[Note: I’ve broken my sermon into two parts for navigating convenience. This is the first part: How 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 Lights.]
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: How Should We Read the Bible? And for our case study, we will look at the theme of Lights.
How does this fit with Advent?
As we celebrate Christ’s first Advent, we are praying that God would come open our eyes to see Jesus in His Word and in the World around us. So my goals are:
1. That you would love the Bible more and read it and study it more because you love Jesus more and you can’t stop finding Him (and His stories of grace) there.
2. That finding Jesus in the Bible would be the beginning of even greater wisdom in seeing Him in the story of your life and in the story of the world around you.
Jesus said that you can tell a tree by its fruit (Lk. 6:44), but we need wisdom for this. We need our senses exercised to discern both good and evil, and this comes through growing skillful in the word of righteousness (Heb. 5:12-14).
One of the great lies of evolutionary thought is that everything is random. But Jesus says that fig trees make figs, and bramble bushes always make thorns and never the other way around (Lk. 6:44). But paganism always wants random mutation. It wants bad trees to be able to make good fruit. And if evolution is true, then that is the way the world works because we all accidentally crawled up out of the primordial slime. But if God created the world from nothing, and has spoken it into existence, then His definitions matter. Plants must produce fruit and seeds according to their kinds. This is because this is how God has spoken the world, and this is how God has spoken in His Word. And God’s Word brings light and clarity and freedom. But the culture around us is busy trying to ignore God’s Word which is to invite darkness, necessarily blurring distinctions. That’s not a human being it’s a blob of tissue. That’s not a man or a woman, it’s a bisexual, transsexual, lesbian, gay, transgender, whatever. But the fruit of this redefining is rotten, ugly, violent, and dark. The fruit of this is a young man walking into an elementary school and massacring a classroom full of kindergartners.
So we want to read the Word and exercise our senses in good and evil, and that means applying the stories and symbols of the Bible to our world: If the fellow says that we need to borrow more money that doesn’t exist to help the poor, you should squint your eyes a little and see Pharaoh talking, giving a press conference on bricks without straw. In other words, you should hear the voice of a serpent, a liar, and a rotten tree trying to sell rotten fruit, trying to exchange the garden of God for the wasteland of sin, trying to pass weeds off as fruit.
But you also need to see how those weeds got there. Just as bramble bushes don’t randomly start producing apples, so too weeds that aren’t pulled don’t suddenly, magically become good for the health of your garden.
It won’t do to see the enemies out there and refuse to acknowledge the enemies in here. It won’t do to taste puke in your mouth when some awful atrocity happens out there, while nursing a grudge against your mother, your father, your husband, your wife. It won’t do to stand up and cheer when the pastor says that the murder of the unborn is wicked and evil, while silently murdering your brother in your heart because he has been blessed with more money than you, greater glory than you, more success than you, or simply because he has different opinions than you.
The apostle says that whatever isn’t done in faith is sin. That means you can help a little old lady across the street with her groceries and be in sin. That means you can get all dressed up and come sing in the choir and do it in sin. And so: You need to study trees and fruit. You need to study barrenness and exile. You need to study weeds and thorns. You need to study the sun, moon, and stars. You need to study your Bibles. You need study the world around you. And you need to pray that God gives you eyes to see, that He would come to us by His Spirit through His Word so that we might really see the difference between sin and righteousness, the difference between folly and wisdom. It’s easy to see a lawn that’s infested with crab grass and dandelions. But it’s harder to see the one or two weeds here and there. They blend in with the grass.
So we need to exercise our senses by reading the Bible.
How should we read the Bible?
1. With Love: This should be obvious, but we know there is a way to read the Bible that misses the entire point. Jesus said that the Jews searched the Scriptures, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (Jn. 5:39-40). In other words, it’s possible to read the Bible, to study the Bible, to search the Scriptures in such a way as to avoid Jesus Himself. People construct systems of theology, decipher super-secret symbolism, and write long journal articles and books about God, all the while hating Him in their hearts. We need to read the Bible with love for the One who has spoken it. And this love expresses itself in obedience. Jesus presses this point repeatedly, “If ye love me, keep my commandments… He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me… If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He that loveth me not does not keep My words” (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23-24, 1 Jn. 2:5). You can tell you are reading the Bible with the right kind of love when it causes you to love God more, translating into more obedient love for your neighbor: “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “Ye shall love your neighbor as yourself”(Gal. 5:14, Js. 2:8). You need to read the Bible out of love for its Author that translates into obedient love for others. Your wife and children and neighbors should know you’ve been reading your Bible rightly by the way your love for them has increased (and not by how cranky, perfectionistic, and introspective you’ve become).
2. Typlogically: Another way to say this is reading the Bible as a story. Because the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is able to carry multiple significances within it’s one, grand story. Examples include: Trees, Barrenness & Exile, Lights, etc. Other examples include: The Bible opens and closes with gardens (Gen. 1-3, Rev. 22). Jesus said that the whole Old Testament is about Him (Lk. 24:25-27). Paul says the story of Israel is a type of the Church (1 Cor. 10:1-6). Hebrews says that OT law was full of shadows of the “good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). Peter says that the flood was a type of baptism (1 Pet. 3:20-21). Sarah and Hagar were types of the Old and New Covenants (Gal. 4). In other words, reading typologically means reading the Bible as one, unified story, seeing Jesus and His gospel on every page of Scripture. At the same time, we need to recognize that some people latch on to typology like it was some kind of gnostic “secret code,” some people treat typology like some kind of indie band that is cool almost entirely because no one else has heard of them. But typology is just loving Jesus and His Gospel everywhere. It’s not a secret; it’s the mystery of reconciliation that has now been revealed. We search the Scriptures looking for Jesus, looking for His fingerprints, His style, His glory because we know that He is the main theme and we want to know Him, walk with Him, and see Him in and share Him with the world around us.
3. With a Plan: When you love something, you don’t need to be told to do it. People do what they love. But people also plan to do what they love. If you love your wife, you plan to take her on dates. Reading Scripture should be the same. Psalms is the prayer book of the Bible, and since the early church, it has been central in guiding the prayers of God’s people and it frequently indicates a regularity to prayers: “My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up” (Ps. 5:3, 59:16, 88:13). “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice” (Ps. 55:17). These prayers and cries include remembrance of and meditation on God’s deeds: “To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, And Your faithfulness every night… For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work; I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O Lord, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep” (Ps. 92:2-5). The works of God and His thoughts are found centrally in Scripture. “Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgments” (Ps. 119:164) “I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word… Your testimonies also are my delight… Teach me Your statutes. Make me understand the way of Your precepts; So shall I meditate on Your wonderful works… And I will delight myself in Your commandments, Which I love. My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments, Which I love, And I will meditate on Your statutes…Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps. 119:15-16, 23-27, 47-48, 97-99, cf. Phil. 4:8, 1 Tim. 4:15). Plan to read the Bible regularly (at least morning and evening, cf. Ps. 1:2, Josh. 1:8). Follow a reading plan (devotional guide, lectionary, lectio continuo). Take time to pray and meditate on what you have read. Keep some kind of record of what you learn (journal, notes). Memorize scripture.
4. For Others: In Hebrew, the verb “learn” intensifies into the verb that means “teach.” Jesus said that a disciple is not above his teacher but will be perfect when he becomes like his teacher (Lk. 6:40). The ministry of Jesus and the early Church is all about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us (Jn. 1:1). That same Word is proclaimed by the apostles beginning at Pentecost, and spreads through the mouths of people (Acts 6:7, 8:4, 12:24, 13:49, 19:20). While we know that there is a specific office of Minister of the Word (preaching/teaching elders, cf. 1 Tim. 5:17), there’s a more general proclamation of the gospel that every Christian is called to in some measure. This may include Bible studies, telling each other what you’ve been learning, discipling new or younger Christians, but can also include things like singing Scripture together: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Col. 3:16). This includes teaching and training children: “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). It can and should also include evangelism: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15-16). Read the Bible for others: teach others, disciple others, share with others, encourage others, sing together, read together, study together. That’s how the word becomes flesh, multiplies, spreads, grows, and gets published. That’s how the Light of the Gospel shines forth. So let’s look at Light. Let’s tell the story, the gospel according to Lights.