Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How to take the meaning of the Bible back then and relate it to today

Isaiah 9:1-3 But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. 2 The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. 3 You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

It is amazing to think about how old some of the portions of the Bible really are. The above prophecy composed by Isaiah the prophet under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit dates back over 2700 years. When we read the above text, we are reminded of the truth conveyed by 2 Timothy 3:16 - "All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness." All scripture is - in the words of 2 Timothy - profitable, useful, beneficial. Our responsibility as Christians is to grasp the meaning of the scripture and apply it to our lives. The question is: "how do I take a text written over 2700 years ago and apply it to my life today?"

Consider what is referred to as "The Fallen Condition Focus"
Dr. Bryan Chapell is a homiletics professor at Covenant Theological Seminary that teaches young men to preach the Word of God. In his book "Christ-Centered Preaching", Dr. Chapell uses a key idea that helps preachers and people in the pew in applying God's Word. His method involves what he has termed "The Fallen Condition Focus". The "Fallen Condition Focus" is defined by Chapell as follows: "The Fallen Condition Focus (FCF) is the mutual human condition that contemporary believers share with those for or by whom the text was written that requires the grace of the passage to manifest God's glory in his people."

According to Dr. Chapell, we must ask three questions when approaching a given text of scripture: what is the meaning of this text? what particular problem or issue motivated the writing of this text? what over-arching concerns are shared between the audience of that day and us living in today's world? With these questions comes the awareness of the tension resident in the text in our lives. To put it another way, the people in Isaiah's time were under the threat of a foreign king ravaging their land. Moreover, they had become so compromised in their spiritual condition that they seemed beyond all remedy. I'm sure you and I have felt that way at one time or another - or perhaps that characterizes your circumstances today. 

This tension must be felt and experienced in order for us to appreciate the light of God's grace. The brokenness of the nation of Judah and the failure of her leadership to heed Isaiah's prophecies is nestled in between two great prophecies of Jesus' first coming. The first of these mighty prophecies speaks of His virgin birth in Isaiah 7:14. The second of these great prophecies concerns not only Messiah's birth and first coming, but also His future second coming and kingdom. The mighty grace of God was needed to shine light in an otherwise hopeless and dark situation. In Isaiah's day of 734 b.c, the failures of a nation and its leadership led to ruin, darkness and hopelessness. That was in Isaiah's day. 

How the New Testament takes Isaiah's prophecy and connects it with the beginning of Jesus' ministry
So with this "fallen condition focus", we are concerned with the mutual human condition shared by us and the people of the Bible that requires God's grace to intervene. Isaiah's prophecies were written in 734 b.c. The Gospel of Matthew (50's A.D) takes Isaiah 9:1-3 and applies it to the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Matthew 4:12-17 - "Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali.14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet:
15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, And those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, Upon them a Light dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Taking the meaning of the Bible back then and applying it today
Now when we consider the similarities of circumstances facing the audience of the first century versus the audience of the seventh century b.c, we can easily take the following questions and apply them to our lives in the 21st century:

1. What is the meaning of the text? Isaiah's prophecy dealt with a people (Judah) who were frightened by a foreign power (Assyria) and who had experienced the spiritual failure of their leadership and themselves. Times were dark and only God could intervene. In Jesus' time we see the nation of Israel frightened by a foreign power (Rome) and whom were led by leadership who failed spiritually. 

2. What is the prevailing problem or circumstance? 
The people in the first century were in a state of desperation. No new word from God had shone in the land for 400 years. Then, suddenly, Jesus bursts on the scene as God-incarnate, preaching and doing miracles. Amazingly, the prophecy speaks of the general ministry location of Jesus. Think about those times when you and I have felt like we are between a rock and a hard place. Maybe the circumstance was of our own doing, maybe it wasn't. What we need to do in addressing a problem too big for men to handle is to get God involved.

3. What over-arching concerns are shared by the audiences of Isaiah, Matthew and our own?
All three contexts have this tension of being in an impossible situation wherein man can offer no remedy. Jesus is the only answer. We must make sure we're asking the right questions. Both Isaiah 9:1-7 and Matthew 4:12-17 guide us in asking those questions and pointing us to Jesus. Henceforth, when the tide has turned against us, and it seems as if we're going to drown, the circumstances are ripe for God to show up and for us to be ready for His arrival. 
This type of exercise is illustrated for us within the scripture. Thus, we have a method for application. I would urge the reader to get into their Bibles (begin with one of Paul's letters or the Epistle of James) and walk through the method of application we did here today. May the Lord richly bless you the reader.

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