurred, they remain there as a testimony to the One who planned it and brought it about. The words change from their energising power to create or bring about the fulfilment, to words that confirm, ratify and testify to the fulfilment.

So, when God speaks about His coming Son and all that he will achieve through his work on the Cross – that WILL come about and the fulfilment will be an ongoing thing so that when the Gospel is spoken in the first century it brought forth a fruit – the fruit of salvation of many, and when it is spoken in the twenty first century it STILL brings forth fruit – the fruit of salvation of many. It was originally declared by God before the foundation of the world and was then spoken by Him again and again through His prophets in the Old Testament period, and then His apostles in the New Testament period, and then His saints through the Church period. Thus it remains and continues and continues to have effect – the salvation of souls. How wonderful!

26. Has God said?

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.26

26. So what has God said?

Matt 2:3-6 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

In gender banter and gender jokes, there often crops up the assertion that men get lost going places because they won’t stop to ask the way!  If there is truth in this, is it because men don’t like to appear not to be in control “as men are supposed to be”?  Flat pack constructions from DIY superstores are also a good illustration of this.  How many men work on the dictum, “Put it together and only turn to the instructions when it gets difficult”?  Perhaps this is unfair, but it is certainly true for many people.  When it comes to spiritual matters it is no less true.  How many of us just plough on through life, determining to get it right on our own so, “You don’t need tell me what to do!”?

These wise men from the East act as a good antidote to this way of thinking.   Here they are; wise men who have travelled a long way, probably with a big entourage, and certainly bringing expensive gifts (as we’ll see later).  If they’ve come this far, you’d think they could manage it to the end.  But the last steps are sometimes the most difficult.   They’re looking for a king so they come to the capital city and enquire.  When the existing king, Herod the Great, heard this he became concerned.  Being a king in those days was always an uncertain thing, especially if you were insecure to start with, and there were often palace coups.  A new king has been born?  Where?  He calls for the people who should have the answers – the religious leaders.  They know about prophecy and the like; they should be able to help.  Well yes, they say, if this is the Messiah, the holy scriptures indicate he will be born in Bethlehem. That’s what the prophecies we’ve studied all our lives tell us.

Do you notice the staggering difference between that land and our own in the twenty first century?  If wise men turned up today on such a quest, if it could gain credibility, and the royal family were sought, who would they turn to?  To the government?  To scientists?   The general lack of credibility of the established church suggests that the church would be the last to be consulted.  And if they were?  How many of our church leaders would be able to say, “Well the Bible says….” with any authority?  The established church is not known for holding onto the Bible as ultimate authority, ultimate truth!

But before we are too hard on others, what can we say about ourselves?  The people Herod referred to were able to say, “Well God has said…” and quoted Scripture.  This takes us right back to the very first meditation when we considered the integrity of Luke’s writing in particular, when we suggested that this was all very carefully researched, and that applies to Matthew’s writing as well.  We can come to a large measure of understanding and trust in the Bible through research, but at the end of the day, we have our greatest assurance about it after we have come into a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  Have you that relationship?  Have you come to that place of assurance with Him when you read His word, that this is alive, this is true, this is trustworthy, this is what it describes of itself, this is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Tim 3:16)?  It is here that you find your security in God, more and more as you read it more and more.  May it be so!

24. Rising or Falling

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.24

24. Are you Rising or Falling?

Luke 2:33-35 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel , and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Some people look at Scripture and say, “Oh, it’s difficult to understand” and so shut the book, and so reveal the weak state of their heart. Seekers turn to God and say, Lord Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law(Psa 119:18). They recognize that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16 ) and so seek the giver of it for understanding.

What do you think the falling and rising of many in Israel means in our verses above? It is a description of the effect this child is going to have. In the verse before, that we have not read, Simeon had prophesied, that Jesus was a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel (v.32) or as the Message version puts it, A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations, and of glory for your people Israel.” This baby, says Simeon under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, will reveal God to the world and bring the glory of God back to this nation of Israel.

Now you might think that was good news but you might have forgotten an aside we made in Meditation 22: “The teachers had differing views of the sort of person this One would be. Some said a conquering king, other said a suffering servant, because the prophetic scriptures seemed to indicate both, and they couldn’t see how he could be both, so they opted for one or the other.”  In other words people in Israel had differing but specific views of the Coming One and, as you’ll see if you read the Gospels, some people looked at Jesus and didn’t think he conformed to their expectations of him. He may have been a sign from God, but in the case of many he was a sign that will be spoken against. Jesus probably revealed the hearts of people, by their responses to him, more than any other person who has ever walked the earth.

There would thus be two main responses to Jesus. First there would be the oppressed and unloved who were accepted by Jesus and who found themselves being lifted up – the rising of many. But there would also be many who thought a lot of themselves and who thought Jesus didn’t match their expectations and these persons fell before God. They were revealed for what they truly were – less than the great people they thought they were.

How have you been responding to these meditations? How did you come to them? Did you come feeling in need of God, have you found the wonder of all the elements of the Christmas story warming and comforting; have you been lifted up? Or have you come feeling strong and self-confident and have you felt affronted by the talk of your needs? Have you felt you were being pulled down, and so felt defensive?

You see, it is just a Simeon said it was. The truth about Jesus reveals our hearts. The way we come to the Christmas story and the way we respond to it, reveals the state of our heart. Those who come seeking, find – and are lifted. Those who come self-confident and critical, go away despondent and still critical and are pulled down in their estimation – they fall. How has your heart been revealed? We pray that you will be lifted and blessed as you realize who you are, one who is inadequate but much loved by God. May it be so!

Many Gospel Writers

      Lk 1:1   Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us  
    
One of the ideas behind writing meditations is that we can explore more deeply some of the thoughts that come out in the verses before us. I suspect that this first verse of Luke is one that normally gets swallowed up in the first four-verse introduction. It bears looking at on its own!
   
  
The whole subject of the inspiration of Scripture is fascinating. Paul was to write, “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16 ), but how did it come about. It is quite clear from the different Gospels that the four different writers brought their own understanding to bear on what they included, but exactly how much God nudged or pressed them to write will be a mystery this side of heaven. Matthew clearly wrote with the Jewish community in mind. John writing much later wrote for the church; that also is clear. Mark, it is believed, wrote for the Gentile community and Luke for the world at large. There are different characteristics in each that lead to these conclusions.  

Exact dates for the writing of each are impossible to discern but suggestions have been made, which we’ll use here, that they were written in the following order: Mark sometime between AD 40 and 65, Luke between AD 61 and 63, Matthew between AD 63 and 66, and John somewhere between AD 80 and 98.
        
   
Luke obviously drew from Mark’s Gospel with approximately 320 verses being used from Mark’s approximate 660 verses. He and Matthew seem to have drawn on some other common material not used by Mark. Of the approximate 1150 verses of Luke, approximately 630 of them are unique to Luke – i.e. a little over half the Gospel – and it is from these verses we are taking these meditations. These are the verses that bring out Luke’s special insights. Now having said that, it is quite possible, if not probable, that some of these verses come from other existing sources of which we know nothing, but the point is that Luke uniquely uses them because he ‘sees’, with eyes of understanding, the importance of this aspect of the truth.  
   
The truth is that none of the Gospels fully report the life and activity of Jesus. As John said as he closed his Gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25) There is much overlap of the three Synoptic Gospels and each of them conveys much valuable information, although incomplete. John, writing many years later, wrote with the benefit of years of contemplation and insight and growing realization of the importance of many of the things that Jesus has said, that the earlier writers just hadn’t realised. Thus the Synoptic Gospels give us a sharp, unvarnished factual account of what took place. John adds the significance.  
   
So here is Luke, a scholar who has become a Christian, and has travelled with Paul’s apostolic team and who, like others, realises that the time has come when it would be useful to actually put into print what the early church already knew and taught. False teachings were already beginning to arise as the enemy sought to sow seeds of confusion, and the apostles were getting older with a growing realisation that they would not always be around to defend the truth and testify to what had actually happened.  
   
Luke hadn’t been one of those apostles but he was clearly a scholar who wrote using both classical Greek and Hebrew styles of writing. He writes with great integrity. Although others had written, his sources show there are aspects of the Gospel story that have not been put together previously, and his analytical mind wants to ensure they are included. As a doctor he comes with insights and understandings about people that are absent in Matthew and Mark. There is a touch of humanity in his writings that go beyond that of the others.  
         
How delightful that God should prompt these four different writers to produce an account of the most wonderful and also most terrible period of all of history. How wonderful that He takes and uses the different characteristics of these men to bring out different facets of the story. If we had just had one Gospel account it would have been very flat. With the four we have a very much more ‘3-D’ account!  Luke reaches out to the various sources around him and produces this wonderful Gospel account.