The Western world has been governed by science and reason for a long time. We look to nature and logic to determine truth, because there are laws that govern the universe. If we can observe it or calculate it or both is must be true.
And I would agree with that. If you can prove something through science or nature, then that is true—although I do think we need to be careful what we consider proof. What we can prove from nature using reason is true, because God created nature and nature is ordered. And God gave us reason; it comes from God, and so reason is the faculty that God has given us to discern nature and derive truth from it.
The problem is that all truth cannot be derived from nature. God has given us nature to testify about the reality of God, but even through reason, we derive little truth of God’s charachter or purposes. We can learn very little spiritual truth through nature and reason alone.
So, where do we learn about spiritual realities?
We can learn much about the natural world through science, but we need something else if we want to learn about the supernatural world. Think about what this word means for a moment. Super – natural. The prefix super means above or beyond. Superman isn’t just a man, he’s far more than a man. A super-ball isn’t just a ball, it’s a ball you can bounce over a house. When we talk about the supernatural, we are talking about things that are above or beyond the natural.
Just like a super-ball isn’t constrained to the realities of other balls, and superman isn’t constrained by the definition of humanity, so also the supernatural is not constrained by the laws of nature and so nature cannot testify about the supernatural. Reason are science are used to learn the realities of the natural, but we need a supernatural tool to learn about things that are supernatural. The Apostle Paul wrote,
1 Corinthians 2:11–13 (CSB) — For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We [the Apostles and prophets] also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian Church that they had recieved wisdom from God Himself, through God’s Spirit for the express purpose that they might understand what had been given to them by God—namely, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Further, they teach truths about God and His purposes, not using human reason, but they explain spiritual truths, given by the Spirit of God to people who are spiritual.
So, when we talk about the supernatural, natural arguments against it don’t hold water. We don’t believe truths about the supernatural world because they are proved through the natural world. That’s the shortcoming of what we call evidential apologetics—that’s a field of study that tries to prove the scriptures using natural evidence.
We believe, as Christians, many things that are supernatural. Christianity is an intrinsically supernatural faith. And we must derive our faith and practice from supernatural realities.
So where do we get that from? Where do we learn supernatural realities if not through science and reason?
The answer is, the Bible. That’s not striking to most of you. Of course we learn about the supernatural from the Bible. The Spirit of God working through the Apostles and Prophets in the generation of the scriptures, now speaks to us as spiritual people. That’s a supernatural work as the passage in Corinthians teaches. Has it ever occured to you that reading the Bible is a supernatural practice?
So, it follows that, if the Bible is our primary source of information on the supernatural, then we ought to really know the Bible if we want to truly engage our supernatural faith.
But, there are a lot of weird and confusing things in the Bible, right?
Think about how we deal with those things.
Our tendency is to read the Bible through filters. You filter the different texts through your current understanding of scripture—whether right or wrong. And you have other filters.
• You filter your reading of scripture through your understanding of science.
• You filter your understanding of scripture through your understanding of philosophy.
• And you filter your reading of scripture through your political preferences.
These are filters we all have.
One person is raised as a Christian and taught to take the scriptures as literally as possible. That person reads Genesis 1 and believes in a literal 6-day creation where everything occured exactly as it is written in Genesis 1. This person comes to science and interprets science as being false, because it doesn’t agree with the Bible.
Another person is raised believing in evolution and becomes a Christian later in life. That person reads Genesis 1 and filters it through their understanding of science, believing that the creation account is merely a story designed to teach principles about God and creation, but not to teach how creation factually occured.
Both people have filters.
What if I told you that both of these approaches to scripture are wrong?
See, both of these interpretations of Genesis 1 conflate the natural with the supernatural on grounds that God did not intend it to. The Bible is not a science book. It was written by prescientific people to teach supernatural principles to humankind. So, don’t do science with the Bible. It’s not what it was written for.
But, don’t do theology with science either. Don’t let science be the lens by which you interpret the scriptures. If you let the natural teach you about the supernatural, your interpretations of scripture won’t be supernatural at all. Why? Because God reveals the supernatural through supernatural means and science is natural.
Let the Bible alone speak to supernatural realities. That’s what it’s for.
But, again there are weird things that are hard to understand without our filters. So, what do we do with al these weird texts? — gods, ghosts, and giants; sprits, stars, and suns; angels, demons, watchers, seraphim, cherubim?
First of all, if it’s weird, it’s probably important. Weird things usually point to the supernatural and that’s why they are not obvious to us. So, instead of filtering those texts to make them more palatable, we’re going to take them for what they are and try to create a mosaic with them.
A mosaic is many different parts and pieces put together to create a beautiful work of art. On their own, each piece is virtually meaningless, but together they teach a great deal about the unseen realm and the supernatural.
We want to do away with our filters in order to create this mosaic and take the Bible for what it is. To do that, I want to give you 5 tools for reading the Bible and thinking about the scriptures so that you can clearly see the supernatural come through.
I want to start with a weird passage. Notice what Jude wrote,
Jude 6 (CSB) — The angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deep darkness for the judgment on the great day.
The entire idea of angels is weird to begin with. But, notice some further weird things here.
1. There are angels who abandoned their appointed positions that God had assigned them too. In other words, they quit their jobs.
2. There are angels who abandoned their proper dwelling. They did’t live where God designed them to live.
3. These angels did something so bad that God imprisoned them until the day of judgment.
Those are pieces of the Mosaic. On their own they teach very little, but you will see this bizarre verse show up in several places in this series as this scripture is a large piece of the Mosaic that many other pieces attach to.
But, imagine you are reading along in Jude and you come along this verse. You may not have enough pieces of the Mosaic to understand it. What do you do with it?
The Apostle Paul gave us this tool for interpreting the scriptures. He wrote,
Romans 15:4 (CSB) — Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures.
According to Paul the scriptures are to instruct and encourage us. That’s the tool. So, let’s go back to the passage and see if there is an instruction or encouragement.
Jude 6 (CSB) — The angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deep darkness for the judgment on the great day.
Notice what God has done. He took these angels who rebelled against God in some atrocious way and he put them in prison. Why do we put people in prison? So they can’t hurt other people.
Now, we know from other places in the scripture that there are demons and other supernatural beings that are still on the earth that are disobedient to God—that’s another piece of the Mosaic. So, notice, these ones did something so bad that God couldn’t let them remain like others but put them in prison. This text doesn’t say what—that’s for later weeks. But, God is protecting us from these angels.
The encouragement of this text is that even though there are spiritual beings who oppress and maybe even torment people, God does not allow them free reign on the earth. He is very literally protecting us from the most evil beings by keeping these angels in prison.
So, when you see something weird, take it for what it is and see if there is instruction or encouragement in the passage even if you can’t answer every supernatural question of the text.
Here’s a second tool…
The Bible does not have a dynamic meaning. It does not change person to person. Some will defend the ‘what does this mean to me’ approach on the grounds that God’s word is living and active. But, God’ never changes and neither does truth or God’s standards. So, when you allow for a different interpretation of the text from person to person, you are essentially overshadowing God’s meaning in the text.
Here’s how that played out in the Garden to the east of Eden.
Genesis 3:1–7 (CSB) — Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ” “No! You will not die,” the serpent said to the woman. “In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it.
Notice in the story how the serpent took the truth of God and twisted it to suit the desires of Eve. He spoke to her human desires and said, “It’s not so much that you will die, it’s that you will become like God and God doesn’t want that.” He took God’s promise that eating the fruit will result in death and he twisted the meaning to suit the desire of the individual. We call this deception. The serpent deceived Eve. But he did so by twisting what the scriptures say.
In the same way, when you say, ‘This is what the text means to me,’ you are twisting the scriptures away from God’s intended meaning and allowing them to suit your own purposes. Let me give you a more modern example. Romans 1, the Apostle Paul wrote,
Romans 1:22–23, 25 (CSB) — Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.
Modern readers of this text will tell you that these were empty idols, that people created images to worship, but those images are not real gods at all. I think to read it that way is to twist what is actually said so you don’t have to acknowledge the supernatural.
Notice some of the wording here. Notice the images resemble mortal man—like Cesar or Pharoah or other cultures that worship humanoid gods. Or birds, like the gods of Egypt and other Ancient Near Eastern religions. Four-footed animals, like, I don’t know, cows! I think that’s at a minimum a reference to the golden calf that the Israelites made to worship in the wilderness. But let’s talk about reptiles for a moment.
I’m going to quote from Dr. Michael Heiser’s book, “I Dare You Not to Bore Me with the Bible.” He wrote,
Israelites, like other Semitic peoples, associated serpents with life and healing. Snakes were thought to have regenerative healing powers because they shed their skin. Serpent images were a common motif in ancient Near Eastern art. Storage jars often included serpent imagery—perhaps to ward off theft or spoilage. The Greek god of healing, Asclepius, was depicted as a snake…
Aside from their association with healing, serpents were familiar symbols of protection. Consider ancient Egypt, where the snake is an ever-present symbol. The uraeus serpent on the crown of the pharaoh was thought to render him immune from harm and enable him to heal. Other serpent icons served as divine guardians. The confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh, in which the serpent of God devoured the Egyptians’ serpents, sent a powerful theological message about the superiority of Yahweh. Yahweh—not Pharaoh—had power over the natural and divine worlds and the authority to dispense or withhold judgment or mercy. He was truly God; Pharaoh was an amateur magician.
Don’t miss this common motif, that some of the gods of the nations were depicted as serpents and that serpent icons were images of divine guardians. Serpent icons or idols represented gods or divine beings they considered to be very real. That’s why the Jews and the church have always believed the serpent in the Garden was Satan.
So, when Paul wrote this passage to the Romans, he was carefully pointing to gods that were not the one true God, but gods that the people believed were very real. Idolatry isn’t about stupid people who worship blocks of wood; it’s a very real concern of allegiance to Yahweh God over the gods of the nations.
And you’ll notice Paul said that they, ‘worshipped and served what has been created.’ He does not say that they worshiped what has been made up in the minds of men! The gods that they worshipped—and worse, that they served—were a very real part of the supernatural context of the ancient world.
We have to let the text speak for itself and not project our desires onto it.
The third tool is to…
I’m going to move through the next two tools quickly to make more time for the last one.
Acts 17:11 (CSB) — The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.
Paul came to the Berean church and preached to them, but they knew that if Paul was teaching truth, it would be represented in the Hebrew scriptures. So, they went to the source texts to validate what was being said. They were very concerned about the original meaning of the passages Paul was using and wanted to validate what Paul was saying about Jesus from the original sources. We must do the same.
Further, it is recorded in Nehemiah,
Nehemiah 8:8 (CSB) — They read out of the book of the law of God, translating and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was read.
The Jews were in exile in Babylon/Persia for 70 years and when they came back to Israel their culture and thinking had been contaminated by the thinking of that world. So, when Ezra the priest read from God’s law, the Old Testament in your Bible, they didn’t understand what exactly it was about.
Ever been there? Reading scripture and you have no idea what you’re reading?
Not only that, but the Hebrew language had developed into a new dialect. So, The Levites translated the text and gave them the sense or the meaning so that they could understand the original intent.
That takes work. You might have to read a commentary on a passage or email your pastor or someone else with more experience than you to get some answers. But, you have to do the research or you are in danger of—see tool two—reducing the passage to, ‘what it means to me’ instead of understanding what the authors meant by what they wrote.
Okay, forth tool,
I don’t want to speak ill of any church traditions so I’m not going to do that here. But, there are practices in many conservative churches that more reflect good business practices in the world than they do good worship practices in the scriptures.
In addition, there are churches whose worship practices are a reflection of worship that happened in ancient pagan temples, more than in the scriptures. Both of those are a problem for me as the Apostle Paul warned,
1 Corinthians 4:6 (CSB) — Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying: “Nothing beyond what is written.”
Notice Paul is concerned that people would form practices that are not commanded or demonstrated in what has been written. We ought not to define practices that are not in the Bible when it comes to our personal practices of faith, the way we worship, or the way we operate as a church. Most churches do the same basic things in worship. They sing, they pray, they read scripture, they take the Lord’s supper, and the preach. Those practices are all inherently biblical and that’s why we all do those things.
Some churches build casual halngout time into their services for people to talk and share food together. That’s biblical as well.
But, we don’t go beyond that, because many of the churches who have gone beyond that have given up what defines them as the church in exchange for the practices they have added. They become idols of sorts. And we obviously don’t want that.
So, not only do we want to derive our faith and practice from ONLY the Bible, but we also want to—tool five—
This is an area we really need to take to heart and where the supernatural gets real. I think we understand the idea that our practices should come from the scriptures. But, it’s a whole other thing to say that our faith and practices come from ALL scriptures. In other words, there is no scripture that we can say, ‘this is weird,’ or ‘I don’t like this,’ or, ‘I don’t understand this.’ Every scripture informs our faith and practice in some way.
Consider this passage from Luke that is familiar to many of you.
Luke 22:1–6 (CSB) — The Festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called Passover, was approaching. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put him [Jesus] to death, because they were afraid of the people…Judas, called Iscariot…went away and discussed with the chief priests and temple police how he could hand him [Jesus] over to them. They were glad and agreed to give him silver. So he accepted the offer and started looking for a good opportunity to betray him [Jesus] to them when the crowd was not present.
Judas is not a good guy. He was guilty of stealing from the disciples money bag and just all around was missing the point of what Jesus was doing. Here we see that Judas plotted to betray Jesus. But, you may have noticed I left out a verse in the middle. Look at verse three,
Luke 22:3 (CSB) — Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, who was numbered among the Twelve.
Some people want to reduce this and say that Satan didn’t possess Judas. In fact, many people don’t believe there are any real evil beings at all and they take this verse to mean that Judas was such a bad guy that it was just as if he had been possessed by Satan himself. Satan is just the way that primitive, dumb, and uneducated people from ancient times thought about people who make bad choices.
But, the ancients were anything than dumb. They had many brilliant thinkers just like we do today. I think it’s undeniable that Luke and most others believed Satan was real. He recorded this story exactly as he understood it to happen in order to demonstrate the supernatural activity that is at work in the world.
The supernatural is so important. Look what John says about the supernatural.
John 20:30–31 (CSB) — Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John believed that the supernatural events of Jesus’ life were necessary in order to understand the supernatural nature of Jesus, that is, that he is the Messiah and that He is the Son of God.
The supernatural elements of the scriptures demonstrate that Jesus is the Son of God and that you have life, now and forever, because of Him. Jesus did supernatural things to prove that He is supernatural.
And that’s basically where I’m at with this. I want you to read your Bible well, because when you read your Bible well, you will see the supernatural world come through the text. I also want you to have a framework for how we are going to think through many scriptures over the next 9 weeks. I want you to see that I am not just interpreting passages differently than others, but that there are correct ways of interpreting scripture that is defined by scripture. And when we do that the supernatural context comes to life.
Gods, watchers, giants, angels, demons, ghosts, spirits, the incarnation of Christ, the Virgin Mary, resurrection—the supernatural events of the Bible are to be understood as the ancient people wrote them so that we can see the unseen and experience our supernatural God.
The supernatural context is the key to honest interpretation of the scriptures. We can’t leave any of it out. The Gospel itself is inherently supernatural. The Gospel requires that you believe that the man Jesus is equally God. The Gospel demands that you believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead and you also will be. The Gospel demands you believe in heaven, God, spirits, angels and also in all the scary forces of darkness stuff as well.
Its scary to think about these things. You might be more comfortable ignoring the bizarre passages in the Bible, but remember the words of the Apostle Paul,
Ephesians 6:12 (CSB) — Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.
Remember, I said, “If it’s weird, it’s important.” Paul says there are rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness that you struggle against. On a daily basis, your flesh and blood absolutely cause you to sin, but there is a greater battle waging that is against evil itself, against forces of evil in the unseen realm.
If we back up two verses, Paul said,
Ephesians 6:10–11 (CSB) — Be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil.
Legions of evil beings sounds hopeless, but Paul gives this command to ‘be strengthened’ by the vast strength of the Lord. The Lord is not able to fail. He will not lose the war. And thus you are told to be strengthened. Paul puts the burden here on you as a Christian to go get this strength that the Lord has for you.
How do you do that? How do you be strengthened?
You can read the rest of Ephesians 6 for yourself, but Paul says to…
• stand for truth and righteousness
• be ready to claim and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ
• be unwavering in your faith
• claim your salvation—I belong to Christ and I will spend eternity in His Kingdom
• and he says to pray at all times that you might stand firm and persevere in the battle.
One of the things we do as a church is celebrate the Lord’s Supper—and I explain it all sorts of different ways, because there’s many facets to it. But we are celebrating here the gospel of Jesus Christ. And though we still struggle against the forces of darkness in the unseen realm, we are reminded at the Lord’s table that, although the battle is still happening, the war has already been won at the cross. When Jesus gave up his final breath of the cross, he declared, ‘It is finished.’
The death you would suffer in response to the evil in the world and in your life has been taken upon Christ. Your broken body will be made whole in eternity, because of the breaking of Jesus’s body. Your penalty for rebellion against God, for idolatry, the worship of the gods of the world, that penalty has been paid at the cross through Jesus’s blood.
As we come to the Lord’s Supper today, remember Christ. Remember through the bread, his body broken for you. And remember through the cup, his blood poured out for you. Let’s thank God that the war is finished and pray that he cause us to stand firm and persevere through the battles that continue to wage.