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“‘Who Says?’ – Jesus Our Scripture-Opener”

May 5 2019 - Luke 24:13-32 (et passim)

MORE THAN JUST AN HISTORIC DOCUMENT?

The Bible – the book we “dust and trust”. Well, at least that’s the way some people treat it.

               A New England teacher quizzed a group of college-bound high-school students on the Bible, just ahead of a “Bible as Literature” class he’d be teaching at a school in Massachusetts. Among the most unusual answers from his students: “Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers”; and, “Jezebel was Ahab’s donkey.” Other students thought that the four horsemen appeared “on the Acropolis,” that the New Testament gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, ‘Luther’, and John; that Eve was created ‘from an apple’; and that Jesus was ‘baptized by Moses’. However the clincher comes (surprisingly enough) from a fellow who was academically in the top 5% of the graduating class. Question: “What was Golgotha?” Answer: “Golgotha was the name of the giant who slew the apostle David.” (And if those answers aren’t just a little bit funny to you, guess who needs to be reading their Bible more?!)

               This past week I visited an Amish farm / lumberyard just west of St Helens. It was a bit like stepping into a time warp. Of course there was no electricity: just an abundance of small engines to run various equipment. No telephone, so I had to drive there and hunt someone down to find out the status of an order I’d made a week earlier. Over at the house I saw a woman unloading firewood out of a wheelbarrow. Such a vastly simpler pace of life! No interruptions from texts or messages coming in or bells ringing. No teenagers glued to their devices or wasting (er, spending) time on video games or scrolling through their Facebook or Instagram feeds. So different!

               But is that how modern people look at Christians who try to live out the Bible, who follow this lifestyle called the Way of Jesus? Are we an oddity in their eyes? Do our ways seem “quaint” to them, sort of an unnecessary voluntary throwback to a bygone era? Are we just arbitrarily being old-fashioned to believe things like sex belongs in marriage, or that there ought to be differences between the genders, or that the value of human life does not stem merely from our usefulness?

               Some people regard the Bible as an ancient book of scripture with Jewish roots, but not all that different from other religions’ holy books; old stories - curiosities - but not really relevant for modern life. Scientific discoveries are usually reported on the news in ways that do not jive with Biblical worldview or chronology; this week a jaw discovered in a cave in Tibet in 1980 turned out upon analysis to reportedly be from Denisovans (a species that could tolerate lower oxygen levels and survive better at high altitudes, like Sherpas). Dating methods estimated it to be 160,000 years old! That just doesn’t seem to sync with Biblical accounts.

               Other people look askance at the Bible because they have trouble believing in miracles. “We don’t see miracles

happening today,” they insist; “How can I trust a book that’s shot through with stories of Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, and walking on water, the nation of Israel crossing the Red Sea and Jordan River on dry ground, the sun’s shadow moving backwards, and so on?”

               How do we answer them? How can we continue to take the Bible seriously when modern culture casts so much doubt on it? Way of Jesus saying #5 goes, “I am learning the teachings of Jesus.” But why bother if they’re contained in a book that’s out of date and irrelevant? And do we mean just the teachings of Jesus, or does that have some bearing on the rest of the Bible?

               Really what’s at stake here is the importance or authority of Scripture in our life. Who’s going to tell us what to do? Where are we going to get our marching orders from? Am I really going to bother doing what the Bible teaches if I doubt its truthfulness? When Scripture says to do this or that, will we have an attitude that puts its hands on its hips and demands, “WHO SAYS?” Maybe we’ll be like the little boy who finally sat down after first resisting his parents’ command to do so; he said to them, “I’m sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside!”

REVERING REVEALED WRIT: A HIGH VIEW OF SCRIPTURE

Why do I have a high view of Scripture? If I profess to be a Christian, someone who believes Jesus died for me, redeemed me at the cost of His own life, without whom I’d be bound for an eternity in hell – fundamentally I esteem the Bible because JESUS DOES. He tells me the first and greatest command is to love God with all my heart soul mind and strength (Mt 22:37f); to love God with my mind means developing, like Paul and the other apostles, “the mind of Christ” (1Cor 2:16) – to have His view on things, including the Bible.

               I view Scripture highly because I am Christ’s and that’s how HE views it; and (to tie this in to Easter) Jesus’ authority is published by His resurrection, which has been witnessed to by His followers in oral tradition (besides written) on down from the earliest disciples, upon pain of death. (“People don’t DIE for what they know to be a LIE.”) Romans 1:4 “...who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.” If Jesus didn’t resurrect from the dead, all bets are off, there’s no point believing the Bible or the supernatural bits in it; as even Paul admits, if Christ has not been raised – 1Cor 15:19 “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”

               Can we trust that the Bible we hold in our hands even reflects what was actually written by the original authors? On a human level, compared to other accepted historical documents from long ago, the manuscript evidence is overwhelming for the New Testament – over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, over 10,000 Latin manuscripts, and the earliest fragments date from around 130 AD – mere decades from when they were originally penned. Scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon writes, “The interval between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed.Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books fo the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.”

               Similarly for the Old Testament – when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the late 1940s, they pushed back the age of our earliest manuscripts by hundreds of years – yet this just confirmed that the text had been faithfully transmitted in the meantime. On a purely rational level, we can be confident what we hold in our hand today accurately reflects the meaning the original writers meant to convey.

               But maybe the original writers were fudging it? Apparently not – there are 4 different versions of the gospel about Jesus, not just 1, so these serve as “checks” on each other. If they were cut-and-paste carbon copies, that would be suspicious, but there are significant variances indicating there are real witnesses standing behind the various accounts. Also, when you read them, there is “the ring of truth”: they don’t gloss over details that would have been embarrassing to the orginal participants. For instance, might Peter have appreciated someone leaving out the story of his denial of Jesus when he was arrested? Why didn’t Luke do Paul a favour by leaving out reference to Paul’s sharp disagreement with Barnabas? Because Luke felt it more important to write a truthful account than to airbrush it in a way that would have painted the characters in more commendable colours.

               Someone may mock us for maintaining Scripture is true ‘because the Bible says so’ – sounds like circular reasoning. But if its authority is genuine and divine, we can’t rate it by some other [more authoritative] authority. And as you read it, through faith, you discover Scripture’s authority is “self-authenticating”: it rings true; live it and you find it works.

               Way of Jesus saying #5, “I am learning the teachings of Jesus” – so does that mean we’re to be “red-letter Christians”, that is, going just by the words spoken by Christ that in many Bibles are printed in red? Yet if you read what He said, you’ll find Jesus Himself points beyond His own statements to the rest of the Bible.

               He points BACK to the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible that was accepted before He was born. Remember that in common Jewish parlance, the phrase ‘the Law and the Prophets’ referred broadly to all the Old Testament books together. Matthew 5:17f “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Would you not say Jesus has a pretty high view of Scripture? Down to the letter! To the ‘jot and tittle’ – in English, we would say, to the dot of the I and the cross of the T. In Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17 He asks the Father on behalf of His disciples, Jn 17:17 “Sanctify them by the truth; YOUR WORD is truth.” Also, in a crucial argument with the Jewish leaders, when they’ve picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy – not a time when you just toss words around, you’re going to choose them extra carefully! – Jesus makes a point on a few words from Psalm 82(6) and notes, Jn 10:35 “If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came— and the Scripture CANNOT BE BROKEN...” Picture it: His life hangs in the balance – He’s at risk of becoming a victim of capital punishment for blasphemy – and He’s insisting Scripture is trustworthy. Wouldn’t you agree Jesus has a remarkably high view of Scripture? What about you – do you respect it as much as your Saviour, to whom you owe your eternity?? Settle it in your soul: “Scripture cannot be broken.” It’s trustworthy, inerrant, infallible. “It is true in all that it intends to teach.” (WoJ Handbook ch.13) No it doesn’t mention black holes or DNA or quirks and quarks, but God knew we’d be finding out about them anyway! The Scriptures communicate what we need to know to become wise for salvation.

               Jesus vouches for the Old Testament Scriptures; and by His prophecy He points ahead to all the New Testament writers would pen, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jn 14:26 “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit is the agent communicating, but there’s a tie back to what Jesus had already been teaching. Jn 16:13A-14 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth...He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” When the Holy Spirit was guiding the New Testament writers, He was in fact taking from what belonged to Jesus. So Jesus’ stamp also rests on the non-red-letter bits in the New Testament.

               Did these Holy-Spirit-inspired apostles have a high view of Scripture? Paul wrote to his protege Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness...” How much of Scripture? The last part? The first part? Just the Jesus bits? No, ALL Scripture is God-breathed!

               Similarly, note the Apostle Peter’s high regard for Scripture: 2Pet 1:21 “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” And Peter in fact classes even his comrade Paul’s writings along with other “scripture” (2Peter 3:16).

               Never pooh-pooh Scripture, or minimize the significance of the Bible. In some ways it’s the most “real” thing there is! Jesus said, Mt 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” What Jesus said is “real-er” than the chair you’re sitting on! Likewise, Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Scripture truth has a permanence to it that transcends anything we will ever own.

               Recently I upgraded my car by about 15 years, and bought a motorcycle, which I hope will serve me well – but I can’t get too excited about them because one day all this “stuff” will rust away or be vapourized. Have you peeked ahead to the last chapters? 2Peter 3:10-12 “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.” So that should affect how we conduct ourselves in a consumeristic society – don’t let any shiny trinkets become idols. Use the things of this world as though not captivated by them – 1Cor 7:31 “those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them.For this world in its present form is passing away.” That’s the kind of corrective to perspective Scripture blesses you with. It’s so FREEING.

               Also we may have a high view of Scripture because we have respect for those who introduced us to it. Paul reminds Timothy, 2Tim 3:14-15 “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, BECAUSE YOU KNOW THOSE FROM WHOM you learned it, and how FROM INFANCY you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Often we’ve sensed the impact Scripture has had on the lives of believing family members or pastors or Sunday School teachers / youth leaders and so on. Their own lives “back it up”. They’ve lived it, found it valuable, and commend it to us based on their experience.

               What’s the alternative? An atheistic worldview tends toward despair and meaninglessness.

MORE RIGHTEOUS THAN PHARISEES: JESUS AS LORD/OPENER OF SCRIPTURE

Now, let’s say I’ve convinced you to have a high view of Scripture. That’s nice – so did the Pharisees – folks for whom Jesus reserved some of His strongest criticism!! There comes the danger of legalism. Also, if we hold so strongly to Scripture, why don’t Christians follow the dietary laws Moses set forth? Why aren’t we meeting on Saturday instead of Sunday like Seventh Day Adventists and Hebraic Roots folks do?

               It’s good to have a high view of Scripture. But our view of Jesus’ authority and Lordship should be EVEN HIGHER. We need Jesus to be our interpeter of Scripture. Here’s a big word for you: say ‘hermeneutics’ / Herman-ootics; you ask, “What’s that mean?” You’re doing it! (Asking for the meaning) It means ‘interpretation’, getting meaning out of a passage. Jesus is our hermeneutical “key” in interpreting Scripture, let HIM be your interpreter.

               In the Scripture reading our Elder Rick read earlier, two disciples were walking along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Easter when Jesus came up and joined them, without them knowing who He actually was (until He broke the bread - like we’ll do at communion). Notice how He interprets the Bible in a nutshell as pointing to Himself, the purpose God the Father was achieving in Jesus’ coming: Lk 24:25-27 “He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said IN ALL THE SCRIPTURES concerning HIMSELF.” V32 “They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and OPENED THE SCRIPTURES to us?"” Later, with the other disciples after these two had returned to Jerusalem, Jesus appeared to them together (no mirage or ghost we’re talking about!) - v45 “Then HE OPENED THEIR MINDS so they could UNDERSTAND THE SCRIPTURES.” There’s a pattern for us here that will help us not fall into the trap of becoming Pharisees – let Jesus open each passage for you.

               Note again Jesus’ high view of Scripture in v44: “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” When we read the Old Testament, it’s always in light of the cross, God’s saving purpose in Jesus. The ‘big picture’ in vv46ff - His suffering, rising from the dead, the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins “in His name” (on basis of His authority) to all nations, and the Father sending the Holy Spirit so Jesus’ followers are “clothed with power from on high” – His Kingdom incarnate in us. (COOL!) That, in a nutshell, is the “big picture overview” of the Bible, what it’s all pointing towards. Don’t you want that for YOUR life?!

               At issue here is epistemology (how do we know what we know?) and revelation (how we’re shown that / find it out). Jesus is God’s “making known” in a way that transcends Scripture (though the Bible helps record it and communicate it to us). John 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning.Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” Including the Bible - our holy book was made through Jesus ‘the Word’, God’s self-revealing, self-communicating, expressing Himself so we could come to know God. Jn 1:18 “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” At the end of Jesus’ ministry, in John 17, how does Jesus sum it up? Jn 17:3,26 “Now this is eternal life: that they may KNOW YOU, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent...I have MADE YOU KNOWN to them, and WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE YOU KNOWN in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” What’s God’s purpose in all this? So you could have God’s love for Jesus IN YOU, and have JESUS HIMSELF (through the Holy Spirit) IN YOU!

               The Bible is Jesus’ book, not an authority alongside or in competition with Jesus’ authority. It points to Jesus as God’s clearest revelation or showing of Himself. Col 1:15f “He [Jesus Christ] is THE IMAGE OF THE INVISIBLE GOD, the firstborn over all creation.For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” All things - including the Bible.

               Hebrews 1:2f (note the theme of communication / revelation here) - “...but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.The Son IS THE RADIANCE OF GOD’S GLORY AND THE EXACT REPRESENTATION OF HIS BEING, sustaining all things by his powerful word.After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” In other words, Jesus is the completely satisfactory making-known of God’s essence, and the supreme authority. He’s the clearest expression you’re ever going to get of what God is like.

               Jesus helps us read Scripture in the proper light, He helps us interpret what’s most important. The legalistic Pharisees were majoring in the minors. Mt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices— mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law— justice, mercy and faithfulness.You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” Also Mark 7:8,13 “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men...Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.” They were letting their own interpretations override the main meaning of divine revelation.

               So in the course of the New Testament we find a progressive focusing on Jesus’ commands, leading us to interpret the Old Testament in the light of Jesus’ teaching. Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount (repeatedly), “You have heard it said – but I say to you...” Mark 7:19B “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean."” That’s HUGE! Healing on the Sabbath also placed Jesus in the cross-hairs of the Sanhedrin. Then in the book of Acts the scope of salvation broadens to include non-Jews. Acts 10:13,15 “Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat...The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."” The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 responds to the insistence of some that Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the law of Moses: Acts 15:8-9,29 “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us.He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith...You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” That was all. Jesus had fulfilled the laws of Moses, becoming our perfect, consummate sacrifice – which we recall when we lift the cup of communion.

               Jesus gave His followers one supreme command that overshadows all other do’s and don’ts. John 13:34-35 “"A new command I give you: Love one another.As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By THIS all men will know that you are MY disciples, if you love one another."” The apostles echo this. Rom.13:9f - “The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” 2Jn 1:5 2Jo 1:5 (to the church) “And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning.I ask that we love one another.” Jesus’ brother James 2:8 “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right.”

LOVE LETTERS MERIT EXTRA ATTENTION

To sum up: Christians ought to have a very HIGH view of Scripture, because Jesus did. It is trustworthy, infallible, worthy of memorization and daily study and review. At the same time, believers (in contrast to the Pharisees) need a sufficiently LOW view of Scriptural authority COMPARED TO the authority of our Lord Himself, before Whom even written revelation is a subsidiary thing. He is the one with the right to say, “You have heard it said – but I say to you...” Let Jesus “open Scripture” for you – let Him be your ‘hermeneutical key’. All other commands need to be gauged relative to His command to love others as He has shown His love for us.

               Treat it like a love letter! Mortimer J Adler in How to Read a Book notes that the one time people read for all they’re worth is when they’re in love and are reading a love letter. They read every word three ways; they read between the lines and in the margins; they read the whole in terms of the parts, and each part in terms of the whole. They grow sensitive to context and ambiguity, to insinuation and implication. They perceive the colour of words, the order of phrases, and the weight of sentences. They may even take the punctuation into account. Then, if never before or after, they read carefully and in depth.

               So we as followers of Jesus can read the ‘love letter’ that the Eternal Lover of our souls has given to us so that we may better know Him and His purposes. Let’s pray. (–> communion)