I want us to pray before I begin, so let's bow before the Lord and ask His help. I want you to pray for me, but I would like you to pray for yourself, that God might speak to you this morning. Let us pray:
Our Father in heaven, we come to You in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We bless You for Him, we bless You for everything that it means to come to You in His name, and to pray in His name. That is our desire, Lord, to be in agreement with the Lord Jesus, everything that He is, everything that He has accomplished for us. We want to be praying according to Your will in Christ. So we plead and claim everything that He is, that He says, and that He has done. We ask You, Lord, that the power of God might come upon us today through the Lord Jesus, by the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit. Lord, we just wait upon You for a moment, wanting You, Lord, to know that we are seeking Your face. We want to have a Divine encounter, we want to meet with God. Please, Lord, we ask: deliver us from all evil, but deliver us from the evil of formalism, deliver us from the evil of form without power. Please Lord, we ask You. May we receive no substitutes today for the sweetness and the fragrance of Your presence, please, Lord, we cry to You from our hearts which are cold, and at times are empty, and are in need of a touch from You. Lord, would You come, and would You meet with us? Whatever our needs are - Lord, there might be those here that don't know You as Father, and the Lord Jesus as Saviour, and we pray that You will reveal Yourself to them today. We cannot do that, Lord, we ask You please to come, by the Holy Spirit, and bring that illumination and enlightenment and revelation. But Lord, for all of us, we all need You, and we pray that the entrance of Your word will bring light, and Your truth will revolutionise our minds and our spirits. So come, Lord, we pray now, we need You, Lord, to come and have Your way. We're not going to dictate to You what You do, or how You do it, so, Lord, we just say: come. We take authority in the name of the Lord Jesus over every ungodly presence that would seek to rob us of the presence of God. We rebuke you in the name of the Lord, we command you to desist from what you're trying to do, and we bind you in Jesus' name. We ask, Father, that You will release all the power of the Holy Spirit through the Word. Lord, we don't want to be left behind in any shape or form today, we want You to have Your way with us, we want to be clay in Your hands for You to mould us and have Your will and Your purpose in our lives. So come, Lord, may You invade this space, be Lord of this moment, be Lord of this space, this environment now, and be Lord of our lives and have Your way. For we declare today that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, in whose name we pray, Amen.
Now let me say a few things. The first is: I'm not going to preach on what I said I was going to preach on. I announced last week that I was going to preach on the parables that compare and contrast those who think that they have gotten into the kingdom with those who Jesus says actually do get into the kingdom. Last week, you remember, we were in Matthew 25, and we looked at the parable of the ten virgins - and we're going to continue that next week, not the ten virgins, but the other parables that I mentioned, the wheat and the tare, and the parable of the dragnet. We're going to continue those next week and the following week. But very forcibly on Monday morning, I was meeting with the Lord in my normal quiet time, and He really impressed upon me to do something different just now. Now it's not always easy to do that, because you can end up looking very foolish! I think sometimes that's the Lord's plan, to make us look a little foolish - but the Lord has done this in times in the past, He has asked me to do something a bit different, and you're quite scared about it, and it all turns out well - because if He is asking us to do it, it will. But that's after the event, when it turns out well it feels good, not so much before!
Let me explain where I'm coming from - and I really believe the Lord is going to do something special this morning. I said last week that my New Year's resolution is to read the Bible as if I had never read it before. That's very hard to do, and we all have our presuppositions, and so we tend to come to Scripture with those rose tinted glasses on, and we see everything through that which we have believed before. But I'm trying my best, as far as is humanly possible, to not do that - to come to the Bible as if I had never read it before. But I also expressed the conviction last week that most people have never truly read the Bible, certainly in that capacity. I fear, sadly, that for most Christian believers today, they are not reading their Bibles. Now I know that this is usually an evangelistic moment in the life of Scrabo, and don't worry - I believe that anybody that's not a Christian here this morning is not going to miss the message - but it's going to be a message for everyone here today, because I'm going to encourage you to read the Bible, but in a different way. I read a poem this week, and it goes like this - it's called 'I Thought I Knew My Bible':
'Yes I thought I knew my Bible,
Reading piecemeal, hit or miss.
Now a part of John or Matthew,
Then a bit of Genesis,
Certain chapters of Isaiah,
Certain Psalms (the twenty-third!);
First of Proverbs, twelfth of Romans.
Yes, I thought I knew the Word!
But I found that thorough reading
Was a different thing to do,
And the way was unfamiliar
When I read my Bible through.
You who like to play at Bible,
Dip and dabble, here and there,
Just before you kneel, all weary,
Yawning through a hurried prayer;
You who treat this Crown of Writings
As you treat no other book -
Just a paragraph disjointed,
Just a crude impatient look -
Try a worthier procedure,
Try a broad and steady view;
You will kneel in awesome wonder
When you read the Bible through!'
I've said, and maybe it's too great a generalisation, that most are not reading the Bible - and most Christians, I believe, are not reading it, certainly in large chunks. If we're honest, we might take a little portion that some daily devotional reading gives us, if we are even doing that - I fear that that's the minority, that even have times with God - but if we are doing that, we may have sort of a 'Daily Light', or 'Our Daily Bread' (and I'm not despising those things), but they are not substitutes for getting to grips with what the Bible says. Now you might say: 'Well, what are you saying, that we have to read the Bible through in a year?', that's a very worthy occupation, but I'm not saying that you should do that. You should read the Bible at the pace that you can digest it. So, however long it takes you, you spend time reading the Bible. But I fear that when we are not reading the Bible as we ought to read it, as we would read any other book, we are not getting the message of God - it's as simple as that. As generations pass, of professing believers who are not reading the Bible in such a fashion, we are losing things.
If you're inquisitive about a truth or a doctrine, what do you do initially? Now be honest: what do you do? Do you decide: 'Well, I'm going to read the New Testament now from start to finish, and find out what the Bible has to say about this'? That's not what you do, you probably Google it, or you go to Ards or some other bookshop, or on Amazon, and you find out a book about the subject, and then you start to delve into what men have said about these particular truths and doctrines. I have done that, in fact there's a rather wonderful series called 'Four Views', some of them are five, some of them even seven, of everything. If you're wanting to know about eternal security, or you're wanting to know about the second coming of Jesus, or you're wanting to know about divorce and remarriage, every single debated subject that you could think of in Christendom, there is a series that says three, four, five, six, seven views - however many there are - on each of these subjects. You can just lift this book down, paperbacks all of them, and you can read - and I have found from experience that you will be even more confused at the end of it all than you were at the beginning! I've done it for some time, and I believe I heard the voice of God - not audibly - but saying to me, whispering to me as I was looking into various subjects of late, over the last number of months, I believe I heard God saying: 'I have a good book on that'.
Some of the most revolutionary times in human history were when the church read the Bible, and actually heeded what it said. Take the Reformation, for instance, 'Sola Scriptura', and the great discovery of justification by faith alone that freed and delivered many in the church from a works-based salvation. What I want to appeal to you today to do is: let the Bible speak in your life, in the church, from the pulpit. And so my New Year's resolution, as I've said, is to read the Bible as a new book. So I want us to do that - and this is what I believe God has led me to do with you this morning, and you can test it whether you feel it's of God or not.
I want you now to imagine that you're in the early church. This is a bit of an experiment, but I want you to imagine you're in some church, maybe in Asia Minor, and we have met fulfilling Acts 2:42, to hear the apostles' doctrine, to have fellowship together, to observe the breaking of bread, and to engage in prayers - probably, I think, that was done at the one gathering on a Sunday evening. So we are met, and it is announced that a letter has been received from none other than the apostle John. You remember that this is the man who walked with Jesus, the man who saw Jesus die, saw the resurrected Christ, and - as we read his gospel and his writings - we get the impression that this was a very intimate disciple of Jesus who really saw into His heart in a way that perhaps the other apostles didn't. Now, remember, you're there, try to imagine this: a letter has come from the apostle John. Now I want you to do something here, I want you to pretend that you have never read this before - I know that's hard, but I want you to try and suspend all presuppositions that you have about the little book that we're going to read. Here's what I want you to do: I want you to listen for the voice of God, I want you to hear what God is saying, just what God is saying - not what you think about the book, or what you've heard about it in the past, or ministry you have received - I want you to hear it as if you're hearing it for the first time, and I want you to listen for the voice of God.
Now some of you are going to disagree with what I'm going to say, but in John chapter 1 we've got what is called the Logos, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God', and that is the Living Word of God that is Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the world was, engaged in the creation process, the instrument of God's creation in the universe, the Logos. But when we come to Ephesians chapter 6, the armour of God, we find there that one of the pieces of armour is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The word for 'word' there is not 'Logos', it is 'rhema' - the difference being, 'rhema' is the spoken, or the proceeding word of God; that is, a word that is being spoken by God, I believe, now, for a given situation, for a specific time, people, and place. That's why you need it in your armoury when you're fighting evil, and the wicked hosts in heavenly realms belonging to Satan, because we need to know what God's word is for now, what God's word is for my temptation to be victorious - but not just in personal moral issues, we need to know what the word of God is saying about our present-day journey as individuals and as a church, what the Spirit says to the churches.
Now I have a conviction that you will only grow as a Christian if you're hearing the voice of God: 'My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me'. I believe you cannot follow Him unless you're hearing His voice. There is a view that all you need to do is know the Bible - no, no. The hymn writer put it like this: 'Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord; my spirit pants for Thee, the Living Word'. Jesus said in His temptation: 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds' - not every word of God, but - 'every word that proceeds from the mouth of God'. 'My word shall not return unto Me void, but shall accomplish that whereto I sent it', that is prayed ad nausea at prayer meetings in evangelical circles, and that's not what it says, it says: 'My word that proceeds out of My mouth shall not return unto Me void'. His word that He is speaking, you might want to call it the prophetic word, at any given time is what will bear fruit. I want to say to you: you need to be hearing that. If you even do read the Bible, and if you come to hear ministry, you need to hear the voice of God.
If you're not converted here today, I want to tell you, if you're not a believer, that you can come to as many church services, and as many evangelical events - and I would encourage you to do that - as you like, but you will not be converted and have this wonderful supernatural experience unless you hear from God. I pray that you will hear from Him just now.
Let's read 1 John - now, I know this is a bit unusual, all I'm going to do now is read the whole epistle of 1 John, it all - it's only five chapters, but it's more than usual. I'm going to read it from the NIV, and that's what will be on the screen. Now, I'm not suggesting we substitute preaching every Sunday - we believe in the foolishness of preaching - but we've got to get back to the infallibility of the Bible, not the infallibility of your interpretation of the Bible, that's a different thing; the infallibility of the Bible. We need to let the Bible speak. We need to stop, for a moment, from all our opinionated rants, and we need to let God speak again.
Now, as we come to the word, let us pray. As we pray, you might have needs in your life, you might have issues that you're facing at this moment - personal issues, spiritual matters, there might be church issues, doctrinal confusion, whatever - as you come now to the word, would you ask the Lord to speak to you through the Bible? Maybe you're not converted, and you've never had that answer to the questions that you've always longed for; well, God can give you that - would you ask Him to speak to you now?
Father, we thank You that the entrance of Your word gives light and life. We believe You, we trust You that Your word is what it says it is. We believe that this is not black words on a white page, it's not the same as other pieces of ancient literature, we believe that this is the living and abiding word of God. We believe there is inherent life in it, and we believe it has the power, as the Spirit breathes upon it and us now, to change lives, to convert, regenerate, to transform, to revive, to revolutionise whole societies and generations. We believe, Lord, we say 'Amen', and we ask that You will come now, and that everyone of us who is open to You may have a spiritual experience, as they look into the mirror of Your word may they have a spiritual experience. Let those who have ears hear, hear. Amen.
First John chapter 1 verse 1, and it's on the screen if you want to follow in the version I'm reading: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us".
"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, 'I know him', but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them. I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever. Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist - denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us - eternal life. I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit - just as it has taught you, remain in him. And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him".
"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God's commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: we know it by the Spirit he gave us".
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: in this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister".
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him. If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols".
Let's pray. Would there be anyone here this morning who did pray to the Lord before we read together, and God has spoken to you. You might not be a Christian, you may well be; you might have issues, and none of us need to know what those are - they might be decisions, paths that you have to take that you don't know, there might be issues of truth, there might be struggles, difficulties, trials - and God has spoken to you through His word. Would you be prepared, while heads are bowed, to acknowledge that by just putting your hand up in the air? Is there anyone? I see some people putting their hands up, don't be afraid, God is speaking to people - anyone else? Be honest now, we want to prove the power of the word of God this morning. Those of you who did raise your hands, could you do that again please, keep them up for a second or two if God has spoken to you. You can put your hand down now.
Father, we thank You for Your word. We pray that You will let Your word run swiftly through the minds and spirits of the people gathered here to do Your will. I pray that the Spirit will take the word and bear fruit to the glory of God. Whatever You need to say and want to say to people in this gathering, that You will say - but Lord, also, let us not miss what You are saying: that we need to be still and listen to Your voice. Teach us to love Your word; teach us to meditate in it morning, noon, and night; to bind it upon our forehead and our arms; over the threshold of the door we might have the word of God; and in our hearts we may abide in that word and it may abide in us, that we may bear fruit and live in Your life. Lord, we thank You for Your word, we thank You for what You have done in hearts this morning. We pray that it will be all to Your glory, in the mighty name of the Lord Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Scrabo Hall in Newtownards, N. Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "Let The Bible Speak" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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