We are blessed at this time in history to have so many translations, study bibles, audio…. (but it can also be confusing to have so many!) I have decided that for 2015 I am going to listen to the Bible in the NIV translation through BibleGateway website (www.biblegateway.com).
Some of you read your Bible regularly…cherish the message, the words of encouragement, the words of conviction, the insight. I do not know how to coordinate this, but we need you to be willing to be mentors to those who are not so familiar with the Bible. Let’s find a way to get people together.
Today I want to start with a common question: hear all the time: there are so many translations, how do I know which one to use? [go over my favorites, giving a brief description of a dozen of the ones that I use. Bottom line is that it is only my opinion that the New International Version and the New Living Bible are two excellent choices, but others may have others they appreciate and use. The history of English Translations is interesting but in this setting not the right time to spend too much time going over the amazing story. To study further one excellent introduction on the history of English Bible Translations is found at http://www.greatsite.com/timeline-english-bible-history/ ~ you'll read the story of martyrs and kings as the Bible eventually became accessible to the common everyday person, but it took centuries.]
Turn with me to Psalm 119:17-24. The Bible is God’s gift to you.
A selection from Psalms 119, is fitting as an introduction to the entire Bible because David, the author, expresses a deep desire to live by God’s Word, be instructed, find forgiveness ~ a deep longing for the Word of God. King David lived approximately 1000 B.C. ~ these words are written with a limited amount of the books that now make up the Bible, but I firmly believe these words apply to the entire Bible as we now have it… Moses is the author of the first five books, so they would have been written down approximately 1400 B.C. (Job is likely even an older book and written down several hundred years earlier) and the last book written is also the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the events took place when John was an old man in about the year 95 A.D. A 1500 year span, approximately 40 authors inspired by the Holy Spirit…
How do you digest so much information? Gain understanding? Where to begin? Gain guidance, encouragement…. The word of God is meant to be understood. It is a gift to instruct, inspire, enlighten, guide, give purpose, a book that answers every question that we need to know (not every curiosity question, but what we need)…. Whenever you crack the pages of this book, say the simple prayer that is expressed in Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things…”
Anyone can read the words of the Bible. Skeptics read it to try and find contradictions. Enemies of Christianity try to find teaching they feel is immoral to their standards… To some it is nothing but ancient literature that is entertaining. Anyone can read the Bible. But to truly be changed by the Bible takes the Holy Spirit.
As you read the Bible say the simple prayer asking God to open your eyes, penetrate your dense brain… “Open My Eyes that I may see wonderful things….” Without the Holy Spirit giving life to the words, the words will be mysterious. I find it valuable to learn about the background, the settings, the politics, the world events, the customs of the day…. But what is more important is for the Holy Spirit to guide your emotions, your thoughts, giving insight and encouragement, so that you can truly hear life changing depth of God’s word.
Without the Holy Spirit the Bible is like me reading music. I can read the mechanics of the notes on the pages, some of the symbols. I can follow the notes up and down. I can find middle C. I can tell you a bit of theory. But I cannot get the spirit of music. I cannot clap to a beat. I used to be able to stand next to people who could clap and follow their lead, but the older I get, I can’t even do that… My brother and I used to sing trios with my father, who was a very good singer. The plan was that Jim and I would sing the melody and my father would harmonize. It happened every time… not long into the song, Jim and I would be following our father and all three of us would be singing harmony. My father would figure out what had happened, and he’d switch to the melody, and we would soon join him. What a gracious church you are. Without a miracle I have no hope to really learn music… but with the Bible, the miracle is yours for the asking. God will answer your prayer, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things.” Be patient, be consistent, keep asking, keep listening, keep reading, wherever you are is where you begin…no shame in not knowing.
Open my Eyes that I may see wonderful things…I want the message of the Bible to be able to open up to your heart… there is a story in Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus performs an odd two-stage healing of a blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22–26). After putting spit on the blind man’s eyes and laying hands on him, Jesus asks, “Can you see anything?” The man replies, “I can see people, but they look like trees walking around.” Then Jesus lays hands a second time on the man’s eyes, “and he looked intently” and “his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”
May your eyes to be fully opened to the word of God, it may take time, it may take practice, but I want you to gain confidence, to grow in your boldness, conviction of knowing God’s will, your purpose… to go from seeing obscurely to gaining clarity, like the blind man. God speaking to you through His Word will change you!
I am focusing on Ps. 119:18, but just a few comments about a few other verses around v. 18. Here is the reason the Bible is so important ~ Ps. 119:17 the Word of God is life ~ this is why we need God’s Word. To live, to really live.
Ps. 119:19-20 speaks to what life is like without God’s word: “I am a stranger on earth…” Many people feel lost in this world, nobody understands, nobody is listening, a stranger... It is almost universal that at some point all people feel out of place, awkward, lonely, like they don’t belong. “I am a stranger on earth….” The Bible is God’s love letter to a lost world ~ a message of truth, exposing our sins, a message of purpose that there is a place for each of us, and a coming hope that God is preparing for us a place in eternity. The Bible itself gives life because we realize in its pages that God knows me, where I came from, what I need, who I am, how to bring peace to my soul. We need the Bible because we are strangers without it, if you are waiting for this world to understand you you’ll be looking for a long time. We need God! We are blessed by his love letter!
V. 20, “My soul is consumed…” God will speak to those who are genuinely searching. I spoke to a woman this week that was about ready to give up on God, but one more time she prayed, and was so excited to tell me that God was gracious through a specific risky act she took…. Our deepest longing is for God, to be loved, accepted and forgiven. To belong to him. God will speak when we recognize our need.
Back to Ps. 119:18: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things…”
There are wonderful things in the God’s word. Make this the starting point of your view of the Bible: wonderful things. Awesome insights. Amazing life giving truth. A mirror that exposes the true you. If you read to find contradictions you’ll find them whether they are really there or not. If you start by declaring the culture of the bible wasn’t as enlightened as we are now with our scientific rational thought, then you will find an out of date book. Your basic belief/expectations of the Bible makes a huge difference. By faith, expect wonderful things and God will reveal them to you. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7).
Some people expect the worst. That is the easy way out. To come to that place where you expect to see wonderful things takes courage ~ your friends will call you naïve, unrealistic. Just as David in Ps. 119 knows God’s word is full of wonderful things, so we too can adopt the same attitude. Go against the grain of this world and expect God to bless you as you listen to his word, expect God to enlighten you, to open your understanding, your mind, your experiences with wonderful things….people will dump on your dreams, your expectations, suck you into drama. David in Ps. 119:18 flies in the face of those who expect the worst: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things….”
At its root, Ps. 119:18 is a prayer! It is a prayer that can only be prayed by a person that is humble. “Open my eyes” is to admit that we see darkly without the help of God. Most people think they already know. Most people don’t want to change. Many people like to live as a victim. To pray to God, “open my eyes” is to admit that without the help of God we cannot see.
My prayer is that the Lord himself will open up his word to your heart so that you will discover like never before the treasures within, the wonderful things. Act on your deep desire for the Lord to change you, enlarge your world, so that you see with clarity the things of God. Pray to the Lord to open your eyes to his message. The Bible comes alive when the Holy Spirit enriches the words for you to hear like never before. “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things.” Amen.