Sunday, April 29, 2007

What things?

Some decades ago, a friend gave me a tape cassette (that's how long ago it was) containing a message -- a sermon -- about obedience. The speaker was a Robb Powrie-Smith, whom I've never seen in person, but I remembered something he said about the reliability of God's word. His remarks were based on the passage in today's New Testament reading from Luke 24. Here, two disciples were walking to Emmaus, which is about seven miles (about 11 km) from Jerusalem. As they walked along, Jesus himself joined them, though they didn't know who he was for some reason.
17He asked them, "What are you discussing together as you walk along?"

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?"

19"What things?" he asked.

"About Jesus of Nazareth," they replied. "He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.
Luke 24:17-19
Cleopas goes on to tell the stranger (as he thinks) about how Jesus was betrayed and crucified (though they thought Jesus was going to redeem Israel). They were amazed, too, because his body was not found where it was laid.

The thing I remember from that sermon was the observation that Jesus didn't say, "That was me; let me tell you what it was about.":
25He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Luke 24:25-27
What a conversation that must have been! Anyway, his point was that Jesus didn't appeal to his experience or theirs; he directed their attention instead to the Bible.
Another Bible teacher, I think it was Dr. James Boice, explained that phrase in verse 27: "Moses and all the Prophets... all the Scriptures." I thought it was pretty cool. That phrase doesn't mean a lot to modern (or postmodern) Christian readers, but to 1st-century Jews it would be obvious. Their Bible (what we call the Old Testament, but with a different ordering of the books) has three sections, so to speak: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. Luke 24:27 says "Moses" for the Law, and a word translated "Scriptures" for the Writings, but otherwise it is just a way of saying "he explained to them what was said about himself throughout the whole Bible." I believe that the Jewish people have a sort of acronym for this -- the law is "Torah", the prophets are "nebiim", and the writings are "ketubim." Or something like that. The acronym is something like "tanach", which is a word i think I've seen elsewhere -- maybe in Chaim Potok's books?
One could overdo this (In response to "How are you doing?" one might answer, "The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians, 'We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed.' How about you?") but there are certainly advantages to using Scripture, rather than some anecdote from my life, to teach spiritual truths.

But wait -- wasn't that sermon from the "modern" rather than the "postmodern" era? Well yes, it probably was from the 1970s. But what do we want to impart to those we teach? (And even if you don't have a classroom or a title, you do have influence!)

One very important thing I hope to pass on is just this: that the Bible is a trustworthy source of truth. Some have abused and misinterpreted it, so it does require some study and careful interpretation. But the work is worth it because the Bible is God's word.

How to commend the Bible to a postmodern audience? I guess we have to share our experiences with the Scriptures and give them experiences (again with the Scriptures) so that they can develop their own experience-based trust on the word of God.

Teach like Jesus, in other words: with the Scriptures. And we can learn like the disciples -- by reading 'em.

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