The Scripture Had to Be Fulfilled: Can We Still Believe the Bible?
Acts 1:15, 20It is sometimes asked why the early church grew so explosively. We know, for instance, that after Jesus ascended into heaven, approximately 120 men and women gathered in the upper room to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. While there were doubtless other disciples scattered across Israel, this tiny group represented the heart of the Christian movement. After ten days the Holy Spirit came with great power on the Day of Pentecost, leading to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, which resulted in the conversion of 3000 people (Acts 2:41). At the end of Acts 2 we learn that people were being saved and added to the church every day (2:47). Within a few days the number of men alone who believed in Christ had reached 5000 (4:4). Luke tells us that multitudes of men and women were being saved in the early church (5:14), including many Jewish priests (6:7). New churches sprang up all across Judea and eventually spread into the region of Samaria and ultimately across the Roman Empire (9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 16:5; 19:20).
What started as a tiny trickle became a stream that broadened and deepened until it turned into a mighty, rushing river that flowed across the Mediterranean region and eventually to every corner of the earth. After 2000 years there are nearly two billion Christians—and the number continues to grow.
They Believed the Bible
How do we account for the amazing growth of the Christian movement—especially in those critical early days? I think it’s fair to say that there are many good answers to that question—including the obvious one that God wanted the church to grow, so it grew. He intended to bless the world through the Church of Jesus Christ—and so he prospered it in spite of persecution, idolatry, and persistent unbelief.
But if we examine the early church closely—especially the church in its early, infant days—one might even call them the pre-natal days—one factor stands out above many others. The early church grew because it had a deep faith in the Word of God. The first Christians believed what God said and made his Word the basis for everything they did. And because they believed God’s Word, they constantly referred to it every time they had to make a big decision.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Peter’s speech to the 120 disciples in Acts 1:15-26. No doubt they had been discussing how to replace Judas after his shocking betrayal and suicide. Should they elect another person or should they leave his position unfilled and go on with 11 apostles? After some discussion, Peter rises to address the group: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16). Then in verse 20 he introduces his quotations from the Psalms with this phrase “It is written in the book of Psalms.”
I am struck by two phrases Peter used: “The Scripture had to be fulfilled” and “It is written.” Everything he says is based on those two statements. The first speaks to God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men and of nations. History really is His Story. Everything happens as part of God’s ordained purpose. The second statement teaches us that the Word of God is a written revelation—not a hunch or feeling or a mystical revelation. If you want to know what God says, read the Bible. What the Bible says, God says. This is the position of historic Christianity.
I. Peter’s two great convictions
These words reveal Peter’s two great convictions about the Word of God.
A) The Word of God is true.
B) The Word of God speaks to this situation.
Peter actually believed that hundreds of years earlier, David had prophesied in the Psalms about the betrayal of Judas. He also believed that by studying Holy Scripture, the early church could find out what God had to say about their particular situation. This is a very high view of biblical inspiration.
II. What This Teaches Us
A. Divine-human authorship of Scripture
Note carefully how Peter chooses his words. He says that “the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David” (1:16). You can’t find a clearer description of divine inspiration in all the Bible. Theologians sometimes speak of the “dual authorship” of Holy Scripture. They mean that when Moses sat down to write the first five books of the Bible, he wrote using his own words and vocabulary, and so did David when he wrote Psalms, and John when he wrote his gospel, and Paul when he wrote his epistles. Each man writes in his own way, reflecting his own personality. But how do we know that what they wrote was what God wanted written? Acts 1:16 tells us that the Holy Spirit spoke first. He spoke the words “through the mouth of” Moses, David, John and Paul—and all the rest of the biblical writers. It was their words but those words came first from the Holy Spirit. And because they come from the Holy Spirit, those words are true and accurate and trustworthy and inerrant and infallible. This doesn’t mean that the biblical writers wrote Scripture by taking dictation from God. If that were the case, then they would all sound exactly the same. But it does mean that God superintended the entire process so that when Moses, David, John and Paul sat down to write, they weren’t just writing their words, they were also writing God’s words.
That’s why you can read anywhere in the Bible and have complete confidence in what it says—even though in one place it’s law, in another it’s history, in another it’s poetry, and in another place it’s prophecy. The books of the Bible don’t sound alike because they were written by 40 authors over a period of 1600 years. But each part of the Bible is the true Word of God because each part was spoken by the Holy Spirit.
B. God’s foreknowledge of all human affairs
This text also teaches us that nothing ever catches God by surprise. Because he’s God, he knows about every event in history before it takes place. He knew all about Judas before that traitor was ever born. Consider what this means:
¨ He knew that one of the disciples would betray the Lord.
¨ He knew that Judas was a thief at heart.
¨ He knew that Judas would go to the chief priests with a wicked offer.
¨ He knew that Judas would settle for 30 pieces of silver.
¨ He knew that Judas would offer a shameful kiss on the cheek.
¨ He knew that Judas would try to give the money back.
¨ He knew that Judas would commit suicide.
¨ He knew that Judas would end up in hell.
And most importantly, God knew that his betrayal would mean death for his Son Jesus. He knew all that, and yet he did nothing to stop it. He could have stopped it, but he didn’t because God had a higher purpose in mind—one that made no sense to anyone else.
I find great comfort in this truth because all of us face situations in life that make no sense to us. In those moments of grief, heartbreak, defeat, despair and personal ruin, we may be tempted to think, “God doesn’t know about it.” But we are wrong. God does know, and he has allowed it to happen for reasons that make sense to him and to no one else.
C. The certainty of God’s sovereignty
Peter claims that God knew all about what Judas would do. He even quotes Scripture to prove that point. This had to happen, he says, because God planned it this way hundreds of years earlier.
Some of you may have a problem with that thought. This week I received several very good questions from people who listened to my sermon last Sunday and wondered if I really mean it when I said that God’s fingerprints were all over the betrayal of Jesus. If God planned it, how could Judas be guilty of sin? It sounds like I’m saying that Judas didn’t have a choice. But he did have a choice, we all know that. No one forced him to steal money from the money bag, no one made him go to the priests, no one made him take the 30 pieces of silver, no one made him kiss Jesus on the cheek. He made all those choices by himself.
Let me say it this way. God didn’t make him do it, but God ordained that he would do it. He freely chose to do what God ordained that he would do. The fact that we don’t understand that simply means that he’s God and we’re not.
I also know that twice the Bible says that Satan entered Judas when he betrayed Jesus (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). That seems to complicate matters because now you’ve got Jesus, Judas, Satan and God in the same story. How does it all go together? Behind the betrayal of Jesus stands Judas, behind Judas stands Satan, behind Satan stands God. Each has a role to play in the unfolding drama, but God gets the last word every time.
D. The relevance of Scripture for today
Peter believed the Bible spoke with divine power to a particular situation in history. We must believe the same thing today as we face the challenges of a changing world. Recently someone clipped a Sunday cartoon from the newspaper and stuck it in my box. It’s from a comic strip called “The Wizard of Id"—which is set in some unnamed medieval kingdom. In the first frame the king says to his advisor, “This kingdom has become ethically and morally bankrupt!” As the advisor walks out of the room, he thinks to himself, “Call it trickle-down immorality.” The next frame shows the king looking over the parapet as thieves rob innocent citizens. In distress he says to another advisor, “What this kingdom needs is a code of ethics.” The second advisor had a bright idea (You can tell because there’s a light bulb above his head.) “Wait here, sire!” he says. In the next frame he returns with a book in his right hand: “Here you go, sire, the complete book of ethics.” “Where did you get this?” the king asks. “At the royal motel, there’s one in every room,” the advisor says.
End of cartoon. But what truth it tells. The answer to America’s problems can be found in every motel room in this country. It’s called a Gideon Bible. Would that our senators and congressmen and the President and his advisors would once again consult the Word of God instead of reading the latest poll numbers. What a different country this would be.
George Washington declared, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” This week millions of Christians gathered to pray on Thursday during the National Day of Prayer. Despite a booming economy, we have every reason to be deeply concerned with the moral and spiritual situation in America. Unfortunately, too many people seem to believe that as long as they have a good job and money in the bank and their investments are making money, it doesn’t matter who our leaders are or what kind of morality they follow. How far we have fallen from the biblical standard, which declares that “righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
III. What Must Happen Today
I’d like to wrap up my sermon with four statements of personal application. Can we still believe the Bible today? We can and we must. But what will that mean for you and me?
A. We must settle the question—Is the Bible the Word of God?
I have told you before about the turning point in Billy Graham’s ministry. Just before his famous Los Angeles crusade in 1949, he was assailed with doubts about the Word of God. Certain people warned him against becoming a “Bible preacher” because that would brand him as a narrow-minded fundamentalist unable to reach the educated masses. He heard the seductive theories of liberal theology and wondered if he should continue to preach using only the Bible as his text. Finally one night, in an agony of doubt, he went out in the woods of a well-known Christian retreat in southern California called Forest Home. There he wrestled with his doubts and wondered what he should do. Finally, he laid his Bible on a rock, knelt down and began to pray. “O Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand. But Thou hast said, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ All I have received from Thee, I have taken by faith. Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as Thy Word.” You already know the rest of the story. By his own admission, everything that has happened in Billy Graham’s life goes back to that night at Forest Home when he put the Bible down, knelt before God and said, “Oh, God, I do not understand everything in the Bible, but I am willing to believe it and willing to obey it.”
We must come to the same conclusion if our lives are to be effective for the Lord Jesus Christ. As long as you harbor doubts about the Word of God, you will remain confused and spiritually stunted and your ministry to others will lack power.
B. We must saturate ourselves in the Word of God
It’s one thing to believe the Bible, it’s another thing to love it. Charles Spurgeon said you should read the Bible until your blood becomes bibline. How many of us saturate ourselves with the Word of God? Did you know that in the average American home the television is on an average of eight hours a day, seven days a week? That’s why we know a lot more about Jay Leno than we do about Jehoshaphat. That’s also why our lives reflect the values of the world. We watch what they watch and read what they read. No wonder we live like they do.
If we want to see God’s power at work in us, we’ve got to saturate ourselves in the Word of God. And not just one time. But day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Many of us have been on a spiritual junk food diet at the world’s table. Your life can change, but you’ve got to change your eating habits. Change your spiritual diet and your whole life will be different.
C. We must use the resources at our disposal
Do you realize how many resources are available to you today? Thirty years ago if you wanted a study Bible, you had one choice—and only one—the Scofield Reference Bible. Today there are dozens of wonderful study Bibles on the market. Right now I have ten study Bibles on my desk at home. Using the notes in those Bibles, I can discover the meaning of virtually any passage in the whole Bible. For a small investment you could buy two or three study Bibles and have the equivalent of a whole library on your desk as you study.
I personally like the MacArthur Study Bible (Word Publishing), the Nelson Study Bible (Thomas Nelson), the NIV Study Bible (Zondervan), and the Life Application Bible (Tyndale House). This week I purchased the Quest Study Bible (Zondervan) and am finding it very helpful.
I’m simply pointing out that we live in an age when there is a wealth of good Bible study material available for a modest price. There is no reason for any member of this church to remain biblically illiterate. Buy a study Bible. Or two. Or three. You’ll be glad you did.
D. We must pray the words of Psalm 119:18
Finally, in all your Bible study I recommend that you use the words of Psalm 119:18 as a guide: “Open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from Your law.” Because the Bible is the Word of God, we will never understand it properly without the aid of the Spirit of God. We need the Spirit’s help to open our eyes to see what God is saying to us in his holy Word.
I will leave you with one final thought. Peter said, “The Scripture had to be fulfilled.” That means that whatever God says will eventually come to pass. How do I know that? Because God will never contradict his Word! The Word of the Lord stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). Heaven and earth may pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away (Matthew 24:35).
The Bible Tells Me So
One Sunday after I had finished preaching a young girl pressed some paper into my hand. She said she had written something as a gift to me. When I looked at it later, it turned out to be a little handwritten book called “God really does love us.” The first page is a drawing of a cross with a heart and the sun shining upon it. The caption reads “God loves us!” The second page shows a young girl kneeling before Jesus on the cross. She is telling him she loves him. The final page shows a Jesus on the cross with the words, “God really did die for me!!” Where did she learn such truth? I think I know the answer. Many years ago most of us learned to sing a little song that goes like this:
Jesus love me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
Indeed it does. Thank God for the Bible because without it, we would never know about Jesus. And without Jesus, we could never be saved. But the Bible is true and it is the Word of God. If you still have doubts, I encourage you to read it for yourself. When you do, you will discover for yourself the most wonderful truth in the world—Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.
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The Adventure Begins (Acts 1)
» SEE SERMONS IN THIS SERIES
40 Amazing Days: The Original Founders Week Acts 1:1-3
This Same Jesus: The Blessed Hope of the Church Acts 1:10-11
The Scripture Had to Be Fulfilled: Can We Still Believe the Bible? Acts 1:15, 20» Index for this sermon series