(2 Kings 1:2-10; Luke 9:51-56) – J G White
11 am, Sunday, June 30, 2019 – UBC Digby
We express our true, patriot love for our nation, this weekend. Our Canadian patriotism expresses itself in many good and positive ways. And, as the years go on, we come to terms with our whole story, and where we are headed now.
It seems every county has a history of challenges, and plenty of violence and conflict in the past. Sharon has just returned after two weeks in the Middle East, a region that has known conflicts over the land for… forever! There are also many great stories of victory and of making peace.
So it is also in our Faith history: the stories of Christianity, and of ancient Judiasm that preceded it. It is time for us to face the facts, and come to terms with the violent tendencies that live on with us.
As witnesses of Jesus and of Christianity, we must face the criticism people would make about our faith, and our Bible. We must answer when someone takes issue with some cruel or violent episode from these chapters we preach. Not only to people ask, “Why does God allow so much suffering in the world today?”, they also ask, “Why did God allow – and even promote – so much suffering in Bible days?”
Let us invite Jesus to Bible study this morning, our Prince of Peace. Listen to what He has to say. Notice how He uses the Bible, His scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. We have many challenges in using this beloved book. Things get better when we are in touch with the inspiring Author.
First, let us hear a story, one of a couple for the morning. Luke 9:51-56 read by Rob Wilkinson. A story of Jesus and His closest disciples…
Jesus rebukes James and John. He scolds them, sternly corrects them, we might say. Jesus had not been received well by this particular village, and two disciples wonder if they should call on some divine power to destroy those unappreciative people. Let them get what they deserve! they may have thought.
No. No, that is not our way, Jesus seems to say.
But John and James were only thinking about what great heroes of their history had done. As recorded in holy scripture! Like the prophet Elijah. Elijah had performed many miracles, 800 years before them, including calling down fire to destroy his opponents.
Let us hear a story from 2 Kings 1:2-10…
Notice that Elijah speaks of being a ‘man of God,’ and to prove it fire will come down from heaven and burn up a captain and his fifty men. And it happens. Actually, Elijah does this again, to the next fifty messengers who come to him.
Centuries later, Jesus of Nazareth does not use the same method. His disciples are sternly corrected when they come up with the idea of calling down fire from heaven on their enemies. For Christ, the man of God or woman of God, does not burn up His opponents.
We have all learned, and grown up, and changed our ways, since our childhood, and youth, and even young adulthood. So to with our Faith. We grow up, mature, and improve. Our violent attitudes and methods of the past are overtaken my more grace, and goodness, and gentleness.
We need not look back in history too far to see the days when slavery and race relations were a Bible battle. Even now, today, white supremacists will use Bible quotations to support their attitudes.
We can read Titus 2:9&10 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. We also read Galatians 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
All the pieces train us, grow us up in wisdom. The great love chapter of the New Testament says: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. (1 Cor. 13:11) Our Christian religion also grows up, as God the Spirit leads and teaches us, from century to century.
The challenge to us – as people of The Book – is deciding what scripture stories to embrace and which ones not to embrace so closely. We keep the whole book, but we do not keep every verse and every event as close to our hearts as every other.
Personally, I have started to come to the Bible looking not just for how to do what they did, back then. We don’t always want to do that! I come at it this way: how does this story, this chapter, this book, influence me? How does the Holy Spirit take these words on the page and do something with me in my life? It is a matter of influence, not just finding some principle to follow or some answers to our questions.
Our greatest help with the Bible is Divine help. We learn to read the Bible with Jesus, as Jesus does. We can study how He used the Old Testament, and see what dramatic things He does. He does not throw it out, but He sometimes transforms it.
This is a big book. Contrary to popular opinion, the Old Testament is not a single book with one unified view of who God is and how life works. It is a collection of books from multiple authors who articulate a multitude of opposing perspectives. (Flood, p. 35) As a great Old Testament scholar put it (Walter Brueggemann), we read here testimony and counter-testimony. More than one opinion. More than one perspective. Sometimes it is a real debate.
And together, holding it all together, there is great wisdom and power. I found it so profound when I read Dallas Willard saying that “only the Bible as a whole can be treated as the written word of God.” (Hearing God, 1984, 1999, p. 167)
So we read of Elijah calling upon divine fire to burn up his enemies. We also read of Jesus rebuking His disciples who wanted to do the same. With these stories together, we find our way forward – how to deal with those we think are our opponents.
Let us hear again that Jesus story, Luke 9:51-56, read again by Rob.
In Christ, in Jesus, Bible things that are not clear can become clear. This is great news! Christ sends the Holy Spirit to inspire our reading of this inspired Word. But this also suggests that without Him, the word of God can be just a dead letter, a confusing text, a mysterious old book, even nasty weapon. The many wars and the violent attitudes of the people – and God – are still here, in black and white.
There are hard things about defending our use of the Bible. The best we can do is speak of our experience. The life-changing experience of using this great Book, of being changed for the better. Our testimony is what points others to the Saviour, which is more important than pointing them to the scripture.