1 PETER #5: THE KEY TO THE BIBLE: JESUS CHRIST

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1 Peter #5. 1 Peter 1:10-12

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:10-12

Our next section might feel like just a little transition between main points, and in some ways, it is. Even so, I believe the Holy Spirit can use these verses to strengthen our faith. Peter has been talking about the wonderful promises that are ours in salvation, promises that are so glorious and wonderful that even suffering on earth is nothing in comparison to what is coming to those who receive that salvation. Peter now briefly mentions something of the history of those promises. In short, Peter is telling his readers something about the Bible. We can learn several important things here.

First, remember that at that point in time, the only Bible that they had was the part that we Christians call the Old Testament. Peter was a Jew, and in the Jewish thinking of those days, there were two main parts to the Bible/Old Testament: “the Law,” which was the first five books, written by Moses; and “the Prophets,” which is, essentially, everything else. It also helps to know that though the first five books are indeed called “the Law,” Moses himself (who wrote those books), was also considered to be a prophet. So when Peter talks about “the prophets,” he doesn’t just mean Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and so on. He means every single book of the Old Testament.

Peter tells us something very important about the Old Testament: it is ultimately all about Jesus Christ. Peter makes it clear that the prophets themselves did not entirely understand this – they wondered about what God was inspiring them to write – as he says in verse 10, they questioned what it was all about. Even so, Peter says it was the Spirit of Christ in them who inspired them to write, and what he inspired them to write was ultimately all about Christ, and the suffering, grace and glory of the salvation that he won for us, even though the writers did not understand that at the time.

Elsewhere, the New Testament affirms this. After his resurrection, Jesus walked with his disciples one time, but prevented them from recognizing him, initially. He gave them the same lesson about the Old Testament scriptures:

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27, italic formatting added for emphasis)

Notice here, again, the idea that “the prophets,” begins with Moses, and includes all of the rest of the scriptures. So, even the Old Testament scriptures are about Jesus. Jesus made this same point about the bible, more than once. Talking to the Pharisees who rejected him, he said:

The Father who sent Me has Himself testified about Me. You have not heard His voice at any time, and you haven’t seen His form. You don’t have His word living in you, because you don’t believe the One He sent. You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.  (John 5:37-39, HCSB)

The Old Testament speaks about Jesus in some more or less direct ways. What I mean is, there are texts that were understood to be predictions about the coming Messiah for centuries before Jesus was born. When he was born into humanity, through Mary, his life fulfilled those prophetic utterances. We know that the last Old Testament book to be written was finished about 450 years before Jesus was born. The Greek translation of the Old Testament appeared 250 years before the time of Jesus.

Let me give you a  brief, faith-building taste of those fulfilled prophecies. According to various places in the Old Testament, the Messiah was supposed to be a descendant of King David, and born in Bethlehem. But though he was to be born in Bethlehem, he was also supposed to be from the region of Galilee – which is far north of Bethlehem. Yet also, he was supposed to have come from Egypt. In addition, noblemen from the East were supposed to bring him gifts.

Jesus, of course, was born in Bethlehem. Some time later, the Magi from the East came, bringing gifts. Within two years, his parents fled with him to Egypt. Before he was twelve, they returned from Egypt and moved permanently to Nazareth, which is in Galilee. Jesus himself, if he was merely human, had no control over fulfilling these prophecies – no baby gets to choose the place of its birth, or where it is raised. Those are either gigantic lucky coincidences, or they are fulfilled prophecies.

Just a few more. The Old Testament predicted that Jesus would be born of a virgin, that he be innocent, yet suffer for the sins of the guilty, that people would gamble for his clothing. It says he would be pierced in his side with a weapon. Again, Jesus had no way of arranging these things, if he was merely human. All of the evidence shows us that the New Testament developed so rapidly, that it isn’t possible to imagine that centuries later the church made up stories about someone who wasn’t real, and made him to fit the prophecies. That idea is based upon the fiction novel, The DaVinci Code, and it is indeed fiction. Also, Jesus fulfilled many of the prophecies in ways that Jews at the time had not expected.

There are over three-hundred Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled in Jesus (and in no one else). If you want a simple, easy taste, read Isaiah chapter 53, and ask yourself what it says about Jesus. Then recognize that it was written about seven hundred years before Jesus was born.

In 1963, Mathematician Peter Stoner published a book called Science Speaks. He used the science of probability to calculate how likely it was that one person would fulfil just eight of the three hundred prophecies about the Messiah. Remember, all eight (to say nothing of all 300) have to be fulfilled in the same person. His calculations were reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation, and found to be correct mathematically. He found that the chance that one person would fulfill just those eight particular prophecies about the messiah was 1 in 1017. That’s 1, followed by 17 zeros. As an illustration, if you had that many silver dollars, you could cover an area the size of Texas (that’s larger than either France, or Spain) two feet thick with silver dollars. Paint one more silver dollar red, drop it in and mix it with all the rest, and have a blind man randomly travel to somewhere in Texas, and plunge his hand into the silver dollars and pick one. The likelihood that he comes out with the one red silver dollar is the same as the likelihood that Jesus was not predicted by those eight Old Testament prophecies. When you throw in the other 292 prophecies, there is virtually no chance that Jesus fulfilled them by accident. What a treasure we have, to know that God planned it all!

Even when we aren’t talking about predictions of the Messiah, the Old Testament reveals Jesus to us, and helps us understand what it means to live as his follower. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to talk about this same way of seeing the Old Testament:

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

(Romans 15:4, ESV)

I think the words of Jesus that we read earlier can be understood this way, also. When we realize this, we find that Peter and the others have given us the key to getting the most from the Old Testament. Yes, there are complex historical and cultural situations in it. Yes, we should seek to understand culture, and context and history. But the bottom line is, it is all about Jesus, and all we really need, when we read the Old Testament, is to let it teach us something about Jesus, or about what it means to follow him. So, when your read your Bible, ask these sorts of questions:

  • What does this passage show me about Jesus?
  • Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like?
  • Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)?

In addition to directly revealing Jesus to us, the Bible explains things about God, human nature, and what life is like, and could be like, for people who follow Jesus. So we should also ask some questions like this:

  • What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character?
  • What does it show me about sin?
  • What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace?
  • What does it say about human beings?
  • What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others?

If you want to get more out of your Bible, I know of no better way than to ask questions like these, and, actually any other type of significant question that occurs to you. If we don’t ask questions, we don’t learn much. If you know of anyone who really knows not only a lot about what the Bible says, but also a lot about what it means, and how to apply it, that kind of wisdom almost certainly came about from asking questions, including hard questions, about various parts of the Bible.

As a practical exercise, let’s use this wonderful gift that Peter has given us to tackle a difficult text in the Old Testament, from Deuteronomy chapter 20. We’re doing this just as an example of what it means to recognize that the prophets of old were actually writing about Jesus. Moses was speaking to the people of Israel about wars. He instructed them that when they fought with people who were not in their homeland, they were to first try peace, and then ask for a surrender, and then, if battle was necessary, they were to show mercy once they had conquered the enemy city. Next, he talks about the wars they must fight with people occupying the promised land:

15 “But these instructions apply only to distant towns, not to the towns of the nations in the land you will enter. 16 In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. 17 You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, just as the LORD your God has commanded you. 18 This will prevent the people of the land from teaching you to imitate their detestable customs in the worship of their gods, which would cause you to sin deeply against the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 20:15-18, NLT

This sounds horrible and brutal, right? There certainly are issues here to think about with regard to the history of Israel. However, for Christians, we know that this passage is not about fighting Hittites, Amorites and all the other “– ites.” We know that this passage is about Jesus. It tells us something about Him, or about how we should or shouldn’t behave as we follow him. It might tell us about sin, or salvation or human relationship. So, let’s ask our questions:

Where is Jesus? I don’t know about you, but the only place I see Him directly is in the name “the Lord.” So it seems to be Jesus who is talking to us through this passage. He is giving instructions, teaching us.

Does one of the people in this story act in a way that reminds me what Jesus is like? Does this make a prediction about the Messiah (Jesus)? Easy. No, and no. Maybe another time I’ll come back to this text, and see something about these questions, that I hadn’t seen before, but not this time.

What does the text show me about God? About his holiness? His love? His justice? Some other aspect of his character? Ahh. Here we go. It shows me that God’s holiness is very serious. It is a deadly serious thing to contradict his holiness, which is what sin does. His holiness is extreme, and calls for an extreme response to avoid unholiness.

What does it show me about sin? Sin is deadly serious. It requires death. Idolatry (having something in your life that is more important or valuable to you than God) is the problem in the text. We Christians still sometimes make things more important than God, so it is speaking to that tendency. This passage shows me that it is so important to have Jesus first, that I need to eliminate anything that might get in the way.

What does it show me about my need for God and for forgiveness and grace? If God’s holiness is so serious, and idolatry is so bad, that in those days it required the death of every living thing, then I am in serious trouble. I am lost without God’s grace. I need a savior to save me from my sin, my laziness and my tendency to value things more than God. Oh! Now we see Jesus. I need a savior. I need Jesus!

What does it say about human beings? Human beings cannot do what is necessary to be holy. Again, we need a savior!

What does it say about how a human being lives in relationship to God, and/or to others? I think we can use this question to put it all together. Whatever the text may have been about in the past, today, it is about Jesus, and what it means to follow him. So first, it leads me to repent of my own sin, my own tendency to let other things become more important in my life than God. Idolatry is nothing to mess around with. It leads me to my desperate need for Jesus to save me, to provide forgiveness, mercy and grace.

It also shows me something else. The people of Israel were supposed to take radically extreme action to avoid idolatry and sin. Their relationship with God was so important that they literally had to kill anything that might lead them astray. Today, because the text is about Jesus, we know it is not about hurting other people. But we should make implacable, unrelenting war on anything in our lives that tends to lead us astray from Jesus. I should show my own sin no mercy. I should be willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that Jesus is first in my life, now and always. If something threatens that, I need to eliminate it. Again, I am talking not about other people, but my own attitudes and actions. It is true, there may be a time when I need to back off from a relationship with a person that is damaging my faith in Jesus, but we do that sort of thing in accordance with the rest of the bible, which tells us it must be done graciously and with patience and love for the other person.

Now that we see this about Jesus and following him, we can find many other verses that teach this very thing:

29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30, NLT)
37 “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:37-39, NLT)
4 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires. Romans 13:14, NLT)

So this little transitional verse in 1 Peter helps us understand the entire Bible!

A final thing. Peter mentions that people came and preached to his readers, and that their preaching was inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit. No preacher is equal to the Bible. All of us make mistakes, whereas God provided the Bible as a foundation for all time, so that no generation can be led astray if they know the scriptures. But Peter shows us that the Holy Spirit also uses preachers who deliver the Biblical message to specific people, at specific places and times. The work of a preacher is not to add to the Bible, but to help us unwrap God’s Word to us in a way that helps us see how it is relevant to our lives here and now.

Peter’s main point is that God has gone out of his way to make sure that we heard His Word. We can count on it. We should delight in it, and learn from it.

Imagine the song “Silent Night.” Like many Christmas songs, it has been arranged in many different ways, and played by many different groups and performing artists. Think of it being played instrumentally, by an orchestra. You’ve probably heard it that way. Now, imagine how it sounds sung by a full choir, with no instruments at all. It’s the same song. The same music is being conveyed, and yet, it sounds very different. Now, hear a twangy, country-western singer singing Silent Night, maybe featuring a pedal-steel. Next, try to imagine someone singing it as a kind of operatic solo. Picture it done to swing-rhythm. Now imagine it as “muzak” or “elevator music,” played at the mall. Think of a rendition of the song by a 1940’s “big band.” Hear it done by Reggae artists.

All of these are the same song, conveying the same “musical message.” And yet each style and performance conveys that same “musical message” in a very different way. We can appreciate some of those ways better than others, but it all goes back to the same composer, the same basic set of notes, the same lyrics.

This is kind of how the Bible is. Sometimes, God conveyed his message about Jesus through the life of an old man, or a young princess. Sometimes, he sent it through laws that helped people at that time understand him better. At other times, God’s message came through prophets, or teachers, or letter writers, kings, or musicians. Sometimes, it is hard to recognize as the same message, because three-thousand year-old laws require more work to understand than clearly written letters from more than a thousand years later. But the messages about God, human beings and relationships are consistent throughout the Bible. As with Silent Night, though the “performances” are widely varied, the basic underlying message is the same. Different musicians may play the music, different instruments may create it, but at the same time, the music is, and always was, the product of the original composer.

Take joy and delight in reading the Bible and finding Jesus everywhere!

Revelation #1 THE BIBLE’S MOST COMPLICATED BOOK

Rev1

We must not interpret Revelation in a way that addresses only our own time, or the time at the end of the world, or a time in history that has already passed. The Word of God is living and active – it speaks to us now, and to all Christians at all times. We have to interpret Revelation in a way that honors that.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer:
Download Revelation Part 1

Revelation: INTRODUCTION

This is the first of a sermon series on the Revelation of John – that is, the last book of the New Testament. This particular message is going to be a bit “lite” on scripture, because it is absolutely necessary to spend some time learning about the background of this book before we study it ourselves. If I were to simply jump into teaching the text of revelation without going over important background information, it would be like serving someone soup with no spoon, or steak with no knife. Revelation is an important book, but it is terribly confusing and difficult at points, and so a thorough introduction is unquestionably required. In fact, I am going to take two weeks to do this. (By the way, although some people call the book “Revelations,” properly speaking, there should be no “s.”)

Revelation is a difficult book to read, because it is not easy, at first glance, to understand what is going on, or what John (the author) is talking about. John records things like a beast with seven heads, and ten horns, and crowns on each horn ( but not on each head!), and a blasphemous name on each crown. It is very difficult to actually picture that. Even if we do successfully paint a picture of that in our minds, what in the world does it mean?

And yet, many powerful concepts and images from Revelation have become embedded in our culture. The Grim Reaper comes from this book, as do the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The numbers 666, 144,000, 4, 7, and 10 are all given significance by this book. The image and expression of “the pearly gates” is from Revelation, as is “judgement day,” and “the book of life.” One of the world’s most well-known hymns – Holy, Holy, Holy – comes from Revelation, chapters four and five.

My local church has asked me to teach through this book. I think this is going to require a certain amount of effort for you, dear readers. Please have patience as I set the stage, because for Revelation, more than almost any other book, the background information is critical.

DIFFERENT WAYS OF INTERPRETING REVELATION

Revelation is, I believe, the most complicated and puzzling book in the entire Bible. Because of that, it is vitally important for us to understand some background about it. One of the issues, is that you have probably heard people say various things about Revelation. Some of them probably contradict each other. Generally speaking, serious scholars have tried to interpret it in four major different ways.

The most common way to look at Revelation is as a prediction of the future; particularly, a prediction of the events leading up to the end of the world and the return of Jesus. This way of interpreting it is called the “futurist” approach. It makes a certain amount of sense, because the book does present itself as a prophecy of the future, right away, in verse 1.

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:1-3, ESV2011)

However, a lot of people carry the futurist approach to the extreme. Over the years, extreme futurists (sometimes also called “dispensationalists”) have developed detailed charts and timelines. They attempt to connect every detail of Revelation to some actual event or person that will occur in the end times. While I do believe that Revelation does indeed speak of real future occurrences, I also believe that it speaks of much more than that. Extreme futurists/dispensationalist seem far too confident in their own interpretations, and often treat their interpretations as if they were the actual scripture. I think Revelation is more complicated than they seem to understand. Unfortunately, if you’ve heard much about Revelation, it was almost certainly from extreme futurists.  These are the ones who talk about the seven ages of the church, and the specific place the antichrist will come from, and how the development of a single monetary currency throughout the world is a sign of the end of time. They confidently claim there will be an actual military battle in the modern nation of Israel, and a host of other things that are not directly said by the book of Revelation.

At the other end of the spectrum, you have “preterists,” who believe that Revelation is simply a historical representation of the situation, hopes and aspirations of early Christians. They would say that the only value in the text is to show us what people were thinking at the time it was written. They insist that it is not a prophecy at all. I do agree that Revelation shows us some of the hopes and fears of early Christians, and I think it is important to understand those things if we want to understand the book. However, I believe that Revelation also shows us far more than that. I believe it is, as it claims to be, a Revelation from God.

Other theologians view Revelation as a kind of symbolic prophecy of the entire history of God’s people, from the beginning, until the return of Jesus. We call this the “Historical,” view of Revelation. In this view, we would assume that some of Revelation has already happened, and some is yet to come. If this view is substantially correct, we should easily be able to identify in Revelation those things which have already come to pass. Since it is not at all easy to do that, I can’t embrace this view. Even so, I do believe that some of this book may already have been fulfilled.

Another way to look at Revelation is as a picture of the spiritual realities behind the history of our world. It is a symbolic way of showing what is going on spiritually. This is called the Idealist view. This view has some merit to it: certainly the story of the dragon and woman in chapters 12 & 13 are representations of the spiritual war between God and the devil. And yet, I also believe there are parts of the book that are definitely talking about events in the physical world. One of the primary emphases of the book as a whole is that God really is active in history, that He really will fulfill His promise to judge evil and save those who trust Him. This requires physical events, as well as spiritual.

I believe that all of these ways of interpreting Revelation can be helpful, if used in moderation . However, I think they all fall short, on their own. I think I can help us sort out the merits (and problems) of all these views. It all comes back to our understanding of the Bible as a whole. I believe (along with all orthodox Christians for the past 2,000 years) that the Bible is God’s Word, and that it is useful and relevant for every generation of Christians, past, present and future. Remember Hebrews 4:12:

12For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. 13No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. (Heb 4:12-13, HCSB)

So we must not interpret Revelation in a way that addresses only our own time, or the time at the end of the world, or a time in history that has already passed. The Word of God is living and active – it speaks to us now, and to all Christians at all times. This is the biggest problem I have with most of the major views of Revelation: it confines the book to one era of history or another, whether past or future.

So, Revelation speaks of the time of the apostle John. It also speaks of the future. It speaks of spiritual realities and physical realities. The problem is, Revelation jumbles them all together; sometimes, I believe, even within the same verses. Any given vision, or element, might refer to some, or all of these realities at the same time. I think it helps tremendously for us to be aware of that. The following diagram might be useful:

Venn-Revelation 2

So, as we go through the book, and something doesn’t make sense, ask yourself: could this be a spiritual thing, rather than physical? Or a past event, rather than the future? Could it be a combined vision of both past and present, or both spiritual and physical? These sorts of questions can be very, very helpful in unraveling this difficult book.

WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THE APOCALYPTIC GENRE

That brings me to subject of genre. We need to be very clear about the genres (styles of writing) used in this book. In fact, this is one of the fundamental “rules” for interpreting scripture. Different types of writing need to be interpreted in different ways. For example, when Isaiah quotes the Lord as saying: “Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1), it comes in the form of poetic prophecy. We don’t believe that this planet is literally an ottoman on which God rests physical feet. Instead, we take these words as a figure of speech to illustrate a deeper principle, namely that God owns the universe. We understand it this way because the language is clearly poetic. On the other hand, when it says: “Once more war broke out, and David went out and fought the Philistines (1 Samuel 19:8)” we understand that this passage means exactly what it says. It is not a figure of speech. It comes in the context of historical narrative, and is clearly meant to be understood as history, a record of what actually happened.

Like many of the other books of the Bible, Revelation contains several different kinds of writing. It records some specific teachings, it includes prophecies and visions, there are songs of praise in it, and blessings and curses. Much of the book contains what is called apocalyptic literature.

Apocalyptic literature is very obscure, filled with strange images and significant numbers. It is almost like a weird dream. It is also kind of like a code language, where almost nothing is supposed to be taken at face value.

APOCALYPTIC WRITING MUST BE INTERPRETED IN A WAY THAT AGREES WITH CLEAR TEACHING

As we study Revelation, with its strange apocalyptic language, let’s remember that we  always understand and interpret the obscure parts of the bible in light of what is already clearly understood. There is plenty in the Bible that is straightforward; stuff that you have to work hard to misunderstand. Jesus is Lord, and there is no other way to God but him. Life is about relationship with Jesus. The ten commandments are not rocket science. So whenever we come to something that is difficult to understand, stick to the basics, and work to understand it based on what we do know for sure.  Certainly, we cannot base any major article of faith on the book of Revelation alone – we need to see Revelation in the context of the entire Bible.

WE SHOULD NOT GENERALLY TAKE APOCALYPTIC WRITING AT FACE VALUE.

Let’s also remember that much of Apocalyptic literature – and therefore much of Revelation – is not supposed to be taken literally.  Much of what we read will be very symbolic, and not literal. For instance, the number 144,000. The number twelve is a symbol of God’s people. There were twelve tribes of Israel – God’s people before Jesus. There were 12 Apostles chosen by Jesus, representing God’s people since the time of Jesus. The number 1000 signifies completeness. So 144,000 is the symbolic number of all of God’s people, past, present and future (12 multiplied by 12, multiplied by 1000). There are many, many other similar symbolic things in this book. We know that they aren’t meant literally, because they are part of the apocalyptic literature sections of  Revelation.

The main point of this kind of writing is to encourage believers who are going through hard times. The point is not really the details. Instead, what we are to get from it is the big picture that God is in control of history, and has not forgotten his people.

For now, then, let’s return to the first few verses:

1The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, 2who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. 3Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Rev 1:1-3, ESV2011)

John is very emphatic about this Revelation. It was given by an angel, and John bears witness to the Word of God and testimony of Jesus. This is a solemn promise that what we find in this book is indeed God’s word, and that we are blessed to hear it, and keep it. This book takes a little bit more effort to understand than most. But if you put the time in to read all of Revelation, and study the sermons in this series, I’m confident that you, too, will be blessed by this prophecy.

THE HOMOSEXUAL MOVEMENT & BIBLE INTERPRETATION

Romans 3:23 says all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, you are a sinner. It also says, all who receive it are justified freely through the grace given to us in Jesus Christ. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, if you repent of your sins and trust him, you are redeemed and made whole and holy in Jesus.

 

 

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The Bible & Homosexuality Part 3

Once more, if you have not read the first or second sermons on this subject, please go back and do that now. I guarantee, you will not understand what I am saying or where I am coming from if you do not. I really mean it.

I want to reiterate why I am preaching on the subject of homosexuality at this point. It is not because homosexuality is particularly worse than any other sin. It is not because I want people to go around condemning gay folks. I don’t even think it’s a good idea for Christians to be focused on one particular sin. The reason I have been preaching about it is because, plain and simple, the issue of homosexuality is being used these days to undermine the bible. The problem is not homosexuality, or homosexuals. The main problem is that Christians don’t seem to know how to properly understand the bible, and this issue is merely the most prominent example of it today.

So, some people say things like this: “But aren’t there many parts of the bible that we ignore today? Don’t we sort of pick and choose what we want to obey?”

This is one of the great dangers for Christians concerning this issue; this is, in fact, one reason I am preaching about it. There is great confusion about all this in the church today.

Let me put the problem to you this way. Say we agree that we will simply pick and choose parts of the bible, more or less as we please.

You say: I’m going to ignore the parts where it says homosexual behavior is sinful.

I say: I hate you. (I don’t, I’m just using this as an example).

You: But Tom, Jesus told us to love one another. In fact, you just shared a lot of scripture two weeks ago that told us we ought to love and forgive each other.

Me: I’m ignoring those parts of the bible, just as you’re ignoring the parts about homosexual behavior.

Here’s another one:

You: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says homosexual behavior is sinful.

Me: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says murder is sinful.

We could do this all day. But let’s cut to the bottom-line with one more example.

You: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says homosexual behavior is sinful.

Me: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says Jesus is the Messiah and that through him we have forgiveness, grace and salvation.

You see, if this is what we really think about the bible, we have no basis for faith in Jesus Christ, and no reason to be Christians at all. If you really think we can just pick and choose according to our whims, then who is to say that Jesus really died to forgive your sins? Who is to say God really created the world? Who is to say that Jesus really is the Messiah? Can’t we pick and choose whether or not those things are true? If we simply pick and choose what we want to from the bible, we are not Christians in any meaningful sense.

In fact, to decide for ourselves what we will consider right and wrong is to nominate ourselves for the position of God. Listen carefully here, because this has been seriously twisted the other way. You may have heard someone say: “Who are you to say that homosexual acts are sinful? Aren’t you playing God?”

My answer is, “I am nobody. I have no right to say such a thing. In fact, I don’t say such a thing. I am only submitting to what the bible says.” We might properly ask “Who are you to say it is not sinful?”

When I say, “According to the bible homosexual acts are sins,” I am not speaking on my own authority. I am not setting myself in the place of God. I am merely repeating what the bible says. In fact, I am only humbly agreeing that what God said through the bible is correct.

But when someone else says “I don’t believe it is a sin, as long as it is done in love,” that person is actually setting up herself in the place of God. She is saying, “I am going to determine what is right and wrong. The bible says X, but I disagree. I am saying Y.” Now, she may protest, “I am not the only one who thinks that way. Others agree with me.” OK then, she is setting up polytheism – many gods. She and the others who think like her are saying that they have the authority of determining right and wrong; an authority that is held only by God himself.

There is another option, taken by many. You may prefer to just throw your hands up and say, “Man, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s my place to decide these things.” But actually, such a person is making a decision. He is basically saying, “I know what the bible says, but I’m not going to say for sure that I agree with it. I’m not willing to let the bible determine right or wrong in this situation.” In other words, he has the authority to ignore the bible. He is saying, in essence, “the bible doesn’t have the authority to say that.”

Now, when it comes to picking and choosing, let’s be fair, and consider all the angles. It does seem like there are things in the Bible that Christians no longer pay attention to, doesn’t it? The bible says we shouldn’t eat pork, and yet Christians today don’t worry about that. You might say, “Tom, if you eat bacon, aren’t you picking and choosing, and putting yourself in the place of God?”

Actually, no. I’m not the one who decided it was OK to eat pork. In fact, it was Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7:18-23. The freedom to eat whatever we want is affirmed in Acts 10:9-16 and also Acts 15:28-29, and 1Corinthians 8:8 and Romans 14:1-3 and other places. In other words, I didn’t pick and choose for myself – I was guided by the New Testament in interpreting the Old Testament. In eating pork, I am still submitted to the bible.

Some people might say, “But isn’t that just your interpretation of the bible, not the bible itself?”

Christians have been studying the bible for two thousand years. Over that time, several simple rules have developed for how to interpret and understand the bible properly. Mostly, they were developed to keep people from twisting the bible to say whatever they would like. I refer you to my sermon series “Understanding the Bible,” where I explain these rules and how to use them. These rules of interpretation are not complicated, but it does take some time and mental effort to apply them consistently and thoroughly. A lot of people simply can’t be bothered to do it.

My interpretation of what the bible says about homosexual behavior was carefully and thoroughly developed in harmony with those basic, well-recognized Christian rules. My interpretation is also in harmony with that of virtually every Christian thinker in history until about the year 2000. Come on, now, let’s be honest: most of the culture, including President Barack Obama, claimed to agree with this straightforward reading of the bible as recently as 2008. In other words, it is not simply my personal opinion about what the bible says. I got there through careful bible study and interpretation, and found that virtually all Christians in history had arrived at the same conclusions before me. I am not just picking and choosing. I am going through a careful, well-established, scholarly process of consistent interpretation.

Frankly, I do not see this from those who disagree with me. For instance, one the arguments against the verses in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) goes like this. “Those verses are in the section of the bible known as the holiness codes. It includes things like not eating shellfish, or wearing cloth made of two different kinds of fibers. Christians don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore.”

Actually, the verse about shellfish is in Leviticus chapter 11, nowhere near 18:22 or 20:13. The verse about the blended cloth is Leviticus 19:19, twenty seven verses apart from 18:22 and thirty verses apart from 20:13. You cannot seriously argue the same textual context for blended cloth and homosexual sex.

But let’s slow down a minute and consider: what else is in this section of scripture?

A lot of Leviticus chapter eighteen is spend on forbidding various kinds of incest. 18:20 forbids adultery, 18:21 forbids the burning of children alive, 18:22 forbids homosexual sex and 18:23 forbids sex with animals.

If you argue that homosexual acts should not be considered sinful because these verses are found in the “holiness codes,” you must also argue that it should not be a sin to commit adultery, burn your baby alive, rape your children or mate with animals. I’m sorry for the graphic nature of these words – they are right there in the bible, and I think if you cringe at the thought of making these activities legitimate and “moral” among Christians, you should do the same for the activity in 18:22.

Now, let’s look more carefully at the verse for blended cloth.

15 “You must not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. 16 You must not go about spreading slander among your people; you must not jeopardize your neighbor’s life; I am Yahweh.

17 “You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. 18 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.

19 “You are to keep My statutes. You must not crossbreed two different kinds of your livestock, sow your fields with two kinds of seed, or put on a garment made of two kinds of material.

Remember, the argument about homosexual sex is: “It’s in the same section as the part about blended cloth, so we don’t have to listen to it.” But these (above) are the verses right next to the part about blended cloth. By that logic, we shouldn’t have to love our neighbor, or be just to the poor. If you do away with the part about homosexual acts, you must surely do away with “love your neighbor,” and “do not hate.”

Now, there are reasons that we wear polyester blends today, and yet still maintain that we must love our neighbor. But we don’t just say, “That thing about blended cloth is outdated.” There is a careful process of interpretation involved in determining why the ancient Israelites were not to blend different types of fibers, and what the principle is behind that verse, and how that principle still applies, even today, though it applies differently to us than to the ancient Israelites. After that careful process, we find something encouraging and instructive from the verse about blended cloth, but also we find that it is now OK to mix cloths. We go through the same process with the verses about not hating, and loving our neighbor, but in those cases, once we have done the work, we find that the underlying principles apply to us in exactly the same way they applied to the ancient Israelites.

Once more, I refer you to my series “Understanding the Bible.” Virtually anyone can do this work of responsible bible interpretation, but it does take time and effort. I want to say, as kindly as possible, if you are not willing to go through the effort of first learning how to do, and then engaging in, careful, consistent bible interpretation, you ought not to go around throwing out scraps of verses and poorly-thought theological-sounding arguments.

Of course, the verses from the New Testament which I shared last time are just as clear. If we wanted to eliminate homosexual activity from those lists of sins, we would have no choice but to also eliminate adultery, murder, slave-trading, lying, stealing, greed, drunkenness and more.

It is true, some Christians focus on homosexual behavior, and ignore some of the other things, like greed, for instance. I say, “shame on those Christians!” Neither one is worse than the other, but according to the bible, both are sins in the eyes of God, and it is wrong to give one a “pass” while condemning the other.  This is not a legitimate approach to the bible either. However, the fact that some people do this does not change what the bible actually says.

Once again I want to close with a reminder of God’s incredible grace to all sinners. Romans 3:23 says all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, you are a sinner. It also says, all who receive it are justified freely through the grace given to us in Jesus Christ. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, if you repent of your sins and trust him, you are redeemed and made whole and holy in Jesus.

Next time, we will close this subject with some final thoughts about grace particularly for gay Christians.

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