Glimpsing the big picture

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

(Psalm 1. 1-3)

Do you ever stop to think who the Bible is about? We are perhaps too familiar with it, too at home with the stories and teaching, and may miss this crucial point quite easily until someone points it out. At which point, if you are like me, you become astonished at your own foolishness!

At a recent midweek church meeting, we created a visual representation of the story of the bible – the whole big  picture, starting at creation and ending with judgement and the new heavens and earth. Along the way, we fitted in each book of the bible, and some of the principal characters who feature – such as Abraham, David, and of course, Jesus. And it was at this  point that our minister pointed out that the whole story is actually about God himself, and his dealings with people. He is the principal character, and it is the purpose of the entire book to teach us about Him, exalt and lift Him up – not any of the all too flawed human beings who feature.

The whole purpose of the collection of books which we call our bible is to reveal the heart of God, his relentless love and will to draw to himself those who will love and delight in him. It is a love story, but one written on such a large scale that sometimes we get too bogged down in the messy details to see it! The point of so many of the stories about folk like Abraham and David, is that they are flawed human beings who make stupid mistakes and refuse to trust the God who has promised to do great things for them. And still God is faithful to them! It is not their deserving that results in good things happening for them, but God’s goodness and persevering love. That is a lesson which I need to learn over and over again.

Jesus did not identify particular parts of the bible story as relevant to him and his ministry, but said that all of it spoke of him – the ultimate revelation of God to man, God made man, living in our messy and broken world. The books of the law spoke of God’s holiness and purity, and desire that his children should share that holiness – because our maker knows that this is the way to fullness of life, we are formed for perfection! Jesus came to live the perfect life, and show us what it could look like. The history books tell of God’s calling of a people to witness to his love and faithfulness, and of their betrayal of him as they turn over and again to other gods, to kings, to anyone at all rather than their God. Jesus witnessed to God’s love and faithfulness, demonstrating at every step of his ministry a profound trust in his Father and belief that God would be faithful to keep every promise made to him.

And running through the whole old testament – the scripture which Jesus knew – is the theme of redemption, of restoration and a final dealing with the rebellion which separates us from God. From the first sacrifices to the final promises by prophetic word of a coming Redeemer; the hope of a real and lasting transformation is demonstrated. In Jesus, it finally came to pass, and as the temple curtain was ripped apart on the day of Christ’s crucifixion, so the barrier which has kept us from God’s intimate presence was destroyed for ever.

While it is good to wrestle with individual passages and knotty theological questions, we must never lose sight of the overall story within which they sit. The details may entrap us into fruitless speculation and unhealthy ways of thinking about God, but the great epic theme restores our perspective, and puts the focus firmly back on God. This is the surest way to keep our souls humbly depending on him, trusting and returning to him over and over as we journey through life. This is the way to ensure that we thrive, like that psalmist’s tree planted by the flowing stream. And perhaps it is this thought which lies behind one of the sweetest, simplest of hymns with which I will close today.

Tell me the old, old story of unseen things above,

Of Jesus and  His glory, of Jesus and his love.

Tell me the story often, for I forget so soon!

The early dew of morning has passed away at noon

Tell me the story always if you would really be,

In any time of trouble, a comforter to me.

(A. K. Hankey, 1834-1911)

May we each be willing to carry out this ministry for one another in the days ahead, it is the most loving thing we can do..

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