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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
 www.smithvillecanrc.ca
 
Preached At:Yarrow Canadian Reformed Church
 Yarrow, BC
 yarrow.canrc.org
 
Title:God has Given us the Truth
Text:LD 6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:All of scripture points to Jesus Christ
 
Preached:2009-11-15
Added:2009-12-09
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 12:4,5     

Hy 1B

Ps 85:3,4

Ps 19:3,4

Ps 119:40; Hy 29:1,2

Jeremiah 28

Isaiah 44:24-28

Lord's Day 6.19

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

 

We say that God created the world, that we fell into sin, that God hates sin and punishes it, that He has given His Son to take the punishment in our place.  But: how do you know it’s all really true??  That’s a question we all struggle with from time to time.  Might it be that we’re deceived?  How do you know?!

This, brothers and sisters, is the material of Question & Answer 19.  “From where do you know all this?”, asks this Question, and the word ‘this’ in Q 19 refers to the material we’ve confessed in the previous Lord's Days, including our creation, the fall, God’s terrible judgment, and deliverance in Jesus Christ.  With this Question & Answer the Catechism has us confess how we know the truth of what we believe.  We know, says the Lord's Day, because God revealed it.  And that, of course, throws the question straight back at us: how do you know that that is true??

I summarize the sermon this afternoon with this theme:

WE KNOW THE TRUTH BECAUSE THE GOD OF TRUTH HAS TOLD US.

1.       Where does the Bible come from?

2.       How did the Bible get here?

3.       What consequence follows?

1.  Where does the Bible come from?

The term ‘Bible’ comes from the Greek word ‘biblia’, which in turn means “books” – plural.  That’s what the Bible is: a library of 66 separate books, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.  They’re traditionally wrapped inside one set of covers so that we call this single book the ‘Bible’.  But questions arise right away.  How did this Bible come to be?  Why are the particular books currently in the Bible actually in it?  Could we add others?

These questions are in the air today.  Some of you will be familiar with Dan Brown’s bestselling book The Da Vinci Code.  Dan Brown popularized a notion that’s been floating around for many years, namely, that Jesus Christ was a great but obviously human teacher whose teachings his followers wanted to immortalize for personal advantage.  So, he says, in the course of years these followers developed legends to talk up the greatness of their hero, and in the course of time these legends found a place in several books.  According to Brown Emperor Constantine (he’s the first Christian emperor) had the Council of Nicea in 325 decide which books should be in the Bible, and so gave place to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but tossed out the gospel of Thomas even though in Brown’s opinion it’s the more accurate and reliable account of who Jesus Christ actually was….  It’s fiction as this that raise so many questions in modern minds as to how you know whether the Bible is true and so whether it’s teachings need to be followed.  Where, then, did the Bible come from?

To focus the question, I’d ask you to consider the two main figures of Jeremiah 28, the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah.  Suppose you were an Israelite in Jerusalem at the time of these two prophets, and you heard them both speak.  Both claim to speak from God, with the one saying that the exile will be over within two years, and the other saying it will not be so; in fact, the second prophet says the first one will be dead within the year.  How do you know which one is right?  Why??

The answer to that question is this: who sent these two prophets?  That is: who stands behind them, who told them what to say?  That question, of course, is critically important.  Why?  Hananiah says that within two years the exile will be over (vs 3f), and that’s certainly a tempting prophecy to believe.  But it did not pan out that way; the exile lasted another 70 years.  Jeremiah says that within one year Hananiah will be dead (vs 16), and that’s not a nice prophecy to believe.  But it turned out that way; Hananiah died two months later.  Why did the prophecy of the one pan out and not the prophecy of the other?  Jeremiah’s prophecy panned out, brothers and sisters, because Jeremiah spoke words he received from the God who controls all history.  Hananiah’s prophecy did not turn out because he spoke words sucked from his imagination.  That is the fundamental difference between all true prophecy and false: does the word the prophet speaks come from the same God who controls history or not?

So then: is there evidence that the Bible comes from the God who controls history?  That is: does this Bible in fact come from heaven, or is it actually simply the product of very good human imagination?  Here I challenge you to join me in looking at the evidence.

Consider the passage we read from Isaiah 44.  The Speaker in the passage identifies Himself as “the Lord, who made all things…” – and that, we understand, is a reference to creation.  He adds that He “foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners” (vs 25), but who also “carries out the words of His servants and fulfills the predictions of His messengers” (vs 26).  That, of course, is easy enough to say.   Does it happen this way though?  Look at vs 26b: God announces through Isaiah that Jerusalem “shall be inhabited” and its ruins restored.  More, God adds in vs 28 the name of the man who is going to bring out the rebuilding of Jerusalem; that’s going to be a certain ‘Cyrus’.

The thing is: Isaiah is prophesying around the year 730 BC, while Sennacherib of Assyria was threatening Jerusalem.  Isaiah prophesies of the fall of Jerusalem that will happen 140 years later by the hand of the Babylonians, in 587 BC.  More, he speaks of Cyrus whom God will raise up as king in the Medo-Persian Empire some fifty years after Jerusalem falls, so, some 200 years after Isaiah’s own time.  You will know enough from history to realize that Jerusalem did fall to the Babylonians and a king named Cyrus did arise amongst the Persians who commanded the rebuilding of Jerusalem (in the days of Ezra).  So there’s the question: how was Isaiah able to prophecy of an event that would happen 200 years later?  Was the fact that his prophecy was so accurate just a fluke?  You might get away with that answer if his predictions of what would happen was correct just the one time.  But his writing contains so much more prophecy of what’s to happen, and it always pans out as he prophesied.  How do you explain that?

There are, brothers and sisters, two possible explanations.  The one is that the God who controls and directs history actually told Isaiah what was going to happen (so that His people Israel might be comforted and encouraged), and Isaiah obediently wrote it down.  That is exactly what Isaiah 44 says, “I am the Lord … who carries out the words of His servants and fulfills the predictions of His messengers” (vs 26).  Then it’s a question of watching history unfold and seeing whether the God who says He controls all things can actually prove that He controls all things by making happen what He said He’d make happen.  Such evidence would prove in turn both that God controls all things and that Isaiah’s prophecy actually came from God Himself – and so was believe-able.

The other possible explanation is that Isaiah’s prophecy is not from the Isaiah who prophesied 200 years before Cyrus’ birth, but is actually from another man who lived after the days of Cyrus and wrote chapter 44 after the events it wants to describe actually happened.  So: Isaiah 44 pretends to be from Isaiah, and pretends to be prophecy, but in fact it is history; the prophecy is just deception….  We recognize that that’s the language of unbelief and the necessary consequence of insisting that there is no God in heaven big enough to control world history.

I am not aware of any historical evidence outside the Bible that confirms the Bible’s insistence that Isaiah 44 was actually written two centuries before Cyrus appeared.  From a purely scientific perspective it would appear possible that Isaiah 44 was written after the days of Cyrus by someone pretending to be Isaiah….

That, however, is distinctly different when it comes to the book of Daniel.  Daniel was an exile from Jerusalem living in Babylon from around 600 BC to 530 BC.  He wrote about events that would take place hundreds of years later, including the rise of the Greek empire under Alexander the Great in 333 BC, and the rise of the Roman Empire in the days of Jesus Christ.  He wrote too of many smaller kingdoms in the time between the Greek Empire and the rise of the Roman Empire, specifically that of Antiochus Epiphanes, and did so with striking precision.  So precise is he in describing what was going to happen that unbelieving historians are 100% adamant that certain chapters of Daniel were written after the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.

But: the simple, historical fact is that evidence abounds from sources outside the Bible that the book of Daniel, including its prophecies about Antiochus Epiphanes, existed before Ephiphanes did!  In the providence of God scrolls were found some 50 years ago in the caves of Qumran that demand the conclusion that Daniel’s prophecy is older than the events Daniel describes.[1]

 

The point is this.  We have our questions as to whether the Bible is true in what it says about creation, about the fall into sin, about redemption in Jesus Christ, etc.  Yet the Bible carries within itself the evidence of its truthfulness.  It claims to come from the God who controls the world, the God who determines what tomorrow will look like.  The Bible supports that claim by listing prophecies of what’s going to happen, and then asking the reader to check whether those prophecies have in fact come to pass.  The reader is left to conclude that “even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled” – as the Belgic Confession neatly puts it in Article 5.  By the providence of God there is evidence in His wider world supporting the truth claims of the Bible.

The question is: do you care, do you dare, to believe that evidence?  For it’s true: if there is no evidence to support your conviction that the Bible is true, how can you really know it’s true?!  If it’s not true on matters of history (or science or archaeology, etc), why should it be true and reliable on matters of creation or salvation?  But if the Bible in fact comes from sovereign God Himself –and that’s the obvious implication of its prophecies coming to pass in the course of years– then its content is true in all it says.  For the God of the Bible does not lie or change.  So we’re encouraged to believe its content.

That brings us to our second point:

2.  How did the Bible get here?

The question we need to consider now is: what process did the Lord God use to get the Bible to His people?  How did it get the shape it has – with its 66 books in total, with history, poetry, letters, prophecies, and so much more?  Is it in fact true, as Dan Brown would have us believe, that people one day sat around a table to decide which books were in and which were out?

Concerning the Old Testament, it turns out that we do not know the details of how its 39 books came to be accepted as the Word of God.  There is no record of any decision anyone made on the point.  Instead, the complete Old Testament appears on the pages of history as a complete book. 

The New Testament is, at bottom, no different.  Dan Brown’s claim that Constantine had the Synod of Nicea in 325 make a decision as to which books to include and which to turf out is historically simply false.  What is true is that the churches of the time discovered that they were all agreed as to which books belonged in the New Testament and which not – and the church father Athanasius eventually listed which books these were.  We realise: taking note of which books the churches were using as God’s New Testament Word is a different thing than the churches deciding which books were God’s Word.  This, then, is the point: the churches received what the Lord God through His providence put on their path.  He gave them the 39 books of the Old Testament, and gave them also the 27 of the New.  No one decided these 66 were God’s Word; the church instead acknowledged the 66 God gave were His Word.  That is why the Belgic Confession says in Article 5, “We receive all these [66] books, and these only, as holy and canonical….”

Still, how did we get this Bible?  Our Lord's Day speaks about God ‘revealing’ something in Paradise.  And it is here, indeed, that we need to begin.[2]

It pleased the Lord God to create a world, with man as the crown of His creation.  Then God did something every bit as marvellous and delightful as His creating work itself was, for He condescended to speak to this man-made-of-dust.  Think about it: holy, sovereign, eternal God shared ideas with finite, limited man!  What God said?  He told him he could help himself to any tree of the garden, but not that one over there (Genesis 2:17).  He no doubt told him too how God had made man, how He’d made the world.  He gave him a wife, and told him how to live together.  The Creator spoke to the creature – something He certainly did not have to do! 

After Adam’s fall into sin God did not cease contact with man, but continued to share His thoughts with the fallen creature.  He told Adam of the redemption He would work through the seed of the woman, told him too that from now on life would know thorns and thistles, toil and sweat, grief and death (Genesis 3:15ff).  Did it turn out that way?  That is, did sovereign God speak truthfully?  And did He keep the word He spoke?  Our own lives are full of confirmation of God’s words; we experience daily that life knows so much sweat and tears, thorns and thistles, grief and death.  It cannot be otherwise; sovereign God has spoken, and His identity as God dictates that His words are accurate.  In the years that followed He spoke from time to time with Cain, with Noah, with Abraham, etc.  But it was with Moses that God spoke face to face.  That’s the passage we read from Numbers 12:

“When a prophet of the Lord is among you,

I reveal Myself to him in visions,

I speak to him in dreams.

But this is not true of My servant Moses;

He is faithful in all my house.

With him I speak face to face,

Clearly and not in riddles;

He sees the form of the Lord” (vss 6-8).

Recall: holy God had established His covenant with the people of Israel so that this undeserving nation was His people.  He had spoken with them on the mountain when He gave the 10 commandments, but the people found God’s direct speaking to them to be too overwhelming.  So the Lord set Moses aside as the specific man to whom He would speak, and Moses would pass on God’s word to the people (Exodus 20:18f; Deuteronomy 5:23ff; Deuteronomy 18:14ff).  How gracious of God!

But consider, then: when the Lord God spoke to Moses, and Moses in turn passed that word on to the people, how were the people to respond?  That’s clear enough: the people were to listen, to obey.  They were to listen and obey not because Moses was such an impressive persona (which may or may not have been the case), but they were to accept his Word because behind Moses was God Himself.  Equally, when Moses later wrote down what God told him to say to the people, and the Levites on another occasion read out loud what Moses had written, the people were to receive it humbly and reverently simply because what they were hearing were the words of God Himself.  This God guided the tongue of the man Moses to speak His words, and this God equally guided the pen of the man Moses to write His words.  Once Moses died the people still had God’s Word as He had given it through Moses, for a written record lasts long after the writer is buried.  And always it was to be treated with respect because of its divine origin.

After Moses’ death prophets arose in Israel who spoke God’s words, people like Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and so many more.  Prophets arose in Israel too who claimed to speak God’s word, but in fact they did not speak God’s word.  How were the people to know whether a prophet actually spoke from God?  It’s a question God Himself answers in Deuteronomy 18: “You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’”  God’s answer: “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.  That prophet has spoken presumptuously.  Do not be afraid of him” (vss 21ff).

Intriguing.  In His revelation to Israel through Moses, the Lord made plain how He was going to act.  If the people would obey Him, He would bless; if they would disobey, He would curse (Leviticus 26).  Any prophet, then, who proclaims blessings upon a sinning and unrepentant people could simply not be speaking from God, could not be a true prophet.  That’s why it should not be a puzzle for the people of Jeremiah’s day to write off Hananiah as a false prophet; his wonderful prediction of relief from exile within two years could not be true because that prophecy did not agree with what God had earlier said.

Why is this point important?  It is important, congregation, because your God is not a God of surprises!  Through Moses He told Israel the full picture of how He would deal with His people, what the gospel of redemption in Jesus Christ actually is, how His people are to live, etc.  Anything God says to His people after Moses is not new material in the sense that God is off on a different track, but it is the old material further unfolded.  That is why there cannot be any contradictions between God’s earlier revelation and His later revelations.  Any prophet who says something new or different, any writing that says something new or different than what the Lord has revealed through Moses is not from heaven and so may have no absolute authority among hearers.

So: when Jesus Christ, our chief Prophet and Teacher, came to earth, He did not say anything new, did not present a different God than Moses had spoken of.  Jesus Christ instead took the words of God through Moses and opened them up more clearly so that God’s intent and God’s plan became more clear to the people.  The apostle Paul did not write new material either, but elaborated on God’s earlier revelation as he’d received it from Moses and the prophets and as the Lord Jesus Christ had explained it further.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not invent stories about Jesus Christ and present them as true, for if they’d tried that they would have been laughed out of town; there were too many witnesses of Jesus’ work to correct them….[3]

So: why did the church accept what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote as words from God?  Why did the church accept Paul’s words as divine?  (See 1 Thessalonians 2:13)  The church accepted it as God’s word not by some human decision, be it Paul’s insistence or a synod’s vote or an emperor’s decree, but the church accepted it as God’s word because the words of Paul and the words of Luke and the words of John conformed fully with what God had earlier revealed when He spoke face to face with Moses.  The New Testament does not have a different message than the old, but unpacks more clearly what’s hidden in the old.  That’s why you have to read the Old Testament to understand the New Testament, and you have to read the New Testament to understand the old.

Allow me here an illustration.  When next spring a tulip comes out of the ground, you see a stalk with a swollen bud on top.  That bud is green, with perhaps a couple red lines indicating the colour of the flower that shall be.  We all understand that this plant is a complete tulip, long before the bud breaks open into the full flower.  We also realize that nothing will be added to the plant to make it into the beautiful flower it shall become.  The thing is already complete; all it needs is time to mature into its full beauty.

So it is with the Bible.  The good news of God’s redeeming grace in Jesus Christ is all there, in Paradise already.  Well does the Catechism put it: “God Himself first revealed [this gospel] in Paradise,” in the promise of the victory of the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent.  But it took time for the bud to swell, and that’s what happens when God “later … had it proclaimed by the patriarchs and prophets, and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law.”  Eventually, that swelling bud burst into full flower in the days of Jesus Christ, when the Saviour went to the cross, crushed the evil one, and atoned for sin.  Always it’s the same flower, with the same message.

 

So now we’re back to our first point.  How do you know the Bible is true?  How can you be certain that evolution is wrong and creation is right, certain that God tolerates no evil, certain that He sent His Son to pay for sin, certain that He is your God?  Why, beloved, He spoke to finite, sinful man, told man how things are, told man what He would do, and this speaking is recorded in the Bible.  Time and again there is prophecy in the Bible of what shall be, and time and again history books demonstrate that the Bible’s prophecies have come to pass.  For the living God controls what happens in His world!

Then yes, without faith you cannot read the book of nature accurately.  Indeed, without faith you’re not wanting to see the evidence that the Bible comes from God – and so it’s message is true and reliable.  And that can only mean that one must repent and believe….

Is the Bible true?  Your Father in Jesus Christ would not leave you walk in the dark, uncertain about the truth of things.  Your Father would have you instead know the facts as they are.  That’s why He told you.  So: treasure your Bible.  This book is unique, for it alone comes from God Himself.

 



[1] See RK Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), pg 1126f.  See also Bruce Waltke, “The Date of the Book of Daniel”, in Bibliotheca Sacra, Volume 133, No. 532.

[2] See Jakob vanBruggen, Het Kompas van het Christendom (Kampen: Kok, 2003), 54ff.

[3] See Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, pg 101ff.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2009, Rev. C. Bouwman

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