Summary: We come to know God through the Scriptures
This rather imposing book I’m holding is not an easy one to read. In fact, it can be very difficult to understand. For one thing, it was written thousands of years ago, in the context of ancient cultures very different from ours. Their popular songs, their well-known stories, their familiar sayings, are all unfamiliar to us. And so some of things in this book, which were easily understood at the time they were written, are a mystery to us.
In addition, it was written in languages which none of us speak. So we can read it only in an English translation, which inevitably loses some of the meaning and nuance of the original tongues.
Not only that, but this book is a hodgepodge of literary forms. Within its pages we have history, poetry, songs, legal statutes, wisdom literature, prophetic writings, biographies, gospels, letters, Apocalyptic literature, parables, genealogies. It’s more a religious library than a single book. And what makes it such a challenge is that understanding what you’re reading depends to some degree on understanding what kind of literature it is. You wouldn’t interpret something you read in a law book the same way you would interpret a letter or a poem. Even the apostle Peter admits that some of Paul’s writings are less than simple:
"[Paul’s] letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction." -- 2 Peter 3:16 (NIV)
And even if you have a Ph.D. in ancient Near Eastern cultures and are able to read five-thousand year old Hebrew fluently, you still cannot understand the Bible unless God grants you the ability to do so.
"The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." -- 1 Cor. 2:14 (NIV)
"[Jesus] said to them, ’This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." -- Luke 24:44-45 (NIV)
So in light of all this, why read the Bible? After all, if you want wisdom, or moral guidance, you can go to the library and check out William Bennet’s "Book of Virtues". If you’re interested in ancient history, there are good modern translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The shelves at Borders are full of inspiring biographies. For parables, it’s hard to beat "Aesop’s Fables". And poetry lovers have the works of Shakespeare and Milton, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost.
So why read the Bible? The educators among us might disagree, but I think most of us could get along quite nicely for the rest of our lives without ever cracking open another book of history, or poetry, or law, or biography. In fact, most adults don’t read much of anything, other than the occasional newspaper or magazine. So why spend the time, why put forth the effort, to read and to try and understand this sometimes difficult and confusing book? I can think of no reason at all, except one: that it claims to be, and is, God’s written revelation to mankind, and that reading it is an essential part of coming to know God. That’s the only reason. If you’re an academic historian, or a professor of comparative religions, you may have other reasons. But for most of us, the only good reason to read the Bible is that this is where God can be found. This is how He chose to reveal Himself to us.
So if you’re seeking to know God, the path of your spiritual journey goes through this book. Four weeks ago, on the last day of 2000, I suggested to you that we each make one resolution for 2001 -- that in the coming year we would seek to know Christ more deeply. Today, and for the next four Sundays, I’m going to help you keep that resolution. I’m going to put some flesh on that skeleton of an idea. Because seeking God, and knowing Christ, is not automatic. It doesn’t just happen. It takes more than good intentions and a willing heart. It takes concrete actions and regular spiritual habits. During this series, I’m going to point you to five of the most valuable of these spiritual habits.
To begin, I’d like to remind you of a couple of God’s promises. Promises that will help sustain us when the journey becomes tiring, when we get discouraged and are tempted to give up the quest. Because knowing God takes work. It doesn’t require superior intelligence, or a specific kind of temperament. But it does require sustained effort. So you have to believe from the beginning that what you’re seeking is worth the cost; you have to believe you’ll find it.