Love Letters from Home
Dr. Jim Denison
Billy Graham was thirty, and already a well-known evangelist, when he came to a crisis of faith. Could he believe the Bible to be the word of God? His friend Chuck Templeton and others were raising doubts in his heart. In his autobiography, Just As I Am, he tells the story of what happened next.
He took a walk in the moonlight of the San Bernardino Mountains in California. He dropped to his knees in the woods, opened his Bible and put it on a tree stump before him. He prayed, “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.”
Finally he was able to say, “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.”
He says, “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 had been fought and won” (Just As I Am, 139; emphasis his).
He was right. And you know the results.
Billy Graham is a Baptist. Like him, Baptists have always been “people of the book.” We have always opposed creeds, man-made statements of faith which are required for Christians. But we have strongly believed the Bible to be the word of God. Augustine called the Bible, “love letters from home,” and we agree. “No creed but the Bible” is our motto historically.
Today I want to tell you why that is so, and especially why our beliefs about the Bible matter to your soul this day.
Learning from the Source
Luke 24 tells one of my favorite stories in Scripture. Remember how these two people are walking home to the village of Emmaus, 7½ miles to the west of Jerusalem, on Easter Sunday evening. One is named Cleopas; we’re not told the name of his companion.
They’ve been to Jerusalem, and know all about Jesus.
They know that he was “a prophet, powerful in word and deed” (v. 19).
They know that the chief priests and rulers “handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him” (v. 20).
They had hoped that he was the Messiah, “the one who was going to redeem Israel” (v. 21).
And they have heard the rumor that “he was alive” (v. 23).
A more compact Christology, one cannot find in Scripture.
But while they knew about Jesus, they didn’t know Jesus. As he joined them along the road, “they were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). And so he showed them who he really was, and what he came to do: “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (v. 27).
“Moses and all the Prophets” refers to the Old Testament, as we call it today.
To “explain” is to teach, to translate, to interpret. This is the Greek word from which we get “hermeneutics,” which means “to interpret.”
He showed them “what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”
He could have shown them how his virgin birth was predicted in Genesis 3:15, his lineage was described through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesse, and David; his birthplace predicted in Micah 5:2; his ministry in Isaiah 9; his suffering in Isaiah 53; his death and resurrection in Psalm 22; his return in Daniel 7.
He could have referenced the 48 major messianic prophecies he fulfilled. The odds of fulfilling just eight of them is one in ten to the seventeenth power; to picture this, fill the state of Texas two feet deep in silver dollars, mark one with a dot, and ask me to find it. He showed them all the ways the Scriptures tell his story.
With this result: “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?'” (v. 32).
“Burning within us” is an ongoing experience in the Greek here, not a single act or feeling. All the time Jesus was teaching the Scriptures to them, their hearts were aflame. Jesus had only to speak through his word, and their lives were forever changed.
So it has been from then to now. St. Augustine, the greatest theologian after Paul in Christian history, was converted when he picked up the Bible and read its truth. Martin Luther was converted to personal faith in Christ through his study of Scripture. John Wesley began the Methodist church after attending a prayer meeting where he said his “heart was strangely warmed” by Jesus through his word. Dr. Bill Tolar, long-time academic dean at Southwestern Seminary, came to Christ by reading the Bible. Jesus can still speak to our hearts through the word of God.
This week I have been applying this message to my own life. As I have opened the Scriptures each morning, I have asked Jesus to teach me as he taught these two on the way to Emmaus, and he has. I have sensed a new life, a new fire, a new power in God’s word as Jesus has spoken it to me.
What he is doing more and more in my heart, he wants to do in every heart. He wants you to say today, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us … and opened the Scriptures to us?” And tomorrow as well.