I would like to show you a wee video clip. This gentleman is colour-blind but watch his reaction when he puts on glasses that enable him to see as other people do. (You can stop watching at 1:40).
That is an illustration of what it is like to suddenly be able to see what the Bible says. He couldn’t believe the difference. It was overwhelming and did you hear him say, “It’s so clear I can’t believe it.”
Many people have tried to read the Bible and found it completely incomprehensible. It just doesn’t seem to have anything meaningful to say. Some of us might have experienced the same thing. “I can read the words but I just don’t get anything out of it. I certainly don’t feel that I hear God talk.”
But equally, millions of people have experienced a complete transformation when they have become Christians. And again, that might have been your experience. They have said, “The Bible suddenly came alive to me. Previously, it had been just hard work. Now, each day I was excited by what I was seeing.” The transformation is even more dramatic than it was for the man in the video. Suddenly, I see.
How can the Bible be obscure one day and alive and active the next? Did the Bible change? No. Did the person change? No. It is because the Bible is impossible to understand without the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
The person without the Spirit does not understand spiritual things. Our hearts are hard; our eyes are blind. We cannot understand the things of God… until God reveals Himself; until the Holy Spirit gives us that understanding.
2 Corinthians 3:15-16 15 Even to this day when Moses is read [i.e. when the Old Testament is read], a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel of Christ, who is the image of God.
The man in the video could see the shapes and he could see some colours but there was a whole lot he couldn’t see. When we read the Bible, without the help of the Holy Spirit, we can see the words and we might get some impression of what it is about but its real meaning remains lost on us. And yet, turning to Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit is like putting on those glasses.
Think about the two people walking along the road to Emmaus after the crucifixion. Their physical eyes were open. They could see their surroundings. They could see the person walking with them. But their spiritual eyes were blind. They did not recognise that it was Jesus. Then suddenly, their eyes were opened. They later said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Jesus opened the scriptures to them. They had read them before but they simply had not seen the clear message there about the Messiah.
It is what happened on the Day of Pentecost (which we celebrate today) when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Apostles. A crowd of Jews, who probably knew the scriptures well and had gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost (i.e. they were religious people) suddenly saw all the Old Testament passages that Peter referred to, in a new light and they were convicted. They were cut to the heart. The Holy Spirit not only inspired Peter and the Apostles as they preached but he also opened the eyes of the hearers.
When Paul preached in Philippi, Acts 16:14 says, “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” Lydia was already a worshipper of God but she didn’t know Jesus. However, when she listened to Paul’s preaching, the Lord opened her heart to respond.
Jesus had previously told the disciples that part of the role of the Holy Spirit would be to teach.
John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 16:8 When He [the Holy Spirit] comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement.
John 16:13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth…
The Bible is impossible to understand without the Holy Spirit. We are blind to spiritual things until He opens our eyes. J.I. Packer has been one of the great theologians and Bible teachers of the last century. In his book, Keep In Step With The Spirit (p.239), he says, “It is through the Spirit that Jesus thus communicates understanding, and apart from the Spirit there is no understanding. The whole New Testament assumes this.”
If we think we can sit down with our Bibles and understand them, we are wrong. We need the humility to say, “Lord, I don’t understand Your word, Your ways, Your will. Open my eyes.”
There are many prayers in the Bible just like that:
- Lord, open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (Ps 119:18).
- Teach me your decrees (Ps 119:12, and many similar verses)
God answers those prayers. God will open our eyes. God will teach us. The Spirit of God offers to come alongside and be our teacher. That is what Jesus promised would happen. It is what did happen.
In John 6:45, Jesus quoted Isaiah as saying, “They will be taught by God.” Isn’t that amazing? We might be naturally blind but Jesus affirmed that His people would be taught by God Himself. It is as if, when we sit down to read the Bible, God, the Holy Spirit, sits beside us, running His finger along the lines, to teach us.
Read Ephesians 1:15-23
I said there are many biblical prayers for the Holy Spirit’s illumination. One was in our reading. Paul, writing to the Ephesian church, was delighted by their faith and their love for other Christians. He said he had not stopped giving thanks for them. But he also wanted to bless them and he wanted to see them grow. So he had another prayer for them. In fact, he said that he kept on asking God for this one thing. He repeatedly prayed this same prayer for the Ephesians. What was it? What would be key to their growth?
“I keep asking that… God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know Him better.” “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation”. Should “Spirit” have an upper case or a lower case “s”. is it the Holy Spirit? Well, yes, according to the translators of the version we read. Paul’s prayer is for God to give the Ephesians the Holy Spirit… so that, as their eyes were opened to the things of God, they would know God better. What more important prayer is there than that we know God better?
Then he prays “that the eyes of your hearts may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.”
That is a prayer that we can pray for ourselves and we can pray for one another. What might happen if we prayed that prayer every day for our church? Wouldn’t it be absolutely wonderful if all of us had growing knowledge of the things of God; if we knew with certainty the hope to which we have been called – If we had an unshakable assurance about the future God has for us, and about the inheritance He has for us, and about His incomparably great power (the same power that raised Jesus from the dead). Imagine if our eyes were opened to the incredible power of God. And Paul says that power is for us. God is willing to use His incomparably great power for us. Are there depths here that we (or certainly, I) don’t yet understand? Do we need Holy Spirit insight into this?
Paul wanted the Ephesians to have the Holy Spirit insight; that He would open the eyes of their hearts.
The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible in the first place and the Holy Spirit gives us understanding as we read the Bible. When the person without the Holy Spirit reads the Bible he/she sees history or literature or ancient religious ideas. It seems just human. He/she may, or may not, agree with it. It might have no impact. But the person with the Holy Spirit sees something completely different.
Firstly, the Christian has a Holy Spirit certainty that what he/she is reading is from God. As you read your Bible, do you just know that this is God’s word? This is not an ordinary book.
1 Thess 1:13 And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
Secondly, the Christian has Holy Spirit understanding. Things make sense.
Thirdly, he/she has Holy Spirit conviction. He/she hears what God is saying to his/her heart – the personal word God is speaking to him/her.
This is the word of God. This is what it means. And this is what God is saying to me.
So, what can we do? The first step is to ensure that you have turned to Jesus; have been born again; have received the Holy Spirit? Take that opportunity today.
If we have, we can seek illumination. Lord, open my eyes; reveal to me. The people in the Bible regularly prayed that prayer and it was the priority prayer that Paul prayed for the Ephesians. We need to hunger for God to reveal Himself and reveal His ways. If you have felt that the Bible is barren and uninspiring, I hope that you will hunger to hear God and will pray, “Lord, open my eyes.”
We can expect illumination. God is able to give understanding. He can open our eyes. We don’t need to be experts and we don’t need experts to teach us. That is not to say that there is not benefit in developing our skills and in reading what experts have to say, but we are not dependent on them. God can show us profound, life-changing truths even when we are not experts. God can speak.
But we have to have that desire; we have to ask; we have to open ourselves up to hearing from God. God is not reluctant. He has given us His Holy Spirit as our teacher. If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13). The Holy Spirit is right there, waiting to help us, if we will only ask.
We must submit ourselves to His words. When God speaks, the appropriate response is to believe Him and to act.
The Holy Spirit is waiting for us to ask. We can ask for ourselves. We can pray that prayer from Ephesians 1:17-19 for ourselves. But I encourage you to also make it a regular prayer for our church. What if God answered that prayer? What if we had that Spirit of wisdom and revelation; we knew what God says? What if our eyes were opened so that we knew the hope to which God has called us, and we knew the glorious riches of the inheritance that is ours? Are we enjoying all that God has for His children or is there more? And what if we knew His power? Lord, open our eyes. Holy Spirit be our teacher.