Summary: Fifth in the "Back to the Basics" series, exploring the foundational beliefs of Christians. This sermon addresses the question, "What do Christians believe about the Bible?"
Have you ever gone to a movie with one set of expectations and then found out the movie wasn’t at all what you expected? Somebody told you that it was going to be funny, but the movie was really quite serious. Or you read in the newspaper that the movie was scary, but you found yourself laughing at all the scary parts? And you come out of the movie disappointed, because it didn’t meet your expectations. Yet, the funny thing is, if you had gone in with different expectations, you might have enjoyed the movie a lot more. If you had gone in knowing it wasn’t going to be a comedy, you wouldn’t have minded that you didn’t laugh, and could have enjoyed the movie for being a serious drama. The expectations going in make a huge difference in how you experience the movie.
When it comes to reading the Bible, we find that we have all kinds of expectations going in. And those expectations make a huge difference in how we read the message of the Bible. If we read the Bible with the expectation is that we will learn how to cook chicken teriyaki stirfry, we will obviously be disappointed. If we have the expectation that the Bible will tell us how to solve the AIDS epidemic or global warming, we probably won’t find our expectations fulfilled.
The expectations we start out with make a huge difference. Some people think the Bible is just full of names and geographic places that are hard to pronounce, so sure enough, when they get to the first name they don’t recognize, they quit reading.
Some people are simply intimidated by the size. The Bible by itself has more than 1400 pages, and a lot of study Bibles that have notes included push the size over 2000 pages. When the National Endowment of the Arts did a survey that found out that barely a majority of Americans, 56%, read *any* book last year, how likely is it that they’ll pick up a 2000 page book to read? If the expectation is that the Bible is going to be a difficult slog through a really long book, a lot of people just won’t try.
Some people have the expectation that the Bible should answer every problem we could imagine in the world today. Since there are all sorts of scientific and technological and societal issues that we face today that weren’t even in existence when the Bible was written, they figure the Bible can’t meet their expectation and simply dismiss it as an antiquted, obsolete book that isn’t relevant to our lives any longer. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Some people start with the expectation that the Bible is going to be too hard to understand. But sometimes the Bible is hard to understand because we take the wrong questions to it. Sometimes it’s hard to understand because we don’t even know what questions we ought to be asking of it. And it can be hard to figure that out because it was written in another culture, at another time, and in another language. Translating its meaning for us today can be a real challenge.
The good news is that the important questions people were asking back then are, really, the same kind of questions we have now. Who are we? Why are we here? What is life all about? What is our connection to God? Where are we ultimately headed? The Bible is the Word of God, a response to some of those questions.
Now, if we ask it to give us answers it was designed to give us, it can be very helpful to us. If we ask it to give us answers it wasn’t designed to give us, we end up confused, disappointed, and even misled.
Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
This last year at Monica’s church, their small group studied the Book of Revelation. And, as we made our way through that book, at every turn, we had to be very careful not to let ourselves be overly influenced by people who treat the Book of Revelation like a crystal ball: as though you could look closely at parts of that book and be able to accurately predict events that are going on today, or explain God’s intention in wars and natural disasters that we see happening right now. Over and over again, for centuries, people have used the book of Revelation like a crystal ball to predict that the world was coming to an end and that Revelation proves that the latest war or earthquake or hurricane is God’s comign judgement on the world. And so, as we studied the book for ourselves, we talked about ways that people treat that book kinda like a crystal ball, telling us our future. We also talked about the fact that, every single time someone has treated the Bible that way, for 2,000 years running, they have always been wrong, disappointed, and generally misled.