Sunday Sermon @10.30am – Bible Sunday – “So how does God speak to us?”

Readings: Psalm 19:7-14; Isaiah 55:1-11; 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5;  John 5:35-47

Message:

I wonder if you can remember your first Bible? Think back to the person who gave it to you.

And then think about all the bibles you have had access to in your life.

It was always so simple really! And for most of us – the bible we read in the language of our hearts! Our mother tongues.

The Bible has had a huge impact on the world – from the time that it was translated into Latin (The Vulgate – meaning vulgar language, or common language) and then by courageous men into other common tongues – Luther into German and people like Tyndale and Wycliffe into English.

It shaped the identity of nations and languages. And it has impacted so many things in life that we take for granted – especially in English Language and idiom.

BUT DOES IT REALLY SPEAK TO YOU?

The overwhelming message from the readings today is about God communicating to us.

And it raises a real question about the word “WORD”.

We tend to read into the Bible our modern understanding of things.

But take for example Psalm 19 – in the reading which we used for our call to worship David extols the value of the law, statutes, precepts, commands and ordinances.

I think this is a great kiwi passage really.

All of these words describe something in the life of the writer that is “SWEET AS!” Listen again:

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.

11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

All of these words describe a standard, a set of guidelines – boundaries that the modern man (or post-modern man) would prefer not to bother with.

And yet they are described as “more precious than gold” and “sweeter than honey from the honeycomb”.

Having the Law – God’s guidelines – was the thing that made Moses’ people – David’s people – the Hebrews – special and unique.  This was their treasure.

You only have to go to a Synagogue today and see how those scrolls are carried and treasured as they are brought out to be read. Or better still – go to the Simchat Torah – the festival of rejoicing in the Law as they reach the end of the annual cycle and start again from Genesis – like a book you love so much and read it again and again – it’s always got something new and yet it is warm and familiar!

THE BIBLE INCORORATES THE LAW!

We don’t ignore it as Christians. In fact there are three things that we should consider:

  1.  The law is good in its prohibitions in that it acts as a restraint of sin and promotes goodness in society. At a practical level children today need to know the commandments, for example, and these things should be taught at public schools.  And spoken of at home. And lived out at home – for example when parents exhibit faithfulness in marriage they are saying that adultery – unfaithfulness to your spouse – is not good. When they model honesty (giving back things not yours) they are standing in the face of stealing and saying – this is not right.
  2. The law – for Christians – is understood as making us aware of sin and our need for grace! It is a pedagogicus  (Galatians 3:14) –  a schoolmaster, a tutor that shows us where we are wrong and that we need Christ! The idea that the law convicts us of our need for Jesus is quite strong especially in the Lutheran tradition.
  3. The law is a rule of life for believers! This is what the Reformers called the “third use of the law”, reminding us of our responsibilities.  We are still sinners and we are being transformed – and the knowledge of the law keeps us on the right path.

SO HEAR’S THE CHALLENGE ON THIS BIBLE SUNDAY -DO YOU LOVE GOD’S LAW AS MUCH AS DAVID DID?

The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
and altogether righteous.

10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.

11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

And then our second reading today speaks of the “word” of God. Listen to Isaiah 55 again:

10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

So – “my word that goes out from my mouth” – what is that?

God speaking? God speaking though his prophet Isaiah?

In our tradition we have a real commitment to the idea of revelation – that God’s speaks.

Yes he gave the law which is also revelation of his purpose – with broad principles for the life of His people in those days.

Through the PROPHETS God spoke directly. The Bible has a large chunk of prophetic writings – the major and minor prophets. Major prophets are bigger books than minor prophets.

Much of that prophecy is linked to the history of the time. And these prophet statements are preceded with a key statement:

כה אמר יהוה

Thus says the Lord – which is weakened in the NIV for example in Isaiah 50 with this:  “This is what the Lord says.”

The prophetic “word” of the Lord was understood to be a direct intervention – a relevant message in specific situations in the history of his people.

A classic example is that of the prophet Samuel – when he came looking to anoint a king for Israel:

1Sa 16:4  Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

The elders were trembling – because when this man spoke God spoke. This was the WORD of the Lord directly.

So the Bible (the Old Testament particularly) has

LAW

PROPHETS

And the third kind of book is simply called

WRITINGS

These include the Psalms, Proverbs, history (Chronicles and Samuel, Ezra and Nehemiah, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther, Job) and poetry (like Song of Songs).

Of course a lot of Hebrew writing is poetic. Many Psalms have poetic repetitions  like Psalm 19, where the repeated lines emphasis or add meaning.

SO WHEN WE GET TO THE NEW TESTAMENT, listen again to what Paul writes to Timothy:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

“Scripture” here simply means writings – all that is written down.  It says simply:

πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος

which means – All scripture is God-breathed or inspired.

What is Paul referring to here?

The Scriptures that they had when he was doing his missionary work were the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings of the Old Testament.

They had no New Testament at that stage. The gospels were not all written down and would not have been readily available. And even Paul’s letters in the early stages would not have been regarded as “Scripture”.

SO HOW WAS GOD SPEAKING THEN?

The overwhelming understanding of God speaking in New Testament times is that he spoke through Jesus, who is referred to as THE WORD OF GOD.

John chapter 1 is very clear on this:

Joh 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Joh 1:2  He was with God in the beginning.

Joh 1:3  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

Joh 1:4  In him was life, and that life was the light of men.

And then in verse 14:

Joh 1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The word here is LOGOS – from Greek.

And of course the introduction to the letter to the Hebrews backs this up:

Heb 1:1  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways,

Heb 1:2  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.

So not only is Jesus one who speaks on behalf of God (a prophet) – he is also God himself in person. And He IS A MESSAGE – THE message from God.

So how does God speak to us?

Modern people are cynical about this.

They sometimes want to know – “do you hear voices”.

In my life that has been the exception rather than the norm.

We have then message though!

We have JESUS – the Word of God.

We can know what God is like through Jesus.

THE BIBLE is also referred to as the WORD OF GOD.

God HAS SPOKEN through the bible. Not just in the specific laws, or the words of the prophets, but in the stories of people who worked out their faith in real life situations.

And through Jesus! The Gospels are very precious to people because they record the eye-witness accounts of what Jesus said and did.

Like all witnesses of events, the recording of the original is tricky. IF you compare the same story in Matthew, Mark and Luke for example, there are different words used.

And there are LANGUAGE LAYERS.

On this Bible Sunday the emphasis is on bible translation.

There are these layers, for example, in the words that we read of Jesus:

Our language (English, Afrikaans, Korean, Chinese etc)

The New Testament language (Koine or common Greek)

And then the language that Jesus spoke when he said what he said (Aramaic)

THE BIBLE WAS COMPILED

It was only later that the bible came to exist in the form that we have with the books that we have when the Church recognised these books as SCRIPTURE – writings of authority.

It took almost 400 years before the church agreed on the final books to be recognised.

And there are still two major bibles – the Catholic bible has books that the Protestant bible does not include.

And there are many translations – even in English – so many that for some people it becomes difficult to really get into the bible and understand it.

SO HOW DOES GOD SPEAK TO US TODAY?

Mainly through the Bible – although this does not mean we open it at any page and read a verse for direction for the day.

It requires study.

It requires interpretation and application.

The general truths of Jesus’ teaching are the key factor by which we interpret the whole bible.

So it’s really important to know what Jesus’ taught and what he did as an example.

THE ESSENTIAL JESUS CHALLENGE

Over the next 20 weeks we have a great opportunity to read these 100 passages chosen as essential to our growth as Christians.

And we have small groups meeting where we can ask questions and discuss what we have read.

Most important questions?

What does it say?

What does it mean?

How do I apply it to my life.

OUT OF THAT comes prayer – asking God to change us as we apply his word to our lives.

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About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on July 15, 2012, in Sunday Morning Sermons. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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