June 2019   
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Message for 10-20-13 THE TRUTH OF GOD'S WORD


2 Timothy 3:14-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13


            Why would anyone pay someone hundreds of thousands of dollars to study an old piece of paper written by some dead guys back in 1787?  I’m talking about the US Constitution.  Here, we’re talking about a document that rules our lives, that governs our entire society.  We care immensely about exactly what each word means and does not mean.  Now we can see why Constitutional scholars are paid big money to study this old piece of paper and tell us what it means.

If the US Constitution is worth all that time and money to study, how much more is God’s word worth a similar expenditure of time and resources?  The Constitution never claims to be any more than a human document made up by us, with human authority.  But the Bible claims a far higher authority.  It claims to be from God.  If that claim is true, then it is all-important for us to study exactly what God did and did not say, because this book has a lot to say about how to live and what to believe.

OK, but here’s a logical question.  Why this book, and not others?  A lot of books claim to be from God: the Quran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Book of Mormon, Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures, Scientology’s book Dianetics.  How do we verify a claim that a book is from God?  Today’s scripture says that the writings of the apostles and prophets are “inspired by God” (literally “God-breathed”).  But other religions also claim that their book is true.  How do we settle that debate?

For me, it ultimately boils down to evidence.  Some books don’t make claims that can be tested.  But the more that a book makes claims about facts or events that we can verify, the more we can trust its reliability in other areas, if those claims prove true.

The Bible makes one huge claim of fact that instantly sets it apart from all the others.  It claims that its central figure, Jesus of Nazareth, rose from the dead.  No other book makes a claim that big and backs it up with evidence.  The claim is either true or false.  If it’s true, that strengthens the Bible’s other extraordinary claims.  If the claim is false, the empty tomb becomes a well-meaning fairy tale of no more value than the Phoenix myth or any of the other fairy tales on the market.

We don’t have a surveillance tape or CSI lab report on the empty tomb.  But we do have the most powerful circumstantial and logical evidence to be found anywhere in ancient history.  The claim that Jesus rose from the dead would have been easy to prove false.  You don’t even have to accept the word of the Gospel writers to conclude that something happened here that defies natural law.  Taking all the evidence together, it becomes easier to believe that Jesus broke out of His tomb alive than to believe that He is still in the ground.  The evidence is that compelling.

And if Jesus truly rose from the dead, it becomes a lot easier for me to believe that He could walk on water, feed the 5000, and be conceived without the help of any human father.  Plus, it becomes easier to believe Old Testament miracles like the parting of the Red Sea.  It also becomes easier to believe Christian teachings that are beyond the scope of human observation, like the deity of Christ, life after death, or the cross as God’s solution to our sin.

The Bible gives us more than circumstantial and logical evidence.  We also have hard evidence we can touch.  We can start with evidence for the text itself.  How do we know today’s Bible is reliable?  How do we know it hasn’t been changed drastically over centuries of recopying?  Answer: The Bible has better evidence for the reliability of its text than any other document of its time.

When I was checking out Buddhism, I wanted to know how close its sources could take me to the historical Buddha.  I was surprised to find that the earliest Buddhist writings we have start 300 years after Buddha, with actual manuscripts of those books even later.  The Gospels were written only 30-60 years after Jesus rose.

The earliest piece of New Testament we have is a scrap from the Gospel of John from 120 AD, only 30 years after that Gospel was written.  We have copies of New Testament books from 200 AD, and complete copies of the New Testament from 300 AD.  The earliest piece of Old Testament we have is a copy of the Rabbinic Blessing that dates to 600 BC.  The Dead Sea Scrolls give us copies from 100 BC.  Together, all these copies help guarantee that the text of the Bible has not been hopelessly garbled.

God has also given us other discoveries that back up the Bible’s story.  We have a report from King Sennacherib of Assyria himself on his clash with Hezekiah in 701 BC.  The 2 versions of the story back each other up.  When Israel goes to battle against Moab in 850 BC, we have the words of the king of Moab carved in stone, giving us his version of the story.  Again, the stories back each other up.  Here, bowing on the ground, we have King Jehu, the only picture of an Israelite king ever found.   The Bible says the Hezekiah built a water tunnel 1700 feet through solid rock in 701 BC.  We have his autograph, carved at the entrance to his tunnel!

The Bible says that Joshua built an altar on a mountain on the modern-day West Bank – we’ve found an altar there, with remains that date to 1200 BC!  We’ve also found the stone Joshua set up when he say “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  The Bible claims that Jonah brought an entire pagan city to repent – we now know that a total eclipse of the sun on June 15, 763 BC would have brought that city to repent.  Chinese and Korean records indicate that a supernova in the constellation Aquila shined brightly for 70 days in the year 5 BC, a perfect candidate for the star of Bethlehem.

In my college class on the 5 books of Moses, we talked about the parting of the Red Sea.  Many scholars blow it off as a poetic legend, made up hundreds of years later.  But the Bible gives us details to nail down exactly where it happened.  It mentions place names that only fit Egyptian geography from the 13th century BC.  It mentions a place called Pi-ha-hiroth, “The Mouth of the Canal” – nobody knew there was a canal here until it was rediscovered in the 1970’s!  History had forgotten!  If the story was being made up hundreds of years later, then why does the Bible give us such accurate details where the cities, the names, the landmarks, and the sea levels themselves had changed so drastically over the centuries?

Unlike other books, the Bible is constantly naming people, places, and events we can tie it to.  And almost always, we can find the evidence to back up what it says.  Sometimes the evidence isn’t exactly what we would have predicted.  But that just means we misread either the Bible or the evidence.  When the Bible mentions a Queen of Sheba, or Solomon marrying Pharaoh’s daughter, the evidence checks out, in the tiniest details.

So when you hear scholars claim that the Hebrews were never in Egypt and never conquered Canaan, or that David and Solomon were just a myth, they haven’t done their homework.  The Bible is innocent of error until proven guilty.

We Presbyterians say that the Bible is our “unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the church universal, and God’s word to (us).”  When we want to know the real Jesus, we go, not to any other book, but to our unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ.  And we don’t try to claim that parts of the Gospels were just made up by the early church.  We take it all as given to us by God.  We know more about Jesus than we know about Buddha, Mohammed, or any great human teacher from ancient history.

The Bible is worth a lifetime of study.  It is full of time-tested, practical wisdom.  It has truckloads of fact to back it up.  No other book that claims to be God’s word has survived the avalanche of acid criticism to which the Bible has been subjected.  In a book that makes so many hundreds of statements of fact, the Bible has an amazing track record of getting the facts right.  I know dozens of thorny problems in Scripture, but most of them are easily resolved, and for the rest, we can give the Bible the benefit of the doubt.

And so when the Bible makes some hard-to-believe claims, I refuse to blow them off as legend.  I resist attempts to dismiss the miracles of the Bible as unhistorical.  Can God use fiction to proclaim the truth?  Of course – look at Jesus’ parables.  But when a news report turns out to be an urban legend, heads roll at the news department.  A real-life cure for AIDS means more than the most inspiring tale that never happened.  A real-life Wall Street means more than a fabled El Dorado.  Narnia is worthless unless there is a real Heaven to which it points.  A fictional Esther has much less power to inspire us than one who really did take her life in her hands to save her nation from genocide.  The same is true for a mythical resurrection – it means far less than the real McCoy.      

I have a passion for God’s word!  God’s word is a treasure that is worth a lifetime of exploration!  The Bible is not like the US Constitution, the word of some dead men.  It is God’s word!  It is not an idol to be worshipped; it is a book to be believed and lived out.  The Bible gives us better answers to our questions than anyone else in the world. 

The Bible gives us the best ways to handle and minimize life’s heartaches.  It gives us wisdom we can trust.  It gives us timeless truth.  It gives us much more than “love God and neighbor,” it spells out specifically HOW to do so.  The Bible goes deeper than any other piece of literature, deeper than we can explore in a lifetime.  All the good found in other books can be found here, and is often borrowed from here.  The Bible is the only anchor I can trust to keep me from drifting off course.  There is no better starting point, and there is no better bottom line than God’s word, the Bible, as we seek answers to the questions of what to believe and how to live.

Let us pray.  God, out of all the books and all the claims out there, we thank You that You have given us Your authoritative word.  Help us to trust that word in a day when truth is up for grabs.  Help us to let that word guide and rule our lives.  Help us to store that word in our hearts, and translate it into action.  We ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.

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