"Jesus' Word on 'The Word'"
A message given by Pastor Greg in 1996.
Many years ago, two busy, prominent Christians served the Lord as colaborers in ministry. But while working hard in an evangelistic youth ministry together; they both came to an important crossroad in their faith - and they both went separate ways. One had become the president of a Bible college, and was engaged in a successful evangelistic ministry. The other become uncertain intellectually of the trustworthiness of the Bible; and began to believe that it contained errors in the things it asserted. He told the other that his faith in the Bible was 'simplistic'.
The two men debated and argued the matter, until the other himself began to ask some hard questions. Could someone in our modern, scientific era intellectually accept the idea that the Bible has full authority and contains no errors? Could he use the Bible in all confidence the way he was using it - and call others to use it in the same way? And what about his ministry of evangelism? Could he, with integrity, call others to put their complete faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the Bible taught? These questions began to affect this young man's ability to work. His nagging doubts even began to affect his health.
His colleague had already come to the conclusion that the Bible was untrustworthy; and he said of his poor friend, "If he goes on the way he's going he'll never do anything for God. He'll be circumscribed to a small little narrow interpretation of the Bible, and his ministry will be curtailed. As for me, I'm taking a different road." Hearing of these words broke the heart of the other, struggling Christian worker; and only served to intensify his crisis of faith.
Finally, after supper one night while serving at a Bible conference in the San Bernadino Mountains, this young Christian took his Bible in hand, got off alone, and studied what Jesus Himself said about the Bible's own authority and reliability. Then, he wandered up the mountain, placed his Bible on a moonlit tree stump, knelt down and prayed, "Oh, God; I cannot prove certain things, I cannot answer some of the questions Chuck is raising and some of the other people are raising, but I accept this Book by faith as the Word of God."
The first man who had decided that the Bible could not be completely trusted considered the other's decision to be a tragic act of intellectual suicide. And if I say this first man's name, Chuck Templeton, few of you would even know who he is. But you would most certainly know the other man who resolved to trust in the Bible completely. His is perhaps one of the best known names in the world -- Billy Graham.1
I saw an interview with Chuck Templeton not long ago; and amazingly - even though God has used Dr. Graham to reach more people for Christ in his lifetime than any other human being in history - Dr. Templeton still believes that his decision to trust the Bible, and to throw all his energies with confidence into the Gospel message it proclaimed, was a mistake.
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Why is it so important that we be able to trust the Bible? I think Jesus Himself gave us the answer when He once told the Jews who were opposing Him, "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me ..." (John 5:39). Salvation from sin, and God's free gift of eternal life is found only in placing our faith in Who Jesus is and what He has done for us; and the only way we know about Who Jesus is and what He has done is through what God has revealed in the Bible. If the Bible isn't trustworthy; than neither is the Gospel it calls us to believe. If what the Bible asserts about history, creation, psychology and sociology are erroneous, than we can hardly trust our eternal destinies to what it asserts about matters of faith either. If parts of the Bible are unreliable, then our confidence in anything it says is compromised.
With increasing frequency, a lingering lack of confidence in what the Bible says has been leading people to lack of commitment to the faith it calls us to. Because what the Bible says about science and history is sometimes contradicted by what some contemporary scientists and historians are asserting today, many are coming to the conclusion that it's the Bible that must be wrong. And if it's wrong in these areas, they reason, it's not to be completely trusted in any area.
I would never dare to say that, in order to become saved, you must believe a certain way about the Bible. That would be, I believe, going too far. But I do believe, with all my heart, that no man or a woman can ever be a growing, fruitful, productive disciple of Jesus Christ, in any consistent way if they do not also believe as Jesus taught them to believe about the Bible. It's self-evident that anyone that is a disciple of Jesus Christ - a faithful follower and student of the Master - ought to believe what Jesus taught about the trustworthiness and authority of the Bible.
So then; what did Jesus teach about the Bible? This morning, I'd like for us to look at Jesus' teaching on the trustworthiness and authority of the Bible. And in so doing, I hope to persuade you that anyone who does what Dr. Graham did on that night of decision on the mountain is doing the wisest and most appropriate thing. I hope that you'll come to believe that anyone who flings himself or herself with whole-hearted confidence upon all that the Bible asserts as true, is not only doing something that's safe to do - he or she is behaving and believing in a way that's consistent with what Jesus taught and believed Himself.
1. JESUS TAUGHT THAT THE SCRIPTURES ARE RELIABLE THROUGHOUT TIME.
There really is no other book in the world like the Bible. It's unique just in the way it was written! ... Over a 1,500 year span, in three different continents, in three different languages, within over 40 generations, by 40 different authors - all from radically different walks of life, cultures and experiences - kings and fishermen, politicians and poets, scholars and shepherds - writing on hundreds of different controversial subjects. And yet, there is such an amazing unity of theme in its various parts, and such an absence of contradiction between its assertions, that it's as if it had only one Author.
Yet, even though the Bible remains the most widely translated, most published, most circulated, most purchased, most read and most studied book in all of human history, many people over the last few decades have argued that - suddenly - it's irrelevant. It has nothing to say to people any longer. "We deal today with things like the 'internet'," people say. "Our lives today are concerned with 'global economics', and 'corporate down-sizing', and 'terrorism', and 'the ozone layer', and 'post-modernism', and 'satellite dishes', and a million other such things that the Bible doesn't even address. It can't be trusted as a reliable guide through life anymore. It's outmoded, outdated, and irrelevant."
Yet, what did Jesus say? Jesus asserted that throughout time - whenever and wherever people live - the Bible is enduringly trustworthy. That would most certainly apply to this day and age.
Many people in Jesus day assumed that when the Messiah would come and take up His rule upon the earth, a new order would be established. If ever there was a time when the Scriptures would become outdated, it would have been when the Messiah came. But in the most famous sermon ever preached - Jesus' Sermon on The Mount - He asserted the timeless trustworthiness of the Bible. Jesus said, in Matthew 5:17-18;
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law, until all is accomplished.
First, notice what Jesus is asserting as trustworthy: "the Law and the Prophets." This was a way that the Jewish people had of speaking of the whole Old Testament. On another occasion, after His resurrection, Jesus spoke of how He was to fulfill all that was written about Him in "the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms" (Luke 24:44). He is speaking of the Old Testament Scriptures as a whole.
Second, notice what 'trustworthiness' means: that all of even the most minute details would be "fulfilled" or "accomplished". Nothing of what it asserts would prove to be false, and none of its promises would fail.
Third, notice how long these Scriptures would remain trustworthy: as long as there is a heaven and an earth. Jesus is saying that it would be easier for heaven and earth to vanish from existence than it would be for the Scriptures to become untrustworthy.
Let's put this in perspective. Let's suppose for a moment that you were scheduled to have a complex surgical procedure. How confident would you feel if your surgeon was researching that procedure based on medical information that was 15 years old? How about information just ten years out of date? How about just five? It doesn't take much time for what man considers to be "state-of-the-art" to become dangerously obsolete. That's why science textbooks are revised and republished so frequently.
But if God has spoken, then what He says isn't subject to change or revision. Why should people reject the enduring trustworthiness of the Bible in favor of the findings and discoveries of the human mind that they know will be outdated and untrustworthy in just a short time?
This passage from Matthew forces us to face a fact about Jesus: He believed that the Bible is absolutely trustworthy for all time. As His followers, we're obligated to trust it as He did. We can be confident in the trustworthiness of the Bible; because until heaven and earth pass away, not a single one of its assertions will fail.
2. HE TAUGHT THAT THE SCRIPTURES ARE RELIABLE HISTORICALLY.
Some people would agree that there is absolute trustworthiness in all that the Bible asserts - but only with respect to spiritual matters and matters of faith. They would deny it's trustworthiness, however, when it comes to historic matters. "I mean; come on ...! A great fish swallowing people and spitting them out on the beach? Talking snakes in the Garden of Eden? Millions of people walking through the Red Sea? Surely Jesus didn't mean for people to believe in the miracles and wild tales of the Old Testament as if they were actually historically true, did He?"
The fact is that Jesus treated the stories and events of the Old Testament - even the miracles - as if they were actual historic facts; and not as if they were mere myths and legends.
Consider just a few examples. The Pharisees were once trying to trap Jesus by questioning him about whether or not a man may divorce his wife for any cause. This is a controversial question today; and it was a controversial question then too. But please notice that, before a hostile group of opponents, Jesus based His answer on the story of creation in the first two chapters of Genesis. He said to them, in Matthew 19:4-6;
Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, "For this cause a man shall leave His father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh"? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.
If Jesus Himself didn't believe that what Genesis 1-2 said was historically true, His argument would have made no sense at all. And if the Pharisees with whom He argued considered the story to be a myth, you can believe they would have made a point of it too!
Once, Jesus was explaining to His disciples what it would be like in the time just before He would return. In Luke 17:26-32, He told them:
And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man; they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let not the one who is on the housetop and whose goods are in the house go down to take them away; and likewise let not the one who is in the field turn back. Remember Lot's wife.
Obviously, Jesus is giving some very serious warnings and instructions to His disciples in this passage; and much of what He says raises a lot of questions. But at least consider this question: in His teaching from this passage, how did Jesus treat the miraculous stories of Noah, of Sodom and of Lot's wife? As myths or as historic events?
On another occasion, He was confronted by the Scribes and Pharisees who demanded a miraculous sign from Him; and to this hostile audience, He said, in Matt. 12:39-42;
An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and yet no sign shall be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; for just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall stand up with this generation at the judgement, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South shall rise up with this generation at the judgement and shall condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Once again, the things that Jesus said about Noah and the great fish, the miraculous repentance of Nineveh, and the God-given wisdom of Solomon, would have made no sense if He didn't believe them to be true.
"Now wait a minute," someone might say. "None of this proves that these things were actual historic events." That's true. But it does force us to come to one of three conclusions about Jesus. Either (1) He believed that they were actual historic events - and was right; or else (2) He thought they were historic events but was mistaken; or (3) He knew that they were really not historic events and deliberately gave people the false impression that He thought they were. I can think of no other options than these three. When we consider how Jesus is presented in the Gospels, and all that His disciples claimed about Him, can we really accept either the idea that He would lie to people or that He would be mistaken about something so vital?
Jesus believed that these outstanding events from the Old Testament - as well as many others that He referred to - were actual facts of history. And as His disciples and followers, we're duty-bound to trust in the historic reliability of the Scriptures just as He did.
3. HE TAUGHT THAT THE SCRIPTURES ARE RELIABLE DOWN TO THE VERY WORDS AND LETTERS.
Others have said, "Ok; I'll buy the idea that Jesus believed in these events as historically true; but that's as far as it went. He believed the events that the words of the Bible reported; but He didn't believe that God Himself guided the writers of the Bible. He believed that it was an accurate 'record' of God's works; but we're not bound to take every single word as authoritative and trustworthy, are we?"
The fact is that Jesus treated the Bible as authoritatively from God - even down to its very words! Once, when He was arguing against the Sadducees about the Bible's teaching on the resurrection - and by the way, the Sadducees were a hostile opponent who disbelieved in the idea of a resurrection - Jesus based His entire argument on the fact that a single word was in the present tense rather than in the past tense. He mentioned how God spoke to Moses about the men who lived four centuries before he did when He said, in Matthew 22:31-32;
... Regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which is spoken to you by God, saying, "I Am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob"? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
In the same passage, in verses 43-45, Jesus based an argument for His own deity as the Son of God on just one word from the Old Testament when He quoted from a prophecy about the Messiah and asked,
... How does David in the Spirit call Him 'Lord', saying, "The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, until I put Thine enemies beneath Thy Feet'"? If David then calls Him "Lord," how is He his son?
Can you see how Jesus gave such all-important authority to even the single words of the Old Testament? But it goes even further than that. He gave divine authority to even the individual letters and pen-strokes of the Scriptures as they were written. He said, in Luke 16:17, that "... it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail." Or, as He said in Matthew 5:18, "... Truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished."
When Jesus was saying this, He was referring to the "jot", which is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet; and to the "tittle", which is a tiny little pen-stroke that makes one Hebrew letter different from another.
Given all this, how far would you say Jesus extended the authority of the Scriptures? Isn't it down to its very words? Down to its very letters? Even down to the very pen-strokes of those letters?
4. HE TAUGHT THAT THE NEW TESTAMENT IS JUST AS RELIABLE AS THE OLD TESTAMENT.
Now; all that Jesus has said so far has been in regard to the Old Testament. But what about the New Testament?
Of course, when Jesus spoke these words, the New Testament had not yet been written. But Jesus promised this before He went to the cross, in John 14:25-26;
These things I have spoken to you, while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
He told them that, though He had already taught them many things, there were more things coming. He said, in John 16:12-15;
I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall take of Mine, and shall disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said, that He takes of Mine, and will disclose it to you.
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Now, I realize that this doesn't answer all the questions we ask about the Bible's message. Sometimes there's a sincere disagreement between genuine brothers and sisters in Christ over how certain things are to be interpreted. We need to allow room for that. But that's the fault of fallible human beings like you and me, who imperfectly understand the things that God has said. The 'fallibility' is with us - not with the Bible.
But though we don't know all the answers, we know that Jesus does - and He calls us to trust in the reliability of the Bible. He calls us to trust that it will remain faithfully reliable until heaven and earth cease. He calls us to trust its reliability when it reports the work of God in history. He calls us to even trust that the very words, the very letters of those words - even the very pen-strokes of the letters of those words - are reliable and will not fail.
Billy Graham prayed the right thing when he said,"Oh, God; I cannot prove certain things, I cannot answer some of the questions ... some of the other people are raising, but I accept this Book by faith as the Word of God." We can trust it and accept it - just as Jesus trusted it and accepted it.
If anyone is going to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, then let that person believe about the Bible as Jesus did.
1Adapted from John Pollock, To All The Nations: The Billy Graham Story (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), pp. 40-42.
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