Finding Our Place in God’s Story
Big Idea: The Bible isn’t just an ancient book. It’s God’s story, and it’s our story too.
As a church, we do a pretty crazy thing. We pull out this ancient document every week. We appoint someone to spend hours studying it, and then we all sit and listen to someone talk about it. And then we meet in Grace Groups to talk more about it, and how to apply it to our lives. And we encourage you to go home and read it every day as well.
Not only that, but we say that it should govern our lives. Later on we’re going to read a Confession of Faith, and today’s confession says, “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience … In Scripture our faith finds its final word.” We also believe that the Bible governs our lives; that it has the final say over everything and everyone.
When you think about it, that’s a remarkable thing. Why would we give the Bible this much authority and importance in this church and in our lives? Well, in the next six weeks we’re going to look at this question. But let me start with this:
The Bible isn’t just an ancient book. It’s God’s story, and it’s our story too.
The passage that we just read talks about an event that happened in the Hebrew Scriptures, and says:
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did…Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:6, 11)
Here we see that a somewhat obscure Old Testament passage isn’t just an old story, but it’s something that tells us something about God and something about us that we absolutely need to hear.
So let’s look at these verses and the statement that I just made and see if we can make sense of why the Bible is so important to us.
The Bible isn’t just an ancient book.
3,500 years ago, a relatively small slave nation fled from captivity and became refugees in the Sinai Peninsula. As refugees, they struggled with all the normal problems you’d expect, including a lack of food and clean water. Some remarkable things happened, though. When they fled Egypt, they were miraculously able to pass through a lake or sea as they escaped. They were guided by a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night (Exodus 13:21-22). On at least two occasions they were without clean water, but were able to get water out of a rock (Exodus 17:6, Numbers 20:8). They found food, both by eating a food like a coriander seed, and by eating quail, a game bird.
Most of us would think, though, that the the story of a bunch of refugees wandering around in the Sinai Peninsula thousands of years ago has very little to do with us today. We’re not refugees; we’re not in the middle-eastern world; we have almost nothing in common with them. They wouldn’t understand our world, just like we wouldn’t understand their world.
But two thousand years ago, in a modern and diverse city, the apostle Paul wrote to a church that was going through some difficulties. Not only did he bring this story up, but he argued that these events have continuing relevance, not only to them, but to us today. Paul says a few things.
First, he says that these stories are examples for us. There’s some relationship between what they went through and what we went through. We tend to make the same mistakes that they made. We’re not that different after all. One writer highlights how strong a connection there is between them and us:
A careful reading of the Old and New Testaments shows that idolatry is nothing like the crude, simplistic picture that springs to mind of an idol sculpture in some distant country. As the main category to describe unbelief, the idea is highly sophisticated, drawing together the complexities of motivation in individual psychology, the social environment, and also the unseen world. Idols are not just on pagan altars, but in well-educated human hearts and minds.… The Bible does not allow us to marginalize idolatry to the fringes of life … it is found on center stage. (Dick Keyes)
When we read about this group of refugees, and their struggles and tendencies, we’re getting a much better glimpse at ourselves than we could find in any book or journal article today.
Not only that, but he says they were written for our instruction. The idea is that we can learn something from them. The word he uses for instruction is actually a negative one. It means a warning or a cautionary story so that we don’t repeat their mistakes.
And so, 1,500 years after these events happened, Paul says that they can help a little church in a multicultural, sophisticated city. And two thousand years later, these same stories continue to speak to us today across the world and in a completely different culture and setting. In fact, Paul later on says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
What this means is that the Bible — the whole Bible — isn’t just an ancient document that has nothing to do with us. It has continuing and abiding relevance to us today. The Bible is one giant story that gives us examples and instructions so that we know how to live. It’s profitable so that we know how to be righteous, and so that we can be complete and equipped for every good work.
The Bible isn’t a collection of moral fables. It’s not a dry and dusty story of people long ago and far away that has nothing to do with us today. It’s not a set of tips on how to live a better life, and it’s certainly not inspirational.
So what is it? It’s two things.
It’s God’s story.
The Bible is God’s story. Not stories, although there are stories. It’s one overall story in which God is the hero and main character.
Where do I get this from? Look at verse 11 again:
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)
That last part — “on whom the end of ages has come” — is pretty interesting. You know how stories work. There’s usually a beginning, when you meet the main characters, and then a conflict, and then building tension as the conflict ramps up, and then finally a resolution, and then an ending. When Paul says that, in the first century, the end of ages has come, he’s essentially saying that the story has played through all of those elements and has finally found its resolution. Bible scholar Gordon Fee says:
In this sentence one captures a sense of Paul’s view that both the historical events and the inscripturated narrative are not simply history or isolated texts in Scripture; rather, behind all these things lies the eternal purposes of the living God, who knows the end from the beginning, and who therefore has himself woven the prefigurement into these earlier texts for the sake of his final eschatological people.
That’s just a fancy way of saying that, as you read the Bible, you’re reading one story culminating in Jesus Christ.
Here’s the story in a nutshell.
In the beginning, God created the universe. He created us — human beings — to live in his presence, and to joyfully submit to him, and to enjoy the world the way it’s supposed to be. These are the main characters.
But here’s the conflict. We rebelled against God, and we must suffer the consequences of that rebellion. The whole world has been plunged into chaos. Instead of enjoying God’s presence, and the world the way it’s supposed to be, we live in conflict and alienation from God. Nothing seems to go right. As one preacher said, “There is hardship in everything except eating pancakes” (Spurgeon). To make it worse, we all die.
But God initiated a rescue plan. He called a nation to be his own people. He rescued them from slavery and gave them his law. But they, like us, failed, and things seemed to get worse and worse.
But then, when the time was right, God sent Jesus, his Son, to live the life that we couldn’t live, and to die in our place. He was raised from the dead, and offers forgiveness and new life to anyone who wants it. He’s called the church to live in his presence and to enjoy a restored relationship with him, and to take this news into all the world.
One day Jesus will come back, and he will make this world the way it was supposed to be again, and we’ll get to enjoy it forever.
That’s the story, and it’s important that we know it. Why? Here are just a few reasons:
- Because we’re storytelling people. In his book The Power of Story, Jim Loehr says, “Telling ourselves stories helps us navigate our way through life because they provide structure and direction … Stories impose meaning on the chaos; they organize and give context to our sensory experiences, which otherwise might seem like no more than a fairly colorless sequence of facts. Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them.” The quickest way to change someone is to change the story that they’re telling themselves. This is why we need God’s story.
- Because we want to understand the world the way God sees it. We all tell ourselves a story about the world. Everybody has a worldview. If we are going to live wisely and well, we need to understand the real story, and the only way to do that is to see the world the way that God sees it. His story needs to become our story.
- Because we need to spot false stories. Here are some examples of false stories: You’re here by accident. All paths lead to God. All you need to get to heaven is to be a good person. The purpose of life is to be happy and to feel good about yourself. All these are really popular and attractive stories, but they’re not accurate stories. The more we live according to God’s story, the better we’ll be prepared to live in God’s world and to enjoy him.
- Because we need to see the resolution of the story. You know when you see a good movie, and things keep getting worse and worse? The more tension in the story, the more you appreciate the resolution of the story. The same is true in Scripture. The more we understand the tension in the story, the more we’ll be relieved when we get to the resolution of the story: Jesus. The more we’ll see the story in all of its beauty.
So the Bible isn’t just an ancient book. It’s God’s story, and it gives us an accurate picture of what’s going on in the world. It helps us avoid false stories, and it’s a story that culminates in Jesus. It’s a story of hope that God will set everything right in this world, and we’ll be back to enjoying God and this world the way that we were meant to in the first place.
The Bible isn’t just an ancient book. It’s God’s story. But:
It’s our story too.
When we read the Bible, we’re not reading God’s story. But we’re reading our story too. We are part of the drama. You and I have a role to play. We read the Bible to learn how to play our role as well as we possibly can.
The best way to read the Bible is to read it is a story in which God is the main character, and in which we have important roles to play as well. We read to learn the story better, and to learn the main characters better. We read to see Jesus as the culmination of the story. But then we read to learn our roles in the ongoing story that’s unfolding in this world.
We live in the in-between. Some people have said compared it to a play with many acts. We know the acts that have gone before us, and we know how the play is going to end, but we’re still in the middle of the play. Since we’re in the middle of the play, we’d better work hard at understanding the rest of the play so that we know how to play our role here and now.
This week we’re starting a new study in our Grace Groups based on George Guthrie’s book and video series The Heart of God’s Story. I think you’re going to find it fascinating as we learn about this epic story of love and redemption, about a God who is passionate about his relationship with his people. If you’re not part of a Grace Group, let’s fix that. Talk to me after the service so that we can get you hooked up.
In the next few weeks, we’re going to be talking about this as well. But for today: The Bible isn’t just an ancient book. It’s God’s story, and it’s our story too.
Read it is a story. Not just as a collection of stories, but a story. Don’t read it for just theological truths or practical applications. Please don’t read it for moral fables or for bite-size inspirational nuggets. Read it as the story of a God who is passionate about a relationship with his people, and who has gone to extreme lengths to pursue us. It’s the greatest story that you’ll ever hear.
Rejoice in the culmination, the climax of the story. In a few minutes we’re going to celebrate this again as we take communion. Every week we remind ourselves that things were bad, hopeless actually, until Jesus came and set things right. He’s the One that the story is all about. He is the culmination and climax of the story. He’s the hero. It’s all about him. Get to know him. Love him. Praise him. It’s all about him. If you don’t know him, get to know him. He’s passionate in his pursuit of people who are far from him. Get to know the hero of the story.
Finally, let’s learn our part in the story together. Read the Bible with a the purpose of getting to know God better, and your part in the story better. Come out to Grace Group to explore this more. Come out the next few Sundays. Let’s commit to learning our part in the story.
Father, thank you that you tell us a story. Thank you that it’s better than any other story out there. It’s not just any story; it’s a story about Jesus, who sets things right and will renew all things.
Help us to learn this story better. And help us to live our lives in light of this story. Most of all, help us to celebrate Jesus, who’s at the center of this story. We pray this all in Jesus’ name. Amen.