Everything has an expiration date…with one exception.
Let’s visit the wardrobe closet of someone who hasn’t gotten an update since the seventies. If you were to open the door, you’d meet an explosion of garish colors, wild patterns, and lots of polyester.
You’d probably be happy to see all this, if you were looking for something to wear to a costume party. Otherwise, you’re going to think of it as a museum.
Now shift gears for a second. Take an average millennial (and I don’t mean that term in any sort of contemptuous way), educated not only in college, but by YouTube professors and social pundits. Sit this person down, and have him open the Bible, and read it for the first time. What will his reaction be? Well, because of the strong influences around him, probably he will look at what he’s reading and say, “This is out of step.”
Some of you also fall into this age range, and are considered millennials. Even if you’re strongly committed to the Christian faith, you have to admit that sometimes when you’re reading the Scriptures, you get an uneasy feeling when you come across certain passages. That’s because the world around you has been telling you for a long time what is the right way to think.
I’m not advocating that we go back to riding camels, and keeping ceremonial laws that Jesus has fulfilled on the cross. But sometimes even the moral, ethical, and spiritual truths that the Bible considers binding, we vaguely feel are backward. It’s as though we pick up our latest model smartphone, open the Bible app, and out comes denim pant suits, and rhinestones. Your response: O boy, is that ever dated!
This response means there’s a controversy between the reader and what’s being read, because Scripture presents itself as the eternal Word of God. Eternal means not limited by time, always fresh, and remaining relevant forever, regardless of the era in which the reader lives, or the ideas floating around.
Jesus not only believed this, He believed it at a confusing moment in Israel’s history. By the time of Christ, Israel had already existed on the earth five times longer than the United States. In the span of time between Moses and Jesus, immense changes had taken place. That part of the globe had switched hands a number of times between Empires. First century Israel was in a world of dizzying flux.
During the first century AD, the East and the West were making a solid connection. The Jews were right in the middle of it, at the very connection point. They had already been living in a commercially Greek world. The philosophies of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, had long before disseminated throughout the Mediterranean area. Due to the achievements of Alexander the Great, who attempted to Hellenize the world, most Jews no longer only spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic. They casually spoke Greek, which explains why our New Testament comes to us mostly in the Greek language.
Then the Romans, right on the heels of the Greeks, came along, building up and establishing additional trade in all of the provinces associated with Rome. They linked the major cities of population, largely by building a highway system that put it all together. It was like a three-dimensional version of the internet. Not only people and goods and services were circulating throughout, but also ideas. There was a lot going on. The world had become Greco-Roman, and it was like one big marketplace, attracting trade goods from distant lands as far as India, and China.¹
In the midst of the flux, a typical Jew might have picked up a scroll of Moses, and wondered if it wasn’t time to “modernize” it. After all, he might have thought, We’ve learned new things since Moses wrote these words, things we didn’t know before. Maybe we can let some of this stuff go. But listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, when He encountered the devil in the wilderness:
“…It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Notice Jesus responded not by saying, “God told Me,” or, “God taught Me.” Instead, He said, “it is written,” as in written down, fixed, unchanging. Then He linked the thought of “every word that comes from the mouth of God.” The word of God that Jesus was living, was the word that Moses had written in Deuteronomy chapter 8. Regardless of whatever European, Persian, Roman, Indian, Chinese, or Egyptian ideas were swarming about, in the mind of Christ, Scripture remained the word of God.
In the very next chapter, He said,
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you until Heaven and Earth pass away, not an Iota, not a dot will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:17-18).
Jesus added his own word to this claim in Mark 13:31, when he said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” He also spoke thus about the later ministry of the apostles when He prayed to the Father, saying, “I have given them the words you gave me,” and prayed for all those who would “believe in Me through their word” (John 17:20).
Some assumed at that time (and today as well), that the changing global environment, or Jesus Himself, would mandate some kind of edit of Scripture. But this verse shows Jesus going in the opposite direction. He had fulfillment in mind. That is, not only will the Scriptures not be altered, but they would be fulfilled to the uttermost of God’s intention in giving them.
He then doubled down in verse 19 to add, “therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
That is, whoever relaxes, softens, downplays the Scriptures in the name of so-called relevance, will only succeed in losing their relevance to the kingdom of heaven. Man-pleasing always comes at a cost. Harmony with world opinion often means being out of step with the Kingdom of God.
A number of times the Jews brought controversial issues to Jesus. They were always arguing about these polarizing affairs, like the grounds for divorce, and whether resurrection was real. His response in many cases was almost formulaic, as He asked them back, “Have you never read?” In other words, “You boast that the Scriptures are the word of God. Why not believe what they say? Why bring these things to Me, as though the answer doesn’t already exist in writing?” By His reckoning, Scripture ought to settle such obvious matters, without endless wrangling.
According to Him, then, the Scriptures remain the Word of God, regardless of the transient time in which the reader lives. You cannot abolish it, nor downplay it. It settles controversy, and if the prevailing culture says Scripture is wrong, that simply means the culture is wrong.
When individuals who call themselves Christians, don’t follow Jesus into His evaluation of Scripture, it’s hard to say they’re actually following Him at all. Scripture speaks of the identity, work, and purpose of Christ, His moral will for man, and His expression of God from eternity past to eternity future. The Christian life that takes shape from deleting some of these things, relaxing others, and pretending Scripture is silent on certain issues (when it clearly isn’t), will look like swiss cheese, riddled with holes—nothing approaching true discipleship.
But Peter exemplifies a disciple who got it. He wrote, “All Flesh [human works, thoughts, hopes, dreams, plans] is like grass, and all its glory [achievements and inventions] like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:24-25).
When I was forty-eight years old, we planted Grandview Christian Assembly. I felt a little uneasy, because I was already fifteen to twenty years beyond the age curve for a man doing this kind of thing. I didn’t want our young church to perceive my ministry as being a wardrobe closet from the 70s. I guess you could call it FOI—Fear of Irrelevance.
A lot of young guys who were planting churches at the time, had a “look”—skinny jeans, hip vocabulary, tattoos, and tons of bravado. I couldn’t help but feel I would never fit that paradigm. I wondered if our little church with its slightly uncool pastor would disappear within a year. Over time though, it became clearer to me that I needed to ignore hype, and make sure I continued giving myself to something timeless. I didn’t need to catch up with anybody’s image, or to copy them. I needed to minister to our members the unchangeable truth of Scripture, something timeless, that would never get old.
And I’m glad I did that. Eventually the fashions of the church planting world became passé. Today pastors poke fun at each other over the Spurgeon beards, extra-thick frame smart guy glasses, grunge fashion, and scarves worn on ninety degree days. These fell away (okay, for some of us it didn’t, but that’s fine). Meanwhile, the Scripture remains.
Don’t become so confident and pickled in modern, so-called enlightenment that you forget it’s all temporary. It has a shelf-life about as long as the milk in your refrigerator. Today’s impassioned involvements are tomorrow’s antique stores.
Then what about making a difference? Shouldn’t we care about that? Yes, but let’s make history with the right thing. Give people something that will outlast them, and continue to bless them into eternity.
Preach the word. Teach the Scriptures.
When all else is gone, that remains.
¹I substantially adapted this paragraph and the previous one from information
gotten on http://www.Bible-history.com