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The Scripture Cannot Be Broken
John 10:35


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday of Easter—April 25, 2010

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

All along the coasts of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are massive shipyards.  But, they don’t build many ships there.  What they specialize in is tearing ships apart, obsolete, outmoded vessels that have been decommissioned.  This is called “breaking up” a ship, these specialized shipyards are called “breaker yards,” and the men who do the work are called “breakers.”  There’s some very valuable material contained in those old ships, but it’s mixed together with a lot of junk.  The breakers must break it apart, sift through it, discard the junk, and salvage what is useful.

In a debate with his opponents in today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus says, “The Scripture cannot be broken.”  The Greeks were a seafaring people, and it’s interesting that the Greek word for “broken” in that verse was also used in ancient times, just as it is today, for “breaking up” ships that are obsolete and outmoded, discarding the junk, and salvaging the treasures.

I attended an event recently in a church of another mainline denomination and was browsing through their hymnal.  I was quite shocked by the words to one of their new hymns: “May our learning curb the error which unthinking faith can breed, lest we justify some terror with an antiquated creed.”

It shouldn’t surprise us that’s how the unbelieving world would look upon the Bible and its teachings.  Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing,” and Peter says, “In the last days scoffers will come.”  So, it’s not surprising that in the media, and academia, and the unbelieving world in general, the Bible and its teachings are considered an “antiquated creed.”  But, it is shocking to read that sitting in a Christian church, right from their hymnal.

The sad truth is, in many denominations today, not so much the laity, but their leadership looks upon the Bible much like those old ships being broken up: obsolete, outmoded, an “antiquated creed.”  Rather than truly training in the Word of God, many denominations’ seminaries today are like those “breaker yards.”  As that heretical hymn says, “May our learning curb the error which unthinking faith can breed.”

Their attitude is: There’s some very valuable material contained in that old Bible, but it’s mixed together with a lot of junk.  They are like “breakers,” who think they can break the Bible apart, sift through it, discard what they consider to be junk, and salvage what they consider useful.  Paul describes these supposed scholars in 1st Timothy: “Some have wandered away . . . and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”

Here’s what a professor from one mainline denomination wrote in an article about the Christmas story: “To put it boldly, I am one of those Christians who does not believe in the virgin birth, nor in the star of Bethlehem, nor in the journey of the wisemen, nor in the shepherds coming to the manger, as facts of history.”

The main doctrine textbook used in the seminaries of a different American Lutheran denomination says about the Bible: “Today it is impossible to assume the literal historicity of all things recorded.  What the biblical authors report is not accepted as a literal transcript of the factual course of events.”

Especially pertinent to the Easter season is a book published several years ago by that same Lutheran denomination, which said that Christ did not rise from the dead, his body rotted in the grave, and the four accounts and many other references to Christ’s resurrection in the New Testament are only a mythical legend.

A survey of clergy in one of the largest mainline denominations in the United States asked, “I accept Jesus’ physical resurrection as an objective historical fact in the same sense that Lincoln’s physical death was a historical fact.”  Only 49% agreed, 51% disagreed.  This same survey asked, “Do you believe the Bible to be the Word of God?”  Only 18% said “Yes,” 82% said “No.”

A bishop in that same denomination gave a lecture a few years ago in which he described traditional Christian beliefs about Jesus’ deity, virgin birth, and physical resurrection as “theological myth,” and he concluded: “Obviously, such an understanding . . . leaves no room for me to affirm the substitutionary atonement theory that portrays Jesus’ blood on the cross as satisfying an angry deity through one majestic sacrificial human death. . .  The concept of a blood sacrifice is superstition at best . . .”

Breaking up and discarding parts of the Bible inevitably leads to discarding the central teaching of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Ironically, that heretical bishop stated quite accurately the true teaching of the Bible, which, sadly, he rejects: “The substitutionary atonement theory that portrays Jesus’ blood on the cross as satisfying an angry deity through one majestic sacrificial human death.” 

Paul puts it this way in Colossians: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.  Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.  But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”

Because of Christ’s substitutionary life, death, and resurrection, your sins are all forgiven, you are now holy in God’s sight, without blemish, and free from accusation. Today’s Epistle Reading from Revelation beautifully describes the cleansing you and all who trust in Christ receive: “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”  That is the fundamental teaching, the Good News of the Christian faith that it inevitably lost when you start breaking up the Bible.

It may surprise you that the opponents of Jesus, who were ready to stone him to death in today’s Gospel Reading, were actually the Bible scholars of their day.  But, like the leadership of some modern denominations, they read the Bible very selectively. 

Paul says in today’s Reading from the Book of Acts, “The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. . .  What God promised . . . he has fulfilled . . . by raising up Jesus.”  The Old Testament clearly prophesied the coming of God’s Son into the world as the Messiah, the Savior from sin, who would suffer, die, and rise again.  As Jesus told his disciples, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms. . .  This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”

But, like the liberal leadership of many denominations today, the Bible scholars of Jesus’ day broke up the Scriptures, discarded what they didn’t like, and accepted only what they agreed with.  They couldn’t accept a Savior Messiah, who would suffer, die, and rise again.  That didn’t make sense to them, that wasn’t the way they thought it should be.  So, that part of the Bible they rejected.

There are several Missouri Synod pastors who were raised Orthodox Hebrews.  One of them says that when he was a child, in what we would call confirmation class, the Hebrew Bible he was given had chapters 52 and 53 of the book of Isaiah literally cut out of it.  Those chapters beautifully describe the suffering of the Savior Messiah for our salvation:

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows.  We observed him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

When he asked why those chapters were missing, he was told they were too confusing.  Interestingly, he says that actually made him want all the more to read those chapters.  When he did read them from another copy of the Hebrew Bible, he realized they were talking about the Christian Savior, and that’s what started him on the path to faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Those who opposed Jesus in today’s Gospel Reading didn’t go to the extreme of physically cutting out those parts of the Old Testament they disagreed with, but they did reject its clear teaching about the promised Savior Messiah.  As Jesus told them, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” Because they rejected what the Bible said about the Savior Messiah, John’s Gospel tells us that when he did come to them as prophesied, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

In today’s Gospel Reading, they are ready to stone Jesus to death for blasphemy: “Because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”  Jesus counters their accusation of blasphemy two ways.  First, he points them to the miraculous works he is doing, which are evidence that he is indeed more than just a man.  As he said later, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”

Second, he quotes for them a verse from Psalm 82, which describes earthly rulers as being like “gods”—with a lower-case “g”—in the sense that they are God’s representatives on earth.  Jesus’ point is, if the Scriptures apply the Hebrew word “elohim” or “gods” to men because they are God’s representatives on earth,  how can it be blasphemy to say the same about him, the Messiah, the ultimate representative of God on earth?

“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?   If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”

Jesus bases his point on just one verse and one word in the Hebrew text.  Those he is debating consider themselves Bible scholars, but that one verse, that one word, is enough to trump their supposed scholarship.  When Jesus says, “The Scripture cannot be broken,” he is saying, “You can’t break apart God’s Word and throw away what you don’t like and keep only what you agree with.” 

But, that’s exactly what’s happening today in many denominations.  A shocking example was last summer when a different American Lutheran denominations adopted teachings and practices completely contrary to God’s Word, and other denominations are taking similar actions.  I am often asked, “How could they do that?” 

In theology, the technical term for it is a “low view of Scripture.”  There’s some very valuable material contained in that old Bible, but it’s mixed together with a lot of junk.  The breakers must break it apart, sift through it, discard the junk, and salvage what is useful—what they agree with.

They always say don’t worry, this won’t affect any of the important, fundamental teachings of the Bible.  But, breaking up and discarding parts of the Bible inevitably leads to discarding the central teaching of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

“Your Word is truth,” Jesus says.  “The Scripture cannot be broken.”

Amen.

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