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  • Writer's pictureTim Hemingway

Why We Believe the Bible is the Word of God


"They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. Deuteronomy 32:47

Today marks the beginning of a new series at Riverside. And next time I speak will mark the beginning of a new series also. That is because the series we start today is intermittent and it will run the course of the year, God willing, and perhaps into next year also, whilst the one we start next time will be our fortnightly focus for the opening half of the year ahead.

I feel led of the Lord, that the series that will take up most of our focus in my ministry for the next 6 months should be the book of Job in the old testament and that’s where I intend to go next time.

But the series that I’m getting started today, and which will be intermittent, will be 9 messages long and will have a topical focus on each of the 9 statements in our Statement of Faith, which we adopted as a church last year. So that’s where were going this morning.

When we wrote, edited and adopted that statement of faith we were saying, to be a member at Riverside there are 9 statements about God, about us, about the church, about destinies and about the future that are so central to the Christian faith and so essential for our lives together as a God-honouring people that unless a person believe them – and I do mean believe, not mere mental ascent - they cannot be a member at Riverside.

This statement is not a set of rules. It is not a manifesto. It is a declaration about what we believe God has revealed to be true.

It is not an exhaustive document – that is to say, it does not contain allwe believe. But it does contain the basis of common belief, on which we as a church take our stand. On these 9 matters there is no variancebetween us who are members at Riverside.

This morning I want to preach about the first statement.

Our statement of faith, like most, starts with a statement about the Word of God.

It starts there because without the Word of God we cannot know enough to be saved.

We can know enough, without the book, to know that he is glorious and set apart and that we must esteem him over all others, but not enough to be saved.

Here’s Psalm 19:1, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’.

In other words, the divine excellencies of God - his awesome majesty and his surpassing greatness - are clearly seen in what has been made.

But, we cannot, by that revelation of nature – the stars, the mountains, the diversity of life - know in whom we must trust, to be right with him.

Romans 10:13, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?’

So, the word of God comes first because it makes God’s plan for rescuing us plain. In a way that it must be plain in order for us to be saved, and in a way that he has not seen fit to do in any other way.

Here’s how our statement about the Word of God reads: ‘We believe that the Bible, with its sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the complete, reliable and powerful Word of God to humanity. We believe that God inspired its writing, and that it is without error in the original manuscripts. We also believe it is the final rule of all of faith and life.’

Every part of the statement counts. There aren’t any throw away phrases in it. There aren’t any wasted words. Every part has a basis.

So, when we say ‘complete’, we mean not to be added to, ever. When we say ‘reliable’, we mean totally true and therefore totally dependable. When we say ‘powerful’, we mean capable of spiritual renovation. When we say ‘inspired’, we mean by the Holy Spirit of God. When we say ‘without error in the original manuscripts’ we mean that all the original copies of the biblical texts were perfect when they were written down. And when we say, ‘the final rule of faith and life’, we mean that it aloneis fit to govern all our behaviour, speech and attitudes.

Now, Paul and I could preach a message on each of those points. And I don’t doubt that if the Lord sees fit to establish Riverside long term – we pray that he will - that we will preach across the length and breadth of that statement and unpack the basis for all those clauses, but I have onemessage this morning. One message in which to give you a ground for confidence in the statement that we have adopted. One message to give you a foundation upon which to sit all the parts of our opening statement.

Which means, this morning, we have to get down to the essence of what cements God’s word for us as more than just a religious book. More than just a collection of stories. More than just a collection of moral teachings. More than just a history lesson. But rather, nothing less than the revelation from the one true and living God to humanity.

In Psalm 19 we heard that the glory of God is being spoken by the heavens. The idea is, that when you look up at the starry host and you are stunned by its beauty and majesty -when it takes your breath away, like it did for us this summer in the mountains - that it is telling you something of the magnitude of the majesty and beauty of the God who made it. Trillions of stars are not speaking for themselves, they’re speaking for God. They are telling the story of his glory!

That’s significant because, Hebrews 1:3 – as we heard a few weeks ago – tells us that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory. The exact representation of his glorious being.

And, it takes on more significance when we add in 2 Corinthians 4:4. It too calls Jesus the ‘image of God’ and tells us that the gospel – that is the good news about salvation in Jesus alone – displays to us – like the heavens display, here the gospel displays – the glory of Jesus.

That’s not all. It also says that the god of this age – Satan – blinds the minds of unbelievers so that they can’t see the glory.

So, according to 2 Corinthians 4:4, Satan – who is opposed to God and hates the idea that human beings could be reconciled to him – has the power to blind people to the very thing that would reconcile them to God. Namely, he has the power to blind them to the glory of Jesus. All of which means, seeing the glory of Jesus is essential to being saved.

Now when we say ‘the glory of Jesus’ we are not talking about his physical glory. Isaiah tells us very clearly that he had no beauty; no majesty in his appearance that we should be attracted to him.

Jesus was distinctly ordinary in his appearance – no more glorious than any other human being.

Neither, then, do we mean by ‘see the glory of Jesus’ that we beholdthat glory with our physical eyes. If his appearance has no glory, then our physical eyes cannot behold his glory either.

The eyes that Satan blind are what 2 Corinthians 4:4 call the ‘mind’ and what Ephesians 1:18 calls the ‘heart’. And the glory of Jesus is not physical but spiritual. So that, 2 Corinthians 4:6 can say, ‘God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts [the light overcomes the darkness] to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.’ Not in his physical face, but in his being – that’s what ‘face of Christ’ means here.

If you had encountered Jesus on earth what would your response have been? Think of the benefits of seeing him in the flesh.

You can understand why the crowds followed him. We know it wasn’t because of his good looks. We know it wasn’t because of the crown on his head, because he didn’t have one. We know it wasn’t because of his social media presence. So why did they follow him?

Because of the displays of glory. Every time he opened his mouth and spoke: glory! Every time he healed the sick: glory! Every time he raised the dead: glory! Every time he made bread out of nothing: glory! Displays of glory everywhere Jesus went. But would you have believedon him if you had seen him in the flesh?

He said, whoever believes on me shall have eternal life. Would you have believed?

The answer to that question is, it depends. It would have depended on the eyes of your heart not the eyes in your head.

Jesus said this very stark thing about some of the people who saw his miracles and heard his words, ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing they do not hear or understand’. And then he quoted a passage from Isaiah, ‘For this people’s heart has become calloused [hard]; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them’.

Seeing they did not see. They closed their eyes to the glory of Jesus which means they hardened their hearts against him in unbelief, and so they were not healed.

They beheld the glory and they did not love it! John gives the verdict: ‘Light has come into the world – that is, ‘the light of the gospel of the glory of Jesus’ – but, people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil’.

The love affair of our souls with darkness is the formidable foe against our believing in Jesus. Even when our physical ears hear of his glory and our physical eyes behold his glory. Formidable enough to take us to hell.

Would we have believed if we had seen and heard the glory? It depends what we were in love with – darkness or the Light. Satan is mighty good at making the darkness look glorious - like delicious fruit hanging at arm’s length.

Well, if those who beheld Jesus’ glory first-hand did not believe, then what chance have we got? And the answer is none – without, that is, a communication of his glory. Is that possible? It is. God has made it possible.

When Jesus saw the Jewish leaders studying the old testament scriptures because they thought that in them they would obtain eternal life, he observed that they missed the point.

The point of those scriptures was standing in their very midst, but they rejected him. Here’s what he said to them, ‘You study the scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to meto have life.

So, if they had, by faith, followed the written words of God, which Moses first started writing down, they would have arrived at Jesus and he would have given them life. As it was, they had the very thing those scriptures had spoken of right there in front of them and they beheld nothis glory.

This shows us that God can communicate the glory of Jesus in words that are sufficient for us to be saved, if we receive by faith the one they are testifying to.

God’s word is so authentic - so true as a testimony - that it conveys to us the glory of Jesus. And by embracing the glory of Jesus who we behold with the eyes of our hearts, we are saved.

‘Embracing’ is an affectional word for believing. John said, they didn’t love the light – that’s affectional. Satan wants to blind our eyes to the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ so that we don’t love the glory, because when we love, embrace, cherish, adore, the glory of Jesus we are believing in him. And so, we are saved.

We’re learning from Jesus here, that the scriptures - which speak of his glory in the physical absence of his glory - are powerful-enough a testimony for us to whole heartedly embrace his glory. And so, people can be saved, even though they have never beheld his glory in the flesh with physical eyes. ‘Because you have seen me, Jesus said, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’.

The psalmist who wrote the 176 verses of Psalm 119 refers to God’s Word by categories. Categories like commands, and precepts, and laws, and decrees, and statutes, but collectively they are God’s word.

Listen to some of the ways he talks about God’s word (some of these are slightly paraphrased). He says:

Verse 1 - I am blessed when I walk according to your law.

Verse 14 - I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in greatriches.

Verse 16 - I delight in your decrees, I will not neglect them.

Verse 20 - My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times.

Verse 30 - I have set my heart on your laws.

Verse 39 - Your laws are good.

Verse 40 - How I long for your precepts.

Verse 42 - I trust in your word.

Verse 48 - I reach out for your commands which I love.

Verse 50 - Your promise preserves my life.

Verse 52 - I remember, Lord, your ancient laws and I find comfort in them.

Verse 58 - I have sought your face in your promise with all my heart.

Verse 72 - The law from your mouth is more precious than thousandsof pieces of silver and gold.

Verse 96 - To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless.

Verse 103 - How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honeyto my mouth.

Verse 105 - Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.

Verse 111 - Your statutes are the joy of my heart.

Verse 114 - I have put my hope in your word.

Verse 120 - I stand in awe of your laws.

Verse 127 - I love your commands more than gold, more than puregold.

Verse 129 - Your statutes are wonderful.

Verse 131 - I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.

Verse 161 - My heart trembles at your word.

Verse 162 - I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil.

Verse 165 - I have great peace because I love your law.

That’s 25 different ways he finds to express the aching of his heart for the word of the Lord – there are more.

And I ask myself what is it about the Word of God that moves his emotions and raises his affections so diversely.

I do not think that we should assume that he is using poetic exaggeration. When he tells us that he ‘rejoices in following the Lord’s statutes as one rejoices in great riches’ or, ‘the law from your mouth is more precious than thousands of pieces of silver and gold’ the metaphors are being used to convey the magnitude of the affection that the word of God stirs in his heart, they are not overstatements.

And, do not confuse the emotions of the psalmist with the emotions of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The religious teachers were moved by the scriptures themselves – by their historicity, by their poetry, by their antiquity. The psalmist appreciates those things too, but it is notthe scriptures themselves that are the delight of his heart, it is the glories of the God that they convey that are his passion.

Just as it is not to be the glories of the cosmos that stir our affections when we look up into the night sky, so much as the glories of the one who made them. They speak to something greater. In the same way the scriptures testify to something greater than poetic excellence and historic accuracy.

I’ll show you from two verses that it is what the word of God communicates to the psalmist that overwhelms his soul and not the scriptures themselves.

First, verse 58: ‘I have sought your face with all my heart, be gracious to me according to your promise.’ The desire of his heart is plain – he seeks the glory of the face of God. Where will he find it? ‘Be gracious to me and reveal your face to me in your promise – in your word’.

And secondly, in the prayer of verse 18: ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law’. The law is not the main wonder, though it is wonderful. It is what the law points to and communicates that is supremely wonderful.

What is so compelling about this verse, is that it is the admission of a person who comes to the word of God sometimes with eyes that are blind, with a heart that does not love the light. This is not about comprehension with the intellect, this is about a yearning for glory that is veiled because of unbelief.

So, what is his approach? It is, ‘Lord, do a 2 Corinthians 4:6 on me. Cause your light to shine in my heart to give me the light of the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus’.

All the delight, joy, sweetness, light, thirst-quenching, soul-satisfaction, awe, peace, hope and wonder the psalmist expresses about the word of God he expresses because of the glories of God he finds in them.

In short then, the glories of God communicated to us through his word testify with our own spirit, illuminated by the Holy Spirit of God, that they are really the words of God. This way of knowing that the bible is the word of God is more compelling and more trustworthy than any historic-reasoning for the authenticity of the bible could ever be.

William Tyndale, born in England in 1494 and executed by strangulation and burning in 1536 – exactly my age now - was so compelled by the glories of God communicated through the scriptures that he made it his life-mission to put bibles in the hands of ordinary people which they could read. Until Tyndale, unless you read Latin you didn’t read the bible.

And, in reading it, that they, the ordinary people, could find their heavenly Father in it.

Here’s what he said,

‘Do you know who taught the eagles to find their prey? Well, that same God teaches His hungry children to find their Father in His Word.’

What compelled Tyndale to lay down his life for a book? It was not the beauty of its poetry, or the accuracy of its history. It was, but one thing, the glory of the God it testifies to.

So precious was the God those scriptures communicated to him that it was worth to him his life that you and I might share in enjoying the excellencies of the glory of God conveyed in these pages!


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