Learning to Relish Isaiah

Isaiah challenges us, but we can learn to relish this prophecy. Here’s why and how to glean much from the prophet Jesus quoted frequently.

This blog is based on our scheduled reading through July 31:  The book of Isaiah (suggested “chunks” Isaiah 1-27; 28-39; 40-66)

“Summertime and the livin’ is easy” goes the old song.  I have found it easy to get out of my regular reading and writing routine.  If you are following my “through the Bible Book by Book in 2018” schedule you will have noticed that our reading in July allows three weeks for the book of Isaiah.  I hope you find this helpful as Isaiah is both an important and a challenging book.

Why Isaiah is challenging and important

Isaiah’s importance shines through the New Testament writers who frequently quoted him. Along with the Psalms, Isaiah’s words often flow from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ and the pen of the Apostle Paul.  Isaiah gives us new information about the then-coming Messiah introducing us to the “suffering servant.”  He goes like a lamb to the slaughter, bears the sins of many and “make[s] many to be accounted righteous” (53:6,11-12).   In Isaiah, we get an unparalleled glimpse of the holiness of God through the prophet’s eyes and vision.  Truly, Isaiah takes us to the heights and depths of the knowledge of God showing us the urgency and costliness of our salvation through Him.

But Isaiah is a challenging book for modern readers.  It is lengthy and it does not have a chronological narrative thread we can easily follow.  Some may have difficulty wading through the many indictments and judgments which God pronounces on the nations and on His own people.

Reading in smaller chunks

You’ll find help in reading this and other challenging books of the Bible in Ryken’s Bible Handbook where the authors encourage us to read Isaiah in small sections so we are “free to relish the individual units” in the text. These individual units include such passages as chapters 6 (Isaiah’s vision of God), and the servant songs in Chapters 42,49, 50, 53.  We find many individual verses to memorize and quote.

Here are some of the verses in Isaiah that I have relished for many years.

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.  Isaiah 1:18 (ESV)

 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:5 (ESV)

He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;

 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:29-31(ESV)

God is with us

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 (ESV)

The Suffering Servant’s Sacrifice

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. Isaiah 53:5-7 (ESV)

Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. Isaiah 66:1-2 (ESV)

Some conclusions

Isaiah abounds in God’s promises to His people: to cleanse us from sin, to make us to be accounted righteous, to give us power in our weakness, and to accompany us in the fires and floods of life.  This prophet gives us some of the most soaring descriptions of the majesty of God (chapter 40).  Isaiah calls us to seek Him while reminding us that as the heavens are higher than the earth so are His thoughts and ways higher than ours (55:6-9).

Should we not humble ourselves before this great God who is holy but who also sends His suffering Servant to bear our sins, to bring us peace, and to heal our souls?  Indeed we should do that and worship Him in truth. Learning to relish Isaiah will help us.

Readings for the week of August 5: 1 & 2 Timothy; Psalms 46-66

 

The Joy of Being in Christ

It is hard to exaggerate all the joy of life in Christ.  Do you know what it means to be in Him?  This theme runs through Paul’s letters.

[Note: This blog post is based on last week’s reading: Ephesians; Philippians]

Last week we delved into two well-known but very different letters of Paul.  Ephesians tells us essential truths we need to know and what we need to do about those truths. [1]  We could call it “Cosmic Perspectives for Daily Living” as Paul lays a theological foundation in God’s eternal decrees that leads to salvation, the unity of the Church, and personal ethics for believers who desire to walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1).

Philippians is more personal and pastoral.  Paul holds up Timothy, Epaphroditus, and himself as examples of those for whom “to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). My favorite Bible handbook[2] nicknames Ephesians: “The Identify and Conduct of Those Who are in Christ” and Philippians: “The Joy of Living in Christ.”  The phrase “in Christ” runs through both of these letters.

A Visual of Being in Christ

Recently, my pastor, Tim Martin, gave a great illustration of what it means to be “in Christ.”  He described a set of Russian nesting dolls he obtained on a mission trip to the Ukraine.  When you first look at the set, you see just one large painted wooden doll.  Then on closer examination you realize that the doll is  hollow and inside there is another doll slightly smaller.  Inside that second doll you find another even smaller one.  You can keep opening until you have a whole family of dolls each one smaller than the previous one.  The last one is quite tiny.  When you return all the smaller dolls to their “mother,” again you only see the largest one.  And if you take that larger doll and move it or lift it up, all the other dolls inside are moved or raised up.

Here is the point. Whatever happens to the outer doll happens to all the rest, too. In a spiritual sense the same goes for those “in Christ.”  If we are in Him, He is the one who is predominantly seen.  Whatever happens to Him, happens to all those in Him. As He has been raised from death to life to sit in the heavenly places, so all who are in Him have been raised with Him and given every blessing in those heavenly places (Eph. 1:3).

Our Calling in Him

As those who are in Christ, God calls us to live a life worthy of Him (Eph. 4:1).  It is a life of joy and contentment.  It is a life of victory and hope.  He has taken us into Himself and our destiny is with Him forever.  In Him are all who believe whether Jew or Gentile.  He has broken down the dividing wall of hostility. We have received redemption, forgiveness, and adoption as His children.  Jesus Christ has sealed us by the Holy Spirit, granted us an inheritance and a purpose to glorify God the Father who chose us from before the foundation of the world.  How can we not “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4)?

Have a week of joy being in Him.

This week’s reading: 1 Kings

 

 

 

 

[1] See Displaying the Wisdom of God by Daniel Esau, Westbow,  Bloomington, IN 2012, pp 1, 25

[2] Ryken’s Bible Handbook: a guide to reading and studying the Bible. Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken, and James Wilhoit, Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, IL 2005 pp. 527, 537

The Son of Man and Why He Came

There are four gospels in our Bibles.  Do you know what is unique about the Gospel of Mark?  Read on to find out how Mark gives a special look at Jesus Christ.

[Note: This post is based on last week’s reading: The Gospel of Mark].

Mark is generally considered to be the oldest of the four gospels.  It is the shortest, and fastest paced, but it also allows us to meet Jesus, the God-Man who often referred to Himself as the Son of Man.  He said He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Peter is probably the source from which Mark drew for his gospel.  If it is the oldest of the four, then the other three writers (Matthew, Luke, and John) would have had it available as they wrote.  But the four gospels are all distinct, even the three we call synoptic (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Bible scholars have worked to produce as accurately as they can a harmony of the gospels—a resource which attempts to put all the passages of the four gospels in chronological order.

I find it helpful to look at a harmony of the gospels, but we also ought to respect the fact that each of the gospels was inspired by God and given for a specific and unique purpose.  God could have given us one gospel, but He gave us four.  Skeptics look for discrepancies to call into question the veracity of the Scriptures while believers assert that the four different viewpoints actually permit greater confidence that the New Testament was not the product of a conspiracy by early Christians who wanted to create a legendary leader and a false religion.

The Flow of the Book

Mark opens his gospel with a few words about John the Baptist’s ministry which included his baptizing of Jesus. From there on Mark focuses on Jesus, His temptation in the wilderness and His preaching the gospel in Galilee following the arrest of John the Baptist.  Mark relates how Jesus demonstrated His authority through teaching and by miracles and healing.  Simultaneously, Jesus calls disciples to follow Him.  Later, the Lord chooses twelve to be apostles whom He will train and send out to preach and heal.

About the middle of the gospel account, Mark records a turn of events when Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Christ” in the Gentile territory of Caesarea Philippi (8:27-30).  Jesus tells the twelve of His coming death and resurrection and begins–what ends up being–His final journey to Jerusalem and to the cross.  Along the way, Jesus’ teaching focuses on the theme of what it means to be His disciple—a life of service and sacrifice.  He allows a glimpse of His glory to Peter, James, and John in the Transfiguration, but continues to remind them that He is going to die and rise again (9:30-32; 10:32-34).

Like the other gospels, Mark gives emphasis to the events surrounding Jesus’ last earthly days—the (Passover) supper with the disciples, His subsequent betrayal, arrest, trials, crucifixion and burial.  Mark adds details not found in the other gospels, such as  the anonymous young man (Mark himself?) who lost his cloak and fled naked from Gethsemane, and Peter’s anguish and weeping when he denied Jesus (14:51,52; 14:72).  Mark, like all the gospels, concludes with the resurrection but gives less space to post-resurrection appearances. There is uncertainty, based on differences in the earliest manuscripts, about the original ending of the gospel of Mark (whether 16:8 or 16:20).

A Key Verse and an Important Doctrine

Truly, Mark’s gospel presents us with Jesus Christ who lived a purposeful, focused life in which He served others through His teaching, preaching, healing, and miracles.  He was trusted and rejected, applauded and reviled, but nothing swayed Him from His mission which He summarized in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

A ransom (Gk. lutron) is a payment made and often describes money paid for the release of (or redemption of) slaves.[1]  “For” (Gk. anti) in the phrase “for many” means “instead of”.[2]  Thus, we have the basis for our understanding of the doctrine of vicarious atonement–that Christ’s death paid the price to purchase the freedom from slavery to sin and Satan for all who believe in Him.

Praise God for giving us the Gospel of Mark and even more for giving us His Son who died instead of all who believe in Him.  Do you believe?

This week’s reading: Joshua

[1] ESV Study Bible note on Matthew 20:28

[2] L. Bekhof, Systematic Theology p. 378

Are we there yet? Lessons from a forty-year journey

A road trip of many hours frequently elicits the whining question of kids, “Are we there yet?” But what if the trip were not for many hours but for forty years?  Would we whine or would we look for important lessons to learn about God and Mankind?

This blog is based on last week’s reading: Numbers 11-36

Numbers–the story of a forty-year journey

What stands out in the book of Numbers? God is gracious but His people are rebellious.  God provides everything for Israel’s success but they complain and mess up what could have been a good thing.

See what God gives to these descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  After miraculously delivering them from Egypt (Exodus 1-19), He gives them a new beginning with a clear goal to march in and take over the Promised Land.  The Lord specifies several kinds of structures to make sure they could function together as a society.  These structures include division of labor, order for worship, designated places for camping and marching, and recognized leaders for each tribe and clan.  He guides them as to when to go and when to stop.  Through Moses, God brought them to the border of the land and sent spies to search out the land.

Meanwhile, the people complain at every turn.  The food is boring.  Egyptian food was so scrumptious. There’s no water.  They rebel against Moses who they see as a pompous tyrant. They hear that the Promised Land is full of giants heavily armed.  They refuse to go in, but when God tells them all the adults will die in the wilderness they refuse to stay out.

But God…

But God is gracious and faithful to His covenant promises with Abraham and Moses.  He hears Moses’ intercessory prayer for the people (Numbers 14:13-19). He still punishes sin and rebellion but provides a bronze serpent and healing for those snake-bitten complainers. He thwarts the evil plans of Balak who hired Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24).  The Lord kindly allows the nation to go on through forty years of wandering until all the original rebels died and Moses got them back to the border of the land.

Who’s the hero?

At times we see an admirable spirit in Moses as he pleads with God to spare the nation so the Lord’s name would not be mocked.  But that would-be hero can lose his cool and strike a rock in self-glorifying anger (Numbers 20:10-13). Joshua stood along with Caleb against the other spies declaring that God would give them victory if they would trust Him.  But Joshua was no hero when he jealously wanted to punish a couple of Spirit-filled men who prophesied in the camp (Numbers 11:26-30).

Have you noticed?  The only hero in this story is God.  Indeed, He alone is the only hero of all human history and of all eternity.  To Him alone belongs all glory and honor and praise.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism in question 4 asks, “What is God?” The answer is “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.”  The book of Numbers is the account of a monotonous forty-year journey of incorrigible people who were graciously allowed to experience that God who alone is glorious.

In your long (possibly) monotonous journey, are you learning lessons about God and Mankind?

This week’s reading:  Romans; Proverbs 1-5

 

 

The Apostles’ Mind-boggling Message

After Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, the Apostles began to preach a message that defied human reasoning.  But it was good and true news then and it still is.  

Last week’s reading: Leviticus 17-27 & Acts 1-12

This is the eighth week of the year and, if you are following our schedule, you have read six books of the Bible, three in the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus) and three in the New (Matthew, Hebrews and James).  You’ve also begun reading Acts.

Luke, the careful historian

Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke (see Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2).  There is little dispute that Luke wrote both books and he did so with thorough historical research.  In my reading this past week I was struck by the emphasis in Acts on God’s sovereignty and providence in the events surrounding the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Peter clearly believed that the Lord’s death was by God’s will but also that those who participated in that travesty of justice were guilty of crime. God’s sovereignty does not diminish human responsibility.

Acts 2:22-23 Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Acts 3:14-15 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,  and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.

Bad News; Good News

But the message of the Apostles was not only about human sinfulness.  They proclaimed forgiveness of sin by faith through the very One their hearers had crucified.

Acts 2:37-39  Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”  And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

Acts 3:17-21 And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,  that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus,  whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

A mind-boggling doctrine

Scripture teaches a doctrine which theologians call “divine concurrence.”  In short, concurrence is the relationship of God to secondary causes.  Secondary causes are any and all actions taken by creatures including sin and evil. What is God’s relationship to these secondary causes? God’s decrees concur with these causes.  In other words, God’s plans come to fruition perfectly as humans act freely whether righteously or sinfully.  Joseph taught this truth to his brothers (Genesis 50:20) and Paul affirmed it in his letter to the Romans (Romans 8:28).

Although this teaching flies in the face of human reasoning, the Bible indisputably teaches and illustrates it.  We find it perplexing, but if it were not true we would have no certainty that God’s plans and purposes would be realized. He does not call on us to explain it but to believe that His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He commands us to  let the gospel the Apostles proclaimed comfort and stabilize our hearts and minds as we navigate the storms of life.  May God help us to believe and find peace in His truth–even if it boggles our minds.

This week’s reading: Acts 13-28; Numbers 1-10

 

Full atonement—can it be? Yes!

If Leviticus seems incomprehensible, a closer look at that book reveals amazing gospel truth about God, our sin and our redemption from a hopeless state.

A short reading in a difficult book

The schedule last week assigned a relatively short reading (Leviticus 1-16) in a book of the Bible which many modern readers find perplexing.  This allowed time to read helpful introductory notes from a good study Bible such as the ESV Study Bible or the Reformation Study Bible. I rely on these plus Ryken’s Bible Handbook for help with books like Leviticus.

Exodus brought the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt to covenant nationhood at Mt. Sinai.  The covenant which God made with Moses and Israel included law: moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law.  The ceremonial law laid out the details of the priesthood, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices.  Now in Leviticus, God specifies to Moses how Israel must  make the offerings of the sacrifices.  Various kinds of sacrifices are designated: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt offerings. Priests and worshipers had to pay close attention to these instructions.  God demanded clean and unblemished animals offered according to His law.  The blood was important as it was the life of the animal.

Illegal worship brings death

In the middle of all these instructions, the violent deaths of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, show that God would punish violations to His law concerning these sacrifices and the tabernacle. Not only must the offerings be made properly by the designated priest, but those making offerings were to take care to be ceremonially clean as they came to the tabernacle.  God gave instructions so that all could approach the holy God in a holy way.

Chapter 16 describes the day of Atonement on which the high priest would annually enter behind the veil of the Holy Place.  On that day, he would make offerings for himself and for the people.  The writer to the Hebrews showed how that holy day points to the ultimate sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered, the sacrifice of Himself on the cross.

Takeaways

Here are some observations from this week’s reading:

  1. God is holy and demands holiness in His people. The biblical doctrine of God does not allow for any theology that holds God to be complacent or ambivalent about violations of His law.
  2. Sin is serious. Israel had a problem.  Indeed, all mankind has a problem.  Neither they nor we are holy.  God does not find our transgressions cute or excusable.
  3. Atonement is the only solution for sin. God required a blood sacrifice of an unblemished animal. He set up the old covenant sacrificial system to point to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Praise God that His Son secured reconciliation with God for all who believe. As the nineteenth century hymn, “Man of Sorrows” by Philip P. Bliss says so well.

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we,

Spotless Lamb of God was He;

Full atonement—can it be?

Hallelujah! what a Savior!

He deserves all praise, always. Our guilt is forgiven. Peace with God is ours through Christ who offered Himself for our sin.  That is complete atonement–the price paid for our freedom from sin and guilt. What a Savior!

This week’s reading: Leviticus 17-27 & Acts 1-12.

 

 

Gleanings from Matthew

Distinctive Features

My reading this week was the Gospel according to Matthew, the first gospel in the New Testament.  Matthew has the distinctive feature of including five major discourses of our Lord Jesus Christ: the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7); the commissioning of the disciples (ch. 10); parables (ch. 13); humility and forgiveness (ch. 18); and the Olivet discourse (ch. 24-25).

Matthew emphasizes that Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecies of a coming messiah and that He is the promised king in the line of David.  Matthew includes events surrounding Jesus’ birth including the arrival of the wise men, the threat from King Herod, and the flight into Egypt.  Like the other gospels, Matthew goes into detail about the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus (ch. 26-28).

Observations

Matthew, also known as Levi the former tax collector, was one of the twelve disciples.  From his gospel we see:

  1. God’s plan of redemption promised in all the Old Testament brought to mankind in the person of Jesus Christ. The kingdom of heaven was taking place on earth. Jesus told His disciples to pray that God’s kingdom would come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven (6:9-13).
  2. Jesus’ life and ministry involved calling, teaching, and sending His apostles into the world with the gospel for the purpose of making disciples of all nations (ch. 10; 28:18-20).
  3. Jesus’ death coincided with a dramatic incident in the temple in which the curtain blocking access to the Most Holy Place was torn in two showing that through His atoning work on the cross God had made a way into His presence and formed a new holy people to proclaim His excellencies (27:51; Hebrews 9, 10; First Peter 2:9).

Responses

My heart rejoices in the good news of Matthew’s gospel.  The one who sold out to Roman authorities to collect taxes from his countrymen became the forgiven believer and apostle to proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ to the entire world.  Through the gospel of Matthew we learn to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).  We learn that obedience to God is not merely a matter of outward action but of inward holiness (ch. 5-7).  We see that if we are forgiven we will forgive (ch. 18).  We learn that we are sent to make disciples who obey Jesus who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Does that make your heart rejoice, too?

This week I’ll be reading Exodus 1-20.

The Brother Who Suffered

Last week I breezed through Genesis 26-50 in two sittings.  God’s redemptive plan and purposes for the world unfold in the life of Isaac and his descendants—Jacob and Esau and their children.  This quick reading in “chunks” makes certain truths more obvious than would a slower reading.  Here’s what I noticed:

God always watches providentially over human history.

This includes every detail whether large events or very small incidents. Nothing happens apart from His knowledge and supervision.  He is the God of the universe and the God of every person.  Minute and seemingly unimportant details are under His control—worldwide famine or the dreams of a couple of the Pharaoh’s servants in prison with Joseph.  Everything is interconnected and fits into a huge scheme that the Sovereign God is orchestrating. Our discovery of this truth drives us to worship before Him who takes what people mean for evil and turns it into good.

Sin continually ruins lives and relationships.

Jacob tricks his foolish brother, Esau and their father, Isaac. Jacob goes on to suffer from Laban’s trickery and deceit—getting a taste of his own medicine. Upon returning to his homeland, Jacob agonizes over how Esau will receive him.  Pride and lust permeates these conflicts.  Joseph stands out as one of the exceptional people, a type of Christ, who endures great suffering in order to redeem those who hated and abused him.

Mankind is lost apart from God’s merciful and gracious intervention.

What are we to make of this?  Only God intervening by His mercy and grace can deliver lost humanity .  Hostility runs rampant even among the descendants of faithful Abraham.  They jockey for positions and plot against one another.  There is no peace, no goodness, no love, and no kindness.  Yet God works through all kinds of situations to unfold His plan.  He deserves all the glory for His wisdom and power.

Is this not true in your life and mine?  Do you feel overwhelmed by the stresses and rifts you experience among those you hoped would be supportive?  Are your good deeds overlooked and even rejected by those you sought to serve? Take heart in God’s presence and power.  Seek to please Him whether you see results for your efforts or not. Joseph endured years of pain and suffering with little encouragement and affirmation.  We walk by faith and not by sight.

Most of all, take heart that God the Son endured all the just wrath of God for your salvation.  He has secured a place for us in glory.  We are not there yet, but He has won the victory over the serpent.  Our inheritance is secure in heaven.  Jesus is our brother who suffered by us and for us.  Trust Him.  Praise Him.

This week I’ll be reading: Matthew 1-28

Three Motivations to Read the Entire Bible

Expected Benefits Sustain Motivation

To stay motivated on a large project, like reading through the entire Bible, we need a firm conviction of the importance of sticking with it to completion.  So how important is knowledge of the Word of God?  Here are three benefits we can only obtain by knowing the Bible.

Salvation

Second Timothy 3:15-17. The Scripture makes us wise to salvation. We get some idea of the power and glory of God from the Creation, but only God’s Word informs us that we are sinners in need of a redeemer.  In short, God is holy and we are sinners. We have a need, and God has the only adequate provision for that need.  He became flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross taking the just penalty for the sins of His people.  By our human reasoning we would never imagine such a remedy for our guilt and shame.  We might attempt to gain forgiveness by our good works, but, without the light of Scripture, we would not grasp that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Sanctification

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (First Thessalonians 4:3 ESV). Sanctification has a progressive aspect, in that, over time we grow in our godliness by the Word of God.  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (Second Timothy 3:16).  If we would be trained in righteousness, we need the Word of God–not merely on our shelves but–in our hearts.  The Bible works powerfully to teach us truth and to reprove and correct us when we go astray in thought, word, or deed.  The result of this process is training in righteousness or growth in sanctification.  By this growth, we do God’s express will.

Service

Paul concludes his comments on the value of Scripture with this: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” Second Timothy 3:17. God redeemed us “from all lawlessness…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).  God called us not for our own benefit alone but to serve Him with zeal.  God intends for us to do this by being equipped with His Word.

Without knowledge of the Word of God we cannot be saved, sanctified, or service-ready.  That knowledge can and will move us forward in these three aspects of the Christian life.  We dare not neglect the Scripture if we care about pleasing God and doing His will.

A plan helps

There are many ways to grow in the knowledge of the Bible: listening to good preaching and teaching, personal reading, study, memorization, and meditation.  All are essential.  We ought to use every means possible to learn God’s truth from His Word.  On this blog, I encourage regular, systematic Bible reading.

God calls us to salvation, sanctification, and service.  Let us develop a deep sense of the importance of starting a regular reading plan and seeing it through to the end.

On Monday, I will post a flexible and practical plan for reading the Bible in the new year based on the concept of “reading the Bible in chunks” developed by Dr. Benjamin Shaw of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Used by permission.

I think you will like it.

God’s Sovereignty: The Key and the Book

Scholars disagree over the interpretation of certain prophecies. But none can deny that Scripture affirms God’s sovereignty over everything in the cosmos.

Zechariah 10-12; Revelation 20

Selected Verses

For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs.

Woe to my worthless shepherd,
who deserts the flock!
May the sword strike his arm
and his right eye!
Let his arm be wholly withered,
his right eye utterly blinded!—Zechariah 11:16-17

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain.—Revelation 20:1

Reflections

When the Bible addresses the final events of time, not every detail is clear, but what is clear is that God reigns over all and that every person will stand in judgment before Him. 

Zechariah shows us that God is the One raising up leaders, even evil ones. He is the One who is also judging them and putting them down. God doesn’t merely permit some wicked to gain power. He actually controls their ascendance and uses it for His purposes, in some cases to discipline His own people. In the end, He brings judgment on these ungodly powers.

In Revelation 20, the key and the book depict God’s control of the cosmos. The key, entrusted to an angel, opens the bottomless pit where the Lord holds Satan confined and impotent. Although he is completely wicked, he is not in control, not even of his own actions and destiny. We also see a book of life with the names of those chosen to live and not suffer the lake of fire.

Think about it

We can have only one of two possible responses to these passages: belief or unbelief.  For believers in the Triune God, there is great reassurance that, for us, all will be well.

Unbelievers may dismiss the assertions with ridicule or ponder with terror the possibility that they may be true. Without a Holy God who rules absolutely over all things and Who will judge us in the end, the universe is out of control and life is meaningless. This alternative is unacceptable. 

But praise God! He reigns in sovereignty and wisdom. He holds the key and the book. Let us believe Him.