The Heart of the Matter
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The Heart of the Matter

Acts 8:26–40  (ID: 2393)

At the end of our survey through the entire Bible, Alistair Begg warns against the danger of missing the point—being so caught up in little details that we fail to see the big picture. We have short-circuited everything if we fail to teach Christ from all the Scriptures, know Him in all the Scriptures, and love Him through all the Scriptures. Have you truly come to know the Christ who reveals Himself through the Bible?

Series Containing This Sermon

The Kingdom of God, Volume 2

Matthew 1:1 – Revelation 22:21 Series ID: 26802

Sermon Transcript: Print

Our study this morning is essentially a postscript to the series that we have most recently completed—a series in which we have tried our best to get the big picture, to map the story line of the Bible. I’m sure many of us already feel that we’re in need of a refresher course as we think in terms of how the bits and pieces fit together, but I hope that we are at least a little better prepared than we were when we began the series some months ago. I find myself this morning, in reading in 1 Samuel, which is where my Bible readings are at the moment, in the farewell speech of Samuel, trying to just figure out how this all fits in the story line of the Bible as we think about the kingship, and then, of course, ultimately, the fact that Jesus is King. And I think that this study’s helped me a little and that I’m better prepared, and I hope that you are too.

Those of you who’ve been part of that know that our approach has been very historical; it has been, if you like, chronological, or on a horizontal plane. We’ve been thinking very much about how all the bits and pieces fall into line. We used the concept of the kingdom of God as a key to open the door of entry, and we’ve tried our best to find how it all unfolds.

Hopefully, as I say, we’re all a little better prepared to locate where events are in the unfolding drama of God’s redemptive purpose. And we saw at the very beginning that God, according to Paul in Ephesians 1, “is working everything out according to the eternal counsel of his will”[1]—that history is not haphazard, that God is sovereign over the affairs of time, and that as surely as these various historical incidents have taken place under the overarching span of God’s rule, so the rest of history is under his control. This, of course, makes for a soft pillow when we put our heads on it at night, as we recognize that whatever our political concerns, whatever our social fears, whatever sense of agitation we may have, even in relation to the upcoming events of November, we do know that God remains sovereign over all.

Now, in this postscript, as I say, I have a concern. And the concern is simple, it’s easy to understand, and it is simply this: that it is possible—it would be possible for us—to be so historical in our approach, so horizontal, that we may actually miss the vertical or the relational element of the study of the Bible. If all that has transpired as a result of doing these studies is a sort of increased intellectual awareness of things, then the series in totality must be viewed as a severe disappointment. It is possible in doing jigsaws… and I am no great fan of jigsaws. There is a classic incident in our family life when, one Christmas, we decided that we were going to become a jigsaw family, and we set up a table, got the most enormous jigsaw that we could find, put all the pieces out on the table, and they lay there, I think, for a very long time, until finally somebody shoveled them all back into the box again with virtually none of it completed. People kept going up to the table, picking up pieces, trying to put them together, couldn’t do it, laid them down, and walked away again. For those of you who are jigsaw aficionados, you will regard that as a dreadful admission of defeat. But I mention it because it would be possible for us to have come to this series of studies in the Bible a bit like individuals picking up bits and pieces of the jigsaw, failing ever to look at the magnificent still life or tranquil scene that is on the front of the box. 

In other words, it’s possible to study the Bible and for it to be a complete bust. It’s possible to study the Bible and for it actually to prove ineffective. Hebrews chapter 4 speaks of those who, when they had the Gospel preached to them, found that it was “of no value to them” at all, and the reason was that they “did not combine it with faith.”[2] In John chapter 5—a passage of Scripture that you may actually care to turn to; I want to identify just a couple of verses—in John chapter 5, Jesus addressed the Pharisees of his day in a very outspoken way because they were guilty of studying the Scriptures, priding themselves on their ability to interpret the Scriptures, and yet all the time refusing to accept the Messiah about whom the Scriptures speak. And in verse 37 of John 5, Jesus says, “And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you.”

It’s a very striking statement, isn’t it? It’s quite outspoken. Here are these Jewish people who have all of the Old Testament Scriptures before them: they are vociferous, meticulous, scrupulous in the way in which they study them, much like contemporary friends that we may have, particularly in the Hasidic community here in greater Cleveland. And as we come upon our friends, we find them very concerned to be poring over these Scriptures, to be investigating them, to be interpreting them properly. And to such individuals Jesus says, “You’ve never heard God’s voice, you’ve never seen God’s form, God’s word does not dwell in you,” and then he explains, “for you do not believe the one he sent.”[3] Then he follows it up: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.”[4] “In one sense you’re on the right track,” he might have said, “[because] these are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”[5] 

By nature, no one seeks God. By nature, men and women are running away from God. By nature, men and women have their fingers in their ears to the voice of God.

Now, don’t miss this picture. They were very concerned to approach the Scriptures, but they refused—they could not, or they would not admit—that this Jesus who spoke to them was that Messiah about which the prophets had written. It’s a reminder to us of what Paul says as he writes concerning the nature of the gospel in Romans chapter 3; you needn’t turn to it, but he says in Romans 3:11, “[There’s] no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, [and] no one who seeks God”—“no one who seeks God.”[6] The idea that you can put together a congregation of people here who are all “seekers,” who are all seeking God—just go out in the street and bring them in, they’re all seeking God. No, they’re not! They are not! By nature, no one seeks God. By nature, men and women are running away from God. By nature, men and women have their fingers in their ears to the voice of God.  And even when they may put themselves in the position to consider the Word of God, they refuse to come to the Jesus whom they are introduced to in order that they might have life. 

Campbell Morgan, years ago, addressing this question, says, “There is no life in the Scriptures themselves.”[7] That sounds almost like heresy to people at Parkside, doesn’t it? “You have exalted above all things your name and your word.”[8] We are the people of the book. We want to humbly make this an emphasis, and we do, don’t we? “Oh, the B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me!” That’s us; we “take our stand on the Word of God.”[9] And yet Morgan reminds us, “[There’s] no life in the Scriptures themselves, but if we will follow where they lead, they will bring us to Him, and so we find life, not in the Scriptures, but in Him through them”[10]; that the Word of God in Scripture and the Word of God incarnate is interwoven, in that the Spirit of God brings the Word of God to people in order that they might meet and discover Christ, the Son of God.

It is possible for us to become pharisaical in our study of the Bible, to become like people who diligently study the Bible and yet refuse to come to Jesus to have life.

Now, the reason I make much of this this morning is because I am concerned. I am concerned. And that is because it is possible for us to become pharisaical in our study of the Bible, to become like people who diligently study the Bible and yet refuse to come to Jesus to have life.  

Of course, it’s very easy in a context like this to say, “Well, of course, we could never be those people.” Couldn’t we? Do you know how many people come around Parkside Church with pieces of the jigsaw in their pocket and pieces of the jigsaw in their purse? And no matter what you preach on, as soon as you’ve finished, up they come with a piece of their jigsaw: “Hey, do you know how this piece fits with this piece?” “No, I don’t.” “Well, if you don’t, it’s very important.” “It is?” “Yes, it is.” And I have all these people praying for me that I might understand how all the bits of the jigsaw fit together. I freely admit I am in need of prayer; I freely admit I don’t understand how all they fit together. But I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the people roaming around with a jigsaw have never stood far enough back to see the beautiful picture on the side of the box, which is a picture of Jesus with arms outstretched to save those who will come to him in repentance and faith. It is possible to be meticulously, vociferously, painstakingly committed to fiddle around with the Bible, and yet be unconverted. Therefore, this is a dangerous place in which to spend time, lest, like the people in the wilderness, the proclaiming of the gospel is of no use to the painstaking students of the Bible because they do not combine it with faith.

I don’t worry about whether I’m teaching the Bible to the congregation. But I wonder, am I teaching Christ to you?

Now, all of us, once you reach your early fifties, wake up in the middle of the night. I know this, ’cause I’m doing my own research project. I have all these people—I’m going to form a society called the 3:30 Society, and we’re all going to go on… we’re gonna get… I don’t know how we’re linking up, but we’re all linking up. We’ll just call each other: huge conference call at 3:30 a.m. I have people listening to books on tape, I have people making pots of tea; they’re all over the country, I find them everywhere. “Oh, you wake up at 3:30? I wake up at 3:30!” The only difference is what you think about when you wake up, or what you worry about when you wake up. Now, I worry about a lot of things when I wake up. And I’m gonna tell you one of the things I’m concerned about, and it’s this: Am I teaching Christ to my congregation? Am I teaching Christ to my congregation? I don’t worry about whether I’m teaching the Bible to the congregation. As best I know how, I’m doing that. But I wonder, am I teaching Christ to you? 

Now, in this little postscript, then, let me suggest to you that we have short-circuited everything if we are failing to be teaching Christ from all the Scriptures, knowing Christ in all the Scriptures, and loving Christ through all the Scriptures. I’ll try and balance it out, but I’ll probably spend longer on the first than on the rest.

Teaching Christ from All the Scriptures

I start, essentially, where we need to start, because James said, “Let not many of you become teachers, for he who teaches will be judged with greater strictness.”[11] And the teaching responsibility is not simply here, but runs throughout the totality of Parkside, in classrooms and in various places, and in homes geographically, and so on. And many of you are about to reconvene your responsibilities. Some of you are teaching children, some of you are teaching teens, some of you are teaching women and men; you’re involved in teaching. And the question is, are we teaching Christ from all the Scriptures?

You see, it may not be immediately obvious to us, and certainly not to those of us who teach, that it is possible to teach the Bible without presenting Christ. We may actually pride ourselves on the very way in which we teach the Bible. We say that we want to teach the Bible in a systematic and consecutive fashion, which is good. But in doing so, is it not possible to become enamored with the methodology, to get so close to the text that we fail to stand back from it and see how the picture is forming up on the side of the box? Is it not distinctly possible that we may be increasingly intrigued about the Bible, and yet at the same time failing to be increasingly knowledgeable of Jesus?

You see, the apostolic pattern, right from the day of Pentecost on, is directly this. In Acts chapter 2—and I’ll leave you in Acts 2 for some homework—but in Acts chapter 2, when Peter addresses the crowd, he says, “Men of Israel, listen to this.”[12] That’s authoritative, isn’t it? “Men of Israel, listen to this.” And then his first statement is “Jesus of Nazareth.” “Men and women, listen: Jesus of Nazareth.”  He doesn’t say, “Men and women listen,” and then he presents to them the benefits of the gospel. He says, “Men and women, listen,” and he presents to them the benefactor, if you like. He doesn’t encourage them by appealing to their felt needs. He doesn’t say, “Now, I know on the Jerusalem streets today a number of you are unhappy, your marriages are falling apart, you’ve had difficulty with your finances, some of you are in deep dilemmas with your teenage children, and so on, and we have seminars for all of this, and I want you to know about all of that.” Does that issue from the concerns of the gospel? Yes. Is that the gospel? No. 

He doesn’t begin by addressing their felt needs; he begins by confronting them with their real need: “Men and women of Jerusalem, listen: Jesus of Nazareth.” What is the message from the Bible? “Men and women of Cleveland, listen: Jesus of Nazareth.” And then he proceeds to say who Jesus is, why Jesus came, what Jesus did, and the implications that emerge from that information. So that men and women who are simply going through their days on the Jerusalem streets, aware of what has so recently taken place, many of them having cried for the crucifixion of Jesus, now find themselves encountered by this bold man, emboldened by his message and making sure that he proclaims Christ to them. His preaching was to their hearts, his preaching was rooted in grace, and his preaching was focused on Christ.  You can make a note of that, and you can pray to the end that when the Bible is taught in this place, those three things will be true: to the heart, rooted in grace, and focused on Christ. And indeed, when you find that it isn’t that, then you ought to point it out.

You see, that kind of preaching is at a cost, and it’s at a cost that not everybody’s prepared to pay. I mean, do you really want to say, “Men and women of Cleveland, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth died for your sins”? Or wouldn’t you really just tackle the issues of the day? Talk about sex. (Call it “marriage”; it’s easier in a church.) Talk about money. Talk about self-fulfillment. And watch the crowd grow. I mean, take a leaf from People Magazine. Take a leaf from the grocery checkout. Talk about “the Christian approach to weight loss”: an evening series guaranteeing the loss of ten pounds in the first three Sunday evenings. People going, “I think I may try that. I wonder if he’s going to talk about ‘Ezekiel bread’?”

The hard thing to do is the right thing to do, and that is to make sure that you are teaching Christ in all the Scriptures. What a dreadful waste of creative energy to provide instruction about almost everything rather than the story, the saving story of Jesus.

It’s much easier to tackle the how-tos than to present Christ. It’s actually much easier to develop a kind of denunciatory tone and condemn everything and everyone. It’s actually much easier to adopt a political posture. I know that, because on the rare occasions when I make any kind of quasi-political statement, it’s like raw meat to the dogs. Up you come: “Now he’s going! Yes! Finally, it must be his citizenship, he’s got it now! Here we go!” No, yeah, “Here we go…” It’s possible to deal with the how-tos; that’s easy. It’s possible to become denunciatory; that’s easy. It’s possible to become political; that’s easy. The hard thing to do is the right thing to do, and that is to make sure that you are teaching Christ in all the Scriptures. What a dreadful waste of creative energy to provide instruction about almost everything rather than the story, the saving story of Jesus. 

What will it matter at the end of the day? This is the five pages that I pulled off the Internet on Stephen Olford. It’s just a précis of 86 years of his life, and it’s a very nice statement. And I was thinking about it: you know, he died of a massive stroke—quite a nice way to go, I suppose, although I wasn’t there, so I really don’t really know, but in contrast to some other ways, he’s gone in an instant and into heaven. And here it is: “Noted expository preacher Stephen Olford dies at 86.”[13] I remember the first time I met him I was 20. I remember the last time I met him was two years ago. He came and found me at the NRB somewhere in the country. I was about to give the keynote address. I remember he came in through the doors, a little white man in glasses—came right up to me, and just grabbed me in a bear hug, and immediately started praying for me. I revere his memory.

It made me think, though: “You’re not gonna get five pages, Begg. You might get half a page. I mean, maybe they’ll turn it over sideways so it looks a little fuller.” But I said, you know, “Now, what will it matter? What will it matter if they say, ‘He was lively, he was intelligent, he was relevant, he was passionate, he was humorous,’ if it doesn’t say, ‘He preached Christ to us’—‘He preached Christ to us’?” 

See, that’s the reason for the PS: ’cause we can get all the big bits and pieces of the jigsaw together, and figure out Genesis to Revelation as best we can, get the story line of the Bible cerebrally positioned, intellectually strengthened, aware, able to address certain issues, and yet be no closer to the knowledge of Christ than we were when we started. And so, I want to acknowledge that and ask for your help in it. 

Knowing Christ in All the Scriptures

Now, the reason that we must be teaching Christ in all the Scriptures is, secondly, so that we might be knowing Christ in all the Scriptures—knowing Christ in all the Scriptures. In Luke chapter 24, in that wonderful scene on the Emmaus road, when the two disconsolate disciples do not recognize that they’re in the company of none other than the risen Lord Jesus Christ, and they explain to this stranger that the salvation story has come to a grinding halt in a Palestinian tomb, in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and they’re surprised that this individual doesn’t know the story; and then, of course, with a dramatic irony, it becomes apparent that they are in the company of Jesus. And he says to them not, “Hey fellas, don’t be upset; I’m Jesus of Nazareth!” But he says, “How foolish you are, and … slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have [written].”[14] And then beginning with Moses, he gives them an overview of “all that is said in the Scriptures about himself.”[15] 

When he finally makes himself known in the breaking of bread, when they have a meal together a little while later on in the home, and their eyes are opened and they recognize him, it is of some import, isn’t it, that Luke tells us that in that moment of recognition, they do not then say, “Isn’t it fantastic that we recognized Jesus? Wasn’t it amazing when he broke the bread and all of a sudden we saw him?” But what they actually say is, “[Did] not our hearts [burn] within us [when] he talked with us on the road and [when he] opened the Scriptures to us?”[16]—in other words, when they came to know Christ in the Bible. 

Now, I don’t know if you read your Bible every day, but I hope you do. And when you do, say this little prayer: “Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me myself within your Word. Show me myself, and show me my Savior, and make the book live to me.” In other words, I don’t want to read the Bible in the same way that I do other things in my Day-Timer: “I get up, I brush my teeth, tick. I comb my hair, tick. I take out the dog, tick. Read the Bible, tick… tick, tick, tick.” Some of you are so ticked off you’ll never really enjoy anything, ’cause your whole life is about ticking things: tick tick tick tick tick tick. “Did you enjoy the cereal?” “I don’t know. I ate it, though!” Tick! “How was it with the dog? Did you see any flowers?” “Don’t know, walked the dog!” Tick! “Did you come to know Christ in the Bible?” “Nope. Read it, though!” Tick! 

The Bible finds its focus and its fulfillment in Jesus. All of the pieces of the jigsaw form up and give to us this wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oh, friends, this is not playing for laughs; this is reality. You can go for a month and read your Bible and not know Christ any better because of the way in which we approach it. This book finds its focus and its fulfillment in Jesus. All of the pieces of the jigsaw form up and give to us this wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And the real test of how well the Word of God is dwelling in us richly as a congregation at Parkside Church is not going to be as a result of our ability to articulate a story line or weave our way through it, but whether as a result of having Christ taught to us in all the Scriptures we are coming to know Christ in all the Scriptures. 

More about Jesus would I know,
[And] more of His grace to others show;
[And] more of His saving fullness see,
More of His love who died for me. 
More about Jesus let me learn, 
More of His holy will discern; 
Spirit of God, my teacher be,
Showing the things of Christ to me.[17] 

And some of you are here this morning, and you fit perfectly into the story that was read for us a little earlier by Pastor Platek. Just like the man, beginning to read your Bible. Someone comes to you and says, “So, I see you’re reading your Bible.” “Yes, I’m reading the Bible.” “Do you understand what you’re reading?” “No,” you say, “how can I understand unless somebody explains it to me?” And someone begins to explain it to you, and there you’re sitting in the coffee shop, and they’re telling you, “You know, God has made himself known.” “Well,” you say, “I don’t know what all that means, but thank you.” “Secondly,” the person tells you, “he’s actually our Master and our Maker, although we don’t acknowledge him. He also is deeply perplexed by our defiance of him, and our defiance of him spells endless trouble. But the amazing story is that he sent his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die in our place. And the most pressing element in it is when we recognize that there is no middle ground between belief and unbelief: he who believes has eternal life, and he who does not believe does not have eternal life, because the Son of God does not live in him.”

Can I ask you this morning, have you come to know Christ in the Bible? Have you come to acknowledge your failure before God? Have you come to surrender your life to his authority? Have you come to rely on Jesus alone for acceptance with God? 

I played golf the other day with a fellow—with a group of fellas. One of them became a Christian a few years ago here at Parkside Church. He lives out of the area now. He told me that he was trying to tell a friend about what had happened to him, and he said, “I just told him that at the end of the day somebody told me about Jesus, somebody told me what Jesus did, and somebody encouraged me to stake my whole life and eternity on the strength of what Jesus did.” And he said, “I told him it’s not about me and what I’m doing; it’s about Jesus and what he’s done.” And then he said, “But I don’t know if he got it.” No, but it was a great encouragement to hear him share it. Because I didn’t know that that guy had opened his heart to Christ at the end of a service here at Parkside a few years ago. But it’s good to hear when the “children are walking in the truth.”[18] Do you know Christ?

Love Christ through All the Scriptures

We should beware of any approach to the Bible, the study of it, that doesn’t issue in a growing love for Jesus.

And finally, if we’re going to teach Christ in all the Scriptures and know Christ in all the Scriptures, just a word: we need to learn to love Christ through all the Scriptures—loving Christ through all the Scriptures. We should beware of any approach to the Bible, the study of it, that doesn’t issue in a growing love for Jesus.  So, does our teaching at Parkside issue in a knowledge of Jesus and a love for Jesus? If not, let’s have a look at it, let’s dismantle it, let’s reconstruct it. Does our personal study of the Bible issue in a knowledge of Jesus and in a love for Jesus? If not, then we need to take it carefully in hand.

Of course, how will we know that we have an increasing love for Jesus? “Well, if you close your eyes when you sing some of those songs, that’s how you know.” Are you crazy? Or, “When you have this feeling in your tummy that you never had before, that’s how you know.” Are you nuts? Jesus left us in absolutely no doubt on this question: “If anyone loves me, [they] will obey my [commands].… He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”[19]

So let’s take the test. That’s what I’ve tried to do this week. I found myself saying, as I lay in my bed with the 3:30 Club… not with them, but, you know, in conjunction with; I was actually in bed alone, because my wife is gone with one of our children. But as I lay there, I said to myself, “Am I teaching Christ in all the Bible? Maybe I don’t teach Christ in all the Bible. Because maybe I don’t know Christ as I should in all the Bible. And maybe I don’t love Christ as I ought in all the Bible.”

You take the test. It’s between you and God. It’s everybody’s business. It’s nobody’s business.

Let us pray.

Let’s just take a moment, because God searches our hearts and knows who we are and where we are: some of us are very proud of our heavily annotated Bibles. And certainly, we want to be thankful for all that we have learned about the Bible. Some of us are meticulous, some of the greatest tickers that the twenty-first century has ever seen: all the way through Murray M’Cheyne, all the way through the New Testament in a Year, back around, through again. But do we know Christ? Do we love Christ?

Here we are at the beginning of a new program when, to our children and our grandchildren, through our young people and every aspect of our church’s life, we’re about to reconvene our Life Groups. What a tragedy if they were lifeless: full of information about the Bible, but failing to teach Christ in all the Scripture, failing to know Jesus, failing to love him. 

Father, look upon us in your grace and mercy, we pray, that we may be those who teach, know, and love Christ as we turn again and again to your Word, which is “a lamp [to our] feet, and a light [to our] path.”[20] For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

[1] Ephesians 1:11 (paraphrased).

[2] Hebrews 4:2 (NIV 1984).

[3] John 5:38 (NIV 1984).

[4] John 5:39 (NIV 1984).

[5] John 5:40 (NIV 1984).

[6] Romans 3:10–11 (NIV 1984).

[7] G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel According to John (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1933), 94.

[8] Psalm 138:2 (NIV 1984).

[9] Traditional children’s song. Paraphrased.

[10] Morgan, The Gospel According to John, 94.

[11] James 3:1 (paraphrased).

[12] Acts 2:22 (NIV 1984).

[13] Erin Curry, “Noted Expository Preacher Stephen Olford Dies at 86,” Baptist Press, August 30, 2004,

[14] Luke 24:25 (NIV 1984).

[15] Luke 24:27 (paraphrased).

[16] Luke 24:32 (NIV 1984).

[17] Eliza E. Hewitt, “More About Jesus” (1887).

[18] 3 John 1:4 (NIV 1984).

[19] John 14:23–24 (NIV 1984).

[20] Psalm 119:105 (NIV 1984).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.