Why The Bible Matters

His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. —Psalm 1:2

With the recent publication of the ESV Study Bible we set this day aside to celebrate the Word of God. I’ll begin in a personal way. Here is the first Bible I ever owned. My dad and mom gave it to me for Christmas in 1958. It’s the King James Version. There’s a streak of toothpaste here inside the front cover. Verses are underlined. It’s all beaten up. But I grew up in a church where I was saturated in the Bible, this Bible. I went to Sunday school and church on Sunday mornings, to youth group and church on Sunday evenings, to choir practice and prayer meeting on Wednesday evenings, plus other activities. And in it all, we were continually saturated in the Bible. At the time, I had little awareness of what I was receiving. But week in and week out, year in and year out, the adults of my world were not entertaining me or pampering me; they were faithfully exposing my mind and heart to the Bible. I grew up knowing that this book is the most important thing in the world. And every child needs that same exposure today. Only deep immersion in the Bible will sustain our children twenty and thirty and forty years from now, when it’s going to be even harder, probably a lot harder, to live for Christ.

I was taught to revere the Bible. It says here on the spine, “Holy Bible.” This leather, this paper, this ink were set apart to a holy use when someone put them together as a Bible. This book is sacred. One time I was walking upstairs in our home and turned and tossed my Bible carelessly back down to a chair in the living room. My dad was sitting on the sofa. He said, “Hey Bud, you need to come back down and take a seat here and think about what you just did.” I was taught to treat my Bible with reverence. I am thankful.

In our youth group, we used to have “sword drills.” We do this today with our children here at Immanuel. We would sit there, poised with our Bibles ready, and our youth leader up front would give us a chapter-and-verse reference somewhere in the Bible and the first kid to turn to it would stand up and read it and get a point. We had fun. And we got to know our way around the Bible.

We memorized the Bible together, as we do here at Immanuel. If you can memorize a phone number, you can memorize a verse in the Bible. I remember sitting in a group of children with our teacher up front who had written John 1:1-14 with a black felt-tip pen on tag board set up there on an easel. And we were going over and over it, memorizing it word-for-word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.” And so forth. It shaped me during those unrepeatable formative years. It gave me something I’ve never lost. The Bible became the center of my whole outlook and conscience, more central than rock and roll – and for me, that’s really saying something.

I remember sitting in Sunday school class, learning about the tabernacle in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers and how the people of Israel went through the wilderness of Sinai to the promised land. Our teacher brought in samples of the food they ate, and we all ate it together in class, and it made an unforgettable impression on me. Our teacher cared, and the biblical story came alive. I can’t remember her name, but I’ll thank her in heaven.

Every child in Nashville needs to own a Bible and needs to be taught that Bible and the great story it tells from beginning to end – not just the “game film highlights” but the whole story, as much as we can teach them – and how that story from beginning to end reveals Jesus, the Friend of sinners, who leads us through the wilderness of this world into the promised land of heaven. Can we adults today rest content while a younger generation rises up ignorant of the Word of God or with only a superficial acquaintance, positioning them in life to be sincere but shallow people? Will we pay the price today for them to know Christ through deep saturation in his Word? They’re watching TV, and people are paying billions of dollars to keep them watching. They’re playing video games and doing facebook and youtube and twitter. We can give them the riches of Christ. We can prepare them for the challenges they’re going to face. We have the opportunity here at Immanuel to raise up and finance and establish a Bible-saturated church for this city and then in only a few short years hand that baton off to the next generation, to whom we have given the Bible in its Christ-centered fullness. That is a task worthy of our all.

Here is the second Bible I ever owned. My dad and mom gave it to me on my birthday my senior year in high school. It was a Wednesday, the first week of two-a-day football practices. I came home tired that day. Mom had a special dinner prepared. They gave me this Bible, a Revised Standard Version. Dad wrote this inscription: “Your mother and I have found this book to be our dearest treasure. In giving it to you, we can give nothing greater. Be a student of the Bible, and your life will be full of blessing. We love you. Dad.” Let me ask every dad here – have you said that yet to your children? You have them under your roof every day for eighteen years. You have ample opportunity to declare yourself to your children and pass on to them a spiritual legacy that will sustain them through everything. Have you said this to your kids? Have they heard it? The moment I read this inscription in 1966, the thought did not enter my mind, “No, he doesn’t mean this.” I knew he meant it by the life he lived. Dad was a man of the Word, and he was beautiful because of it. He was attractive and wise. I was proud of him. I was glad my dad was a Bible-believing, Bible-studying man. And because of him, I grew up in an environment of gospel encouragement. Here’s the verse he referred to at the end of his inscription: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). To this day, when I read Philippians 1:6, I hear not only the apostle Paul but I hear my dad talking to me, cheering me on as I live for the Lord today. And I look through this Bible and I find that it’s all marked up, because in those moments when God had something to say to me I had this Bible to come alive to my heart. I am thankful for this Bible.

I have many Bibles today. Here is the latest – my ESV Study Bible. I am so thankful for this new friend. Looking at it, I might think, “That’s a big honkin’ sucker!” No, this is not a big honkin’ sucker. This is a Holy Bible, to be revered in my thoughts and words. And looking at it I might think, “Kinda big. Intimidating.” Well, what’s so bad about being overwhelmed by the Word of God? Everything else in our culture panders to us. It is so good to be challenged by Scripture and then, by God’s grace, to rise to the challenge. How I respond to the Bible reveals the true condition of my heart – whether self is at the center of my consciousness so that everything else has to adjust to me, or whether God’s Word is at the center so that I do the adjusting. As we learn to adjust, our lives are filled with blessing.

That’s what Psalm 1 is all about. This is strong, joyful truth for hard times. Arthur Leff gave a lecture at Duke University School of Law some years ago. He was not a Christian, but he spoke honestly of where the loss of God’s Word leaves us:

It looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves and each other, this is an extraordinarily unappetizing prospect; looking around the world, it appears that, if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cain and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, not even terror, seems to have worked to make us “good,” and worse than that, there is no reason why anything should…. As things now stand, everything is up for grabs…. God help us.

We live in fearful times, with our leaders improvising solutions on the fly. And so many people today are afraid that their personal little utopias of the right job and the right home and the right emotions all at the right price converging and holding together just long enough to get us through the night – many people today are fearful that it’s crashing down. But God has spoken to us. God has given us a gift in his Word. It can stand up to anything. It always has, it always will. Saturated in his Word, we can thrive whatever tomorrow brings. I usually preach about Jesus from the Bible. But on this special occasion I’m preaching about the Bible itself so that we can all celebrate the precious gift God has given us. From Psalm 1, here are just two reasons why the Bible matters today.

Reason #1: The Bible alone clears away the clutter and reveals what’s really at stake in our lives.

The world you and I live in, including the internal mental worlds we live in personally, are cluttered with confusing messages. What is worth living for? What isn’t worth living for? Is there anything worth living for? What is truth? Should we tell our children that the very concept of transcendent truth is oppressive and that they should believe whatever seems right to them and get in touch with themselves and follow their feelings and that way they’ll be free? That confusion is itself oppressive and makes us spiritually drowsy. But this Bible is like smelling salts under our noses. It reawakens us to what’s really at stake in our lives. God has a purpose for us, it’s a purpose of grandeur, and he is calling us to decision for him.

There is something about Psalm 1 as a whole that’s so obvious we might overlook it. Psalm 1 bristles with contrasts, with sharply defined opposites. It is angular. It has clear edges and straight lines. There are no nuances here, no ambiguities. Every detail stands out in bold colors. For example, the word “not” appears six times in six verses in the Hebrew text. The word “but” appears three times. The logic of Psalm 1 is clear: “not this but that.” Not their counsel or way or seat but God’s law. Not the wicked but the righteous. The very categories “wicked” and “righteous” are blunt. They disturb the cowardice of our times that doesn’t want clarity of definition. But God wants your life to be clearly righteous, clearly set apart to him, clearly like Jesus Christ. God does not want your life to be hard to read, especially in his sight. He is speaking to you of the judgment, mentioned in verse 5. God will judge every one of us as either wicked or righteous, and non-committal ambiguity will itself be judged as the counsel of the wicked. Only the Bible cuts through the confusion and shows us clearly what we must run from and run to. Everything you care about is on the line.

More stark contrasts. In verse 1 we find out what the blessed man does not do; in verse 2 we find out what he does do. In verse 3 the blessed man is active; in verse 4 the wicked are acted upon. In verses 1 and 4 the wicked are busy, in motion, but in verse 3 the blessed man is planted. The contrast is between frustrated restlessness, nervous desperation to find some happiness, versus fruitful, satisfied, delighted quietness, the art of sitting still and going deep into the few things that will still matter one million years from now. God wants to help you simplify your over-committed life and slow down and open up the Bible and plant yourself where you can live and thrive and never end up defrauded. The Bible brings us all to one focal point: Am I getting ready every day, with the Bible’s help, to face a judgment this world is ignoring? That is what’s really at stake in our lives. The Bible makes it clear.

Psalm 1 is simple in its outlook, not because it is simplistic but because it is profound. There are two ways to go in this life, not three or four or a gazillion. And in peeling away the layers of confusion and distraction, God calls us to decision for Christ. You cannot drift your way from this world and toward Jesus Christ, but you can delight yourself all the way there with an open Bible and an open heart. That takes us to reason #2 why the Bible matters today.

Reason #2: The Bible alone guides us into a rugged happiness that will outlast all the evil that’s against us.

One of C. S. Lewis’ friends described him as “the most thoroughly converted man I ever knew.” That’s like the man here in verses 1-2 – thoroughly converted. We have many half-converted people in our city, with one foot here and the other foot there. But this man in Psalm 1 knows what he doesn’t want, he knows what he does want, he has thought it through and made courageous decisions. God does not want you to become like chaff in this life and finally in the next life to end up in the skid row of the universe called hell. He wants you to become like a tree planted by streams of water. He wants to give you a rugged happiness that can stand up to anything and will last forever. God is even ready to become your head cheerleader to that end. Do you see that in verses 1-2?

Verses 1-2 are one long sentence. The opening word “Blessed” is a congratulatory formula. It’s God looking at this man and saying, “Bravo!” What kind of life draws from God his enthusiasm? This man is obvious, easy to read. He walks not in the counsel of the wicked, their formulas for success, nor stands in the way of sinners, their lifestyle of cutting corners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, their posture of laughing at everything. And do you see that the wicked, the sinners and the scoffers are all plural nouns, while the blessed man is a singular noun? This man stands against the crowd. He thinks for himself. He knows who he is. He knows where he stands. He charts his own course by God’s Word, and God stands up and says, “Way to go!” Jesus was perfectly like that. He bring us under the smile of God by his cross and shows us how to stand alone by his Word. So when your kids say to you, “But dad and mom, Mr. and Mrs. Jones let Bobby and Susan go see that movie,” you can say, “But we aren’t Mr. and Mrs. Jones. And we’re not going to that movie. God has given us something better.”

Do you see the word “delights” in verse 2? It’s the most important word in the psalm, it’s the most important word in our lives, because what we enjoy reveals what we are. This man loves the Word of God. He isn’t asking, “Why not do this or that? What harm is there?” This man is asking, “How can I get more of God’s Word? It satisfies me. In this world, how could I live as a man of God one single day without his Word?”

God wants to give you that deep and durable happiness. Jesus paid for it at the cross. The Holy Spirit has come down to create it in our hearts. He gives it through the Word. This is the gracious purpose of God for us sinners here in this degrading world. And there is nothing disappointing in Christ, no bitter aftertaste. Listen to what Jonathan Edwards wrote about the purpose of God: “God created man for nothing else but happiness.” That astonishing, stabilizing truth is what people must know in our desperate times. God has given us his Word to share with us a joy the next 9/11 can’t destroy. When that day strikes us – not if it does, when it does – your heart can be ready. You can be fortified with the deep happiness of heaven. There is joy in saying No to the world, no matter how much applause you might lose. And there is joy in saying Yes to Christ, no matter what price you must pay. And we receive his blood-bought joy from one source only – the Word of God.

Your next years can be the best in your whole life, no matter what may happen. God wants to shout the word “Blessed!” all over your life. When I look at Psalm 1, especially verse 3, multiplied all over this room, a growing movement of well-planted, Bible-saturated, spiritually prospering people – when I look at that, I see revival. I see people living real life in hard times all the while discovering in the Word how good God is, how endless his supply of grace and wisdom. We can be that movement right here at Immanuel, and let’s give it to the next generation. They may forget our names. But they will thank us in heaven.