The Picture on the Box–How the Bible Fits Together

 

 

shutterstock_68666755(I’ve been trying to write a description of how the Bible fits together in 1000 words or less. This article is my best attempt so far. Would appreciate anyone’s comments or feedback. There is so much  more I’d like to say!)

 

When I got home yesterday I saw the card table set up in front of the fireplace. My wife Rosa was once again hard at work on another thousand-piece puzzle. One of her achievements hangs on the wall of our bedroom—it is a large field of brilliant poppies. I walk over to the table to see her progress.

The first thing she does is spread out the pieces face up. Many Bible readers stop here. They read the Bible as if each passage were a little piece by itself.

So, how does Rosa put the pieces together? She begins by looking at the picture on the puzzle box. This brief essay is a sketch of “the picture on the box.” I want to help you get the Bible big-picture so that you can see how the “pieces” fit. The Bible “puzzle” is a mural of vivid scenes that tell the most important story in the world.

Next, Rosa identifies those pieces that make up the border. Genesis 1-11 frames the Biblical puzzle by introducing God, humanity, the world, and sin. God’s plan for humanity was three-fold: (1) to live in obedient fellowship with Him, (2) to live in joyful harmony as His people, and (3) to responsibly enjoy the world He had created. Genesis 3-11 describes mankind’s rejection of God. Humans refused to trust His goodness, deliberately disobeyed His command, and put themselves in the place of God by taking charge of their own lives. The results were tragic—alienation from God, conflict and violence among people, and the misuse and destruction of the God-given world.

The Bible mural depicts the story of God’s remedy for this human predicament. Its pieces inter-lock because they have been cut to reveal the restoration of God’s three-fold plan. The fullness of the divine solution fills the canvas of the final scene at the end of the Bible (Revelation 21-22)—there will be a new, redeemed humanity cleansed from evil and free from suffering, in perfect fellowship with God, enjoying unbroken harmony, and living forever in the bounty of the New Heaven and Earth. The scenes in between mark the path from the tragedy of Genesis 3-11 to the glory of Revelation 21-22.

In the first scene (Genesis 12-50) God promises Abraham posterity and land. This promise will find fulfillment in restored divine fellowship, human harmony, and renewed enjoyment of creation. God’s three-fold restoration will be offered to the world.

The next scene (Exodus through Joshua) unveils God’s initial fulfillment of this promise. God used Moses and Joshua to deliver Abraham’s now numerous descendants from Egypt, unite them into a nation at Sinai, and bring them into the Promised Land. That land was the place for obedient fellowship with God, harmony with one another, and restored enjoyment of creation’s blessings. Three things demonstrate that this restoration, though real, was not complete. First, life in the Promised Land was good, but not eternal. Second, these blessings did not yet reach the world. Third, God’s people continued in persistent disobedience. This mighty deliverance from Egypt was a dramatic picture of the full restoration God would offer the world through Christ.

The Book of Judges is a graphic picture of this persistent disobedience and its tragic consequences. God responded by establishing two institutions—the Davidic Dynasty and Jerusalem with its Temple. The purpose of these institutions was to establish God’s people in obedience through godly leadership and centralized worship. However, human institutions could not cure the propensity of the human heart for disobedience.

The Bible puzzle includes two complementary pictures of the Davidic Dynasty and its history. The first is found in the books of Samuel and Kings, the second in Chronicles through Nehemiah. The first focuses on the persistent disobedience of kings and people; the second, on the past goodness of God. The first calls for repentance, the second offers the penitent hope—God’s past goodness assures us of the greater salvation to come (in Christ). The Davidic dynasty finds fulfillment in the incarnate Son of God who would establish God’s people in obedience. Jerusalem foreshadows the final destiny of God’s people in the eternal City.

Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs are an interlude within the historical account of God’s dealing with His people. These books are a kaleidoscope of scenes that realistically portray human sorrow and joy in relation to the purposes of God. For the faithful the end of this tragic, mortal life is, by the goodness of God, eternal joy.

The Old Testament reaches its climax with “the goodly fellowship of the Prophets” (Isaiah through Malachi). These divinely commissioned messengers announced God’s judgment on the persistently disobedient people of God described in Samuel through Nehemiah. They also proclaimed God’s coming deeper work of salvation that would surpass liberation from Egypt by liberating people from sin. This salvation would be established by the One whom King David foreshadowed. It would be accomplished by God’s giving His Spirit to His people. It would reach its consummation in a sin-free new Heaven and Earth free.

This puzzle climaxes in three vivid pictures that make up the New Testament and depict the fulfillment of God’s promised restoration—restoration accomplished; restoration experienced; restoration consummated.[1] The Gospels show us how Christ has accomplished all that is necessary for the restoration anticipated by the Old Testament. Acts and the letters of the New Testament help us understand our present experience of the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Revelation describes the consummation of God’s plan at the return of Christ when all will be made new.

Here ends this brief sketch of “the picture on the box.” In subsequent essays we intend to give more detailed attention to the scenes that make up this mural as we “work on” different parts of the Biblical puzzle together.

 

[1] Gareth Lee Cockerill, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 221-40.

To Whom do We Pray?

The Direction of Prayer

The Direction of Prayer

I recently walked into a beautiful Mosque in Central Asia. No one could mistake the direction toward which prayers were offered. There it was, the Mihrab, an indentation in the wall that looked somewhat like a large arched door beautifully decorated with tiles and calligraphy. See the picture above. The Mihrab showed worshipers which way to stand so that they would face Mecca and pray to the One God proclaimed by Muhammad. The place of each worshiper facing the Mihrab was marked on the carpet covering the place of prayer. There was little confusion over how to pray or the God to whom they were praying.

We who follow Jesus don’t have such a structured way to pray. We can face any direction. Sometimes we also have confused ideas about the God to whom we pray. It is so easy to imagine God the way we want Him to be—which, of course, is a form of idolatry. C. S. Lewis said something like this, “The prayer before all prayers is, may it be the real God to whom I pray and may it be the real ‘I’ who prays.” How do we come to understand the “real God”? I am gratified at the way in which David Wells has answered this question in his recent book, God in the Whirlwind (Crossway, 2014). He urges us to go beyond simply looking up individual verses that describe God. If we would know God, we must “begin at the beginning and see how God revealed his character across time” (page 41). We must immerse ourselves in the whole sweep of God’s revelation contained in the canon of Scripture and culminating in Christ. That immersion must be one of submission. As we humbly submit to God’s self revelation he uses it to reshape our thinking about Him. In the first chapter of the above book Wells warns us against allowing our own culture rather than Scripture shape our understanding of God.

I’ve written Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles (Thomas Nelson, February, 2014) with this purpose in mind. I wanted to help ordinary believers gain a sense of Scripture’s wholeness. I have offered this book as an aid in understanding the contribution each part of Scripture makes to the whole with suggestions on how each part applies today. My prayer is that Christian Faith in the Old Testament will help people in both pew and pulpit to humbly gain an ever more accurate understanding of the God revealed in Scripture, whose fullness is beyond our comprehension, but “whom to know” in His self-revelation “is life eternal.”

The “Big ONE”—in the New Testament, and in the Bible

Last week I was telling you about how I, as a new missionary, learned to communicate with the students at Kamakwie Secondary School. I remember the first night when I went over to meet some of the young men in the dormitory—although they were speaking English, I couldn’t even understand their names. I’ve told people that I was so green in those days that I made the grass look red!

Anyway, as I said last time, I learned that I could help them grasp the message of the Bible by focusing on the people of the Bible. The Old Testament was about Adam, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, etc. The New Testament was about Jesus and those who followed Him. We made banners for the New Testament books and hung them in the classroom. The Gospels gave us four pictures of this Jesus. Acts continued the story after his death, resurrection, and return to the Father. It told about what he, through the Holy Spirit, continued to do in his followers’ lives. The letters explained more about him and the Revelation looked forward to his second coming.

Last week we talked about the “Big Four” in the Old Testament—Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon. The New Testament, however, is about the “Big One.”—Jesus. The “big four” lead us to the “Big One,” who is really the “Big One” in the whole Bible. Let’s look a little at how that happens.

Several years ago Rosa and I went through the Creation Museum near Cincinnati with our oldest grandson, Patrick, and with our dear missionary friends, Chuck and Ruth Pierson. How I remember walking from the hall of Creation to that of Chaos. In the hall of Chaos I saw such pictures of human misery. One felt the consequences of Adam’s sin—the awfully separation from God, the destruction of human harmony through selfish violence, and the disruption of humanity’s relationship with creation. The first eleven chapters of Genesis depict this situation so well.

The First of the “Big Four”—Abraham. But then God came to Abraham (Genesis 12), and promised to redeem humanity and restore fellowship with God, harmony among people, and enjoyment of creation. All of this through him and his family.

The Second of the “Big Four”—Moses. God used Moses, the second of the “big four,” to begin making this restoration a reality by delivering Abraham’s descendants from Egypt. This deliverance “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 5:15 ESV) reestablished their fellowship with God. God confirmed his relationship with them at Sinai and constituted them as a people who would live in harmony under his covenant. Finally, God brought them into the land where they would again, if they were obedient, enjoy the blessings of creation. This was a genuine deliverance, but it was incomplete. Obedience led to a good life, but not eternal life. Their fellowship with God was real but limited. God’s promise did not yet extend to the whole world. Finally, God’s people, beginning right at Sinai (Exodus 32),continually turned away from God into sin.

The Third of the “Big Four”—David. According to 2 Samuel 7, God established King David and his house to “plant” his people. That is, David and his descendents were to direct the people so that they would live in obedience and enjoy the blessings of God’s covenant.

The Fourth of the “Big Four”—Solomon. Under Solomon, David’s son, the people experienced the height of God’s blessing. Solomon’s later reign, however, foreshadowed the history of disobedience that followed. More often than not, David’s children confirmed the people’s habit of disobedience—until the nation was carried away into exile. The prophets began to look forward to great David’s greater Son who would fulfill the mission of David’s house by truly delivering God’s people from their faithlessness.

The BIG ONE—This “Big One” would be the son of David, but He would also be the Son of God—“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”); “you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:23, 21 ESV).

The Big FOUR–in the Old Testament

Teaching my Sunday school class today took my mind back to Sierra Leone and to September 4, 1969. Rosa and I had just arrived in Kamakwie, Sierra Leone, West Africa, where I was to be chaplain and Bible teacher at Kamakwie Secondary School (see the picture in my last blog). We had been married on August 15 and I had been ordained to the ministry on August 17. Then, on September 2, we arrived in Freetown for a three-year term of missionary service. For the first three to four weeks of that school term the students learned nothing in Bible class. I mean this literally—none of the students learned anything! The Sierra Leonean proverb runs: “If every tree you climb has ants on it, check your own pants.” The fault was obviously mine—I spoke too quickly in American English and used educational methods foreign to their background. What was I going to do? I either had to find a way to communicate with these kids—or, go back to America!

There were many facets in my adaptation to Sierra Leonean ways that enabled me, with God’s help, to become a successful secondary school teacher. One thing I did was to focus on the persons of the Biblical story. What was the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament? Why, the Old Testament was about Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and the prophets. The New Testament was about Jesus and the people who followed Him. Many of the students were already familiar with several of these names either through Bible stories taught in primary school or through Muslim teaching that recognized some of these same people.

Today in my Sunday school class I discovered that Biblical names could help adult Americans as well as teenage Sierra Leoneans. Our lesson was on God’s promising David that he would establish his sons as his “house” who would rule after him. You can find it in 2 Samuel 7. I wanted to put David in Biblical perspective. So I asked the class, “After Adam, who are the ‘big four’ in the Old Testament?” Abraham, Moses, and David were clear answers. The class was ambivalent about number four. I argued for Solomon—Abraham, Moses, David, and Solomon.

The next question was, “How are these four related?” “How does the Biblical story tie them together?” “What role does each play?” We talked about Abraham, Moses, and David today. Solomon as the beginning of David’s house is going to get our attention next week—when we look at Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1. The relationship of these three—Abraham, Moses, David—is integral to the Biblical story. In Adam humanity rebelled and was separated from God. The three relationships that made up God’s plan of blessing for human beings was ruptured—fellowship with God, harmonious fellowship among people, and responsible enjoyment of the world. When God called Abraham, he promised him that through Abraham’s family God would bless the world by restoring those very three relationships. Then, by delivering his people from Egypt under Moses, God began to fulfill his promise to Abraham. God’s people, however, refused to live in harmony under God’s laws, so they began to suffer. God made David king with the purpose that he, and his descendents, would overcome the people’s rebellion by leading them in faithful obedience. Then I realized that what I was teaching my class paralleled Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, my book just released by Thomas Nelson last month. Chapter one covers Adam; chapter two, Abraham; chapters three and four, Moses; chapters five and six, David and Solomon.

What do you think? I’d like to hear about your experience. Have you used Biblical persons as a way to tie the whole Bible together? Next Time: I hope to expand on this subject in next week’s blog.

Here, again, is an endorsement for Christian Faith in the Old Testament.
“As a pastor, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles really connects with me. I will use this well-written and informative book often in my reading, preaching, and teaching. In addition, I will encourage my congregation to read it! Dr. Cockerill helps everyone to grasp the wholeness of Scripture and provides aids to help us live an obedient life that reflects the full-scope of the Bible’s teaching.”
Steve Schellin
Senior Pastor, Southland Community Church
Greenwood, Indiana

The Book Christian Faith in the Old Testament is here!

I was so excited to get the first copies of my book: Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, Thomas Nelson, February, 2014.
Below is an imaginary interview that highlights the benefit and unique character of this book. I say “imaginary,” because I actually wrote both parts–both the questions, attributed to “Jim,” and the answers, attributed to me.

Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles, Thomas Nelson, 2014, by Gareth Lee Cockerill

Jim: Dr. Cockerill, your book has an interesting title, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles. Just what is the purpose of this book?
Cockerill: Thanks for asking that question, Jim. I wrote this book to help ordinary Christian lay people understand the Old Testament as a whole and the vital message of each part of the Old Testament. Modern Christians are often woefully ignorant of the Bible’s first thirty-nine books!

Jim: But why is it so important to understand the Old Testament? Doesn’t the New Testament give us all we need to know about Jesus?
Cockerill: To read the New Testament without the old is like reading only the last chapter of a novel. The New Testament claims that what it says about Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old. The Christ of the New Testament fulfills the promise of God to Abraham, the history of God’s Old Testament people, the longings of the Psalms, the message of the Prophets, and more (see, for instance, Luke 24:27 and Acts 17:2-3). In fact, the Old Testament was the only Bible that the first Christians had.

Jim: I see, that is the reason for your sub-title, The Bible of the Apostles.
Cockerill: Yes, the Apostles began preaching Jesus with no Scripture but the Old Testament.

Jim: What led you to write this book?
Cockerill: Jim, for more than thirty years I have been fascinated with the study of how the Bible fits together and especially with the role of the Old Testament. This passion began in the 1970’s when I was doing my Ph.D. at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia. It was fueled by my study of the Book of Hebrews, which draws so heavily on the Old Testament, and nurtured by my teaching of the Bible, both at seminary level here in the United States and while I was serving in Sierra Leone, West Africa. I began to see how grasping the Bible as a whole enriched my understanding of each Biblical book and passage. I saw how comprehension of Scripture’s unity facilitated my students’ understanding. Most of all, I saw how God could use this grasp of the whole Bible to make us more godly.

Jim: I see that you are pretty passionate about the Bible and about its unity! What, exactly, will a lay person get by reading your book?
Cockerill: This book offers three important benefits: (1) The reader will grasp how the Bible as a whole fits together. (2) The reader will come to understand the contribution that each part of the Old Testament makes to the whole. (3) The person who reads this book will gain insight into how each part of the Old Testament applies to us today and helps us live the Christian life. Christian Faith in the Old Testament helps us to identify with God’s people throughout history and to be reshaped by the word of God.

Jim: There are a number of recent books on the meaning of the Old Testament. What makes your book stand out from others?
Cockerill:
• First, this book is written for lay people. It is both understandable and engaging. I was blessed to have several pastors and lay people read the manuscript. Then I took out anything that they did not understand. My son-in-law, Carey Vinzant, who is an excellent stylist, helped me. Thomas Nelson provided excellent editorial service. Furthermore, very chapter has helpful charts and diagrams. My students know that I am very visual!
• Second, the reader can use this book to go straight through his or her Old Testament. Many books on the meaning of the Old Testament rearrange the books in some supposed historical order.
• Third, this book tells you not only how each part of the Old Testament fits into the whole, but how each part applies to us today.

Jim: Great, but is this book only for lay people? What about pastors and students?
Cockerill: This book was written with clarity and without technical jargon for the benefit of lay people. It was, however, written for intelligent people. Theological students and pastors will find it useful for themselves and for ministry. Steve Schellin, Senior Pastor of Southland Community Church, Greenwood, Indiana, has this to say: “As a pastor, Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles really connects with me. I will use this well-written and informative book often in my reading, preaching, and teaching. In addition, I will encourage my congregation to read it! Dr. Cockerill helps everyone to grasp the wholeness of Scripture and provides aids to help us live an obedient life that reflects the full-scope of the bible’s teaching.”

Jim: Dr. Cockerill, just one more question. What about the difficulties that some people find in the Old Testament? Do you deal with them?
Cockerill: Jim, this is not a book about Old Testament “difficulties.” It is my conviction that we cannot deal with these “difficulties” until we have a grasp on the Old Testament’s unity and message. Only then do we have a context for deal with these questions. I have focused on helping people grasp this unity. Occasionally, however, when appropriate, I address problems some have raised about the Old Testament.

Jim: Thanks, Dr. Cockerill, for sharing with us about Christian Faith in the Old Testament: the Bible of the Apostles. We appreciate what you have done to help us deepen our knowledge of Scripture. I look forward to reading this book.
Cockerill: Thanks, Jim, for the encouragement. There is one more thing I would like to say. I have written with a sense of vocation and the conviction that God wanted me to share the insight he has given me with his people. He has confirmed this conviction with what appear to have been a series of miracles—getting the contract for the book in the first place, completing the book on time despite added responsibilities, and getting the fine endorsements for this book from so many people that I respect. It is a privilege to lay this book at the feet of Jesus to use as he wills.

Making the Bible “Relevant”

We often hear people talk about “making the Bible relevant.” It is so easy to begin looking at the passage for Sunday by asking how it applies to the people in my church. What practical application can I make? However, a quick, sometimes superficial, attempt to find the relevance of Scripture often encourages us to import our own ideas into the text and prevents us from listening to what it is actually saying. We do not need to make the Bible relevant—it is relevant—it needs to be heard and understood. We must grasp its consistency, grand story, and the over-all unity of its message (see Christian Faith in the Old Testament http://www.thomasnelson.com/christian-faith-in-the-old-testament.html ). When we have truly comprehended the thrust of Scripture, we will not doubt the importance of its condemnation of sin, offer of redemption, and guidance for life.

There are many facets to the perennial relevance of Scripture. Yes, the Bible addresses the need of the human heart throughout the ages. Yes, the Holy Spirit is continually working through Scripture guiding the people of God. There is, however, one aspect of this continuing relevance that often eludes us. We know that the Bible finds its center in Christ. He fulfills the Old Testament. The New Testament bears witness to Him. We tend, however, to limit this Christ-centeredness to the Christ who lived on earth some two thousand years ago. However, the Christ who took on our humanity, lived an obedient life, offered Himself on the cross, and rose from the dead, is now seated at God’s right hand as our all-sufficient Savior! The Bible is relevant because it finds its fulfillment in and bears witness to an ever-contemporary reality.

This insight came to me through my study of (you guessed it!) the Book of Hebrews. Last September I had the privilege and honor of giving a lecture on this subject at the Henry Center for Theological Understanding, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. If you are interested, I invite you to listen to “‘Do not Refuse the One Who is Speaking’ (Heb 12:25): Hebrews and Contemporary Preaching” at  http://henrycenter.tiu.edu/resource/do-not-refuse-the-one-who-is-speaking-heb-1225-hebrews-and-contemporary-preaching/ I cannot adequately express my appreciation to Dr. Tom McCall, Geoffrey Fulkerson, and many others who made my visit to the Henry Center and to TEDS very pleasant.