The First Easter Sermons: The Central Theme of the Bible

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem’” (Luke 24:44–47).

Jesus gives His first post-resurrection Bible study, in “The Pilgrims of Emmaus on the Road,” by James Tissot (1836-1902). Public domain, via Wikipedia Commons.

After Jesus rose from the dead, His teaching to His disciples took a new focus. In each Gospel account, He told them that He was giving them a message to proclaim to the world. He told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, the significance of these events in God’s plan for mankind, and the disciples’ new role as Jesus’ messengers.

The messages Jesus shared with the two disciples He met on the road to Emmaus (vv. 25–27) and with the other disciples in the upper room later that evening (vv. 44–47) are now our message. This is the central theme of the entire Bible. This is the Good News that He sends us to share with the world.

First, Jesus told the disciples that His death and resurrection fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. Many people in Jesus’ day believed that the Messiah would be a political or military hero who would deliver Israel from Roman oppression and bring God’s kingdom to Earth. Jesus did not fulfill that political role, but He showed that His redemptive work was the real message in God’s Word all along. People had seen what they wanted to see in the writings of Moses and the prophets. They missed the core message.

Other authors have written excellent summaries of the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled. Those who are not familiar with these prophecies will benefit by reviewing the chart at http://jesusplusnothing.com/jesus66books.htm which lists messianic prophecies in every book of the Old Testament. A more scholarly discussion about Jesus in the Old Testament, by Bible scholar Walter C. Kaiser, can be found at https://www.gordonconwell.edu/resources/Jesus-in-the-Old-Testament.cfm. Those prophecies revealed that the Messiah would suffer, die, and rise again.

Our response to that miracle should be repentance. While that word sounds holy and spiritual, it simply means a change of mind or life’s direction. We have been walking away from God, trying to do our own thing. Repentance means that we acknowledge that there is sin in our lives and choose to follow Jesus instead. It is the first step in new life with Christ.

Christ’s free gift is forgiveness of sins. This is what we should offer to the lost. It is the message the apostles—a group of Jewish men—were to proclaim to the entire world, beginning from Jerusalem but spreading out too all nations.

Too often, we preach politics, morality, and condemnation. We may be willing to preach forgiveness to people who are like us, but do we preach that same message to “those people?” The New Testaments book of the Acts of the Apostles shows how the early Christians broke free from their cultural biases and proclaimed the Good News to those despicable half-breed Samaritans, those Roman terrorists, and all of those other weird uncircumcised Gentile pagans. Are we ready to preach repentance and forgiveness to homosexuals, transgendered persons, illegal immigrants, Muslims, etc.? Or, do we have a different message for them in the name of “culture warfare?”

Jesus’ message must begin with us. We must remember that the most devout Christians is merely a recovering, repentant, forgiven sinner. In the core of our human nature, we are not better than others. We are merely fortunate and blessed to have found out the Good News that Jesus died for our sins.

This is the message for Easter and every day of the year: Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again. He suffered and died for our sins. He rose from the grave to conquer sin, hell, death, and Satan. He offers forgiveness of sins to all who will come to Him.

This is the message all Christians are called to proclaim. It is the central theme of the entire Bible. Let us go forth with this word every day, inviting the lost to the new life and forgiveness Jesus offers, so that it may be Easter throughout the year.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: III. How to Read and Meditate on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

How do we diligently apply ourselves to God’s Word? Here are four steps which will allow us to experience God’s blessing through the Bible in our lives.

First, we need to read God’s Word on a daily basis. When I first began to follow Christ, several people urged me to read the Gospel of John first. After reading the Gospel of John, I read the entire New Testament. Then, I went back and read the entire Bible, from Genesis through Revelation. The entire process took about seven months.

The “read John first” advice is very popular in evangelical circles, but I do not think it is appropriate for everybody. People have different personality types, and each of the Gospels speaks more clearly to different personality types. I think many people would actually benefit more by reading Matthew or Luke first.

Perhaps you are not as ambitious a reader as I am. You may prefer to read about three chapters per day, thereby reading the entire Bible in one year. This will require about 15 minutes per day. If you want to try that approach, consider visiting oneyearbibleonline.com. This site provides a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, and Proverbs every day. On some occasions, the Proverbs reading is only one or two verses. This plan will have you reading the entire Bible once and the Book of Psalms twice every year. Print versions of The One Year Bible are available for purchase.

Another option is Our Daily Bread, a devotional guide available as a printed booklet or a website. It contains a through-the-year plan, with one reading from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. It also includes a third short reading (perhaps part of a Psalm, one story, or a paragraph) with a brief devotional and thought for the day. The devotional reading is what Our Daily Bread is famous for. Many people subscribe to the daily devotion to supplement a more thorough Bible reading plan.

With either of these plans, you may start at any time; even if you start in the middle of several different books, you will catch on soon enough. God can speak to you even if you did not begin at page 1. Your mission is not to read the Bible like an ordinary book, but to meet God and His Son Jesus Christ through His Word.

Some churches and denominations recommend other reading plans. Like many people in my denomination, I follow the Daily Office readings in the Book of Common Prayer, which provides several Psalms for morning and evening prayer, with brief readings from the Old Testament, New Testament (Acts, letters, or Revelation), and Gospels. I usually supplement this with additional reading, including the devotion from Our Daily Bread. You can follow the Daily Office, which includes structured prayers with the readings, on the websites of Mission St. Clare or my denomination, the Charismatic Episcopal Church.

Next, take some time to understand what the passage means. If you are reading three chapters, you probably do not have time to analyze every verse. That is okay. Bible reading is a lifetime journey. What you do not understand or notice in a passage now may take on meaning when you read it again in a few years. You can consider your Bible reading a success if you can find one key idea or thought in each reading.

As you try to glean the Scripture’s meaning, follow some basic guidelines for interpretation. Seek to determine the natural meaning of the passage to its original hearers or readers. How would the crowd have understood Jesus’ parable? How would the Corinthians have understood Paul’s instructions in his letter? We need to understand what God meant in His Word before we try to determine what He is trying to say to us. Do not try to twist Scripture to mean what you want it to say. Try to determine what God is saying, even if it is uncomfortable or unpopular.

Invest in a few basic reference materials to help you better understand the Bible. A good study Bible will provide reference materials and explanatory notes to help you better interpret God’s Word. Another option is a paid subscription to biblegateway.com, which will provide access to commentaries and study materials.

As you read the Bible, take note of anything that grabs your attention. Meditate on that part throughout the day. It may be one sentence, or one phrase, or one word or idea that was repeated throughout your reading. One of the Hebrew words for “meditate” is related to the word for chew. Like a cow chews the cud, keep chewing on that word. Do not let it depart from your mouth. Ponder it throughout the day. Ask God to make its importance clearer to you. Ask Him to show you what He wants you to do about that word.

Sometimes, during a period of contemplative prayer, I will spend some time in silence simply meditating on Scripture like this. It may be just one word, but I will wait to hear what God wants to say to me.

All of this leads to the entire point of Bible study. Obey what God tells you to do. Is He revealing a sin which you need to repent from? Is He directing you to witness to somebody? Sometimes particular thoughts may pop into your head as you ponder the Scripture. The Bible may not literally say, “Stop watching that TV show,” or “You need to witness to {particular person’s name},” but these thoughts may come to mind as you ponder a verse. If it seems like a logical application of a Bible passage, it is probably the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to you as you meditate on His Word. As God speaks, say yes and do what He has called you to do.

Meditation and study demand balance. Many Christians overemphasize study. They try to dig into every nuance of a passage, trying to figure everything out. They study the Bible as if it is a science or history book and can miss the God Who appears in, with, and under every word. They seek intellectual knowledge, not true faith.

On the other hand, some may be tempted to meditate without study. Grabbing one verse out of context, demanding that it means what you want it to mean, is not biblical meditation. Biblical meditation begins with the objective truth of God’s Word and receives a subjective personal application from His Holy Spirit.

By hearing or reading the word of God, meditating on it, and seeking to obey it, we can succeed in doing God’s will, whether we pastor a church or serve burgers at a drive-through window.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: II. Rightly Handling God’s Word

In our last post, I mentioned some translation issues with 2 Timothy 2:15. Let us look at that entire passage:

“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some. But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:14-19).

Paul was writing to Timothy primarily in his role as a young bishop and pastor. He was to be diligent, making his best efforts to prove himself as a master craftsman handling the word of truth. Half-hearted Bible juggling would not suffice, since others’ faith and souls were at stake.

“Sword of the Spirit” stained glass from Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Knoxville, TN. Photo by Nheyob [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  

Elsewhere, the Bible speaks of itself as a weapon, the sword of the Spirit. Do we handle the Bible as carefully as we handle a weapon? Several years ago, I went several times to a gun range with a friend. He showed me that there is a proper way to handle a gun. There are several things you must do to handle a gun safely. You make certain you are not pointing it at another person (unless you are willing to shoot them). You have to hold each gun a certain way if you want your bullet to hit its intended target without injuring yourself. There is a proper way to load your gun, a proper way to hold it, a proper way to fire it, and a proper way to clean it and store it when you are done. Many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse a gun. A wise man will make every effort to diligently properly handle his weapon.

Likewise, many things can go wrong when you mishandle or misuse God’s Word. People’s faith or spiritual well-being can be harmed or damaged. Paul warned Timothy about a pair of teachers “who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.” End-time prophecy pundits can often do much damage to the spread of the Gospel and the faith of their listeners. From time to time, a friend calls me, panicking because someone told him some new prophecy fad: “The government’s going to force everybody to implant a microchip under their skin! It’s the mark of the beast! Donald Trump’s the Antichrist! Pope Francis is the Antichrist!” And so on. Apparently, people tell him that they are experts because they study these things on the internet.

Not everything you read on the internet is true. The internet has given us some great opportunities. I can write this article on Sunday evening, post it online that night, and watch as people all over the world read it by the end of the week. Anybody with an internet connection can have a public platform. That is great, because it frees us to share our thoughts quickly and freely. However, it also gives that privilege to people who may not know what they are talking about. Not every person who claims to be a “Bible scholar” or “prophecy expert” deserves those titles. Any conspiracy theorist or fool can publish a crazy idea. Let us be diligent. Let us know God’s Word so that we can be discerning, especially when somebody says things like “God told me,” “The Bible says,” or “Biblical prophecy is being fulfilled before our very eyes!”

Would you trust a preacher who studies the Bible as well as this community maintains its roads?

More importantly, though, let us be diligent so that we can speak God’s truth carefully and accurately. If you teach a Bible study class, pastor a church, or write a blog, you need to spend time reading God’s Word. You need to learn it and know how to explain it properly to others. The Disciple’s Study Bible (Holman Bible Publishers, 1988) says in a note on 2 Timothy 2:15 that ὀρθοτομοῦντα uses “the image of someone laying out a road.” People are going to walk on that road. It needs to reach its destination safely. It should be able to support its traffic. If you are preaching, teaching, or otherwise sharing God’s Word, others will rely on it to reach their spiritual destination. Be diligent to make certain you are properly guiding them.

The committed child of God should be diligent with God’s Word, just like we expect the people who build and maintain our roads and other infrastructure to be diligent with the tasks set before them. Our own souls demand it. Others’ souls may require it.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Read, Meditate, Delight, Obey: I. Meditating on God’s Word

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Joshua 1:8; all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com, under Creative Commons CC0 license.

As I was meditating on Joshua 1:8 this week, my wife emailed me a link to an article entitled “If You Want People to Grow Spiritually, Quit Telling Them to Study the Bible.” The author observed that the Bible rarely mentions studying Scripture. Instead, it tells us to “meditate on” or “delight in” God’s Word. Some readers may say, “Wait: Doesn’t 2 Timothy 2:15 tell us to ‘Study to shew thyself approved….’? Doesn’t that command us to study Scripture?” Probably not; that wording in the King James Version is not the most accurate. The Greek word translated “study” in that verse, σπούδασον, is translated “be diligent” or “do thy diligence” wherever else it appears in the King James Version. The KJV also misleadingly translates the word ὀρθοτομοῦντα as “rightly dividing” even though a more accurate translation is “to cut straight.” Just as a carpenter building a house has to cut straight while preparing wood, a man of God has to display proper mastery and expertise in handling God’s Word. Modern translations like the ESV are much more accurate:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

We will look more closely at this passage in a forthcoming post. However, let us note for now that God wants us to meditate on His Word.

Joshua 1:8 and 2 Timothy 2:15 share several common features. One feature is that they are both instructions given to men of God in their roles as leaders of God’s people. 2 Timothy 2:15 particularly instructs the young pastor about his role as a teacher of God’s people. Joshua 1:8, on the other hand, guides Joshua in his work as a military commander. The Old Testament verse may be more relevant to most believers than Paul’s instruction to Timothy. Most of us will not be pastors or bishops. We will have to serve God in very secular careers.

Even in that “secular” career as a military ruler of God’s people, Joshua needed God’s guidance to succeed. While God gave His laws to Moses and would give other messages to later prophets, He usually gave Joshua military strategy, administrative guidance, and organizational insight. The same is true for us. God’s Word will tell us how to fulfill our roles as editors, teachers, doctors, restaurant workers, etc. Before you think your career is for some reason detached from God’s call upon your life, consider what God told Moses about a man named Bezalel:

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft’” (Exodus 31:1-5).

This is the first time the Bible speaks of someone being filled with the Holy Spirit. Think about that: a craftsman, not a prophet or priest, is the first person God speaks of as being filled with His Spirit. God wants us to know and do His will even when our careers seem mundane, routine, nonspiritual, or boring.

As Joshua would meditate on God’s Word, he would need to remember God’s promises, wisdom, and rules. God had promised to be with him. God had promised the land to the people of Israel. God’s laws provided wisdom about how Israel should treat other nations, both enemies and foreigners who wished to live peacefully in their land. He also gave them laws which, if violated, would have serious consequences (Joshua 7).

We need the same wisdom Joshua needed. We fact challenges, circumstances, and crises on a regular basis. God offers us the same wisdom. He offers great and precious promises to us. Let us meditate daily on God’s Word, so that we may be careful to do all that He commands and enjoy success and prosperity.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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God’s Word, Daily Devotions, and the Family

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4–9; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

It is not enough to know that the Bible is the Word of God. God gave us His Word so that we could know Him, His will, and how to follow His directions for our lives.

The above passage begins with a verse known as the “shema,” from the Hebrew word for “listen” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Some people call it the “statement of faith” of Judaism, the key verse of their faith. A few websites that call it “the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book” or the most important prayer in Judaism. Jesus referred to the very next verse (Deuteronomy 6:5) as the greatest commandment:

“And one of the scribes … asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28–31).

Since both Jewish tradition and Jesus Himself consider these verses to be so important, we should take heed to the rest of this exhortation. How can a child of God follow the teachings of Jesus? By knowing God’s Word. To know and follow God’s will for our lives, we must store His Word in our hearts. We also must pass it on to future generations.

We need to read the Bible every day. We should read it alone. We should also teach it to our children.

To grow in your faith, you should read the Bible throughout the week. It is not enough to simply hear the Scripture readings in church on Sunday morning. We need daily reminders of all that He has done for us and all He wants us to know. Also, our children need to hear the Bible throughout the week. The Bible never mentions Sunday school, children’s church, or a children’s sermon, because God commanded parents to teach their children.

Read the Bible every day. Find a good Bible reading plan that will provide a passage for every day. I follow the Daily Office readings from the Book of Common Prayer. Many students of Scripture prefer to follow one of several “through the Bible in one year” plans. The devotional guide, Our Daily Bread, provides readings from the Old and New Testament every day to help you read the entire Bible within one year. It also provides a shorter reading with comments related to the passage.

Train your children in the Word of God whenever you can. Young children (up to seven years of age) learn most from stories. Read Bible stories and explain what they mean to them. As a child gets older, you can read other books of the Bible, such as the New Testament letters, with them and discuss the passage. Teenagers should be encouraged to read on their own, perhaps following a devotional guide or other reading plan.

Find teachable moments with your children. Deuteronomy 6:7 says that we should “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Discuss Bible passages that relate to things they learned in school or situations they or their friends are facing. Some families do a brief Bible study or prayer time while they eat dinner. See what works for your family.

Finally, it is helpful to keep visual reminders about God’s Word and Christian truths around you. My wife will sometimes write a Bible verse on an index card and tape it to the bathroom mirror. That makes it certain that we will see that verse every day. This is especially helpful when the verse speaks about an issue that is important to you at this time in your life. We also have crosses hanging on a few walls in our apartment, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice for us and His perpetual presence in our lives.

If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we will not reserve it for one day of the week. Jesus said, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20), not “I am with you one day per week” or “I am with you only when you go to church.” He wants to speak to us every day. He wants us to share His good news with everybody—especially our own families. Seek His Word daily.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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God’s Purpose in Scripture

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14–17; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

In recent posts, we looked at the authority of Scripture and its relationship with tradition. Now, let us look at God’s purpose in providing the Bible. What was His aim? What does He intend for us to learn from it?

St. Paul. Painting by Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons).

Keep in mind that God’s Word leaves out many details. We may be curious and want extra facts. But, God is silent about some things. The late Roman Catholic broadcaster Mother Angelica once said that 91% of Jesus’ life is “hidden.” Think about it: Jesus is God’s ultimate self-revelation. Yet, the book that preserves His revelation presents only a small fraction of His life. We read a little about the first couple years of His life. Then, we read about one family trip to Jerusalem when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41–52). After that, God says nothing about Jesus’ life until He is about 30 years old. We read nothing about His carpentry career. We do not know what happened to His stepfather, Joseph; most Christians believe he died before Jesus’ ministry began, but we do not know when. God tells us what we need to know for salvation, not what we want to know to satisfy our curiosity.

Likewise, I recently had an online discussion with a seminary friend and his wife about Noah and Methuselah. Methuselah was the oldest man in the Old Testament, dying at the age of 969 years, and Noah was his grandson (Genesis 4:25–27). Genesis 4:25–32 and 7:11 show that he died in the same year as the flood. That raises a few questions: Did Methuselah die several months before the flood or just before the rains came? Did he drown in the flood? If so, why? Did Noah invite Methuselah on the ark, but he refused to come? Or, did God prohibit Noah from inviting Methuselah on the ark? We do not have the answers to these questions. God did not think Methuselah’s fate was important for us to know.

Many Bible stories, including the account of Noah’s ark, leave numerous details out. God focused on what we need to know. “Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat” by Simon de Myle (public domain, via Wikipedia Commons).

The story of Noah raises other questions, as my friend pointed out: How did only four men, with possibly some help from their wives, build such a huge ship long before the development of advanced shipbuilding technology? Did their neighbors help them? If so, how did they tell them, “No, you cannot come on our boat.” Once again, the Bible is silent.

We read with many questions that will never be answered this side of heaven. While the Holy Spirit did not provide all the details, He did reveal what we need to know for salvation. In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul wrote that the Scriptures make us “wise to salvation.” They show us what we need to know about everlasting life. The Word of God shows us that it is only through faith in Jesus that we are saved:

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’” (Acts 4:11–12).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Human wisdom has limitations. We need special revelation from God. He gives it in His Word. It shows us why we need to believe in Jesus and what God wants us to know and believe about Him.

Paul concluded 2 Timothy 3 with the following statement about the inspiration of Scripture:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

As we saw in a previous post, these verses—particularly the phrase “breathed out”—provide the term “inspiration” of Scripture. They also list four functions of Scripture: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. Interested readers can study these four terms in this blog’s most-frequently read article, published in 2012. To summarize the distinctions between them, we can observe that they are complementary. They address both belief and practice. Teaching instructs the reader about what he needs to know; correction addresses errors and false beliefs. Reproof points out when one is doing something wrong; training in righteousness shows someone how to do the will of God. The mature Christian must have the right beliefs and act based on those beliefs. When learning what is right, we have to unlearn the things we have thought or done that are wrong.

Let us keep God’s purposes in mind when we study the Bible. We do not read His Word only because it is a good story. We read it grow in our knowledge of Him. He will tell us what we need to know for salvation if we read with the proper mindset.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Scripture and Tradition

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Last week’s post began with the title, “The Authority of Scripture,” yet also touched strongly on the role of church tradition. This can be a complicated discussion. It is so complicated that I think many Christians simply avoid it by seeking simple answers. For many, that simple answer is to simply call oneself a “Bible-believing Christian” and reject tradition entirely. The other simple answer is to accept the teachings of one’s church without examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11). I think a more moderate stance—accepting the truth of God’s Word, but looking to see how the Holy Spirit has spoken through it in previous eras—is a wiser choice. It may not be feasible to address all that this entails in a simple blog post, but I will do my best in the following paragraphs. (I realize I am treading some controversial waters here: please read this entire post and the previous one before jumping to conclusions.)

Martin Luther. Portrait by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), via Wikipedia.

There are many conflicting beliefs about the proper interpretation of Scripture. Who do I trust? Do I follow Joel Osteen, Charles Stanley, or some other prominent modern preacher or best-selling Christian author? Do I accept the wisdom of a reputable contemporary theologian like J. I. Packer, or a respected Bible scholar or preacher from previous decades? What about the Reformers like Martin Luther or John Calvin, or later founders of Christian movements like John Wesley? In each of these cases, I am looking to the interpretation or opinion of somebody who lived over 1400 years after Jesus and His disciples. Some of these people had political or other ideological agendas mixed with their theology.

So, if I am going to allow a man of God to guide my interpretation of Scripture, is it better to look to one of these people, or to trust the opinion of Irenaeus or Polycarp? Who is this, you ask? Is Polycarp Greek for “a lot of fish” or is it actually a person’s name? Polycarp was an early Christian leader, ordained by none other than St. John, the apostle. He learned the Christian faith from John. He, in turn, taught Irenaeus. Thus, in the writings of these two men, we learn from people who were only one or two steps removed from Jesus Himself! Polycarp did not merely know the Gospel of John; he knew its author. He knew things St. John taught both in spoken and written Word!

Furthermore, the canon—the list of books accepted by the Church as the Word of God—is itself a product of tradition. Why do we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, while ignoring the Gospel of Thomas? Jesus is quoted saying some great things in Thomas, but we ignore it. While many say, “Thomas was not really written by the disciple” (I agree with that statement), many scholars question whether the four Gospels we read were actually written by those authors (Matthew’s Gospel gives no direct clues who its author is). We simply accept by faith that those first four Gospels are the Word of God, and the Gospel according to Thomas and similar non-biblical “gospels&rdquo are the words of men. Likewise, we accept Revelation as the Word of God, but have never read the Shepherd of Hermas (although many early Christians preferred that book). Finally, Martin Luther wished he could take the letter of James out of the New Testament. However, the historic early church has spoken: We recognize these books as the Word of God. Other books may be great devotional literature or completely heretical. We accept the early church’s witness without really thinking about it.

Yes, errors have emerged at times in Church history. However, errors and heresies continue to pop up today. Many are merely repackaged versions of false teachings we think we have rejected (the similarities between medieval Catholicism’s sale of indulgences and the modern charismatic teaching about “seed-faith offerings to claim a blessing” are really two heads of the same monster). We can benefit by seeing how the Holy Spirit has guided the Church throughout the ages, rather than jumping on new revelations or radical reinterpretations of the Bible. We have no authority to reshape the meaning of Scripture! Yes, we can reapply its principles to new situations; over the last 20 years or so, Christians have had to learn how to apply biblical principles to social media, blogging, and other aspects of the Internet, even though none of these are mentioned in Scripture. Modern Christians have to learn how to live biblical truth—written in societies usually governed by kings, emperors, and tyrants—in democratic and republican societies. However, the meaning of Scripture has not changed—what has changed is the culture in which we have to apply it.

Unfortunately, some Christians try to modify the Bible’s meaning to adapt it to a changed society. About 15 or 20 years ago, while teaching a Bible study at my church, I said that within a few years even so-called Bible-believing Christians would find themselves considering homosexual marriage “normal.” Most in the congregation doubted at that time, but look what has happened since then. It was legalized in Massachusetts; then in a few other states; and now, by Supreme Court ruling, it is legal in all 50 states. In response, some evangelical Christians have tried to redefine the meaning of biblical words about homosexuality, in an attempt to force the Bible into meaning what they want it to mean. Sorry, folks, you can convince yourself that your sophistry and rhetoric works, but God Himself is not moved: When Scripture lists “homosexuality” as a sin in 1 Corinthians 6:9, the Greek term is a compound word which literally means “a man who goes to bed with another man”; it simply does not and cannot mean “pedophile” or “child molester.”

Christians have become afraid to call sin by its biblical name, so many of us try to find ways to reinterpret Scripture to accept lifestyles that the Old Testament calls “abominations,” or to remove the Bible’s clear teaching about hell. I can only wonder how long it is until so-called Bible-believing churches accept transgenderism or polygamy. When we reject the wisdom of past decades of Spirit-led men of God and trust in our own understanding, anything goes. So, if a preacher is bringing a “new revelation” or “deeper truth” that was not taught in previous generations, be suspicious. Every time we ignore the Holy Spirit’s guidance of previous generations and assume He is correcting Himself, we are one step closer to apostasy.

Traditions have failed the Church in the past, but they still serve a valuable purpose. They give us a foundation upon which to interpret the hard questions of Scripture. They keep us connected with the universal Body of Christ throughout the ages. They keep a check on our pride and egotism, which may seek to distort Scripture to suit our own desires.

In my next post, we will take a look at how this relates to the purpose of Scripture and how God can use it to speak to us.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments
 
 

The Authority of Scripture

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

Photograph from Max Pixel, under a Creative Commons Zero – CC0 license.

Our recent study about special revelation (here, here, here, and here) addressed the nature of how God reveals Himself to us and what that tells us about the nature of Scripture. Since the Bible is the record of God’s self-revelation to mankind, it is the authority to which all mankind, and especially all Christians and the Church, must yield.

The Bible is not a man-made record of God’s self-revelation. It is a God-breathed record. The Greek word used here, “theopneustos,” is translated in different English Bibles as “inspired,” “God breathed,” or “breathed out by God.” The Word of God was breathed out by the Spirit of God into the hearts and minds of those who recorded it for future generations. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and directed them as they wrote. He guided the apostles to understand truths they were not ready to receive during Jesus’ earthly ministry (John 16:12–13), and these now appear in the pages of Scripture. This is not an ordinary book. Sadly, many Christians treat the Bible like an intellectual Lego set, trying to piece it together to suit their desires:

“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, 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, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 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” (2 Peter 1:19–21).

This divine inspiration is the source of the Bible’s authority. Since the Bible bears God’s authority, we have an obligation to yield to it: the Bible does not yield to us. This should be self-evident to Christians, but a growing number of believers prefers to exercise their own authority over God’s Word. We have no right to force God’s Word to line up with our convictions. We need to know what it says and means, not what we wish it said and meant. Unfortunately, non-Christians are not alone in their rejections of Scriptural authority. At times, even those who claim to be “Bible-believing Christians” can try to place themselves outside its authority, even while seeking to reject “tradition.” To avoid the errors (or perceived errors) in Roman Catholicism, many choose to read the Bible for themselves and make up their own minds about what it means. While we should seek to know the truth (and avoid falling into the errors others have made), we must not use this as an opportunity to redefine biblical truth.

While Jesus was critical of “the traditions of men,” the concept of tradition is not always rejected in the New Testament:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

“Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Note that Paul told the Thessalonians to hold onto the traditions that they learned either via spoken word or letter. The “letter” here could refer to 1 Thessalonians, which shares a place in the Bible with this letter. What about the spoken words, though? It seems that these traditions could be traced directly back through the apostles to Jesus Himself. Until the New Testament was canonized about 300 years later, the Church’s official source of authority was “apostolic teaching.” If a tradition did not come from the apostles, it was not considered authoritative Christian doctrine. That apostolic tradition found its crystallized final form in the New Testament books we read today.

I am not advocating adherence to every tradition that was ever passed down. Some traditions contradict each other, and others that have emerged in church history clearly contradict the Bible. Roman Catholics believe Mary was bodily assumed into heaven, while Eastern Orthodoxy maintains that she was buried in Ephesus (where St. John, the beloved disciple, is also believed to be buried). One of these traditions is not true. However, many other historic traditional teachings remain trustworthy.

I realize I have entered some controversial territory here, but I do not think my stance is unique. Martin Luther (famed for the slogan, “sola scriptura”) did not stray too far from historic Church teaching on many subjects (e.g., the sacraments), and John Wesley balanced his devotion to Scripture with a desire to interpret it in light of tradition, reason, and experience. In a following post, I will add some more thoughts to show why it is important to connect our understanding of Scripture with some level of tradition.

A few final disclaimers: (1) My beliefs about the relationship and role of Scripture and tradition have evolved in recent years. I am still learning and studying, and my thoughts on this subject could change in recent years. (2) I do not guarantee that my thoughts on this subject, in this and the following post, exactly match the teachings of my church or any other denomination. (3) While I welcome comments and discussion, I may not respond to all comments directed to specific doctrines affected by this discussion.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Lent and Fasting

“Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God. Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it? Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, Here I am. If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in” (Isaiah 58:1‒12; all Scripture citations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).

For much of my adult life, I ignored Lent. It seemed to me like a legalistic ritual. I thought it provided nothing for salvation or spiritual growth. You get some ashes smeared on your head one Wednesday; for the next 40 days, you give up chocolate. What makes this spiritual? Where is God in all of this?

The truth is that some people will go through Lent and get nothing out of it. However, that is not because there is a problem with the season or the traditions associated with it. It is a problem with how that particular individual is approaching the situation. We can take legitimate ways of approaching and worshiping God and do them without His presence. Even the holiest acts can be worthlessly mundane if we merely go through the motions.

God is not impressed if we just go through the motions of Lent or fasting. The true worshipers of God will serve Him in Spirit and truth, not merely in outward rituals. What God says about fasting in the above passage is just as true about all spiritual disciplines and practices, including Bible study, prayer, praise, worship, and serving others.

(For those of you who believe fasting is a purely Old-Testament practice that Christians can ignore, I urge you to read my article, “Principles of Fasting,” at https://darkenedglassreflections.com/2011/12/04/principles-of-fasting/. Jesus assumed that His disciples will fast, and in Matthew 28:18‒20 He told them to teach later generations of disciples to obey ALL that He commanded them.)

It is helpful to remember that one goal of any fast is to give up something physical or natural so that we can devote our attention to things that are spiritual. Many people will give up meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, along with a favorite kind of food and/or hobby for the entire season. Others may be more ambitious (perhaps going on a full no-food fast for a day here and there), while others may do something simpler (perhaps giving up only one food). However, whether we give up a lot or a little, we need to fill the gap with something spiritual. If you give up food, without adding prayer or other spiritual disciplines, you are dieting—not fasting.

So, here are a few suggestions for those who observe Lent:

  • While giving up food, add prayer. The time devoted to preparing and eating food can be used for additional prayer and Bible reading.
  • While giving up a hobby or activity (television, Facebook, etc.), add praise and worship. The time you would normally spend on your hobby can be spent playing favorite worship songs on a musical instrument, or listening to favorite praise and worship music on a CD, Spotify, or Pandora. (Yes, this can include songs you actually enjoy listening to in your favorite musical genre. “Holy and spiritual” does not have to mean “boring, tedious, and painful.”)

Let us take it even further, as Isaiah advises in the above Bible passage:

  • Let us give up anger and develop a lifestyle of patience.
  • Let us give up greed and develop a lifestyle of generosity.
  • Let us give up selfishness and develop a lifestyle of compassion and love.

Okay, I admit: That last list may be a little less fun than perpetually streaming a playlist of your favorite Christian contemporary musicians. However, this is what God is really seeking. He is not interested in creating a club of people who eat fish on Fridays. His goal is to mold us to be more like Him.

Therefore, let Lent be a season of self-examination and reflection. Take some time in the coming weeks to read Galatians 5:19–23. Take a look at the deeds of the flesh: Which of these have the most impact on your life? Where are your weaknesses? Next, take a look at the fruit of the Spirit: Which are most abundant in your life? Which would benefit most by a season of growth.

At its core, Lent is not about meatless Wednesdays, fish on Fridays, or 40 days without chocolate, coffee, or donuts. Like every other day or season of the year, it is a time that the Lord has made for us to worship Him (Psalms 118:24). Let us devote this season to a searching and fearless moral inventory. Let us confess those parts of the carnal worldly life to which we continue to cling, release those defects to God, and yield to Him so that He may manifest His holiness within us. Then shall our light break forth like the dawn, and our healing shall spring up speedily. Our righteousness shall go before us, and the glory of the Lord shall be our rear guard. We shall call, and the Lord will answer.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Special Revelation IV: Recording the Revelation of Jesus

The writers of Scripture were not passive in their writing. I think many Christians treat the Bible as if its writers operated like robots, merely scribbling down thoughts that the Holy Spirit threw into their brains while they did not think. Yet, this is not the case. Especially in the New Testament, the writers of Scripture wrote as they shared their own encounters with Jesus.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete” (I John 1:1–4; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated).

The writers of Scripture, including St. Paul, probably used some very normal methods of research and writing as they shared what they knew about Jesus. Painting by Valentin de Boulogne [1591-1632; public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.]

John was not mindlessly scribbling random thoughts that popped into his head. He wrote what he knew. He had sat by Jesus’ side at the Last Supper. Jesus had entrusted the care of His mother to John. Throughout his Gospel, John referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He must have thought of himself as Jesus’ best friend. When he wrote his Gospel and his three letters, he wrote as one remembering some unforgettable moments that he had shared with a real Person, and he wanted his readers to know that Person as well as he did.

Peter likewise wrote his letters based on that experience:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16).

Why would Peter write the bold statements in his letters? Because he, along with John and James, had seen Jesus’ glory on the Mount of Transfiguration. He had denied Jesus, but then he knew Jesus’ forgiveness intimately. He had walked on water with Jesus. “I am not writing cleverly devised myths or clever stories I made up. I saw Jesus’ glory. I saw Him. I know Him! I am just telling you Who and what I experienced and know!”

It is true that some of the biblical authors did not personally know Jesus during His earthly ministry. We do not know if Paul ever met Christ. Perhaps he was one of the Pharisees who challenged or argued with Him in the Gospels. He could have been part of the crowd demanding Christ’s crucifixion. However, we know he did not become a disciple of Jesus until some time after His ascension. Likewise, Luke most likely never met Jesus. While his knowledge about Jesus was more second-hand, it was still thorough and was still guided by the Holy Spirit. Actually, Luke’s approach to writing his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles will sound very similar to the work many authors perform when writing about events we did not personally witness:

“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 for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1–4).

Luke wanted his reader, Theophilus (Greek for “friend of God”; we are not sure if it was an actual person or just a reference to any friend of God or follower of Christ who may read it), to know for certain about the things he had been taught. Luke wrote 30 or 40 years after Jesus ascended to heaven. Some of the eyewitnesses to the life and death of Jesus were already deceased. Time and distance separated many Christians from the life of Christ. How could they know for certain the truth about Him? How could the faith survive? Luke wanted to make certain that the testimony of those eyewitnesses, apostles, and other ministers of the Word would be preserved so that “friends of God” could remember them later. Like most writers, Luke did his research. He checked the original sources. He tried to assemble his facts so that he could present an orderly account. A lot of human work went into it so that he could accomplish a goal that lay on his heart. It was a very human process, even if it was inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may have placed the desire in Luke’s heart and guided his research and writing, but I would not be surprised if Luke felt very much like this was his project while he was doing it. Luke’s Gospel did not merely fall from the sky. It bore his sweat and effort as he achieved his goal.

While Luke wanted his readers to be certain of the truth about Jesus, John spelled out his purpose in writing. He had a lot to choose from: As mentioned previously, he was a witness to the life of Christ; he knew everything first-hand, and he had a lot to choose from (in John 21:24–25, he wrote that the entire world could not contain the books if everything Jesus did was recorded). John was consciously selective about what he shared in his Gospel:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).

The certainty Luke offered served the same purpose. We should seek to be certain about the truth of Jesus so that we can have life in His name. The Scriptures are intended to make us wise to salvation (2 Timothy 3:16). As we read the Bible, we should seek to look beyond the written word to know the Living Word who spoke to us.

The Bible is a book like no other. It is living and active because it is a divinely-inspired record of God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. Let us read and study that Word not so much to gain intellectual knowledge, but to come to know the Author and Source of all Truth.

Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Revelation and Scripture | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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