In 1989, the singer-songwriter Rich Mullins was on tour in the U.S. and he performed the same ritual every night before going onstage. He had a dry-erase board and some markers.
Each night he drew a map of the earth and outlined the continents and then started filling in the countries. He would do this at a fast and furious pace until the tour manager told him it was time to go on. Then he would stop and write these words above the map: “This is the world as best as I can remember it, by Rich Mullins.”
The albums that came out of that tour were titled “The World, As Best As I Remember It.”
I’m going to steal Rich Mullins’ title for this sermon, with just a little change: “The Word, As Best As I Remember It.”
This is something I have wanted to try for some time. Can we run through all the books in the Bible in the course of one sermon? Can I show you how the parts fit? Well, we will see.
We’ll start with the historical backbone of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, the books of Samuel, the books of Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah, the gospels, Acts, then we’ll see how the rest of the books fit in. We’ll move quickly of course, and when we slow down it will be to notice things that seem particularly critical. I will leave out some of your favorite parts, and I may not say everything the way you would say it, but maybe you will see the Bible in a different light.
“In the beginning. . . .” Of course, a very good place to start:
bereshit bara elohim
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
And in the beginning the earth was chaotic and empty, but the Spirit of God was working. And God brought light into his Creation, and he separated the light from the darkness and he separated the earth from the sky and he separated the dry land from the oceans. And He saw that it was good —טוב—tov.
And God called forth vegetation on the land: plants that would bear seeds and spread, trees with fruit which would ensure their proliferation. And He saw that it was good —טוב—tov.
And God established the sun and moon and stars “to separate the day from the night, and [to] be signs to indicate seasons and days and years.” And He saw that it was good —טוב—tov.
And God made the creatures of the sea and the creatures of the air and the creatures of the land, all fertile and multiplying. And He saw that it was good —טוב—tov.
And then in his delight, God said:
“Let us make mankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth. God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground. . . .”
God saw all that he had made–and it was very good!
Genesis 1:26-28, 31 (NET). And man-in-God’s-image was free to choose to obey or disobey, to act with God or against him, to submit or rebel. And God saw that it was very good that he had made mankind that way.
The first great idea of the Bible is the idea that God made everything there is, and when he made it, it was good —טוב—tov. Because he made it, it is his—he owns it—and he can choose to do with it as he desires. He controls its characteristics. He controls its movements. He controls its fertility.
From the idea of Creation, we quickly learn the idea of God’s Sovereignty.
And God finished his work and rested on the seventh day.
And then, the glorious tapestry of Creation began to unravel, as the man and the woman exercised their freedom to rebel against the Creator who had declared what he had made to be “very good.” This rebellion we call Sin, but it may be more useful for you to think about it as rebellion, because that’s a very key element.
And that’s the problem that the Creator is faced with—the highest part of his creation has rebelled against him and has thrown the entire creation out of whack. He cannot ignore that. He could destroy everything and start over, or he could repair or remake what he has made. Being God, he takes a long view, and he chooses to repair what he made to begin with. Being God, he chooses to do it in a surprising way which he does not completely reveal.
And so the next few chapters of Genesis develop the problem of human rebellion, and chapters 4-11 include accounts of the beginnings of numerous things, murder, cities, languages, and we learn more about God’s character, his holiness, his judgment, his mercy.
We begin to get hints about the fourth great idea, the idea of Redemption. Redemption is the word we use to describe the way God is able to fix the most fouled up things and restore them to the condition of “good”—טוב. God is going to fix things, in a way that will involve a man.
And in chapter 12, God calls a man—Abram. We are not told why he calls Abram. Abram is a pagan, living in present day Iraq. And God speaks to him and calls him and makes promises to him: if Abram will go where God directs him. He promises him three things, that God will give him a Land, that he will have many descendants, and that in him “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” And so, incredibly, Abram moves a thousand miles, to the area we call Israel.
And waits and waits. He waits 25 years. He’s in a place, but it isn’t his place, and there are no children, and the whole blessing thing isn’t working so well, either. He wonders, and we wonder, about God’s faithfulness—his commitment to keep promises. Abram wonders to God, and God reassures him that he will do what he said, and Genesis says “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”
But after a number of false starts, God gives Abraham and Sarah a son—Isaac. And Isaac then has two sons, Esau and Jacob. And it is the younger one that is blessed, and Jacob has twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Joseph and Benjamin. And because people are still horrible to each other, and can’t get along, Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery. And because God is a God of Redemption, he works within human choices to bring about his plan, and Joseph is able to save his brothers and his father from starving.
And Genesis ends, without a land for the seventy-some descendants of Abraham and Sarah. But God had promised Abraham something else—he had promised that Abraham’s descendants would be enslaved for 400 years. So when we move to the second book in the backbone, Exodus, the descendants of Abraham have become very numerous indeed, but they are all slaves in Egypt.
Since the beginning, God has been revealing more and more about himself. When he reveals himself to Moses, he reveals himself as a God who has control over nature—not surprising, since he made it—and a God who desires relationship with man. He reveals himself as “Yahweh,” which seems to be a personal name, and which describes his lack of dependence on creation—“I Am who I Am,” or simply “I Am.”
And though Pharaoh doesn’t want to give up his work force, and uses his power to oppose Moses, God brings them out of Egypt in the Exodus. He works miracles through Moses and the miracles demonstrate God’s strength over the gods of Egypt.
By the way, this is the first time we can reasonably guess the date that something happened. The Exodus is probably in 1446 BC. (Not everyone will agree on that, but not everyone agrees on whether al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks. History is a matter of relative knowledge.)
And the people set out into the desert. They whine a great deal, but they quickly arrive at Mount Sinai. Moses is called up on to mountain to be told what God wants of the people. It turns out that God wants at least three things from these people:
1. He wants to be able to communicate with them. He’s chosen Moses as the mediator between himself and the nation.
2. He wants them to enter into a contract with him. He has brought them out of Egypt and is taking them to the Land promised to Abraham, and wants to confirm a special relationship with them. This contract we call a covenant.
3. God wants the people to do things according to his design. He warns them of this, and explains that if they are obedient, they will receive good things, but if they are disobedient they will bring problems on themselves. (We have seen that this was true from Genesis 3.)
They freely enter into the covenant with Yahweh.
First, he wants them to build a Meeting Place for him. They are traveling, so it will be a tent. He calls it the Tabernacle, and he give Moses seven chapters of extremely specific instructions about how to build it.
Unfortunately, when Moses comes down from the mountain with these instructions, he finds the people worshiping a golden calf they have made. Yahweh is displeased, because they are worshiping an idol they have made, not the Creator God who made them.
Things almost spin out of control at this point, but the people turn back from their rebellion (we call that Repentance), and promise to be obedient. The next five and a half chapters recount with the same specific details that the people build the tabernacle exactly the way Yahweh wanted it built. And then at the end of Exodus, it says that God’s glory filled the Tabernacle. It was a visible sign of God’s presence and approval.
In Leviticus, the people are still at the base of Mount Sinai, and God gives them a long bewildering list of instructions. This is the Law. They are told what to eat, what to wear, who not to marry, how to get rid of mold, what to do with people when they are sick, when to work. They are taught that they are separate from the other nations, because God is separate. They are different, because the are in covenant with Yahweh. There is a special word for this— קדוש—qaddosh—holy. The word means set apart for a purpose, and the Lord says: “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
But of course they have no better chance of perfect obedience to the Law than you do of flying to the moon for lunch. Leviticus is important because it gives the nation instructions for worship, including the many types of sacrifices which allow them to stay in right relation to Yahweh. Yahweh is holy. He is set apart. It is important that the people obey Yahweh and worship him.
When God has given them these laws, they leave Sinai and set off on an 11-day journey to the Land that had been promised Abram so long ago. This is the book of Numbers. They follow the visible sign of Yahweh—“the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day.” They learn the importance of obedience as they go. They get to the southern edge of the Land and decide, reasonably, to send scouts across the border. The scouts come back and say—“Wow!” but they also say “We could never defeat the people who live there.” This is true as far as it goes, but they are forgetting what happened less than two years earlier, when God defeated Egypt and brought them out in the Exodus. They are forgetting God’s sovereignty and his faithfulness.
God is understandably unhappy about their attitude in this, because this is the opposite of worship. It is a kind of insult to God, saying that he either isn’t powerful or that he is not interested in keeping his promise to Abraham and to them at Sinai. This is rebellion.
And rebellion always has consequences. God says, “fine, none of you will get in.” “Only your children will enjoy the Land.” So Israel spends the next forty years, nearly, wandering around in the wilderness as the rebellious ones die off. God keeps his promise to take the nation into the Land, but he also keeps his promise to keep the rebellious ones out.
The next book in order is Deuteronomy, which is not part of the narrative backbone, but is more or less a series of sermons given by Moses to the people as they are just outside the promised Land. In these sermons, Moses urges the people to be obedient so that the Lord can bless them, and he warns them that if they are disobedient they will be disciplined.
Joshua is the story of the nation entering the promised land and conquering it, more or less, in seven years.
The book of Judges describes a period of over three hundred years as the people establish themselves in the Land given them by Yahweh. They repeatedly disobey Yahweh and incur judgment. Inevitably, when things get bad enough, the people cry out to Yahweh for deliverance. He gives them someone to deliver them—a shophat—a judge, and they are restored to peace. Unfortunately, they do this again and again. The book of Judges makes clear that this rebellion is the exercise of Israel’s freedom: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25 (NAS).
The next book in the English Bible is Ruth. We’ll come back to Ruth, but it is there because it happens during the same period of time as the book of Judges.
In the books of Samuel (there are two books in your Bible, but it is really just one continuous narrative), Israel whines to Yahweh to give them a king so that they can be like the other nations. Again, this is the opposite of worship, because the covenant at Sinai made Yahweh the king. Still, God agrees to give them a king. He chooses for them a king, Saul, who is exactly the kind of king they would have chosen for themselves. He looks like a king, tall and powerful, just exactly the type of man you would want to lead you.
But Saul has a problem. He makes mistakes, he disobeys, he rebels. That’s not the problem, though. His problem is that when he is confronted with his errors he always blames it on someone else. He won’t take responsibility for his actions.
So God gets fed up with him. God says that he will choose a second king for Israel, and this king will be chosen by God’s standards, not man’s. This man is David, and over the next twenty-five years God trains him to be king. God does this mainly by having David escape repeatedly from Saul, who is trying to kill him all the time.
Finally, David becomes king. Just like Saul, he makes mistakes, he disobeys, he rebels. In fact some of his errors are pretty horrifying. But David is different from Saul. When he is confronted with his sin, he repents. He promptly sees things from God’s perspective and changes his mind. This does not always repair the problem—rebellion always has consequences—but it does repair his relationship with God.
Now David is a warrior, that’s one of the things he had learned, and he pushes back the borders of the surrounding nations. The Lord makes a covenant with David, that his descendants will rule on the throne.
The book of Kings (again, one book, two parts) opens with an old king David. His son Solomon succeeds him and because of the work his father had done, Solomon is able to enjoy peace and prosperity. The job that the Lord has for Solomon is to build a Temple, and again, we get a very detailed account of this lavish building project. Just like the Tabernacle, the Lord’s glory inhabits it after it is completed.
But by the end of Solomon’s life he has married many foreign women and permitted many false religions back into the nation. Again, this is rebellion, and it always has consequences. God says that Solomon’s son will only rule over a part of the nation, and the remainder will break off. The Northern kingdom will be called Israel. The Southern Kingdom will be called Judah.
This was judgment, of course, but there was a plan, as well to incorporate the free choices of many people. This division occurs in 931 BC. Israel (the Northern Kingdom) followed idols and the Southern Kingdom had an erratic relationship with the Lord which depended on the qualities of the king who was on the throne.
There were other free choices being made, too, and in 722 BC the country of Assyria invaded and conquered the Northern Kingdom. The pattern at the time was to take the conquered people as captives and relocate them to another area where they would be in unfamiliar surroundings and unlikely to be able mount a successful rebellion.
The Southern Kingdom was itself defeated by Babylon in 586 BC. Again, the people were taken into captivity. Something else happened. The Temple was destroyed.
Now, the Temple, like the Tabernacle, had been the place that God met his people. God had promised Abraham three things, a Land, a Nation, and that all the earth would be blessed though Abraham’s descendants. But the nation has been taken from the Land and dispersed. And there is no designated place for worship. And the blessing thing is still hard to work out.
And many years pass.
The Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom. The Babylonians conquered the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom. The Persians then conquer the Babylonians.
Now the Persians had a different attitude towards their captives and through a series of events which is fairly complicated, the Lord gives the Jewish captives favor with the Persian king and the people are allowed to return to the Land. Some choose to stay in what is a comfortable lifestyle in exile. In 538 BC, the Persian King permits the people of Yahweh to return from captivity to the Land, to rebuild the Temple and the city.
These events are described in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. They are back in the Land worshiping Yahweh, but it seems that the glory years are past.
What about the other books of the Old Testament?
Well, the book of Chronicles (one book in two parts) describes many additional historical details mostly from the period of Samuel and Kings, ending when Cyrus permits the people to return to the Land. It has genealogies all the way back to Adam, and it seems to focus on the broad theme of the need for Israel to obey Yahweh.
Ruth is this marvelous story which describes a woman, not a Jew, whose husband dies. She is living in Moab, and the prospects for a widow are not good. She is a worshiper of Yahweh, and a Jewish man extends his protection to her and then she marries him. It is a picture of grace and, an early return on the promise that Yahweh will bless the non-Jews through his chosen people. Not only is grace extended to Ruth, but she becomes the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king, David.
Esther—the only book in the Hebrew or Greek Bible that does not mention the name of God—shows how God works in history to bring about the results he desires.
There are five wisdom books, which are not focused on narrative history.
Job seems to take place in same time period as the second half of Genesis, but it is hard to be certain. It deals with the question of suffering and pain and trust in God. In form, much of it is a poetry. It reminds the reader that there is more to life than meets the human eye.
The Psalms are individual poems written over many hundreds of years. Some are for special occasions, some reflect personal tragedies and triumphs, some reflect joyous praise. Like all poetry, they use language to convey deep emotion. Many of them are tied to events in David’s life, and were either written by him or written from his point of view. I should point out that there are many other poems in the Bible, and that they appear with regularity in the narrative sections.
The Proverbs, like the Psalms, are short literary pieces—some of them just two lines long. Many of them seem to have come from Solomon, who was extraordinarily wise in a time and culture which valued that. The proverbs are not promises for life, but wise generalities about a life lived before God.
The Song of Songs also is connected with Solomon’s wisdom, and seems to reflect Solomon’s meditations on human love between a man and a woman. It is largely poetical in form. Some people think it also has metaphorical significance for the relationship between God and Israel or Christ and the church.
Ecclesiastes, again connected with Solomon, seems to reflect a world-weary wisdom about the way things go in this world. The attitude is very realistic—“everything is meaningless”—but it does suggest how a person should live their life before God:
Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion:
Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.
The last seventeen books are associated with the various prophets which spoke to the nation of Israel. There are four major prophets and twelve minor prophets.
Isaiah prophesied to the Southern Kingdom over about a fifty year period, and he spoke about many things in a very long (66 chapter book). He was speaking to people who had seen the Northern Kingdom taken into captivity by the Assyrians. They wondered whether Yahweh was really the Sovereign God of history if such things could happen. Isaiah spoke about what the people should do and how the Lord would restore the nation. In doing this he explains a great deal about the future Messiah who will come as a triumphant King.
It is Isaiah which gives us
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel —God with us.
(Isaiah 7:14) and
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6-7. This Messiah will be the one who will rule on David’s throne, and be the fulfillment of the promise made to David about an everlasting dynasty.
And yet Isaiah spoke difficult words about a Suffering Servant who is rejected:
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
It is hard to understand how it all fits together.
Jeremiah speaks to the Southern Kingdom and announces the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Lamentations is a poem by Jeremiah about the Destruction of the city.
Ezekiel is written from exile. He ministered to the Jews in Babylon, reminding them why the Lord had permitted them to be taken into captivity and encouraging them with the news that God was not finished with his people.
Daniel is an interesting book. Daniel is taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and the beginning of the book is straight historical narrative about Daniel’s determination to be a holy worshiper of Yahweh even in Babylon. We could have inserted Daniel between Kings and Ezra. Nevertheless, a great deal of the rest of Daniel is prophecy about the near and distant future. Daniel also introduces some important phrases and ideas, such the “Kingdom of Heaven” and the “Son of Man.”
And then we come to the minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. I cannot begin to do them justice, other than to say that they did not just speak about the future—for the most part they editorialized on the events which were taking place around them in the divided kingdom, in the exile, and in the early years of the return.
Micah tells the Jews off the Southern Kingdom that God does not desire extravagant sacrifices, but
6:8 [The LORD] has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8. That’s the message of the minor prophets.
Well, that’s the Tanakh—the Old Testament—the Old Covenant—much of it concerns the relationship between Yahweh and the nation he chose to accomplish the redemption that became necessary when the free creatures that God created chose rebellion over obedience.
Several hundred years pass. Obviously many things happen, but the Bible is silent about the history of this period. This is the time of Alexander the Great, and the rise of the Roman Empire, but God preserves Israel in the midst of the wars of the great countries.
And we come to about 40 BC. The Roman Senate appoints Herod as king of an area which included Jerusalem and much of the Promised land. Yahweh is worshiped in the Land, but the worship of the people is polluted with worship of other gods. Herod is a Yahweh worshiper in name only, but he embarks on a building campaign and begins rebuilding and expanding the Temple and its environs. But life is not easy under Roman rule, and increasingly, the people are ready for the Messiah, the triumphant king of Isaiah, to rule on David’s throne.
And we come to 4 BC. And now we come to the New Testament. The first four books provide four perspectives on the life of Jesus.
The first, Matthew, begins like this:
A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Now Abraham was the father of Isaac,
and Isaac the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, . . . .
Matthew 1:1. It begins with a genealogy, but that genealogy was a way of reminding the readers of the history of Israel back to the time of Abraham. So immediately, we see that the gospels slot into what has gone before, and Jesus’ great, great, great, great (many greats) grandmother is Ruth.
The second gospel, Mark, begins with a direct quotation from Isaiah:
. . . the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’
The third gospel, Luke, repeatedly goes back to the Old Testament, either by quotations or by drawing parallels with characters from Israel’s history. When Mary praises the Lord after she has been told that she is going to bear a son, it is purposely described in terms which remind the reader of the reaction of the prophet Samuel’s mother Hannah when she is told that she will have a son.
The fourth gospel, John, begins with a very familiar phrase:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.
John 1:1. “In the beginning”! This is a conscious quotation of Genesis 1:1. This is not something disconnected from the Old Covenant. Later in the first chapter, John writes
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 [ESV]. That word “dwelt” is the the same Greek word used for the Tabernacle—the mobile place where Yahweh met his people. Jesus is God in the flesh—the new mobile place where God meets his people.
The gospels are telling about something new, but also about something that has been in preparation since the beginning. This is what was hinted at in Genesis, what was promised in Samuel, and what was predicted in Isaiah. The anointed one, Messiah, the Christ, is born about 1442 years after the Exodus. This is the descendant of Abraham through whom all the nations will be blessed. This is the way Yahweh has decided to repair the world that was broken in Genesis 3.
Jesus is predicted by prophets, heralded by angels, and baptized by John the Baptist. He does his first miracle—involving wine for goodness’ sake—at a wedding. He calls twelve disciples to his side. He heals people, casts out demons, preaches to the poor. He tells people that the Kingdom of God is at hand (hey, Daniel!) and that God’s people are to be perfect like God is perfect (hey, Leviticus!), and always he says “don’t tell about me yet.” He refers to himself as “Son of man.” (Daniel again.)
When Jesus heals lepers, when he raises the dead, when he heals a bleeding woman, we remember that Leviticus told us that lepers and dead people and bleeding people make the one who touches them unclean. But Jesus does not become unclean—his touch heals and restores. Jesus’ holiness is contagious.
When Jesus walks on the water, when he stops a raging storm, when he causes a tree to die, we are reminded that the one who created the heavens and the earth had power over everything that he had made.
Jesus teaches like the prophets—he is insistent that God’s standards are not less stringent than they law taught, they are more stringent. He says that God wants perfect obedience, not just in your actions, but in your mind.
And his disciples come to realize that Jesus is this person, the Messiah, the Christ. But there is something they do not quite understand.
Peter and the others were forced to realize that although Jesus did not act like the Messiah they had expected–no white stallion, no great army, no outward confrontation with the Roman oppressors —still, it was obvious that he was the anointed one. But as soon as he says so, Jesus begins to stretch their idea of his messiahship still further by speaking plainly about the fact that he is going to be rejected by the religious leaders in Israel, persecuted, executed, and then come back from the dead.
Jesus says many hard things like this, and although the people briefly celebrate him as he comes into Jerusalem, quickly things turn against him, as the political powers realize that he is some sort of threat to them. They conspire to have him killed.
And the Jewish leaders, and Herod and Pilate, through their actions and inactions, through their aggression and passivity, through what they understood and what they could not conceive, brought Jesus to a hill outside of Jerusalem.
You know what happened.
Like a criminal, between two criminals, Jesus was tortured and executed in the manner reserved for those the Romans wanted to make a spectacle of. And we recall Isaiah’s words: “his appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man, and his form marred beyond human likeness.”
When Jesus cries out from the Cross, he echoes Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
* * *
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads [, saying]:
“He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
Psalm 22:1, 7-8.
And so each of the gospels climaxes at the crucifixion, but then . . . .
Jesus, who has been executed buried, is resurrected from the dead as he had said. He was dead, but now he’s alive, and he gives his followers instructions—now it is time to talk, now it is time to preach, now it is time to tell the good news.
The gospel of Luke though, does not end there. It has a second volume. The first volume is about Jesus, the second, Acts is about the church.
Acts is the story of the spread of the church in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and then throughout the Eastern Mediterranean. It tells the story of the gospel spreading through Jesus’ disciples, particularly Peter and Paul. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples but Paul is an incredibly intense, incredibly conservative Jewish rabbi, who encounters Jesus in a vision.
Peter and Paul and the others see that what Jesus taught, the miracles he did, and most of all the death he died, are the culmination—the fulfillment—of the Old Testament. When God devised a plan to restore the world he had made, when he decided how to repair Israel’s rebellion, when he decided how to fix the effects of sin, everything came down to the anointed one, Jesus, Messiah, the Christ.
And so Peter and Paul and the others preach and heal and they keep getting thrown in prison.
And they write.
Paul, who travels more than any of them, visits the synagogues around the Eastern Mediterranean. His message is always the same. This Jesus, who was crucified, was the Messiah sent by Yahweh. He died for our sins, and because he was raised we can live. Everywhere he goes he leaves Jews who believe that Jesus is Messiah—God’s solution to everything which has gone awry. And Paul doesn’t just preach to the Jews—he takes seriously the third promise to Abraham, and he knows that Jesus is the descendant of Abraham through whom “all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Paul preaches to the Gentiles—the non-Jews—as well. He leaves churches everywhere he visits.
And when he is away from them, he writes them letters. Thirteen of them are preserved for us.
Galatians, which urges believers not to think that it is enough to follow rituals of the Old Testament Law. Romans, which lays out the impossibility of anyone—religious or not, Jewish or Gentile—pleasing God apart from Christ. Ephesians, which explains how Jews and Gentiles have been brought together by God to form one believing people.
Letters to the Thessalonians, the Corinthians, the Colossians, and the Philippians, which give teaching and encouragement about how to live a life before God. A short letter, Philemon, to a man whose believing slave had run away. Paul urged him to receive the former slave as a brother. (Paul made the slave carry the letter back.)
First and Second Timothy and Titus, which reflect on Paul’s ministry and how it will continue through those he trained.
Peter wrote First and Second Peter, and Jesus’ half brothers wrote Jude and James to teach and encourage.
And someone wrote Hebrews to show how Jesus’ work related to the sacrificial system in the Temple. Whereas the sacrifices were imperfect, Jesus was perfect; whereas the sacrifices were temporary measures, Jesus’ death brought about permanent peace with God. Jesus makes us holy and carries us into the presence of a holy God.
And the Apostle John wrote three letters and then wrote a very strange book known as Revelation. Revelation recounts visions which John had when exiled during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian, and points to the end of history when, at last, Jesus will return as Lord, the Triumphant King whom Isaiah wrote about.
God wins, Redemption is complete and at the end of the book Jesus speaks:
“I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star!” And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say: “Come!” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take the water of life free of charge.
Jesus is Lord, and you have been invited to drink the water of life.
Rich Mullins tried to remember what the world looked like, because he believed it was central to his life’s purpose. God desires us to remember what his Word looks like because it is central to his purpose for us.
So from Genesis to Ruth to Samuel to Matthew to Hebrews to Revelation we have an unbroken story of God’s redemptive work. In the face of human rebellion, God exercises his freedom to bring make his broken Creation good again.
He wanted you to know that, so he had it written down.
June 8, 2012
©2012 A.F. Brooke II