God’s written Word - the Bible - has been given through the Holy Spirit, as "light" to all mankind. It is the living Word of Jesus, who IS the light of all the world, as we saw in part one last week. It is THE "lighthouse" for the stormy and frightening sea of this world - the only way to the shore for safety.. It is the compass, the point of reference for all humanity. So many analogies could be made, and still not remotely express the importance of the Bible. It is the only way home (John 1:1,9-11)...
True Christians, as God’s children, are to reflect this Light, setting an example to the world. We are to do so by striving to live by the written Word, as empowered by the Holy Spirit in Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). The written word without the Spirit in the word, would be a form of tyranny, which would be powerless to affect a permanent change in human nature, and would eventually only end in death (2 Corinthians 3:6-10).
The question often arises concerning how one should approach the Bible - where to begin - Old Testament (Old Covenant is better...), New Testament (or Covenant...), etc. To some extent this depends upon who is attempting to approach the Bible. What follows is a VERY simple framework for approaching the study of God’s Word for those, whether Christian or not, who want to increase their understanding. This is one of many choices for beginning to draw near to the Bible. It is this writer’s belief that a good place to begin is at "...the beginning...". That is what the first book of the Bible says in essence - It is saying "this is the beginning"! Unless we start at the beginning, it will be very difficult for many to run back and forth, and try to fill in all the blanks what will inevitably show up later. There is a better chance of answering the questions such as where, when, and why by taking it as it is arranged in the Bible. As we go along, please keep in mind this is a very brief outline - a simple way to grasp the overview of the questions of what, where, when, and why regarding this most amazing book called the Bible.
God did not make up the Bible as events occurred. He must have sometime in eternity past planned the structure of the Bible in relation to His plan to create beings in His own image to share His life, glory, and fellowship. He decided He would separate His Book into two parts, which in general represent His record and messages applying to two time segments of the one divine plan - these being the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, God began immediately to implement the plan to redeem the creatures He created in His own image, and to restore the process of continuing the molding of them until they could eventually be made immortal. It was a very ambitious plan, by human standards - possibly to take thousands of years. The Bible is the story - in advance - of this magnificent creation act of an almighty, holy, righteous, and loving God! The entire Old Covenant is the story of the first part of His "work-in-progress". A covenant is, simply speaking, a mutual agreement. There were many "covenants" between God and certain members of mankind during the period of the Old Covenant. They were all sooner or later broken by all of MANKIND, although God revealed His will in simple "yes" and "no" terms - the yes and no of God (Micah 6:8; Proverbs 6:16-19).
Through intricate detail, like the weaving of a tapestry, God PROVED over and over, and over again that mankind’s "way" would not provided health, wealth, and happiness. There were villains, wins and losses, wars and suffering seemingly without a letup. Woven into the saga are accounts of God sending prophets of warning, encouragement. Some of these prophecies are yet to be fulfilled in our time, and in the future. Man did not - could not - direct his own steps (Jeremiah 10:23). God gave Israel perfect laws to live by, in order for them to be able to "reflect" God’s goodness to other nations. They failed. God disciplined them. They failed. He punished them. He waited patiently. They failed - over, and over, and over. They blew hot and cold. They promised and promised, seemingly sincerely oftentimes - at other times, not so sincerely, but self-servingly. God offered every conceivable incentive - fear of punishment and hope of reward (the argument goes on today), that could evoke or create a change in the nature of Israel.
After giving them kings as they requested - some righteous (David, etc.), some the worst of tyrants, God said "It is enough". It is enough to PICTURE TO ALL MANKIND that mankind does not have inherently within him the will or the ability to rule himself. He cannot rule himself personally, or corporately as part of a nation. Why could not Israel, or any other nation, group, clan, tribe, or individual rule themselves and bring about what they all supposedly wanted - freedom, prosperity, happiness, peace, and freedom from the fear and tyranny of death itself (Hebrews 2:15)? Finally, God sent them into captivity, to be disbursed among the nations of the world. Except for the tribe of Judah and parts of one or two others, all the other tribes of Israel are absorbed into history. God had certainly made His point.
THE "FLAW" UNDER THE OLD COVENANT WAS THAT THERE WAS NO POWER TO ENABLE A PERMANENT CHANGE IN HUMAN NATURE.
Something was missing...
In the last few books of the Old Covenant are strong indications of a final judgment upon, and yet a future hope and a permanent solution to the almost incomprehensible problems, sufferings, and failures of the human race (Malachi 4:1-3). In the Old Covenant we see a capsule of the real nature of humankind. And it all started with disobedience. As the result of this disobedience, this became a natural propensity of generations to follow. Disobedience indelibly stamped man’s nature with a fatal flaw. There was - and is - NO HOPE for the good that we all want, down deep. TRULY - "it is not in man to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).
But - God’s plan is only half finished...!
Hopefully we can see from this very compressed summary the first half (more or less) of the big picture of God’s great plan in creating the human race. In all of His creating - the universe, and whatever exists in infinity past and present - MANKIND IS INTENDED TO BE THE CENTERPIECE OF IT ALL. But there is no possibility of even beginning to comprehend the WHY of past, present, and future unless the One who made it, reveals it. He has. It is written down. And those words LIVE - in the Bible! As we see from the Old Covenant, SOMETHING WAS MISSING...and God spent much time, planning, and effort to prove that there was a missing element. At one point in the history of Israel, God comments that He wondered that there was no one to intercede (Isaiah 59:16), to which He affirms that HE will intercede. In this occurrence we have a hint of the final part of God’s plan to save humanity, and give eternal life. The whole universe, all of past, present, and future creation waits for this grand design to be completed!
The New Covenant, beginning in the Bible with the book of Matthew, is somewhat of a misnomer. It is "new", but in another way it is still the Old Covenant with some exceptions and additions. The first four books record the coming and the work and teaching of Jesus Christ. Within the "New Covenant" is the inclusion of the "something...missing" of the Old Covenant. God affirms that substitutional sacrifices, whether literal or in principle, could not permanently remove the proclivity to disobey God (which is the road to self-destruction), or to affect real justice. So the "something missing" was two-fold: there was no mechanism to completely erase the offence (Hebrews 10:1-4), and there was no "intercessor" who was worth enough to blot out the offence, and to empower against further offences. There was a missing link.
Jesus is that "missing Link"...!
God the Father sent His Son to enter into His own creation in order to be and to perform ALL that was "missing" in the Old Covenant, which involves more than can be covered here. It is time to let God's Word speak to you personally:
"Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you did not desire nor did you take delight in them (which are offered according to the law),then he says, Here I am: I have come to do your will, He does away with the first to establish the second. By his we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands day after serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again – sacrifices that can never take away sins. But when this had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, where he is now waiting until His enemiies were made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy. And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds; then he says, 'their sins and lawless deeds I will remember no longer.' Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin." - Hebrews 10:8-18 NET
The books of the New Covenant (Testament) also contain messages of correction, encouragement, and guidance for congregations and churches living out this "new" WAY. Living under the New Covenant is freedom - freedom from quilt and condemnation. We, through Jesus living in us, can NOW have the POWER to be obedient and to REMAIN OBEDIENT which was not possible under the Old Covenant (Galatians 5:13-26)! Now, our sins are covered when we fail, and we have Jesus living in us to cause us to grow and to PERMANENTLY CHANGE! God's purpose is - and always has been, to change our nature - thereby healing the breach in the Garden or Eden.
Now there IS an Intercessor! And now there IS an Enabler...!
God the Father allowed Jesus Christ to become the permanent sacrificial Lamb, whose blood will FOREVER expunge the sins, the mistakes, the failures of all who will come to Him. When Jesus died, the other member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit came to ENABLE those who have come to Jesus in repentance of their sins to KEEP THE LAWS IN THE OLD COVENANT IN THEIR SPIRITUAL INTENT, in a way that those living under the Old Covenant could not (1 John 5:1-5). Some of the Old Covenant laws (food laws, the keeping of days and certain festivals, etc.) were no longer necessary, and although not wrong under the New Covenant, were no longer binding (Acts 15:27-29). The sacrificial system that God instituted in Israel was no longer needed - Jesus is now the eternal sacrificial Lamb for all eternity for all who will come to Him! Now - LOVE in Christ, and Christ in us, fulfils the law (Romans 13:10). Now, when we sin through ignorance or weakness, His rightousness in us is accepted as our rightousness, and through Jesus' intercession (Hebrews 7:25), we are always forgiven (John1:5-10). Even when we feel in our heart a sense of quilt for sin of commission or omission, His sacrafice and love is greater...(1 John 3:18-21). Now we can grow and overcome. Although we will never be "perfect", we will mature in right relationship of love with God. We are considered rightous - we can now be resurrected to eternal life!
To close the record of the New and Old Covenants, there is the book of Revelation. This book contains much symbolism, history - past and future. Generally, it is the story of how God’s grand plan is completed. Perhaps billions upon billions of mankind given immortality, living in a new earth, in splendor and glory indescribable - forever and forever!
There are many more details. But I pray that these two short articles will cause you, dear reader, to ponder the greatness of the Word of God, and especially the One who wrote it, and know that He only is worthy of your love, submission, and obedience. He has already loved you to the uttermost...Amen!
THE "NEW" BEGINNING...
"THEN I saw a new sky (heaven) and a new earth, for the former sky and the former earth had passed away (vanished), and there no longer existed any sea. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, all arrayed like a bride beautified and adorned for her husband; Then I heard a mighty voice from the throne and I perceived its distinct words, saying, See! The abode of God is with men, and He will live (encamp, tent) among them; and they shall be His people, and God shall personally be with them and be their God. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more, neither shall there be anguish (sorrow and mourning) nor grief nor pain any more, for the old conditions and the former order of things have passed away." - Revelation 21:1-4
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