Preached December 5th, 2010
St. Luke 21:25–33
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We are in a time of preparation, preparation to receive the King, and as with so many other things, the first step is to read the instruction book. Now I’m sure that most of you will be able to relate when I suggest that the first thing we usually do with something new is to discard the instruction book unread. We are Americans, we figure these things out for ourselves, or at least that is the story we tell ourselves until it does not work. That is when someone, often the wife, will suggest that maybe there might be help in the instruction book, if it can still be found. With reluctance, we read the instructions and find that things work quite nicely when done according to the instructions. Isn’t it amazing?
Very much the same thing applies in our relation to the Lord God. When we try to make that relation work according to our own ideas of how it should be, we inevitably make a mess of it because we do not understand the rules. The relationship comes with a written instruction book, the Holy Bible, written by men at the command and inspiration of the Lord God. The Bible does not directly answer every question that modern man may raise, but it inspires us, and teaches us to think according to the will of God; that is its great perfection. It is not an answer book where we can flip to a particular page for a specific answer to a question in every case, but rather it shows us the overall will of God by showing us His will in a long series of interactions with men. To be sure, it does give simple, definite answers to some things, such as those matters directly addressed by the Ten Commandments. Other questions require that we learn to think as God thinks, to apply our minds to living in such a way as to please God when it requires that we work out just what that means in each circumstance. This can only be done if we really know what is in the Bible, and that comes only from truly studying the Bible for ourselves. It is not sufficient to hear someone else read the lessons at Mass or at Evening Prayer, but rather we must become personally engaged with them, thinking them through for ourselves.
When we consider the Epistle lesson for today, we are met immediately with the sentence, Romans 15:4 For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. In writing to the Romans, St. Paul is writing to his contemporaries, people of his own time, so when he speaks of things written aforetime, he is referring to the Old Testament. He is telling them that those things were written so that they might have hope. How often do we think of the Old Testament as a book of hope?
Throughout the Old Testament, we see the story of God leading his chosen people. From time to time, those people would wander away, going off in pursuit of various strange gods, but the Lord would always find ways to correct them and bring them back, punishing and yet still loving them. Each of the covenants between God and man each point to a better Covenant. The endless burnt offerings for sin, all really inadequate, point to the need for a truly effective sacrifice for sin. The repeated prophecies point to a coming Messiah that would bring salvation for mankind. All of these things appear in the Old Testament to give hope to those who “trusted in God and were not confounded.” They should encourage us in exactly the same way, and they “were written for our learning,” that we should still study them.
Our Lord Jesus came especially to the Jews, as St. Paul notes when he says, Romans 15:8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: If you recall, Jesus had only a few incidental contacts with Gentiles during His earthly ministry, although He made it clear that salvation was for all men. This shows the way that the Lord kept faith with His Covenant with the Jews, sending the Saviour initially to them. It was their mistake that the majority rejected Jesus, but God was faithful in His dealings with the Jews as He will be forever. For those Jews who had eyes to see, Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies as Prophet, Priest, and King, everything that God had promised.
Most of us tend to look at the Old Testament as a story of exclusive salvation for the Jews, and the Jews themselves do nothing at all to discourage that view. But that is short sighted, to say the least. It is really a story of salvation for all mankind, in which God has chosen the Jews as His instruments to bring salvation to the world. As such, He brings salvation to them first, but then to the Gentiles, and this is seen throughout the Old Testament if we will but look for it. When God blesses Abraham in the Book of Genesis, it is for the purpose that Abraham will multiply and spread God’s message throughout the entire world. When God is taking the Jews out of Egypt, he explains to the Pharaoh that the Egyptians need to know Him in Exodus 9. In 1 Kings 8, Solomon describes the Court of the Gentiles, a part of the First Temple where the Gentiles came to worship, evidently something that was simply expected and accepted and consequently included in the design of the building. The Lord sent Jonah to preach to Nineveh, a Gentile nation, which was clearly a missionary effort. There are a number of the Psalms that deal with salvation for all nations, specifically Psalms 65, 67, 68, 72, and 96. Finally, the prophet Isaiah in Chapters 13 and 45 talks at length about the salvation of all men. Thus when we look at the Old Testament in this light, we see that it is a book of hope for Gentiles as well as for the Jews, something very rarely brought up and often thought to be a contradiction.
The message of the Old Testament, given as it was before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, was often misunderstood in many ways. We look at it today from a different perspective because Christ has come. For us it is still a message of hope. In our own difficult times, we may look to those who have gone before us through dark valleys and still maintained the faith, faith in a God of Hope. They were not confounded, but rather were rewarded. From them we may draw lessons regarding patience and perseverance. We see a “Pilgrim’s Progress” of patience leading to comfort moving to hope and eventually to peace and joy in faith. All of this is to be found in the Old Testament stories of salvation.
The common experience of mankind is that all things we see around us eventually pass away. We know that this is most certainly true regarding other men, but it is even true of the physical earth around us. The processes of nature are constantly changing the face of the earth, so that the coast line is no longer quite where we recall it as a child. The river has shifted its channel and now flows in a different place than where we remember it. The hill that seemed so high and jagged has crumbled and softened in place, but a new, sharp point stands up elsewhere now. There are two questions that often come to the mind of man: (1) How long ago was the earth formed from nothing? and (2) When will the world end? The astronomers speculate endlessly about both of these questions, but almost no one questions the idea that they are valid questions, they ask about real events. Our concern here is with the second question, the end of the world, because that will be the time of the Final Judgment. When is it coming, and how do we prepare for it?
For those who do not know Jesus Christ, this is a terrifying question to even throw out for consideration. For such a sad person, their only possible response is desperation, foreboding, and despair. Thanks be to God that we do know the Lord Jesus and our response is one of hope and confidence.
That which fills the non–Christian with dread inspires joy in the Christian as he sees his salvation drawing near. The storms that come must be seen as simply the spring rains that bring the summer of salvation in God’s Kingdom, so they are not to be feared. But we must recognize them for what they are, and we do that by being prepared with knowledge from the Bible.
This is all as certain as the word of Jesus Christ, the Word of God. As He tells us, everything else will pass away, but His words will never pass away. The astronomers tell us that the universe will end and they even try to say when, but all that is mere speculation. The words of Christ confirm their speculation that the world will end without saying when. The Bible is a book of calm certainty in a constantly changing world. It is the word of truth, inspired by the constant God who never changes from yesterday to today to tomorrow. It tells us specifically that we will not know when the end will come, so the astronomers efforts are in vain. The Bible is a Book of Hope, given to us by the God of Hope to guide His people.
The Bible as a book is both human and divine. The human element is described in the in the phrase “was written by holy men of old,” but the divine side comes in that they were “moved by the Holy Ghost.” This is summed up in the Collect for the Day by the statement, “Who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written.” The Bible is our textbook, not out of date because the phrase “written for our learning” applies to every age. There is no age that does not need the knowledge contained within it.
The Bible is a matter for prayer, for intense personal reflection and thought. It is not nearly enough to simply hear it read by someone else and think that is sufficient. Each individual must read, think through what he has read, consider what it means for his life, and assimilate the results into his life. Only when this is done will the Bible really be available to us as a true aid in daily living. We don’t carry an open Bible with us as we walk around, so it must be in our heads and in our hearts if it is to be useful. If it is there, it becomes a comfort and aid in our daily life as we prepare to meet the King who is coming again.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.