How many people here watch the Antiques Roadshow? Has anyone ever been to one? For those of you who don’t know, the Antiques Roadshow is a series of days organised by the BBC where members of the public bring objects to be valued by a team of experts. And where the TV programme comes in is that the best finds are captured on camera, and the unsuspecting punter is told how much their treasured possession is really worth. So, for example, that brooch found in a car boot sale turns out to be a priceless Faberge jewel, or the grimy old picture found in the attic a long-lost masterpiece by Constable.
Of course sometimes the value of the object is nothing to do with the thing itself. That battered old LP is on its own is only worth a couple of pounds, and that Victorian letter only the paper it’s written on. But the fact the LP was signed by the Beatles may mean it should be valued at over £1000, or that the letter was written by Queen Victoria herself pushes its prices into the tens of thousands. (By the way, I could be completely wrong in my estimates. If you have a genuine signed LP by the Beatles, or a letter from Queen Victoria, please, please don’t quote me!)
The point I’m trying to make is that the real value of these kinds of objects comes from the people they represent, and not from their own intrinsic worth. And it’s exactly the same when it comes to thinking about the Bible. Because the value of the Bible is not the paper it’s written on, or its expensive leather binding, or even its copperplate illustrations. The value of the Bible is the fact that it is a personal communication from the author Himself – God Almighty, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, who has left His signature on every page and who has given us a book to be treasured, to be valued and read as God’s own special word to each of us this morning. And to be precise, not just one book or communication, but a collection of 66 letters, poems, histories, prophecies and instructions written over many hundred of years to the people of God to tell us all about Him.
And I’m going to put it to you that unless you realise how infinitely valuable is the Bible, then you’ll never get round to properly reading it for yourself. It is, you see, thanks to the Bible, you can know about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It is thanks to the Bible, that you can find the answers to life’s big questions such as: Is there a God? Does my life have a purpose? What happens when I die? Will God forgive me? It’s little wonder then that in our second reading this morning, then, that Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16 that All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Because without the Bible there is no good news, and without the Bible there is no knowledge of the God who made us and who loves us and who has given us salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. Therefore it should not surprise us that as knowledge of the Bible in this country is fast disappearing, people are falling more and more into confusion and ignorance and despair. The Bible quite simply can be the difference between life and death – it is really as important as that.
So what part does the Bible play in your life? Let me be blunt with you this morning and ask:
How many people regularly read the Bible for themselves?
How many people used to read the Bible but have stopped doing so?
How many people would like to start reading the Bible but don’t know where to begin?
Thank you for your honesty. My aim this morning is not to catch anyone out or induce a sense of guilt, but to explain just why the Bible needs to be part of all our lives and hopefully address some of the difficulties and questions we may have about it. And if your question isn’t answered in the next few minutes, come and see me later, or give me a ring. It may be the most important thing you ever do in your life.
Reading the Bible
Now I guess for many of us the first and most fundamental issue is the actual notion of reading the Bible for ourselves. The whole idea of reading may conjure up nightmares of English lessons at school, or a feeling you couldn’t possibly be clever enough to understand what you find on the page. Well, despite the impression the church so often gives, the ability to read the Bible does not depend on our academic ability or our perceived levels on intelligence. After all, there are plenty of able people who read the Bible and know it inside out, but simply fail to grasp its message.
Take Cleopas and his friend on the Emmaus road, for example. As Jews they would have grown up with the law of Moses, and as is clear from verse 21 of today’s reading, they knew all about the Old Testament prophecies concerning God’s plan to redeem Israel. They also knew all about Jesus of Nazareth, and would have been familiar with His teachings that 20-30 years later would be written down in the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They knew so much of Scripture, far more, I suspect, than anyone here this morning, including me, and yet… despite all their knowledge they had missed the main point, the fact that the whole of the Bible points to Jesus, and to His death and resurrection.
Which leads on to a very important point, that understanding the Bible does not depend on how much we know, or on our level of academic achievement. True understanding is in reality a gift from God to us through His Son Jesus Christ. And if we know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then Jesus will show us the true meaning of His word. That’s what Jesus did with Cleopas and friend on the Emmaus road. That’s what Jesus can do with each and every one of us this morning.
Of course you may say it was all very different for Cleopas and co. The risen Lord actually came and walked alongside them, and if He was physically next to me, I’d have a far better chance of understanding the Bible myself. That’s true, and I can appreciate what you’re saying. But the fact is, we do have the risen Lord Jesus with us when we read the Bible. And just in case you think you’ve misheard me, let me repeat that again: we do have the risen Lord Jesus with us when we read the Bible. How come? Well, this is where we need to go back a month and remember what we learnt from John’s gospel about the Holy Spirit – that He is none other than the presence of the risen Lord Jesus who lives in all who love Him and obey His commands. And one reason why the risen Lord Jesus comes and lives in our hearts is precisely so that He can teach us His word, that His Holy Spirit can teach us, rebuke, correct and train us, and indeed to make the Bible that precious, personal communication from God I was talking about at the beginning.
Which means in practice that the key to reading the Bible is not our own ability or intelligence, but our openness to the Holy Spirit. If you have a living, growing relationship with Jesus, then it is likely the Bible is speaking to you day by day and you want to read it. If your relationship with Jesus is rather dry and distant, then it is likely that the Bible is a closed book to you and the last thing you want to do is actually open it and read it for yourself (unless you’re feeling guilty). I firmly believe that our Bible reading is solid, practical evidence of how much our faith is living and active, and a reliable measure of how much the Holy Spirit is operating in our lives. And I would go so far as to say that you cannot really go on in your Christian life unless you are regularly, prayerfully reading your Bible.
Now there are a shed-load more things I could and probably should say about this passage, and I will return to it briefly at the end. But as the focus of today’s sermon is about direct, practical action, I thought it important to share how the Bible has become such an essential part of my life over the years. Not that even now I have this whole business of Bible reading sorted. There are still days when I occasionally skip my Bible reading, and certainly others when I forget five minutes later what I’ve read. But despite all this, I can look back and see some steps that have helped me on my way.
An early introduction to the Bible
And the first and most important step happened even before I was a Christian, when I was very young. I will always be grateful for parents who bought me Bible reading notes and so introduced me to the pages of Scripture at an age when I could remember things easily. And if you are here today as a parent, godparent, or have any other close connection with a child, let me say that the most precious thing you can do is to introduce them to the Bible and encourage them to read it. Get them Bible reading notes, purchase a video of Bible stories, take them to a Bible website, in fact do anything which teaches them the fundamental story of our faith. It is almost certain they will not learn it anywhere else.
The difference conversion makes
The second step occurred when I gave my life to Christ at the age of 12. Because it was then I learnt to connect my Bible reading with my prayers. What do I mean by this? Well, I reckon there are plenty of not-yet believers who regularly say their prayers. Prayer, after all, is a common human activity that happens the world over. But what happens when you become a Christian is that you realise prayer is a two way conversation, that there is a personal God who wants to communicate with you through His Son Jesus Christ. And how do you hear His voice? The most reliable way is by reading His word, the Bible. That’s why 99% of the time my regular prayer session begins with reading the Bible. After all, if you are open and willing to hear God speak through the passage your notes or website or lectionary gives you for the day, then you have a far better idea of how you should shape and focus your prayers.
Finding the right translation
And it was around the time I became a Christian, or maybe a couple of years later, that the third step happened, in that as I began to read my Bble prayerfully and devotionally, so I looked for a translation I could understand. I was the given the NEB when I have to say it was pretty awful (as is its successor the REB). Over years I have looked at the GNB,CEV, NIV and NRSV, and finally settled on the NIV, but there is no hard and fast rule. The basic principle is to find a translation which puts as few obstacles as possible in the way of God speaking to you. If you’re technologically minded, find a Bible online, such as at www.biblegateway.com. If reading’s not your thing, then listen to the Bible on CD or MP3, or watch it read on video. The point is, the resources are out there, and I am more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Getting the big picture
And how do you prevent your Bible reading from going stale? Well, fourthly, over the years, I have come to see that although the Bible is a collection of 66 books written over hundreds of years, overall they tell one big story which is well worth piecing together. It begins in Genesis 1 and 2 with the creation of the world. It moves on to Genesis 3 which explains what has gone wrong with that world. Genesis 12, and indeed the rest of the Old Testament, tells us how God plans to save the world which is fallen through His people but how His people reject His plans and purposes. And so on to the New Testament which tells us how Jesus came to save us and how we now live in an age where we look forward to His coming as king. That, in the space of 4 sentences, is the story of the Bible, but it has taken me over 25 years to see and understand the unfolding plan of God, and I’m still learning.
And it’s fascinating that in our reading this morning Jesus doesn’t just give Cleopas and friend a few proof texts or a favourite verse. Instead, verse 27, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Because the thrilling thing about the Bible is that every verse points to Jesus, and the more of the Bible we read, the more we will know of Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and our Friend. That’s exciting, isn’t it? It’s what I call the EVOSTICK principle – Every Verse Of Scripture Truly Illustrates Christ’s Kingship.
Now I realise, of course, that some parts of Scripture are easier to understand than others. But that’s why there are all those resources out there for us to use. And it’s why, importantly, the sermon is at the heart of our Sunday worship. It’s there to lead people to Jesus, to trust Him, to love Him, to obey Him, by coming under His word. Because that’s how Jesus operated in His earthly ministry, as we have seen this morning, and that’s how He communicates by His Holy Spirit today.
The point of Bible reading
Which leads me on to my fifth and final point this morning – the actual point of Bible reading. Because if reading the Bible is not a matter of intellectual ability or academic achievement, then neither should be the result. After all, when Jesus had opened the Scriptures on the Emmaus road, Cleopas didn’t turn to His friend and say, “Well, that’s all very interesting. Now back to the real world”. No, verse 31, they understood more fully who Jesus is. Verse 32, they experienced the fire of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Verse 33, they went off and told others what they had discovered. Whereas before they were trudging off to Emmaus, downcast and dejected, afterwards they were hurrying back to Jerusalem, full of joy and wonder. Their life had literally taken on a new direction.
The challenge to us
So then, what about you? Has reading the Bible ever touched and transformed your life in this way? If not, then you need to look at your relationship with Jesus and ask whether you really have received Him as your Lord and Saviour. If it has been some time since the Lord spoke to this way, then let me urge you to take a fresh look at His word, and open yourself up again to the work of His Spirit. And all of us, let us not forget that the Bible is the living, personal communication of God Almighty to each and every one us, in order to, in the words of Paul, make us wise for salvation. That’s surely good news, isn’t it? Let yourself be transformed by God’s life-changing word, and let’s ask that the word of God will help us understand more fully who Jesus is, will light the fire of the Spirit in our hearts, and give our lives a wonderful, joyful new direction as we serve and obey Jesus our risen Lord and Saviour.
Let us pray….