Old Testament Lesson: Psalm 23
New Testament Lesson: 2 Timothy 2:14-17; 2 Timothy 3:14-17
Gospel Lesson: John 10:22-30
Adelai Stevenson, Governor of Ohio and Democratic presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956 was a man of quick, dry wit; some might say droll.
He was a Christian with a fluid command of Scripture.
In an iconic photograph from the campaign trail the candidate is relaxing on a couch at the end of a whistle-stop day. His legs are crossed and the photo is taken from a sitting position wherein his shoes appear larger in context than they actually were.
The caption read, “Governor Stevenson takes chats informally at the end of a busy day of campaigning. ‘My campaign platform has no holes’, he said.
In the photo, the sole of his shoe showed a large hole.
One of the newsmen present asked about a report that lies were being told about Governor Stevenson by the Eisenhower campaign, and asked Stevenson if he thought General Eisenhower was a liar.
“Well”, he said, “You know what the Bible says. ‘A lie is an abomination unto the Lord…a very present help in trouble’.”
Gary was in my grade all through school.
He was active in the 14th Street Church of Christ in Gainesville; grew up in their Sunday School and Youth Group.
By high school we was perhaps advanced for his years with respect to knowing Scripture.
I might have been also.
At GHS we had several classes together and I remember on several occasions having ‘intense’ discussions with him about this, that, or the other issue du jour.
Gary’s style was to ‘sell by assumption’
He ‘assumed’ he was right and – assuming you were reasonably intelligent – (you) would eventually see the issue his way.
He was slick in underpinning his opinions with Scripture; he could do this on-the-fly; he did not stumble, nor was his discourse disjointed by elongated pauses to give him time to think.
He would have been a good debater except that he saw the affording of ‘wiggle-room’ to his opponent as a sign of weakness.
He could literally beat you down with the Scripture.
Few would take him on, and he relished that reputation.
But, one day I just could not help myself.
We were sitting on the raised semi-circular wall at the flag pole in front of GHS, where are inscribed Edmund Burke’s words: ‘Education is the cheap defense of nation’
The issue was the requirement and method of baptism necessary for ‘true salvation’.
Gary’s point was baptism is absolutely essential to Grace being effective in a believer’s life – and citing the John 3 discourse about being ‘born again’ – that immersion is the only ‘true baptism’.
Thus, must a believer be baptized by immersion for Grace to be effectual in his or her life.
I – likely displaying a condescension timbre born of gratuitous confidence – took stong exception.
He quoted John 3.
I countered with the logic throughout that conversation with Nicodemus wherein Jesus uses physical birth to make His point about spiritual birth.
I remember spitting back to him that the water of the birth canal was different than that of the baptismal font.
He quoted Acts 2 where the guards asked Peter ‘what must we do to be saved’, and Peter replies ‘repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus’.
I countered with Luke 23, the thief on the cross.
I flourished to a conclusion that ANYTHING other than faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior being required for salvation relegates His sacrifice to ‘one item in a list’ of things required.
We went back and forth: his theological emphasis tending strongly toward ‘man’s response’; mine just as strongly toward ‘God’s initiative’.
Neither convinced the other, and we both walked away exhausted- both still convinced we were ‘right’.
I think both our attitudes were like when we say:
We’ve had our say and whatever you say will not convince me.
The fallacy of the encounter of course – for both of us – was we were more concerned with sparring over Scripture than ‘rightly dividing the Word of Truth’.
Jesus was in Jerusalem for Chanukah – the Feast of Dedication. The Bible is clear He was in the Temple walking area in Solomon’s colonnade.
Scripture says ‘The Jews gathered around Him’.
The use of the definite article here (the) lets us know these were ‘official’ Jews; Scribes, Pharisees; some likely members of the Hebrew Senate – the Sanhedrin. Otherwise Scripture would simply say ‘Jews gathered around Him’. To say ‘The’ Jews indicates these were not ‘run-of-the-mill’ Jews.
Not the rif-raf.
Notice – they (the Jews) gathered around Him.
He did not seek them out.
He did not spark a debate.
He did not seek to engage them in theological or doctrinal discourse.
The ensuing dialogue is interesting and instructional – about the Jews’ unbelief; about them asking Him ‘Are You the Christ’, and Jesus saying ‘I told you I am the Messiah by the miracles I performed – which you have witnessed – but you do not believe Me’.
Certainly ‘The Jews’ were not seeking enlightenment nor were they likely open to epiphany regarding Jesus’ identity.
He said plainly they were not His sheep. He also said His sheep listen (hear) His voice and follow Him – and He knows His sheep.
Then He dropped the bomb.
‘I and the Father are One.’
This was not a quiet conversation about the weather, and no doubt some of ‘The Jews’ already regretted the encounter.
They were certainly attempting yet again to maneuver Him into a statement they could use as proof of His heresy – thus fodder for His exposition as a charlatan – or better – grounds for His arrest.
But, that is sermon subject for another day.
Today I want us to consider the use of Scripture in the ensuing part of this conversation.
In response to Jesus’ assertion of equality with God the Father The Jews immediately yelled ‘blasphemy!’, citing Leviticus 24:16
“anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone Him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name he must be put to death.”
Righteous indignation. Scholarly utilization of their mastery of the Scripture. Defending the faith against the infidel; wholly appropriate in their sentence and duly proud of their pronouncement.
They knew what the Scripture said…or what some of it said – and they employed this specific section to justify pursuit of their agenda.
Jesus’ handling of this confrontation is magnificent and is an illustration of Grace.
Because The Jews used Scripture as their cudgel, Jesus took up Scripture in his reply.
He quotes Psalm 82:6 and Jeremiah 1:5
Psalm 82:6 “I said ‘You are “gods”: you are all sons of the Most High.”
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Why then do you accuse Me of blasphemy?”
And they tried yet again to seize Him but He escaped.
Jesus’ use of Scripture demonstrates a vivid contrast with that of ‘The Jews’. His was indeed ‘for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training – but in righteousness, and for the purpose of His listeners being thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Not for the calculated advance of an agenda.
What instruction can we glean for the 21st century believer from this passage?
Among some others, we can realize that the Word of God – being ‘God-breathed’ – is so powerful and so encompassing, it is easily misused.
Were it not authoritative; were it not changeless; were it not ‘sharper than any two-edged sword’ – it would not be of such substance as to be dangerous when misused.
Here’s an example:
Today in the Church, people are not stoned to death for blasphemy. (If that were still the Church’s teaching, many leaders in many churches would have been put to death over the millennium).
So, as this is clearly written in God’s Word – and we confess and believe the Bible to ne the authoritative written Word of God – why don’t we hold this Scripture to the same degree as we hold ‘thou shall not steal’? Why don’t we stone those who break God’s Law?
I could cite many examples of things written in Scripture to which we do not adhere in the Church.
So, how do we ‘rightly interpret the Word of Truth?’
First we realize the Word of Truth requires interpretation.
And here is where the mischief creeps in the ‘steal and to kill and to destroy’ faith.
Many Christians are ridged and dogmatic – but in every case – on selective issues.
Many believers are “cultural Christians” who have no real use for Scripture beyond John 3:16. Scripture simply does not influence how they view culture or society; it does not ‘instruct’ or guide – its influence is minimal.
Both are misuses of Scripture.
On the one hand, Scripture is used to reinforce a narrow and unforgiving set of behavioral imperatives which have become litmus tests of ‘true faith’.
On the other, Scripture is relegated to a place in the ‘self-help’ section along with ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.
For the one, Scripture is used as a debating device. For the other, as a book of moralistic teaching from another age.
But here’s the point.
Scripture IS authoritative.
One reason I so like the Westminster Confession of Faith is its use of Scripture as it’s only suppprt over a huge range of issue of life and faith.
And, it asserts (that) Scripture is its own proof-text.
This is so very important.
We do not consult writings of philosophers or apologists to underscore Scripture passages and interpretation; we use Scripture itself.
Is there any help in interpreting – in the use of – Scripture?
I think so.
First, look at the Gospels. Become intimately familiar with how Jesus used His knowledge of Scripture. Remember, He was also the Word (John 1). He is the Word Incarnate, so all His words and actions are part of The Word – Scripture.
Pay close attention to what Jesus actually says in the Gospels; how He treats subjects and issues. What He said must be instructional for us.
What He did not say must also.
In the Old Testament, women were good for childbearing. Even the holiest physical manifestation of belonging to God – circumcision – excluded women.
In the Gospels, Jesus’ treatment of women was revolutionary. He re-defined women’s status as spiritual equals to men.
Thus, our interpretation of Old Testament passages that relegate women to mere chattel must be enlightened by the words and actions of the Savior.
We must – in every regard – read the Old Testament from the perspective of the Resurrection. The full penalty for sin was paid. The entire Law was fulfilled. Atonement has been made. Thus have ‘all things become new’ in Christ.
Have you ever considered why stoning is no longer done? Is it because the Law was changed?
No. Because it was completely fulfilled. It is the Resurrection that definitively interprets Scripture. Before the Resurrection the High Priest made annual sacrifices for sin. But because of the human nature of even the Priests (especially the Priests?), selective enforcement was inevitable.
Just as it is with those who are self-righteous. If Scripture fits their agenda, they will pull it out and use it.
But Jesus paid it all. Thus must all Scripture be read from the interpretative context of His final and acceptable sacrifice.
The ‘valley of the shadow of death’ was sometimes for Jesus, the synagogue. It was there He was often ambushed with questions seeking to entrap and entangle. It was there He was hounded by the rigidly self-righteous – contemptuously comfortable in their mastery of Scripture.
They could quote it verbatim, but they missed the point, as He was standing right in front of them.
I know people whose experience with the church has been their valley of the shadow. Almost invariably these journeys are forced by people who have picked-and-chosen Scripture to fit their agenda-and the collateral damage is tremendous.
How is it with you?
Do you use Scripture to reinforce ‘pre-deceived ideas’?
Do you use knowledge of Scripture to beat people down or to showcase your debate credentials; to burnish your agenda?
Maybe you don’t use Scripture much at all. Maybe your knowledge is not deep enough to make any difference in how you choose and decide and act.
My prayer is that here at MPC you will find sanctuary from either extreme. My prayer is you will find here Jesus upheld as not only Savior – but as Lord; not only God, but also as perfect example of how to appropriately use Scripture in your life.
We want to be able to quote Scripture – for it is the Word of Life. But more importantly, we don’t want to miss the point…that it IS the Word of Life and Love…not of dismay or death
And finally today, I pray you will always find this a place of sanctuary; that the shadow here is not the shadow of death Jesus must have felt in the temple; rather the shadow of the Cross as it welcomes you into the shade of Grace.