Monday, February 09, 2015

The Spirit and the Word (John 14:25-26; 16:12-15)

In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” After explaining the meaning he chooses for one word, Alice says, “That’s a great deal to make one word mean.” One word that Christians and non-Christians alike toss around a lot is the word inspiration. Often times, we are making that one word mean a great deal. You may hear someone say, “I was inspired as I did this or that,” or something like, “Handel’s Messiah is an inspired (or inspirational, or inspiring) piece of music.” I don’t think most of us would have trouble understanding what someone means when he or she says those things. But there is another sense, a more important one, in which we use the word inspiration of the Bible, and we mean something altogether different.

When we speak of the inspiration of the Scriptures, we are making a statement about the source, or origin, of the Bible. We are saying that it has come to us from God Himself. Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16, ““All Scripture is inspired by God (or God-breathed).” In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter explains how inspiration works as He says that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:21). This is the very same idea that Jesus Himself has about the Bible. An example of this is found in Mark 12:36, when Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 and prefaces it by saying, “David himself said in (or by) the Holy Spirit.” Again in Matthew 24:15, Jesus speaks of words which came, not from, but through Daniel the prophet. Jesus rightly understood and proclaimed that what was written in the Scriptures did not originate in the minds of the human authors, but it was the Word of God coming to mankind through these inspired writings. This is what we mean when we use the word inspiration in reference to the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired, or breathed out, the words that the human writers recorded as a means of God revealing Himself to the world.

Now, in our text today from John 14 and John 16, we have very specific promises that relate to the Holy Spirit’s work in the inspiration of Scripture. While many of the promises of Jesus apply equally to all Christians, these do not. There are indicators in the context of these passages that tell us that He is speaking directly to His apostles, and that these promises are for them in a special way. He says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you” (14:25); “He will … bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (14:26); “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (16:12). Many Christians would protest this notion because these passages are often misapplied in various ways by Christians who believe that they were intended as general promises for all believers. I have known many Christians who espoused some unusual idea, and blamed it on these verses by saying that the Holy Spirit had guided them into the truth beyond what was recorded in the Word of God. This simply cannot be, because these promises refer explicitly to the Spirit’s inspiration of the revelation that is recorded for us in the Word of God. It would be contrary to God’s nature for Him to lead someone into some notion that opposed this inspired Word. You need to understand that a good many cults have been founded on a misunderstanding and misapplication of these promises. Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and to some degree even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, just to name a few, tried to convince their followers that the Holy Spirit had given them new and improved information over what was recorded in Scripture on the basis of this promise. We must not follow in their example. Instead, we must understand these passages as the Lord Jesus intended when He spoke it, and as the Spirit of God intended as He inspired it. Because this is, after all, the whole point of the passages.

While there is application for all Christians to be found in these promises, we need to understand that they relate specifically to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the writings of the New Testament. Through these apostles and their close associates, God would complete His Written Word to man. And because He has done that, we have the confidence that these writings are infallible, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient for all matters of Christian faith and practice. In the inspired writings of the Old and New Testaments, we have what the Baptist Faith and Message calls “a perfect treasure of divine instruction,” having “God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.” So, let us consider what these promises entail concerning the Spirit and the Word, and how those truths apply to us today.

I. The Spirit has inspired a trustworthy account of Jesus’ words and works (14:25-26)

If past trends are any indicator, I imagine that in soon coming weeks as we approach Easter, we will see magazine covers and television programs touting the recent discovery of some new, lost Gospels that uncover hidden mysteries about the person of Jesus Christ. The problem with these claims is evident in almost every word of their description. In most cases, the discoveries are not recent, but date back decades. The documents are not new, they were not lost, and they are not Gospels. In almost every case, what has been found was an old writing that circulated briefly and in somewhat limited circles. When Christians first laid their eyes on them, they recognized that the things written in them were not true, because they did not bear the marks of apostolic authenticity, and they contradicted or denied truths that were written in the apostolic writings. These books were not “lost,” but rather, they simply disappeared from use and circulation almost immediately as their errors was exposed. The Church already had trustworthy writings, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and penned by the Apostles of Jesus Christ and their associates. They did not need man-made fabrications to fill in the gaps or supply further information.

In verse 25 of John 14, Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you.” During the time that Jesus was with His apostles, He said and did many things. It would be their responsibility to record those things to be passed on to future generations of Christians. But, surely they would not have a perfect recollection of everything He said and did, nor does it seem that they even understood everything He said and did in the moment. So how can we trust that these ordinary, forgetful, and sometimes dense men could record an inerrant and infallible history of the things Jesus said and did? On their own, they likely could not. But they would not do this on their own. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would enable them to do this.

In verse 26, Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” In teaching them all things, He was helping them understand the meaning and significance of the things that they witnessed. For example, in John 12, we read of Jesus coming into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, riding on a donkey, and heralded by the praises of the people. The apostles saw these things happen, but they did not realize how significant the moment was and how these things were actually fulfilling divinely inspired Old Testament prophecies. So, John says, “These things His disciples did not understand at the first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him.” The Spirit was teaching them all things and bringing to their remembrance what they had witnessed Jesus saying and doing, just as Jesus promises them here in our text.

So, we have this collection of four authentic and authoritative writings which the Spirit inspired through the apostles and their associates: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew and John were apostles. They were present in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke this promise, and the Gospels which bear their names are the product of this promise. But what of Mark and Luke? These men were not apostles, so why do we give their writings equal credence with Matthew and John? Well, it is a well established fact that Mark was recording the accounts of Jesus Christ which he had heard and learned from the apostle Peter. It would be just as fitting to call the Gospel of Mark, “The Gospel of Peter.” Similarly, Luke was writing the account of the life of Christ in his Gospel which he had gathered as he accompanied the apostle Paul on his travels. Luke’s Gospel is essentially “The Gospel According to Paul.” Paul is unique in his standing as an apostle, for he was not an original apostle, but was chosen singularly by the Risen Lord Jesus to be an apostle. Therefore Paul was as much a party to these same promises as those in the Upper Room when Jesus spoke them. And this mark of apostolic authenticity extends to their close companions who were recording, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, what they had seen and heard through the apostles.

So, when you read the Gospels, you are not reading the haphazard and unreliable journals of men; these writings are the Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of the promise we read here in John 14. Because they are inspired by God, that means that they are completely true and trustworthy, and contain no error or contradiction. Sometimes people say there are contradictions between accounts found in, say, John and Luke or Matthew or Mark. However, not a single one of these alleged contradictions is without explanation. Usually the accounts either refer to different incidents, or else they are complementary accounts, with one providing details that the other has omitted. The Holy Spirit Himself bears witness to the veracity of the accounts of the words and works of Jesus Christ found in the four Gospels in our New Testament. This promise assures us of that.

II. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy guidance for Christian doctrine and practice (16:12-13a)

Jesus says in John 16:12, “I have many more things to say to you.” He had said plenty to them, but there was more to be said. But Jesus says, “you cannot bear them now.” In part, they could not bear the further information because they were overcome with sorrow. When we are in “crisis mode,” we have a hard time processing an overload of information, and Jesus knows that about us. But also, there would be no way that the disciples could possibly comprehend at this moment all the implications that the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ have on the Christian life. But when the Spirit comes, because He is the Spirit of truth, He will guide them into all the truth. What He will reveal to the apostles is a continuation, as it were, of the very teachings of Jesus. He says, “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak.” He will speak to them of the matters of Christian doctrine and practice that are set forth throughout the New Testament, especially the epistles, or letters. So, we have a true and trustworthy collection of information and instruction on what we believe and how we are to live as Christians, and how we are to function as a church. These are things that Jesus did not specifically teach during His earthly life, but which He has taught through the Holy Spirit as the New Testament writings were inspired.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul is giving instructions on marriage and divorce, and he says in verse 10, “To the married I give instructions, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband.” Here, he is restating what Jesus Himself said in several instances in the Gospels about the permanence of marriage (Matt 5:32; 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 6:18). But then in verse 12, Paul says, “To the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.” Again later in verse 25, he says, “Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.” Some would point to passages like these and say that we have opposing teachings between Jesus and Paul, and therefore they choose to reject Paul’s teachings. But Paul is not saying that his words here bear less weight than those of the Lord Jesus, he is merely saying that Jesus did not teach this in the Gospels, but is teaching it through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the inspired writings. “By the mercy of the Lord,” he says, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, he is able to give authoritative direction for the Christian life in these inspired writings. So he concludes that chapter by saying, almost with a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.”

We see how we are to view the New Testament writings when we consider how the apostles view one another’s writings. For example, in 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul writes, “the Scripture says, … ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” This statement is not found anywhere in Scripture except in the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 10:10. So, Paul uses the word “Scripture,” which would be understood by his original audience to mean the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, to refer to the writings of Luke. Again, in 2 Peter 3:15, Peter says of “all” of Paul’s letters that in them, “some things are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” So here, Peter considers the entire collection of Paul’s writings to be “Scripture,” the Word of God. Therefore, he warns us to not distort these things, even though there may be difficult sayings found in them, because these writings have their origin in God Himself. Now, if you take the writings of Paul and the writings of Luke as Scripture, you have around 60% of the New Testament. And, by extension, we could say the same of the rest of the New Testament because those writings also bear the same mark of apostolic, Spirit-inspired, authenticity.

So, friends, when we come to the Scriptures, including the New and Old Testament, we come to a collection of Spirit-inspired, infallible and inerrant writings which are authoritative and sufficient for all matters of the Christian life. We draw our doctrines, our ethics, and our practices from the Bible. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

III. The Spirit has inspired trustworthy information about the things to come (16:13c)

CNN has at times used the slogan “Tomorrow’s Headlines Today.” But it is not as though they are telling you anything about the future. They are reporting past events, they are just reporting them sooner than the printed paper is able to. No one can report with accuracy about the future – no one, that is, except God. In Isaiah 46:9-10, He says, “I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done.” If we are to know anything trustworthy about the future, God would have to reveal it to us. He has done this by His Holy Spirit through the writings of Scripture. Jesus said to His apostles that the Holy Spirit would “disclose to you what is to come.” In saying this, Jesus was pointing them forward to the things that would take place in the distant future concerning His return and the consummation of His kingdom at the end of the age.

Throughout the New Testament, we find many promises and prophecies about the things to come. Some of them were stated by Jesus Himself in the Gospels. The Spirit gave the writers recall to record them accurately. Some are stated in the letters, as the Spirit was guiding the apostles into the truth. And then we find that great concentration of New Testament prophecy in the book of Revelation, which God made known to John (the writer of this Gospel and three New Testament epistles) while he was imprisoned on the island of Patmos. Some people have told me over the years that they are afraid of studying the book of Revelation. But you don’t have to be afraid of it. If you are a believer in Christ, then this book promises you that Christ will triumph in the end, and you will be with Him! I suppose if you are not a believer then there is much there to fear, but not if you are saved! We are actually promised a blessing in Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.” It is not all easy to understand, for sure. If it was, there wouldn’t so many competing views on end times among Christian scholars. But the things which are most important for us to know are plainly revealed.

So if you want to know what the future holds, you need to turn to the Bible, for only God can tell the future with any degree of accuracy. And what God says about the future is recorded for us in Scripture, and because it has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is true and trustworthy.

Now finally, notice the last part of this promise:

IV. All that the Spirit has inspired brings glory to Jesus Christ (v14).

When we read the Bible, we are all reading the same truths. The words may vary from one translation to another, and that is another subject for another day, but the basic data that we are analyzing is the same for us all. So, why do we not all agree with one another on what the Bible teaches? We have different interpretations of what we read there. Every word of the Bible is completely true and trustworthy, because every word of the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. But our interpretations of the Bible are not inspired and therefore our interpretations are not always true and trustworthy.

There are some important keys to interpretation that we have to keep in mind as we study the Bible. And one of those keys is stated right here in verse 14. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will glorify Me” in the inspiration of the written Word of God. So, one of the keys to our right interpretation of the Bible is that we must see how each and every passage points us to the glory of God in Christ. It all does. Jesus said this Himself in Luke 24:44 among other places. There He said, “all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” The Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms are the three sections of the Hebrew Old Testament, and Jesus said that all of it pointed to Him. The same is true of the New Testament writings. It all points to Him. So if our interpretations do not center on the person and saving work of Jesus Christ, we need to ask if we have truly grasped the intended meaning of the text.

I heard someone say once that the closer we stand to the trunk of the tree, the less likely we will get out on a limb. There are some interpretations of Scripture that are truly out on a limb. That’s because they have not stayed close to the root of the tree, and the root of the tree is Jesus Christ. All Scripture points us to Jesus, and in it the Holy Spirit is bringing glory to Jesus. That should be our aim as we interpret the Bible as well. And of course, Christ will be most glorified in our reading and studying of Scripture if we do not merely come to the Bible as scholars on a fact-finding mission, but as worshipers and servants who are committed to trusting and obeying what the Spirit has inspired for our edification there. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as much how much Scripture you know as it does how much you obey of what you do know.

I want to make a few quick points of application here as we close:
  • First, friends, I want to assure you today, according to the promise that Jesus made concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit through His apostles, that you can trust your Bible. The Holy Spirit has inspired these writings so they are inerrant, infallible, true and trustworthy, and they have authority over every area of our lives. And not only is it true, it is sufficient. It is enough. The Bible tells us everything that God desired to reveal about who He is, how we can know Him, and how we can live for Him. Nothing is left out. We do not need more information. We do not need the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas, the Book of Mormon or the Quran. We have a Holy Spirit-inspired Bible! So as we build our lives and our church, we build on the Word of God, for His Word is the only solid rock we have. All other ground is sinking sand. Everything we believe, everything we do, as Christians and as a church must be rooted in this book, and this book is what we must return to time and time again to measure all that is done and all that we believe. 
  • Second, because the Bible is the inspired revelation of God, then we must insist that it be the basis of all that is said here in this pulpit – whether by me, Jack, any guest speaker, or any future pastor you may have. Not only this, but the Bible must be the basis of all that is taught in our Sunday School classes and every other kind of gathering that takes place. And the Bible must be the basis of our witness as we interact with nonbelievers. Because the Spirit has inspired these words, these are the words that God has promised to bless and use to accomplish His work in the lives of people and in the world.
  • Third, if you are a Christian, then the same Holy Spirit who inspired this revelation in the Word of God lives within you. The divine author is available to guide you as you read and study the Bible. I have a lot of friends who have written some good books. When I read those books and I have questions, I can call or email them and ask them and they tell me what they meant when they said those things. Friends, we can do the same with the Bible because the Holy Spirit who inspired these writings is able to illuminate our understanding as we read them.

God has gone to great lengths to give us His Word in written form. He has inspired it, so that it stands as a written revelation of who He is, what He does, and how we can know and live for Him. We neglect, ignore, or distort this Book only to our own peril. We affirm what our Confession of Faith sets forth:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

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