IS: IT IS WHAT IT IS
Is the Bible Relevant?
October 19, 2008
Is the Bible Relevant? Since the Bible was written so long ago in a culture and language we don’t understand, is it relevant and applicable today? In order to know the relevancy or irrelevancy of the Bible, we have to understand the whole concept of revelation. In the third message of this series, Ben will expound on three types of revelation: general, specific, and progressive. When we begin to understand how God reveals Himself to us and how He worked throughout Scripture, we will greatly appreciate and have a deeper understanding of what God did in Christ Jesus which will cause us to see the relevance of the Bible.
Years ago in college, I started taking Greek. I think it was my senior year. I studied Greek because the Bible, specifically the New Testament, was written in Koinonia Greek which was the common language of the people some 2,000 years ago. I took Greek a year in college, and again in graduate school and seminary. I was not good in Greek and found it very difficult. Basically, I memorized my way through that course. Have you ever done that? So when I finished Greek, I remember going home to my apartment and saying to my roommate, Greg, “Hey Greg! I have finished Greek after all these years! No more Greek! Let’s burn this Greek textbook!” We had a little fireplace in our apartment there, so I put the book in the fireplace. We had the match ready to light it, until all of a sudden I realized that the book I was about to burn was the New Testament in the Greek language. That’s your primary textbook in Greek! I thought to myself, I could see the headlines the next day: “Seminary student burns New Testament in original languages.”
It was weird how the Bible, specifically the New Testament, had become merely a textbook to me. It can become that way to all of us. Many of you have been reading and studying the Bible your entire life, but sometimes you kind of approach the Bible after a while, not to hear God speak, or not to have your life transformed by the eternal words of God spoken into your mind and spirit; but you simply read the Bible because you’re supposed to, and you kind of check the box.
Some of us would say, “You know, I’ve never really read the Bible. I try to study the Bible, and basically Ben, I can relate to your story because the Bible is Greek to me. It was written 4,000 years ago in a language and culture I don’t understand, and I just don’t understand if it’s really applicable and relevant today.”
I want to answer two questions today, and the first question is, “What is revelation?” The second question is, “Is revelation relevant?” Some people would ask, “Since it was written so long ago, is the Bible relevant today?” I would say, “No, it’s not. There are parts of the Bible that are absolutely irrelevant, no longer applicable to your life and my life today, and to the times in which we live.” But before you pick up stones to stone me, or tomatoes to whack me with; hold on to that thought and let’s look at answering the question of relevancy and irrelevancy.
Today, I want to discuss the theme of application. Maybe you’re saying “Wait a minute. Ben, you said the Bible is irrelevant. How can you say that? I was here a few weeks ago, and I heard you say that the Bible is God’s Word. It’s true! God’s will is found in His Word. How can you say the Bible is irrelevant in some parts?” Well, to do that, we have to understand the whole concept of revelation. So, I encourage you if you got one of these little handouts to take notes. You want to take notes. We’re going to cover a lot of material today, but it’s essential that we download this material and this information and some of these terms, because I think when you do that (at least it’s happened in my life) some lights are going to come on. Your understanding of God’s Word, your understanding of context and how to apply things hopefully will be better off because you’ve been here today.
What is revelation? That’s the first question I want to seek to answer. Revelation is the unveiling, or disclosure of Divine Truth from and about God to mankind. One of the Greek words for revelation is apocalypto where we get the word apocalypse as in the movie Apocalypse Now. The word apocalypto means, “To uncover something that’s been previously hidden.” So when you talk about revelation, I’m not talking about the last book in the Bible, and the demons and the horns, and getting zapped up and Kirk Cameron and all that! I’m talking about how God, if there is a God has spoken to you and me in a way that we can understand it. Has He done that? Has He revealed Himself to us? Do we live in revelation, or do we live in isolation? We’re born alone, and we die alone.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about revelation. It’s unveiling; it’s uncovering something that’s been hidden. God did not have to communicate to us. God did not have to reveal Himself to us, but thankfully, God did that. God has revealed Himself; He has disclosed Himself to us. He not only has disclosed Himself to us; He has disclosed Himself to everyone.
Look at Romans 1:18 and following. This is a critical verse in understanding one of the aspects of God’s self-disclosure to us. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
The idea there’s some person living, or some person who has ever breathed in oxygen on planet earth who has not had knowledge of God; that situation does not exist.
God has revealed Himself to all people at all times. This is what some theologians call general revelation. General revelation, if you’re keeping up with filling in the blanks there, is God expressing Himself through nature, history, and the conscience of man.
God reveals a lot to us about His character when we simply take a walk around on planet earth and look up in the sky, or at night looking at the stars. We can see God when we look under a microscope and look at microscopic particles. We can see God when we look into a telescope. The wonder, the awe, the majesty makes every person who has ever lived wonder, “How did this all get here? There must be someone or something much greater than us behind all the things we see.” That’s natural revelation.
God also reveals Himself through certain acts of history, and God reveals Himself to us through our conscience. In other words, every person is made in the image of God. Though we’re broken; though we’re fallen and twisted, we’re still made in the image of God. Something inside of every person, no matter how fundamentalist, atheistic they are, or agnostic, or wherever they are on the god spectrum; there is something deep inside of every person that cries out to God. They want to know, “God, are You there? God are You real? God, why did You place me here on this beautiful blue marble that’s spinning around, and around?” Everybody wants to know that. Yet at the same time, we have another side of us that takes the knowledge of God and this craving for God, and what do we do? We suppress it. At the end of the day, I don’t want God to be God! I want to be God. At the end of the day, though I crave God and want God, there’s a side of me that wants to be God, run my own life, and do my own thing. General revelation reveals general knowledge to every person about who God is and some of His attributes. However, general revelation is not enough. General revelation will not take you and me where we want or need to go. For that, we need a second type of revelation, and that’s what some theologians call special revelation.
Special revelation is God expressing Himself through Scripture and Christ for salvific purposes. Let me hear you say the word salvific. That’s a great word! It’s fun to say. What does that mean? It has to do with the word salvation and rescue. Special revelation is supernatural. General revelation is natural. Special revelation is God opening your eyes, or opening my eyes that this Book is not simply a book, not simply a textbook written in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic; but this Book is actually the Word of God. I can hear God speak to me through the Book. I have to have special revelation to understand that. Special revelation shows me that not only is there a God who is out there that created everything. I can see that in nature and my own inside man, and my conscience. But special revelation tells me that there is a way out of my predicament.
The wrath that I deserve; the sense of guilt I have for doing certain things in my life has been paid for and atoned for by Jesus Christ Himself.
So the Creator God, this invisible God who made everything that we see, that everybody knows on some level, has actually come into the human situation. The infinite has entered through the finite to reconcile and bring us back to God. You need special revelation for that.
One of the ways I think of special revelation was when I was a little kid growing up in the Carolinas playing sports. Whatever was in season, that’s what we played in our backyard. Football season—we played football. Baseball season—we made a little baseball diamond and we played baseball. Basketball season—we played basketball. Even in the spring when the Masters was on T.V., we’d dig holes in our backyard and get some sticks and try to play golf! My brothers and I were into sports. Sometimes we’d be playing sports, and one of the parents would come outside. It would be late at night. The sun was going down, and you would hear a voice, “Come home!” Everybody would kind of ignore that voice. I would! “It’s time to come home!” But after a while, the voice would get more specific, or special, and it would say, “Ben, it’s time to come home now!” That was special revelation for me. That was my mom or my dad calling me, telling me it’s time to come home now. That’s what it’s like to experience some of the salvific nature of God. You hear God calling your name personally, and you reach out and you trust in Jesus as your Lord and Rescuer and ask Him to come into your life and say, “Jesus, I don’t get everything; I don’t understand everything, but I want to follow You. I want to be forgiven, and I want to follow You.” That’s special revelation.
Now special revelation also has something distinct about its nature. You can see this in Hebrews 1:1-3. It’s a great passage. It says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of His being (God has a face), sustaining all things by His powerful Word. After He provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the majesty in Heaven.”
General revelation: God revealing Himself through nature, history and conscience. Special revelation: God revealing Himself through Scripture and Christ for salvific rescue connection purposes. Then what we see here in Hebrews is a sub-set of special revelation called progressive revelation. Progressive revelation basically, if you want a fancy definition is this: God progressively revealed Himself in history, and in Scripture, climaxing in the Christ event and the closing of the New Testament. Another way of saying that is, God gradually revealed truth to His people, rather than giving them truth in an instant. This is where the quote from the professor in The Da Vinci Code is right: “The Bible is not Divine facts from Heaven.” God didn’t just slam us with truth. After Adam and Eve messed up, He didn’t just send Jesus on the Cross right there—BAM! He gradually revealed truth to Adam and Eve, Abraham, Noah, Moses, and to David. It took years, decades, and centuries for God to simply get the Israelites to realize that idols were destructive. Anything you put at the center of your life except the One True God will crumble! They went back and forth for centuries and centuries to simply learn about idol worship! They didn’t get the whole marriage thing for centuries either! God said early on in Genesis it was one man, one woman. Look throughout the Old Testament. They had multiple wives! What was God doing? He was trying to bring them along and show them! Listen, its one man, one woman for life! That’s God’s plan. But God gradually revealed truth to His people in this very pagan culture.
The same is true with many aspects of Scripture. God is revealing Himself to the Israelites in one way. He reveals Himself to the Apostles in another way; He reveals Himself to the church in another way. That climaxed with God becoming a man in Jesus. That’s the climax of the Israel story. Then in the New Testament, God leads the followers of Jesus who knew Him, these Apostles, to write down these words, and then the Bible was closed with the Book of the Revelation. The Book of the Revelation says if anybody adds to these words, let them be accursed. So there’s no more revelation. No one is writing more Scripture. There is illumination and God directing and leading by His Spirit; but no one is writing any more Scripture.
Maybe you are wondering, “What on earth does this have to do with the Bible being relevant or irrelevant; progressive revelation, general, special and all that?” Well, it’s like this: You’ve probably seen a debate like this on what I call a sound bite debate. It’s not a real debate; it’s a sound bite debate. You have someone on CNN or FOX take a hot button issue—let’s take homosexual marriage. You have Billy Bob backwoods Baptist on via some remote location in Louisiana. He says, “Well, I don’t believe we should legalize homosexual marriage! The Bible says that is a sin!” Then you have the other guy, the so-called professorial intellect who will say, “Well, how can we believe the Bible? It was written thousands of years ago! Plus, you can read the Bible, and in one verse it will say homosexual sin is wrong, and in the next verse, eating pork is wrong! What should we do? Outlaw bacon? Hah, hah, hah!” Everybody laughs and thinks, “Well, that’s brilliant and the Bible is so silly.” What that person is showing on the left is their absolute ignorance and lack of sophistication when it comes to understanding and interpreting Scripture, and understanding progressive revelation.
For example, he is referring to certain laws given in the Old Testament. The Law is multi-faceted. You have three types of law, if you’re taking notes here. In the Old Testament, you have ceremonial law, which were the laws given for the sacrificial system, for cleansings, washings, holidays, and festivals. Secondly, you had the civil law, and that was the law that God gave the Israelites to govern that particular country for that particular time. Then you have the moral law, which is summarizing the Decalogue, The Ten Commandments, and that is unchanging and reflects the very nature of God.
In the era we live in, and the era that Christ inaugurated 2,000 years ago; the ceremonial law and the civil law is no more! Why? Because Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law in His life, death and resurrection. The civil law is no longer in effect because God does not deal with the nation of Israel in a monarchial way the way He did with David and Solomon some centuries ago. But the moral law as expressed in the Ten Commandments and as expressed in other laws given in the New Testament is very much in play today. So that’s why I say the Bible is irrelevant. Is the Bible irrelevant? Of course it’s not! It’s very relevant and applicable to our lives. But there are certain sections as you’re reading certain things in the Bible about ritual cleansings, and about circumcision and things like that, and you’re like whoa! How does that relate to today? You can’t mix polyester and cotton, and all these fashion tips, etc… A lot of that was ceremonial law. It’s no longer applicable. A lot of that was civil law, given to the nation of Israel. So that kind of frees you up and helps you to have a degree of sophistication when it comes to interpreting and applying Scripture.
Maybe you’re asking the question, “Well, why should I read those parts of the Bible?” Why should you go to the first half of a movie? Why not just go to the fourth quarter in the football games? All of that leads up as back story! Like Dorothy Reitz who is a former Catholic nun-turned-atheist-turned-Christian once told me, “Every word in the book of Leviticus shouts of Christ.” So, when you begin to understand the metanarrative that we’ll look at next week when it comes to Scripture, you begin to understand Scripture. You’ll see God in Christ in Leviticus; the ritual cleansings, the sacrificial system, the blood, all the mediation, and all the veils. When you begin to understand how God worked in the nation of Israel, it will help you greatly appreciate and give you a deeper understanding of what God did in Christ Jesus in a short time span of 33 years. It will open your eyes! It will open up life, and it will give you a greater appreciation of what God has done for us in Christ.
Question number two, if you’re keeping score at home, “Is Revelation relevant?” The word relevant means this: Closely connected, or appropriate to the matter. Let me read you a passage. I’m just going to read Hebrews 4. It says, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword. It penetrates even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
We saw several weeks ago one of our key passages in II Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God breathed. It is useful and applicable for so many areas in our lives.”
I’ve been a Christian for a little over 20 years. I’ve met and interacted with Christians from all over the world; from Mexico, to Malaysia, from Indiana to Iraq, from New York to Nigeria—red and yellow, black and white, rich and poor, smart and dumb, Ph. D., and GED. I have talked and listened to them and to their stories, and I can say this about my life—I know they would echo this. They would say, “You know what? I have found in my life that God’s Word works. When I correctly interpret and apply God’s Word to my life, God’s Word works. His Word works!” Talk about the pragmatic theory of truth, yes! Now sometimes, it takes a while to work. The Bible says, “Do not lie.” Sometimes it’s expedient to lie. But in the long run, honesty is the best policy. So God’s Word works every time. God’s Word is incredibly practical.
How does that work? God’s Word works by protecting you. God’s Word provides so much protection. If we can see God’s Word as a lens that will protect us relationally; it will protect us financially. This financial hootenanny that we’re in right now, individually and as a nation is wheels off! If we had simply applied just one or two principles from the book of Proverbs, we as a nation would not be in this mess! If we practiced some iota of honesty in bookkeeping, we wouldn’t be in this mess. If we learned to live in our means, we wouldn’t be in this mess! What do we do? If we make $20,000.00, we live like we make $50,000.00. If we make $50,000.00, we live like we make $100,000.00. If we live in Dallas and you make $200,000.00, you live like you make a million, right? That’s just fake it til’ you make it, baby! That’s the way it works! Max out that credit card! Get the bigger house! Get the bigger car! Get the bigger hair! There’s nothing wrong with prosperity; there’s nothing wrong with making money, right? Not at all! But when you live outside of your means and you’re so leveraged and the bottom falls out—“Maybe I should have listened to those basic financial principles in Sunday School.”
How about stress and worry? Do you ever get stressed out? Do you ever get worried? I see one or two honest people in here. I do! What do you do? The Bible says what? Don’t worry!
Pray about everything, and with thanksgiving give praise to God, and the peace of God will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. The peace of God will march around your heart when you learn not to worry, and to be thankful to God, and to praise Him. Jesus said, “Don’t worry about anything.” He said, “Don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for every day has enough trouble of its own.” Peter says, “Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you!” He really does! Learn to cast that care upon Him. I don’t care how big that care is—it may be a small, pinky finger care, or it may be a care that’s so large and weighty that Kimbo Slice couldn’t handle it! I mean it’s a big one! The Bible protects you.
What else does the Bible do? The Bible directs you! That’s another way the Bible works. The Bible directs you. It’s a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. Have you discovered that in your life? When I’m confused and not knowing which direction to go, I turn God’s Word on, and God’s Word acts like a light to light my path. People used to put lamps on their feet when they walked so they could just see enough in front of them to keep going. What we want God’s Word to be is a search light, you know, like one of those beams that go out so we can see the future and know everything! Sometimes God doesn’t do that! He gives you just enough light to take that next step to direct you in that way.
Proverbs 3: 6, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” God’s Word works because God’s Word gives us direction. God’s Word works also because it connects you. It protects you, directs you, and connects you.
Why did Jesus Christ come? There are many reasons. Why did He have to die on a Cross? Why did He rise again? Christ came what? To reconcile us with God. You see, God’s wrath and His judgment is real. We don’t like to talk about it a lot. It’s not very popular. The subject of hell doesn’t make us feel good or happy. I don’t like it either. But it’s real, and Jesus came and died on the Cross, taking the wrath of God upon Him for you and me if we would accept that. On the Cross, God punished Jesus for our sins, and then He exchanges Christ’s very perfection and righteousness and gives it to us. It’s amazing! That gives us a connection with this God of nature, this God who made everything. This relationship with Him now changes from one of impersonal, to one of personal where we can say things like, “He walks with me, He talks with me, and He tells me that I am His own.” He connects you. Somehow when He connects you, He puts a deposit of His Spirit inside of you. I don’t know how that works; I don’t know what that looks like under a microscope.
It’s like the wind—it’s a mystery; but He puts a deposit of God’s Spirit inside of you, and God’s Spirit opens your eyes to the truthfulness of God’s Word. It helps you apply God’s Word in your life, and God’s Spirit empowers you to carry on!
Sometimes we get so weak; sometimes we are so beaten down; sometimes we are so overwhelmed with worry and stress and anxiety, we feel like we can’t take one more step in front of us! When we do that, we should cry out, “God, I am weak!” Because we know that when we are weak, He can be strong in us! His grace, His Spirit is sufficient for you today and right now. That’s that mysterious, divine connection that He gives us. That’s what we need to learn to do over and over again, some of us for the very first time; some of us for the millionth time, is that when we are faced with issues in our life; when we want a sense of purpose, direction, protection and connection, we need to go to God’s Word. Go to God’s Word! He has spoken to us, and He still speaks to us through this Word! It’s not just a book, right? The Word has become a Person and dwelt among us. God’s Word works. Go to His Word. You will be amazed at what happens. You really will.