For Christians, Jesus is in some way at the centre of all of Scripture. The whole thing is ultimately about him. But he doesn’t appear until three-quarters of the way through our Bibles as we pick them up. So how does the rest of the Bible relate to the story about Jesus told in the New Testament?
A good place to begin is by asking how the gospel writers themselves, who tell the story of Jesus, look at the “front half” of the Bible, the Old Testament. Each of the four gospel writers (evangelists, for euangellion, the Greek word for “Good News” or “Gospel”) gives us obvious clues as they begin their stories of Jesus. As we do look at the Gospels’ openings, we will find our “frame” for examining the Bible in this course. (Don’t worry that I’m taking these slightly out of order. It’s simply for the purpose of clarity.)
Matthew begins his gospel with a genealogy. The genealogy covers most of the Old Testament period, from Abraham to the birth of Jesus. Matthew divides that time into three sections: From Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian exile, and from the exile to Jesus. Abraham, David, and Exile. Three high points in Matthew’s reading of the Old Testament story.
Early on in Luke’s gospel, we hear the prayers/praises of certain characters, Mary the mother of Jesus and Zechariah the father of John the Baptist. Again, their prayers look back to the history of the Israelite people and see Jesus as the fulfillment of those events. Again, key names that work their way in include Abraham (1:55 and 1:73) and David (1:69). There is also reference to salvation “from our enemies” (1:71 and 1:74): an echo of the feeling of exile in Babylon.
Mark’s gospel begins with a quotation from Isaiah 40 about “preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness.” Mark is telling the story of John the Baptist, but he’s quoting the prophet who called to the people of Israel with the good news that their exile was over. Somehow the story of Jesus coming is supposed to resonate with the good news of the end of Israel’s exile. (Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the “exile” – it will come along in a couple of weeks.)
After looking at these three gospels we have a pretty clear idea that to understand Jesus we will need to know something about Abrahamand his family, about David and his kingdom, and about the exile. But we have one more gospel to look at.
For John, understanding Jesus means going back even farther than exile, David, or Abraham. For John we have to go back to the very beginning. Jesus is somehow to be understood as active in the creation of the world. The story of Jesus (John calls him the “Word”) begins even before creation, in eternity with God. And naturally, that’s where our course begins too: with God’s beginning activity in creation.
Creation. Abraham. David. Exile. The Gospels’ frame for approaching the Old Testament.
So, here is how we’ll approach the story of the Bible over these six weeks:
Beginnings (Creation and Sin)
The People of God (Abraham and the Exodus)
Failure and Longing (Kingdom and Exile)
Incarnation (The Coming and Life of Jesus)
Atonement (The Death of Jesus)
Resurrection and Hope (Living as Christians)