The title of the most influential book in the history of humankind (i.e. the Bible) simply means “The Book.” That fact in and of itself is significant. Of all the books ever written, printed, and published, the Bible is “The Book” that has had the greatest impact on the minds and lives of billions of people around the world. It has been the perennial “best seller” for centuries. It is the first book I was given as a child, and “The Book” that has been the most important book in my own life since the days of my youth. The Bible is more than a book, for it is actually a library of sixty-six books, consisting of two volumes: the Old Testament and the New Testament, written centuries apart and yet telling one continuous story — the historical record of the mighty acts of God since the dawn of creation. Although it is an ancient book, its teachings and blueprint for living together in this world are as new and relevant as this morning’s headlines. The earliest sections of the Old Testament were possibly written as far back as 12 centuries before Christ and the latest books within two hundred years of the birth of Jesus. All the books of the New Testament were written in a much shorter period of time, no more than a century apart, during the lifetime of most of the disciples of Jesus as well as the other most influential leaders of the Early Church during the apostolic age (especially Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee and convert from Orthodox Judaism who became the Apostle Paul, and Luke the physician, a Greek convert during the missionary journeys of Paul).
If the writings of Paul and Luke were combined, together they would comprise the greater part of the New Testament. Unlike the authors of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Paul’s writings are not biographical (i.e. concerned with the birth, life, teachings, and earthly facts about the life and ministry of Jesus). His primary concern was with interpretation (i.e. the meaning of the birth, life, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus). In other words, Paul’s interest and purpose in writing his epistles or letters was doctrinal rather than biographical. But before the New Testament was written, there was a period of “oral tradition” when such details were remembered and passed down; teachings, stories, parables, events, miracles, and the trainings of the Twelve (the first disciples of Jesus who continued his ministry). The Twelve had been “eyewitnesses” of Jesus; they had seen, heard, touched, traveled, and lived with him (read 1 John 1:1-4 — the Apostle John repeats the word “revealed” to emphasize what God the Father, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, had made known to them). Christianity is a religion of revelation and inspiration. The sixty-six books of the Bible, written by a diverse group of people inspired by God were destined, without their knowledge, to be put together into one book to become an important part of God’s “self-disclosure” (i.e. the history of the mighty acts by which God had revealed Himself and His will to humankind).
The Bible is different than any other book. It’s far more than just an ancient book — it is the written Word of God (i.e. the God who speaks for Himself) and the most authoritative book for the largest faith group in the world. All of the world’s great religions have their sacred writings, but none of them can begin to compare with the influence of the Bible in terms of authority, impact, and trust. The Qur’an is the most sacred book for Muslims and because of an anti-Christian bias in media reports, many non-Muslims have been led to believe that Islam is the largest of all religions in the world and that the Qur’an is the most authoritative of all sacred books. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Christianity is not only the largest religion in the world but also the fastest growing of all world religions; of approximately seven billion people on this planet, about one-third profess faith in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, about eighty percent of Americans give Christianity as their religious preference, which means they also accept the Bible as their authority for faith. Unfortunately, that does not mean that many people take the Bible seriously or read it regularly and prayerfully. On the contrary, we must be honest and acknowledge the fact that there are far too many who call themselves “Christians” yet do not treat the Bible with as much reverence as most Muslims do the Qur’an, and that is scandalous. It is sad that so many people in this nation will tell you they believe in Jesus, but they do not read the Bible very often, if at all, and do not participate in the worship and work of any church.
Perhaps you are such a person. If so, I encourage you to ask yourself this question: “What knowledge do I have of Jesus Christ that did not come to me from the Bible, especially the New Testament, and therefore either directly or indirectly from Christ’s Church?” Where do you think we got the Bible? Who produced it? Who proclaimed it? Who preserved it? Every true believer owes a tremendous debt to the Church! You would not be a believer if it was not for the Church. Oh, you may give your parents or your grandparents the credit, for they were perhaps the ones who nurtured you in your faith. Or you may name someone else who introduced you to Jesus, some individual who witnessed to you and whose testimony was the reason you initially confessed Jesus Christ as your personal Savior. But where do you think his or her faith came from? Did they share certain scriptures with you to help you understand who Jesus is, and what he accomplished by his death on the cross for our salvation? Were they active in some church themselves, where they had been nurtured in their own faith and also encouraged to share their faith with others? Who were the people who had encouraged them in their Christian life? Were they Bible-believing Christians? Were they active in the worship and life of some Christian congregation?
I am confident I am on safe ground in assuming the answer is a resounding “yes.” Then, why do you not feel under obligation? Why do you think you can be a solitary Christian, a believer who does not need to share in Bible study and corporate worship with other believers? Where did you ever get the idea that you have no need for Christian fellowship (read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26)? The truth is we need each other. In fact, there is no member of the Body of Christ we do not need. If we take the New Testament seriously, we will discover that the believer we think we need least is probably the one we need most! For if we cannot love that person as Jesus has loved us, who can we love unconditionally and redemptively? Also, how can we expect to grow spiritually if we do not take “the means of grace” seriously (i.e. the spiritual disciplines that help us to grow spiritually, including Christian fellowship and Bible study)? If you too consider yourself a Christian, do you not understand that we owe a great debt to God for giving us the scriptures, which bear witness to Jesus (John 5:39-40)? Do you not feel that you should love the Church for which Christ gave he gave his life (Ephesians 5:25)? Do you not feel “obligated” at all (Romans 1:8-16)?
The debt we owe as believers can never be repaid in full during this lifetime, but we can make regular “installments” on this debt day by day by living for Jesus, by being faithful members of his Church, by seeking to grow toward maturity in Christ, and by practicing the disciplines of the Christian life. This includes worship, prayer, Bible study, witnessing, stewardship, and by using all of our spiritual gifts and natural abilities to help in building up the Body of Christ to a position of greater strength and usefulness. We can also give thanks to God for the influence the Bible has had on the life of believers around the world through the centuries and especially on our nation’s life. Yes, there are other sacred writings, but none of them can even begin to compare with the influence of the Bible. No other book has been quoted by so many of the world’s great authors, poets, philosophers, teachers, leaders, and even non-believers. Of course, the Old Testament is also the authority for Judaism (the Torah, “the Law” delivered by God to Moses for all the descendants of Abraham for all time). Muslims also trace their own roots back to Abraham, accepting some of the Old Testament books as authoritative and recognizing Jesus as a prophet of God. But for them, Muhammad is the greatest, the seal of all the prophets of God, the last and most important of the messengers of Allah.
The New Testament declares the supremacy of Jesus Christ from beginning to end: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). He is the unique and solitary Son of God, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son (“begotten”, not made, not a created being, but the Eternal Christ — see John 1:1-3, 14). Furthermore, Jesus Christ, the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (vs. 29), who sits on the throne in heaven as Lord of heaven and earth, is the object of heaven’s worship with the redeemed in the Church Triumphant forever singing “Worthy is the Lamb, slain for us” (Revelation 7:9-17, 22:6-17). There is no other! He is the perfect Mediator: “For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. Unlike other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people; this he did once for all when he himself” (i.e. his own blood, Hebrews 7:26-27, 9:12-15 and 24-28). “Therefore, God has highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father“ (Philippians 2:9-11).
It is with this belief in Jesus Christ as the One in whom the true and living God has most fully revealed himself, the One whom we experience the Father-heart of God (i.e. God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance), and the One by whose atoning death sinners can be reconciled to a holy God, that the earliest Pilgrims came to these shores to establish “…the first colony for the advancement of the Christian faith” in the New World (these very words were written into the “Mayflower Compact Agreement”). Of course, we know this has never been a Christian nation in the truest sense of the word, but that is indeed the way the rest of the world sees the United States of America (i.e. this is not a Muslim country, not a Hindu country, not a Buddhist country, not a Jewish country). This is the way nations with other dominant religions identify the United States of America, and we are judged accordingly when we do not follow the faith we proclaim as the source of our personal core values and as “a nation under God” in our private, public, and political lives.
There are not only churches in every town with a cross on every steeple, but a Bible on every pulpit. You can find a Bible in the drawer of almost every motel or hotel bedside table in this nation, in the drawers of almost every room in every hospital, and on the table in the offices of most physicians. It is also “The Book” on which all those who are elected to the highest offices in our land place their hand as they take their oath of office, promising to serve for the common good. But in spite of all our failures to “…do justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8), this is still a unique nation: it is a land of religious freedom. You will find synagogues, mosques, and temples in America. Of course, there will always be people who are anti-semitic and a few hate-mongers who will want to kill Jews (consider the recent killing of Jews on their Sabbath at a synagogue in Pittsburgh). There will always be people who are anti-Muslim, just as there will always be people who are anti-Christian, for there will always be religious bigots, radical racists, and evil in this world. Believers will always be involved in a spiritual struggle for the conquest of the minds and hearts of people throughout the world. Those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus must stand with other people of faith and goodwill against the “…powers and principalities of darkness” and “…the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” We must always “…keep alert and always persevere” against “the wiles of the devil” and always “…be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power,” that we might be able to withstand this mighty conflict against all the organized forces of malevolence that are arrayed against Christ’s Church and the kingdom of God. We must “…make known with boldness the mystery of the Gospel” for the glory of God and the honor of Christ, that God’s kingdom might come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven, as we have prayed (Ephesians 6:10-20 and Matthew 6:9-13).
A final word and a warning: as a nation, let us guard against the temptation to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think, for that is the mindset that has always led to arrogance, prejudice, conflict, alienation, and horrible violence — all contrary to what we say we believe as “a nation under God,” who is the God of creation, the God of Moses, the God of “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” the God of the prophets, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and “our Father in heaven”, the God who will judge “all the nations” (Matthew 25:31-33), including the United States of America. This is a biblical truth we need to remember at this time in our nation’s history when we are witnessing the disturbing rise of inflamed nationalism, rampant racism, the resurgence of white supremacy, empowering of the extremes of both right and left in our political life, and the increase in the number of hate crimes. There are too many Americans who believe that America is a “covenant nation” like ancient Israel (not to be confused with the modern political state of Israel). We need to learn the lesson of history, for so many mighty empires have fallen because of the abuse of power, moral and spiritual decline, greed, corruption, racism, and a lack of compassion for the disadvantaged, disenfranchised, poor, powerless, maligned and marginalized. There is no unwritten guarantee that the United States will remain great (or as some like to say, be “made great again”). God is sovereign and will decide which nations to use or not to use for the accomplishment of his just and righteous purposes, and for how long. The Bible reminds us that “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34) and“That nation alone is blessed whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen for his inheritance” (Psalm 33:12).