As part of his bedtime routine, I am currently reading stories to my youngest son from a book called The Action Bible. (Full disclosure: we’re also thoroughly enjoying the latest in the series of Mr Penguin mysteries – this one called Mr Penguin and the Catastrophic Cruise. Available at all good bookshops and libraries.) The Action Bible is, as the name suggests, a collection of Bible stories, albeit in the form of a comic book (or graphic novel, as some readers may prefer). There was some resistance on my son’s part to us reading this book together; not for spiritual reasons or rebellious inclinations, but simply because, in his words, ‘I know all the stories from the Bible already.’ Now, in case you’re wondering how I’ve raised such a six year old super saint, I can assure you, dear reader, that my son does not know all the stories from the Bible. And I know now, for certain, that he knows he doesn’t because last night, while we were reading a particular retelling of some events from the Book of Genesis, he said to me, “I’ve not heard this story before.” There was a tiny note of wonder in his voice as he spoke. How exciting for him! A new story about God to discover!
Have you ever found yourself in the position of not wanting to read your Bible? I know that I have. I think it can happen to any of us. We can become overfamiliar with God Himself and under appreciative of what He has for us and thus underwhelmed by the opportunity that comes to us for relationship with Him through prayer, the Bible and friendship with other Christians. We can think that we have seen it all, know it all, heard it all, read it all. But with God and His Word, that’s never the case. There are always new things to discover about God and new treasures to be discovered in His Word. This is why one of my great passions in life is to encourage Christians to read the Bible. There is no substitute for reading it and no alternative for its life giving power. There are countless Christian resources out there: books, podcasts, videos, entire websites; but I find the very best of them always send me back to the Bible, wanting to see things for myself in new and fresh ways. Now, before we go any further: this article is not going to be a guilt trip about anyone’s lack of consistent quiet time in the morning or for failing to complete the Bible in a Year reading programme last time you tried. Instead, I want it to be a celebration of the great thrill we have in being able to read the Bible in a language we can understand and the great opportunity we have to get to know God better as we do so.
If you have been to one of our Sunday gatherings at All Nations recently, if you have watched us online or listened to one of our podcasts, you may have picked up that we are currently going through a series on the Book of Ephesians. We have called it In Christ, a phrase that is used over twenty times in the letter itself and over 160 times across the New Testament as a whole. This phrase, in Christ, is used by Paul to describe the present realities of the Christian life, which are based on the work completed by Jesus Christ on the cross and the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. The goal of our series is to see from the Scriptures who we are in Christ, what we have in Christ and what we can do in Christ. Ephesians is a perfect place to start such a study. It’s unique in Paul’s letters because he writes to the church without referring to any doctrinal controversy and without needing to make specific pastoral correction. This allows Ephesians to unfold as a portion of Scripture completely devoted to explaining and exploring the purpose of God for His people the Church. It is full to bursting with revelatory insights and jam packed with practical application. Even the language itself strains to serve Paul’s purpose; the sentences in the original Greek being far longer in places than anywhere else in his writings. We have the privilege of going through the whole book together over the next few months.
It’s good to read the Bible, study the Bible and preach through the Bible in the way that it was written. After all the Bible is a collection of writings, all inspired by God and composed through the hands of over forty human authors. That collection comprises books of very different literary styles: the letters of Paul, the songs of David, the poetry of Solomon, the prophecies of Isaiah. Then there are the books like Revelation which can confuse the modern reader with its endless cycle of images and metaphors. Revelation, however, is a type of writing called an apocalypse. These were very common and very popular in ancient times. An apocalypse is a genre where symbols are used to represent hidden meanings; once you identify the symbol, you can identify its true meaning. Soaked as it is the imagery from the Old Testament – in particular the stories of exodus and exile – Revelation made sense to its original readers. We have to be equally familiar with our Bibles in order to catch its meaning for us.
That being said, the Bible is made up of one type of writing above all others. And this brings us back to bedtime with my son. Remember what he said? That he knew all the stories in the Bible already. You know, he was onto something when he said that. He had identified a simple spiritual truth: the Bible is full of stories. Not fictional stories – not like Mr Penguin – but true, historical, miraculous, prophetic stories. The creation of the world in six days. The fall of Adam and Eve. Noah’s Ark. Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac. Moses and the Red Sea. Joshua and the walls of Jericho. David and Goliath. Daniel in the lions’ den. I could go on. All these stories point us towards the greatest story of them all – the incarnation, the coming of Jesus. And His story changed history. His death and resurrection are the pivot upon which all else hinges. Reading the Bible is an exercise, then, in imagination. I don’t mean that we make things up or that God makes things up! But we enter into a book of divinely inspired and divinely told tales. We imagine ourselves in the place of the heroes. We ask ourselves, how would we have responded to Jesus’ call to follow him or to Peter’s preaching at Pentecost. We think about what the church in Corinth must have looked like or what Paul experienced on the road to Damascus. So we read a letter like Ephesians – six chapters, not quite 2,500 words. And we know that it was written for us. Not to us, but for us. We know that it applies to our lives today just like it applied to its original hearers all those years ago. We know, too, that no matter how many times we have read it, heard it or even preached through it before, something new and fresh will open up to us each time we engage with it. For our God is the greatest storyteller of all – bedtime or otherwise – and He has much He wants to say to those who are ready to listen.