Word by Word; Verse by Verse…
Back in the late 1990’s, I started attending post graduate school with the hope of eventually being accepted into seminary. Sure enough, when I finally applied, I was accepted and spent more than eight years in various seminaries learning about God, studying the Bible and deepening my relationship with Him. It was a team effort – Janet and I were both in favor of my attending school and it was quite a ride. In fact, as I look back on that time in our lives, I still can’t believe how we got through. But we did… and this week was the culmination of years of study and training with our close friends who comprise our weekly Bible Study.
Back when I began seminary, I felt called to teach the Bible. It started out as a weekly study that was held during lunch at a local restaurant. I had taken over for a man who had taught for several decades and finally believed that his time teaching was coming to an end.
There was a hiatus of about six months when the Bible study didn’t meet and then I stepped up to continue John’s study. I started with Genesis, my favorite book, and after several years of weekly teaching, some of our older participants were retiring and could no longer attend. Janet and I made the decision to continue the study in our home and throughout the years, we have met from June through November of each year, with one or two exceptions during extraordinary events.
Our normal routine is to alternate between studying the Old and New Testaments. Last week, in addition to having studied almost half of the Old Testament, we completed our study of the New Testament – after 20 years! We finished it up with studying Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians. We didn’t just read the New Testament – we have parsed it and studied it word for word – verse by verse – and have discussed different theological viewpoints, end time scenarios, eternity, the attributes of each member of the Trinity and so much more that it is even difficult to list everything we have done.
We have had communion together, have baptized by immersion each of our members and I have even performed a wedding for two of our members who got married a number of years ago. You might say that we have acted more like a church than strictly the book studies we have done together.
Maybe it doesn’t seem that remarkable that we have finished the entire New Testament but I have to say that even I can’t believe it… It’s one thing to read the text, but an entirely different order of magnitude to STUDY every single verse! And let’s not forget that we have also done approximately half of the Old Testament as well. God willing, we may someday even get that completed.
To me, what’s even more remarkable is the fact that we have stayed together all these years. We have had several additional people who have sat in for a year or two, but our core group – there are nine of us – have hung in there for all these years together. We know each others lives, have grown older together and we have all deepened our walk with the Lord along the way. In fact, our studies have gone deeper each year and now we will start the New Testament over when we re-convene in the spring.
While I firmly believe that there is only one interpretation of Scripture, I also believe that the Holy Spirit helps us apply the Bible in different ways as we mature in our faith. It will be wonderful to see how the Holy Spirit works through us as we continue to study the story of Jesus.
The New Testament starts with the genealogy of Jesus and ends with a description of what things will be like in eternity. The Bible is the story of God’s plan to reunite us with Him after the Fall in the Garden of Eden. And we know that Jesus died for all of us and gives us the free gift of salvation for all who believe in Him. Something we sometimes forget is that Jesus is all about grace and peace.
Our verse for tonight is the last verse of the New Testament – Revelation 22:21. John, the apostle who walked with Jesus for three years, and had the vision that became the book of Revelation, tell us the final verse – “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.”
That’s quite a closing, isn’t it? My encouragement this evening is that God extends grace to us – undeserved mercy. As sinners, we are incapable of ever entering heaven based on our own efforts. It is the death of Jesus to cover the sins of the world – and that means the sins of everyone – that allows us to spend eternity with God. My prayer is that we will all realize that we serve a merciful God. And that we will all experience His grace continually throughout our lives and into the age to come. Have great day in the Lord, grace and peace…