Tell me what you find in the Bible, and I will tell you what you are.
DR. OSKAR PFISTER
* * * * *
What is the purpose of the Bible? Or did it have a purpose? Why was it written? Scholars assure us it is nothing like the Koran, the work of one individual. Actually the Bible is a collection of inspired writings accumulated over a period of 1500 years.
But isn't there some purpose behind it? Yes, there is. Christians believe the Bible was written under divine inspiration to remove the barrier of sin from the human race and to reconcile us to our God, so that we might enjoy Him forever. The apostle Paul explains: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation."1
The Bible is the Holy Spirit's written "word of reconciliation." More than that, the Scriptures are God's love letter to the people of earth. For two thousand years men, women, and children have found it to be the key to life. Chapters and verses, nouns and verbs are so put together in God's Word that they convey cleansing, healing, forgiveness, and salvation to the
human race. Thus for millions of believers the Bible continues to be a love gift to the human race, wrapped in the grace and tender mercy of God.
The New Testament tells us that "the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."2 Grace means that our salvation was brought about by the sacrificial shedding of the blood of our Lord on the cross at Calvary. Truth is culminated by His death on our behalf and in our stead, followed by His resurrection from the grave. It might be said that here are the two most important facts of life ever revealed to humankind: namely, that Jesus died to take away sin, and that there is a life beyond.
As we read the Bible we discover a lot about ourselves. We were placed on this specially prepared planet by God's personal act of love, to enjoy its beauty and fruitful goodness, to care for it and for each other, and to live our lives in freedom and abundance. Charles Spurgeon wrote, "This fair world of ours was once a glorious temple, every pillar of which reflected the goodness of God, and every part of which was a symbol of good."3
So there was joy at creation; but then the Bible tells us frankly and candidly what happened to us. Through human temptations and the deceptions of the principalities and powers of darkness, the rapture of paradise was lost to humanity. Through human disobedience we spurned the divine blessing, turning it into a curse. Such is the teaching of the Bible.
There is no evading the facts; they declare themselves afresh each day in the headlines of the morning newspaper. Sin continues to harass individuals, bring families into turmoil, and plunge nations into deadly conflict. Thus evil perennially confounds our noblest efforts to achieve righteousness, nobility of character, and holiness in this life. For proof we need only to turn and examine every tribe, state, and nation on the face of the earth, including our own.
The Bible tells us that we are sinners, and that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.4 It also says our sins were all borne away at Calvary, and our redemption was paid for by the blood of Jesus. Yet even though
the burden of our guilt was lifted at the cross, and Jesus Christ covered us over with His banner of love, we still remain at best very imperfect specimens of what God had in mind. The closer we get to the Light, the more we see our defects.
Speaking personally, I confess my own transgressions to God daily. Something is obviously lacking in my mortal soul. I pray with John Donne:
Wilt thou forgive those sins through which I run
And do them still, though still I do deplore?5
But there is one other fact to remember: God knows those of us who love Him. He is aware of our dilemma. He also recognizes our sincere albeit imperfect desire to do His will. He accepted and still accepts our allegiance. When we come to Him afresh with broken and contrite hearts, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us. The moral change in the universe that occurred when we gave ourselves into His keeping has not changed. It still stands. We are in His care. He has not taken His hand away.
All this is found in the Bible, and helps to make it the most unique and wonderful Book in the world. It invites us to taste its goodness, its milk and honey and its solid food. It welcomes us to feel the saving and healing power of Christ in our mind, body, and spirit. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that he is not depending on his own righteousness to win his way to heaven; rather he is depending on the righteousness "which is of God through faith." He is not perfected, but he presses on "for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."6
And what does all this have to do with joy, the subject of our chapter? You will soon learn, for I am asking you to undertake a most unusual fun task. I would like you to do a little surfing through the Bible on your own, looking for joy. What a wealth of joyful expression! There is Nehemiah's classic statement: "The joy of the LORD is your strength" (8:10). The Psalms are spilling over with gladness at the goodness of God. Isaiah the prophet sparkles with joy. You will find at least 542 references to joy
between Genesis and Revelation and at least 105 in the Psalms alone!
In chapter after chapter, Psalm after Psalm, and Proverb after Proverb of this ancient but so-modern Book you will find pearls and sapphires that will fill you with gladness of heart. For example:
A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance.
A merry heart does good, like medicine.
A man has joy by the answer of his mouth.
God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight.
The kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.7
The list goes on and on.
Here is one superb example of the joy the Bible contains. It is a messianic passage in the book of the prophet Isaiah. Our Lord Himself quoted it during His return home to Nazareth:
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
because the LORD has anointed Me
to preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound....
to comfort all who mourn,
to console those who mourn in Zion,
to give them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
that they may be called trees of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.8
As for the New Testament, it is a-dazzle with the joy of the Lord. You will find people laughing, skipping, leaping, shouting,
singing, dancing, playing instruments, celebrating. There was joy at Jesus' resurrection and joy at His ascension. Everything Paul the apostle did he seems to have done with joy. Then why don't we see it emphasized in Christian liturgy and literature, instead of the opposite?
James S. Stewart, my beloved teacher at Edinburgh University, said, "Don't be put off by these gloomy caricatures of Christianity. For God's sake don't judge Jesus, the King of joy, by them! Try the real thing, not that miserable parody of the reality. Make friends with Jesus, stand where Peter and John and Andrew did and look into His eyes, listen to the music of His voice, answer His challenge, rise and follow."9
What is the Bible's ultimate purpose? To bring exhilaration and delight to you and me? No. It is to bring us to God. The One who made us who wants us to live in fellowship with Him. He has something in mind for us to do. The Bible is a love letter to the whole world, but it starts with the person who opens it and reads it. It is the message of a Father pleading with His children. It is not some strange vibration out of the cosmos, nor is it a mystical distillation from the zodiac. Its purport is, "Come home, son. Come home, daughter." And it ends with the promise of the Holy Spirit that He will stay with us, will never leave us no matter what difficulty we are in, and will bring us at our journey's end to the loving Father who made us and the Jesus who saved us.
Here is where the joy enters: That welcoming party will be accompanied by a joy so exquisite in richness that nothing in earth or heaven can compare with it. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."10
1. 2 Corinthians 5:19
2. John 1:17
3. Spurgeon's Sermons (London: Funk & Wagnalls, 1904), p. 34
4. 1 John 1:8
5. John Donne, "Hymn to God the Father."
6. Romans 3:22; Philippians 3:14
7. Proverbs 15:13; 17:22; 15:23; Ecclesiastes 2:26; Romans 14:17
8. Isaiah 61:1-3
9. James S. Stewart, River of Life (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1972).
10. John 3:16
Chapter 9 || Table of Contents