I once read a news article about an American soldier who was sent to Vietnam during the war. While there he fathered a daughter with a Vietnamese woman. Tragically, the daughter soon became an orphan. Her mother died, and her father left when the American forces pulled out of the country, so she was left without either a father or mother.
The father lost all hope of ever seeing his young daughter again. Of course, tensions were high between the United States and Vietnam for a number of years following the war. He couldn’t just go back to try and find her. With the mother dead, he had no way of trying to locate his daughter.
And then one day quite a few years later, in a national magazine he saw a picture of a number of children in Vietnam whose mothers were Vietnamese and fathers were American. And much to his surprise, his daughter was among them. There was no doubt she was his daughter, for the daughter, by this time a teenager, bore a striking resemblance to him. The magazine article gave the man the leads and connections he needed in order to write to his daughter.
Imagine the love, the affection, the assurance the father must have poured into that letter, as well as the others that followed.
And can you imagine what that teenage girl must have thought, how she must have felt when she first received a letter from her father? No doubt over the years she had become convinced that she would never even know who her father was, let alone ever hear from him. And then out of the blue comes this letter from him! She probably jumped for joy as tears of gratitude rolled down her cheeks. Her heart was probably filled with hope, yet she very well might have been a bit scared at the same time, thinking this was just too good to be true. However she felt, you can be sure that she held on to that letter tightly, reading it over and over and over again. Or maybe she had a translator read it to her again and again.
Up to that time, she knew that her father existed, or at least he once existed. Until she received the letter she didn’t know if her father was still alive. But now she not only learned that her father was alive, she also began learning who he was and what he was like. And with each letter she learned more about her father. Certainly, she learned some facts about her father - where he lived, what he was then doing in terms of work. He probably sent some pictures so she could see what he looked like. But more importantly, through what he wrote she learned what kind of person he was. And by means of his letters she experienced in a real and personal way his love and concern for her. Even though she had not seen him since she was an infant, through his letters she began to develop a relationship with him. And surely she learned of her father's purpose for her: to bring her to America so they could be together.
I'm sure you’ve figured out by now the point of this story. We all are like orphans living in a far-off land. We are isolated, completely on our own, without any possibility of knowing why we are here or who put us here. Like the young girl in Vietnam, we are helpless to discover that. Our only hope, small as it may seem, is that like the girl’s father, our Creator, our Heavenly Father, might contact us. There is no way we can contact Him; we do not have the means to get in touch with an invisible, transcendent deity. No, He must contact us and communicate with us if we are to know Him and know His purposes for our lives. We are totally dependent on God taking the initiative.
And, of course, that is exactly what God has done through the Bible. As I will soon be concluding my time with you as your pastor, and in that context thinking about what I want to share with you during my final sermons, one thing I want to emphasize is the nature and importance of Scripture. Of course, there is way more that could be said than what I can say in one sermon, but today I want to highlight one extremely important aspect of Scripture. If we take this to heart, I believe God’s Word will play a more central role in our lives.
We read in Hebrews 1:1-2: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” In the days of the Old Testament God spoke to the Israelites through the prophets, and later God spoke to the whole human race through His Son.
Apart from God speaking to us we would be like the Vietnamese girl before she received the first letter from her father. She knew her father existed but she knew nothing about him or if she even mattered to him. And so we can easily conclude that God exists. The beauty of creation, the wonder of life itself point to a Creator. But they don’t tell us much about what this God is like nor do they direct us to a relationship with God. They only point to the existence of God.
But by speaking through the prophets and then through Jesus, God revealed who He is, what He is like, and how very much He loves us. And this profound message communicated through the prophets, apostles, and especially Jesus has been recorded in the Bible. Like the letters of that American father to his Vietnamese daughter, the Bible is a series of letters from our Heavenly Father to all His children.
Yes, the books of the Bible were written by human authors. And yes, some of what they wrote, especially certain parts of the Old Testament, concerned specific situations they were facing in their time and culture and so seem far removed from us. But behind it all was God, who through the Holy Spirit was inspiring the authors to communicate a true message to the human family.
The overall message of the Bible, from the opening chapters of Genesis to the closing chapters of Revelation, is the story of who God is and how He created us that we might know Him in a deeply personal way as our Heavenly Father. God is not simply a distant, detached cosmic superpower who after creating us has left us on our own, unconcerned about us, and when we die, that’s the end of us. No, through this series of letters, written over a period of 1500 years, God is telling us of His love for us, His goodness and faithfulness to us, His purposes for our lives, and especially what He did for us through Jesus Christ so we could come to know Him in a saving way, and thus be united with Him eternally.
All of this brings up the question: Why do we sometimes struggle with reading the Bible? If this is what the Bible is – God’s personal message to us, revealing who God is and directing us to a meaningful, fulfilling, and eternal relationship with God – why is it that we often just can’t find time to read the Bible? Why is it so hard to discipline ourselves to have a regular time of Bible study and reflection? Why does reading the Bible, especially on a regular basis, sound so unappealing to many people? Why do Bibles do little more than collect dust in so many homes?
Could it be that we haven’t understood what the Bible really is and what life would be like without it – that we would be in the dark as it relates to knowing God and understanding the meaning and destiny of our lives? Could it be that we have failed to realize that the Bible is a love-letter from our Heavenly Father, and that it is the pathway to understanding not only who God is but also the purpose of our own existence?
You see, the Bible is not just another piece of junk mail to simply be tossed aside or read only if we happen to have the time! I mean, can you imagine that Vietnamese girl receiving a letter from her father and then just tossing it aside to perhaps read later with the attitude of, “Oh, maybe I’ll look at this when I don’t have anything else to do”? Of course not! She would have ripped that envelope open.
The Bible is God’s personal love-letter to us, given to us so we can know God truly. It shows us how to live in relationship with God, and it reveals His love for us and our value as human beings created in His image. When we understand that, we will devour it as eagerly as that Vietnamese girl devoured the letters from her earthly father.
In Scripture we encounter a group of people who immersed themselves in God’s Word just as that teenage Vietnamese girl immersed herself in her father’s letters. They were the people of Berea, and thus they were known as the Bereans. We meet them in the 17th chapter of the book of Acts. There we find Paul is travelling with Silas. They had just been in Thessalonica, preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. Many were converted. But those who opposed the Gospel initiated a riot, throwing the whole city of Thessalonica into turmoil. Paul and Silas had to hide and flee by night. And so we read in vs. 10-12:
“As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”
Two things from the experience of the Bereans are important for us. First, it says that when Paul and Silas preached in the synagogue, the Bereans received the message with great eagerness. While the content of that message has not been recorded for us, certainly what Paul and Silas related to the Bereans was the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – what God has done for us through Christ to grant us salvation – the message that is now recorded for us in the New Testament. That had to be their message since vs. 12 informs us that many of the people became believers; they believed the gospel.
Thus, the message the Bereans heard was the same message we read in the Bible. And they received this message with great eagerness. They were like that Vietnamese girl reading her father’s letters. Just as that girl would anxiously wait for and then soak up each new letter, so the Bereans latched onto every word Paul and Silas uttered. They longed to hear the Good News of God’s love for them in Jesus Christ. They didn’t receive the message with eagerness alone, but with great eagerness.
This should cause us to ask ourselves: What is our attitude toward God’s Word? Are we eager to read it, to study it, to be informed by it? If we understand it for what it really is - a letter from our Heavenly Father which not only tells us about God but also directs us toward an eternal relationship with God, then we will be like the Bereans and receive the Word of God with great eagerness.
And second, it says that the Bereans “examined the Scriptures everyday.” Their eagerness was not merely an inward attitude but it expressed itself in a concrete way. They eagerly heard Paul and Silas proclaim the gospel message, and then they examined the Scriptures in existence at that time - the Old Testament - to see if what Paul and Silas proclaimed matched up with what had been written of the coming Messiah. They examined the Scriptures - studying them, digging into them, getting everything they possibly could out of them. And they did so daily. They didn’t consider the Bible a book to be read only when they finally found the time; they studied the Bible daily, learning all they possibly could.
Again, when we truly understand the Bible for what it is, finding regular time to read it and study it will not be a problem. We will want to spend as much time as we can learning what the eternal God – the One who created us and redeemed us – has to say to us through His Word.
But we must not stop there. Jas. 1:22 exhorts us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” To merely listen to what God says, to even eagerly examine God’s Word but then stop there is to deceive ourselves. The way we are deceived is that we come to believe that only reading it and listening to its message is enough. Once we’ve done that, God doesn’t expect any more from us.
But God does expect more from us. Having heard what God has said, we are then to apply His message to our lives, obeying all that He instructs us. That’s why God sent this message to us – so we can incorporate its truth into our lives, becoming the kind of people who are marked by the character of Jesus and doing all His Word instructs us to do. We are not to be just hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word so we may live a life honoring to our Heavenly Father.
Imagine that American father writing to his daughter something like this: “I've received permission to come to Vietnam and bring you home with me. I will arrive in Ho Chi Min June 1st. You must meet me at such-and-such hotel.” Can you then imagine the daughter ignoring his instructions and not going to the hotel to meet her father? Of course not! Those instructions from her father would have been an invitation to a whole new life.
And so through God’s Word He not only tells us about Himself but He invites us to a whole new way of living in which we orient our lives around God, His truth, and His purposes for our lives. As we do that we can live with assurance of His love, presence, and guidance in our lives, and we are able to fulfill the purposes for which God made us. But we can only experience the fullness of that life as we obey His instructions.
And finally, we must not only study the Bible and obey what it says; we also are to spread its wonderful message. Isn’t that just what that Vietnamese girl must have done. There would have been no way she could have kept such fantastic news to herself. When she received letters from her father, can’t you just see her reading those letters, or at least parts of them, to her friends? Can’t you just picture her telling her friends: “Listen to this! I just heard from my father. He hasn’t forgotten about me. I matter to him. And he says that he’s working on getting the authorization so I can join him. He’s even fixing a room in his house for me!” Her face must have been radiant as she shared her good news with her friends.
And so we are called to be communicators of God’s Good News, not merely students of it. Again, if we really understand the Bible for what it is, how could we not share its message with others, because it is for them as well?
From the time that American father first wrote to his daughter, it took two years of diplomatic negotiations and working through red tape before they were finally united. Two long years of waiting. What a glorious reunion that must have been. During those two years, which probably seemed like twenty for them, it was the letters that were the heart and soul of their relationship. The letters from the father to his daughter were the means by which he poured out his love to her. How they must have encouraged her, sustained her, and given her hope until that time when they finally saw each other again face-to-face!
One day we will see our Heavenly Father face-to-face. Never has there been nor will there be a reunion more glorious than that. In the meantime, we have this series of letters He has sent us known as the Bible – written by human authors but authors who were inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit so ultimately it is a message from God. If we rightly understand the Bible for what it is, and then eagerly and regularly give ourselves to reading these letters, absorbing their truth, and incorporating the message into our lives, we will experience the love of our Heavenly Father as we are encouraged, sustained, given direction and hope until that wonderful day when we meet our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ our Savior face-to-face.
Until that day, let’s make the most of this wonderful gift!