Monthly Archives: December 2019

The Bible is What God Says

When you hold a Bible in your hand, what do you really have? We know it is now printed, sold and read by people around the world, taught in churches and appealed to as an authority. But what is it?

It is really a library of books written over a number of centuries—including history, teaching, songs, promises, encouragements and warnings. It concludes with reports of Jesus’ coming and the apostle’s announcing of his message.

What makes the Bible one book is that each part got written because God spoke to someone. There is no way to prove this but it is what the various writers say happened. ‘In many and various ways God spoke in times past by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

The fact is, God has always been speaking. He made the world by speaking: ‘Let there be light, and it was so’ (Genesis 1:3). When he made us in his own image and likeness, something like himself—to be his family, he spoke to us so we would know how to understand and to live in the world and what to expect.

The world was never meant to make sense without some information from outside the creation. We can discover much and use it to good purpose of course, and should do so, but nothing we find out through enquiry will tell us all we need to know.

For example, God told Adam in the Garden of Eden to enjoy every part of the Garden except the tree that would give them independent knowledge of good and evil. They decided otherwise, and the Bible recounts the outcome.

We see this at work when we say about someone that ‘they are trying to be God’. They are exaggerating what they know and can do, and they may be trying to force this onto others.  But we know that there isn’t anyone who knows everything about good and evil. There needs to be a voice greater than all our varying opinions—someone who actually isGod.

The Bible story continues, and God speaks to Abraham. We have no idea what this looked or sounded like. Abraham simply reports God saying that he would bless him and his family, and the narrative tells us how this works out.

But something very interesting is happening. Abraham knows his genealogy. He knows what has been said to his ancestors. They have been keeping a record—either oral or written—because they needed to remember what God said. It is their hope.

Then God speaks to Moses, and this time, he addresses a whole people—the descendants of Abraham. He wants to show the world that he is able to establish them as a nation no matter what other nations do to stop it.

God establishes this nation of Israel to show the world his power, and especially, what it is like for a people to hear his word and to be loved by him. He sends them prophets—people who are raised up to bring his word to his people.

For much of the time this is happening, God’s people don’t heed what he says. This is not surprising. None of us really want to listen to the word that comes from God—from outside the world of things we can examine or choose for ourselves.

But God goes right on telling Israel the next part of the plan—through his prophets. And from quite early in the piece, it becomes clear that there is going to be one person, a Messiah, who will bring the whole story together and accomplish God’s purpose in the creation. It will be his Son. He is also called ‘the Word’ because God speaks to the world fully through his Son. He will not only make God known but also bring about what God wants to do.

So, the Son of God enters the world—as a baby. ‘The Word was made flesh and lived among us’ (John 1:14). This is the apex of all that God has been saying to our world.

When Jesus begins his teaching and healing, he is displaying God’s love and wisdom and power and he becomes popular. But he has a bigger agenda. God’s Son, his Word, is among us to ‘bear away the sins of the world’.

When it becomes clear that his word is different from the word we want to hear, his own people kill him. Here is the truth about us. We don’t want God to speak to us.

Here is the greatest surprise in what God says. This killing of Jesus is precisely the way he takes away the sin of the world. Ignoring God’s word is a capital offence, but Jesus dies instead of us. Then God raises him from the dead and the first words he says are, ‘Peace be with you!’

This is the word we need to hear. Only God can truly say ‘Peace!’ because it is with him that we’ve been fighting. Peace with God is one way of describing what the Bible is all about.

When Jesus is about to leave this world, he says the Holy Spirit will enable the chosen apostles (‘sent ones’) to remember and understand all that he has said and done. So the Spirit comes and the apostles announce to the world what God has said through his Son.

They, or their fellow workers, write down what Jesus has done, how his good news spreads and what this Word of God means for our lives, now and into the age to come.

Jesus and the apostles call this coming and all that follows it ‘the last days’. The final revelation has been made so nothing needs to be added to what we have.

Think about what it means that God has spoken to our world.

There is no way we can discover the origins or purpose of our world unless God speaks to us. There is no way we can fathom out why the world is the shape it is unless God tells us he is our Father. We can try to act like a family and make out we are all here for others, but it doesn’t work—not for long anyway.

There is no way we can fathom the falseness of our own life unless we hear God telling us what is normal and what he is doing to mend us and our world. Without the sound of this ‘voice’, we begin to act like orphans and the big driver of our human enterprise becomes trying to appear good. We call it ‘virtue signalling’ these days. And this is not making us a better people or a better world. What brings us together is not our ‘virtues’ but our need, and God speaks to us in our need.

And there is no way we will trust him unless he sends his Son—the big Word—to save us.

And now, we have a Bible, and the same Holy Spirit who brought it together, is given to every person who hears and believes the message of Christ. God’s Spirit brings what is written to life so that we know that God is speaking to us.

Bible books were first written to other people living in another time and God spoke to them in a way they could understand. But we need to understand what theyheard, and to ‘hear’ it again. This is not such a strange thing to have to do. When we read the Bible or hear it explained, we are listening to our family story. We are listening to our Father God, and his Son Jesus Christ. The Bible is not just what God said. It is what he is saying.

The Child Shall Be Called…’Mighty God’

When Christians talk about Jesus, they understand that the man who lived in our first century, who taught and worked miracles, who died and rose again, is in fact, God.

This belief may seem natural if we have been brought up to believe it is true but it was not so for those who first watched and listened to Jesus in person. It is good that we have the four Gospels to give us some detail about how this belief came about. Here are a few pointers showing why we rightly believe that Jesus is God. (I’ve included Bible references so various points can be checked if that would be helpful.)

First, Jesus was born into the nation of Israel that had a long history of God being among them. This didn’t mean he was among them as a visible person but that he spoke to them by prophets, saved them from their enemies, heard their prayers and promised them a future. One of their greatest prophets, Moses, recognised that the only thing that made Israel distinct from other nations was that God was among them (Exodus 33:16).

This was not always welcomed. Like us today, Israelites didn’t necessarily like the idea of God being among them. But God promised the nation that a child would be born and be called ‘God with us’ (‘Emmanuel’ in Hebrew; Isaiah 7:14). The prophet Isaiah also said that this child would come to Israel, as their King, to save them from the distress into which they had fallen. His name would be, ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of peace’ (Isaiah 9:6-7). These are all titles appropriate to God, and the Gospels make it clear that Jesus is fulfilling these prophecies (Matthew 1:21-23).

Second, when Jesus begins to teach and to mend lives broken by sickness and wrongdoing, he doesn’t want people to announce that he is Israel’s anointed king, that is, their Messiah. He does this, not because he isn’t but because people have mistaken views of what a Messiah will do. Before Jesus can be properly identified, he has to show what manner of God they should worship and what this God wants to do (e.g. John 6:15, 27).

For example, he says pleasing God is not just keeping rules but loving God and one’s neighbour. He says freedom is not being stronger than one’s enemies but being a child of God who is free from sin (John 8:33-38).

He does things God wants to get done to show what it looks like when God is among them. He heals rather than condemns, welcomes the poor in spirit rather than the proud. He protests the abuses of religion by forcibly evicting profiteers from the temple—what he calls ‘my Father’s house’.  He uses attraction rather than coercion, persuasion rather than force.

Third, Jesus speaks and acts as God. When he says that a crippled man’s sins are forgiven, authorities rightly point out that only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:1-12). When he calls God his Father, Jews understand him to be making himself equal with God—and Jesus doesn’t contradict them (John 5:18). In fact he says people should honour him just as they honour the Father because the Father has given him power of life or death over humanity (John 5:22-23). When he is asked if he is greater than their forefather Abraham, he says ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:53-59). Jews know what this means—he is claiming eternity of being, claiming to be God—and they attempt to stone him on the spot.

Perhaps, as offensive to human pride as anything else, Jesus claims to be the light of the world (John 9:5), the shepherd of the sheep (John 10:7-16), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25) and much besides. Our entire enlightenment, welfare and future are in his hands. These things are not a role for one human being over the rest of humanity. They are tasks only God can perform—we are his creatures, not a self-sustaining humanity. Human ‘messiahs’ cannot fix what God has made.

Fourth, Jesus announces that the judgement of the world is about to happen, and then, speaks about his own death (John 12:31-33). The big decision for everyone is whether they see their God coming to them in Jesus Christ. This is the point on which humanity is judged.

But also, John the Baptist has said Jesus will ‘take away the sins of the world’ (John 1:29) and this is what Jesus is about to do. Judgement is about to happen, and Jesus knows we can’t live under the pain and shame of our failure and guilt. He voluntarily stands in the place where the judgement on our sin will fall so that he can give us back our true humanity. Only God would think to do this, and only our God could do this.

Then, Jesus is hung on a cross to die. While dying, he asks his Father to forgive us who kill him. Then, he rises from the dead and says, ‘Peace be with you’.

When Thomas, one of the disciples, sees that Jesus is really alive, he says to him, ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:26-28). Perhaps involuntarily, he blurts out the truth. This man is God, and man, at the same time. Only God has been able to speak to our need and bring us to himself as true human beings.

Some years after the resurrection, Jesus comes to the person we now know as the apostle Paul. He sees a bright light and hears a commanding voice that he recognises as his ‘Lord’ (Acts 9:1-8). Confronted by the ‘Lord’ he thinks he is serving, he asks who this ‘Lord’ is. ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’ is the reply. He discovers that Jesus has been given the name above every name—that is, Jesus is Lord, or God (Philippians 2:9-11).

Later on, her reflects on this encounter and says, ‘For God, who said, ”Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Cor. 4:6).

Perhaps the reason we don’t want God in our lives is because we have a false view of who he is. The whole Bible, the story of Jesus and the proclamation of his good news are here for us to know our God—and his face is the face of Jesus.

I looked up all the New Testament references to the name ‘Jesus’ after Jesus rises from the dead. There are over 300 of them. Most of them have an addition—that is, ‘Jesus Christ’, ‘Lord Jesus’ or ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’.

Anyone may like or even love the man Jesus, but only God can reveal himself. Jesus said that only his Father in heaven could reveal to Peter that he was the Christ (Matt. 16:16-17). And to be the Christ and to do what a Messiah must do is to be our God, not just human.

Today, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to call Christ ‘Lord’ (1 Cor. 12:3). It is not a merely logical or intuitive decision. If you look at the revelation God has given us in the Bible and say ‘Jesus is Lord’, God has come to you.

We get some idea what Paul means by ‘Lord’ when he says, ‘For us, there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist’ (1 Cor. 8:6). To call Jesus ‘Lord’ is to acknowledge him, with Thomas, as your Lord and your God.

You have to be God to reveal God, and this is what Jesus has done. ‘No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known’ (John 1:18). We should not minimize the Son of God by easy familiarity with the warmth of his human name. He islove itself, and we have no comfort apart from him. But he is God. And if he were not God, he could not help us.