Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Opened the scriptures, 4.15.12

1 Timothy 4:6-16
6 If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed. 7Have nothing to do with profane myths and old wives’ tales. Train yourself in godliness, 8for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. 10For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

11 These are the things you must insist on and teach. 12Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 13Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. 14Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders. 15Put these things into practice, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. 16Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; continue in these things, for in doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Luke 24:13-35
13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

            This series of sermons is loosely organized around Easter, in particular what the risen Jesus did. Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time with his disciples after the resurrection because he was taken up to heaven. Since his time was short, Jesus had to spend it wisely. He needed to prepare his disciples for their ministry spreading the good news of forgiveness. We’re going to look at a few different things Jesus did over the next couple weeks; today we see that Jesus explained scripture to his disciples.

When Jesus appears to these two otherwise unknown disciples on the road they don’t recognize him. First, Jesus plays dumb by pretending not to know the events they’re talking about; then he reprimands the disciples for not understanding what he had told them during the journey to Jerusalem. He calls them “slow of heart” because they didn’t figure out that what had happened to him was what the prophets had written about.

We can understand Jesus’ frustration, the frustration of a teacher who has gone over and over a lesson with his disciples for years, but they haven’t gotten it. Jesus told his disciples three times that he would be killed and rise again, but his arrest still took them totally by surprise. Jesus predicted while his disciples looked at him blankly and suffered as they fled, just like he’d said they would. We can understand why Jesus is frustrated to see these disciples still confused about the events unfolding around them.

We can also see it from the disciples’ point of few. The week has given them too much to digest, too much to put together. From adorning crowds, to a bloodthirsty mob; from a royal procession to a traitor’s kiss, it would be hard to make sense of the week and hard to imagine the future.

In terms of the prophets, it is way too simple to say that they foretold what would happen to Jesus. It’s true that Isaiah’s words about the suffering servant being despised and rejected fit powerfully with Jesus. It’s true that other words of prophesy point to Jesus as well. At the same time, if you were to read all the prophesy about the Messiah and put it together into a story you would never come up with Jesus.

Frankly, the prophesy about a savior is varied and diverse. Most are passages that look forward to a powerful king. From that people expected a Messiah much like King David, a man to lead Israel’s armies and reestablish Israel as a strong, independent nation. Jesus doesn’t look anything like that: his armies are in heaven and he has no interest in the world’s power.

To understand what the prophets predicted about Jesus, you had to know the story of Jesus. Jesus fulfilled scripture, but not in the way you would expect from reading the prophets. So it makes sense that when Jesus rose from the dead one of his priorities would be to explain scripture to his disciples. He starts with these two and when they return to the rest of the community Jesus appears to the whole gathering to offer his explanation again. Scripture points to Jesus, but Jesus has to open it up to them so they can understand how it all fits together.

This time, the lesson takes. When we see the disciples on their mission to tell the world about Jesus in Acts or the letters, they show a keen understanding of how Jesus fulfills scripture. Whenever they make their case to people who know the Bible they build their arguments for faith in Christ from scripture. Jesus’ time with the disciples explaining scripture pays off because they can understand and explain to others the surprising ways God keeps promises.

Paul emphasizes scripture as well when he writes to instruct and encourage his young protégée, Timothy. He encourages Timothy to focus on reading scripture publically and to let his own progress in faith be an example to the community he leads. The risen Jesus and the Apostle Paul both highlighted the importance of scripture when they prepared leaders for the church, because God’s word is food and light for the church. Churches grow and thrive when they are engaged in scripture; they languish and die when they are not.

We know the Bible is important, so why is it so hard to making it a part of our daily life? For one thing, the Bible is big and it can be intimidating. Sometimes we feel like there’s so much we don’t know about its background or history that we can’t understand it on our own. While learning about the context and history of the Bible can deepen our understanding, most of what we need to understand the Bible is in the Bible. If we pick it up and read we will discover a world that is both strange and familiar. Like a novel, the Bible will introduce us to the characters we need to know and we’ll be able to follow the story as we go.

Some parts are easier to read and some harder. Genesis is great reading because it’s full of interesting stories. Occasionally there are boring patches, like genealogies, but the stories continue on the other side. The stories of the Bible are compelling too because they are full of interesting characters. Most of the important people are complex, like real people. They have moments of faith that are truly inspiring and other moments when we wonder what’s wrong with them. Those moments remind us that God calls real people to ministry, not perfect saints. They remind us of ourselves, with all our flaws and distractions, and how we are part of God’s story too.

Challenging parts of the Bible are an invitation to reflection. In a novel or history book if we get confused about why something happens we think about it, putting ourself in the characters’ shoes to imagine why they might have acted a certain way. With the Bible sometimes when we don’t understand something we are tempted to give up, thinking that it is “too hard” for us. Just like with any other book, pausing to reflect often leads to insight and understanding. Plus, sometimes we just don’t understand a piece of something, and that’s OK too. God can do as much with what we don’t understand as with what we do.

When it comes to scripture, there are lots of great resources available. Plus, if you get stuck on something you can always shoot me an email or give me a call. The main point of the church investing so much time and money in my training is so I can help you grow in your faith and understanding. It will make my day to get an email from you saying, “I was reading the Bible and I had a question about…”

Another barrier to reading scripture and to faith in general is complacency. We’ve always had access to the Bible, so we forget how precious it is and how blessed we are to be able to read it. Many of our brothers and sisters in other countries could be arrested or worse for having a Bible. Others never learned to read. We know how to read and have the freedom to read scripture whenever we want. We squander that freedom and dishonor those who have given it to us by letting the Bible collect dust on the shelf.

Now that I’ve made us feel guilty, guilt is also a barrier to reading the Bible as it is with many aspects of faith. We know we’re supposed to know the Bible, but we don’t know it as well as we should. We feel bad about that, and often that makes us associate scripture with guilt. That puts us in a lousy frame of mind when we pick up the Bible and makes it almost certain we won’t enjoy what we read. Guilt is not useful, so throw those guilty feelings away.

Along similar lines, some of us have had bad experiences with church or the Bible in our past that make it hard to come to scripture with an open and excited mind. Some of us have seen people use scripture as a weapon, a way to control or demean other people. That’s especially true for gay men and for women in general. There are some very ugly passages about women, different national groups and gay people. Those passages are worth discussing on their own, but a few passages don’t need to spoil the whole text in a book as diverse as the Bible. 

Then, of course, there is the inevitable issue of time. We all have more on our plates than we can handle. The hectic, ever faster life our culture demands is addictive, but we make time for the things we value and often for things we don’t value that much. I bet you can find 15 minutes each day for the Bible; experiment with when you like to read, or keep the Bible with you so when you find yourself waiting for something the time won’t be wasted. Once you get used to it you’ll find the time you spend reading scripture a welcome break in the day.

I got to know God by reading the Bible. Some parts of scripture I loved, others I struggled with. Even as a child I knew the Bible was something I could and should read on my own. That’s not because I’m special, but because I grew up with the assumption that every Christian should know the Bible. All the advanced study I’ve been blessed to participate in has added depth to my love of the Bible, but it is not necessary. You have everything you need to start or continue a rich relationship with God through scripture.

If you don’t have a Bible you find easy to read, for instance if all you have is the King James Version you got 40 years ago in youth group, and you always get put off by the “thees and thous,” talk to me after worship and I’ll give you a good translation that’s more modern and easier to understand. I first read the Bible in the King James and I love the beauty and poetry of that language. At the same time it can be harder to understand and connect with in our daily readings. I can give suggestions about how to fit more scripture into your life or where to begin as well.

I will do everything I can to support you as you get to know the Bible better. I am always happy to talk about what you’re reading or questions you have. At the same time, I can’t make you read the Bible, and we don’t read enough scripture in worship to give you a good sense of the whole. If you want to grow in your faith, you’ve got to make time for scripture. As you make it a habit, you’ll find that God’s word refreshes and nourishes your soul. You’ll also find that you get a lot more out of worship because you’ll understand how the pieces we read together fit into the whole.

After his resurrection Jesus knew his disciples needed some help to put the whole story together so they could bear witness to his love in the world. By explaining the scriptures to them, he prepared them to use the Bible in their ministry. The Bible is the best witness we have to who God is and how he calls us; it’s up to each of us to make the most of that amazing gift. God will bless you as you dig into God’s word, and we will be strengthened for our journey together.

Thanks be to God.

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