Please can you grab a bible from the pew in front of you. Don't open it! At least not yet! In fact - just to check you're awake can you wave it at me.
Ok you can put them down now. Keep it closed, look at it and let me ask you: what is the Bible for?
If you google 'What is the Bible for?', the top result is from the Biblica website. Here it is. For the last 200 years they have translated and distributed Bibles (including the NIV) all over the world. Great result - that was easy - they should know what they're talking about!
They explain that the Bible is 66 books with very different styles written over 1,500 years by 40 different human authors. They point out that all those writers share a 'remarkable unity' in their theme. But how do they answer the question, what is the Bible for? That's on the next slide. They give 5 points:
1. A guide for living life to the full. It gives us a road map for the perilous journey of life. Or to put it another way, on our voyage through life's ocean, the Bible is an anchor.
2. A storehouse of wonderful stories for children and grownups. Remember Noah and the ark? Joseph's coat of many colors? Daniel in the lion's den? Jonah and the fish? The parables of Jesus? These stories empahsize the triumphs and failures of ordinary people.
3. A refuge in trouble. People in pain, in suffering, in prison, and in mourning tell how turning to the Bible brought strength in their desperate hour.
4. A treasury of insight as to who we are. We are not meaningless robots, but we are magnificent creatures of a God who loves us and gives us a purpose and a destiny.
5. A sourcebook for everyday living. We find standards for our conduct, guidelines for knowing right from wrong, and principles to help us in a confused society where so often "anything goes."
Not wrong in and of itself. But they have completely and utterly missed the main point!
1. Article 7 (part 1): its meaning and significance
This morning we continue our series through the thirty-nine articles. This is a summary of the Bible's teaching that was written as the Church of England was being setup. If you turn to the back of your service papers, you will see the 1st part of article 7, which is about the 'Old Testament', the first half of our Bibles. It begins:
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament [in other words in the WHOLE BIBLE] everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man..."
These words were written 462 years ago by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. He did not miss the point! The Bible - including the Old Testament - is all about Jesus. It is not just a collection of great stories or great sayings for tough moments in life or advice on what is right and wrong. The Bible is all about Jesus offering everyone in the whole world the opportunity to receive everlasting life.
Now would you turn in your Bibles to page 891, and to John 5 which was read to us earlier. I want to show you that Thomas Cranmer is just repeating what Jesus himself taught. Look at John 5:39-40 Jesus says:
'You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."
What's striking about this is that Jesus is talking to Jews who were Bible experts. They loved their Bibles and taught it to others and they would have memorised by heart huge sections of it, including every single word written by Moses. It's quite possible they would have described it as a road map, an anchor, a refuge in trouble and the guide for knowing right and wrong. Undoubtedly, too, it provided them with a storehouse of wonderful stories for children and grownups.
Yet, they completely and utterly missed the point! Jesus points to the Bible and then points to himself and says THIS is all about ME. See v39. The Scriptures, 'they bear witness about me'. So, what is this Bible for? On every single page it points to Jesus through whom is found eternal life. But instead of coming to him, as they should, to receive eternal life they tried to kill him (see v18).
This conversation with Jesus in John 5 is very relevant as we focus on the Old Testament because the people Jesus is speaking to only had the Old Testament. The New Testament hadn't been written yet! You can't miss what Jesus says in v46 when he states that Moses (one of the human authors of the Old Testament) 'wrote about me'.
What about you and me? Have we completely and utterly missed the point too? Our reading of the Bible should bring us to Jesus: to known him, listen to him, obey him, trust him, love him and serve him.
The main point of this article is that the Old Testament is as much about Jesus as the New Testament is. So we need to value and read both the Old and the New Testament.
But it goes a little further than that. Look at the article again. The last sentence says:
Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises.
Okay. The language is harder here. But it means something like this: Do not listen to those who pretend that those in the Old Testament believed that they had already received all that God promised them.
We are not the only ones who knew that everything in the OT pointed forward to Jesus. God's people in ancient Israel also knew that what God had promised them would be properly fulfilled in the future. They may not have known the details as clearly as us, but they were waiting patiently for the coming of Jesus and like us they received eternal life by faith in Jesus and his work on the cross. They were not saved by obeying the law, or offering sacrifices, or by a general faith in God. They - like us - were saved by faith in the Messiah.
So that was my first aim: to look at the article and explain its meaning and significance.
I think for most of us here the issue is not that we don't believe the Old Testament is about Jesus. But maybe we act a little bit like that is what we think is true. Very few of us would deny the Old Testament is God's word or that they are about Jesus. Perhaps our biggest challenge is to make sure we don't neglect the Old Testament. Perhaps one reason we might do that is because we don't find it easy to understand. So secondly I what want to do next is think for a few minutes about...
2. How to Understand the Old Testament
If you want to take notes, there is space to do that at the back of the service papers. Let me briefly give you some pointers to help you read the Old Testament, then we will look at one passage very briefly, not thoroughly, to help you see what mean. So I'll tell you what I mean but I'll also try and show you what I mean. Hopefully that will help all of us to get excited about reading the Old Testament again
Most of what is true of reading the new testament, is true of the old. So we begin by asking what was the meaning for those who first read this. What did the author mean when he wrote this? That's true of the new and the old.
And we should always start by asking: 'What does this part of the Bible me about God?' Remember the Bible is not primarily about you or about me! Yes, of course it will help us see who we are and understand ourselves better. All of that is true, but we must not lose track about who it's all about. Jesus has told us that the Old Testament is all about him.
Here are three thing to look for when reading the Old Testament:
1. Is Jesus promised here? Ask yourself: Does this passage predict the coming of Jesus and what he will do when he comes?
2. Is Jesus pictured here? God's plan for the nation of Israel who's story dominates the pages of the Old Testament was not just to create a people who would one day produce the Christ. The whole of their history contains people and things and events that were meant as a picture of who Jesus is or what he came to do. We are meant to look at those things and look and Jesus and say 'oh wow - this is just like that'.
3. Is Jesus present here? This is a bit harder to explain, but from John chapter 1 we know that Jesus has always existed. He didn't just appear in history 2,000 years ago. He is the eternal Word of God the Father. He has always existed and has always been revealing to us God the Father. John 1:1 'In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.'
Then in John 1:18 we read 'No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.' But, If no one has ever seen God, then who was walking in the garden with Adam and eve? Who did Abraham meet? Who did Jacob wrestle? Who spoke to Moses from the burning bush? Who was the commander of the army of the Lord who met Joshua? Who was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace? All of these are described as God. But who were they? No one has ever see God. Jesus, right from the beginning has been making the father known.
So: Is Jesus promised? Is he pictured? Is he present? Not all of those will apply to every passage, but asking the questions will help you see how it points to Jesus.
It's also helpful to find out if the Old Testament passage is quoted or explained in the NT. Many Bibles provide cross-references. If your copy doesn't it worth getting hold of one that does. Getting a good study Bible or a book that will help you understand the Bible will help you discover these. That can help see how the passage points to Christ.
Finally, you need to keep in mind the whole story of the Bible and how the part you are reading fits into it. If you're not clear on the big picture or understand the overall story of the Bible read a book like Vaughan Roberts, 'God Big Picture' and you will find you understanding the Old Testament much better. You will also see what this article is pointing out. That the whole Bible is about one God - not a mean God in the Old Testament and a lovely and kind God in the New. No! God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He has not changed and his plan - his one plan- has always been to provide everlasting life to mankind through Jesus Christ, as the article puts it.
So, for this final section, please turn with me to page 16 in the Bibles and we'll take a brief look at Genesis 22 as a worked example. I'll try and point out how some of those things relate to this passage.
3. A Look at Genesis 22 as a worked example!
This is a difficult story - with things like child sacrifice that can be hard to get our head round. Perhaps, it's the sort of stuff that puts some people off reading the Old Testament. If we don't realise that it's about Jesus, it won't make sense.
Let's me begin with how it fits into the big picture:
History begins with God creating the whole world and everything in it - include humans. Adam and Eve, the first humans reject God and don't listen to him, They don't honour him as their creator. That destroys their relationship with him and they face the punishment of death and eternal separation from him. Every human who has ever lived follows, as it where, in their steps. It's all a bit of a mess but God takes the initiative to sort it out. He makes a promise that can never be broken with Abraham. He promises to create a whole nation out of his descendants and that through them to make it possible for everyone in the whole world to escape the punishment and come back into the blessing of a relationship with God once again. He wasn't going to do this because he had changed his mind about their punishment, or because they were good enough to deserve a reward, No it was all down to his unconditional love for those who did not deserve his love.
God promised descendants, but Abraham and his wife were not able to have kids. After 25 years and lots of mistakes, Isaac was born to Abraham. All the hopes of the promise rest in that child. And that brings us to Genesis 22. Let's read from v 1:
After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you."
That language of 'your Son, your only son, whom you love' is language that is usually reserved for Jesus. My Bible cross references Matthew 3:17 where a voice from heaven says to Jesus after his baptism, 'This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased'.
Why should God ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. God has expressly forbidden child sacrifice. What is going on? So many as yet unanswered questions. But God asks Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah which is 3 days away. Why there? Why so far away? Where is it anyway? It's in Jerusalem. It's where the Dome of the Rock is now- it's where the temple used to be. Heart of Jerusalem. Abraham, take your son - your only son who you love, in whom lie the hopes of all the world. Take him to a hill top in the region of Jerusalem and sacrifice him as a burn offering (which is a sacrifice of atonement). Any of that sound familiar?
So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you."
Can you imagine what Abraham was going through. I too have a first-born called Isaac. I cannot imagine how awful this must have been. But although Abraham knows that God has said sacrifice your son, do you notice see how he says they will both return. Abraham cannot see how this will end. He just knows that even if Isaac were to die, it cannot end in death. God had promised Abraham, with a promise that can never be broken, that he will father a nation and that nation will produce the Christ. They were going to come back, somehow. The God who performed a miracle to give him his son, he reasoned, could also perhaps raise him from the dead.
And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. (tools of Judgement). So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?"(notice what is needed here - a lamb) Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I." He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.
Jesus is pictured there. But where is it? There's hints of it in what happened to Isaac. Carrying his own wood, up the hill, facing death. But Isaac is not Jesus because Isaac didn't die. The ram died. Instead of Isaac.
What did we deserve? Judgement. What should we have gone through? Death. What can avoid that? Someone else's death in our place. Do you see the picture of the Lord Jesus. He took what I should have faced. He took the punishment I deserved.
Abraham trusted that God would provide a lamb for a burn offering. And at that time and place a ram was provided. But is that all the God would provide? Look at v 14:
So Abraham called the name of that place, "The Lord will provide"; (notice this is in the future!) as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided."
What will be provided? It's not about the ram. It's about Jesus. The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The truly beloved son of the father. The true hope of the nations. the one who would die on that hill top in the region of Jerusalem as a sacrifice of atonement. Abraham knew that day would come. Here is a promise -Jesus promised- that on the mountain the lamb will be provided! The lamb of God who took away the sin of the world.
Now, remember the person who stopped the sacrifice of Isaac. The Angel of the Lord. Who is it? Let's keep reading....
And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.
The angel of the Lord speaks in the first person as God. But they are called an Angel. An angel simply means - messenger or sent one. Who is the sent one? Well we know that he himself is the Lord and yet he is also sent from the lord! It's Jesus. Abraham heard his voice. Jesus is not just pictured and promised. He's also present. Listen to what he says to Abraham:
And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice." So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba.
v18 'in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed'. Again, Jesus promised in the future.
It's all about Jesus. He will provide the sacrifice. As the fire and the knife of judgement - that we deserve - lays over us will we turn to Jesus for life? Will we accept him and his death instead of us on the cross? Or will we , like those Jesus walked to in John 5, refuse to come to him for life?
John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
Jesus is promised, and pictured and present. So how do we respond?
Is this all about instructions on how to live? Or a source of a great bedtime story for my child? Whatever else is true, we need to see that the Lord provides a sacrificial lamb so that we, like Isaac, may live. This passage, like the whole of the Old Testament, should bring us to Jesus: to known him, listen to him, obey him, trust him, love him and serve him.