“Can Anybody Really Understand the Bible?”
1. Jesus was tempted by having Scripture quoted to him. Remember?
a. The devil sets him on the pinnacle of the temple, points out to him that the Psalm says the angels will be commanded to bear him up, and urges him to throw himself down so they can do what it says (Lk. 4:9-11; Ps. 91:11-12).
b. But the Lord answers with what Deut. 6:16 says: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Lk. 4:12).
c. What’s going on here? Is it that the Bible is difficult to understand and impossible to apply? Or is it that one wants to do what God wants, while the other has his own agenda?
2. You can see the point, and it’s an important one for us to bear in mind when we are tempted to think the Scripture means whatever individual readers want it to mean.
a. We have learned that the Bible should be handled as a word of truth that is meant to be understood. That is how it speaks of itself.
b. But we recognize that improper – even terrible – things sometimes get done in the name the Bible. These are often cases where Scripture has been twisted or misquoted or misapplied to serve some other purpose than truth.
c. Obviously, there is more to it than just believing the Bible can be understood.
3. If we are to understand the Bible, we must read it intending to do what God wants.
1. There is something living and active about the word of the Lord.
a. In saying this, I don’t mean what those who say the Constitution is a “living document” mean – that it is always evolving and open to whatever meaning the fashion of the time prefers that it have. I mean that there is something alive about it – it has relevance and authority and influence that leaves the reader different than he was when he took it in. This is the claim Scripture makes for itself.
i. 1 Pet. 1:23 – “through the living and abiding word of God”
ii. Heb. 4:11, 12 – “the word of God is living and active”
iii. 1 Thess. 2:13 – “the word of God, which is at work in you believers”
b. Because it is his word, Scripture accomplishes something when it goes forth. Especially, it has a way of revealing the hearts of those who handle it.
i. Isa. 55:10, 11 – “my word...shall not return to me empty”
ii. Matt. 13:14, 15 – “this people’s heart has grown dull”
iii. Mk. 4:24, 25 – “Pay attention to what you hear...for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
2. Because there is something living about it, Scripture is to be approached with the intention of living it.
a. A. Campbell observed that “a devotional and sanctifying reading of that sacred Book, is essentially different from the readings of the theologian, the moralist, the secretary....The man of God reads the Book of God to commune with God, ‘to feel after him,’ to feel his power and his divinity stirring within him; to have his soul fired, quickened, animated by the spirit of grace and truth. He reads the Bible to enjoy the God of the Bible; that the majesty, purity, excellency, and glory of its Author may overshadow him, inspire him, transform him, and new-create him in the image of God.” (Millenial Harbinger, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1839)
b. John 7:17 – “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will....” God’s instructions can be understood by believing, penitent people who want to do His will, not theirs.
c. Phil. 3:10 – “that I may know him...”
d. 1 Jn. 4:6 – “Whoever knows God listens to us...”
3. Reading Scripture intending to know God – that is, to relate to him in such a way as to want to do what he wants – fits its covenant nature.
a. The Bible affirms that its essential literary and even legal nature is that of a covenant.
i. A covenant is like a treaty, or a legal will, or a plan in which God deals with man, and a means by which man may “know” – relate to – him.
ii. In the background is the way a great king would offer a benevolent and protective relationship to a people who were powerless before him, provided they would abide by his stipulations of loyalty.
iii. A covenant is an agreement in which God has dictated the terms or conditions of a working relationship with man, in which he himself is also willing to keep certain obligations. (J. D. Thomas, Gospel Advocate, July 1994, p. 40)
iv. The one who makes the covenant dictates all the terms. The beneficiaries of it must accept the terms unequivocally if they are to experience the benefits of the relationship. (F. Kearley, unpublished manuscript)
b. All parts of the Scriptures consist of covenant-related material.
i. Heb. 8:13 recognizes a “new covenant” and the “old.”
ii. Heb. 8:6 says the covenant Christ mediates is better because it has been enacted on better promises.
iii. Heb. 8:8-12 identifies it as the new covenant God promised in the days of the prophets (Jer. 31:31-34) – the covenant that makes it possible for God to have a people who know him and to whom he can be merciful.
iv. The new covenant was expressed by Christ and by his apostles whom he commissioned to speak and write it, and who were inspired by the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29).
v. Our part is to accept the covenant of Christ in trusting obedience (Heb. 5:9). It deserves our closest attention. To neglect so great a salvation would make us worthy of even more severe retribution than those who were unfaithful to the old covenant (Heb. 2:1-4).
c. If we believe the promises we will want to submit to the conditions. We will surely be glad to know the covenant of Christ and keep its conditions faithfully. We will want to please the one who by his own blood made such a covenant relationship possible (cf. Heb. 10:29).
1. We have the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet. 1:23). To understand it, we must look into it with the intention of doing what God wants. Only that kind of love for Him and desire to please Him is worthy of His covenant of grace.
2. Cecil May observed, “That view of Scripture is ultimately the main difference between Christians only and other religious people. The Bible is God speaking; therefore everything in it matters.” (Preacher Talk, July 2011)
a. Almost everyone recognizes baptism as taught originally by Jesus and the apostles is a burial in water for the remission of sins. The big question is, “Does that matter?”
b. That the New Testament church met on the first day of every week to partake of the Lord’s Supper is believed by most people, especially if they have any acquaintance at all with second and third century writings. The big question is, “Does that matter?”
c. That the church in the New Testament sang and instrumental music was not used in and by churches until the sixth century A.D. is a known historical fact. The big question is, “Does that matter?”
3. Remember the occasion when Peter and James and John left everything to follow Jesus?
a. Jesus borrowed Peter’s boat to sit in while he taught the people along the shore, and when he finished he told the fishermen to put out into the deep and let down their nets for a catch (Lk. 5:4).
b. They had worked all night without catching a thing, and they had already washed their nets (Lk. 5:5, 2).
c. Remember what Peter said? “But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they did, they took such a great catch that if filled both boats!
i. “But at your word I will...”
ii. Isn’t that still the wisest choice a person can make?