Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV)
So far in 2018, I have been taking time to dig deep into the book of Hebrews. Every weekday morning this year the words "God has spoken in his Son" have greeted me like an old friend. The familiarity I am getting with these two verses has caused me to think deeply about what they mean.
What I am continuing to learn is what good news this is for us. As we look through the history of the Old Testament there were prophets who spoke for God. The people asked for this. As Moses reminds the Israelites in Deuteronomy 18:16, they could not stand to have God come near to them and speak. They wanted a mediator who would be the one who would deliver the message of the LORD to them. For this, God used prophets.
This had two inherent drawbacks. Moses acknowledges this in Deuteronomy 18. The first problem reveals itself in the reason that Moses is speaking to them. He is telling them a new prophet will come after him. He will not be with them forever. A prophet has to be replaced because the prophet will die. The second problem Moses points out is disturbing. There will be those who will claim to speak for the LORD who are not from him. We can see both of these problems in stories we know from the Old Testament. There are many prophets. Death did not escape any of them except Elijah and still, he was taken from the earth and did not prophesy for all time. We also see the dangers of false prophets who lead the people astray and brings death.
We easily understand the problem of deception. In many years of youth ministry, I often used a game called "Two Truths and a Lie" with students. In this game, you come up with three statements about yourself. Two true and one false. Some students are better at this than others. There is always a student that has an obviously false statement. Statements almost as outrageous as "my family vacations on the moon". Other students are more crafty. It doesn't matter how well you know the students they able to shape a statement that is almost impossible to identify as false.
If this is the case with a youth group game, how much truer is this in real life? There are those who are crafty in deceiving in the name of God. The consequences of deception in the name of God is deadly. We dare not be lead astray. This is why we need something better than fallible prophets. We need an infallible prophet who will never fade away.
In his ascension, Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the Father. The New Testament is clear, he is our mediator. He is the one who goes between us and God on our behalf. Jesus is our eternal prophet. The point of the prophets in the Old Testament was to speak to the people for God but their most important task was to point to one greater than themselves. The purpose of the Old Testament revelation was to show us Christ. Now, we have him. In Jesus, we have a prophet who has spoken to us and he will not die and will not speak falsely. God has spoken in his Son, now and for all time.
This is good news for us because we do not need a new prophet to tell us what God says, we have his Word. This Word testifies to the work of Jesus to save us and it is sufficient for all that we need. We do not need to look to modern day prophets for a word from God. God has spoken in his Son and we have that in his Word. To look anywhere else would be a waste of time.
As you sojourn through this life you can trust the Word of God because it testifies to what Christ has done for you. Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly that you may have confidence that he alone is our eternal prophet.
When it comes to reading the Bible there is one thing that I hear more than anything else. People have trouble understanding some parts of the Bible. My conviction is that a significant part of this is rooted in the way that we view the Bible. Rethinking how we view the Bible is an important first step for knowing how to understand it and apply it.
When I was younger I was reading the Bible looking for things that I could do. I saw the Bible as a big book filled with stories and rules that were telling me how to live. In a sense this is true. God's word shows us how to live but I was approaching it completely from the wrong perspective. Because of this I found myself frustrated and confused at times. I could get into the Proverbs because that gave me clear ideas of how to live and to have wisdom. The Ten Commandments were clear cut for me. So were the portions of Paul's epistles that were telling his readers how to live. My understanding of the story of the flood was that Noah was righteous and so God saved him. My application was to be like Noah and not like the people taken in the flood.
What confused me were when the stories didn't fit the way that I thought they should. Noah was a righteous man but after he gets off the ark, he is getting drunk. Abraham, the man who left idolatry at the command of God, has his wife go into the harem of Pharaoh to protect himself. David, the giant slayer whose courage I thought I was to mimic, commits adultery and has a man murdered. How does all of this fit? Are these stories in there to show us how not to live or is there something deeper going on in the pages of scripture?
Over time, through gifted Bible teachers, I was able to get a better understanding of how to read the Bible. The Bible is more than an owners manual for life, giving me instructions on how to perform tasks or fix problems. It is the story of God redeeming his people. The Bible is the story of Jesus. Not from Matthew to Revelation but the whole of Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation the story is about Jesus and his saving work for us.
As we open to the first page of our Bibles we see that God created the world in six days and he rested from his work. He calls it very good. If we were to stop reading right there we would end up being very confused. While there is great beauty in the world there is also a lot of bad in the world. There is disease, war, bloodshed, and death. How can God possibly call this world good?
As we keep reading we see that through the sin of Adam and Eve this world fell into sin. Ever since we have suffered the consequences of this rebellion against God. How we understand our world and the Bible hinges on what the next part of the story is. Right there in the garden in Genesis 3:15, God made a promise. Someone would come from the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent.
This head crusher is Jesus. From that point forward the story of the Bible is about this savior. The book of Genesis follows the line of his ancestry. Noah was not simply a righteous man, he was a righteous man descended from Seth. He was in the line to the Messiah. He couldn't perish in the flood because God had made a promise that the head of the serpent would be crushed. All humanity cannot drown in the waters of judgment. That would make God a liar and worst of all this fallen creation would remain broken. The serpent would have had the last word.
The story of David and Goliath is not that David has courage and we should have courage too. David is the one in the line to the Messiah and he sees the people of God under threat by the forces that oppose God. They are representatives of the serpent. David stands up and defeats the forces of the serpent by defeating Goliath and cutting off his head. What a beautiful picture of the gospel! David, the ancestor of the Messiah, crushes the head of the serpent. He defeats Goliath just as Jesus would one day defeat Satan at the cross.
You can see the difference. To talk about having courage like David treats the story as though it is a fable. A story to teach me how I should behave. While we should have courage like David that isn't the story in 1 Samuel 17. It is the story of God rescuing his people from their sin. That is so much deeper and richer than approaching the Bible as an advice book.
Still, this approach to reading the Bible does show us how to live. By understanding God's amazing love for us in Christ, we are motivated to live our lives for him. Knowing that we have been rescued from the wrath of God, we love God by serving our neighbors. We also share this good news with others. We are motivated by God's love to keep God's law.
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone. This not only directs how we live our lives but it also helps us to understand scripture. The gospel needs to be our interpretive lens as we open up God's Holy Word. When we understand the great big story, God's Word opens up for us.
I encourage you to pick a book of the Bible. Dig into it and read with Jesus and the gospel in mind on every page.
One of the things that you can do to improve your Bible reading is to think big picture about the story that is found in the Bible. While we want to be able to apply what the Bible means to our lives in 2016 in Edgerton, MN we cannot properly do that until we understand and take hold of the big picture of the Bible.
We can see the importance of this by looking to the story that Jesus unfolded on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. In that story we come across the resurrected Christ interacting with a couple of his followers as they are on the road. The two people are downcast and Jesus inquires of why they are so upset. They seem shocked that this man doesn't know about all the events that have taken place in the past few days in Jerusalem. Jesus then takes the time to unfold the scriptures for them regarding what the Messiah would have to endure. Verse 27 of Luke 24 tells us that "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Clearly Jesus is letting those sojourners on the road and us know that he is the center of scripture. To paraphrase theologian Michael Horton, if we are going to try and understand the Old Testament we should probably try to interpret it the way Jesus did, just to be safe.
That means that when we come to scripture our reading of it needs to start with an assumption that this book is pointing us to Jesus in some way. It is tempting to read from the Bible and read yourself into it. It happens all the time and it happens to the best of us. On a radio program recently I heard pastor and theologian John MacArthur talk about the first sermon he ever preached. It was on the resurrection. MacArthur said that he preached on rolling away the stones in your own life. While it may be encouraging to hear that you can roll away the figurative stones that may be blocking success or happiness in your life, the story of the resurrection is not about that. The story of the resurrection is about Jesus and what he has done to save us. In the resurrection Jesus wins victory over death, hell, and the devil and secures for us the reality of our own resurrection from the dead.
Like I said before, "rolling away the stone in your life" may be encouraging for a time, but it pales in comparison to the real story that the resurrection of Jesus is telling us. The message of the Bible is one of God's grace and mercy. If we miss how the whole of scripture points to Christ and his saving work for us we are not rightly handling God's Word. When we handle God's word rightly, we can know that we are faithfully coming to an understanding of who God is and what he wants us to know about himself.
The next time you pick up your Bible to read take a moment to remember the gospel. By centering yourself on Christ's perfect life, death, and resurrection you will be heading into your Bible reading with the main message of the entire Bible in focus. This will help to give you a Christ-centered approach as you dive deeply into the word of God.