Can you understand the Bible?

Don’t be deceived into thinking you cannot understand the Bible. The Bible is the richest resource we possess for guiding us in life. It reveals to us the nature and character of God. Through the Old Testament stories we begin to see how God relates to his people. We gain an understanding of the heart of God.

There was a time when only priests had access to the Bible. In fact lay people were discouraged from reading the Bible because it was presumed that they would incorrectly interpret the Bible. There is some room for incorrect interpretation, but the danger of not reading it is much greater.

When you read the Old Testament, look for a common theme. I had a Bible scholar teach me that the theme of the Old Testament is found in Exodus 3:5-7.

5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

While reading through the Old Testament, think about the character of God. You will see he is consistent throughout. Ask his Holy Spirit to guide you as you read. Jesus promised that when he left he would send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to guide his followers into all truth.

The Bible is a great source of strength to those who study it and try to understand its message. It is like a treasure in a field. Not everyone will search it out, but those who do are richly rewarded.

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What changed after Easter?

We have just celebrated Easter, the resurrection of Christ. What is the significance of the coming of Christ to earth? What changed after Easter?

The answer is found in the Bible. The significance of Christ appears in the Old Testament as well as the New. A great deal of richness is lost if one does not know the “back story.” There are many layers of truth to be uncovered, not unlike an archeological dig. I find the process fascinating.

I had a small insight concerning Christ in my devotional time this morning. My reading was from the book of Ezekiel, portions of chapters 42-44. In these chapters instructions are given for sacrificial purification. One very marked historical difference after Easter is the discontinuation of sacrifices in the Jewish tradition for those who called themselves disciples of Christ, later known as Christians.

Animal sacrifice for cleansing from sin and atonement of guilt were prescribed by God after the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, were delivered by Moses from slavery in Egypt. In chapter 42 of Ezekiel we read of the necessity to make “…a separation between the holy and the common.” Throughout the Bible we are reminded of the holiness and righteousness of God and we see him at work to make a way for an unholy and unrighteous people to approach him. “I will accept you,” he declares in Ezekial 43, when the conditions of sacrifice are met.

This ritual of sacrifice was a considerable burden for the nation of Israel. If the people were straying from God, one of the first signs was the forsaking of sacrifices or the profaning of  sacrifices by disregarding instructions.

Jesus is metaphorically referred to as the “lamb of God,” because he came to put an end to animal sacrifice. He became the final and perfect sacrifice for sin. When Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness there was an occasion when God sent poisonous snakes among them to punish them for their disobedience. Moses, according to God’s instruction, made a serpent of brass and fastened it to a pole and lifted it up for the people to see. Anyone who looked at the snake could be healed (Numbers 21). Just like the snake-bitten Israelites in the wilderness were saved on the day when they looked at the serpent, so anyone today can be forgiven, healed of their sin by looking at Jesus their Saviour. It is so simple.

What stood out for me in my reading was the fact that God’s attitude towards sin has not changed. He still separates the holy and the common. Another translation says, “the holy and the profane.” Forgiveness through Christ is a remedy for sin and disobedience. It is never an excuse to continue in our snake-bitten, and poisoned condition.

“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:18-23

If the Bible is new to you

If the Bible is new to you, there are a couple of things you’ll want to know. Firstly, it is written over centuries by numerous authors but it has a common theme. The separate books were compiled by the second century A.D. Various criteria were used to determine the authenticity and reliability of each text.

The Old Testament

The first half, called the Old Testament, begins with the story of creation. It then goes on to tell many other stories of God’s dealings with mankind. God makes a covenant with Abraham and promises him that he will have numerous descendants and that through him all nations will be blessed. The Old Testament is not shy about showing the raw side of humanity. It is the story of God’s chosen people continually returning to serving idols. This violates the first commandment of the ten commandments God gave to Moses and the nation of Israel, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

The New Testament

The second half, the New Testament, begins with four accounts of the life of Christ. These four books are called the Gospels. They are followed by the book of Acts which tells the story of how the disciples of Jesus Christ started the early church. The remainder of the books expound the teachings of Christ. The book of Revelation is a book of prophesy of the end times and is allegorical. There are also some allegorical books in the Old Testament.

The New Testament is believed to be a fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament that God would bless many nations through Abraham. The lineage of Jesus, the promised Messiah, or Saviour, can be traced back to Abraham and it is through the coming of Jesus that many nations are blessed. The New Testament teaches that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty of the sins of the world and to offer forgiveness to everyone who receives this gift. This is what is referred to as salvation from sin, or re-birth.

Jesus as Saviour

The Jewish nation, which is descended from Abraham, believed that the prophesied “King,” or Saviour, or Messiah, would deliver them from their enemies. Many refused to acknowledge that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, despite the fact that he fulfilled the prophesies given in the Old Testament concerning him. They expected him to set up a throne on earth, but Jesus spoke of an eternal kingdom. He taught people to love and serve each other, not to triumph over one another.

Jesus also claimed to be the Son of God, and to be equal with God. This was considered blasphemy, by the Jews, a violation of the commandment not to have other gods. By their law he had to be killed and they arrested him and had him crucified.

Three days later Jesus rose from the dead and after many appearances he ascended to heaven. A rumor was spread claiming that the disciples stole his body. However, the Jews had asked specifically that a special guard of Roman soldiers guard the tomb. Their request was granted. The reason they asked for this was because they had heard of Jesus’ claim that he would rise from the dead. So their preventative measures turned out to be futile and made their later stories look rather ludicrous.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven he promised he would return one day and receive those who have chosen him to be their Saviour to be with him forever in an eternal home in heaven.