Yesterday we began presenting the concept of reading and understanding the Bible as one single story from beginning to end. It doesn’t read like a novel. There are different varieties of literature encountered as one reads from Genesis through Revelation, but it becomes evident that there is a single story threaded through all those books of law, history, poetry and prophecy, biography, and epistles.
As with any story there is an evident plot line or story line on which the story is “hung.” A plot line is sometimes pictured as a line beginning with the “exposition” in which the principle character or characters are introduced and the setting or background of the story developed. Miss the exposition and you will never know what the story is all about. Next comes the “hook,” or the introduction of the conflict that begins the action of the story. The action rises to the “climax,” when the single most important event in the story takes place. This is followed by the “denouement” as the action that takes place as a result of the climax begins to fall back to the “resolution” when the everything returns to normal. When this is drawn it looks like an inverted “V” with horizontal extensions on either end.
The exposition in the Bible comes, as usually in any story, at the beginning which would include the first two chapters of Genesis. The hook, or conflict occurs in Genesis three with the antagonist (the devil) tempting Eve and sin entering into the world resulting in the curse upon mankind. The action develops as sin increases until God destroyed the earth by the flood. There is a new beginning with Noah and his family – a kind of new creation, but with the same problem of sin as had occurred before the flood. This new creation was looking forward to the time when God would restore all things to his original purpose or goal.
As the action further develops and sin again spreads its deleterious effects, God calls Abraham to be separate from the world, another new beginning. The story narrows down to the family of Abraham as they end up in Egypt, in slavery to the Pharaoh. God hears their groaning and sends Moses to deliver them. When they leave Egypt, being “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” they have become a new creation, a new nation on their way to the promised “rest” in the land of Canaan. It was even more looking forward to the climax when the “seed” of Abraham would come to bless all nations through faith – a faith like that of Abraham himself.
As the action continues and sin remains a constant problem, turning many away from faithfulness to God, many prophecies and signs are given pointing to the climactic event of all history. God enters into time as a baby born in the city of David, Bethlehem in Judea. When he begins his ministry, it becomes evident that the conflict between God and Satan is raging. Jesus is tempted by Satan whose agents in the form of legalistic Pharisees and compromising Sadducees are leading up to the moment when Jesus would be crucified. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, the story has reached the apex of the story line, the point of the “V.” All time and history are focused on this moment. The prophecies of the Old Testament, all the Sabbaths, all the types and figures find their fulfillment in the cross. He is dying for the sins of mankind. He is dying so that the story can reach its resolution – so that God’s original purpose for his creation can be carried out and man once again returned to the place he was always meant to be.
This seeming victory of Satan proves to be only temporary because on the first day of the week following the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave, triumphant over Satan, and sin. That Sunday morning, new creation began. After his ascension, Jesus is declared to be “Lord of lords and King of kings” over all creation. From then on we read about human beings who believe and become obedient to Jesus’ rule being “new creatures” and humanity united in him as being “one new man” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:15). We find instructions to Christians to put off the “old self” and put on the “new self,” (Ephesians 4:22-24), and how to walk in “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). From the moment people begin that new life they “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead them as the children of God (Romans 8:14).
In this new relationship with God, his children enjoy “grace and peace” that comes through the knowledge of him “and of Jesus our Lord,” are granted all things that pertain to life and godliness and become “partakers of the divine nature” by that same means (2 Peter 1:2-4). It is because of our urgent need to know God – to know who he is and what he is like – that we must come to know Jesus who is the perfect representation or “image” of the Father. Knowing him is not optional. We were made to be like him and we cannot live our part of the story unless we do know him. We do not know him by knowing laws. We know him by knowing and experiencing the salvation he offers through grace. We know him and live in the story by lovingly responding to his grace. What commands he gives us we gladly obey, not as a means to our salvation, but as expressions of our love for him.
The story of the early Christians is the story of their expression of love for and obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Their faith is worthy of imitation. We see them in their day as they face the trials and persecutions with faith and persistence. We see them as they help and encourage one another, building one another up in the faith. We see them as they rejoice together, live together and love together. We see them as their faith in the Lord grows and as their hope sustains them. We see them deal with discouragement by patient endurance. We see them deal with erring brothers with kindness. No, they were not always all they should have been, but neither are we. We can certainly learn from their examples though.
Do what they did? Maybe, maybe not. There are things they did and that they were commanded to do that were situationally and culturally determined. Do as they did? By all means. That means that we have to accommodate our loving response to God to our time and culture in the 21st century. What is required of us is that we live true to the story! What does it mean for us today to respond to the needs of people in our day? There is no one answer that can be given to accommodate all people in all places for all time. Christ is the pattern after which we are to model our lives and after which the church, his body, is to be modeled. His mercy, love, compassion, grace, kindness and service are the things that determine how we should live and what we should do. That is broader than a list of laws. It is just broad enough to allow us to encounter any situation with an answer that will allow us to do God’s will and serve our fellow man in the very same way Jesus would have.
All throughout our lifetime we must keep Christ at the center – the focus – of all things pertaining to our relationship with him – indeed, in all aspects of our life and the life of the church. This is where knowing him plays such a critical role. When we, individually or collectively, have a situation before us demanding that we determine what is the right thing to do, his life, his character, his actions and his teachings play the decisive role. He couldn’t have given us detailed instructions concerning every possible situation we may face even as John said that he couldn’t give a record of everything he did on earth. He gave us enough for us to have faith in him (John 20:30-31). And he and the other chroniclers of his life gave us enough of the story of his life that we might know how to live and serve him by serving others as he did.