The Bible tells one big story from beginning to end. There are 66 books and two testaments, and while each of those tells discrete, individual stories, they also tell one grand narrative.
If we’re not careful, we’ll miss that one big story and read the Bible piecemeal, jumbling the various stories and missing the larger narrative. When we absorb the Bible in a piecemeal way we risk taking passages that belong to the overarching story of Scripture and unintentionally reshaping them into the narrative of our lives.
Rather than being confronted by the overarching story of God’s redemption, we bend the text into the shape of our own lives and make the Bible a story more about us — our fulfillment, our sanctification, our hopes and dreams. In other words, if we miss reading the Bible as one big story, we make it a story about us. But we aren’t the ones at the center of the story.
How We Read Scripture Without Making It About Us
So how do we read Scripture without distorting its overarching shape, without making the Bible a story about me instead of about God? We read it the way Jesus did.
In the last chapter of Luke, we see two disciples walking down the road to Emmaus. They were dejected because their hopes and dreams of Jesus being the Messiah had been crushed on the cross. Suddenly a man appears and joins them on the road. He wants to know what they’re discussing, and one of them answers, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18).
The man appeared not to know what they were referring to, so they explained everything — that they believed Jesus to be the Messiah, that he had performed signs and wonders, but that he had been crucified and buried. And now it had been three days, and some were even saying his body was missing.
The mysterious man surely took them by surprise when he said, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then, beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them how Christ was at the center of all the scriptures.
They approached a village and asked the man to join them. As they sat down to a meal, the man took the bread and blessed it and broke it. That’s when they realized who he was. It was Jesus. Then he vanished right before their eyes. Their first words were:
Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? (Luke 24:32)
Jesus taught that they had to read Scripture as the unfolding story of God’s redemptive purposes. The Bible tells one big story, and at the center of that story is Jesus and his salvation.
(For more on this, see Tim Keller’s teaching on the Bible as one big story, particularly the first 9:18):
The Emmaus-road encounter wasn’t the only time Jesus made this point. Later in Luke, he tells his disciples:
“These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)
Here Jesus opened the disciples’ minds to understand that all of Scripture, which at that time consisted of the Law, Moses, and the Prophets, is all about him and his salvation.
Jesus makes the same assertion in John’s gospel:
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39-47)
Here again, Jesus says that the scriptures bear witness about him and that Moses words were really about him. He confronts his hearers with how they don’t understand the Scriptures’ testimony because they don’t understand how all of it, including what Moses wrote, was about him.
The Bottom Line
If we want to read the Bible the way Jesus told us to, we have to read it as one big story with him and his salvation at the center.
I’ll talk more about what the Bible has to say about being one big story, why this is important, and how we read it this way in my next posts.