Two of Jesus’ disciples are traveling from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Luke says they are discussing recent events, which include Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and reports of his resurrection. I think it would be fair to assume that these men were utterly confused. They believed Jesus to be their Messiah who would restore Israel to her former glory. But, what kind of Messiah is publicly crucified in humiliating fashion? Ridiculed. Beaten. Killed. Everything they had believed was in a state of flux.
Then a man, whom we know to be the risen Christ, shows up and, beginning in Genesis, explains the flow of God’s story in Scripture and in history. The disciples’ confusion had stemmed from a faulty understanding of the larger story in which we live. They thought Israel was the focal point of God’s purposes. They interpreted Scripture and events through the filter of the centrality of Israel. They had a bad starting point and it skewed their understanding of the story.
A bad starting point is one that seeks to understand the story from the wrong perspective. One may try to begin with life as he/she knows it and attempt to understand God and his purposes in light of experience. This is like trying to see the earth’s place in the universe from one’s own backyard. A proper starting point begins with the Creator and views creation from his perspective. In other words, it’s not about how God fits into our stories. It is about how we fit into God’s story.
There is another way to miss the Bible’s meaning. One may try to piece together the story from small fragments of Scripture, reading a couple of verse here and a couple of verses there. Have you ever heard of Georges Seurat? He was an artist in the late 1800s that painted with a method called pointillism. Seurat used small dots of color rather than brushstrokes. His most famous work is “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”
One could approach this painting by focusing on the individual dots and analyzing the color of each, and how each dot relates to the others. But, the dot makes its fullest sense in the context of the painting as a whole. It is one thing to see a green dot. It is another thing entirely to see a field of green dots comprising the bank of a lake on which people are enjoying a beautiful afternoon.
Trying to understand the Bible by reading isolated verses is like trying to figure out a Seurat painting by looking at individual dots. The meaning of the parts of Scripture is derived from the whole. A verse has its fullest sense when it is seen as part of the overarching story of the Bible.
We are one-fourth of the way through the year. How are you doing on your plan to read through the Bible this year? I know you may not feel as though you are deriving any benefit from reading large portions of Scripture at a time. Don’t trust this feeling. Keep going. See how God has so ordered history to arrive at its great crescendo in the cross of Christ. Observe the birth of the church and her growth. Look for how the story of your life fits into the story God is telling.
Submitted by Todd Wallace.