“What is the Bible really about?” (Psalm 119)

I have a heart for the “unconverted.”  By that I don’t simply mean those outside the walls of traditional Christianity—I mean those who have spent years within those walls, but have been converted to Christendom and not Jesus himself.  In a famous address on the Church in a post-everything world, Pastor and author Tim Keller suggested that for many, Christianity has become like an inoculation.  When we inoculate someone against a disease, we do so by introducing a small amount of the virus into the system.  The person’s natural immune system takes over, producing antibodies to stave off the “real” infection.  In much the same way, Keller argues, many within the walls of the church have heard just enough about Jesus to become immune—their minds and hearts produce antibodies to stave off the “real” message of the gospel—and so they become merely religious converts rather than genuine Christian disciples.

This is why the story of Luke 24 is so significant.  The story takes place after the resurrection, though before the disciples become fully aware of this good news.  What they’re feeling is only disappointment.  And so we join two hangdog travelers on the road to Emmaus:

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. 22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us.  They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23 and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.”  (Luke 24:13-24)

Though their hopes had been raised in Jesus’ life, they lay shattered in his death.  What was their hope?  Israel’s world was one of fragile harmony between Jewish custom and Roman oppression.  They hoped for a Savior who would tip the balance in their favor.  All they got was another martyr.  Jesus looks at them and says, Your dreams are too small. 

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27)

Jesus understands something quite elemental: the Bible—the whole Bible—is a story about Him.  The reason these travelers ached with disappointment is because they failed to realize that week’s events had not been a tragedy, but a divine necessity.

Lesslie Newbigin, former missionary to India, says that Western Christianity suffers for lack of story.  The way to reverse the inoculation to the gospel, he says, is to learn to see Christianity as a story that connects to every facet of life:

“The true understanding of the Bible is that it tells a story of which my life is a part, the story of God’s tireless, loving, wrathful, inexhaustible patience with the human family, and of our unbelief, blindness, disobedience.  To accept this story as the truth of the human story…commits me personally to a life of discernment and obedience in the new circumstances of each day.”

The reason that you and I often struggle through our Old Testament devotions is because we fail to see Jesus on every page.  We open the Bible for its usefulness; not its beauty.  We search its pages for solutions to our problems; not for a greater glimpse of the Savior’s face.  And when we do this, we fail to grasp the radical power of the gospel in every word.  Why would psalmists write epic poems—like Psalm 119—unless their hearts quickened to every word on the page?  Such was the experience of these early disciples, who finally recognized Jesus when He broke bread before them—symbolically reminding them of the body broken just days before.

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going.  He acted as if he were going farther, 29 but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?”

When we see Jesus on every page, our hearts burn within our chests.  I leave you only with a video from Tim Keller, who borrows the “true and better” motif of reformed theology to show the various ways that the Bible—from beginning to end—is an extended biography of the Savior.

 

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