IS: IT IS WHAT IT IS
What Is the Bible?
September 28, 2008
Have you considered making the Bible a priority in your life? Do you recognize the power in the Word of God? Do you want to understand what God’s will and purpose is for your life? Dive in and absorb the Word of God. Join Ben Young as he answers the tough questions commonly asked about the Bible:
- What is the Bible?
- Is the Bible True?
- Is the Bible Relevant?
- Is the Bible the answer to Life Change?
What is the Bible? We all come to the Bible with different stories and opinions regarding what it is…Do those stories and opinions hinder our understanding of the Bible? Where and how do we find God’s will for our lives? What does Jesus say will happen to our lives when we live out God’s Word? In the first message of this series, Ben unpacks four truths that help us define what the Bible is. These four truths will lay a foundation so that we can live out God’s Word in our lives.
A couple of weeks ago, my mom and a girl on our staff by the name of Barb Raymond were out shopping. They met this sales person who I’ll just call Cindy. She was very helpful and friendly, and she looked at the shirt Barb was wearing and said, “May I ask you—what does that shirt mean?” It was a blue shirt that says “I’ve Got Time.” Barb is really bold. She said, “Oh, these shirts represent something we’re doing at our church. We’re listening to the entire New Testament. We gave away these CD’s and Bible sticks, and you can listen to the entire New Testament for 28 minutes a day in 40 days.” Barb said, “Hey, Cindy, I’d love to get you one of these, and you can listen to it.” Cindy looked back at my mom and Barb and in a friendly way said, “Thank you, but I’m just not into that. It’s just not for me!” My mom said, “Well, Cindy, maybe there will be a time in your life when you will want to listen to this.” Cindy said, “Yeah, maybe there will be; maybe later on when I get married.”
I thought her attitude about the Bible and that story was kind of interesting, because I think her attitude reflects a lot of people’s attitudes toward the Bible. They say, “I don’t want to read the Bible! I don’t want to get into the Bible or Christianity because it will cramp my style. God is going to rain on my parade! I’m going to use this time to sow my oats,” whatever that means. “Later on when I settle down, I’ll get into God and maybe I’ll read the Bible.” Other people are simply afraid of the Bible. Maybe you’re like that. You grew up in a home where the Bible was used not as a book, but primarily as a sledge hammer—WHAM! Maybe you had the Bible whammed into you at home, or maybe you went to a church that was kind of legalistic and up tight, and they just kind of crammed this Bible right down your throat. Other people say, “I’d like to read the Bible, but it’s too confusing. It’s hard to read; it’s complex, thick and long. It’s written about an ancient culture during ancient times in different languages. I really can’t understand it.”
We all come to the Bible with different stories and opinions. Some of us have been around the Bible for a long, long time like I have. I grew up with it, and I teach it for a living! That’s what I do. It’s easy to become too familiar with it. When that happens, it becomes difficult to hear God speak to you afresh.
We are starting this series called IS—it really is a series on the power of the Word of God. My prayer for us is that we will experience God’s Word in a way that we never have before. I also pray that we will learn things about God’s Word that we never learned before; that we will see things we’ve never seen before in God’s Word; and most importantly that we will begin to apply, no matter where we are in our journeys, things in God’s Word that we’ve never applied before. Once we start applying it, maybe just a little bit—just a verse, a chapter, or a truth; it’s going to be fun to sit back and watch what’s going to happen in your life; to watch and see what God does in your life.
When you came in, you should have received an outline. You can fill that out with me. We’re going to go through a lot of information.
God’s Word has unlimited power. If you’ve never been exposed to God’s Word, or never tried to apply it, you may say, “Whatever!” Try it! You’ll be amazed to see the unlimited power of God’s Word. Now how do you get God’s Word into your life? We said you’ve got to make it and take it! You need to make Sunday’s a priority. Come here, learn and sing these songs, and listen to God’s Word. For the next three months, try not to miss a single weekend of worship! If you’re not here, and you’re worshipping in say, College Station, Austin, or Waco, watching people take a pig-skin across the line; find a church of worship there. Ideally, come back here! Make Sundays a priority.
The second thing you’ve got to do to get God’s Word into you is to take the 28 minute challenge! Many of you have received the free CD, MP3, or you bought the Bible stick and are listening to the New Testament together. We’re on that 40 day, 28 minute challenge that Cindy kind of stiff-armed; but many of you are doing it. I’m doing it. I’ve got some comments about some of the voice actors in it, but I don’t want to spoil it. But it’s great – the 28 minute challenge! I love listening to the Word of God in this way.
Today, I want to talk to you about four truths to help us really define what the Bible is. A lot of people don’t know what the Bible really is. There are a lot of people who have grown up in the church who don’t know what the Bible is. Many times, I think in our journey, we’re trying to figure out if God speaks to us or not. There is a song that U2 sang—I think it’s an oldie, called Bad (The Unforgettable Fire album). At the end of the song, Bono kind of goes into one of these riffs where he starts saying these two words over and over again, “Revelation, isolation, revelation, isolation,” … But much more poetically and passionate than that. What he’s getting at as a profound thinker and lyricist—he’s saying, “Do we live in a universe where we’re totally isolated?” In other words, we’re just here alone. All that exists is matter, and molecules in motion. Are we living in isolation, or do we live in revelation? In other words, is there a God, someone transcendent outside of us who has spoken into us? That’s the tension. We believe that God has spoken to us! He speaks to us in many ways. There’s general revelation; there’s special revelation; there’s progressive revelation. We’ll talk about that hopefully in the weeks to come. Right now, I want to talk to you about four things that help us define what the Bible really is.
First of all, the Bible is God’s Word. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning” which is really in the beginning of the beginning—before the big bang; before Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning of the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” So before anything ever existed in the universe and galaxies; there was the Word of God. God’s Word existed.
Then God spoke to prophets. He spoke to many people at various times in various places, and we have what we now know as the Bible. II Timothy 3:16 says this about the Bible, “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” If you want to be thoroughly equipped as a Christian, as a follower of Christ, you need to be in God’s Word.
I’ve been a pastor for quite a while now, believe it or not, and one of the most common questions I get is, “What is God’s will? What is God’s will for my life?” I’ve asked that question myself. Maybe you have. “What is God’s will for my life?” Many times we ask that question as if God has hidden His will from us; as though God has some special will, His perfect will! It’s like some little speck, and it’s somewhere under the plant, or maybe the mike stand, or maybe right there. Maybe if I pray, God’s going to write it in the sky in a cloud for me. We act like God’s will is this mysterious thing.
I heard this years ago, and I’ve never forgotten it. I love it! It’s simple, but profound. We want to know what God’s will and purpose is for our lives, our relationships, our marriage if we’re married, as well as what God’s will is for our family and for us as students, or as professionals. What is God’s will for our lives, for our sexuality and all of that? Listen: God’s will is found in God’s Word. It’s that simple; it’s that complex. God’s will for our lives is found in God’s Word. “I wish I could hear God speak to me today.” God has spoken to you today, and He continues to speak to us through His Word, because the Bible is God’s very Word.
The second truth is, the Bible is a library. What I think is really fascinating about God is that He is colorful. When you read the Bible, it’s not like God says, “This is My Word! Do this! Don’t do this, or I will get you!” No! He doesn’t’ speak like that. Sometimes He does, and we’d better listen! But God speaks to us through the Bible, and the Bible is a library. It contains a variety of genres. Basically, if you’re continuing to keep score with me on the sheet, the word Bible comes from the Greek word biblion, which simply means book. So this is the Book.
The Bible contains 66 Books. It has an Old Testament and a New Testament. The Old Testament has 39 Books; the New Testament has 27 Books. The Bible was written by 40 different authors on three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe. It was written in three different languages: Hebrew which was primarily Old Testament, and Greek and Aramaic in the New Testament. It was also written over a time period of 1,500 years, from 1400 B.C. to around 100 A.D. It’s been translated into over 2,400 different languages and is the most translated book in the history of the world, as well as the best-selling book of all time. It is the bestselling book year, after year, after year. It’s the Bible! The Bible has sold more copies than McDonalds has sold burgers—over 6 billion copies worldwide!
Here is what’s interesting about that fact. If you talk to most book sellers, they will also tell you that the most frequently stolen Book from their book stores is the Bible. The Bible and dictionaries are what people lift from the book store. Maybe if they get the Bible and start reading it, they’ll learn not to do that. I like that! Also, the Bible contains a variety of genres, like I said. It contains poetry, biography, romantic literature, history, and letters. God speaks to us in His Word in a kaleidoscope of ways.
Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, I don’t believe the Bible. How do you know the Bible is true? Isn’t the Bible basically myth? Hasn’t it been changed in translation over the years? How can I believe in the Bible in this 21st Century with all its modern technology, and the Bible claims all these miracle stories?” If these are your questions, hang on to them! We’ll get to those next week. But for now, realize as far as how the Bible is constructed, it is like a library with a variety of genres, and it is through this library of God’s Word that we hear Him speak.
So the Bible is God’s Word. God’s will is found in God’s Word, and the Bible is a library. Third of all, the Bible is a blueprint. Let me read you a passage in Matthew 7. If you’re feeling smug about yourself; or if you call yourself a Christian and you’re feeling really spiritual and love to judge people who are not as spiritual as you are; let me challenge you to take your MP3, “You’ve Got the Time” CD, and listen to Matthew 5, 6 and 7. That is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It may be the most famous speech ever given. He just challenges people to the core! He says this in Matthew 7:24, “Therefore, everyone who hears these Words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” I know none of this relates to us, but bear with me. “The rain came down. The streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house. Yet, it did not fall because it had its foundation on the Rock. But everyone who hears these Words of Mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell with a great crash.”
Since the hurricane hit, the last two weeks we have seen two types of houses experientially. Some crashed, and some made it! Some of us had trees that just devastated our home. Some of us have homes on the Gulf Coast that were totally decimated and blown away. So we’ve seen this literally happen! Jesus is not using a literal example here. He’s talking about two types of life: The person who builds his or her life on a foundation of sand, and the person who builds his or her life on a foundation of rock. The foundation of rock is not just basically reading the Bible.
A friend of mine said this, “There is a big gap between buying a Bible and actually reading the Bible. There’s even a bigger gap between reading the Bible and actually living it out.” Jesus is saying this, “If you live out My Words, then the foundation of your life is like a rock.” I love that!
When the hurricane force winds blow through your life, and maybe they do decimate all your material stuff, your life will stand and you will stand! When you go through the tough storms of suffering, and things hit your life that you cannot explain; when the foundation of your life is the rock; your house and life will stand. But if not and it’s made of sand, then your life can easily be blown away and fragmented.
I tell this to a lot to couples who are dating. I say, “If you are dating, you need to have the same set of blueprints on which to build your relational house.” There are many people who don’t have the same blueprints. Let’s say the guy you are going out with, ladies, is not really a Christian. He’s not really into it, and he’s just here today to make you happy and to keep you. You’re on two different pages! It would be like going to an architect, and the guy goes in and says, “I want to build a one-story ranch home.” Then you go in, the girlfriend, the same minute and say, “No, no, no! I want to build a two-story, country French, cabbage cottage, shabby-chic house!” That architect is going to go, “You guys are nuts! You’re cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs! You can’t do that! You can’t have two sets of blueprints to build the same house!” But there are a lot of people that try to do that in their relationships.
If I talked to someone who maybe came from an Islamic faith, or a Jewish faith, or a Hindu faith and they were dating outside of their particular religious beliefs, I tell them it’s not going to work in the long run! It works great in the dating game, but when you get married—trust me it doesn’t work! What you believe about God, or don’t believe about God; what you believe is right and wrong; what you believe about parents; what you believe about raising your kids; what you believe is sacred and not sacred; those things become very big issues! So that’s just one example of how in your life—say in your love life, if you’re dating or single; you need to be on the same page spiritually.
Now if you’re married to someone like some of you here and you’re not on the same page spiritually; it doesn’t give you a “get out of jail free” card! If you’re married, the Bible says in ICorinthians 7, stay married. If you’re married to someone and you don’t have the same blueprints or foundation; stay married to that person. There are Biblical grounds for divorce, but that is another whole message. The Bible is a blueprint. It’s huge. It’s critical that we get that.
The fourth truth is absolutely critical. Let me say this: I believe that there are millions of people both inside and outside the church who miss this last truth. I grew up in the church and have a fairly good Christian pedigree; but I can say I missed it! We hear people talk about the Word, the Bible, the Scripture and getting into the Word; but we miss this fourth critical aspect of God’s Word, and that is this: God’s Word is a compass! For those of us who are directionally impaired, which I am; many times we forget exactly what the purpose of a compass is. The purpose of a compass is to show you where true north is!
Let’s do an experiment. I’m going to count to three, and I want everyone in here to point to true north. Ready? One, two, three, point! Oh my goodness! Ha ha! Some of you poked your neighbor! One of you back there gave somebody a wet willie, which was gross! How do we solve it? Lucky for you, I brought a compass along with me! Scouts motto: “Be prepared.” Hold that compass right in front of me, and let’s all together point to where true north is! One, two, three—BINK! That is true north! The purpose of a compass is to always tell you, no matter where you are on this planet, where true north is so you will not get lost.
All 66 Books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments are designed to point you and me to true north. When Jesus came on the scene about 4 AD and had this public ministry for three years, many people missed this. Two thousand years later, there are many people inside of the church and outside of the church who miss true north. Jesus is talking to a group of people here in this passage in John 5, and these people are the religious elite of the day. They are Pharisees. Most of them had memorized what we call the Old Testament. Genesis and Exodus memorized! Leviticus, memorized! Deuteronomy, Numbers, memorized! Chronicles, memorized! Kings, memorized! Song of Solomon memorized! Proverbs, Psalms—they had memorized what we know basically as the Old Testament! So if you think, “Yeah, I’m in the Word,” or “She’s in the Word”—compared to the Pharisees, all of us fall short.
Jesus is talking to some people who have given their lives to memorizing and studying Scripture, and trying to apply it meticulously. He said, “You’re missing true north! You diligently study the Scriptures because you think by them you possess eternal life. These Scriptures testify about Me! Yet, you refuse to come to Me to have life!” The Scriptures from Genesis to genuine leather is about one thing: Jesus Christ. The Old Testament foreshadowed Christ, or looked forward to Christ. We can look back at the Old Testament and see types of Christ in the Old Testament. The Gospels give us the story of Christ and His life. The Epistles explain Christ. The Revelation looks forward to what Christ is going to do in the future, but don’t miss this, that the Bible is a compass that points us to true north, which is a relationship with Jesus Christ.
You say, “Why is a relationship with Jesus Christ so important? Why not have a relationship with Moses, or with David, or with Mohammed, or Buddha or Krishna? Why is Jesus so important?” Listen to this. Let me read you the rest of John, Chapter 1. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:14 says this, “The Word has become flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Grace and truth are two things you and I need desperately.
The incredible, life-changing trans-rational reality and truth that Christianity teaches, and that Christ came to bear is that the infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful God entered into this finite, time-space world. Heaven came down to earth in a person, and all the Scriptures and prophecies look forward to Christ! Revelation, isolation. Jesus is God in the flesh! He’s the exact image of what God is like. That’s true north! That’s either the most radical, life-changing message this planet needs to hear, or I am cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs! There’s no in-between.
True north. Don’t forget this as we study IS and as you are listening to the Word of God: True north is this compass, this Bible that points us to a relationship, a journey with Christ. If you’ve come to know Him, or are on a journey with Him, you may be in a different place in your journey than I am; but we know that He is with us and in us on that journey.
John Ortberg is a great speaker and writer who spoke at our church a couple of years ago. He tells a story about a friend of his named Eileen, who was really not into God. She was kind of giving God the stiff arm. She was so anti-God that someone had been talking to her daughter about how to have a relationship with God, and she was just angry about that!
One night Eileen was having trouble sleeping and was tossing and turning. Around midnight she went downstairs and for some reason picked up a copy she had of the Bible. She said she could not remember the last time she’d been to church, and to her knowledge, she had never opened the Bible on her own in her entire life. She opened it about midnight at the beginning, and it said there was an old part and a new part, so she decided to read the new part because perhaps it had been updated! She plopped herself in her living room, and in the middle of the night, she began reading the Gospel of Matthew. At 3:00 a.m., she found herself in the middle of the Gospel of John. To use her own words, she said, “Somehow in that process, I had fallen in love with the character of Jesus.” She said she cried out this simple prayer to God—she said, “God, I don’t understand it all, but I do know this, that You are what I want!”
As we listen to God speak to us through His Word, maybe for the first time; I pray that you’ll discover and fall in love with the character of Christ. If you know Him and you’ve been around again, I pray that you will fall in love with Jesus all over again. He’ll fill your life with grace and truth. He really will! Let’s pray.
God, I thank You that we can come to You with our questions and doubts. We can come to You just as we are! God, I thank You for providing a way for us to know You. You provided Your Word, though so many times, it is hard to understand. Sometimes it is easy to understand. We simply don’t want to do what You tell us to do. But many times when we do follow through, we see You work in our lives in a way that is really inexplicable and miraculous!