If you grew up in church, you’re probably familiar with the well-known Bible stories. You’ve marveled at Noah’s floating zoo, you’ve faced down giants in your life like David, maybe you’ve even dared to be a Daniel. And that’s just the Old Testament. In the Gospels you learned about Jesus’s miracles, and perhaps also that these stories aren’t just intended to amaze; they’re meant to make you a better person. See how generous that little boy was with his lunch? Go and do likewise.
If you didn’t grow up in church and aren’t as familiar with the Bible, you may assume that the Bible is a well-meaning series of morality tales, or an anthology of philosophical musings, or an archaic rulebook that ought to remain confined to hotel-room drawers. Indeed, increasing numbers of people today believe that Scripture is downright dangerous, a tool to oppress the weak and prevent the gullible from being true to themselves.
Churchgoer or not, if you resonate even slightly with any of these sentiments, I have some great news for you.
Time to Reimagine
Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not simply a collection of ethical principles, moral platitudes, or abstract life lessons. Imagine a single, unfolding, thrilling drama; a story of epic proportions that is more fascinating than your favorite fairy tale because it is true. That’s God’s Word.
If we ever hope to properly handle the stories in the Bible, we must first grasp the story of the Bible. And that story, the one that traverses its way from Genesis to Revelation, though recorded for you, is not finally about you. The focus is far higher and the hero far better. Given the Bible’s astounding diversity, its plotline’s fundamental coherence is striking:
- 66 books of various genres
- 40+ authors from a variety of backgrounds and occupations
- 1,500+ years
- 10 civilizations
- 3 continents
- 3 languages
- 1 unified story of redemption
The Bible has one ultimate plan, one ultimate plot, one ultimate champion, one ultimate King.
If we ever hope to properly handle the stories in the Bible, we must first grasp the story of the Bible.
In Luke 24, shortly after his resurrection, Jesus appears incognito to two of his followers on a road. Bewildered and breathless, they relay the buzz surrounding the inexplicably empty tomb. It’s the inexplicably part that prompts Jesus, still unrecognized, to speak:
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:25–27)
After revealing himself to his eleven disciples shortly thereafter, Jesus reiterates the same point:
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44–45)
It wasn’t only after his resurrection that Jesus spoke this way, however. For example, before his death he had explained to the Pharisees—the Jewish religious establishment, the “Bible experts” of the day—his central place in their great story:
You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. . . . If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. (John 5:39–40, 46)
Such claims were not typically well-received.
It has been said that if the New Testament is Jesus Christ revealed, the Old Testament is Jesus Christ concealed. That is exactly right. To paraphrase the late theologian B. B. Warfield, the Old Testament is like a room full of treasures, but the room is dimly lit. It is filled with prophets that predict him, patterns that preview him, and promises that anticipate him. As pastor Tommy Nelson observes, a sweeping view of the Bible’s topography from 30,000 feet, focused on Christ, would look something like this:
- Old Testament: anticipation
- Gospels: manifestation
- Acts: proclamation
- Epistles: explanation
- Revelation: consummation
From beginning to end, your Bible is an epic story about Jesus.
And why is Jesus so central, so ultimate, so unequaled in its pages and in hearts around the world? Because only he came to earth, truly God and truly man, and lived a perfect life; died an atoning death; and rose to vanquish sin, Satan, darkness, and death. Jesus was everything Adam failed to be, everything Israel failed to be, and everything we have failed to be. He succeeded where we have not. The Author who designed us to worship and enjoy him—and whom we have offended because of our rebellion—stepped into his own story to salvage it.
The Author who designed us to worship and enjoy him—and whom we have offended—stepped into his own story to salvage it.
Above all, the story is one of rescue—God becoming man to bring man back to God. Though each of us deserves separation from God forever because of sin, Jesus went to the cross in the place of sinners to pay their penalty. Jesus loves to forgive; that’s why he came. And he loves to make new; that’s why he is coming again. Simply turn to him in trust and you can know him not as your Judge, but as your Savior and Friend.
In the meantime, approach the Scriptures “Christocentrically”—with a view to how the Bible in its entirety centers on Christ, the one in whom all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20). If you’re looking for a collection of morality tales, check out Aesop’s Fables. Otherwise, crack open the greatest story of all time, the only story in which the central character loves us back.
But be careful. He might just change your life.
This excerpt is adapted from Matt Smethurst’s book Before You Open Your Bible: Nine Heart Postures for Approaching God’s Word (10Publishing, 2019).