Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 +INPFSS+
This verse from The Biblical book of Romans is about the Bible. So This morning, while still always preaching FROM the Bible, What I wish to say is chiefly ABOUT the Bible.
It bothers me that in the popular sentiment of our day, we speak about the “Bible churches” over here on one side. And the “Mainline” or “traditional” churches over here. It bothers me that if someone goes to a Baptist Church, they are thought of as a Bible-man. But if they come to an Anglican church, then you are thought of as into “all that other stuff”.
No. This is a terrible and false dichotomy.
Because, my fellow Anglicans – we are a Bible Church. Everything we do here, at The Good Shepherd, is because of the Bible. Everything that is taught is accountable to the Bible. The language of our prayerbook that we pray in our liturgies – comes straight out of the bible. 90% of the phrases are lifted straight from scripture. While the outward form of some of our rituals is not prescribed by the Bible, every single one of them exists to point us back to a biblical truth. As Anglicans WE need to think of ourselves as Bible Christians, because we are every bit as much as, actually, even more than, any other denomination that would try and take the title for themselves. But even more than that – even more than just thinking of ourselves rightly, let it actually be true of us on the ground!
Because sadly, the reason other denominations might look down on us when it comes to our knowledge of and adherance to the Bible, is because, despite what is essentially true of us as a Church, on the ground, as individuals, we have so often been out done. Our baptist brothers and sisters HAVE put us to shame when it comes to our own personal acquaintance with Holy Scripture. But what has sadly been true on the ground in different eras and places: May it never be true here. May it never be true of us.
And the reason we should read our bibles, it's not just to compete with the Baptists. No not at all. It's a much more serious matter than that. We need to read and know our bible because only by doing so can we know about God! The living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
For as St. Jerome, the first great translator of the Scriptures in the 5th century wrote, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
While it is the case that we have an immediate, real relationship with the invisible God in the present, this relationship is only made real when we there is Communication.
Think of it in human terms. Let's say you get together with someone you want to get to know. But when you get together, you look at each other, but don't say a word. How much are you going to get to know that person? Hardly at all! Sure you can describe what they look like, but you're not going to know them at all!
And it's the same thing with God! We can just sit with him and look at each other so to speak. And from that we can determine that he is invisible, and must be a powerful creator to have made this world, and must be at least partly good. And...that's about it! As Paul tells us in Romans 1 – even the heathens know these things! No – in order to really know God, we must communicate with him! And the principal way in which God communicates himself to us is through the Bible.
So rather than just sitting there, if I want to know God, I should read what he has written for me! God HAS spoken. And it got written down. And it's right here in this book!
This thought should blow our minds! We should be crazy for Holy Scripture, and ravenous to learn from it.
Listen to what Mahatma Gandhi – himself not even a Christian – said about the Bible.
“You Christians look after a document containing enough dynamite to blow all civilisation to pieces, turn the world upside down and bring peace to a battle-torn planet. But you treat it as though it is nothing more than a piece of literature.”
Is this true of you? Do you have a Bible on your shelf, like you have Shakespeare's plays, or a Dictionary? Do you treat it just like a piece of literature? Revered on the shelf, perused lightly from time to time, but never really read and obeyed?
If so – you are missing out!
There are three obstacles, as I see it, to the regular reading of God's word.
The first is laziness. And the remedy is that we pray to God to help us not be lazy. And then strategize about when in the week we can make time for it.
The second is not having the proper tools to rightly interpret scripture, and so it seems dense and hard to understand. The remedy for this is learning these tools from Bible classes, sermons, and, if you're interested, I would love to meet with you some time to help you on your way.
The third obstacle is simply not-knowing. Not knowing just what it is that we are holding in our hands when we hold a bible. If we just knew the awesomeness of the Bible, we would be more inclined to crack it open from time to time. If we can be impressed by Holy Scripture, then we can find ways to overcome the first two obstacles I just named.
So that's what I want to speak about this morning. In short: the awesomeness of the Bible.
And to do that, I want to walk through this one little verse in Romans 15: Verse 4.
The first thing here, about the Bible is that it was “written in former days”
“written in former days”
The first thing to note then, about the Bible, is that it is historical. It contains a true record of what has happened in the past. And it goes waaaay back. When we add up all the years in which the various kings and so on lived, then we can figure that Moses lived sometime around the 1500s BC – 35 hundred years ago. And we know that our first and oldest books in the bible come to us from him. Now, he wrote about a lot of things that happened before him – he put down on paper the oral-history that had been preserved, from the Fall of Adam and Eve, down through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and his sons that led them into the Egypt that Moses led the people out of. So Moses is writing about the thousands of years that came before him, as well as the history he himself was a part of. The Bible then, being written in former days, goes all the way back, right, to creation, and the dawn of time. And it covers the hundreds of years of Israel's history in which God spoke through the mouths of his prophets. And then, the crown and center of the whole Scriptures, the four holy Gospels, which were penned almost 2000 years ago, recording the words and deeds of our Savior JESUS. And at the same time as those were being written, Paul was writing his letters to the Churches also. And so we see that the various pieces of this book were in the process of being written for sixteen-hundred years. Gradually adding one book at a time, until all 66 books were here.
This is pretty impressive stuff!
If you found this book on raggedy paper in an old archive in a castle, and discovered it for the first time, you wouldn't know what to do with yourself! It would be the greatest archaeological and literary discovery of all time. But when it sits in its demure binding on a shelf, it can be easy to forget what a wild voyage through time this book has been on.
...written in former days....for our instruction...
“for our instruction”
In saying that the Bible was written “for our instruction”, Paul means first that it contains the record of what God said and did in in the past, so that we can be instructed about who God is, and what story we find ourselves in the middle of.
When we read the account of God parting the waters of the Red Sea, we learn simultaneously about his power over creation, and his care for his chosen people.
And this is profoundly instructive. It means that when I am sick, if I pray to God for healing, and I have read this story, then I know that he who had power over the water in Moses' time also has power over the bacteria in my body. And I know that he who cared for his people then, also cares for me, who through faith has become one of his chosen people.
The stories that are recounted. The words of the prophets that are recorded. They are all written for our instruction.
But the Bible is still even more than just learning about the past. It's not like some collection of old news-paper articles. No, every word, every detail, every turn of phrase, is precisely chosen by God himself, in his speaking it through those human authors who penned them in the first place.
Which means no detail is incidental. And every word can be instructive. This is what Paul is getting at when he says in his letter to Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
And it also means that, tucked into those ordinary pages, is communication from God himself, which he had written down for us with a purpose. To instruct us, in the present. Do you want to hear from God? Read a bible!
And by read I don't mean read the way you read the newspaper or your emails. I mean the way you might have read a love-letter when you were courting. Or the way you read someone's will. With attention to detail. With a sensitive ear. Or, as the powerful words of this morning's collect charge us:
we need to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them
We need to hear Scripture read,
then go read it ourselves,
,mark, take note of what it is saying,
learn, as in memorize, and hold close to one's heart,
and through meditating on them, and applying them, then inwardly digest them
hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.
But to what end? What is the end result of really reading this book? Paul goes on:
“that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures”
The Scriptures are here to help us with two things: One, to endure, and Two, to be encouraging.
How do the Scriptures do this?
Well think of it this way. Imagine you're setting out in a small sail-boat from Jacksonville, and your goal is to make it to England. And let's say you've got a great map, and a great compass, and you're all set. But you only look at the map and compass for the first two days of the 3 week journey. After that, you put it down, and trusting that you're on the right course, keep on sailing. Where do you think you'll end up on that journey? Who knows?! Ghana, Brazil, New York. Anywhere but England! The only way to get to the right destination is by continually checking in with the map and compass.
And it's the same thing with life: The scriptures are our map and compass. They will continually be pointing us in the direction God wants us to go, and the directions he wants us to avoid.
And if we keep relying on them, then we will make our destination – eternal life with God.
And it's in this way, that the Scriptures help us to endure.
To carry on on the right track.
And along the way, when the waves get rough, and storms come in, and it's hard to remember even why you set out on this voyage in the first place, the scriptures offer us the second thing Paul mentions: Encouragement. The Bible is full of encouragement:
Come to me, all you who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt)
The Lord watches over your going out and your coming in (Psalms)
These light and momentary afflictions are nothing compared to the glory that is to be revealed. (1 Peter)
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord (Rev)
And the cornerstone, the root, of all the encouragement in the Bible, is to be found in the promises we have in Christ – of what we look ahead to, because of him.
As Paul goes on to say, that we might have hope.
“we might have hope.”
The theme we have been touching on for several weeks now is the part of the Story that is yet to unfold. The End that is still to come. The things we have hope in: The return of our Lord, the resurrection of the dead, the healing of all that is broken. This is what the Bible is constantly referring us to. The Land of Milk and Honey at the end of the years of pilgrimage. The victory after the suffering.
The hope that is ours in Christ Jesus.
A hope anchored in the future that he has promised us.
You could say that in some way the Bible, while encompassing the whole of human past, is also a book from the future, revealing what is to come. Telling us what life will be like in our true home, as Paul calls it in 2 Corinthians.
St. Augustine in fact once quipped, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home."
The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.
Doesn't that make you want to read them a little more?
It does me.
And as you do, as you pour through the Bible.
The Bible written in former days
The Bible written for our instruction,
The Bible that gives us endurance and encouragement,
The Bible that gives us hope,
remember that the Book is not an end in itself. The scriptures do not have life in themselves. They are a window. A written word that points us to the Living Word: Jesus Christ himself.
As Martin Luther put it, and with this appropriately-advent-y quote I'll end: “Scripture is the manger in which the Christ lies.’ As a mother goes to a cradle to find her baby so the Christian goes to the Bible to find Jesus. Don’t let us inspect the cradle and forget to worship the baby.”