Father, help us truly and rightly hear the drama of Scripture this morning, that we might receive Christ for us and live to your praise and honor. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
I. The Story of God’s Word
Can you sum up the Bible in one sentence? Luke 24:27 just about does it: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Michael Williams summarizes the Bible like this: “God made the world, we broke, and Jesus fixes it.” That was, in a nutshell, the sermon Jesus delivered that day to his two downtrodden disciples.
So far in this sermon series, we have heard of the power of God’s Word and the primacy of God’s Word. We come now to the greatest sermon ever preached and the greatest Bible study ever had. This is, in some ways, the most important of these four sermons. Here, Christ Jesus tells us that he is the author of the Scriptures and the context for every passage of the Bible. Friends, if you do not understand this, you are liable to make a mess of your Bible study and the way you intake the preached Word. Bishop Phil Zampino recently shared with me that he once had a man come up to him after a sermon and ask, “Don’t you have anything else to talk about other than Jesus?” Of course, he didn’t and no, preachers don’t!
If you do understand this, you will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, bearing fruit in your faith and in your reading of the Scriptures, blessing all those you speak to of the faith that’s in you.
Today, we want to look at two things: 1) what does it mean to say that God’s Word is a story centered on Christ and 2) how does that impact how we understand it and apply it?
As we begin to answer those questions today, I want to share with you a passage from He Is Not Silent by Al Mohler. This book has been very helpful to me and I give Dr. Mohler the credit for shaping the content of this series.
He says, “I remember as a child singing the song about Zaccheus and his sycamore tree. ‘Zaccheus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he.’ One of the great problems with much evangelical preaching today, and one of the reasons so many saints are not growing to completeness in Jesus Christ, is that so many of our pulpits are filled with what you might call ‘Zaccheus sermons’ – or to put it more bluntly, wee little preaching.
Every Sunday, far too many preachers read a wee little text, apply it in wee little ways to their people’s lives, and then tell everyone to come back next week for another wee little story.
That tendency to isolate our sermons to one tiny piece of biblical preaching is a major problem, and it also explains why so much evangelical preaching is moralistic. It is easy to pick out a familiar story, make a few points from it about what people should and should not do, and then be done with it. But that kind of preaching will leave a church weak and starving, because the Christians who sit under it never find themselves in the big story of God’s work in the world. If we as preachers want to see our people growing to maturity in Christ, we must give them more than a diet of wee little morality sermons. We must place every text we preach firmly within the grand, sweeping story of the Bible.” (He is Not Silent)
Friends, that is my heart’s desire: that you would grow in your understanding of the Bible’s grand, sweeping story with Christ at the center. Look at #4 on your Ears to Hear handout: “Hear the Word of God understandingly. Christ called the multitude and bade them hear and understand. Questions are encouraged. Be provoked in your faith.” Open your Bible and your mind to read of him! May the Scriptures never gather dust on your shelf or in your heart.
Cleopas and his companion, the two disciples who walked with Jesus that day on the road to Emmaus, would afterwards says, “Did our hearts not burn within us as he spoke with us?” Last week, Deuteronomy 4 asked the question, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?” Every sermon where Christ is at the center should leave us saying something like that! And unless he is at the center, that fire will never burn!
Again from Mohler, “That is what each of us should desire to see happening. … Our people can know so much, and yet know nothing, all at the same time. They can have a deep repository of biblical facts and stories, and yet know absolutely nothing about how any of it fits together, or why any of it matters beyond the wee little “moral of the story.”
II. Christ in all the Scriptures
The Big Story
So how do we avoid that? We see Christ in all Holy Scripture. Jesus tells us that the Scriptures are all about him. Because the Bible is God’s inspired Word and his Script for the whole world, it is one unified narrative leading up to and pointing back to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. I think it’s incredibly revealing that many, many accounts of deconversion and apostasy lack a basic understanding of how the Scriptures are centered on Christ. In video I watched recently, I don’t think the name of Jesus was ever mentioned once. That’s telling.
So how do we understand this? As I’ve already alluded to, the basic way to do this is to say that Scripture tells the four-part story of God’s creation, Man’s fall into sin, God’s redemption of mankind, and the consummation of the new heavens and new earth, with the cross of Christ at the center. John Bowring’s hymn “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” says it well:
In the cross of Christ I glory,
towering o’er the wrecks of time;
all the light of sacred story
gathers round its head sublime.
Understand that, and you will be able to understand all the smaller stories in the Scriptures and how they tick and tie together. More importantly, you’ll understand that the Bible is the book that narrates the whole world. It alone makes sense of our world, and all other competing stories must bow before the one told there.
Law & Gospel
Related to this idea of the Big Story is another idea we should understand. Within God’s Word, he speaks to us two kinds of words: Law and Gospel. Put it differently, God tells us what he commands of us but also what he promises to us. Everything in the Scriptures either leads us to acknowledge our need for forgiveness or tells us of how the mercy of God in Christ is poured out on the heads of undeserving sinners.
Let me give you one example of this:
Ephesians 2:1-5: “1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (This is a “microcosm” of Holy Scripture: Verses 1-3 give us the Law and show us the effects of sin, while verses 4-5 show us what God does for us in Jesus: “But God!”)
III. Our Place in the Story: Do’s and Don’ts When It Comes to Application
Listen to these words from Martin Davie, “What gives unity to the Bible is that it contains the one overarching story of God’s creative and saving activity, and it is as we learn to inhabit this story and listen to God speaking to us through it that God makes known to us who He is, what He has done for us, and how he wants us to live before him.” (Our Inheritance of Faith: A Commentary on the Thirty Nine Articles). As we inhabit the story of Scripture, how do we remain faithful in our application of that story? Here are some pointers:
1) DO look for Jesus. DON’T make it about you.
To find our place in the story, we sometimes need to get ourselves out of the way. Case and point is the story of David and Goliath, found in 1 Samuel 17.
How do we usually interpret the story? Often our takeaway from the story of David and Goliath is that God will help us to overcome the “giants” in our lives. While there’s some truth to that, who does that make the story about? Right, us.
More likely though we would have been on the sideline, whimpering, and sucking our thumb in the fetal position. The text actually suggests this. Rewind to verse 11: “When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.“
God’s people were up against a wall – and so were God’s promises to them. They needed salvation. They needed a savior. They needed someone who was precisely not like them. In context, David represents not us, but the triune God at work. Listen to David’s words in verses 45 and 47:
45 Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. … 47[T]hat all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord‘s, and he will give you into our hand.”
This is what faith in the triune God looks like – standing in awe, seeing God accomplish the miraculous on our behalf and in our stead. David the king, shepherd, and anointed one, foreshadows Jesus, great David’s greater Son.
In the end, even David would fail God’s people, but there would be Another. “Robed in flesh, our great high priest,” he would come to do battle against a greater Goliath, and the outcome would be unanimous and unparalleled: salvation won, villain felled.
The good news is that while the story of David and Goliath may not be about us it is intensely for us. It’s Christ for you! We find our place in the story through our unity with Jesus Christ, our great Victor and the true King! Do you see how we approach the story of Scripture makes a difference here?
2) DO remember the Big Story of God’s Kingdom. DON’T get lost in smaller stories of other kingdoms.
Not to get political, but American politics is a great example. You can find examples on both sides of the divide here. Christians bring the Big Story of Scripture and redemption in Jesus Christ to bear on whatever society they live in – America is no exception. Whether it’s the Moral Revolution happening today or a particular candidate or party, we don’t pin our hopes on any of things! When they become more central to us as Christians, you can attribute that to a loss of the Big Story – a misunderstanding or an outright denial of it. Christians who know the Big Story, know that Jesus is King no matter who is in control or who’s spinning their own narrative. They seek first and belong first to the kingdom of God.
3) DO remember where we’re at in the story. DON’T try to repeat other parts of the story.
We live in the last great act of God’s drama of redemption – between the first coming of the Messiah and the second. So, we look back through the lens of Jesus Christ to rest of Scripture, the Old Testament. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4 that “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” All Scripture was written for us, even if all Scripture was written to us.
So as an easy example here, when we read of the construction of the tabernacle and temple in the Old Testament, we’re not to try to go and reconstruct it! Hebrews makes it clear: Jesus is the new Temple, the new and better high priest, and the once for all sacrifice. Moreover, we are his dwelling place in the Holy Spirit.
If you get these do’s and don’ts in you, you will be able to keep the plot and remain true to the script of Scripture, both in your own meditation, and in the hearing and intake of the preached Word. And, I dare say, you will keep the flame of love for God’s burning brightly, just as it did for Cleopas and his companion as they spoke with Christ on the way.
And so to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be all the praise, all the glory, and all the honor, now and always. Amen!