Reading The Bible Better - Lesson 9

Enter the Story

In this lesson, you will learn the importance of entering the story when reading the Bible and how it can deepen your understanding and connection with the text. By engaging your imagination, you will be able to visualize and emotionally connect with biblical characters, helping you to better grasp the context and meaning of the story. Through various techniques such as visualization, emotional engagement, and asking questions, you will enhance your Bible study and teaching skills while also fostering personal spiritual growth and empathy towards others.

George Guthrie
Reading The Bible Better
Lesson 9
Watching Now
Enter the Story

TH102-09: Enter the Story

I. Understanding the Importance of Entering the Story

A. The Role of Imagination

B. Connecting with Biblical Characters

II. Techniques for Entering the Story

A. Visualization

B. Emotional Engagement

C. Asking Questions

III. Benefits of Entering the Story

A. Personal Spiritual Growth

B. Enhancing Bible Study and Teaching

C. Cultivating Empathy and Understanding

  • Dive into this lesson to gain a deep understanding of how to read the Bible better, focusing on hearing scripture accurately, personal transformation, the grand story, and reading in community, while fostering a sense of joy and wonder in your journey.
  • Discover the power of words, their impact on our lives, and how God's words and communication in the Bible provide guidance, shaping us to live with purpose and spiritual growth.
  • Being receptive to what God is saying to you in the Bible is an important part of reading the Bible better. The parable of the sower gives you a word picture of obstacles you face in attempting to cultivate a receptive heart.
  • By embracing receptivity, you can overcome barriers and enhance your understanding of the Bible, ultimately leading to personal growth, stronger relationships, and deepened faith.
  • In this lesson, you learn about literary context's importance in interpreting the Bible, identifying literary genres and structures, and applying context for accurate exegesis and application.
  • By understanding historical context, you can better interpret the Bible, considering cultural, social, and geographical backgrounds, ancient literary genres, and archaeology to bridge the gap between the past and present.
  • This lesson provides you with knowledge on the importance of Bible translations, their types, and the criteria for selecting the most suitable one for your needs while also offering insights into their historical development.
  • You will learn to identify and interpret various biblical genres, enhancing your understanding of the Bible and applying its teachings more effectively in your life.
  • By entering the story when reading the Bible, you enrich your understanding, connect with biblical characters, and foster personal spiritual growth, Bible study, and teaching skills.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into biblical interpretation principles, like context and genre, and explore essential tools such as translations and commentaries, leading to better understanding and application of the Bible.
You and I need to embrace the powerful, beautiful, life-giving words of God on a regular basis. Various surveys in different cultures, over the past half century, have determined that the number one predictor of a person’s spiritual health is the regular practice of personal Bible reading. Nothing else comes close. If our purpose in life is to live for him and to his glory, and the Scriptures shape us for his mission, then God’s Word provides us with a means to that very desirable end. Everything else in our lives is shaped by whether or not we are living out of a life grounded in the Word of God, the Bible. We need to read it and read it better than we ever have before, so that we can live it well. As we thrive in the Word of God, knowing and living the Scriptures, we have the opportunity to walk with the God of the universe. So you are invited to walk with me as we figure out how to read better this amazing book we call “the Bible.” Perhaps you have tried reading the Bible before and the experience wasn’t that great. I am here to help. There is no more important task in life than hearing from God and trusting him on the basis of his Word.

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Enter the Story

Lesson Transcript

[00:00:00] Don't you love a great story? I want to start off this session with you thinking about two or three of your favorite stories of all time. When I think about mine, I so miss the children's stories that I used to read to my kids when they were small. One of my favorite was if you give a mouse a cookie. And that story started out. If you give a mouse a cookie, he's probably going to want a glass of milk to go with it. And then the story progresses creatively, step by step and says, And if he has a glass of milk, it's probably going to give him a milk mustache. And if he has a milk mustache and it goes on from there and it's really a lovely creative kind of story that progresses on a certain basis of one event following on another.

[00:00:54] Another one of my favorite stories is C.S. Lewis is that hideous strength. It set in college in the U.K. and England, and it really is a brilliant social commentary that was written back in the early fifties about what happens when humanity tries to take the reins of the world from God and create human beings in their own image as immortal. And it's really amazingly forward thinking. A lot of the things that are going on in the world in culture today really are addressed in this brilliant kind of science fiction fantasy book by C.S. Lewis. But I love that story.

[00:01:40] And then another classic is Jane Eyre story about the conflict in relationships. This is set in the 19th century, and yet it is one of the most beautiful stories about redemption that I've ever read. It's very, very powerful. It's very much like a novel in the 19th century, often is you have to get through the first hundred pages to kind of get to the good stuff. But it sets up these social relationships that are awkward and there's a secret going on behind the scenes that is tragic, but then it comes around to tremendous redemption between the main characters in the book.

[00:02:22] Well, we all love a great story. Stories can be wonderfully entertaining. For instance, many of you at Christmas have probably read a Christmas Carol. You may not realize it, but a lot of what Charles Dickens did in writing his stories was he was doing commentary on the social conditions of the poor in England during his day. There's been a recent book that has come out on this and a in a movie called The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is delightful because it kind of walked with Charles Dickens through his production of A Christmas Carol. And that story is told very, very creatively, and it draws us in.

[00:03:05] Why is it that stories just draw us in? How do they capture our imagination and just carry us along until we get to the end of the book? And have you ever read something that you got to the end and you just thought, Oh, I wish this could keep going? Now, there aren't many textbooks that I've read that have been like that. Normally, I just want to get through with what I'm reading in a textbook, but stories really reach out and grab us by the heart and they pull us along.

[00:03:37] Well, one of the reasons for that is that our brains are uniquely wired for stories. They've shown that when scientists have shown that when a person is looking at a PowerPoint or a Keynote on the screen that is text oriented, that the brain fires in the parts that deal with language processing. But they did an experiment where they hooked people up to monitors and hooked up the storyteller to a monitor. And they found that when the storyteller was going through the story, all of the different parts of the people's brains who were listening started firing all the different parts so that when the person was talking about running the motor sensory part of the brain began firing. When the person was reading something that was describing the smell of food, the part of the brain that really deals with smells started lighting up. All of the different parts of the brain were involved in the process as if that person was in the story. And what was very interesting was the types of things that were going on in the brain of the storyteller started paralleling what was going on in the brains of those who were hearing the story.

[00:04:59] Now, I think that's really interesting because God has written his great story on the world. Scripture is laid out in a story fashion, and I think what God is doing there is he is drawing us in to his story, His truth, and God wants our brains, if you will, to kind of track with his thoughts in terms of how we are to live in the world. So we have the story of Scripture laid out in the Old Testament. About 50% of the Old Testament gives us a framework of a story. And then when we turn to the New Testament. The Gospels and the book of Acts make up about 60% of what we have in our New Testaments. And these are laid out in what people who are specialists in literature called a narrative arc. You have this development of the story in a way that has a beginning, it has development, and then comes to a resolution at the end of the story.

[00:06:05] In fact, if we think about the big picture of the story of Scripture, you have creation and redemption told about. And you see this movement through the story of the Bible as we track with the Bible and have a crisis right there at the beginning in the Book of Genesis, with the fall of humanity into sin. You have a climax as you continue with the story of the Bible that centers on the person of Jesus himself. And then ultimately you see the culmination of the story at the end with the Book of Revelation. And even the end of Isaiah is anticipating the end of the story with the new heavens and the new earth, what God is going to do at the end of the age. The beautiful thing, as we read the Bible over and over and we get a sense of how this whole story fits together is we see the beauty of the story as cohesive.

[00:07:08] You know, when you read a novel, that's a great novel. It's wonderful. And it means a lot to you because all of the different pieces start fitting together in a way that tells the story very well. And we find that in the Scriptures as well. As we read the Bible over and over and over again, the different themes in the parts of the Bible start weaving together into a beautiful story of what God is wanting to do in His relationship with us as we live for Him in the world.

[00:07:40] A number of years ago, a pastor and a computer scientist got together and they decided to digitize all of the different cross-references, over 60,000 cross-references that you find in the Bible. They found a way of drawing the connections when one place in the Bible would refer to an earlier place in the Bible. They were able to graphically depict that in the imagery that you see on the screen. And I love this picture because it shows how the whole story of Scripture. This is those marks along the bottom of this image are all the different books of the Bible, beginning with Genesis and going all the way to Revelation. And what you see there is the beauty of how the whole Bible ties together with Scripture referring to Scripture, because the story really fits together and works very, very well. Dr. Emily Walker Hetty says this about the importance of us tuning in to the story structure of the Bible. She says if we ignore the story like elements of the biblical narrative, we miss the fullest potential of its work in our lives. The Gospel is not a factory making useful and uniform disciples from a supply of raw souls. It works on us as a plot, works on its characters, inviting us to come and help shape the story. In other words, as you and I engage the story of Scripture, we begin tracking with God in the way that God sees the world as He has interacted with the world, and what God is doing in His mission, as He is sending his son, Jesus Christ, into the world and drawing us into His people, the church, and sending us on mission to the world. Then we get caught up in the story and understand that it is an ongoing story that God is doing in the world. In fact. As you read the Bible over and over and you begin putting the pieces of the story together. One morning you wake up and it dawns on you, Oh, this is my story. I'm living in a continuation of what God put in motion in the Scriptures.

[00:10:04] So it's really important that you and I kind of understand that framework for the story. So I want to do two things in this session. I want to give you just the big picture of what's going on in the story of the Bible. And then I want to give you some tools that can help you to begin learning that story of the Bible in a way that will have the most impact on your life. So when we think about the very big picture of the story, how can we kind of walk through that? Let me let me give you a few thoughts here.

[00:10:37] First of all, the story of the Bible starts out with God's plan for all people. You see this in chapters one through 11 of Genesis. This is creation God kind of putting people in the world. And yet that story goes wrong pretty quickly as people turn away from God and fall into sin. So we start the story with God relating to us as human beings face to face, walking with us in his beautiful creation. And yet the story starts out from the beginning with us turning our back on that. And human beings are driven out of the presence of God because they embrace sin and rebellion instead of embracing God himself. But the beautiful thing about the story is God immediately comes back and comes after us as human beings. God is not going to let us just stay in that rebellion. He begins working out a plan for drawing people back into relationship with himself.

[00:11:42] And we find that the second big movement of the story is God's covenant people. And this starts in Chapter 12 of Genesis, with God reaching out to Abraham and founding a people for himself. And they are going to become the Israelites of the Old Testament, and God enters into a covenant with them. Now, a covenant is a word that just means a meaningful agreement. And here we find a meaningful agreement between God and people where he says, I will be your God and you will be my people. And the striking thing about the Scriptures is that from the beginning, God begins interacting with us as human beings. Again, it's an amazing thought that the God of the universe who made the vast stretches of space, would be interested in us as human beings. In fact, one of my favorite Psalms is Psalm eight which says, What is man that you are mindful of him or the son of man that you give thought to him? And that's a amazing thought that the God of the universe cares about us. And he reaches out to us to begin developing a people for himself, where he will meet with us and know us face to face.

[00:13:03] So what happens in this stretch of the story, beginning in Genesis, is God founds a people through Abraham, they grow into a mighty nation of people in that group of people eventually go down to Egypt. And they end up in Egypt and become slaves over a period of time. And after 400 years, God brings them out of Egypt by a mighty deliverance called the Exodus. So God delivers his people who have been down in Egypt, they've fallen into slavery. God brings them out and brings them to the land of Israel so that they can live as his people. But on the way, God establishes some things. He gives them laws to live by. And he also sets up a worship center that we call the Tabernacle.

[00:13:56] If you go back to the book of Exodus, for instance, you find lots of descriptions there about the building of the Tabernacle as a place for the people to meet with God through the worship activity of the priests who were from one of the tribes of Israel called the Levites. And what God is doing is he's establishing a process and a place for people to worship him. If you'll notice in those passages, God meets with the people by coming down in the middle of the camp. As the Israelites are making their way through the desert, they camp around the tabernacle and God meets with them. In fact, I love that passage in Exodus 33:11, it says that the Lord used to meet with Moses, the main leader of the people. At this stage, the Lord used to meet with Moses face to face as a man speaks to his friend. And so God wants this relationship with us. I think that God's desire was that ultimately that would spread to all of the people as they would get to know him.

[00:15:04] But as the story goes on, you have the people again turning to kings, to wanting a king like the other nations rather than God being their main king. Eventually, David does become king and he's a good king. But his son, Solomon, turns out to be kind of a mixed bag. But Solomon does build the temple, which is kind of a stationary tabernacle where people will continue meeting with God. Eventually, that temple is going to be destroyed by a nation called the Babylonians and the Israelites again are going to be taken out of their country and they are going to be sent into exile. And the reason we find is because during that period of history, they again turned their back on God and they started worshiping idols. And because of that, God punished his people by allowing them to be defeated and taken into exile.

[00:16:03] Eventually, they come back out of exile. The people renew the covenant with God and they turn back to the law and begin taking God's Word very seriously at that point and asking how can we live for God in the world? But ultimately, what they're longing for is they are longing for a leader who will deliver them as a people. A leader who will be God's person in the world. And they're longing for someone that they thought of as Messiah, as the one who would be the anointed one of God, from the line of David, who would come into the world and lead the people of God in a way that was was godly and got them to the right place that they needed to be. You have a long period of time before you get down to what we think of as the New Testament era with the coming of Jesus.

[00:17:00] And New Testament, the word testament basically means covenant. So when we come to our New Testament writings, the story that is told there is about how God establishes a New Covenant, a new way of relating to him. So that's the third main phase of the story. We have God's plan for all people at the beginning of Genesis, God's covenant people, Genesis 12 through the rest of the Old Testament, and then in the New Testament, we have God's new covenant people, which this new relationship with God is brought about by the coming of Jesus.

[00:17:39] Now, I want you to see that even in the telling of the story in the New Testament, the writers of the New Testament are already capitalizing on the framework of the story in the Bible thus far. Right at the very beginning of the New Testament, we have the genealogy in Matthew chapter one versus one through 17. Now, you may not get really jazzed about genealogy. Most people don't. But this genealogy is so awesome that we find at the beginning of Matthew's gospel because what it does is it pulls in really important points in that story that we find in the Old Testament Scriptures. It's what I would call kind of structural framing. Notice that the way Matthew starts in verse one is this is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. And right from the beginning, Matthew is pointing us to some really important moments in that story. At the end of this genealogy, he comes around and says, There were 14 generations in all from Abraham to David. 14 from David to the Exile in Babylon. There's another important moment in the story. And then 14 from the exile to the Messiah Jesus. So he sticks the Babylonian exile that we mentioned right in the middle of this genealogy.

[00:19:11] Now, notice what Matthew's doing here with the story. Remember I said that with Abraham, you had the promise of the covenant. In fact, part of that covenant that God made with Abraham is he said to Abraham, I am going to bless all nations through you. And then you get to David. And the promise is David, you're going to have a descendant who is going to rule all the nations. The Messiah is eventually going to come to rule. What happens with the Babylonian exile is both of those covenant promises, the covenant with Abraham and then the covenant with David come crashing to the ground. The Israelites are defeated because of their idolatry. They lose the hope that they're going to be a blessing to the nations. In fact, they are dominated by the nations. You don't have the fulfillment of the promise that the Son of David is going to rule over the nations. The Israelites are ruled by the nation of Babylon.

[00:20:15] And so what Matthew is doing is he's setting up this framework of failure that we find in our Old Testament in order to introduce the answer. And he turns to the answer that is found in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the one who fulfills the hope for the nations. Jesus Christ is the one through whom all the nations are going to be blessed because of the good news of the Gospel. Jesus is the one who is going to rule over the nations as a loving king, who on his death and resurrection was exalted to the right hand of the Father to be the true king of the universe. And so notice that right from the beginning of the New Testament, Matthew sets up story as critical to understanding what is going on. In fact, all of the gospels begin with this beautiful picture that we find in Isaiah 40, verses three through five, a voice of one calling in the wilderness, Prepare the way for the Lord makes straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up and every mountain and hill made low. The rough ground should become level. The rugged places, a plane and the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all the people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Well, why do all the stories of the Gospels in the New Testament begin with this passage? Because the idea is that when Jesus Christ steps into the world in his ministry, it is the Lord God Himself who is stepping in to human history.

[00:22:02] The imagery that is used here is very interesting because in the ancient world, when a king came to your town, you prepared the road for the king. You did not want the king to come to town on a bumpy road filled with potholes. So what they would do is they would go out and they would smooth out the bumps in the road and they would fill in the potholes in the road so that the king had a smooth road to ride in to town on. But this takes that imagery up to a cosmic level. It says, when God comes to town, the mountains are going to be leveled, the valleys are going to be filled in. So, in other words, when the Lord God comes, it's going to be something of cosmic significance.

[00:22:50] And the authors of our gospels continue the story of the Bible by pointing to this passage, saying that that little baby that was born in Bethlehem, whose name was Jesus, is the Lord God who has come to Earth. He is the one who is going to have an impact on the world. That is a God sized impact. In fact, that same chapter in Isaiah says this, You who bring good news to Zion go up on a high mountain, you bring good news. And that word is where we get our word gospel from you who bring good news to Jerusalem. Lift up your voice with a shout. Lift it up. Do not be afraid. Say to the towns of Judah, Here is your God. And our gospel stories, start out by identifying Jesus Himself as the Lord God.

[00:23:45] Another interesting prophecy that you have in the Old Testament is the idea that when Messiah comes, he is going to come to His temple. The Lord God himself is going to come, and He's going to set the temple right. And we find that later in the story of Jesus when he comes and he cleanses the temple because Messiah was supposed to come and reconstitute the temple. As the story goes on, we find that this New Covenant relationship with God ends up with the creation of a new kind of temple. Because in the New Covenant, God is able to forgive us for our sins. He is able to cleanse us. The Spirit of God is able to come live in us as His people, and we become the new temple of the living God.

[00:24:34] The story continues, and you have the church moving out in the world. The presence of God is among us as the church, just as God was with the Israelites in the Old Testament in the Tabernacle. And as we move out on mission in the world, more and more people come and participate in this New Covenant relationship with God that's been established by the Lord Jesus.

[00:24:59] At the very end of the New Testament, we find that this vision of God dwelling among His people is going to be a reality when God creates the new heavens and the new earth at the end of the age. At the very end of our Bible, we read this, I did not see a temple in it, that is the new city that God creates because the Lord God, the Almighty and the LAMB are its temple. The city does not need sun or moon to shine on it because the glory of God illuminates it. And its lamp is the Lamb, which is a reference to Jesus. So we come all the way around to the end of the story, and the dwelling place of human beings is again with God, right where the story started at the very beginning. All through the story, God is working on a way for human beings to have this relationship with Himself, for God to walk with us as his people.

[00:25:58] Well, that's just a little bit about the story in terms of the very, very big picture of what we find in the story of Scripture. But it fits together beautifully. It flows to an image of great hope for us as people. But we need to understand our place in that story. One of the main reasons why you and I need to read the story of Scripture and learn it and understand it is because then we get drawn into it and understand our place in the world.

[00:26:29] Another one of my favorite writings of C.S. Lewis is The Chronicles of Narnia. These books Lewis wrote for children, but they are profound as they speak about Christian theology and tell us just challenge us about how we think about our place in the world. And one of my favorites is a simple story called A Horse and His Boy. And in that story, you start out with a young boy named Shasta who lives in the land of Calormen and Shasta. He doesn't look like the other people around him. He obviously is from somewhere else, but he's a young slave boy who works for a fisherman. But as the story develops, Shasta goes on a great adventure. He meets people from Narnia and Archenland. He meets a young prince named Corin. And he is a guy who is amazingly like Shasta. In fact, he looks almost exactly like Shasta. And this sends Shasta off on adventures where he eventually makes his way into Archenland and saves Archenland from an invasion of the army of Calormen. What it turns out is that Shasta actually is a son, the twin of Prince Corin, and he is the rightful heir to the throne of Archenland. It's a it's a wonderful story where someone doesn't know their true identity, but they go on an adventure in life and they realize and find out their true identity and find their place in the world.

[00:28:07] Well, that happens with us as we read the story of Scripture. Do you know your own identity as it's described in Scripture? How do you fit into the story that God is writing on the world? I love the quote by Will Herberg, who says this, Redemptive history is not merely a recital that we hear and understand, it's also a demand upon us. For out of it comes the voice of God. Faith is responding to the call of God. When we read the Bible it's as though we sat witnessing some tremendous epic drama being performed on a vast stage when suddenly the chief character, who is also its director, steps forward to the front of the stage, fixes his eye upon us, points his finger at us, and calls out you you're wanted. Come up here and take your part. And what is supposed to happen as you and I read the Bible, is we hear the Spirit of God reaching out to us and calling to us and say, Hey, you have a part in this story.

[00:29:17] So how do you and I learn the story of Scripture? How do we begin to put the pieces together so that we are experiencing our reading of the Bible as a wonderful story and one that is relevant for our lives? Well, let me mention just a few things in closing our session together.

[00:29:36] First of all, read your Bible. Read your Bible year after year. And as you do that, you're going to start putting the pieces together to understand the story. Now, there are particular types of Bibles. There's a chronological Bible that has taken the various materials that we find in the Bible and organize them in a chronological fashion. Now, our Bibles are normally laid out in what we call a Canonical fashion. The canon of Scripture organizes the different books of the Bible in various ways, but they're not organized step by step through the story. A chronological Bible is going to lay things out in a way that you can read through that Bible in a year or two years time and begin to put the pieces of the story together.

[00:30:28] There are also reading plans that are laid out to tell you the story of the Bible as you're reading through. Now, we're going to put some links for you of specific reading plans that you can start with. You can look at youversion online and they give lots of different options in that regard. But we're going to put a few up that will help you get started.

[00:30:50] Another thing that we might think about doing as we explore the story of the Bible is looking at good courses that kind of overview the Bible for us. Dr. Downs has a survey of the whole Bible that's laid out, I believe, in 5 hours time. That will give you a wonderful overview that goes into much more detail than we were able to do in this session. So look at other courses on BiblicalTraining. You can look at that survey of the whole Bible or overviews of the Old Testament and the New Testament.

[00:31:24] Another thing that you might want to tap is children's books. The Jesus Storybook Bible, for instance, has a number of stories from the Bible that begin putting the pieces together for you parents. As you begin reading this to your children, you'll also be learning the stories of the Bible. In fact, when my wife and I had young children, when our kids were going to sleep at night, we would have them listen to audios and they could choose to listen to worship music, or they listened to audio stories from the Bible. And because of that, they learned the different stories of the Bible and how the different parts of the Bible fit together. So you can use a chronological Bible like my day by day chronological Bible. You can use the BiblicalTraining courses. You can use good books. There are lots of good ways to grow in the story of the Bible. But the main thing is read that story because it's your story.