Monday, April 03, 2006

David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part I)

We had tonight the last in the series of Project Timothy's Bible Reading Workshops by David Jackman. There were farewells between strangers who'd become friends through the workshops and Ministry Matters and promises to meet up again at the Project Timothy Bible Conference in July, there were phone numbers and sweet little "thank you" and "glad to have met you" gifts exchanged and also recruitment drives for new ministry initiatives and hatching of evangelistic and encouragement plans.

Here's a summary of the last workshop:

The most important thing is for us to connect to the Bible: the challenges it brings as well as the encouragement.

What we have been trying to do these 3 Mondays is to learn how to read the Bible. How to listen by opening our eyes.

Reading the Bible Carefully
The problem with a written text is that we tend to skim read it. Do you do that? You skim read book, or newspapers. "Skim read" meaning your eye passes over it and you get the general idea. Make sure you pay attention to the details of the Bible. If someone told you that you would get a message from God at 8 o'clock this evening, you would make very sure that you would keep your handphone on and be careful that you read every word of the message.

We try to observe carefully what God is saying in the Bible and what God is actually teaching us. Read with our antennae up; not just do the textual analysis but looking at his every word. Read listening for the surprises. Why does he say that? Why does it say it in this way? Anything that challenges my presuppositions and the normal way I think? This is very important. When we read the Bible, it's as if we have a lens, reading what lies beneath the immediate purpose and purpose for which he wrote the particular section. This will produce clarity in our understanding.

Not Imposing Our Framework
We've all got a framework and we tend to impose our framework on the Bible rather than letting the Bible speak to us. All readers have a framework but it is important that we don't let our framework impose on the Bible. Otherwise, we will become predictable and unchallenged. Don't say,"Oh it's about grace again. Ask: what does it tell us about grace? Why is it here? Why does he say it like this?"

We also saw in the previous weeks that we must read the Bible in context. Context is 3-fold: there is the immediate context, getting the clarity of the meaning of the passage. There's also the book context and whole Bible context.

The Whole Bible Context
What we are doing is looking at the passage in its book context and broadening out to the Bible context. I want to talk more about the whole Bible context this evening.

Most of us would like to have a good knowledge of the Bible. It'll take the whole of our lives to know the Bible but we can start getting to know it better one book at a time.

I recommend this book by Graeme Goldsworthy titled "According To Plan". A very very good book. I know I always say this when I recommend books because I only recommend good books. But this is really a very very good book. Graeme was formerly a lecturer with Moore Theological College and now travels all over the world telling people about the overall picture of the Bible.

God's People in God's Place under God's Rule
Graeme gives us a sentence that sums up the whole Bible: God's people, in God's place, under God's rule. If you think about it, the Bible has this pattern all the time. In the beginning in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden: Adam and Eve are God's people, under God's rule (you must not eat of the fruit of the tree etc), in the Garden of Eden - God's place. And what do you get at the end of the Bible? In Revelation, there are people of every tribe and nation - God's pople. Where are they? In heaven - where there is no sin, no sorrow, no crime. And what are they doing? They are under God's rule: praising him, worshipping him, glorifying him. There is a good hymn, an old one that says:
God has given us a book full of stories,
that was written by his children of old;
it begins with the tale of a garden
and it ends with a city of gold.
A good hymn but "According to Plan" is a very very good book. I highly recommend it.

Let's take a dipstick into the Bible. People are crowded around a mountain in Exodus. Who are they? God's people - they were rescued from God's judgement on the firstborn of Egypt by the blood of the lamb that they painted on their doorposts. What are they doing? They were in God's place – he brought them to the mountain. They are under God's rule: he is about to give them laws so they can live under him.

And again in the New Testament, there is a crowd, this time in a house. Who are they? God's people – they have believed. Where are they? Jerusalem, God's place. What are they doing? Praising and telling people about God – under God's authority.

Every story in the Bible and every part of the Bible is going to tell us about this. Remember what we saw in 1 Peter 2? Once you were not a people, now you are God's people. What are you? You are God's people and are to be under God's authority. Remember the commandments? You are under God's rule.

So this is a very good book. So when your aunty asks what would you like for your birthday, remember…book vouchers or cash, please aunty.

Other Big Themes
A very good way of understanding the whole bible is from the perspective of salvation history: God coming into the world to save his people.

There are other big themes and Bible studies will start to cohere when you plug the passages into the themes.

Another big theme is promise and fulfillment. You know that "THE LORD" is an English translation of the Hebrew word, that scholars think is probably "YAHWEH". "Probably" because no one knows what the vowels were. God says that his name is "I AM WHO I AM". That is, God is unchanging, faithful, and he makes and keeps his promises. He is not I am who I am today but tomorrow I will be something else.

Whenever you see "THE LORD" in the Bible, you should think covenant promises. He makes promises and ensures that they are accomplished.

Use Scripture to Interpret Scripture
When you come to any passage in the Bible, train yourself to think: how does that fit into the whole Bible? During Reformation, it was discovered on a large scale that we should compare Scripture with Scripture. If you discover something in one part of the Bible which appears to contradict another part, you're probably wrong. Because the Bible is written by One Author who is unchanging.

Progressive Revelation
David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV
Photo thanks to F. Click to enlarge.
C = Creation
E = Eternity

This is the timeline of human history. God is outside of the timeline. When he created Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he spoke to them. God is the only god who speaks because he's the only one that's living. God is the only living god.

Now God also spoke to Moses and the prophets etc. So we'll put that down in the timeline as well so we'll remember.

When God spoke, he always spoke the truth but what was said was slowly accumulated so that if you were in Isaiah's time, you'd know more about God and his plan than if you were before Moses. This cumulated in Jesus' time with the complete knowledge of how he was going to save his people. Jesus was God himself in human form. God revealed himself in terms which everyone could understand, in the flesh. So if you were born in Israel at that time, you could have seen him and heard him. He was the representation of the unseen God (Hebrews 1). John Chapman used to say that he would have seen Jesus but he was born at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Complete Revelation
Well, then God went on speaking: he spoke to the apostles as he taught them what Jesus had done for them on the cross. So you've the 27 books on this side after the cross and the 39 books on this side before the cross and at that time it stops. This is the completion of God's revelation. Somewhere at the end of the 1st century. It stops because there is the completion of the promises, except the promise of the end. The Bible contains everything we need to know.

Let's put ourselves on the timeline. Why aren't we writing the 67th book of the Bible? Because God has given us everything and has done everything for our salvation, for God's people in God's place under God's rule. All we're waiting for is for Jesus to come again.

Now there are people who are claiming that there are fresh revelations. But that's saying that there is something more, that what Jesus did and said was not enough. Of course God speaks to us in his Spirit to learn to trust him more and more. But there is no fresh revelation. If you think you have a fresh revelation you are starting a cult.

New Interprets Old
A principle of interpretation is that where there is a New Testament passage in Scripture that refers to the Old Testament, we use that to interpete the Old Testament. We take the NT key to interpret the OT. Does that mean that the OT is irrelevant today? No, the OT principle is the same. Because what God said to the people in the OT, revealing his character, is the same today.

So for example, we are not called upon to go into Canaan to vanquish our enemies but we are told to pray for our enemies. Does that mean that the OT people were wrong? No, God told them to do it and by that he was teaching them to trust him. He was using ways that OT people could understand.

If we were to follow the OT literally, then our services would be on Saturday because that was the Sabbath (some people, like the Seventh Day Adventists actually do hold them on Saturdays). If we follow the OT directly, does that mean we have to build a temple in Jerusalem? No. What was the temple for? To meet God. And how did they meet God? Through sacrifices in the temple. But if Jesus was a sacrifice for us so that we could enter into God's presence. Wanting to build a temple in Jerusalem again is saying that Jesus was not enough. But Hebrews says that the sacrifice of Jesus was better than the old sacrifices.

Which is why the prosperity gospel is wrong. It picks up the promises of the OT and fails to realise that we are no longer a theocratic people living in a particular place and experiencing the land blessings. Now we live all over the world and experience the spiritual blessings. The prosperity gospel ignores the NT, and says,"Name it and claim it". It says,"If you have enough faith, you will move mountains". So you look at yourself and ask if you have enough faith. But Jesus says all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed. It's not the amount of faith you have but who you put your faith in.

A young couple came to our church when we were still pastoring a church. They were a lovely couple, lovely. But they were very disillusioned. They had a new baby and one would have thought that it'd be a very happy occasion. But they were not happy. They asked,"Why does God play games with us?". Apparently, in their last church, someone said they had a word from God that the baby would be a great man of God; a great preacher of the gospel. A special message from God just for them! So the couple went out and bought blue baby clothes and prepared the nursery and the baby arrived and he was... a she; a baby girl. Now what might have happened there is that someone in that church might have though,"Oo wouldn't it be great if we had a great preacher of the gospel born in our church…Ooo I think God might be saying that… Ooo I think he is saying that..." And a couple were disillusioned.

God has spoken authoritatively in the Bible. As soon as someone says that they've got something else other than the Bible, you are not required to believe what they say. Only the Bible is authoritative and we can trust that God will do what he promised in the Bible.

Again when I was still pastoring a church, someone rang me up and said he had a word from the Lord. So I asked what it was. "Are you prepared to receive it?" he said. I said I wouldn't know until I hear it.
"No, I give it to you only if you are prepared to receive it".
"I wouldn't know if I was prepared to receive it until you tell it to me and I can weigh it for myself."
So the man put down the phone.

The next day, the man called him up again and the same thing ensued. And the third. And finally I said to him,"Michael, you have to stop playing games like this." And Michael said,"Very well. The message is that if you don't stop criticising [a certain preacher who was quite famous in the Charismatic circles at that time], you will be removed from the ministry."

Now, this man hadn't been attending services for quite some time. And I hadn't actually named that Charismatic preacher in my sermon either. I was actually preaching on John's gospel: even after Jesus did all these things, these miracles, people didn't believe. So I simply said signs and wonders don't generate faith. But this man had stopped attending that particular church for some time. So I asked him how he knew I was preaching against this preacher if he hadn't been at the sermon. Well, his wife had been to the supermarket and had met someone who'd been at the service and had heard this sermon, and that person had told his wife who told him.

At the same time Phillip Jensen (whom some of you know is a very faithful preacher of the gospel who has not bowed to opposition) was told by someone that he was going to die if he didn't stop criticising certain false doctrines.

We must be certain what we believe. Test everything against Scripture where God has spoken to us authoritatively and certainly. That's why we must be good students of the Bible. I want you to be built on the rock, as Jesus said, so that in 10/15/20 years' time you will still be Christian.

Right. End of sermon.

Back to the big picture of the Bible: God doesn't change. We don't need a temple because the temple is now Jesus. Jesus said,"Destroy this temple and it will be raised in 3 days". They laughed at him and said we've taken 40 years to build this temple and you will raise it in 3 days? But Jesus was talking about his body. Jesus is the new temple. It is in Jesus that we meet God. We don't need a physical temple because we meet anywhere and anytime. And when two more more meet together, God is there with us.

Take this verse: James 5:17. A NT passage interpreting OT. Elijah was a man just like us. A man just like us? Whenever I think of Elijah, I don't think that. I think he is an amazing man of faith who went into Ahab's courts and said he'd turn off the taps and there will be no more rain. Everyone built him up and said that no one was like him. But NT says that he was an ordinary human being. He was only different from us because he prayed earnestly (because we don't usually pray earnestly). It's there in the NT so that we don't build Elijah up but learn how to trust God and serve him.

Learn from NT how to interpret the OT. Martin Luther said to start from the back to know how to read the front.

Systematic Theology
There's not just biblical theology. There's also systematic theology. We have to understand themes: the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Church. The Bible doesn't write chapters saying "doctine of the church" but we gather our ideas and understanding of these big themes from all over the Bible.

Now I've told you the best bible study aid is an empty notebook. The next thing is when you buy a new pair of shoes, ask them to give you the box the shoes came in. Put cardboard dividers in the box and use it as a filing cabinet to drop in all the things you learn in your Bible studies. If you want to use a computer you can, but for me I use a box. The thing about a box is that you can see the heap grow bigger and bigger whereas the memory in your computer just gets smaller and smaller. And a shoebox doesn't have those bugs that wipe out everything, you see.

Think like that as well as book by book. Book by book is how you do it, it's the method. We also need to be accumulating our knowledge on great themes. There are also reference books that help us to understand the themes, biblical dictionaries.

But it is important to do our own accumulation. If the Bible is operating in us then it will change us from the inside out. That's what we want to be. People who don't regard it as a textbook but as lifeblood for living for Jesus.

*************
I. The Beauty of Things and David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop
II. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop II: Digging Deeper for the Meaning
III. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop III: Sharpening the Application
IV. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part I)
V. David Jackman's Bible Reading Workshop IV: Relating to the Big Picture (Part II)

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