Christ-Centered Bible Reading
If you and I were to have a private conversation, and you were assured that nothing that you said to me would ever become public, I wonder how you would answer this question. I'll pick on Geoff. Geoff, how do you feel about... Now don't answer. How do you feel about reading the Old Testament? I wonder what your answer would be. Maybe, you would freely confess that you like reading the Psalms and the Proverbs, but you don't really venture too far outside of those comfortable boundaries. But now, you're a little bit emboldened by your confession. You're feeling some freedom because of your confession. And you go on to tell me that you don't read the Old Testament because when you do read it, when you do venture outside of the boundaries of the Psalms and Proverbs, you feel as if you've been dropped into a foreign country. And it's a country filled with names and places you don't recognize and certainly, can't pronounce. And worst of all, you feel as if you're all alone with no guide, and you're left muttering to yourself, where do I go from here? Others read the New Testament because they feel it's their duty. After all, the pastor's always banging on about reading the Bible, and so you plunge into unfamiliar territory. And really, what you set out to do is simply bide your time until you crest the hill of Malachi and you can finally see the oasis of Matthew arising in the distance. Right?
And for those hardy souls that do venture into the Old Testament, you quickly encounter all kinds of strange characters. There's heroes, there's rogues, there's villains, and they seem to be on every page. There are shepherds, there are kings, there are priests, there are prophets. You encounter strange sacrifices, strange rituals, strange rules. You read the exploits of mighty men, of deceitful men, treacherous men. There's murderous men. There's murderous women. You wonder sometimes if you've stumbled onto a forgotten script of True Crime network. You read stories of great devotion, stories of great love, stories of self-sacrifice, and stories of tremendous selfishness. You read stories of floating ax heads, fiery furnaces, lions' den, people getting tossed into fiery furnaces, getting tossed into the lions' den. You read of a man so disfigured with boils, the only encouragement his wife can give him is, "Why don't you just curse God and die?" (Job 2:9). You read of a valley of dead, dry bones. There's a mass of skeletons, and God says to a prophet, "Hey, do you think these bones can live?" And the prophet says, "You know." So God says, "Preach to them." So, we have the vision of this man preaching to a valley of dry bones, to a valley of dead skeletons. And as he preaches, what happens? They begin to come together, and they actually come back to life (Ezk 37). You read of fiery chariots and multi-colored wheels in the sky. You read of a strong man with a weak character. You read of tall kings, child kings, fat priests, bad fathers, lying husbands, sibling rivalry. Here we have pride, love, hate, and more murder. You read of child sacrifice. You read of God's warnings. You read of God's judgments. You read of God's people exiled. You read of God's people being brought home. You see a magnificent temple being built. You see the same temple being destroyed. You see the temple filled with the glory of God. You see the glory of God depart.
We read all this, and more and more we wonder, what does it all mean? You wonder to yourself is the point of this all to dare me to be like a Daniel, to guilt me to be like a Gideon, or to be a king like David or a giant-killer like David, a strong man like Samson, a wise man like Solomon, or a suffering man like Job? Or you may just throw up your hands and say, "Well, it's just all history. It's just for informational purposes. It's a book of moral principles that I guess I'm supposed to live up to." You're really not sure if there's a point to it all.
So is there a point to it all? The answer is yes. It all has a point. So what is the point of the Old Testament? The point of the Old Testament is Jesus. Never ever forget that. The Old Testament not only points us to Jesus, it points out our need for Jesus. Pastor Iain Duguid writes, "The Old Testament is a book about Christ, and more specifically, about his sufferings and the glories that will follow--that is, it is a book about the promise of the coming Messiah through whose sufferings God will establish His glorious, eternal kingdom."
So in our text here from Luke 24, Jesus has been raised from the dead. Two men are walking down the road, and they're discussing the events that have recently taken place in Jerusalem, and Jesus joins the conversation. They don't know who he is. And Luke adds this important detail. He describes the man as being sad. And Jesus, it seems rather nonchalantly, asks them, "What are you discussing? What are you talking about? (Luk 24:15-17). If you read the text, you'll notice that Luke says, "they stopped dead in their tracks" (Luk 24:17). And they said to Jesus, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that happened there and these days" (Luk 24:18). You almost get the sense like, "This guy's clueless. I mean, how, how could he not know what's, what's taken place." So, then they go on to explain their interpretation of the events, culminating with the empty tomb. Now at this point, Jesus has heard enough, and so, He joins the conversation, He jumps back into the conversation. Look at verses 25 and 26. Jesus said, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?" (Luk 24:25-26). Now, if we pay attention to how Jesus addresses these men to his answer to the, to the question that He's addressing, it's obvious that He felt that they should have understood, they could have understood if they had read and properly understood the Old Testament. If they had been properly taught the Old Testament, they would have been able to understand. And then Luke in verse 27, he adds, "And beginning with Moses..." That's the Law. "...and the Prophets..." That's the rest of the Old Testament. "...He interpreted to them..." Now, notice this. "...in all..." All of the books of the Old Testament. "...in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luk 24:27). Do you see what's happening here? Jesus is pointing out to them that the entirety of the Old Testament pointed to Him.
Therefore, Jesus makes it clear that when we read the Old Testament, we should be reading it... We must engage in Christ-centered reading. Have you ever heard that term before? That's what we must do. When we read the Old Testament, we must read it with eyes, looking for the pointers, for the signpost, for the mile markers, if you will, that point us to the coming of Christ.
Now, let me debunk a myth as we get started. You probably have heard or read that you can find Jesus on every page and in every verse of the Old Testament. Most of us have heard that, correct? So, you happily begin with that expectation, and you get to the point where... Well, let's say, Cain kills Abel. And you're having a difficult time seeing Jesus here. And all of a sudden you're frustrated because you don't see Jesus on every page. And so, then you begin to wonder, "Well, they said, I should see Jesus on every page, and I should see Jesus in every verse. Either, there's something wrong with me or I need a new translation." And what happens once you begin to have those feelings? Well, it's very easy to become discouraged and frustrated. And then two things are going to happen: You're just going to flat-out quit reading the Old Testament. Act like it doesn't exist. "That was for another time." Or you feel like it's a sixth-grade history book that you had to read, and it's filled with dates and names and places, that frankly, you have little interest in. Well, let me put your mind to rest. Strictly speaking, Jesus is not on every page and not in every verse. I will give this qualifier. There's something there, though, that will always point us to our need of Christ.
Let's face it, there are a lot of crazy, sinful things in the Old Testament that we can't and we mustn't attribute to Jesus. Abraham lied about his wife twice. Do we want to attribute that to Jesus? David committed adultery. Do you want to attribute that to Jesus? No, we want to be careful about that. Okay?
Well, how then should we read the Old Testament? And how are we to make sense of the Old Testament? And there... Trust me, there have been lots of books already written on this subject. I'm sure there'll be a lot more books that will be written on the subject. But, let me give, give us for our setting here this point, just three guiding principles, if you will, that will help us read the Old Testament. First thing that we need to understand is when you read the Old Testament, you, what you are reading is a progressive revealing of God's plan of redemption through Christ. It's a progressive revealing of God's plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. Now, immediately after the sin and the fall from grace of Adam and Eve, we have what many consider to be the first announcement of the gospel. God pronounces judgment on the serpent. And in [Genesis] 3:15, we read this, "I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring, he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel." Now granted, what God said at this point, would only fully become understandable centuries later. But again, we see here, the first announcement of the gospel and who was the one who had bruise their head or crush the head of the serpent or the head of Satan? Well, that was going to be Jesus. So that means from this point forward, everything in History, everything that you read about in the Old Testament is moving towards the day when Jesus would crush the head of the serpent. So principle number one, keep in mind as you read the Old Testament is remember, it's a progressive revealing of God's plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.
The second principle. As you read the Old Testament, keep in mind that God did not reveal everything at once. And sadly, because many do not understand this, they have confused themselves and others and created great distraction where it was not necessary for it to take place. They've created unbiblical distinctions, simply because they did not understand that God didn't say everything at once. They didn't understand that it was a progressive revealing of this truth. God had a plan to redeem all those whom he had chosen for salvation before time and the world began but he did not reveal the entirety of that plan at once. You know, it's become commonplace nowadays, if a company or a politician has bad news, what do they do? They wait till late Friday afternoon, and they do an information dump. Well, that's not what God did. God didn't do this massive information dump. He revealed His truth, His character, the bits and pieces of his plan, a little bit at a time. Again, it was progressive. He'd reveal one part of the plan. At one time he revealed another part of the plan at another time. And by the way, he would always build on what he has already revealed.
So we have this progressive building revelation of God's plan of redemption. That means that many of the Old Testaments saints did not understand all that they were writing. Think back to our study of Daniel. Daniel described, and had visions of some pretty wild and crazy things, didn't he? And there's absolutely no way for Daniel to understand all of that. And he's not alone. There were many instances in the Old Testament where God gave revelation and those through whom the revelation came, they did not fully understand what they were writing or what they were speaking.
Example again is Genesis 3:15. God announced the plan, but he didn't give them all the details of the plan, but at the same time, we need to keep in mind that there were times when God revealed parts of his plan that those in the Old Testament, the Old Testament saints, the writers, and the prophets, they did indeed understand what they were writing. Again quoting Duguid, he writes, "moreover, the content of these visions that the Old Testament saints correctly grasped is nothing less than the gospel itself, albeit in types and shadows. This is what Paul says in Galatians 3:8 "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all nations be blessed." The Gospel of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow was clear to the Old Testament readers from earliest days, even if only an outline and sometimes obscure focus." He goes on to say, and this is crucial. "This is crucial to affirm since the Old Testament saints were saved by faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ just as we are and not by some other method of salvation."
Lots of people won't admit it, but they're really confused. How did anyone get saved in the Old Testament? There's always been only one plan of salvation. There is only one plan of redemption and it was through faith in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints could only act on the revelation they had been given. They could only put faith in what God had shown them. And by the way, their faith was shown the same way our faith is shown today, by obedience. Okay? So there's not two ways of being saved. There's not an Old Testament way of being saved and a New Testament way of being saved. They look forward to the coming of Christ. We look back to the coming of Christ. Do not confuse yourself. Do not let others confuse you, by the way.
And many times, what was initially implied in the Old Testament became explicit sometimes much later on. And by the way, the climax the pinnacle of God's revelation is who? Jesus Christ. Hebrews chapter one verses one and two "Long ago at many times, in many ways, in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son." Jesus Christ is God the Father's final and fullest revelation. If you're waiting for more it ain't coming. You've got everything that you need.
Here's the third principle. As you read the Old Testament, ask yourself how does this passage that I'm reading what does it teach me? Or what does it tell me about God? Now let me go back to Judges chapter 6 and 7 to illustrate this for us. What have we learned about God in Judges 6 and 7? Well, there's several things and these are in no particular order, just the way that I remembered them. First of all, we learned that God was patient with Gideon, correct? God was patient with Gideon. And we see God's patience in the fact that he did not chastise Gideon when Gideon asked his questions, or when he kept asking for signs. So we see the patience of God there. We learned that God encouraged Gideon. Remember the night before the big battle. God said to Gideon "if you're afraid, go down to the outskirts of the camp and do some eavesdropping." What happened? He was encouraged by what he heard. In this entire account of Judges 6 and 7 we didn't see God rebuking Gideon at all, did we? Nor did God give him too much at once so much that he couldn't handle it. He started out small. 'Here's one assignment for you Gideon, I want you to take two of your father's bulls. I want you to go and I want you to pull down his altar to Baal and cut down his Asherah pole. And then I want you to take the seven-year-old bull and offered it on the same altar. Granted, not a small assignment, but not nearly as gigantic as taking on the Midianites, Amalekites, and the people of the East. So God didn't give him more than he could handle and God brought him along slowly. And God promised that he would be with him.
So what do we learn as we read Judges 6 and 7? The picture of God that develops is a God who is patient, who is kind, who's loving, who's encouraging. Now, if Gideon, a child of God was treated by God that way, and I'm a child of God, God is going to treat me, what? In a similar fashion. God is going to be loving, kind, patient and encouraging with me. See, folks, when we go to the Bible, to understand who God is, its not a dictionary where God defines himself so much by terms. Do you know how God defines himself? By how he treats us. Say, what is God like? God is loving, God is kind, God is patient, God is encouraging. Where do you see that? Can you give me chapter and verse? Well, I can't give you those exact words, but I can give you demonstrations of those. And just go back to Judges, chapter 6, and 7, and many other places in Scripture, see?
So we learn from God's interaction we Gideon how God deals with his children. And as we read the Old Testament, we will always keep the word so the Apostle Paul from Romans 15 in mind, he said "For whatever was written in former days was written for our" boredom? Confusion? Hopelessness? Get it over with? No. "Written for our instruction." So that means there's something to be gained from every part of the Old Testament. Look, I'll be the first to admit It takes some work sometimes. Okay?
I'm a big fan of this show "Gold Rush." They have to bleep out a lot of words but my wife doesn't like so I watch it when she's not around. But I'm amazed that these people, the effort they go to, to find this gold. Now we're not talking about some 1849 Gold Rush fellow who's got a beard down to his knees, an old rotten cowboy hat on in a crick panning. No, these guys move millions of yards of dirt every year to find six or seven thousand ounces of gold. Why? They've done the math. The effort is worth the reward. See what you and I need to do when we come to the Old Testament, or studying the Bible, let's do the math and let's see that the effort is worth the reward. But if we give up. Now, here's the thing, here's the thing I've learned from watching "Gold Rush." These guys are relentless in their pursuit of this wealth. You know, sometimes they dig down as much as 50 and 60 feet into the ground. Me? I'd give it about the 18 inches and say "Ain't nothing here let's move on." No, they go 50 and 60 feet into the ground. There is a mine in Australia, that is over a mile deep. All I can say is it must be worth the effort. But we have an even greater treasure than gold, don't we? We have the wealth of God's wisdom right here in the pages before us, we just sometimes have to dig it out.
So here's some questions, maybe not some principles, but maybe some questions that you can ask yourself. How does God provide for people who cannot provide for themselves? So I'm reading through the Old Testament and I see, and you'll see this many, many times, in the Old Testament, God's people get themselves into a fix. God's people get themselves into a mess. So I asked myself, how does God provide for people who can't provide for themselves? And really, folks, this is a critical question because it will do two things for you. It will shape your understanding of who God is, and it will help you understand the total helplessness of humanity. And as you meditate on this question, it will deepen your conviction. Let's use evangelism as an example. It will deepen your conviction in evangelism, that you must completely rely upon God to bring others to Christ. Why? Because all of us are helpless and hopeless, apart from the intervention of God and His grace in our lives.
So as I look at how God dealt with Gideon and the people of Israel, I see a God who is powerful enough to save and willing to save. It would be one thing if God was powerful enough to save, but he's not willing to save. What good would that do us? But what do we see in the story of Gideon? We see a God who's powerful enough to save, and He's also ready enough to save. So in evangelism, I evangelize with the confidence that God can save, and God is ready to save. So Gideon and the people of Israel had to learn that God could and would save them, that he could and that he would deliver them. And remember, this was written for our instruction. So if God could and would deliver His people then, what do I as God's child walk away today with? The knowledge that God could and He would deliver me as well. And this describes every single one of us.
Let's think about the Midianites, again. What they were doing to Israel. They had oppressed Israel for seven years. Year after a year, they overwhelmed the people. They overwhelmed the land. They, they stripped the land of the crops. They raided the livestock. And they left the Israelites in a position where they were desperate, they were defeated. They were, they were defenseless. They were helpless, and they were hopeless. And again, that describes every, each and every one of us. And if God did not step in and relieve their oppressive situation, it would only have gotten worse for them. And that's true for us as well. Now, I don't want to spiritualize but there are some similarities between Israel and those who are enslaved to their sin. The sinner apart from God is desperate, defeated, and defenseless. The sinner apart from God is helpless and hopeless. Israel needed to be delivered. God sent them a deliverer, Gideon. The sinner needs to be delivered. The sinner needs a deliverer. What has God done? He has sent us a deliverer, Jesus.
Here's another question. What does this text tell me about humanity? Better yet, what does it teach me about myself? What does it teach me about myself? And again, let's go back to Judges chapter 6 and 7. One of the many lessons we learned there is that all of us get ourselves in some awful messes. And, sometimes the messes we find ourselves in are messes of our own making. We make a mess of the mess that we're in. We find ourselves in terrible, terrible messes. Well, how did Israel get in such a mess? Well, if we go back to Judges chapter 6, we read that they didn't listen to God. They ignored God. They forgot what God had said. They forgot the clear commands of God. And what is true of them is true of each one of us. How do we get ourselves in messes? Do we get ourselves in messes by following God's law, by obeying God? Or do we get ourselves in messes when we ignore God and disregard God and forget God? We make a mess of ourselves when we don't listen to God or forget what God has said.
Another question. As you're reading the Old Testament, ask yourself: How does this passage prepare me or prepare us for the coming of Christ? As you're reading the Old Testament, ask yourself: How does this prepare me for the coming of Christ? As you look at Gideon, and the people of Israel, again, we see that they were helpless. They were hopeless. They were desperate. They were defeated. They were defenseless. They needed a deliverer. They needed rescue. And what is true of Gideon is true of all of humanity. We're helpless. We're hopeless. We're desperate. We're defeated. We're defenseless. We need a deliverer. We too need to be rescued.
And it's in the book of Judges where we read this really tragic phrase. "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Beloved, where has that philosophy lead us? And isn't that kind of the attitude of our culture today? "I will do whatever I want to do, because you can't tell me it's wrong. Nobody can tell me it's wrong. I'll do what is right in my own eyes." But let's just look at the book of Judges and understand something. The entire book of Judges prepares us for the coming of Christ by demonstrating, time and time again, that the judges such as Gideon and Samson, who were graciously sent by God to deliver his people, they were all, without fail, a dead end. They were men, and one woman, Deborah, who provided temporary deliverance, but never permanent salvation. Read the entire book. That's the story of Judges.
Gideon made an altar, but it was a dead end. Samson proves that... You know, there's a couple of things I like about Samson. Number one, he's super strong. Number two, he had long hair. Something I always aspired to, but those days are in the past. And number three, he's very, he's really very clever, isn't he? I love the line in the Old King James when he said, basically said, "You know, you guys wouldn't have figured out the riddle if you hadn't been plowing with my heifer" (Judg 14:18b). That's clever. Right? I thought it was anyway, but you know. But what do we see? Samson proves that superhuman strength, a quick wit, they're nothing more than dead ends. They're dead ends. They aren't enough to save us. Human ability is always a dead end. Judges repeatedly shows us that not this, Gideon's altar; not this, Samson's strength; not this, Sampson's wit... Repeatedly shows us their dead ends. And so what do we do? It's not this. It's not Gideon's altar. It's not this. It's not Samson's strength. It's not this. It's not Samson's wit. What is going to save us then? It is Christ. Christ is going to save us.
You know, I'm compelled to ask this, to ask if you have cried out for deliverance. You say, "Well what do I need to be delivered from? Well, if you've never repented of your sin, if you've never sworn off your sinful ways and turned to Christ for salvation, then you need to be delivered from the bondage of sin. Now, the mental argument that some may be having even now would be if you could, you would say to me, "What do you mean I'm in bondage to sin?" Do you realize that Jesus said that whoever commits sin is a slave to sin (Jn 8:34). That means, even if you only commit one sin, you're a slave to sin, and therefore you need to be delivered. Just one sin.
But in your mind, you continue to play these mental gymnastics, and you're trying to refute Jesus' assertion that you're a sinner. So you say, "Well, what exactly does it mean to be a sinner?" Some people may say, "Well, prove to me that I'm a sinner." Do you know that you can use love to prove that anybody is a sinner? Jesus would reply, "Do you love me with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? This is the first and greatest commandment. And, do you love your neighbor as yourself?" (Mk 12:30-31). See? Incomplete love, imperfect love is a sin. You don't have to be an adulterer. You don't have to be a liar. You don't have to be any of those sinners that you equate with sin. If you don't love God with all your heart soul, mind strength, you're a sinner. Therefore, you've committed a sin. Whether you like it or not, that means you're a slave to sin. Do you love Jesus to that degree? If then, if not, then you have committed at least one sin. But I can show you another sin of which everyone else that guilty of: Acts 17:30, we read that God commands all men everywhere to do what? Repent. Repent. Say, "Well, I didn't know it was a command." It doesn’t give you an excuse for not doing it, by the way. God commands all men everywhere to repent. Every man, every woman, every child, you have been commanded by God to repent. So, with that, your sin total is just doubled, and we just got started. Amen?
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus has satisfied the debt at the cross by His death. But you must humble yourself, accept the work of Christ. You must accept what He's done for you. You must trust in Jesus. Now, I want to go over these terms because I want you to be familiar with them, and you be able to explain them. Say, "What's it mean to trust in Jesus?" Well, first, I said this a couple of weeks ago, It has nothing to do with something you can attempt to do on your own. That's American Christianity. "What can I do. Surely, I'm good enough. I go to church. I give you some money. I don't lie, cheat or steal or run with them that do. Surely, my good works must count for something." No. No. Trusting in Jesus is not you trying to reform your behavior, nor is it trying to convince yourself emotionally that you have the faith to believe.
I was thinking about this morning. It's like the children's story. The little train going up the side of the mountain. "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can believe enough. I think I can believe enough. I think I can believe enough." No, you cannot believe enough. Rather, to trust in Christ is just the opposite. You empty yourself of all thoughts of self-righteousness. You rid yourself of any idea that you can, by your good works, overcome. Your good works make yourself acceptable to God. Trusting in Christ means that you receive what God provides for you in Jesus and not what you can attempt for yourself. That's what it means.
If you reject Christ today, whether you're here, you're home, you're watching on YouTube... If you reject Christ today, you must be a person who loves taking a risk. You must be a gambler. Now, as we see in our society today, most people will do anything to try and minimize risk. Right? We'll wear a mask. We'll wear gloves. We'll do whatever we can. But, every sinner who rejects Christ runs the risk of dying in their sin. You're gambling that there will be another day, another opportunity for you to trust Christ. You're gambling that God will allow you to hear the good news of the gospel at a later date. "Oh, I'll believe in Jesus when I'm on my deathbed." You may not ever make it to the deathbed. A young lady that was a nurse, nurse where Amanda and others, part of their midwife team was killed on her way to work. She never made it to the deathbed. She never made it to another church service. She never heard another sermon. You're gambling that God will speak to you again. Do you realize God is under no obligation to speak to you more than He wants to speak to you? You say, "I don't like it. I don't think that's fair of God." Take it up with God. If you're a gambler, you're gambling you'd be able to hear the preacher one more time.
So I just asked: are you willing to gamble with your eternal soul? Beloved, if you reject Christ here, out there, elsewhere... If you reject Christ and die in your sins, I can stand at the head of your coffin, and I can look at your face through eyes clouded with tears, but at the same time with a clear conscience. Why? Because I offered Christ you today. And offering Christ to you today, that's all that I can do. I can't believe for you. If I could, I would. I can't. You can. And God says, "Today is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6:2b). God says, "Today if you will hear my voice, take action because today is all that you're assured of".