Dave Clark's sermon
As well as working as a chemist for Kodak, Dave is a member of St Luke's, Watford, and the Reader Training Scheme.
14th March 2004
This morning we shall be continuing the short series in Lent on coming to grips with the Bible. If I had to give this sermon a title I would use the title from a recently published book called "God's Big Picture" , subtitled "Tracing the story-line of the Bible".
What do I mean by the Bible's story-line? After all the Bible is a collection of 66 books written by 40 (or so) people over a period of nearly 2000 years, in two main languages (Hebrew and Greek) and several different literary genres. Can there possibly be a common thread which unites the diversity of the Scriptures we call the Old and New Testaments. Well I believe there is and over the next 10 or so minutes I would love to give you the encouragement to read the Bible as a unity and a common story which begins with the creation in Genesis 1 and ends with new creation in Revelation 22 and whose central theme throughout, is the person of Jesus Christ.
At this point some of you are probably thinking that an overview of the Bible in 10 minutes is a tall order, but let me quote from an article I found on the Internet - the whole Bible in not 10 minutes or even 5 minutes but in 50 words! (It's probably meant to be done in rap style but I will spare you the embarrassment!)
God made, Adam ate, Noah built, Abraham split, Joseph ruled, Jacob fooled, bush talked, Moses balked, Pharaoh plagued, people walked, sea divided, tablets guided, land entered, Saul freaked, David peeked, prophets warned, Jesus born, God walked, love talked, anger crucified, hope died, Jesus rose, Spirit flamed, Word spread, God remained!
There it is, the Bible in 50 words! Well please don't take it as a really serious attempt because for one thing, all it does is catalogue a list of events but fails miserably to make any connection between the different episodes. To understand the Bible's story-line or big picture we need to discover the main arteries of the Biblical story that holds together both Old and New Testaments in a cohesive whole. But before we look briefly at a Bible passage from Luke's Gospel which I believe is the key to unlock the whole of the Scriptures, let me give you my own particular journey with understanding the Bible. I came into the Christian faith as a student at university and I did what probably most of you here did - I started reading the Bible halfway through ! After all, when you have made a commitment to follow Christ, it is the obvious to start isn't it ! You want to get to know more about Jesus in his birth, his ministry, his death and resurrection. Then the story of the Church is next on the agenda; Pentecost, Paul and his missionary journeys and so forth. As a result I began to get a grasp of the plot of the New Testament but the Old Testament I'm afraid remained a fairly closed book and quite difficult to make any sense of. To be sure there were some great and memorable stories in the OT like David and Goliath or the battle of Jericho, and I had my favourite words of comfort from the Psalms. But unconsciously, I had adopted the kind of split that the heretic Marcion made infamous in the early Christian centuries - that the OT was the product of a lesser god (with a little "g") and Christians should only rely on the NT which is the Word of the true God. Well Marcion was excommunicated as a heretic but I think his spirit still inflicts the church at large! So for me much of the OT remained incomprehensible, outdated and sometimes downright "unchristian" in its outlook. I just had no framework to understand it.
Years later, when our family was settled in Watford, the Parish Church of St. Mary's hosted the excellent "Bible Comes to Life" exhibition run by CMJ (Church's Ministry among Jewish people). Some of you here today may well remember it well and for me it came as something of a revelation. It wasn't just the wealth of exhibits like the famous Jewish Bridal costume worth thousands of ponds in today's money or talks on the life of a Palestinian shepherd for example which brought David the Shepherd boy alive. For me it was the lectures on the central pillars of Jewish life that I found fascinating; The Land, the Temple, the Feasts like Passover and Tabernacles, and finally the Law or Torah which is still at the heart of Judaism to this day. Through the exhibition I came to realise that of these symbols of the worship and practice of Old Testament Israel were never meant to be an end in themselves but pointed to their ultimate fulfilment to the one we call Jesus the Christ or Messiah. This was indeed the key to unlocking the whole of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation - Jesus in all of the Scriptures and for me it really was a revelation. Great chunks of the OT came alive and at last made sense on a deeper level. Reading afresh passages from the prophets like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah with their promises of salvation and restoration on the cosmic scale just grabbed my imagination no end and dovetailed into Christ's teaching about the Kingdom of God and its ultimate fulfilment in the new heavens and new earth of Revelation 22, in which Christ himself is at the centre. Even the book of Leviticus took on a new meaning (!) but I really could have been alerted to this great way of understanding the Scriptures much earlier in my own Christian journey if I had dug a bit deeper in a well known passage towards the end of Luke's Gospel in chapter 24. It is the resurrection narrative about the risen Jesus meeting the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
If you have a Bible you might have it open at Luke chapter 24, although I will not have the time to read or expound the passage in any detail. In any case I'm sure its one of the resurrection stories you know well because of its significance for the Eucharist, where in the breaking of the bread Jesus reveals himself to the two disciples - that is meeting Christ in the Sacrament but for now I would like to look at the story from the angle of knowing Christ through the Scriptures.
So here we have an unknown disciple called Cleopas and his companion (probably his wife), walking away from Jerusalem to their home in Emmaus about 7 miles to the west. Stunned and totally devastated by what had just taken place in Jerusalem, these two disciples reflect on the tragic end of Jesus of Nazareth, the master they had followed who in their own words was a prophet, powerful in word and deed. But now he had suffered a cruel and degrading death on a Roman cross and you can tangibly sense the despair in the disciple's voice;
"We had hoped that he would be the one who would redeem Israel" (v 21)
You can see from these words that Cleopas and his companion were living out of their own expectations - living their own story if you like and what Israel needed was deliverance from her enemies. Ever since the return of Israel from their exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC, the nation had been at the mercy of a succession of superpowers, Egypt, Greece and now the Romans. The story from their understanding of the scriptures (our OT) pointed towards the deliverance of the nation from pagan oppressor's by a Messianic figure. It hadn't occurred to Cleopas that this could mean anything less than a Messiah would bring about a military style deliverance from Rome and this notion was confirmed a week earlier when Jesus road triumphantly into Jerusalem to cries of Hosanna ! But a week later Jesus had been crucified which meant for them that messiahs who end up dead are not true messiah's and so Israel was still in bondage to Rome.
So as Cleopas and his companion reflect on these things on the long journey home, the risen Jesus joins them as a stranger they do not as yet recognise. Here Jesus begins to unravel the mystery by telling the same story from the Hebrew scriptures but with a different interpretation:
"O foolish men slow of heart to believe all the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary for the Christ (Messiah) to suffer these things and to enter his glory. And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets he explained to them all the things about himself in the Scriptures" (vs 26-28).
Wouldn't you have loved to have been at this Bible study ! Jesus must have given the Emmaus travellers the best lesson on the Old Testament ever, reminding them of God's original creation and then of how sin came into the world through Adam and Eve's disobedience; of how the prophets foreshadowed a saviour who would be obedient even to point of death. He may have reminded them of Abraham - how he almost sacrificed his son - and how the heavenly Father did sacrifice his son not just for the sin and rebellion of Israel but for the whole world. No doubt to, he would have referred to Isaiah's description of the Suffering Servant of God who was "wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities"(Is.53).
So here we have it - the entire OT scriptures focussed afresh through the lens of the one who had come to be both the bearer of Israel's destiny and the Saviour of the whole world.
The disciples' slowness of heart wasn't purely a spiritual blindness - they were living out of the wrong story completely. But now, as their newly found understanding begins to develop, a whole new world of possibilities is opened up to them. Supposing Jesus' death wasn't the end of his Messianic call but rather its intended climax! Supposing the cross wasn't just one more story of the bad guy putting one over on the good guy, but all along it was God's means of defeating evil once and for all. As these truths sink into to their understanding, hope begins to rise again. They invite Jesus into their home for a meal and as Jesus breaks the bread they suddenly realise who the stranger was all of the time. Yes we do indeed meet with Christ in the breaking of the bread as we do so in few moments as we share in the sacrament. But we also meet him in the Scriptures and the result of this encounter can be summed up it Cleopas' remark;
"Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures" (v32).
That's what we all need to encounter, having our minds opened up by Christ himself through his Spirit ! I think if we come to the Scriptures just for information then it can become a dry and hard thing to appreciate. But if we come in humility and with an honest desire to know God, to know Christ more, then as we approach the Scriptures I believe that God will give us a "new book" as we see Christ in both Old and New Testaments, making it come alive in a way we have never known before.
I know that in a short sermon I can only sow the seeds of possibility, but where do we begin in searching the Scriptures with this focus on Christ in all the Scriptures. Well its probably not a good idea to start reading at Genesis 1 and soldier on through the rest of the Pentateuch ! No you will need some help or guidance so let me recommend the book I mentioned at the beginning. It is called "God's Big Picture" (Inter- varsity Press, 2003) by Vaughan Roberts, who is Vicar of a large church in the centre of Oxford. He uses the theme of the Kingdom of God as the vehicle to describe how Christ is at the centre of God's plan for His creation from the beginnings of God's kingdom in Genesis through to the ultimate consummation in Revelation. If you are not reading anything for Lent then why not give it a try - it costs £5.99 and if you get down to the Wesley Owen Bookshop in Queens Road, you can get £2 knocked off so there you are, the guide to Scripture's big story for only £3.99! Seriously though and before I end, in the epilogue to this book, Vaughan Roberts prays that as the reader you might experience three things;
It is a good prayer and one I would happily echo for all of us present at this service today so let us bow our head as we finish ....
"Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, as he opened up the Scriptures"
For an excellent website with lots of articles, Bible study aids and links that cover the theme of the Bible's story-line (or as it more technically known, Biblical theology), then try out ;http://www.beginningwithmoses.org/index.htm
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Last updated 14/03/04 19:00:00 Author: Dave Clark