Lecture 10: The Finish Line’s in Sight
Lecture: The Finish Line's in Sight
I bet you never thought we would get here, but here we are, session ten, the whole Bible in ten sessions. You probably guessed where I want to start today. What I want to do is to take you back and review all of the structure with you, it will just take a little bit; but I think it is important that I could leave you with a word that you would remember. From all the words in scripture, this one might be there somewhere. I will leave you with the word “review.” The reality is that if you do not review, no matter how well you know something, over time it will slip away. If you use this tool, even in some of the ways that I have suggested as we have made this journey together, you will find that it will serve you in great stead.
Ages ago I went through what is called an ordination consult, which is just where a bunch of pastors get together and ask you all of the things they could never answer. I sat down and they were going to query me in terms of my qualifications in terms of theology, in terms of Bible, in terms of practical ministry and some other personal things related to character and the like. They had an audience, which is always interesting, too. After the fact I had one person from the audience who came back and said, “I have a question for you.” I said, “What is that question?” He said, “I noticed in the Bible section that every time they asked you a question about the Bible, you did the same thing every time.” I said, “What is that?” He said, “You paused and I could tell you were looking away like you were looking at something and thinking, and that probably was not very long, maybe 15, 20 or 30 seconds. I could tell you were pausing. Then you would answer the question, like ‘This question could be found here, here’s the answer to it.’ How did you do that?” I basically said, “Here is how I did it” and I gave him this structure and gave him about two books’ worth of just talk in terms of, here is how these books fit together and here is the content of the books. He said, “You are kidding me. You did that through the whole Bible?” I said, “Yes, and so could you.” Now I can say to you, “So could you.” You have learned that you can. This is not a mystery. This thing is put together so that you can understand it. You now have a tool. If you will keep it alive, it will make all the difference for you.
Maybe you won’t sit before an ordination council, but you might be one day sitting with some friend who needs counsel and it is going to change his whole life. You will be able to draw on these pieces and say, “Let me help you look here. I think the counsel you need is right here.” And that will make all of the difference. So I want to urge you to keep this tool alive. It does not take a lot of investment and it will pay you returns that you cannot begin to imagine, even now that we have raced through the whole Bible in this five or six-hour time frame.
I want to review one more time. I want to ask you to do something sometime in the next couple of days. That is to get a blank sheet of paper and to sit down and simply draw the structure and write in the words and try to remember what you know about it. Last night as I was thinking about this session today, I got myself a blank piece of paper and drew it out. I like to call this, “the Bible on a napkin.” Anywhere you go, you can draw the structure of the Bible. It was great. I went through it and I thought of things that I had not thought of in a long time. Frankly, it made me eager to come to be with you for this session because it is that significant.
Let’s just take a look at what we figured out in big picture form. We know that the structures of The Old and New Testaments functionally have connection. Both have a foundational section that sort of sets the pattern for the rest, that lays down principles, that gives direction, that helps us understand the importance of things that will be part of our lives and the lives of the faith communities that we are in. Here in this section we have five books: Genesis through Deuteronomy. Over here we have four books which we call the gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
We also have a historical section that helps us understand and see how these foundational things can work out in history. Here we have 12 books beginning with Joshua, ending with Esther. We see people living or not living these things out. We can get a sense of what happens when they do well, what happens when they don’t. We can see the importance of leadership here in history and helping people deal with the foundational things. In The New Testament we have the same pattern with one book, the book of Acts, which is our history piece. It is the same thing. This new community called the church, and the individuals in it, have never been that before; but they are going to start living it out. We can see what comes up and what they do and the patterns and practices that become part of them. This becomes a huge piece.
The last part that is important is, we know that each has an instructional piece. To help us understand what is going on, here in The Old Testament remember there are 22 books and in The New Testament we also have this instructional piece and there are 22 books here as well. What we see is that the foundation speaks into this history key things that need to happen. When the people live by them, they work out the best possible life by following the foundation. If they violate them, then things go askew. The instructional part speaks back up into this history, encouraging people when they are doing well, correcting people when they are not. That is very simple, but that is basically what happens.
The poetical piece, remember there were two here. There was the poetical section and then there was the prophetical section. The poetical section kind of gave us the heart. When they were going great, how did the people feel about it? When it was going badly, how did the people feel about it? When my friends were friends, how did that work? When my friends became enemies, what did that feel like? The poets gave us the heart. The prophets gave us instruction related to the events around us, how we responded to them and how that would work out, sometimes encouraging us to move forward, sometimes encouraging these people to hold back or to change, to be corrected. These became very important.
Over here, the same thing. The gospels, the life of Christ, becomes the history. It is all about the working out of the life of Christ as Christ died, rose again, ascends to the Father, sends the Spirit, empowers this history and we see then the outworking of His vision and mission in this history. These instruct. There has never been a church before, so part of it instructs the development of this faith community called the church; and part of it instructs believers in these communities who need to grow up, who need to become mature. So we have this same pattern working along in this structure. It is as simple as it can be.
The Silent Years
Remember, we said that this kind of flows in that direction; and in the middle we have the 400 silent years. We talked about some rulers who were all having impact over here in The New Testament. We talked about Persia. They basically had a foreign policy that helped the Jews return to their land after being in exile. They rebuilt the temple, they rebuilt the religious system, they rebuilt Jerusalem to some degree. Persia was very significant. They were followed by the Greeks. Alexander the Great conquered this area and began to establish a Greek culture there. They brought good things and bad things as well. Among the many good things they brought here was the language. That language, Greek, became the language of the land, language of the Bible. It is a very precise language. It was a well known language throughout the Roman Empire. It is going to be huge when we get over here and see the expansion of the church.
There is going to be a period of independence when the Jews are going to rule over themselves in these 400 years. Out of that I am going to use the word, “hope.” There was hope that a Messiah would come. That hope would kind of disappear as rulers in Persia got worse and worse, replaced by Greek rulers who started out great and then as they went through generations, they got worse and worse. Sadly, even in the independence, that same pattern carried on. But with hope, they returned to a one-God kind of system. They anticipated the coming of Messiah and that established some important things for The New Testament as the life of Christ unfolds before us.
The last part was Rome. Rome was the systems guys. They build cities and all kinds of things. They brought a certain kind of peace to the land. It was an enforced peace, but it was a peace nevertheless. They also brought roads. As simple as that seems, that was the network that was important in empowering the spread of the gospel, as we see it spread in Acts, from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and then beyond to the missionary work of Paul and others.
That is a quick run-through. You are probably saying to yourself, “Why didn’t you do it that fast in the first place? Then we could have done that all in one session.” But aren’t you glad we took time to look at all of this. It is so important. I hope this helps you immeasurably.
I want to close by taking you to one book, one passage, that I think is really a good and appropriate close for us here today. I am going to move to the book of Jude, one of the last letters written in The New Testament, one of the last letters in the Bible. This fits into that section we said were general epistles and they were generally addressed to believers. The issue was maturity through that section.
Jude was a half brother of Jesus. I love this guy because he never identifies himself as that in the letter. He is not a name dropper. But rather, he says, “I’m a bondservant of Jesus and a brother of James.” Then he says, “To those who are called beloved in God the Father and kept through Jesus Christ.” So he is speaking to believers. “You were called to become a follower of Jesus. You are beloved of God the Father, who sent Jesus for you and you are kept through Him.” God’s business is keeping you. Those are all preachable by themselves, but we won’t go there.
Jude then says, “Beloved, when I was making every effort to write to you of our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all handed down to the saints.” What he is saying to us is, “I started out to write to you about something. I started out to write to you to remind you of all of the things that we believe and hold to be common.” That is pretty important, isn’t it? But it is like, when he thought about that, the Spirit of God said, “Wait a second, that’s not quite where I need you to go at this moment in time.” So Jude writes: “Even though I was going to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you, appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith, which was once for all handed down to the saints.”
What Jude is now reflecting is that there is a worry in him, I think stimulated by the work of the Spirit of God in his life, that in fact believers are indeed losing energy and they are losing their ability to contend for the faith in the cultures that they are in. That does not mean to be contentious for the faith. We have enough of that. This is what it means to be a representative of the faith. Remember, he said he was going to write to you about that faith. “I was going to write to you about all those things we hold in common.”I think he is thinking this: I realize you probably know all of this and the dilemma is, you are not doing it. Because you are not doing it, you are losing our sharpness. You are losing your ability to contend in a contentious culture.
In another lifetime of mine I was a high school football coach. We had great seasons, we had bad seasons. The best team that I had in my seasons as a football coach averaged about 65 points a game on offense and gave up less than 6 points a game on defense; and I never played the first team more than a half. These guys were players. They were way beyond the caliber of their coach. But here is the greatest challenge I had with these great players. Every week we would go through this routine. “Coach, do we need to practice on Monday?” “Yeah, I think we need to practice on Monday.” “Come on, Coach, you know we’re better than the team we’re going to play next week. We could beat that team with one hand tied behind our backs. We don’t need to practice.” I would say, “Yes, we do need to practice, so I will see you on Monday.” The hardest thing that I had to do with this team, once we taught them all of the fundamentals, and they knew them, was to actually get them to understand that if they didn’t practice them, they would become less and less capable to contend. They might win next week and maybe even the week after; but if they didn’t do it, there would come a day when their skills would be so declined, that they would lose. So, I did not have to be bright as a coach, I just had to get them to practice. In practice, we would go through this: “Do we need to run that play one more time, Coach? We have run that play a thousand times.” “Well, a thousand-and-one- works.”You see, repetition and review are so significant if we are going to stay on our game.
What Jude is doing is moving to say, “This is important. I know you know this. As your coach, I need to talk with you about how you make this a practice, so that you stay able to be an effective championship contender. You are going to face hard opponents. You are going to face your own attitudes and difficulties at times and you are surely going to face pressure from the outside. So, how in the world are you going to do this?” Then he tells us. After a long dissertation on false teaching, he says this in verse 20 (we call it the book that is small as a postcard) : “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keeping yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. Have mercy on some who are doubting. Save others, snatching them out of the fire and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
What he tells us here, I’m going to give you three words. You are good if you can remember the three words. If we’re going to stay on our game – forgive the coach lingo, it’s part of me and I can’t get over it – if we are going to stay on our game, spiritually speaking, we needed to be rooted, we need to be reaching and we need to be real. That is where Jude takes the people.
The rootedness you find here in verse 20 when he says: “But you, brethren, building yourselves up in the most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” The centerpiece here is, “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” This is your job. If you are going to stay on a path toward and sustaining of maturity, you have to keep yourself in the love of God. How do you do that? Well, you don’t do it by yourself. He says, “You, beloved, build one another in the most holy faith.” In other words, you know this and its implications and you build each other in the application of it. You invest in each other to grow in the faith once for all delivered to the saints. That is the piece of being rooted. That is the piece of being centered in the love of God, when I know the faith and the faith has content. We have looked at a lot of it together and there is so much more, isn’t there?
So Jude says, you have to be a builder. The way you stay in the love of God, the way you stay rooted is, you build one another. Then he says, there is one more piece: “Praying in the Holy Spirit.” I personally don’t think he was reflecting on anything mystical here. This is simply an understanding of knowing what is important to the Spirit of God and praying with that in mind. I can pray through a bunch of things; but if I know the Bible, then I know things that are important to the heart of God. Jude is saying, “Those are important things to put in your prayer repertoire if you want to be a contender, if you want to be rooted, which is a crucial piece of this, keeping yourself centered in the love of God.” How? By building each other, by praying in the Spirit. Then, the last thing he says is, by expecting the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In all of these letters we looked at in one of these sessions, the letters that are Hebrews through Revelation, all contain heavy expectation of the return of Christ. It was crucial to those writers that their readers understand that was an integral part of their becoming mature. That is what Jude is saying. Here is the first piece: Be rooted in the love of God. How am I rooted? By us building one another in the faith which is given to us, it is there for us to know; by praying consistent with the heart of God, the Spirit of God, praying for those things that are important to Him; and then by living expectantly. Jesus makes that important, even in his own work in Matthew when he is answering a question about who are the stewards that He would leave in charge. It follows a parable where he talks about these servants who, when the master went away, stayed at their tasks, knowing that he would return sometime, not knowing when, but knowing that it was important than when he came back, he would find them at their work. He said basically, those are the people I’m going to put in charge. They are the stewards. So, living expectantly is part of that. Christ is going to return and we, as believers, if we want to stay rooted in the realities of the faith, to make it powerful and living in our lives, we live with a sense of expectancy. For the master one day is going to come back and how is he going to find us?
So that is being rooted. He then says you need to reach. This is a great passage. You can’t just have roots and do nothing. If there is any issue of the church today, to me it seems that we have gone through a period where we have tried to create a lot of roots, but I’m not so sure we have done so well with the reach. The great part of it is, I think the reach is being talked about more in ways like the missional church, for instance, where it is almost a shift toward reaching. I hope we don’t shift toward being away from being rooted, because that is important. We do need to reach. Here is what Jude says about that: “And have mercy on some who are dying. Save others, snatching them out of the fire. On some have mercy with fear, hating even the garments polluted by the flesh.” He gives you levels of reaching. “Have mercy on some who are dying.” That is a relatively easy reach. Even our congregations have people in them who are believers, but have doubts. When we run into doubt, we reach in a certain way to answer those doubts. Our culture is filled with doubts. It is a great way to start a conversation with someone who is in need of relationship with Jesus Christ, and who isn’t in need of that?
He says, “That isn’t the whole picture.” He says, “How about saving others, snatching them out of the fire.” I get the sense that now he is saying, “This is a little harder reach. There are people who when you look at their lives, you basically say, “They are headed for disaster.” I suppose I could go to the extreme and say, “They are headed for hell, they are headed for separation from God, they are headed for the worst of all destinations.” Jude is saying, “It’s not always an easy reach.” You are surrounded by people who are right on the edge. How about reaching for them. You have answers for those people. The closer they get to the edge, the more they may want an answer. A little harder reach, isn’t it? Then he says, “By the way, on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garments polluted by the flesh.” What he is now saying is, “There are even people in this culture that the thought of reaching them brings fear to your life.” They are so far gone, they are so difficult, they are so scary. I have many good friends who have worked their lives out on the streets of major cities, reaching people like that. There is a fear and there are garments polluted by the flesh. But there is also a need, and the need to reach. What Jude is saying is that we grow roots, not to say, “I have great roots.” We grow roots so that we can reach. Even with a little root, I can reach some. The reason we want to deepen our roots is not just to have deep roots, it is because those deep roots let us fulfill the mission more effectively. They give us things we would not otherwise have to make the reach. Is this making sense? It is such a huge thing.
I love this little letter being right at the end of the book because it is so critical. Then it is followed by a letter that emphasizes expectancy, Christ’s coming again. What could be a better ending?
Then Jude says basically, the third piece is, you need to be real. In this piece we look at the ending of this great book. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
This is who you really are. You are a person who is so imbedded in Him, if you put your faith in Jesus Christ, that He is literally going to keep you from fatally stumbling. As frightening as the world and life might be at times, or as careless as we might be of it at times, or as tested as we might be at times, here is the truth about you. That Jesus is really about the business of keeping you from stumbling. If you can be who you are in this world in Him; and whether you feel a positive response or you feel persecution, or you feel the great joy of progress, or seem to just be hitting blank walls, you need to understand, this is really you. You are in his hands. He is keeping you. He is holding you and you will not be lost because He has found you. Because of that, you and I can invest in each other. We can build each other. We can pray together in The Spirit. We can anticipate the Lord’s return and we can reach the easy ones and we can reach the difficult ones; and we can even go beyond our sphere to reach other people because Christ is holding us. He is holding us to this extreme, that he will make us stand in the presence of His glory – listen to this. He will make us stand in the presence of His glory, blameless. That is how well He is going to hold us. I may blow it at times, but He won’t. I may miss the mark at times, but He is hanging on. I may hit the bull’s eye at times, it is amazing. At those times I need to be real and say, “That wasn’t so much, me, but the One who has hold of me; because if it weren’t for Him, I wouldn’t even have taken the actions, said the things that I did.”
He says that all of this, all of this, will bring great joy to us, no kidding, and great glory to Him, not just now, but forever. What an incredible ending, isn’t that? Is that not worthy of a life lived in the ways that we have talked about? Isn’t that not worthy of taking this that we hold together as followers of Christ and not just building it, but taking it and putting it to work in real life to fulfill the mission that generations,upon generations, upon generations, upon generations of disciples before us have fulfilled? If we know Christ today, we need to say, “Thank you for those people and for their faith and their ability to contend.” Jude says that is what we need to do. “I was going to write to you about the things that we hold dear, very important things, but instead I wanted to write you to contend for the faith, to agonize for the faith in a world that desperately needs it; knowing that He whom we serve, holds us, we will not stumble. In fact, we will be presented by Him blameless with great joy in His presence, bringing glory to Him and to God The Father and The Spirit.”
That is the end. I want that to be the truth for me and I pray with every fiber I have that it will be the truth for you. I know that if we will take these things that we have learned, that we hold in common as believers; if we understand the urging of The Spirit, even through this great little book that we just covered, then you and I will indeed do things that will amaze us; not so much amaze Jesus because he has it all figured out. But this is what it will do, it will give Him joy as well and He will one day welcome us in a wonderful way.
Well, contenders, we have run the race, the whole Bible in ten sessions. Thanks for being with us on behalf of all who have been involved. I think of BiblicalTraining.org, who has done a tremendous job of putting these things together and promoting these great courses all over the world. I think of Western Seminary that can cause me to do these things and to have the freedom to do them. I am so grateful because I think together, you and I with these tools and with the help of God in our lives, are going to make a difference for generations to come, until He comes. God bless.