Sometimes I think it would be nice to have lived back in Biblical times. Do you ever think that? I mean, think what it must have been like to have heard Jesus’ actual voice. To have heard Jesus’ real words from Jesus’ own lips. And then think about the times he talked to people one-on-one. I mean, it would have been incredible enough just to have been a face in the crowd, just to be one of the people who heard Jesus’ message. To get singled out by Jesus, to have a time when the Son of God was just talking to me, to have a time when Jesus had a message specifically for me. That would be more incredible than almost anything I can imagine.
The thing is, Jesus does have a message specifically for me. He has a message specifically for you, too. As we come to the second in our sermon series, “God Has an App for That”, looking at the ways God gives us to help us get closer to God and to strengthen our faith, the one we’re going to look at today is the Bible. The Bible is God’s message, given specifically for you and me.
How many of us read that message? I’m not asking for a show of hands or anything, but just think about it. One of the things we claim to believe is that God inspired the writing of the Bible. It is God’s message to us. So how often do we actually read it?
Now, my goal here is not to make anyone feel guilty. I think guilt is a lousy motivator for us. My goal here is also not to point fingers. Before I became a pastor, I had some very long stretches in my life where I read the Bible seldom if at all. Even as a pastor, I’ve had some stretches where I did not read it other than what I had to read in order to do my job.
Also, I’ve said, and I continue to believe, that nowhere in the gospels can you find a time when Jesus commanded us to go and be Bible scholars. Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God and to love others. Those are the main things we’re supposed to do. If we were to say, “I don’t have time to go out and show love to people because I’ve got to read the Bible”, well, that would be a misuse of the Bible, don’t you think?
That’s not the only way we can misuse the Bible, of course. There are people who will use the Bible as a weapon. That’s what the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time, right? Jesus went out and showed love to people by healing them on the Sabbath, and the Pharisees said, “Hey, you’re not supposed to do that. It says right here in the Bible, you are to do no work on the Sabbath.” They were so worried about the strict interpretation of the rules that they missed the whole purpose of why the rules exist. As Jesus said, the rules are there to help us. They’re not there to keep us from showing love to each other. It’s a misuse of the Bible to look at it that way.
And then there are people who don’t believe, who’ll try to use the Bible to get us to go against God. That’s what Satan did when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Satan quoted the Bible to try to get Jesus to go against what God wanted. And there are people like that around today, too. There are lots of people who will quote the Bible to try to persuade us that our faith is nonsense and to try to get us to stop trusting God and stop believing in God.
You know why Jesus was able to resist Satan? Because Jesus knew the Bible even better than Satan did. For every quote that Satan could use to try to get Jesus to go the wrong way, Jesus could pull out a better one to resist.
And that’s one of the reasons why we need to read the Bible. Because the world is going to try to weaken our faith. Sometimes it will be people making a deliberate attempt to get us to give up on God. But other times, it’ll just be life that weakens our faith.
After all, we all have times when things are going wrong. We all have times when things go against us. We all have times when the world does not seem to make sense to us. We all have times when it seems like we’ve done our best to follow God and do what God wants us to do, and our reward for it seems to be that we get knocked down. And then we try to get up and we get knocked down again. And when that happens, it can be really hard for us to keep our faith strong.
But that’s why we need to read the Bible. Because when we do, we can see that nowhere does Jesus promise us that if we trust in God, we’ll have an easy life on earth. I do believe that trusting in God makes our lives better, but not necessarily in a physical or a material sense. Jesus certainly did not have an easy life on earth. Neither did the Apostle Paul. Neither did a lot of the Old Testament prophets. Neither did John the Baptist. Neither did more modern believers like Mother Theresa. The Christians in the Middle East who are being killed for their faith right now do not have an easy life. Again, that’s one of the ways the world uses to take away our faith. It tries to tell us that if God loves us God should make our lives easy on earth. But they cannot quote Jesus saying that, because he never did.
That does not mean, of course, that God will never help us while we’re on earth. I can think of many times God has helped me. I believe that God continues to help me every day of my life. But God does not owe it to me to help me. God does not owe me anything. And if God should ever choose to stop helping me on earth, I hope I would continue to believe in God and trust God, because that’s what faith is really about.
We read the words of Jesus today. These things Jesus said are part of his famous Sermon on the Mount, and are called the Beatitudes. That’s a fancy word that just means “the blessings”. Jesus was giving blessings to a lot of people, many of whom had been beaten down by life. The poor in spirit. Those who mourn. Those who are persecuted because of righteousness. Those who are insulted and slandered for their faith.
What did Jesus say to them? He did not say, “Don’t worry, I’ll solve all your problems and make you rich.” He said, basically, “Hang in there. It’ll be okay. God sees what you’re having to go through. And God will reward you for it. Your reward is the kingdom of God. Your reward is the kingdom of heaven.”
That’s why God gave us the Bible. God did not give us the Bible as a homework assignment. God did not give us the Bible as a weapon. God gave us the Bible to help us. God gave us the Bible to give us hope. God gave us the Bible so we would know that God sees what’s happening on this earth and that God cares about what’s happening on this earth. God gave us the Bible so we’d know that God will be with us every step of the way on this earth, through the ups and the downs and everything in-between. And God gave us the Bible so that we would know that, as long as we keep trusting God, God will take us through this life into the next life. And that’s a life in which we will never be beaten down. We will never be poor in spirit or in anything else. We will never mourn, or be persecuted, insulted, or slandered. In that life, we will have nothing but eternal peace and love and joy.
It can be intimidating to try to read the Bible if we’ve never done it, or even if we have. But it’s not supposed to be. The Bible is God’s gift to us. God wants us to read it. And God wants us to understand as much as we can about it.
So, get an easy-to-read translation of the Bible. If you want, I can give you some recommendations. Then, dig in. Don’t feel like you have to read it front to back right off. It’s okay to do it that way, but it’s okay to do it other ways, too. You can start with the gospels. You can start with the psalms. You can start with Paul’s letters. You can start with the proverbs. You can even start by getting a book of the best-known or best-loved Bible verses. Start with whatever way works for you. But start. Open up this gift that God has given us.
We’re not required to read the Bible to get to heaven. We get to heaven by God’s love and mercy and grace and through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. But reading the Bible can help make our faith stronger. Reading the Bible can help us feel God’s love and mercy and grace. So use the app God has given us. Read the Bible. And feel the hope, both for this life and the next one.