[Note: I’ve broken my sermon into two parts for navigating convenience. This is the first part: Why Should We Read the Bible?, and I’ve linked to the second post which was the second half of the sermon: The Gospel According to the Wasteland.]
This week we continue our series Looking for Jesus: Learning to Read the Bible & the World Through New Eyes. This week we ask the question: Why Should We Read the Bible? And for our case study, we will look at the themes of exile and barrenness.
How does this fit with Advent?
We said last week that like the saints of the Old Covenant, we are looking for Jesus in at least two senses: We are blind and need to see Him in the Scriptures, and we need to see Him in our world, in our stories. And these two things are connected.
Luke 24 recounts the famous story of the two disciples leaving Jerusalem in sadness and disappointment. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, the One who was to redeem Israel. But when the risen Jesus overtakes them and begins talking to them, they do not recognize Him. As they explain their disappointment and sadness, Jesus calls them fools for being “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken,” and Luke says, “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Lk. 24:25, 27) The disciples didn’t recognize Jesus right in front of them because they had not recognized Jesus in the Scriptures. They didn’t know the part of the story they were in because they didn’t know the story of Scripture. And left to ourselves, we’re foolish disciples, blind and deaf and can’t see or hear Jesus in the Bible or in our stories, unless Jesus opens our eyes. All of us are looking for Jesus at various points along the road to Emmaus this Advent and Christmas. All of us are in the same predicament as Ezekiel when he was commanded to preach to the dry bones (Ez. 37). Can dry bones live? If God is willing, the Spirit will cause the Word to give life.
Why should we read the Bible?
The simplest and most profound answer is actually the answer to last week’s question: What is the Bible? It’s the Word of God. Why should we read the Bible? It’s the Word of God.
But more specifically, you need to read the Bible because…
1. It’s the kingly wisdom of Jesus for His royal people. Throughout the Bible, wisdom and understanding is associated with kings, nobility, and royalty. Paul tells Timothy that the holy scriptures are “able to make thee wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). Deuteronomy 17 gives specific provision for when the time would come that kings would rule in Israel. And while God prohibits certain behaviors, He prescribes one central activity: “And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests of the Levites; and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life” (Dt. 17:18-19, cf. 2 Kgs. 22-23). Solomon tells his son: “For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly” (Pr. 2:6-7, 4:5, 7). “By me [wisdom] kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Pr. 8:15-16, cf. Ps. 119:23). When God called Jeremiah to proclaim His word in Israel, He said, “See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant” (Jer. 1:10). In Ephesians 1, Paul says that Christians have been given the Holy Spirit who is the down payment of our inheritance in Jesus who has ascended far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and “hath raise us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in King Jesus” (Eph. 1:13-2:6). You need to read the Bible in order to have the kingly wisdom of Jesus. If Christians are the Kings of this World, and we see injustice, evil, and wickedness prevailing, we must own this as our fault for not having read and studied Scripture faithfully.
2. It teaches the fear of the Lord for obedience and humility. Again, Deuteronomy 17 says that the reason the king ought to copy out the law and read it every day: “That he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left…” (Dt. 17:19-20) Reading the Bible guards us against sin: “How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed, according to thy word… Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:9, 11). We often forget that disobedience is arrogance and obedience is humility, whatever anyone may think or accuse you of. When you disobey God, you are thumbing your nose at Him. You are saying that you know better. But the fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Pr. 8:13). Paul says that all Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). You need to read the Bible so you know how to humbly obey and grow in holiness.
3. It’s food that gives peace, healing, growth, and length of days. When Ezekiel is called to proclaim the word of the Lord to Israel, Yahweh says, “Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth and he caused me to eat that roll. And he said unto me, ‘Son of Man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee.’ Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness” (Ez. 3:1-3). “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:103, Ps. 19:10) Jesus quotes Deuteronomy when He is tempted in the wilderness: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). “This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me” (Ps. 119:50). “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights” (Ps. 119:143). Are you weak? “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according to thy word” (Ps. 119:28). “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee” (Pr. 3:1-2). “Forsake her [wisdom] not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee” (Pr. 4:6). “Bind them [words of parents) continually upon thine heart, and tie them about they neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: to keep thee from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman…” (Pr. 6:21-24). “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word…” (Lk. 2:29). The Word brings peace in reconciliation: “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). “Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (Jn. 6:67-68, Jn. 15:3, Eph. 5:26). In Deuteronomy, the king is instructed to read the law every day so that he might obey it: “to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel” (Dt. 17:20). You need to read the Bible in order to be fed, for peace, comfort, and long life.
4. It gives faith & sets men free: “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). When Scripture is fulfilled it gives us even greater faith: “When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said” (Jn. 2:22). “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word” (Acts 10:44). You need to read the Bible in order to have faith and walk in the freedom of the Spirit.
Now let’s see this in action. Let’s look at how the Bible tells the story of the gospel in the themes of exile and barrenness: The Gospel According to the Wasteland.