Topic Scripture: Matthew 5:17-18
In our last study we discussed happiness; this week let’s talk about success. If you could have anything to make your life more successful, what would it be?
Here are some technological options I found in the news recently.
You’re listening to a song on the radio but can’t remember its title or artist. Soon you will be able to put your cell phone up to the speaker; in 15 seconds the song’s name and artist will appear on your telephone, with information for ordering the CD.
“Voice badges” are an item worn around your neck, weighing less than two ounces, able to connect your voice to the Internet and your desktop computer as well.
A Personal Digital Pen—you write with it, and your computer transfers the handwriting to typed data input.
Here’s my favorite new invention: a chip for your Palm Pilot or other Personal Digital Assistant. You set your PDA on a table, where it projects a laser image of a full-sized keyboard onto the flat surface. You type on that surface, and the data is captured into your computer.
All miracles you can hold in your hand. Tools for success.
But none compares with this black leather-bound book in my hand. Let’s learn why, and discover why this is the one miracle you need for true success in your life today.
Value the word of God
Jesus continues his sermon: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” (17a).
“Do not think” is very strong in the Greek, literally “Never think that….”
“That I have come to abolish”—to deny the divine authority, to demean.
“The Law or the Prophets”—the entirety of God’s word to this point.
Jesus goes even further: “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
“I tell you the truth”—translates a phrase known to be used only by Jesus in all of ancient Judaism. It means literally, “I guarantee you this….”
“Until heaven and earth disappear”—when time ends (Revelation 21:1).
“Not the smallest letter”—refers to the Hebrew “yod,” the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.
“Not the least stroke of a pen”—refers to the points on a Hebrew consonant. We would say, “not the dotted I or the crossed T.”
“Will by any means disappear”—the double negative, will “no, not ever disappear.”
“Until everything is accomplished”—until the Bible does its work, fulfills its purpose. More of this in a moment.
For now, make this decision: value the word of God, for its work in our lives is miraculous.
It keeps us from sin: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
It guides our lives daily: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
It brings us joy: “The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (Psalm 19:8).
It gives us hope: “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
God wrote a book. Value it, for it is his miraculous gift to us. Miraculous in its work, and in its preservation and transmission to us today.
John Wycliffe was the first to begin translating the Bible into English. The authorities of his day opposed his work so vehemently that they sought his death. When to their disappointment he died of natural causes in 1384, they found his body, exhumed his remains, burned them, and scattered them in the river.
William Tyndale was the next major hero of the English Bible. 90% of the King James Version is taken from his translation. For his trouble he was arrested in 1536 and hanged. From the gallows he prayed, “Lord, open the eyes of the King of England.”
And God did. Within three years King Henry VIII instructed all publishers to permit “the free and liberal use of the Bible in our native tongue.” And the King James Version would soon follow. Through Tyndale’s work, God continues to open the eyes of the world. And God gave his life true success.
This book is a miracle—inspired by God, written by men, preserved by the Holy Spirit. J. I. Packer calls it “God preaching.” Augustine describes it as “love letters from home.” Value it today, if you want God to use it to give your life true success.
Study the word of God
Next, study it. Every word, “the smallest letter” and “stroke of a pen” is the word of God. And so it deserves not only our affirmation but also our study. But we must know how.
I still have my first Bible—a red Gideon New Testament I received in the 5th grade. I valued it so much I carried it in my jeans pocket, which is why it is so tattered today. But when I began reading it, I found the “begats” of Matthew 1 and got no further. I valued the Bible, but didn’t know how to study it for myself. We need to do both.
First, decide to meet God in his word every day. Set a place and time as your appointment for the Bible. Purchase a study Bible—several are very good; the NIV Study Bible is my personal favorite. Get a notebook to serve as your journal. And begin—with the Gospel of John if you don’t have another place in mind.
As you read, seek to know the author’s intention. I told hundreds of students at Southwestern Seminary, “The Bible can never mean what it never meant.” Your goal is to learn what the Bible means to say, so you can relate this intended meaning to your life.
To do this, first pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your study. Then ask foundational questions. If you begin with the Gospel of John, ask, who wrote it? (John, Jesus’ beloved disciple and best friend.). To whom and why? (People who needed to know why Jesus was and is God.) When? (After the other Gospels had been written, to give his interpretation of Jesus’ life and meaning.) Any good study Bible will give you this information.
Now ask four crucial questions as you study:
What does the text actually say? Know the grammar, the meaning of the words you are studying. As an example, I’ve given you this today with the words of our text.
What does history reveal? Know the culture and times which explain the text.
What theology is taught? Learn what the text says about its intended theme, whether it is teaching about God, salvation, sin, the future, etc.
Finally, what practical action is required? What does this text want you to do, now that you’ve studied it?
Write these truths down in your journal as you learn them. Ask the Spirit to relate them to your life, and he will. And God will use this book to lead you to true success.
Find Jesus in the word of God
Why? Because this is his definition of success: “Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29). You are a success with God to the degree that you are like Jesus. And studying the Scriptures is how this happens, for each of us.
This is why Jesus said of the law and the prophets, “I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” “Fulfill” means “to complete” their purpose. And this is his purpose: to make us more like himself. This is success with God, the only kind which matters ultimately and eternally.
Then we can know Christ intimately and personally, and represent him to our world. Then we can be the salt of the earth, the light of the world. Then we can reflect his light to our dark world. Then we can be the presence of Christ today.
Then we are successful with our lives. You’re not finished with the word of God until you’re more like the Son of God. When did this last happen to you? When will it happen next?
You hold a miracle in your hand. Now let it do its miraculous work in your life. Start today.
As you know, Billy Graham comes to Dallas for the last time this week. His has been a ministry of amazing historical significance. He has preached the gospel to more people than anyone in history: 100 million face to face on six continents in 85 countries, and more than 2 billion through radio, television, and satellite broadcasts. He has received 25 honorary doctorates; the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civil award. But no one knowing him as a young preacher would have guessed any of this would happen in his ministry.
What has been the key to his powerful ministry? The year was 1949. Billy was 30 years of age, and his preaching had begun to attain notice. Upcoming meetings were scheduled for Los Angeles. And questions about the word of God were plaguing his soul. His friend Chuck Templeton was fast becoming a skeptic. His doubts were bothering Billy. He wasn’t sure what to do or believe.
As his autobiography tells the now-famous story, “I got up and took a walk. The moon was out. The shadows were long in the San Bernardino Mountains surrounding the retreat center. Dropping to my knees there in the woods, I opened the Bible at random on a tree stump in front of me….
“The exact wording of my prayer is beyond recall, but it must have echoed my thoughts: ‘O God! There are many things in this book I do not understand. There are many problems with it for which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions Chuck and others are raising.’
“I was trying to be on the level with God, but something remained unspoken. At last the Holy Spirit freed me to say it. ‘Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word.’
“When I got up from my knees at Forest Home that August night, my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power of God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul and been fought and won” (p. 139).
What came next? Turn the page to the next chapter. Its title: “Watershed.” The Los Angeles Crusade met for eight weeks, and is now considered the greatest religious revival in the history of Southern California. And the rest is literally history. Would you say he is a success?
Here’s the phrase Billy Graham has made famous, the words he has repeated literally millions of times all over the world: “The Bible says….” The miracle is not the messenger but the message. It’s the same miracle you hold in your hand.
Does it hold you?