The Bible Alone (part 3 of 5)

by Sean Foster on September 29, 2013

II Timothy 3:14-17

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Matthew 5:17-20

‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 28:16-18

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

A-men.

We have been going through a series that looks at the five sola’s that came out of the Protestant Reformation. When we finish today, we will be over half way through this series.

But there are five sola’s that came out of the Protestant Reformation. They are the five alones, the five onlys. They are essential beliefs of the church.

We believe:
• That everything is to God’s glory alone.
• We believe that we are saved by Grace alone.
• Through Faith alone
• In Jesus Christ alone.
Today we look at the Bible alone. Sola Scriptura. We believe that the Bible has the unique authority to speak to these unique truths about God and our relationship with him.

And as I was writing and preparing, researching and praying, I was thinking – the Bible can be an intimidating book. Anyone resonate with that statement? I think it is too. Of course, I wrote examinations and was tested on it. But I don’t believe that God intended that the Bible, (God’s Word to us), to be intimidating. So hopefully after today we will feel less intimidated.

The people of Israel, they loved this book. And yet, we know today that despite the fact that the Bible is the most read book in all the world, and the most printed book, and the book with the highest number of sales, consistently every year; it is also one of the most controversial books, and the most critiqued book in the world.

What does it mean: Sola Scriptura? What does it mean when we say, the Bible Alone. It means, that we believe in the authority of the Scriptures. That it is God’s Holy Word – all of it.

Lot’s of Christians struggle with this one. Lot’s of Christians who claim they follow the authority of the Scriptures, and yet will pick and chose which ones they follow and which ones they don’t. Can we pick and chose which Scriptures to follow and which ones to ignore?

OK, so, with that in mind, here is a question that people will ask. Can an intelligent, educated, 21st Century person who believes in science and critical thinking, and yet is also opposed to ancient practices, like slavery, can that person read the Bible and take it literally? Can they take it seriously – as the authority for our beliefs and behavior in our day?

Sola Scriptura. The Bible alone. We say it, but do we mean it? And what does it mean when we say it?

Well, let’s start with what the Bible say’s about itself.

I think it is important to remember that the Bible itself does not claim to be the authority. The Bible say’s that God is the authority. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said: all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, meaning himself. So, when we talk about the authority of the Bible, it is important to keep in mind that it is kind of short hand for talking about the authority of God.

The people of Israel, and Jesus, they recognized the authority of the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus said, do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, I have come to fulfill them.

So, the Bible is broken down into two sections: the Old Testament, or what some might call, the story of the Old Covenant, and we also have the New Testament, or the New Covenant that we have in Christ.

In the days of the early church, there were lots of books that the church used to edify, teach and build up the body of Christ; more than just the 27 that we have in the New Testament. But not all of them were treated as being authoritative. It was actually in the 4th Century that the New Testament was canonized, which means, they finally agreed on which books should be part of Scripture, part of the New Testament.

Now, there is the idea or belief that the 27 books that we have in the New Testament were somehow arbitrarily chosen. But that’s just not true. The reality was, that by the 4th Century, the books that would be canonized and adopted as the books of the New Testament, had been widely circulated and accepted by the early church. Now, there is no argument, there were literally dozens and dozens of books out there, but no all of them were respected as teaching about Christ and being the Church.

So, the criteria they had was really simple. If the book could be traced back to Jesus disciples and their teachings, and they were consistent with the known teachings of Jesus they were eligible to become part of the New Testament. And the big reason for why they decided to canonize and select the books of the New Testament is because, there were so many books out there. These 27, the church agrees are Scripture.

Now, one thing I do want to say about the Bible is that it is not a book of commands – of what to do and what not to do. Some people think it is, that it is a book of doctrines that we are supposed to believe and follow.

In actuality, the Bible is primarily a story. And the reason it is a story is because God chose it to be a story. I mean, let’s face it. The truth is, we like stories, but the difference between the Bible and other stories, is that the Bible has authority.

And there is one other thing that I want to say, and lots of people miss this, but we are invited to be part of the story. And if you don’t become part of the story, you will completely miss, the story.

New Testament theologian, Tom Wright, he say’s that it is helpful to think about the Bible as a story. As story that has five acts. And he say’s in reading the story, it is helpful to know what the acts are. So, one of the books that I found helpful in preparing for today is titled: Scripture and the Authority of God, by Tom Wright.

So, Act one, is creation. The story is found primarily in Genesis chapters one and two. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Creation! And it’s good! I mean, anyone notice the glorious weather that we have been having this past week.

The other day, my daughter and I went out on the bike. Just enjoying God’s good creation. Through the trails, down to the harbor, enjoying some of the wild life. But the reason creation is so good is because God made it. So, that’s act one of the story, but, it’s not the whole story.

In Act two, we have the Fall. We hear about the Fall all throughout the story of the Bible, but in particular, it is found in Genesis chapters three to eleven. There is the fall, the oppression, the violence, and injustice enters into the world. Marriage becomes dysfunctional. Adam and Eve begin to fight. And then we are introduced to Lamech. Do remember Lamech? He was the father of Noah and grandson of Cain. He is a murderer and a polygamist. So, oppression enters into the institution of marriage and family. Cain and Able, they are involved in murder.

So, Act one, everything’s good. Act two, everything goes bad. The good from Act one has been corrupted. The world is not longer what it was supposed to be. But Act two is a really important part of the story. Things are not as they were intended. We learn in Act two that the story of how the world has changed. It is not what God intended.

It is in Act two that sin enters the world. And the reason that sin enters is because of what has happened to the heart of humanity.

Listen to Genesis chapter 6, verse 5. The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts, of the human heart was only evil all the time. So, it get’s into all my thoughts.

Then the next verse. The Lord regretted, God regrets, that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. This is a low point for God. God is pained. God grieves. He is ready to destroy it. Will he give up on it? No!

So, next we have Act three. In Act three, God starts again. And he starts with a little country, Israel. God goes to a man named Abram, and He say’s, I will call you Abraham. You will be the father of many nations Abraham.

I want to pause here for a moment. God uses Israel, but not because he likes Israel more than any other nation, but God will use Israel as His instrument to reclaim his creation. Listen to what God say’s to Abraham. Abraham, all the peoples of the earth will be blessed, by you.

So, God starts with this one little group and makes a covenant with them. I will be your God.

Now, Israel, they are a unique people in the world. They are given a set of laws, and they worship one God. And when we talk about the Bible, people often get bogged down with these laws because there is a lot of them. And people will ask, what’s with all these strange laws and regulations that we find in the Old Testament.
• There are regulations about food.
• Regulations about how to relate.
• There are regulations about cleanliness.

For example in Deuteronomy 14:10, it reads, any creature in the water that does not have fins, or scales, you may not eat. How many of you ignore this one? Your not alone. I love crab. How about some lobster? But then we have another one in Deuteronomy 5 that reads, you shall not kill. Now that one we obey. We take that one pretty serious.

Just remember that there are more Acts to the story. When Jesus enters the picture, our relationship with the law changes. Now in my own reading and studies, I personally think that John Calvin deals with Old Testament laws really well. Calvin shows how there are different kinds of laws and it is helpful to distinguish them.

Now, because Israel was a nation, they had civil laws. Guidelines about property and sentencing. So really, those are laws that are specific to Israel, they don’t apply to us.

Calvin writes that there are also ritual laws. Ritual laws are those laws that mainly deal with worship and sacrifices, but again Jesus changes our relationship with the law. Jesus became our sacrifice once and for all. There is no need for us to offer sacrifice, because Jesus has already paid the price of our sin. But I think it is important to understand that the purpose of the law was to point us to Christ. These laws even though they don’t apply to us, they are part of our story.

In Mark’s Gospel chapter seven, it reads: It’s not the food that goes into a person that makes the person unclean – it’s what comes out of the heart that makes them unclean. And in making this statement, Jesus declares that all foods are clean: shellfish and bacon included.

But we also have what Calvin defines as moral laws, and these are laws that still apply. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Or another one: love your neighbor as yourself.

And then there are these strange laws like in Deuteronomy 24:20. It reads, when you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. This is not a law to admonish farmers to be wasteful and sloppy, it was about providing for the poor. Of course there are some who would take it literally. Oh, I have a fig tree, that law does not apply to me. But we all know it does. The law is not about the olive tree, the law was about providing for the poor.

These moral laws are to help us to focus our hearts. To get us thinking right and doing right actions.

So that’s Act three. In Act two, things were so bad that God was about to give up and abolish his creation, but in Act three, God works to restore what was broken by our sin.

And then, in Act four, Jesus arrives. Jesus begins his earthly ministry. I mean, everything in Act three has been leading up to Act four. Jesus is the climax of the story.

Do you remember that story in Luke’s Gospel chapter 24? Jesus is resurrected from the dead and he joins these two followers of Jesus who were walking on a road towards Emmaus. And Jesus joins them and basically as he walks with them, Jesus shares with them all of Act three. Jesus explains to them, beginning with Moses and the prophets and he explained to them what was in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Jesus was the fulfillment of Act three. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.

And I want to make it clear. I’m not just talking about a few prophetic words that we might hear around Christmas and Easter. I’m talking about all of it! The whole Old Testament points to Jesus. Jesus fulfills the promises of the old Testament. Jesus is the climax. Jesus was God’s plan to save humanity. To save His creation.

You ever see that movie called The Sixth Sense? I remember when I first saw it. I mean, it is a really brilliant movie. And I am sorry if you have never seen it before, because I am going to spoil it for you.

The story is about a kid who sees dead people. And Bruce Willis works with the kid, but we are led to believe that Willis is alive, until the very end, when there is a huge twist in the story. At the end, you discover that Willis is actually dead, and he’s been dead the whole time.

It’s fantastic! Remember the end with the wedding ring? His old wedding ring falls out of his wifes hands … and that’s when he realizes – he’s dead!

I mean, it is at this moment in the story that everyone who is watching the story goes, huh? You immediately start to go back through the whole story to see if the movie was consistent – that he was always dead. And you start to wonder, how did I miss that? I actually had to watch the movie twice it is so well done.

I mean, understand what Jesus is saying. The whole story. Creation, the Fall, the story of Israel, it now makes sense. It’s all been leading up to Jesus.

For the early believer’s, it is a huge ah-ha moment. They go back through the story a second time, but this time in light of the fact that Jesus who died is now resurrected and alive.

Ok, so we have now looked at the first four acts, and now we come to the final Act in the story. The fifth Act is about the church. In the fifth Act, you and me, we are part of the story.

So, Jesus ascends into heaven to His Father, Jesus gives his Holy Spirit, and he sends his followers on a mission into the world. And the mission is to go share this good news of God’s redemption.

I mean, I think it’s helpful to think about the Bible in this way, which is the reason why I shared these thoughts of Tom Wright.

The Bible is not a list of rules and do’s and don’ts. The Bible is a story of how god has pursued us. A story about God’s great love for us and his creation. A love so great that God was willing to give up His only Son for our redemption and survival. The Bible tells that story.

The fifth Act is about us. God has graciously invited us to be part of this story.

In preparing for today, I just wasn’t able to get through everything that I wanted to share. This summer I enjoyed reading N.T. Wright and parts of Calvin’s Institutes again.

One of the things that I was fascinated to learn from Wright and I should have been able to figure this out myself. But in Act one: the story of creation. As you read through the creation story, you will notice that the sun is created on day four. Now, we know how important the sun is. Arguably, the sun should have been part of creation day one, not day four.

But Moses, doesn’t say that the sun was created on day one, he records that it was created on the fourth day. But, it’s because Moses wasn’t concerned about the chronology of creation. Moses was thinking theologically.

In ancient Mesopotamian culture, a lot of people worshiped the sun. Part of the reason for why Moses states that the sun was created on the fourth day is because Moses is saying – don’t worship the sun, worship the creator. The sun is not the creator, the sun is part of creation. Worship the one who created the sun.

I mean, I learned all kinds of things reading Wright’s book.

What I’m saying is that science criticizes the Bible, but the Bible did not always have the agenda of wanting to prove or affirm science or even to be an accurate record of history.

In Act five, we have been given a wonderful gift. We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who inspired the writings of the Bible and the same Spirit to helps us to understand the Bible.

The Bible is a book that has wonderful power and authority. When people are in trouble, whether it be their health that fails, or they get into trouble with the law. Or the are hit with grief. Or a marriage falls apart; people turn to the Bible. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. People turn to the Bible in times of difficulty and trouble because it has power.

As the Psalmist writes, God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.

The Bible is a story that gives your story meaning.

We are people of the book!

So study it.
• Read it.
• Listen to it in your car.
• Whisper it in the morning
• And when you go to bed at night.
• Put the words of the Bible on Post Its.
• Get into a daily reading plan.
• You can even get it on your phone as an app.
• Study it
• Memorize it.
• Be curious.
• Ask questions.
• Ask hard questions.
And submit yourself to it.

Sola Scriptura. God’s Word, alone….

A-men.

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