The Bible is often treated as merely a collection of many different stories with a moral lesson. A Christian version of Aesop’s Fables. While it is true that the Bible does contain many different stories and that most of them have a moral lesson, the Bible is much more than what it is often treated as. The Bible is one story, with one overarching message. That story is the most compelling story ever written. Literally, “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It “is the story of a God who makes a special promise about a special Person who creates a special people to live in a special place with Him forever.”
This message is the first in a series of six which seeks to tell the story of the Bible and show the unity thereof. These six messages will seek to unpack the following sentence:
The Bible is the story of a God who makes a special promise about a special Person who creates a special people to live in a special place with Him forever.
Each of the next five messages will take one of the main nouns from this sentence and show how that theme is played out through the entire Bible. For example, next Sunday Morning’s message will be: “The Bible is a Story about God.” The next week’s message will be: “The Bible is a Story about a Special Promise”, etc. But in this morning’s message I want to provide an overview of the entire series, by offering a brief summary of each of the five themes in the sentence:
The Bible is the story of a God who makes a special promise about a special Person who creates a special people to live in a special place with Him forever.
Before we begin I must confess my indebtedness in my formulation of the above sentence to the works of Graeme Goldsworthy (like According to Plan, Gospel and Kingdom, and Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture) who has very helpfully defined the kingdom of God as: “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” I am also deeply indebted to David Helm’s childrens book titled The Big Picture Story Bible (one of my favorite books to help me understand and explain the Bible to my children) which describes the Bible as: “A big book, about a big God, who keeps a big promise.” Finally, I am indebted to Mark Dever’s new two volume series on the message of the Old and New Testaments subtitled respectively: Promises Made and Promises Kept.
I. The Bible is a Story About God.
As early as the first four words of the Bible, “In the beginning God . . .”, we can tell that the main subject of the Bible is God Himself. God is both the author of Scripture and its Subject. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to mankind. While God’s power and glory are evident in the created order, the fullest revelation of the character of God is found in Scripture. It is in the pages of sacred Scripture alone that the attributes of God are both cogently described and clearly displayed.
Without Scripture we could not know God. God is infinite (unlimited), we are finite (limited). The finite cannot comprehend the infinite. Therefore, if human beings were to ever know anything about God, God had to reveal Himself. Thankfully, this is exactly what He has done. Hebrews 1:1-2 states,
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.
These verses show us that God has revealed Himself in the pages of the Old Testament through the prophets and in the pages of the New Testament most fully in the person of Christ. God has revealed Himself in Scripture by both definition and demonstration. First, the attributes of God are defined as a:
- God is Holy, Isaiah 6:3
- God is Righteous and Just, Romans 3:25-26
- God is Light, I John 1:5
- God is Love, I John 4:8
- God is Good, Gracious and Merciful, Exodus 33:19
- God is Spirit, John 4:24
- The story of Creation shows God’s power, glory and intelligence.
- The story of the Flood shows God’s judgment while highlighting His mercy.
- The story of Abraham shows God’s sovereignty and grace in election.
- The story of Joseph shows God’s providence and faithfulness.
- The story of Moses shows that God is faithful and true to His Word.
- The Life of Jesus shows the glory of God on display for 30 plus years.
- The Death of Jesus shows the wisdom, justice, holiness, wrath, righteousness, love, mercy, and grace of God. As John Piper once said about the cross, “The wisdom of God has ordained a way for the love of God to deliver us from the wrath of God without compromising the righteousness of God.”
II. The Bible is the Story About a God Who Makes a Special Promise.
It is in the third chapter of the Bible, Genesis 3, that God first makes this special promise. But before we can understand this special promise, we must first understand the special problem of sin.
Although God created a world without sin and death, it wasn’t long until human beings messed up a good thing. Adam and Eve disobeyed a clear and reasonable command by God to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had been warned that the day they ate thereof, they would surely die. But instead of believing God, they chose to listen to the lies of the devil and as a result the whole human race was plunged into a state of sin.
God has never taken sin lightly and therefore Adam and Eve received the punishment which God had promised if they disobeyed. They died spiritually and began to die physically that very day! When God appears on the scene, He pronounces curses on each Adam, Eve and the Serpent. But in the midst of the pronouncement of the curses, there is revealed the first gospel promise. The Seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the Serpent.
This promise is developed in many ways as God progressively reveals His plan of Redemption, but at its core, God’s plan is to eradicate Satan on the battlefield of planet earth. This is how three different New Testament authors understood the purpose of the death of Christ. In 1 John 3:8, the apostle John declares:
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
Likewise, the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:25-27a,
For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.”
Here the imagery is clear. Christ must put all His enemies under His feet in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. The author of the book of Hebrews pulls it all together for us in Hebrews 2:14-15 when he says,
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, (15) and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
Christ destroyed death by destroying the one who had the power of death, the Devil. Death came into the world because of sin and sin came into the world through the devil. Christ came to destroy death by destroying sin by destroying Satan! This work was initiated on the cross and will be finalized at the 2nd coming of Christ. The Bible is the story of a God who makes a special promise!
III. The Bible is the Story About a God Who Makes a Special Promise About a Special Person.
Clearly the New Testament is about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Equally clear is the fact that Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 5:39,
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.
Similarly in Luke 24:27 Jesus is described in His post-resurrection appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus as:
Beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.
These verses shows that not only is the New Testament about Jesus, so is the Old Testament! It is easy to see how the New Testament is about Jesus. After all, the first four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are basically biographies of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament is clearly dedicated to the explanation of the significance of the life and death of Jesus. But what about the Old Testament? How is the Old Testament about Jesus when His name is unmentioned?
One way to answer these questions is to understand that many passages in the Old Testament are predictive of the work of Christ. These passages explicitly describe something about Jesus in advance through prophecy. The first such prediction is the one we just examined in Genesis 3:15 which calls Jesus “the Seed of the woman”. Other promises include Genesis 12:3 which clarifies that this “Seed of the woman” will be of the family of Abraham in whose Seed (Galatians 3:16) all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Other predictions of Christ include those which specify that Christ will be in the line of Isaac, Jacob and Judah. In Deuteronomy 18:15, Moses says that one day God will raise up a Prophet like him, but one to whom the people would actually listen. God promised David that one of his descendants would sit enthroned as King forever (2 Samuel 7:12-14a). In Isaiah 7:14, the child called Immanuel (meaning “God with us”) was prophesied to be born of a virgin. In Isaiah 53, the coming “Servant of the Lord” is described as suffering in graphic detail that points clearly to the suffering which Jesus experienced approximately 700 years later. Likewise, the Psalmist in Psalm 22 describes the passion of the Christ hundreds of years in advance. There is even a prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2 that “The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” would be born in a little town called Bethlehem! Then comes the New Testament where the promises made in the Old are finally and faithfully kept! The Bible is the story about a God who makes a special promise about a special person!
IV. The Bible is the Story About a God Who Makes a Special Promise About a Special Person Who Creates a Special People.
The Bible is a story about a special people. From the Garden of Eden where the first two human beings lived in constant communion with God, to the Tabernacle in the Wilderness where God dwelt in the midst of the Children of Israel in veiled fashion because of the problem of sin, to the incarnation of Christ, all the way to the New Heaven and Earth where God once again dwells unveiled in the midst of His people, God has always desired to live among His people. And ever since the beginning of creation, God has been at work to create a people for fellowship. This is clear in Scripture. It is not that God needs mankind in any way. No, God does not create His people out of a sense of deficiency in Him, but as a means of overflowing in His love and glory to others. It wasn’t as if God became lonely and created man, but that God’s love and glory overflowed and people are the result. It was not emptiness in God that causes Him to create His people, but a super over-abundance in God that causes Him to create people in order that He might lavish them with Himself.
God created humanity in Genesis 1 and 2 by forming Adam out of the dust of the ground and Eve from his rib. He created a nation in Genesis 12 with the call of Abram out of the Ur of the Chaldees. He created a covenant community in Exodus 19-24 after delivering the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. But He created a New Covenant community by the death of His Son on the cross of Calvary.
The very night before Christ was crucified, He transformed the celebration of the formation of the Old Covenant community (the Passover) into a celebration of the formation of the New Covenant community (the Lord’s Supper). When He held up the cup, He said, “This cup is the New Covenant in My blood, which is shed for you!” (Luke 22:20). Christ was declaring that the work that He was about to accomplish the next day by the shedding of His blood was the work that would guarantee the blessings of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31-34 which says:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah– (32) not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. (33) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (34) No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
This is what Christ died to accomplish! He created a special people!
V. The Bible is the Story About a God Who Makes a Special Promise About a Special Person Who Creates a Special People to Live in a Special Place With Him Forever.
It was the idea of the special place in which God desires to live with His people that first caused me to start thinking in lines of this series. I was talking to my kids the other night after reading their Bible story about the Fall of man in the Garden of Eden when I began thinking about this idea of God’s apparent desire to dwell with His people. It was evident in the Garden of Eden where God used to walk and talk with Adam. It was also evident in the fact that God had a Tabernacle built so that He could dwell veiled in the midst of His people without sinful humans being consumed by the radiance of His holiness. This desire is glorious apparent also in John 1:14 which says that, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word “dwelt” in this verse literally means “to tabernacle or to pitch one’s tent”. God has always desired to live among His people, but sin keeps God from dwelling among His people as He desires, as He truly is.
But one day our sin will be removed forever and we will have glorified bodies that will allow Him to live with us as He has always desired. We read about the fruition of this desire after redeemed humanity has been restored in Revelation 21:1-7. There John writes,
Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” 6 And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
Satan is defeated, sin is destroyed and God is victorious over all! This is how the story of the Bible ends. It ends with God’s special people in God’s special place, all because of a God who kept His special promise about a special Person!
All good stories, we are told, must have characters, a plot, a setting, a conflict and a unifying theme. Well, the story of the Bible has it all!
- For characters, this story has God, the Devil, and a cast of thousands.
- For a plot, this story has the ebb and flow of the history of the nation Israel, and even the whole history of the world serves as a stage for the action in this cosmic drama of redemption.
- For a setting, this story has the entirety of planet earth with heaven and hell in the balance.
- For a conflict, this story has Satan in rebellion against God and God’s active work to destroy him forever. Relatedly, this story also has humanity in rebellion against God and God’s active work to redeem a people out of fallen humanity for Himself.
- And, for a unifying theme, this story is the story about a God who makes a special promise about a special Person who creates a special people to live in a special place with Him forever.