In our Gospel Alone series we've had:
But how do you get in on this gracious salvation in Christ?
Well faith comes by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom 10:17). Jesus-people must be bible-people.
And we must see the Scriptures as:
clear and consistent
all about Christ
Christ/grace/faith – marriage.
How do you get into that? Scripture leads us to Christ.
Romans 10:17: Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
I want reformation for us. Renewal, revival, reformation – whatever you call it, I want it.
HOW?? – this book.
The Bible creates new life
The Word of God created the universe.
People of promise => people of book
Without the word = famine (Amos 8:11)
With the word = revival (Josiah: 2 Kings 22; Nehemiah 8)
Christ came in fulfilment of word – He died in fulfilment of the word
When you cut Him He bled Scripture
He’d told His disciples to scatter word like seed
Day of Pentecost = day of preaching
First thing new church did was devote itself to the word
Acts says the word spread and grew and bore fruit.
Now in 2 Timothy Paul is on death row – the apostles are all dying out. The church was deserting Paul. There were persecutions left, right & centre. What to do?
Preach the word. 2 Timothy 3:12ff:
12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Be a person of the book Timothy – just like your mother and your grandmother. Because the holy Scriptures have power to bring you to Christ. Remember that Paul is referring to the OT at this point. The OT is able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ. That’s what the OT is about – salvation through faith in Christ. Of course the NT is about that too. So this book is the book that brings you to Christ.
Paul goes on, v16:
16 All Scripture is God-breathed
All Scripture is breathed out by God. The Word of God is carried along on the Breath of God. And that becomes even more significant when you realize that the word for breath and the word for spirit are the same word in Greek. All Scripture is God-Spirited. The Word of God is carried along by the Spirit of God. So this book is – above all things – the Holy Spirit’s biography of Jesus.
In fact that’s probably the most fundamental truth to learn about the bible. The bible is the Holy Spirit’s biography of Jesus. Throughout church history people have called it the Spirit’s testimony to the Son. But perhaps it’s easier to call it the Holy Spirit’s biography of Jesus.
Now everything we need for the Christian life is in Jesus and the bible points us to Jesus so Paul is able to continue in v16:
[the bible] is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
This book teaches, rebukes (which means ‘tells off’), corrects and trains and it’s everything you need for every good work in the Christian life. It doesn’t spell out how to be a Christian astrophysicist, it doesn’t spell out how to be a Christian accountant. But it points me to Jesus, shows me all the riches that are in Christ, it brings faith in Him which unites me to Jesus and equips me to bear fruit in all sorts of ways.
So as Paul waits on death row and as everyone who ever personally met Jesus is dying out, as the churches he planted abandon him and persecution goes from bad to worse, Paul leaves Timothy with these words ringing in his ears: Chapter 4, verse 1:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Keep scattering this seed, keep preaching this word – when people want to hear it and when they don’t want to hear it. Preach the word. Don’t just hold onto the bible and be grateful for the bible – speak the bible to others, that the whole world might be brought to Christ. This is Paul’s passion.
Is it our passion? Do we know what it is we have in our hands?
Did you know that, for centuries in this country it was illegal to have an English bible. All they had was the Latin translation from the 4th century that was very shoddy and which no commoner could read. The church didn’t want commoners reading the bible. They said that the bible was an obscure book – not plain, not clearly understandable. Only the pope and certain teaching officials in the church could understand and interpret the bible. The common folk just should be happy to turn up to mass on Sunday and keep quiet.
In fact the church was so threatened by the idea of people actually reading the bible for themselves and holding the church to account that they decreed that anyone found in possession of an English bible would be burned at the stake. To give you some idea, in 1517 seven parents were burned alive for teaching their children the Lord’s prayer in English. Merely to possess the Lord’s prayer in English was a capital offence.
In the 1380s John Wycliffe (sometimes called ‘the morning star of the reformation’) translated the bible out of the old Latin translation. Hand written copies were distributed and became incredibly popular.
A follower of Wycliffe’s called John Hus started preaching with this English translation and armed with an understandable translation, he began opposing the church and its teaching. He was burnt at the stake in 1415 and the Wycliffe bibles were used as kindling. His dying words were: “in 100 years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.”
Well one hundred years later a monk called Martin Luther came along. And because he was a monk – in fact he was a Doctor of the Bible, we might call him a Professor of Biblical Studies – he was able to study the bible for himself. And he made the most incredible discovery. He had been taught that “the righteousness of God” was God’s standard by which He judged unrighteous sinners. But as he studied the bible, and especially the book of Romans he saw that “the righteousness of God” was a gift that God gave to those who trusted Jesus. Here’s how he put it:
"I had indeed been captivated with an extraordinary ardor for understanding Paul in the Letter to the Romans. But there was one word in Chapter 1 that had stood in my way: "In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed."
I hated that word "righteousness of God," which, according to the use and custom of all the teachers, I had taught to be the active righteousness with which God is righteous and punishes the unrighteous sinner.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that He was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if it is not enough that miserable sinners are crushed by the ten commandments, here God adds pain to pain by the gospel threatening us with His righteousness and wrath!"
Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely,
"In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live."'
There I began to understand that “the righteousness of God” is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, "He who through faith is righteous shall live." Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates."
This was the conversion of Martin Luther and this was spark that lit the reformation fires. How did it come about? Bible study. Luther beat importunately upon the verses of Scripture. He looked at the verses in context, he compared Scripture with Scripture, he meditated on the word and he persisted until he gained understanding. And when he got the understanding he saw “Ah Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone” – He was born again.
Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.
And now, armed with this new biblical understanding, Luther started writing book after book pointing people back to the Scriptures. The church was extremely threatened and Luther was hauled in front of Emporer Charles the Fifth and commanded to take back all his writings (to recant). Luther famously responded:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by plain reason - for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves - I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant... Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God.
Well in the providence of God, Luther escaped being executed for this because he was kidnapped by friends and hidden away in a castle. And so with all this time on his hands, what do you think Luther did? He translated the bible into common German so that everyone could make the same discoveries he had made.
Scripture leads us to Christ, and when Scripture is unleashed, the power of Christ is felt.
Do we know what we have in our hands? This has the power to revolutionize your heart, your life, this church, Eastbourne, this nation. This book is dynamite.
Let me just point us to three features of the bible that, if they are in place, will revitalize our lives, this church, Eastbourne and beyond.
The Bible is confronting
It’s a word from above. It must have the supremacy.
Turn to Hebrews 4
12 For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
When we open the bible – we do not judge it, it judges us. We don’t stand over the bible, the bible stands over us. We don’t dissect the Scriptures, the Scriptures dissect us. The bible cuts us to the heart. This is not just the Spirit’s biography of Jesus, it’s the Spirit’s Sword. And it cuts us open.
Do you let the bible confront you? The medieval church had all sorts of ways of domesticating the bible – of blunting it and keeping it out of harm’s way. They didn’t read it, or they left it to the professionals to read. And when they did read it, they said “Well the bible’s not our only authority – we also have ‘reason’ and ‘the tradition of the church’.
But of course what we think of as reasonable changes all the time. If you could interview your great great grandparents today and find out their views on things you’d be shocked at how unreasonable they sounded. But before you feel too superior, if your great great grandchildren could ask you about your views they’d be shocked at how unreasonable you are. What sounds reasonable changes all the time – you can’t fit the bible into whatever sounds reasonable to you. It’s got to be able to confront us or else we’ve blunted the double-edged sword.
Same goes for tradition. Tradition is just the accumulation of what certain people thought was reasonable. Now when I want to understand the bible I’m very grateful that I’m not the first one to wrestle with a verse and I can read a hundred dead guys and all the great wisdom they’ve brought to bear on their bible studies. But I can’t hold that up on the same level as the bible. The bible must be supreme or I’m not treating it right.
And that’s where the term Scripture Alone comes in. It doesn’t mean that you don’t think through the Scriptures or reason our their implications. It’s not that you don’t consult a whole pile of dead guys when you try to understand the bible – you do. But you have to let the bible have the last word. You have to let IT contradict even your dearest, most reasonable, most traditional thoughts.
But when you allow it to speak with supreme authority, you will find incredible liberation.
Allow it to contradict you. Loyalty begins at the point of disagreement. It must be allowed to contradict your most precious beliefs. If not, you'll never be free. You'll always be trapped by common sense, cultural prejudices, church traditions.
You might think you know about psychology and how people tick. And the bible dares to disagree with you. You must let the double-edged sword judge you.
You might think you know about science and how the world ticks. And the bible dares to disagree with you. You must let the double-edged sword judge you.
You might think you know about sex and relationships. And the bible dares to disagree with you. You must let the double-edged sword judge you.
But when you do bring yourself under the authority of the word, that’s when you STOP being a slave to the cultural assumptions of our day.
For the sake of your freedom, submit yourself to this word- and see what liberation God brings.
The Bible is consistent and clear
Let’s turn to Acts 17.
10 As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
This is astonishing – the Apostle Paul is preaching. Paul doesn’t just read Scripture, he writes Scripture. He wrote half the New Testament. And he turns up in little Berea and the little Bereans are commended for listening to Paul with bible’s open and saying “Maybe, I’m going to keep reading and check this out.” And Paul likes that. The bible likes that – every preacher worth anything likes that – when people search the Scriptures daily to see if what the preacher said is true.
That’s what a Scripture alone people does! Even when the Apostle Paul blows into town – he is not above Scripture. Scripture is the highest authority.
But do you see what this assumes about the bible? It assumes that people can read it and understand it. That it’s not an obscure book, it’s a clear book. Even the ploughboy can go home and piece things together and make sense of the bible.
You don’t need to be the Apostle Paul to understand the bible, you can be a simple Berean church-goer. But let’s update this. You don’t need to go to bible college to understand the bible (it might be better if you don’t go to bible college – seriously!). You don’t need to go to vicar factory or the theological cemetery to understand the bible. The bible is clear.
Remember that Timothy knew the Scriptures from infancy. And even as a child the Scriptures were able to make him wise for salvation through faith in Christ. The bible is a clear book. Of course there are difficult things in it. But in terms of leading you to faith in Christ – in terms of the things it is really all about – it is a clear book that anyone can and everyone should understand.
God wants to raise up another generation of Bereans, who are constantly searching the Scriptures to find the meaning. And it’s so much easier these days, we can go home and log onto biblegateway.com and do the searches in seconds.
And we don’t need to know Greek and Hebrew – sometimes it helps – but you don’t need to know it. You certainly don’t need to know about the archaeology of ancient Egypt or Mesopotamian coronation services or Corinthian hat-making techniques. If the Holy Spirit thought that stuff was necessary he would have included it in an appendix at the back. But He knows how to write a good biography, and He’s written a glorious biography of Christ and we’ve got what we need IN the book. Just keep searching it.
Do what Luther did, beat impatiently on it. Look at the context. Compare it with other Scriptures that are like it. Search the Scriptures. Literally, go to the bible website, type in the key words you’re having trouble with – Be a Berean. Search the Scriptures. Meditate on them, persist in it and things will become clear.
Because Scripture interprets Scripture. The Bible’s not just clear – it’s consistent. In fact it’s clear because it’s consistent. Scripture interprets Scripture.
Do you have questions about the bible and about bible verses? We all do. But what this means is that the answers to our bible questions are in the bible. The answers don’t lie with the pope or with the archaeologist or the bible college professor – the answers are in the bible.
Now it’s helpful if you’ve got an Apostle Paul around who can point you to where the answers are in the bible. But even without a bible expert on hand, we can search the Scriptures and be made wise for salvation through faith in Christ.
And when we do that, we will put our footing on the surest foundations. People who seriously search the Scriptures and come to firm convictions about Christ are the most solid joyful Christians you can meet. Don’t be a Christian who has second hand convictions about Jesus. Don’t trust Jesus because your preacher trusts Jesus. Don’t believe in certain doctrines because your church believes in certain doctrines. Be a Christian who searches the Scriptures and so drinks from the source. That’s where real joy and certainty in the Christian life comes from.
The Bible is about Christ
37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life. 41 "I do not accept praise from men, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? 45 "But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?"
Here is such a warning for us. Here we see people of the book who are NOT people of the promise. These people trust in the book but don’t trust in the One the book is about. They love the bible but they don’t love Jesus. And so their bible study (v39) may be diligent, but (v38) God’s word does not dwell in them.
You can be a diligent bible student and know nothing of God’s word. You could memorize the bible and know nothing of God’s word. Because the bible is the Spirit’s biography of Jesus and if your bible study hasn’t brought you to Jesus then you don’t know God and you don’t know His word.
There are people who think that life is found IN the bible They love the bible because they think the bible is the point. The bible is NOT the point. The point is Jesus. We love Scripture because Scripture alone brings us to Jesus – but Scripture isn’t the point. Jesus is.
‘There is no doubt that all the Scripture points to Christ alone’ (WA, 10:73);
‘All of Scripture everywhere deals only with Christ’ (WA, 46:414);
‘In the words of Scripture you will find the swaddling clothes in which Christ lies. Simple and little are the swaddling clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them’ (LW, 35:236).
This is absolutely key for Luther and key if we want reformation. We don’t just hour the bible highly. The Pharisees honoured the bible highly. We allow the bible to lead us to CHRIST – in HIM is life.
Jesus of course is speaking of the OT in John 5. Verse 46: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”
Moses wrote about Jesus. The Old Testament is understood as a book of promise or it is not understood at all. From the garden of Eden onwards, every genealogy is there because they are waiting for the serpent crusher to be born. Every concern for offspring is a concern for the Offspring, Christ, to come and redeem them. Every king is there as a throne warmer for Christ. The good kings make us yearn for Jesus. The bad kings make us yearn even more for Jesus. Every command of the law shows us His righteousness and our need for Him. Every sacrifice points to His sacrifice taking away our sin. Every feature of the temple is laying out the details of Christ’s priestly work. Every priest points to Christ’s high priestly work. Every suffering prophet speaks of His suffering work. Every Psalm that records the prayer of the righteous king to the LORD – that is Christ’s prayer to the Father. Every word about the temple’s destruction speaks of Christ the true temple torn down on the cross. Every warning about curses and exile speaks of the cursing and exile Christ would take upon Himself on the cross. Every promise of return from exile speaks of the gathering Christ does when He rises from the dead and calls us to Himself.
The bible is about Jesus.
Do you read the bible in order to come to Christ? Or do you read the bible in order to move the bookmark forward? To do your bit, to do your spiritual duty for the day.
No – here is the Spirit’s biography of the Son. Here is Christ placarded before us in all HIS glory that we might TRUST Him in life and death and eternity.
So the bible is confronting, it’s clear and consistent and it’s about Christ.
How should we read it?
Humbly. Expectantly. Carefully. Devotionally
Let me finish by telling you about William Tyndale.
William Tyndale was an exact contemporary of Luther's. He lived in England at a time when you could not possess a bible in English on pain of death. In fact in 1517, in this country, seven parents were burnt at the stake for teaching their children the Lord’s Prayer in English. That was the kind of time it was. Brave William Tyndale stepped forward. He loved the gospel of justification by faith alone, loved the Scriptures and was an incredible linguist. He could speak 8 languages fluently. His desire was to translate the bible so that the ploughboy would know the Scriptures better than the priests. He had to flee to Europe to do it, but he produced the NT in English and over the next ten years managed to translate a large part of the Old Testament too. And he smuggled it back into England in bales of cotton and sacks of wheat. Anyone found in possession of a Tyndale bible would be burnt. But that didn’t stop them from being *incredibly* popular. They sold like hotcakes and England’s reformation exploded because people got bibles in their own hands, having direct access to the words of life.
Within ten years of the first Tyndale New Testament, William Tyndale was betrayed by a friend, captured and burnt at the stake.
This book has been handed to us by martyr after martyr and all of them cry out – Take it, read it, search the Scriptures, submit to them and allow them to lead you to Christ. Our lives and our cultures will be turned upside down when we take this book seriously.