Early in my Christian walk, I read the bible to understand what Christianity was about. I saw it as a collection of stories & history that explained how we (gentiles) came to believe in God, who Jesus was & why the crucifixion was needed, and to understand what awaits us in the future. In time, as I would mature in my walk, I would begin to see that this was more than just a collection of information that justified or explained my faith. It was the true Word of God, it had an enormous amount of value. The scriptures are filled with stories of people, just like me, who failed miserably but that God could and would redeem. It became a book of Hope for the weary, Faith for those who love Him, and Promises of an eternal heavenly future.
Under the teaching of some very respected bible teachers, study authors, and church leaders… I began to read the scriptures differently. I was taught to read the scriptures and ask “How does this apply to my life?”. Now, in some cases of scripture, that is a really easy question to answer. The Proverbs are full of wisdom that can be applied to every day life. But there would be times, when I would read a passage of scripture, that I was left scratching my head. It just didn’t seem to apply. I wasn’t like the person in the story, the situations I was dealing with in life were different than the point of the story. I just couldn’t figure out how it applied to me, at all. In those cases, I would cast it aside for the time being. My reasoning was that it just didn’t apply at that moment. But, I figured God revealed it to me because at one point it will. I will recall reading it, and at that point in the future, I will know where I can return to find the wisdom and encouragement I need.
I am certain many of you who are reading this, are shaking your head in agreement. But, what if I told you … we are totally wrong. What if I said that is not the right question to be asking? Hold on to your hats, if you are, because I am about to rock your socks.
I had an opportunity to attend an amazing conference that would forever change how I viewed the Bible. I have never looked at a passage of scripture the same. I study the Bible in an entirely different way. It came from a group of very well known teachers, that a new question was posed.
You see, the scriptures are not about you and I. The Bible is the collective story about God’s ultimate plan of redemption.
The Old Testament serves as a witness, or testimony, to how fallen God’s people are. God gave us everything, perfect and in union with Him. Man’s choice to go against God’s wills happened in the very beginning… when Eve and then Adam, took a bite of that forbidden fruit. As the Old Testament unfolds, we illustration after illustration of a repetitive cycle of sin and redemption.
God sets rules.
Man breaks or can’t keep rules.
Man should be punished.
God ultimately saves them from themselves.
They thank God, renew promise to follow his rule.
They do for a while.
Then the cycle repeats itself… again and again…. and again.
Because man continually repeats this cycle, atonement has to be made for these sins. The Gospels of the New Testament deliver to us a Savior, who will be the final lamb sacrificed for sins of a stiff necked people. The New Testament continues, with the Good News spreading to new areas, the real life experiences believers faced, and leads us to the end… when Christ comes back for His church.
The Bible from start to finish, isn’t about you… or me… it is about Jesus Christ, our Savior. The question we should be asking, first and foremost, when we study scripture is:
How does this passage reveal Jesus Christ to me?
Does it reveal the promise of his coming, his birth?
Does it parallel his life to death, on earth?
Does it reveal the need & promise of his sacrifice?
Does it reflect the call He puts on those who follow him?
Does it establish his person-hood, his divinity, his character, his love, his compassion, his mercy, his grace, his obedience… his example?
The Bible was written about Jesus Christ, for you. For you to see that you are not alone in your failures, that just like others in the scriptures you can be redeemed. But that comes by first KNOWING HIM, and you will get to know Him best when you look for Him in God’s word, before you look for yourself.
I am not suggesting we don’t ever ask how it applies to our life, if that were the case there would be no need for the wisdom scriptures. I am suggesting that before we can understand the wisdom & themes of scripture (as they apply to us), we have to understand the ONE whom the wisdom originates. We have to understand how these pieces of scripture, stories and history relate reveal Jesus, first.
I understand that for a good portion of my readers, this a “DUH” moment. Either because you already know it, or you are simply trying to figure out how you missed it.. it should be a given. It is very easy for human beings to get so wrapped up in themselves or the situation they are seeking guidance through the scriptures for, that they forget to start with Jesus.
This past summer, I had an opportunity to do an in depth study of the book of Nehemiah. It was conducted by a panel of biblical scholars; who worked independently on their assigned sections of Nehemiah, while making sure they stood in agreement as team under the Word of the scriptures.
On the surface, you could easily pull out some very “me centered” themes.
* It’s a story about a man who chose to make a difference in his community.
* It’s a story about a man who brings his community back together, back to God.
* It’s a historical point of time, regarding the city of Jerusalem.
* It’s a story about what we can accomplish, when we work together, for the glory of God.
On their own, none of these things are bad. However, they do not truly reveal the point of the book of Nehemiah. They don’t get to the heart of the story. They don’t get to Jesus.
If you really take time to look through the scripture in Nehemiah, you will find that is parallels the ministry & purpose of Jesus.
The city is in ruin, the people are far from God.
Nehemiah leaves his comfortable position, with the king to go to the city & restore it.
While Nehemiah is present, restoration begins.
Nehemiah sets the example & standard.
Nehemiah returns to the king, leaving the people to continue on their own.
The people fail miserably in his absence.
Nehemiah must return.
When you look at the book of Nehemiah, with intention of revealing Jesus… it’s right there, plain as day. You just have to get yourself out of the way to see it. This is why, we must come to the scripture first, seeking to reveal Jesus. It’s not about us, it’s about Him. Always has been, always will be.
I challenge you to start looking for Jesus, when you study the word. You will find him.
In the next installment, we will address what the second question you should be asking is.