1 Peter 3:15
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
Dear Friends in Christ,
Turn to the classified section of any newspaper and you never quite know what you’re going to find. Consider a few ads that I recently pulled off the Internet (The 50 Funniest Classified Ads Ever).
Indeed, a daily newspaper can make for some pretty interesting reading! But you know what? So also can the Bible. Open its pages and you can read in its very first chapter about the creation of this vast universe and this beautiful planet that we inahbit. A couple chapters later you can discover what went wrong and why the world is in the mess it’s in today. Keep going and you can read about a great flood that covered all land masses and destroyed the vast majority of living things. Flip through the first half of your Bible and you can read of waters parting and mountains quaking, of giants falling and nations rising. You can take a ride down and later out of the gullet of a great fish with a reluctant missionary named Jonah or know what it’s like to walk around in the midst of a fiery furnace with 3 courageous teenage Jewish boys named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. You can stand in the presence of lions with Daniel or kneel in the presence of God with Isaiah. And that’s just scratching the surface of the part of the Bible that we call the Old Testament.
Venture into the New Testament and you’ll find angels announcing the births of some pretty important people and demons possessing some pretty unfortunate people. You’ll find a virgin giving birth to the Son of God and 12 years later you’ll find her and her husband losing that holy child for 3 whole days while visiting the city of Jerusalem. And when that child grows up, you’ll find him walking on water and stilling storms, feeding the hungry multitudes, healing the sick and raising the dead, being nailed to a cross and placed in a tomb, then rising from that grave after 3 days and 40 days later ascending into heaven.
Listen, my friends, if you want a good book to read, you simply can’t do any better than the one that is commonly called the Good Book! But for some strange reason, this book that contains the very words of God himself is being read less and less by Christians in our world today. Which is why I started preaching a series of sermons last July reminding us that this Book is the foundation of our faith and calling us to get back to the Bible. Now we took a break from this series because of Advent and Christmas, but this morning we’re going to resume as we wrap up the section of it in which we’ve been taking a look at some of the problems that can arise when we fail to read God’s Word – what is known as biblical illiteracy. And the problem we’re going to look at today is this: Biblical illiteracy weakens our defense of the Gospel.
We’ve all been there before. Maybe it happened when you were standing around the water cooler or eating in the lunchroom with some of your co-workers. Maybe it happened at school when the subject of God or religion came up in a classroom discussion. Maybe it happened when there was a knock on your front door and there stood a couple of well-dressed Mormon missionaries or two people from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. And all of a sudden you found yourself in a position where you were being asked questions about what you believed as a Christian and why you believed it.
Now if we’re honest with ourselves, I think most of us here today would admit that we will do everything we can to avoid those kinds of discussions, right? Why is that? One word: FEAR. We’re afraid we won’t have or know all the answers. We’re afraid we won’t be able to defend the essential truths of our faith. We’re afraid that we’ll be hung out to dry by someone who knows their stuff better than we know ours.
And yet at the same time we know that we’ve been called by God to be his witnesses, to look for opportunities to share the Gospel with others. So there’s this tension that exists in the hearts of many Christians today. They want to talk to others about the Bible and things that matter for eternity; they know that’s what they’re supposed to do; but they don’t feel capable or qualified to do it. So what can they do? Or better yet, what can you do? Very simple: Get into the Word. Make it a daily practice to read it on your own. Take advantage of the Bible study opportunities that we offer here at our church. And to get us motivated and moving in that direction I want to familiarize you with a theological term this morning that describes what we’re talking about. And that term is apologetics. It comes from the Greek word apologia which means defense. It’s the same word from which we get our English word apology. And that’s kind of a shame because when we deal with apologetics in the church, we’re not talking about apologizing or expressing regret for what we believe. Rather, we’re talking about offering a defense for what we believe. That’s exactly what Peter is speaking of in our text for today, and boy, if anyone knew what it was like to have to defend his faith, it was Peter. But here’s what he says: “Always be prepared to give an answer (an apologia, a defense) to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
What that passage is telling us, my friends, is that if we are living the way God wants us to live, if we are living hope-filled lives rather than hope-less lives, if we are living selfless lives rather than selfish and self-centered lives, then sooner or later people are going to sit up and take notice and they’re going to start asking us questions about why we are the way we are, why we do the things we do, why we believe what we believe. So we need to be ready, we need to be prepared to answer those questions and to defend the faith and the hope that is ours in Christ. And the only way that we can be prepared, my friends, is by becoming students of the Scriptures.
And what I want to do for you right now is get real practical by doing a little role playing up here so you can see how this defense of your faith might play out in your everyday life. I’m going to ask John Duncan to join me and I want you to imagine that we are co-workers, let’s say, at NAL, and we just happen to be taking our break at the same time. (D – Doug; J = John)
ROLE-PLAYING FOR JAN. 6 SERMON
D: Hey, John, how’s it going for you today?
J: Oh, pretty well, I guess. I’m working with a few flunkies today who are really slowing things down. I tell you what I really wish. I wish I could be out on the golf course today.
D: Yeah, it is a beautiful day the Lord has given us, isn’t it?
J: What do you mean by that?
D: Just what I said. I believe that every day is a gift from God.
J: Oh, I get it. You’re one of those Bible-thumpin’ fundamentalist Christians, right?
D: I guess you could say that, if by “Bible-thumpin’” you mean that I believe the Bible and if by “fundamentalist” you mean that I hold to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
J: So tell me, Doug, do you really believe in all those miracles that the Bible tells about?
D: Sure do. You see, the Bible says that with God all things are possible. It says that he’s all-powerful, which basically means that he can do anything.
J: So you believe that he really parted the waters of the Red Sea and let his people escape their enemies that way?
D: I sure do.
J: And you believe that Jesus walked on water and healed all those sick people and even raised some people from the dead?
D: You got it. Like the well-known Christian song says, “Our God is an awesome God.”
J: Well, I’ve got to tell you, Doug, you’re a rare breed these days. Most of the people I know, myself included, have trouble going along with all that miracle stuff because it flies in the face of science.
D: I understand that, but I’ve done a lot of studying of the Bible and I’ve become convinced that what it says is true. Let me give you an example. You’ve heard of Easter, haven’t you?
J: Sure, that’s the day the bunny delivers all the candy to everyone’s homes, right? (laughs)
D: Come on, John, I’m serious. You know what happened on Easter, don’t you?
J: Yeah, that’s the day Jesus supposedly rose from the dead. And I guess you’re going to try to convince me now that that impossible event really happened.
D: Well, I’m not sure I’ll be able to convince you, but I wouldn’t mind trying, if you’re ok with it.
J: Alright, my Bible-thumpin’ fundamentalist Christian friend, give it your best shot.
D: Well, those who deny the bodily resurrection of Jesus have a few problems they have to find answers for.
J: Like what?
D: Well, let’s start with the empty tomb. There’s no doubt that the tomb of Jesus was empty that Sunday morning.
J: How can you be so sure of that? I saw a program on the Discovery Channel that said Jesus’ disciples could have come in the middle of the night and stolen his body and then started spreading the rumor that he had risen from the dead.
D: John, do you know where those disciples were after Jesus died? The Bible says they were hiding behind locked doors in an upper room in Jerusalem like a bunch of frightened mice. They were afraid that because of their association with Jesus, those who put him to death might want to do the same to them.
J: Really? I have to confess that I didn’t know that.
D: And besides, the Bible also says that some Roman guards had been posted outside the tomb of Jesus. So anyone who was going to get the body out of the tomb would have to go through them first. Do you really think those fearful former fishermen were capable of that?
J: Uh…probably not.
D: And one more thing, John. We know from the Bible and other historical records that those disciples spent the rest of their lives traveling all over the world to tell other people about their risen and living Lord and that most of them were martyred or killed for their faith. Do you really think they would have left home and family and given up their lives for what they knew deep down in their hearts was a lie?
J: Hmmm…not very likely, is it?
D: But not only did the disciples see Jesus alive after he was raised, the apostle Paul tells us in I Corinthians 15 that more than 500 people saw him at one time, most of whom were still living at the time Paul wrote that letter. In other words, if somebody doubted the resurrection, Paul was telling them they could check it out with any of those eyewitnesses and get the facts from them.
J: Huh…I didn’t know that either.
D: Well, hey, John, time’s a movin’ on here and we’ve got to get back to work. I appreciate your willingness to listen to what I had to say. I’ve got a lot more I can share with you, if you’d be open to it.
J: Yeah, I think I’d like that. What do you say we meet back here tomorrow during our break again because you’ve definitely piqued my interest in some things I never really gave much thought to before.
D: Sounds like a winner to me. And hey, go easy on those flunkies you told me about earlier. Maybe they just need someone like you to show them how it’s done.
You see how it’s done, my friends? That wasn’t so painful or difficult, was it? But in order to do it, in order to offer a defense of your faith, you need to know the Word, which begins with reading it, hearing it, studying it, digesting it and making it a part of you. And listen, my friends, the more you know the Word, the more eager and excited you are going to be to share it with others. And the more the Holy Spirit will be able use your lips to proclaim the redeeming love of God to those who have never known it or who have perhaps forgotten it.
And as for our sermon series, we have 3 more sermons to go. In my next one 2 weeks from today we’re going to discover that biblical illiteracy is not something new or unique to our time in history. It’s been around a long time and we’ll be looking at a time when it even happened among God’s chosen people in the Old Testament in a way that you will find very difficult to believe, but you’re going to have to be here to find out what I mean by that. Until then, may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds firmly anchored to the rock of ages Jesus Christ and his Word at all times so that you might be well-equipped and well-prepared to defend your faith when called upon to do so. Amen.