Worship Leader: Josh Bennett Music Director: Tim Hallman
November 26, 2023
Welcome / Announcements
Lighting of Christ Candle
Call to Worship
Hymn: VU 236 “Now Thank We All Our God”
Psalm 119: 105-112, Micah 6:6-8, John 1: 1-9
Sermon: “The Bible in 15 Min”
John 1: 1-9
Today we’re going to go through the Bible. Before I talk about what the Bible is, however, let me talk about what the Bible is not:
The Bible is NOT written by God!
Many people are confused by this, and indeed some Christian churches would call this statement heresy. But the Bible was NOT written by God and is therefore not the “Word of God”. Nowhere in the Bible does it claim to be written by God. According to the Bible, the “Word of God” is Christ himself. The Bible was written by humans. Inspired by God, yes, but written by flawed humans with their biases, and the political or religious agenda of their day. Therefore, the Bible is not perfect.
The Bible is NOT a kids’ book:
Many of us learned our Bible as kids in Sunday School. But let’s be clear, the Bible as a whole is not suitable for kids. The Bible is a book of very adult content detailing with such things as war, genocide, sex, rape, and issues of deep and complex morality. If you learned the Bible as a child, try reading it again as an adult — and you will be surprised at how it takes on new meaning!
The Bible is NOT doctrine or theology:
This one surprises a lot of people, but it’s true, the Bible does not outline specific religious doctrine or theology. For example, there are many different churches who worship in many different ways and who disagree on doctrine or theology, but who all use the same Bible.
The Bible is NOT a rule book:
Anyone who tells you they “follow all the rules of the Bible” have not read their Bible, and really what they mean is that they follow a specific doctrine of a specific church. No one can possibly “follow all the rules of the Bible” because the Bible is filled with contradictions. The original editors of the Bible knew about these contradictions, but kept them in. Why? Because sometimes wisdom and insight can come at the intersection of two points of view. The Bible makes YOU do the work. The Bible makes YOU think. The Bible makes YOU discover and develop wisdom.
What the Bible is:
The Story of the Israelites
An exploration of human relationship with God
The record of the coming of Christ the Messiah
The Bible was written and takes place in the Middle East, where the ancient civilizations thrived. There are three major rivers: The Nile River where the ancient Egyptians thrived, and the Tigress and Euphrates rivers to the north where the Assyrians and Babylonian empires were. In the middle is the land of Canaan, also known as the Promised Land. This small strip of very fertile land is hemmed in by the Mediterranean Sea on one side, and mountains and deserts on the other. It’s a major trading route between Egypt and the Assyrian and Babylonian empires, and therefore a very strategic location. It’s a small geographic area, slightly larger than the Greater Toronto Area. More wars have been fought in this tiny strip of land than any other piece of land in the history of the world.
Israel was always a very small tribe relative to their large neighbors and surrounded by many other small tribes. Despite what the Bible tells us, the Israelites were never a major power in the region, and never a large kingdom. They were just one of many small tribes in the region. But their religion is what made the tribe of Israel unique.
While there were a lot of tribes, nations, and empires in the ancient world, their religions were all very similar to each other – they almost all had a pantheon of gods, who mostly represented forces of nature, or human emotions and attributes. For example, these ancient religions almost always had a god of the sun, god of the sea, god of the moon, a goddess of fertility, a god of war, a goddess of beauty … etc. Morality was not a main or central part of these ancient religions. These gods were also not all powerful. The realm in which they existed was often more powerful than they were. For example, in Greek Mythology the gods could not control fate – fate controlled them. They also didn’t always care about humans very much. They would bump into humans every now and then, or use humans for their own purposes, but they had their own problems going on, so the mortal humans were of little consequence to them.
Contrast this with the God of Israel: One God. God is not the sun, or the stars, or the moon, God transcends the very universe. God is all powerful, who created the universe. And finally, God is a good God, a moral God, a God of love who wants all humans to not only experience this love but to spread love to all around. This idea (I’d call it a revelation) was a radically new idea in the ancient world.
The first five books of the Bible are referred to as the Pentateuch. Penta is Greek for five, and Teuch for law. These are the same first five books of the Jewish Bible. The Book of Genesis has the story of creation, the Garden of Eden, and the great flood. Then Abraham is introduced. Abraham came into the land of Canaan from Ur (later Babylon) in roughly 2,100 BC. All three major world religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, trace their origins to this man who lived in and established a family tribe in Canaan. His offspring became the twelve tribes of Israel. Genesis ends with the story of Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat (he was the great- grandson of Abraham) when the Israelites came to Egypt during a famine.
The book of Exodus takes place several generations after the days of Joseph, when the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians. Exodus means “Exit” and is the story of Moses (an Egyptian name) leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness and eventually to the Promised Land. Exodus is also the beginning of Mosaic Law, starting with Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments. The rest of the three books that make up the Pentateuch are a mix of stories of the Israelites as they wandered through the desert, but heavy with ancient Israelite law.
The next eleven books are commonly referred to as The Narrative. These books tell the story of the Israelites that spans roughly 1,000 years. The book of Joshua is a book of conquest as the twelve tribes of Israel cross the river Jordan and enter the Promised Land. The Book of Judges is a book of ancient Israelite folk tales, including the stories of Sampson and Gideon. In these days Israel had no king, and the twelve tribes were ruled by Judges. Every now and then a threat to Israel would emerge, and a judge would step up and lead the tribes of Israel to victory. These judges were not necessarily the tribal leaders and were often selected by God. Gideon, for example, was a simple farmer and was the “least of his family” (the youngest). “When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.’” (Judges 6:12) The book of Ruth is a short love story. Ruth (who was not an Israelite but a Moabite), marries Boaz, and they start the line of King David, and the line of Jesus of Nazareth.
Next come the books of First and Second Samuel. Samuel is a very interesting character. He reminds me a lot of Gandalf: he’s mysterious, powerful, a warrior, a leader, and very wise. Like Gandalf he disappears for chapters at a time and will then reappear to give a King advice before a war. But the books of Samuel are mainly about the rise of David from shepherd to warrior, and eventually to becoming the greatest King of Israel. David is portrayed as being a brilliant warrior and general, and a great King. But he was also very faithful to God, and bowed his head to God, and would admit to and confess his sins and moral failings. David made Jerusalem the capital of Israel, and is believed to have reigned about 1,000 B.C.
The book of First Kings is about David’s son, King Solomon, who became King after David’s death. This point in history is the high-water mark of Israel’s ancient Kingdom. With their lands extending from Egypt to the Euphrates, they had the resources and military might to defend its borders. Solomon is said to have been very wise, and his greatest accomplishment is building and completing the Temple at Jerusalem. This was a very significant historic event. It made Jerusalem a center of worship for all Israelites. In the book of Second Kings Solomon dies, and the Kingdom of Israel splits into two Kingdoms. The southern Kingdom (where Jerusalem is) held two of the tribes and was ruled by the tribe of Judah and therefore became the Kingdom of Judea. The northern Kingdom (the other 10 tribes of Israel) retained the name of Israel. After several hundred years and many different Kings, some good, some bad, the Kingdom of Israel was wiped out by the Assyrians. After that military defeat, the ten northern tribes of Israel were lost to history, and never reformed as a political entity. The Kingdom of Judah lasted a few more decades, but was eventually conquered by the Babylonians, and placed into exile in Babylon.
The next section of the Bible is a set of five books known as Wisdom Literature. The book of Job is a very ancient story that deals with the big question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The book of Psalms is a collection of songs and poems that span the days of King David to the exile in Babylon. Psalms contains some of the most famous pieces of scripture, such as Psalm 23, believed to be written by David himself.
Proverbs is classic wisdom literature filled with wise sayings, such as “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding” (Proverbs 3:13) while Ecclesiastes is an existential book about the meaning of life. Song of Songs is a poem about … well, it’s about sex. It’s an ancient erotic poem about two young people in love, and I’ll leave it there.
The next section is known as the Prophets, and they are generally grouped by the “Major Prophets” and “Minor Prophets”. These books span the years before, during, and after the exile in Babylon, with most of them written after the people of Judea returned to the promised land. In 539 BC, the Persian Empire defeated the Babylonians, and allowed the Jewish people to return to their land and rebuild their temple. While previous empires held a policy of abolishing the religions of the nations they conquered, the Persians had a much different outlook, and allowed their vassal states to practice their own religion so long as they paid their taxes and didn’t revolt against them.
The exile to Babylon and subsequent return to Jerusalem is a watershed moment for ancient Israel. Many Biblical scholars believe the Bible likely would not have come to be without that exile. When the Jews returned to the Promised Land and built the Second Temple, they began systematically collecting, writing, and editing their ancient stories and scripts. It is this period where most of the Bible as we know it today was first put together. Many of the ancient stories from the first fifteen books of the Bible would have come from a mix of oral tradition, and a collection of older ancient writings that have been lost to history.
This marked a period of a couple of hundred years where various prophets wrote books exploring human relationship with God. Many were prompted by the question “If we are God’s chosen people, why are we constantly persecuted?” The book of Micah dives deep into the question of “What does God require of us?”, and sums the question and answer in one short but famous verse: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8).
This is also the era (roughly 300 – 500 years before Christ) when many prophets first wrote about the coming of the Messiah. The prophesies of the Messiah were clear – he would be God in the form of a man and would be born of a virgin. As the prophet Isaiah writes, “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14). The prophet Micah also predicts that the Messiah will come from the town of Bethlehem and be of the line of David: “But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2). In the book of Daniel, the prophet calls the Messiah the “son of man”, a title that Christ used to describe himself: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, …. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” (Daniel 7:13-14).
The Prophets marked the end of the “Old Testament”, with the last books being written sometime around 300 BC. Around that same time Alexander the Great, with his Greek and Macedonian armies, conquered the Persian Empire, and expanded East all the way to India. During his conquest, Alexander established Greek City States throughout the Mediterranean, and established Greek as the dominant language and culture.
When the Romans conquered the entire Mediterranean around 100 BC, they kept the Greek language and culture throughout. This is why the New Testament was all written in Greek, whereas the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. Jesus was born during the early centuries of the Roman Empire. His first language was Aramaic, but he also would have been able to speak Hebrew and Greek.
This brings us to the New Testament, starting off with The Gospel, comprising of five books. The first three books, Matthew, Mark, and Luke are commonly referred to as the Synoptic Gospels, because they closely resemble each other, and indeed there are many sections copied verbatim between all three. These early books record the birth, baptism, teachings, and story of Jesus. The Gospel of John was the last Gospel to be written and is mainly centered on Christ’s time in Jerusalem. Because this book was written a few decades after the first three gospels, it reflects a more advanced theology and view of who Christ was. While first century historians disagree on the facts and details of the life of Jesus, they all agree that the following are facts: Jesus was a real person, he was baptised in the Jordan river by John the Baptist, and he was crucified by the Romans.
The Gospels go into detail to record the crucifixion of Jesus, and his resurrection three days later. The most interesting aspect of the Gospels is that these stories are very unlikely stories, not typical at all of first century stories or literature. For example, that the writers of the Gospel would take so much time talking about the women followers of Jesus, even naming them, was unique for First Century writers. All four Gospels record that the first people to discover the empty tomb and to first proclaim the risen Christ were all women, even though by Hebrew law a woman’s testimony was not considered valid.
The book of Acts, also known as the Acts of the Apostles, was written by the same author as the book of Luke, and outlines the events after Christ was on earth. Acts is the story of the Apostles spreading the word of the Gospel and establishing the early church. Acts is also mainly the story of Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as Paul. Saul never knew Jesus while he was on earth. As a young man Saul was engaged in hunting and persecuting the early Christians, when he met Christ in a blinding light on the road to Demascus. He was instantly converted, changed his name to Paul, and spent the rest of his life spreading the word of Christ. The Disciples of Christ were focused on evangelizing to the Jews; Paul was commissioned to spread the word to the gentiles (non-Jews).
A tent-maker by trade, Paul traveled all over the Roman Empire spreading the word of Christ and starting Churches, which in those days were little more than “Jesus Clubs” who would meet in peoples’ houses. The next section of the Bible are Paul’s Letters to these early churches. Some of these letters pre-date the first Gospel, Mark. The earliest letter, Galatians, was written roughly ten years after the death of Jesus. Paul’s letters to these early churches have had more influence over Christianity than almost anything other than Christ himself. Paul’s letters taught early Christians not only about Christ, but also how to live in the Spirit, how to follow the ways of Christ, and how to think about our relationship with God.
In one of Paul’s greatest works, his letter to the Romans, he describes how nothing can separate us from the love of God. Paul’s letters were copied and re-copied and spread all over the Roman Empire. These theological teachings were foundational for the early church’s development, but also marked a shift from Christianity being small sect of Judeaism to a universal belief system that would spread to all people in all nations.
There are thirteen letters in all written by Paul to various churches throughout the Roman Empire, some of them written while he was in prison. It is believed that Paul was eventually put to death in Rome by the Roman authorities. But his letters lived on, and a few centuries later became scripture.
The last set of books of the Bible are called the General Epistles. These are a collection of eight books, some believed to have been written by either the Apostles of Christ, or followers of the original Apostles. They are not letters, but read more like sermons or statements of faith. The book of Hebrews is believed to have been written by one of Christ’s Apostles to the people of Judea, and the Jewish-Christian community living in the Holy Land.
The last book of the Bible is the famous Book of Revelations, which is an apocolyptic style of writing, speaking about the “end of times”. This was the final book that the early church allowed into the canon that eventually became the Bible, and is believed to have been written in the late first century, likely in the year 95, roughly sixty years after the death of Christ. Revelations was written in an era when Christians were being persecuted by Rome, and many of the “monsters” and characters in the book represent Roman officials and Domitian, the Roman Emperor of the day. The book of Revelations ends with a prophecy that one day Christ will return in power and judge the wicked and oppressed, and will begin a new reign over all nations.
What I find amazing is this: four to five thousand years ago there was a tiny tribe of people who believed in a new kind of God, one very different from the gods of other tribes and nations, a God of Love and morality, who wants humans to be good and moral people. This tiny tribe kept getting beaten, persecuted, and occupied by other tribes and nations, and yet they continued to survive, and continue to praise and worship God. They develped this relationship with God, wrote down their ideas, laws, stories, histories, and prophesies, and these writings exist to this day. What’s even more remarkable, and 2000 years ago, a man named Jesus lived and walked on this earth. He was born to a peasant family in a remote backwater of the Roman Empire. He never traveled more than 100 miles from his birthplace. He only lived about 33 years before he was crucified by the Romans. Yet no one has impacted and changed the world more than this man. His message of truth, peace, salvation, forgiveness and love is a message that strikes at the heart of all humanity.
Thanks be to God,
Hymn: VU 642 “Be Thou My Vision”
Offering Hymn: VU 541 “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow”
Prayers of the People
The Lord’s Prayer
Closing Hymn: VU 625 “I Feel the Winds of God”
Commissioning and Benediction
Choral Blessing: “Go Now in Peace”
The bulletin this morning has been donated by Cynthia Sparringand Tracey Nutbrown
in memory of Ibrey and Helen Nutbrown
"A Village Church With A Heart For The World"
Christ United Church
12 Perth St., PO Box 113, Lyn, ON, K0E 1M0
(613)498-0281 (Phone) (613)498-2589 (Fax)
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