Why Believe the Bible?

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The Bible has fallen on hard times. Not so long ago, most people more or less agreed that the Scriptures were special, that they possessed an unique authority as the Word of God. Not everyone believed, of course, but the prevailing consensus at least upheld the idea of the Bible as a divinely-given book.

Things are different today. Not only are most people sadly ignorant of what the Bible says, but the notion that Scripture is inherently authoritative sounds increasingly far-fetched in a highly secularized culture. Scholars with imposing credentials assure us the Bible is a merely human product, at best the pious imaginings of ancient people trying to make sense of their world in a pre-scientific age, at worst the work of power-hungry men who used such (so-called) sacred writing to impose their control over others. And in the public square, in debate over matters of great moral concern such as abortion and gay marriage, any appeal to the Scriptures is dismissed out of hand as either the knee-jerk reaction of ignorant “Bible thumpers” or the bald attempt by would-be theocrats to impose their religion on others.

Because we live in an increasingly post-Christian culture, one which makes implausible the idea that the Scriptures are sacred writings, serious and thinking Christians must have a robust understanding of why we believe the Bible is the Word of God.

So why believe the Bible? One way to answer that question is to ask the experts. You can find scholars who will tell you that all the evidence of history, archaeology, biblical studies, etc., point to this conclusion: the Bible is the Word of God. But, you can also marshal many other scholars who will claim that the evidence demands a different verdict: the Bible is the word of man.

The fatal flaw in this approach is that it does not deal with the Bible on its own terms. To answer the question, “Why believe the Bible?,” we must begin with… the Bible! And the Scripture’s testimony is more than clear – the Bible is God’s Word and therefore is authoritative and without error in all it intends to say. It is God’s revelation to man, a Word from our Creator on what we are to believe and how we are to live.

2 Timothy 3:16 says,  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (ESV). The Greek word translated “breathed out by God” is theopneustos. “Theo” refers to God ( as in “theology”) and “pneustos” refers to breath (as in “pneumonia”). So the word literally means “God-breathed”. Although human beings wrote the Bible, the ultimate author of Scripture is God himself (2 Peter 1:21). Just as you “breathe” out your words when you speak, so God “breathed out” his words in the form of the Scriptures.

Now the obvious objection is, “Is this not circular reasoning? What kind of argument is this: the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it’s the Word of God?” There is no way to respond to this objection in a way that will completely satisfy the skeptic. The truth is, all of us – believer and unbeliever alike – base our thinking and reasoning on certain assumptions that we cannot “prove” to be true (i.e., can you “prove” that murder is wrong?). But the argument for the authority of Scripture does go beyond an appeal to mere words written on a page. Rather, the appeal is to the authority of God himself. We believe in the Bible because we believe in God, and we believe he has revealed himself to us by means of his Word. Therefore the authority of Scripture rests upon nothing less than the truth, character, and authority of God himself.

But if the Bible is self-authenticating (or rather, God-authenticated), and if the Bible’s own testimony is sufficient grounds for believing in it as the Word of God, then why doesn’t everybody believe? Because of sin. Sin not only manifests itself in our wrong behavior, but also in our wrong thinking. By nature, as sinners, we reject the light of God’s Word and we suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18).

What this means is that belief or unbelief in the Bible is a profoundly moral matter. No one believes in the Scriptures as the Word of God purely on the basis that such belief is logical or reasonable (though it is, of course), but rather because such belief is right. To believe God’s Word is to honor, and submit to, to One who is the Creator and Lord of all. Unbelief is not an intellectual decision, but a dreadful moral failure (Titus 1:15).

By the same token it is right and good to believe in the Word of God. However, this belief is a gift of God’s grace. If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, then good, but don’t boast in your superior intellect or wisdom. Rather, give thanks to God that he would cause his light to shine in your heart (2 Cor. 4:6). Without the grace of God, you would not accept his testimony in the Scriptures; the Holy Spirit engenders such faith (1 Cor. 2:12). Just as you were saved by grace alone, so by grace alone you believe the Bible.

Christian, the Word of God is your foundation for faith and life, and it is the source of your every hope and comfort. No matter what the wise of the world may say, or no matter what the culture may value, you have a solid rock on which to stand. Don’t be ashamed to take your stand with the Scriptures, no matter what others may think. And don’t be swayed or intimidated by appeals to “scholars” who claim the Bible is only the words of men. Will you trust God or man?

In the Scriptures you have the revelation of a Savior who had mercy on you despite your natural unbelief and rebellion. The Scriptures are all about Jesus and you only truly believe the Bible as you are led by it to the the living Christ, the Savior of sinners (John 5:3, 40).

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Sunday recap – 4/7/13

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At the morning service yesterday I preached from John 12:20-26. In v. 24, Jesus says:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

In my sermon I spoke about a family trip we took two years ago to California’s Big Basin Redwoods State Park . There we admired the magnificent coast redwood trees, famous for their massive trunks and towering heights (they can grow to be over 320 feet tall). As I prepared for the sermon last week, I consulted that always-useful preaching resource, Google, and learned that the cones of these redwood trees are tiny, about an inch long. And the seeds they contain are even more minuscule – it takes over 100,000 of them to weigh a pound.

One coast redwood seed is nothing but a tiny little speck of organic matter. But if you bury it in the ground, and the conditions are just right, in hundreds of years that same seed will be transformed into a mighty redwood. In the same way, the crucifixion of Jesus was just the death of one man (speaking from a strictly historical, human perspective). Yet behold the fruit his death has borne – an ever-growing Kingdom of redeemed sinners whose numbers will exceed the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore (Gen. 22:17)! Who can fathom the coming splendor of the Kingdom of God in its full revelation (Rom. 8:18, 19; 2 Cor. 4:17), when the vast multitude of saints are joined together in a new heavens and earth, giving all praise forever and ever to Christ Jesus the Lord of all? What ineffable glory! And all because Jesus willingly died on a Roman cross some 2,000 years ago.

As I spoke of this in my sermon, I said something that prompted a theological question from one of our members. I said that if Jesus had not died, there would not be a single human being in heaven today (and nor would there ever be). Heaven would still be populated by angels and whatever other creatures God put there, but every last descendant of Adam and Eve would be barred forever because of our sin. Her question was, “What about the God-fearing people of the Old Testament, such as Moses and David? Would they not be in heaven, either?” And the answer I gave is “no”, because they also were saved by the blood of Christ shed upon the cross. Although Jesus had not yet died, still the efficacy of his sacrifice applied to the saints who lived before the cross. Like us, they too were saved by faith alone. And like us, it is the blood of Christ that saved them.

At the time I didn’t appeal to the Westminster Confession of Faith 8:6, but I wish I had because it answers that question far better than I can. Here is what it says (with proof texts):

Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein he was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head; and the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world; being yesterday and today the same, and forever. (Gal. 4:4-5; Gen. 3:15; 1 Cor. 10:14; Rev. 13:8; Heb. 13:8; and Rom. 3:25; Heb. 9:15).

As the questioner put it, the death of Christ was “retroactive” to save the faithful who lived before his coming.

Later at the evening service I spoke on the priesthood of Christ, as part of an ongoing series of messages from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Though I don’t feel I should include it on the blog, I also had to make a disappointing announcement to the congregation concerning a recent decision of the session. Ministry is a mixture of joy and sadness.

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Family Happenings – Sledding at Hatcher Pass

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One of the blessings of living in Alaska is getting to enjoy the incredible beauty that surrounds us. All of God’s creation declares his glory (Psalm 19:1), but in my (admittedly biased) opinion the creation in this part of the world proclaims the majesty and greatness of God with particular clarity. “Glorious are you, more majestic than the mountains of prey” (Psalm 76:4). If God is more majestic than the mountains of Alaska, then his majesty is great, indeed!

On Monday our family drove up nearby Hatcher Pass for some sledding. I’m always amazed that this place is practically in our backyard. If it were anywhere in the lower 48, it would have been developed into a ski resort or something like it long ago. But I suppose it’s just too remote, and the winters in Alaska too dark, for there to be much commercial prospects here. But that’s O.K., because as you can see there’s never a crowd when we visit.

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From the hill looking down.

 

 

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Moriah, Maggie, and friend having fun in the snow.

 

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Sander coming down on the tube (while it still had air!).

 

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Meredith and Maggie about to go down.

 

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Monica coming down with Mom looking on.

 

 

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Why do Meredith and Maggie look concerned?

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Sander demonstrating an Alaskan Face Plant!

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Making Robyn’s Alaskan dreams come true on a daily basis!

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Sunday night recap – 3/31/13

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Why do we worship on Sunday? Because it is the the first day of the week, the day on which Jesus was raised from the grave (and thus, the “Lord’s Day” – Rev. 1:10). Just by worshiping on Sundays, Christians bear witness to the truth of the empty tomb.

Today at Grace OPC, on this Easter Sunday – or “Resurrection Day” – we gave special attention to the resurrection of Jesus. We tried something new this year. Before the worship service, we had an informal service of hymn singing at the church followed by a potluck breakfast. I think it went well; maybe we’ll try it again next year.

During the hymn sing I found myself wishing I was a better singer. I am the last person who should be leading others in singing but such is the reality that seminaries don’t teach future pastors how to sing. Some preachers are great singers but not this one. Maybe in my resurrection body I’ll at least be able to carry a tune (if nothing else, I won’t be leading the singing in heaven’s worship!).

At the regular morning worship service, I preached from John’s account of the events of the first Easter morning (John 20:1-18). One point I made was that the resurrection is the guarantee of our adoption as the children of God. Jesus told Mary to tell the disciples, “… ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'” (John 20:17). If you belong to Christ by faith, how much does the Father love you? As much as he loves Jesus himself, because you are every bit as much a true son or daughter of the Heavenly Father as is Christ. I believe Jesus spoke of this truth after his resurrection because that was the capstone of the salvation he accomplished for us by his death, a salvation by which we have been made children of God.

I also spent a few minutes to clarify some misconceptions about Mary Magdalene. Contrary to popular and traditional understanding, the Bible doesn’t say she is the sinful woman of Luke 7:36-50. She was a sinner, of course, but not necessarily a promiscuous woman or a prostitute. And she certainly wasn’t the wife of Jesus who had children with him, a la Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This idea has no biblical or historical grounds – it’s about as true as the existence of the Easter Bunny!

But why should we believe such a thing about Mary Magdalene when the truth about her is so wonderful? Her devotion to Jesus was extraordinary – she was with Jesus at the end, and was the first to go to the tomb on Easter morning. She is worthy of praise for her faithfulness and love for Christ – this is what makes her so special.

Maybe I want to set the story straight on Mary Magdalene, because we have our own “Magdalene”! We call her “Maggie” but her full name is Magdalene. May she be as devoted to Christ as her namesake!

We had a fun time with a family from church at our home after the morning service, and then at the evening service I spoke on the threefold office of Christ – prophet, priest, and king (Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 23 and 24).

Here’s our Magdalene on today’s Easter morning:

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Mary, Why Are You Weeping?

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“Woman, why are you weeping?”

As she stood at the tomb of Jesus, dismayed and horrified at the thought that grave robbers had stolen the body of her beloved teacher, Mary Magdalene was asked this question twice: “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13, 15).

Has anyone ever asked this – “Why are you weeping?” – of a person overcome with grief, at the very spot the body of her loved one was laid to rest? Could any question be more out of place? Yesterday I wrote of the “strange glory of the cross.” Here is an equally strange idea, that anyone should wonder why a woman weeps at the grave of a dead friend.

But on the first Easter morning, at the empty tomb, this was the right question to ask! First the angels asked Mary this as they stood next to the place where the body of Jesus had lain. Angels in the tomb! Linen burial cloths on the floor! Jesus was not dead, he was risen! This calls for joy, not tears. But Mary didn’t understand. So next the Lord himself, standing outside the vacated sepulcher, put the question to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

It was not so much a question as a gentle rebuke. Oh Mary, why should you should cry for sorrow when Jesus – gloriously alive! – was standing before you? Was it not unbelief that kept you from seeing the truth literally before your eyes? Look and see – Jesus is not dead, but he is risen!

Christian, you may have many reasons to weep today. Death casts its dark shadow over all of life; we can’t escape sorrow. But even as your tears flow, you have the sure and certain promise of victory over death. Look into the tomb of Jesus – it is still empty! Look up to heaven – there is your resurrected Lord reigning in glory! He is risen indeed! At the empty grave of Jesus, wipe away every tear and rejoice that the Living One has conquered death forever.

I will turn their mourning into joy;  I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. (Jer. 31:13)

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The Strange Glory of the Cross

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If you were President of the United States, how would you choose to travel? In the official limousine, surrounded by dozens of armed Secret Service officers, and with a fleet of security and police vehicles leading the way, their blaring sirens and flashing lights signalling your importance? Or would you rather be carried through the streets in a beat-up 1980 Ford Pinto, a moving wreck that belches smoke, is rustier than an old shovel, and is kept intact mainly with duct tape? You’d choose the limo, of course. Why not? You’re the President – you’re entitled to some pomp and circumstance; you have a right to all the glory that comes with being the leader of the world’s most powerful nation.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem just days before his death, he was rightly hailed by the people as the King of Israel. And by rights he was entitled to all the earthly glory of a king. For this reason, he should have mounted a warhorse, a majestic steed, a creature with a magnificence befitting the King of Israel. That was his rightful presidential limo. But Jesus chose the rusty old Ford instead – he rode atop a lowly donkey, and on that humble beast he made his entrance into the Holy City.

Why did Jesus ride a donkey in his Triumphal Entry? He did so to fulfill prophecy: “… Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey,…” (Zechariah 3:9). The key word here is “humble”: the Lord sat astride a donkey to signify that, though he was the Almighty Son of God, he entered our world in complete humility, meekness, and lowliness. Just as he was born to a no-name family from backwater Galilee, Jesus shunned earthly glory when he rode to Jerusalem. Unlike every king and ruler before and since, he sought a different kind of glory.

Not long after his ride to Jerusalem, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). You might imagine his disciples thinking, “Finally, our teacher will take the throne of Israel, defeat the Romans, and reign in splendor over our people – Messiah’s glory is near!” But Jesus uttered next these seemingly incoherent words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (v.24). A grain of wheat dying? Death? What does this have to do with glory?

Everything. When Christ proclaimed “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” he was talking about his death. And not just any death, but crucifixion. There was nothing so shameful as to spend your last wretched hours nailed to a Roman cross. You hang there in unspeakable agony while onlookers cast their scornful gaze on your naked and bleeding body. On the cross you are a public reproach, an abomination to every decent and honorable human being. The Romans didn’t crucify every offender they executed, only the worst. But that’s how the sinless Son of God was put to death.

What’s more, according to the Scriptures, a crucified man was not just a reproach in the eyes of humanity, he was cursed by God. Galatians 3:13, citing the Old Testament, says, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” This means when Jesus hung on the cross, he was God-cursed. Shame, disgrace, abject humiliation, a curse. And this is “glory”?

Mark carefully these words, because here is the heart of the Christian message: Jesus suffered the reproach and the curse of the cross in the place of sinners. Have you ever considered how truly heinous your sin is the sight of God? Look to the cross and measure, if you’re able, the evil of your sin. You see, as a sinner, it is you who deserves to bear that awful judgment: the shame and disgrace, and yes, even the curse of God.

But look again at the cross and measure, if you’re able, the unsearchable riches of God’s love for sinners. Jesus endured that judgment on behalf of sinners, so that all who believe in him might be freed forever from condemnation, forgiven of their sin, and given eternal life. These wonderful realities belong to everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.

But here is the glory – when the Son of God endured the pain and curse of the cross as a vicarious sacrifice for a lost people, he defeated for all time Satan, sin, and death, and he established an eternal Kingdom of redeemed sinners. Everything is backward and upside-down with the cross: it is power in weakness, victory in death, glory in shame.

And the same goes for the true Christian life. The Christian faith is not about victory in this world over suffering. God may allow you to get sick, to suffer financially, to lose a loved one, to endure persecution. But the Christian life is walking by faith in, and in the steps of, a Savior whose glory was his cross. Therefore the true Christian life is triumph in defeat, joy in sorrow, life in death, freedom in obedience, hope in despair, and comfort in suffering.

Here is the secret to Christ’s lowering himself in his incarnation, suffering, and death: he sought no earthly glory, but rather he set his heart on an infinitely greater glory. That is, the glory of an eternal kingdom, and of a new heavens and earth in which there is only righteousness, joy, peace, and life. Do you have your heart set on this glory, too? Then take up the cross of Christ and follow him in the path of obedience and suffering. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17).

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Do We Really Mean it When We Say, “Thy Kingdom Come”?

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Last Sunday, since it was Palm Sunday, I preached on the Triumphal Entry of Christ. As I studied for the sermon, John Calvin’s words on John 12:13 struck me as timely and apposite for our circumstances today.

Calvin writes we must learn from the crowds who so enthusiastically welcomed Jesus as their King. They were eager to see the Kingdom of God established (though of course mistaken in their conception of it). But are we? We say, “Thy Kingdom Come,” but do we mean it? Calvin writes:

If only we are not lazy or become weary in asking, He will be a faithful guardian of His kingdom and defend it by His invincible power and protection. It is true that even if we remain slack, His majesty will continue to stand. But as often as it does not flourish as magnificently as it should, or even collapse – as we see today a terrible scattering and desolation – this definitely happens through our fault. And when the restoration is small, or negligible, or at least is slow in advancing, let us blame our own sluggishness. Daily we pray God that His kingdom may come, but hardly one in a hundred with seriousness. We are justly deprived of that blessing of God which it is too much trouble for us to ask.

First, notice how Calvin stresses the link between our praying and God’s bringing in his Kingdom. Whoever thinks Calvin’s theology amounts to little more than a grim determinism that stifles all human effort should reckon with the words of the man himself. Hardly the remarks of a resigned fatalist!

But more to my point, I wonder, are we as Christians today serious about wanting God’s Kingdom to come? Do we really pray for it to come? We’re alarmed by a culture daily taking another frightening turn from any semblance of biblical morality, and so we pray for a restoration of our nation. We so desperately want things to improve in our society and in politics. But how badly do we want to see the church thrive, sinners converted, the gospel proclaimed, and the Spirit’s work of renewal and revival?

Maybe we should redirect some of our anxious energy and pray more diligently that Christ will further establish his Kingdom in our midst.

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