Monday, October 21, 2013

Proper 24 of Series C (2 Timothy 3:14-4:5)

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the third and fourth chapters of Paul’s second letter to Saint Timothy. Dear friends in Christ, up here, on this pulpit, I have a Bible. Now, this Bible is a bit worn; the binding is coming apart, some of the maps have fallen out, a few pages are wrinkled. I bought this particular Bible a decade ago in college, when the English Standard Version was brand new, and it has accompanied me into the pulpit for every sermon I have ever preached. You open it up, and it doesn’t seem all that special. It has pages like any other book, chapter headings, and words printed on page after page. Sure, a Bible may have thinner paper, but it’s still just paper; it may have red letters, but they are still just letters, just ink. It was published just like any other book, using the same printing technology. You can go into my office and find literally hundreds of books that, while they may look different, are in essence just the same: binding, cover, pages, and words.

But there is a vast difference between this Bible and every other book in my library, in fact, every other book in all of creation. It isn’t in the binding, the cover, the paper, or the ink. It’s the Author. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The very words of the Bible are breathed out by God, they are inspired by Him. They are His Words. He caused them to be written exactly as we have them; He is the true Author behind them all. The entire Bible has its origin not in man, but in God. He used human instruments to write down His Words, just as He used paper and binding and ink to covey those words to you today, but make no mistake, He is behind it all. God is like a musician playing a mighty organ. Each of the pipes is an author, from Moses to Matthew, Ezekiel to Paul, and all the rest. The pipes make the sound, but the divine organist is the One playing. He determines the tune, He presses the keys, He tells them what to play. And together they play in harmony, belting out one tune: Jesus. Jesus is the content of the Scriptures, the only song these pipes play; the Scriptures can only be understood through Him, because the Scriptures only exist to convey His salvation. That is why we are to hold onto them.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Scriptures have power because God has power, the power to create faith, the power to deliver salvation itself. The Scriptures give you Jesus, and Jesus gives you salvation. He delivers from death and the devil, He forgives your sin, all through the powerful words of the Bible. No other book in all of creation can deliver salvation to us, only the book authored by God and given to us for that very purpose, to make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

For that reason, the Scriptures are clear; they clearly give us Jesus. Many parts of Scripture are mysterious, but the message of Scripture isn’t: Jesus is your Savior from sin and death. The Scriptures are also sufficient; they tell us everything that we need to know about God. No, the Bible doesn’t tell us everything about God, it tells us everything that we need to know, that is, it tells us about Jesus and His salvation. And the Scriptures have authority, the authority of God Himself, the authority to condemn our sin according to His perfect Law, and the authority to forgive that sin through Christ’s death and resurrection. 

The Scriptures are the authority in every area of our lives: where do we turn to know what God would have us do? Not to our own thoughts and opinions, but to Scripture. The God who created all rules over all, and His will is conveyed to us in what He breathed out, what He caused to be written, the words of Scripture. Therefore, we can trust the Bible, as Paul exhorts Timothy to do. The Bible is true because its author is God, and God doesn’t lie, He doesn’t deceive. God never leads us astray. Today it is fashionable to attack the Bible, to see its accounts of a six day creation, wondrous miracles, and a resurrected Jesus as ridiculous. You’ve heard these attacks, you’ve probably even believed some of them. ‘Sure I believe in God and Christ,’ you say, ‘But I can’t believe everything that’s in the Bible.’ Repent! God doesn’t lie, and He is the author of Scripture. Who are we to set ourselves over God’s Word, to call God Himself a liar? He inspired the Scriptures; they are His Words, not man’s, and His words are to be believed.

But His Words are not only to be believed, they are to be proclaimed, they are to be preached. “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the Word!” It’s wonderful and God-pleasing if we believe the Scriptures, if we hold them to be inspired by God, clear in showing us Jesus, sufficient for our salvation, authoritative in our lives, and completely true and trustworthy. We are certainly to believe all those things, but the inspired, inerrant Scriptures aren’t intended to be simply a museum piece, a relic that we admire, something that we Christians enjoy, but keep to ourselves. The Scriptures have all of those characteristics to serve one purpose: to make many “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” And they can only do that if they are preached.

“Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The Scriptures are to be preached in season, when the time is ripe, when the harvest is plentiful. The Scriptures are to be preached to those are desperately in need of grace, who know their sins and are sorrowful over them, who see their chains and want to be rid of them. The Scriptures are to be preached to the one struggling with addiction, to the one fighting against homosexual urges, to the one bullied, to the one without hope. Yes, they need to be told of their sin, but when they see that sin and are sorrowful over it, they need the comfort that the Scriptures give in abundance. It is a poor surgeon who points out the malady but does nothing to heal it. They need to hear of a Savior who loves them, who is desperate to wrap His arms around them, who forgives their sin and loves them despite their brokenness. You need to hear of that Savior. I need to hear of that Savior.

The Scriptures preach Jesus to you; Jesus, who takes your brokenness upon Himself, Jesus, who loves you even while you are still a sinner, Jesus, who loves you enough to point out your sin so that you are turned from it to His forgiveness. The Scriptures preach the Jesus to you who died your death in your place, the Jesus who rose from the grave to proclaim His victory over all that held you captive, even death itself. That is the Jesus you need, and it is the Jesus that the Scriptures preach, to make you “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

That is the Jesus that the Church is commanded to preach, whether you or anyone else wants to hear it or not. “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” The Scriptures are to be preached out of season, when the timing isn’t perfect, when hearers refuse to listen, when they reject all that the Word says to them. The Scriptures are to be preached to rebuke the secure sinner, the one who wallows in his or her sin, refusing to hear correction. God’s Law is to be preached in all of its sternness to rebuke your sin, to make you uncomfortable, to drive you to repentance. The Scriptures are to be preached to you, whether or not you want to hear what it says.

“The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” There is no shortage of preachers in the church and in the world who say what we want to hear, who affirm our sin, who make few demands, who promise great things in this world. A preacher who says what people want to hear will be adored and celebrated; his pews will be full, and his bank account bursting. We heap up these false teachers, those who scratch our itching ears, and we eat up what they have to say. We don’t want to hear our sin condemned, we don’t want to hear about the cross or suffering. We want to hear that our sins aren’t a big deal, we want to hear about living a more comfortable, prosperous life; in short, we don’t want to hear the truth, because the myth sounds so much better.

Repent. The Scriptures preach God’s truth to destroy the lie. The Scriptures preach that you are a sinner, poor and miserable, lost and condemned. Not only do you do certain sins (and each of you knows which one is your favorite), you are sinful. But that isn’t the only message of Scripture. The Scriptures preach that Christ died for you, bearing your sin to the cross. He died in your place, destroying death, and His resurrection is God’s pledge and guarantee that you will live with Him forever. Your sins, which are many, are all forgiven—each and every one of them! You have life through Christ’s redemption for your sake. You have been made “wise for salvation!”

That, dear friends in Christ, is what the Bible is all about. In many ways, this is a book like any other, composed of ink on paper, binding and a cover. But within these pages is life itself, within these pages is forgiveness; between these two covers you meet Jesus, and the encounter leaves you changed forever. No longer a sinner, but a saint. No longer condemned to death, but an inheritor of eternal life. The Bible gives you Jesus, with His power to forgive and to save; no other book can do that. In that Name of Jesus, the center and core of Scripture, the Bible’s only message, Amen.

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