O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
How to Read the Bible Part I: Christ
How to Read the Bible Part I: Christ
Based on Mt. 13:44-52
Preached on July 27, 2014
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Fellow baptized saints, if you learned that an enemy was going to attack Canada, that an army was going to launch a ground assault against our country, and our Prime Minister was going to speak to the people about it on national television, would you watch? Would you tune in? Would you want to know what the leader of our country had to say in a time like that?
Well, Canada may not be under attack, but mankind is. And our enemy, the devil, has more than launched a ground assault. He has taken over. He has taken control of the hearts and minds of every man, woman and child. The situation is dire, but our rightful leader is about to speak. The rightful King is about to share how He shall save us from this enemy. Do you tune in? Do you want to know what the Lord has to say in a time like this?
Of course, we want to hear. Especially when we learn that the Word our Lord speaks is His power to save us. That when we hear His Word, that is God working to rescue our hearts and minds from the devil. His Word is living and active. Fighting. Rescuing. Saving. D-Day has happened in your mind when you hear and believe God's Word of salvation.
God speaks through His Word, the Bible. It is His plan. He has newscast after newscast of messages that He speaks to comfort His people in this time of war. But Christians aren't listening? What, did you say Christians aren't listening? Not according to this 2013 survey on Biblical Engagement in Canada. According to this alarming survey, only 14% of Christians read the Bible at least once a week. 14%!! That is one in seven. The tanks of the enemy are rolling across our lawns, breaking down our pretty picket fences, and we're unconcerned. The shiny metal of the tanks is more interesting than our King's plan to save us. And if only 14% of us are reading the Bible, how are we possibly going to be prepared to share this saving plan with those around us who need it?
Why don't we read the Bible everyday? Why don't we tune in to the wartime words of our leader? What keeps us from hearing what the Lord has to say, if only for a couple minutes a day, if only for a single parable like in our text - just one verse?
Well, you and I both know, there are many reasons, many idols and distractions that we fill our time with instead of God. But for the next five weeks we are going to knock one of them down. We are going to get rid of a roadblock, and the roadblock is this: The Bible is hard to understand! Isn't it? It is hard to read. Half the time you read it you're convinced you are completely missing what God is trying to say. Or you can get overconfident and be blinded by your pride. Reading the Bible takes practice. As Philip said to the Ethiopian eunuch as he sat in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah, "Do you understand what you are reading?" The eunuch said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?"
Well that is exactly what we are going to do for the next five weeks. We are going to learn "How to Read the Bible." We are going to learn how to tune in to the peaceful Word of our King, everyday the battle rages around us. This morning we will learn the first principle of Biblical interpretation, and have a little fun - we are going to apply it to our Gospel lesson. Because we want to practice what we preach, right?
So, the first principle of Biblical interpretation, or understanding what the Bible means, is Jesus. Yeah, I know it sounds like Sunday school. But it's true. Every verse in Scripture, no matter how odd or obscure is actually about who Jesus is or what He has done. In the New Testament, and in the Old Testament. Jesus told us this Himself. John 5 - You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is they that bear witness about Me." Or Luke 24 - Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." This is how to understand the Bible, Jesus says. You must look to see how the words are talking about Christ.
Alright, I think I got it - the Scriptures are about Jesus. Seems simple enough, right? It should be, but there is one problem. We don't want to read it this way. Our human nature has this evil tendency - this bias - to think it is talking about us. It's natural. We look for ourselves. Our role. What we need to do. How to make ourselves right. The trouble is that this inherent self-seeking view is exactly what we need to be saved from. This is the slavery the devil has imposed on us. Our eyes are not on Jesus, they are turned in on ourselves. And if we read the Scriptures this way, we will receive no benefit. So it is a fight. A fight with yourself to read the Bible with eyes of faith that look for Christ, rather than eyes of the flesh that look for yourself.
So what do you think, time to practice what Jesus preaches? Let's take what Jesus has taught us and see if it helps us with our Gospel reading for today.
Jesus is in parable mode. He tells three parables in six short verses. The perfect place for practicing our principle.
Here's the first. "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." What does Jesus mean? Now, your tendency is to think that you're the one who has found the hidden treasure, perhaps the kingdom of heaven, and that in order to secure it you are to go and sell all you have - in other words, devote your life to God. Sounds pretty good doesn't it? You could even say it is true. But what is missing? Jesus! Jesus is missing! This interpretation is all about you and what you need to do for Jesus. How you can win Him, how you can buy Him, as though this is how His kingdom works. This is exactly what the devil wants you to think, because it has nothing to do with what Christ does, nothing to do with God's work. Not to mention, how's that going for ya? Are you pleased with your level of devotion? Do you think God is? Could you honestly stand before His eternal judgment and say you've sold all you have?
No, of course not, because this parable isn't about you - its about Jesus. Christ is the One who found hidden treasure - and that hidden treasure is YOU! Christ is the One who left His heavenly throne for you. Christ is the One who gave up His riches for your poverty. Christ is the One who redeemed you, a lost and condemned person. Who bought you back from sin and death and the power of the devil not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. This is the kingdom of heaven!
The only One who can stand before the judgment of the Father is His Son. The only One who may be pleased with their level of devotion is the Son. And it is this same Son of God who did all of this for you. And not with remorse, not with disappointment, not with anger - but with joy. With the joy of your salvation set before Him He endured the cross scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. This is the kingdom of heaven!
The second parable is like the first. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it." No, you are not the merchant. You are the pearl. You are not the subject. You are the object. The object of God's salvation. Something He values so much that He sent His Only Son that you might not perish but have eternal life. Ok, ok, we're getting the hang of this now, right?
The third parable is a little different because it deals with the second part of what we heard Jesus say earlier. That part about repentance and forgiveness of sins being proclaimed in His Name to all nations. In other words, it is about Jesus being preached to people. He says,
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Christ has sent out His preachers to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in His Name to all nations. The net has been cast to "every kind of fish" and some will believe the message, others will not. At the end of the age, those who did not want the forgiveness of Christ will not have it.
And so He says to His disciples, "Have you understood all these things?" "Yes," they reply. Then see this same truth in all the Scriptures, Jesus says. This is what they are all about, whether Old or New. This is how you are to understand them. What a perfect ending for today's sermon.
The devil may have launched an assault, but there is nothing He can do against the truth of the Gospel - nothing He can do against the good news of Jesus. This is God's way to save you - with His Jesus - with His Word - Hear it, read it. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr