Several Introductions to the Bible

This week’s reading is titled “Introductions.” We had our introductions to what the Bible is with brief readings from Hebrews and 2 Timothy.

When you read the passage in Luke you get an introduction to a way in which we can read the Bible. Jesus himself shows us that throughout all of Scripture we see him. He instructs disciples soon after the resurrection using the Old Testament and reveals all that those books say about him. Jesus didn’t come into the picture of God’s great plan late in the game. Jesus Christ was always the plan–before this world was even made we were chosen in him, as it says in Ephesians 1.

Then we turn to Genesis and are introduced to creation. Genesis has two accounts of the creation with the second one coming in chapters two and three. There we are introduced to the greatest of God’s creations, human beings, but then quickly we see how far we fall.

God made us and gave Adam clear instructions for how to live in the garden alongside God. But temptation comes when the serpent questions God’s word. “Did God really say that?… Oh, you won’t really die if you do that.” Adam and Eve do not believe the truth of God and believe the tempter. They exchange truth for a lie. The serpent wasn’t even holding something out that was an obvious treachery. The promise was for something akin to wisdom; it was to be like God. But in their pursuit of something good in the wrong way, they sin. And with sin there is consequence. There is shame, there is alienation, and there is curse.

Although God is the one who is wronged, he still seeks to provide even in the midst of passing out judgment. God is the one who clothes his children and he then in chapter three of Genesis promises one who will come for the serpent. Many see Christ as the offspring who will bruise the serpent from Genesis 3:15.

East of Eden

At the end of this introduction Adam and Eve are cast east of Eden, out of the garden and its gates are shut to them, with angels guarding the tree of life. What is next for them? Has God rejected the pinnacle of his creation, leaving humans on their own on earth? The good news that we know is that God does anything but leave us. God would one day come and be among us and there would be another tree of life. And on that tree Jesus Christ would die for us, giving us his very own life–a life abundant and eternal.

Confirmation Bias and Why We Need the Bible to Challenge Us

With two of this week’s passages we are reminded that the Bible is God’s word, and that idea carries great significance.[1] What God has to say to us, in its entirety, isn’t always something we want to hear. But it is what we need.

If we’re familiar with Scripture we may turn to passages that we already know and like in order to find some word of encouragement. We may want to hear how God blesses his people and then turn to see what great blessing Solomon received or see how Jesus heals the sick. But how often do we want to read how those who were so close to Jesus, his disciples, didn’t always receive the sort of blessings we want and instead had lives of pain and suffering?[2]

It seems we have a tendency to seek out what we already believe. We aren’t always in search of truth, but we are in search of confirmation–confirmation of what we already think we know.

You can turn on the TV or visit websites that you know will spin the news and report events in the way you like. It can be as innocuous as preferring to listen to your own local commentators while watching a sports game. I know I’d prefer to hear people who get at least a little bit more excited when my team scores. But it can also cause us to stick our heads in the sand. When all we hear and read is a carefully selected to never push us or confront our views, then we get very comfortable and also prideful. We make ourselves the judge of what is right.

When we are so selective in the way we take in information it leads to confirmation bias. With confirmation bias all we do, in the Bible and elsewhere, is look to reaffirm our ideas–which is to say, we try to reaffirm ourselves. But as Christians we must know we are sinners. We make mistakes and get things wrong. We can’t assume we know everything and have it all figured out.

At times God will confront us. He will challenge what we believe. And that’s good. God is God, and we are not. His ways and his thoughts are not like ours. There should be times when we are pushed and have to change our views and actions in order to align with what we read. 2 Timothy 3:16 doesn’t say “all Scripture is profitable to comfort us in down times.” God’s word may do that. But it is profitable for the hard things, too, like reproof, correction, and training.

We just need to be bold enough to first open the Bible and humble enough to listen for the Spirit to continue to speak to us through it and work upon our lives–even when that means we are convicted and challenged.

  1. Those readings from this week: Hebrews 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:10–17  ↩

  2. We see this even in this week’s reading and not only in a book like Acts. Paul writes in 2 Tim 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” How often do we hear 2 Tim 3:16 and never hear a verse just a few lines up?  ↩

Don’t Overlook the Final Greetings of Paul

When you read through Paul’s letters, do you get to the end and skim through his final greetings? For example, do you treat 1 Corinthians 15 as the real last chapter of the letter, and think the rest is fluff, maybe even stopping before chapter 16? In a way, chapter 15 did have something like a climax to the letter. Paul triumphantly declares the victory we have in our Lord, Jesus Christ. But don’t let that slow you down and distract you from finishing the book. Remember, it’s all important for it says in 2 Timothy 3:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

We read in Paul’s final words his concern for the other churches and ministers. He has a few more instructions for them. And if nothing else, we’re reminded that this is a letter. If a pastor were to write to a church and include no personal remarks, I’m not sure how that would go over. Paul doesn’t just care about the truth of Jesus Christ, he cares about the church. And to care about the church is to care about the individual members that constitute it. The issues presented in this letter are deeply personal to him because these people are a personal concern.

So as you read this or other letters of Paul, don’t forget they are letters. They were not printed out with verse numbers and chapters, all with their own subheadings. They were written by hand and sent from believer to believer as a personal letter to build up, teach, and encourage the church.

God’s Work, Not Our Work

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
2 Timothy 1 :8-9

As much as this is a letter to Timothy and about his ministry, it isn’t really about him. Paul wants to keep the focus on Jesus Christ and what he has done. It is not on the basis of our work that we are called, but because of God’s purpose and grace.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t called to do a work. We are. God has a plan for us and wants us to follow it. But just as it isn’t all about Timothy, it isn’t all about you or me. We are to make our work point to Jesus.

We do have a role to play, but Jesus deserves all the glory. We would have nothing if not for the grace given in him.

It reminds me a bit of this quote from Stacey King, a teammate of Michael Jordan.

I’ll always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined for 70 points.
(Said after Michael Jordan scored a career high 69 points and Stacey King scored 1 point against the Cavaliers. )*

*But when it comes to the work of our salvation, we don’t even contribute that one point.

Remember Jesus Christ: a lesson from The Silver Chair

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
2 Timothy 2:8-10

To remember Jesus Christ was important for Paul, since it was for Jesus’ that Paul suffered. And he charges Timothy to remember, and not only for himself and for his work, but for others. Timothy is to guard the truth, care for it, and pass it on, reminding the brothers and sisters of this gospel.

Likewise, our common calling is not just to speak about God, but to remind each other of this gospel: That God came to earth in Christ, he put to death death itself, has forgiven our sins and will give us life with him forevermore. Do you remember that? Something has happened on the cross and who we are is a consequence of Jesus Christ. We should never grow weary of thinking back to these things.

To understand better what Paul is saying here we need to stop and look at what it means to remember. I want to make sure the active tone of this word is coming across. It is not just reminiscing or simple, dull memorization so that if someone quizzes you about Jesus you can ring in with the answer.

It’s not quite, “Don’t forget.” It’s more.

My family does a far bit of road tripping up and down the East Coast. One thing we do to pass the time is listen to audiobooks. One year we went through a great recording of The Chronicles of Narnia. In my favorite, The Silver Chair, I think we learn well what it means to remember, and why we should. The Christ figure, Aslan, a lion, tells a girl Jill four signs to lead her on her journey. And before he sets Jill on her way, he gives her a speech in which he says:

“But first, remember, remember, remember the signs, say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. … The signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you met them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart, and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs.”
(Chronicles of Narnia, CS Lewis, 560)

Jill leaves Aslan and discovers her quest is to find a lost Prince. Tragically, all along the way the signs are forgotten or misunderstood. The result is her group had to begin their journey without official support, they end up on the menu of a group of giants, and almost fail entirely when they come face to face with the prince himself—since they hardly were able to recognize him.

The Silver Chair Cover

The problem was she had learned the signs, but was not remembering them.

She knew one sign was to find an ancient city, but failed to recognize it in the rubble she saw because she was distracted and her attention was on the bitter cold and dreams of a warm fire. She knew the Prince would be the one who spoke the name Aslan, but when that person who spoke was an imprisoned, enchanted mad-man, she was paralyzed with fear. Fortunately – against all her “better judgment”, she decided to let this dangerous man loose, freeing the prince, for she says, “What was the point of learning the signs if we weren’t going to follow them when they came up?!”

If only she could keep the signs straight. If only she could remember.

The Silver Chair Illustration

We try so hard to do the same in our lives and in the life of the Church, and how far off the path do we find ourselves. Once we are entrenched in the world the commands of Jesus, the truths of the Bible, even simple ones like “love you neighbor,” do not seem so clear to us. We get distracted, we are afraid or anxious about life, or maybe we focus on our own comfort.

We veer from our course, and all too often also try to justify it. If only we could see more clearly. To follow Christ can be simple enough, but it is difficult. It is easy to lose sight of him. That is why we need to have the discipline to remember Jesus Christ… each night, every morning, and even when we wake in the middle of the night. Only when we keep him fixed in our sight are we able to live the life and follow the path that God has laid out for us.

*This was originally a sermon I preached years ago, but have chosen a selection of it and edited it down as it fits with readings for Year in the Bible this week.