Most of us have probably heard someone reference the “3 r’s”–readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic”. They were the basis of everyone’s education. Now had I had a hand in it, I would probably of added spelling to the list, but so it goes.
Now I never talk about the 3 r’s, but I do talk quite a bit about the 3 i’s. The 3 i’s refer to important points about the Bible. The Bible is: Inspired; Inerrant; and Infallible. Let’s take just a moment to see what these words mean.
When I say the Bible is Inspired I am saying that those men (and women?) who wrote it did so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That means that they were being used by God to record that which He wants us to know about Him and what He has done for us in Christ. It does not mean that the Spirit just dictated the words to those writers–rather that He allowed them to use their own words and sources but in such a way that they recorded that which they were meant to record. No more, no less. The books we have gathered into the Bible, those which we call Scripture were written over the course of nearly 2000 years and in many different styles and types of literature. So we would expect them to seem different, one from another. What we would not find if they were simply human thoughts is the sort of unity of meaning and purpose that is so apparent to anyone who reads them under the inspiration of the Spirit.
The second “I” in our list is inerrant–in other words, without error. The Bible is without error in all matters of faith and morals, but it is also without error in its history and its explanations of things that occurred in those long ago days. If the Bible was not without error, how could anyone ever trust it about anything because they would never know what was error or what was truth. That brings us to another important point when we speak of Scripture–only Scripture can assess or define Scripture. In other words, if you find something in the Bible that puzzles you or seems wrong to you, don’t go looking in the Encyclopedia Brittannica for the answer. Don’t go to a secular source. Use the Scripture itself to find the explanation of what troubles you. Lots of folks believe they can stay orthodox in their faith even if they say some things in the Scriptures aren’t true. But in fact such a position can only lead in the long run to heresy and apostasy.
The third “I” is, again, Infallible. This means that Scripture will not fail to accomplish its purpose. And what is the purpose of Scripture? It is to bring to a saving faith in Jesus Christ those whom God has chosen before time to be His very own children. In the Bible we find two things taught–the Law and the Gospel. The Holy Spirit uses the Law to teach us that we are sinners deserving only of hell and to then teach us that there is nothing we can do about it. He then uses the Gospel–Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you–to relieve us of our fear and dread and teach us that while the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. For those called according to His purpose, the Scripture will not fail to accomplish its work.
This week we begin the part of the Church year known as Lent. The word Lent actually comes from a word that meant spring. Lent is the harbinger of spring, a signal that life will begin anew very soon. We can’t see it yet, but we know something grand is about to happen.
This Wednesday people from St. Paul’s and Christ Community Church will gather together in our sanctuary for a service known as Ash Wednesday. During that service most of the congregation will come forward and have a small cross of ashes put on their foreheads. The words said to them will be; from dust you have come, to dust you shall return. In other words, your body once was not, and, unless Jesus comes again before your death, your body will return to the dust from which it came. We start the Lenten season by reminding ourselves that because of sin, our bodies will die. It’s not exactly a place for a service of “happy, happy, clappy, clappy,” is it?
In terms of the Church year, which follows the life of Christ on earth, Lent represents the period of time after the Transfiguration which took place in a Gentile area north of Galilee. It is the period in which Jesus and His disciples move from that place south, through Galilee, Samaria and the trans-Jordan to Jerusalem where He will be hailed first as King, and then 5 days later crowned not with gold but with thorns as He is hung on a cross to die.
Luke says that Jesus “set His face to go to Jerusalem.” That’s an interesting phrase, “set His face…” It speaks of the Lord’s determination, His resolute will to accomplish that which He came to do. The binding of mankind’s destiny wrought by sin was soon to be no more, but such a mighty deed could not be fulfilled without great and terrible pain. Jesus set His fact to go to Jerusalem because He had a mission–a mission to lift us, you and me, up out of the ashes of death and bring us into the light of life eternal.
Lent is roughly 6 weeks long but does not include Sundays, which are always celebrations of the Resurrection. During that time I encourage everyone to be as resolute in their remembrance of the sacrifice of Christ as He was resolute in His determination to make that sacrifice. It’s been said that there is no such thing as a free lunch–and when we consider what God did for us, that is most certainly true.
You probably haven’t had this conversation since you were a kid, but you no doubt remember it. Someone accuses you of something and the first thing out of your mouth is “who says?” Who says I did it? And the implication, of course, was that the person who said it was lying. Who says? While we generally said it with great indignation, it was often faked because whoever said “it” was probably right.
In today’s world Christians are often confronted with just this kind of question. Who says Jesus is the only Way? Who says sex outside marriage is wrong? Who says that we’re supposed to love our neighbors when most of them are idiots anyway? Who says staying away from church is a bad thing? Who says … Who says … Who says?
Of course the answer to all these questions is simple–God says. God says that you will be shut out from His presence if you deny Jesus. God says that we are to love others–even difficult people who dislike us or even hate us. God says that we were made to be in life long relationships and that sex is part of that relationship alone. God says that we are not to cease to meet together. God says all of that and very much more.
The challenge for us as believers is to teach these things to people in ways which will engage their minds and hearts. And that’s not always easy. But then again, how easy do you think it was in the first century? Was it easy to tell pagans that there is only one God and that He consists of three Persons, each of which is separate but also the same? Was it easy to tell people in the first century that the Creator of the universe decided to become a man so that He could bear the punishment we deserve for sins which are not just bad things we do but an inherited trait? Was it easy? Of course not, it was hard then and it’s hard now.
And yet every day in this world of ours men and women, boys and girls are coming to an assurance of their salvation because someone told them “who says”. This happens not because some people are especially gifted with an ability to explain the unexplainable, nor because those who tell are especially anointed by God, nor because they’re using modern techniques of evangelism. (Indeed, I would say that modern evangelistic techniques have proven themselves to be inferior to the old fashioned method of one believer telling another of what God has done for him and inviting his friend to come see for himself). No my friends, these things happen because God has caused them to happen.
God has elected His children from before time began. And the way He brings them into His fold is to have one of His who are already there telling others about the Good News that Jesus Christ was crucified and risen for them. In his letter to the church in Rome and to us, Paul writes that the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. The Gospel explodes into the hearts and minds of those whom He has called. And when it does, they no longer say, “who says”. They then know the answer to the question.