October 20, 2013

For Salvation Through Faith in Christ Jesus

Passage: Jeremiah 31:27-34, Psalm 119:97-104, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Luke 18:1-8
Service Type:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.


(Small Group NT Wright, Simply Christian week 1)

Even though we live in a season where, culturally speaking, the Bible has seemingly lost appeal, the Bible can still surprise people.  In June of this year the Associate Press reported the following: “It may sound like an unlikely No. 1 bestseller for any country, but in Norway—one of the most secular nations in an increasingly godless Europe—the runaway popularity of the Bible has caught the country by surprise.  The Scriptures, in a new Norwegian language version, even outpaced Fifty Shades of Grey to become Norway’s bestselling book.”  (For those unfamiliar with Fifty Shades of Grey it is a bestselling erotic romance novel published in 2011.)

Are you surprised that the Bible can still be a runaway bestseller?  Like an underwater stream, at certain points it bubbles up and shows its presence; that voice of God calling to people through the scriptures bubbles to the surface and is still being heard even though often set aside and forgotten.  N.T. Wright identifies a phenomena he calls “echoes of a voice;” he points to four echoes—the longing for justice, the quest for spirituality, the hunger for relationships, and the delight in beauty.  Each of these is an echo, asserts Wright, of a voice that is calling; an echo “that points beyond itself though without in itself enabling us to deduce very much about the world except that it is a strange and exciting place.” (Simply Christian, p. x) Echoes that point to reality as being something much more than can be detected by our five senses alone.

Take justice for example; where does this longing for justice come from?  We can dream of justice; imagine a wold at one, a world where things are set right, a world where things work out; where we not only know what we ought to do but actually do it.  Why do humans have such a longing?  How is it that we can imagine such a world?

Consider the story of blogger Leah Lisbresco and her conversion from atheism to Christianity. For many people in the blogging world, Libresco has been identified as a top-notch blogger for atheism.  But her post for June 18th was titled "This is my last post for the Patheos Atheist Portal."  "For several years," she started the post, "a lot of my friends have been telling me I had an inconsistent and unsustainable philosophy." After talking about "mortifying her pride" and quoting C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton, she felt like a disoriented atheist.  But like C. S. Lewis, she stumbled onto and against the bedrock reality of objective morality. In Mere Christianity Lewis put it this way, "It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong."  Apparently, Libresco has come to the same conclusion.  She wrote: "I believed that the Moral Law wasn't just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant.  It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.  And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth."

N.T. Wright might say that Libresco heard the echo of a voice; a voice that belongs to the one calling out to us—the very One who is justice himself.

Actor Robert Pattinson—best known for his work in the Twilight film series—in a recent interview spoke, among other things, about his views on forgiveness. "I don't ever feel the need to forgive or expect people to be (forgiving).  I judge people on their actions. I don't really care if it's wrong or right, I give them the benefit of the doubt. If they do something I can't be bothered to deal with, I just cut them out."  Pattinson typifies the culture we live in where notions of right and wrong are fluid, yet he appeals to some sense of right and wrong even if he categorizes behaviour unacceptable to him under the title “can’t be bothered to deal with”.  Where does this sense of acceptable and unacceptable come from?  Is N.T. Wright correct—we are hearing echoes of a voice?  Can we know whose voice it is?

1. It is in and through the scriptures we are apprehend by the one whose voice is calling, we learn the identity of the One calling to us and learn what it is that he wants to say to us.

In the second letter to Timothy the Apostle Paul is handing the torch, so to speak, to his protégée Timothy; Paul is passing on his missionary vision to proclaim the gospel to Timothy.  They lived in a world of competing religious and philosophic voices all vying for people’s attention.  It was common in the writings of philosophers to offer a set of values or behaviours to younger followers as part of their teaching.  Some scholars see a similar pattern in the letter from Paul to Timothy; we read from the section of his letter where he includes a set of instructions for Timothy that are consistent with the gospel but also serve to carry the gospel’s announcement into the future.

One such instruction is the text for today’s sermon: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  I invite you to take notice of how the Bible (sacred writings) is to play a central role in the ongoing habits of the believer’s life.  While many things were apparently distracting to Timothy, Paul reminds him to continue in what you have learned and firmly believe, namely “the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I invite you to take note of how the Apostle speaks of what the Bible is able to do in our lives.  We are to continue to take this word in our lives because the sacred writings are able to instruct you.  When you commend a book to someone for reading what sorts of reasons do you give for reading?  We might say it was an exciting story; the story will move you; it is a great adventure; a riveting mystery; I couldn’t put the book down; it will give you the information you need; the book was once banned.  We are not no likely to say that there is something intrinsic to a book that it is able to do something in a person; yet this is what Paul says of the scriptures.

He goes on to clarify that they are “inspired by God” or, literally translated, “God-breathed.” In the creation account in Genesis God breathes life into humankind; so too God breathes life into his word.  I don’t mean to say “it’s alive” as if the life were in the book in and of itself; rather God breathes a life into it that is experienced in faith as we read, study, and inwardly digest it.  But we need to let it breathe its life into us.  The Bible in not only inspired but inspiring.  Coming at this from another angle of vision we could say that when we read the Bible we experience that the Bible reads us.

While it is true that God can use any means he wishes to speak to us, unfailingly is his promise to speak in and through his word.  Think about how the words of scripture comfort us in our sorrows.  On that first day in the hospital with my mother after she suffered the devastations of a stroke I undertook to read the twenty-third for us.  “The Lord is my shepherd”, I began, and before I got to the word “shepherd” she was reciting it with me, “I shall not want” she continued, and then raced on ahead, “He maketh me lie down in green pastures.”  And so began an oft repeated ritual over those last days of her life.  Starting each succeeding line of that Psalm and my mother completing it.  But oh how she loved to race ahead to the last line of the Psalm, “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  To which she would add an extra “and ever” just to make the point.  And then conclude with her own exclamations, “Amen, Hallaleujah, thank you Jesus.”  The Psalm was a great comfort to her and to me.

Think for a moment again about the books you might commend to someone else to read.  Most of them are fairly recent—that is with respect to when they were written.  How many of them were written more than fifty years ago, one hundred years ago, or two hundred years ago?  So there I was in July of 2013 in our local hospital reading something written by a shepherd boy turned king over 3000 years ago and it brought comfort to me in my situation as if it were written for that very moment.  The sacred writings are able; all scripture is inspired by God.

A. J. Jacobs is the author of the book The Year of Living Biblically.  He discovered that he could not interpret the Bible alone.  So every day he met with others to discuss its meaning.  It drew him into community and into a new way of thinking of others.  For the first time he considered the possibility that there is One who created us, and soon he felt a deep connection to the whole human family.  By the end, Jacobs referred to himself as a “reverent agnostic” and wrote this: “Studying the Bible is not like studying sumo wrestling in Japan.  It’s more like wrestling itself.  This opponent of mine is sometimes beautiful, sometimes cruel, sometimes ancient, sometimes crazily relevant.  I can’t get a handle on it.  I’m outmatched.” (The Year of Living Biblically, p. 119)

As we read the Bible we discover, indeed, that we have been outmatched; outmatched by the love and grace of God, who has given us his word and given us his Son, that we might know life eternal here and now and forevermore.

2.  Over the next few weeks we are going to engage in our small groups studies with N.T. Wright in this work Simply Christian. “Being a Christian in today’s world is, of course, anything but simple,” Wright states.  “But there is a time for trying to say, as simply as possible, what it’s all about, and this seems to me that sort of time.”  Wright attempts to show how Christian faith accounts for those “echoes of a voice” that keep bubbling up in our culture.  “Why Christianity makes sense,” is the subtitle of the book.  Of course, the Bible is the key here; Wright is offering us a reading of the Bible’s story that we might engage the message that is contained in it. Take again, as an example, that echo of humanity’s longing for justice.  Wright says, “the more I’ve learned about Jesus, the more I’ve discovered about God’s passion to put the world to rights.

This brings us to the crucial point the text of scripture we have been considering makes—the point Wright reiterates when he stated, “The more I’ve learned about Jesus.” The Apostle writes, “you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  The Bible isn’t read because it offers some sort of spiritual thrill-ride.  The God-breathed nature of the book is never for its own sake; it points us to someone.  Martin Luther likened the Bible to the manger that held the Christ child at his birth.  It holds him but it isn’t him.

The same point is made in the founding doctrinal statement of The United Church of Canada.  When many of us hear the word “doctrine” it is not considered a positive thing.  Doctrine may be likened to a roadmap.  Just as a roadmap is not the terrain to be traversed yet apart from the roadmap we shall fail to find our way across the terrain.  Doctrine is the offering of the Incarnate word (Jesus) by means of a spoken word that is formed, informed and normed by the written word (scripture).

In the doctrinal section on revelation our church’s founding statement says: “We receive the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, given by inspiration of God, as containing the only infallible rule of faith and life, a faithful record of God's gracious revelations, and as the sure witness of Christ.”  Please underline the word “containing” for consideration.  The scriptures are said to "contain" the only infallible rule. They contain it but are not it, since Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, alone is this. Here the statement carefully avoids positing scripture (rather than Jesus Christ) as Saviour and Lord. We also say these scriptures are "infallible" in that they unfailingly fulfil that purpose for which they have been inspired and given. They are neither defective nor deficient with respect to their aim and its accomplishment.

Let me summarize it this way.  The Bible is a source of inexhaustible hope and joy for an exhausted world because it unfailingly brings us to Jesus Christ and his inexhaustible love for us.  This is why we Christians must be engaged in the study of scripture.  Without the scriptures we have nothing to offer our society that our society is not already saying to itself. The Bible may seem out of season, but it is the word the world needs to hear.


Some of you will know who these brothers are when I say their names: Payton and Eli Manning.  They are quarterbacks in the NFL.  This year they appeared a in music video that took the internet by storm.  Its purpose was to advertise a new service offered by DirectTV knows as “Football On Your Phone”.  You don’t have to be in front of a television anymore to see live football; you can get it on your mobile device.

Now many of you, like me, have a Bible on your phone.  I got thinking that perhaps some of you might be up to the challenge of doing a music video, “Bible On Your Phone”.  The truth is we have unparalleled access to this book; access that generations before would marvel at.  We have the Bible on our phones; but do we have the app open so we can read it; so God can breathe into our lives the wonders of the life he promises in Jesus Christ; that in your light we may see light, and in your service find perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.