Sermon – “The Books”- How do we read the Scripture
A Russian bandit was captured by the Spanish… The Chief ordered his interpreter to communicate with the captive “Ask him where he has hidden the smuggled gold, or I will blow his brains out”. Through the interpreter, the bandit said “I would rather die than tell you where the treasure is”. The Chief threatened to have him hanged if he does not tell him where the gold is. The captive replied again that he would rather die than tell him. The Chief got wild and ordered him to be hanged.
The bandit was hanged and when he was nearly out of breath, the Chief through his interpreter said “Now is your last chance to save yourself. Tell me where the gold is”. The Russian told the interpreter, “It is not gold, but bags of diamonds that are hidden in a small cave behind the woods”. The interpreter told the Chief, “He said that he would rather die than tell you where the gold is”
Most of us are like this Chief when it comes to the Bible. We do not know what we are searching for, nor know the value of the treasure. We make assumptions about the Bible or depend on the interpreters to understand what is said, and then the interpreters might not convey the truth or might twist it to suit their needs.
The Bible has inspired and transformed the lives of millions of people, including kings, presidents, paupers, educated or atheists. Yet, it is one of the most attacked, manipulated, and debated books of all time.
The Bible has always challenged Christians and others alike. Surely, questions like ‘does God truly speak through the Bible’, ‘how should I interpret the scriptures, ‘should I take this as God’s promise to me’ are few questions that might have shaken our faith as a believer.
Today, let us reflect on how we use the Bible and more importantly, how should we read the Bible to understand God, Jesus, and the world. The Book of Daniel gives us an excellent platform for searching for the answers. This book gives us the confidence of Daniel, that God speaks to us, hears our plea, sees our pain, and will act for our deliverance and it is through faith and unshakable trust in God that we can experience God’s vision for us.
Now, how did Daniel and others in his time and ours use the Bible?
We can categorize the people involved in this book into three groups on the basis of how they used the Torah, which might be relevant to us even today.
Firstly, there was a group of people who used the law of God as a tool for framing Daniel. They knew that Daniel observes the covenant faithfully and decided to use it to make allegations against him. The Word of God is used even today as a weapon for justifying people’s religious fanatism or for interpreting it to meet our desires like the interpreter in the story. Let us not forget that even Satan used the scriptures for tempting Jesus.
In contrast, there are people who read the Scripture to put the Word of God to test, wondering if God would keep his promises. King Darius belonged to this category and so are many of us. Darius threw the ball in God’s court by stating that ‘May the God whom you faithfully serve to deliver you’. King Darius knew the power of Yahweh but still doubted his saving power when he threw Daniel into the den of lions.
Likewise, we too doubt our God, don’t we? We wonder if God would deliver us from our den of troubles. We ask if God is being unjust and if we deserve such trials and comfortably use the Scripture to test God.
Thirdly, we have people who use the Bible as the living word of God that fuels their faith. Daniel was the kind of man who was strongly devoted to God and was faithful to the Torah, even if it meant, going into the den of death. When Daniel’s opposers tricked King Darius into throwing Daniel into a den of lions, Daniel came out unscathed because he trusted in the Word of God.
Today, how do we see ourselves using the Bible?
Do we read it as pacifiers when we go through troubled waters and as a tool for helping us make important life decisions? Is it functioning as a guide or as a manual book that helps us to walk on the right path? Does it just serve as a reminder that Christ went to the cross for our sins and that we need to accept Jesus as our personal savior? Otherwise, does it remind us of a typical moment of commitment to God? Are we engaging with the Bible as a ‘whole’ or preferring some texts over others? Let us take a moment to think about it…
Obviously, the Scripture played a vital role in Daniel’s life. Commentators state that ‘the books’ referred to in Chapter nine could be a collection of sacred writings by the Prophet Jeremiah. For Daniel, it was a sacred book that inspired his life and gave him a reason for hope and deliverance. This was not only when he was thrown into the den of lions, but also for the future of his people and nation.
So, what lessons do we take from Daniel on reading the Bible?
Reading the Scripture requires meaningful engagement and fellowship
Scripture is not ready-to-eat food for us to pick a passage and use it when we are hungry for God’s word. It is not just literature or a piece of wisdom. It is God’s voice that helps us to have an encounter with him. Reading the Bible is engaging and having fellowship with the Triune God. It is carefully listening to the voice of God through prayer and fasting and making a plea to God as Daniel did. In fact, Daniel made it a practice to read the Word of God and practiced what he read. Walking closely with God is having two-way communication with him that will help us to understand God without an interpreter.
Reading the Scripture needs to complement our prayer and faith walk with God
The book of Daniel is a story of faith and a prayerful walk with God. Daniel and his friends were not consumed by evil because they believed in the Word of God. Like Daniel, we need to have a steadfast faith in God’s word and be ‘transformed’ within ourselves and to the world around us.
Scripture brings deliverance and restoration
Daniel pleaded with God for deliverance and trusted in the words spoken by God and so should we. Daniel confirmed that God always remains true to his words. God keeps his covenant towards all who love him and his covenant rests on his grace. We might be traveling the rough path, but God’s word gives us hope and confidence that our deliverance is very near.
Lastly, Scripture should help us to reflect the image of Christ
Daniel saw God’s love and restoration of his people through the Messiah. Daniel’s focus was on the coming of Jesus Christ. Likewise, our focus when reading the Word of God needs to be centered around Jesus such that we are able to reflect the image of God in every walk of our life.
Today, let us make a decision for reflecting the image of Christ with the help of Scripture. Indeed, it is not going to be easy. We cannot be normal people trying to reflect the image of Christ in our life. But it is in our abnormality and sinful life, that the Word of God strengthens us to walk the journey with faith and focus on God’s love and justice. Amen.