Maybe you’ll furrow your brow at this, or maybe you’ll understand. Either way, here goes. In the back of my mind, not really seriously, I have always sort of pitied the people of the Old Testament. They had so little to go on, you know? How could they trust in their salvation without knowing the story of Christ? How could they have such passion for God when they didn’t know how he would save them? How did they know that He didn’t desire the blood of bulls?
I know this attitude isn’t right – I’ve always known that – it’s just a prejudice in the back of my mind that, for the most part, I’ve always ignored. [Aside: let’s ignore the whole issue of God dwelling among them in named prophets and through visions that may or may not exist today. I don’t intend for this blog post to run that long. Maybe another time.]
I picture the Bible as a story, a great big long epic story (and just so you know, all the other great big long epic stories ever written or experienced …
… are just sidenotes within the great big long epic story of the Bible).
It’s easy to think of the Bible as a collection of stories …
… And while it is that, I really believe there is an elegance, a completeness, to the single story of existence, from the beginning to the end. The Cosmic Story.
And I pitied the people of the Old Testament, figuring that they only had part of the story. They had the part where the conflict is introduced. They had a hope for resolution. But they didn’t experience that resolution. Poor suckers. We have Jesus! We know the end!
Most stories, especially epic ones, come in three acts. Here’s the Cosmic Story:
Act I. Old Testament. Poor suckers.
Act II. Umm … more Old Testament?
Act III: Jesus!
Wait. That’s not right, is it? How about:
Act I: Old Testament.
Act II: New Testament.
Act III: The Grand Finale. The End. Revelation. Armageddon.
We don’t have the whole story, either, do we?
In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus feeds the five thousand. Verse 15: Jesus “withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” The next day, the crowd finds him and a conversation about the bread from Heaven ensues. The Jews want Jesus to perform more miracles and give them all the answers; Jesus maintains that He’s already given them answers, and they’re not listening. Verses 41-45:
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
The Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t know the particulars about Jesus’ coming. They were surprised to hear Him saying things like “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (verse 54). And much more than that, they were surprised to see Him willingly go to His death. I think this confusion was pervasive in the crowds Jesus spoke to. But there were two distinct reactions to it:
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” … After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (verses 60 and 66)
as opposed to Peter’s glorious declaration of faith,
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (verses 68-9)
What led these people to these standpoints? That’s exactly what Jesus was saying: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” The first people, the ones who denied Him, did so because they couldn’t match Him to what they believed, to everything they’d been doing their whole lives.
The second group of people sat there scratching their heads, but it didn’t even occur to them to leave Jesus. Why? Because, as weird as He sounded, they heard the ring of truth in His words.
Those second-groupers had soft hearts – teachability, humility – and through that soft-heartedness, they had come to know the voice of their Lord. They didn’t trust themselves. They trusted Him. When He spoke, it didn’t matter if what He said sounded weird.
The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. … The sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
Oswald Chambers said:
At the bar of common sense Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but bring them to the bar of faith and you begin to see with awestruck spirit that they are the words of God.
Let’s read our Bibles. Let’s pray. Let’s open our ears and learn His voice.
Because next comes Act III, and I don’t want to be one of those first-groupers that think they’ve got it all figured out, and then be surprised to find I didn’t know His voice as well as I thought.
Which of Jesus’ words do you struggle with? Something in the Bible that confuses you, but that you’ve just decided to trust?