Organizing the Biblical Narrative for Easy Memorization

The following is an exercise that I have utilized several times to gauge my students present an understanding of the Biblical narrative.  According to Barna’s report on spiritual growth in 2017, millennials reported Bible reading as the most important spiritual discipline, but less than 30% noted any reading in a previous month.  I would put forth that in my experience, there is a high level of Biblical illiteracy in every generation.  This issue is something our Church leaders need to address with a more intentional approach.

The tool I use is a simple ten-name framework – five Old Testament individuals and five New Testament individuals.  From each of these names, different narratives and doctrines are attached for more natural referencing and deeper dives into the work of God across history.  To begin, I have my audience try to name five individuals from each group, so that signify the crucial changes in the story.  We then go through them and my suggestions.  So, here are the following names I use to tell the Bible story and some of the doctrines and other narratives attached to them.

Old Testament

Adam

Creation, Marriage, The Fall

Noah

The flood, Covenant, Righteousness

Abraham

Covenant, Faith, Patriarchs and Israel, Salvation by Faith

Moses

Slavery in Egypt, Exodus, The Law, The Promise Land, Judges

David

History of the Kingdoms, the Messiah and David’s throne, the devils attempt to destroy the seed of David on the throne through exile and corruption.

New Testament

John the Baptist

The last Old Testament prophet who reminded the people of the promises of God and provided the final connection to the coming Messiah.

Jesus Christ

Everything the Scripture points toward.  The Gospel and all that includes.  Need I say more?

Peter

Represents the early church and its growth and struggles.  The day of Pentecost and living under the Holy Spirit.  Begins the transition from grace centered on the Jewish population toward the inclusion to the Gentiles.

Paul

The apostle to the larger Gentile world.  Furthered the expansion of the church, its organization, and practical theology.

John the Beloved

Brings closure to the New Testament by pointing forward to life under the victorious Christ in uncertain times for an undetermined period.  Demonstrates that God is still on the throne, and Christ will make all things right.

Seven Sayings: I Thirst

Soon Jesus would be dead.  The four last statements of Jesus seemed to happen in quick succession.  The fifth word of seven is, “I thirst.”

John 19:28-29

28 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.

29 Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth.

  • He did this to fulfill another scripture.  Everything Jesus did was in the will of God and no breath, no action, no word was wasted.
    • John 5:39, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
  • The prophecy referenced here is Psalm 69:21, “They gave me also gall for my meat, and in my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.”

Two drinks

  • Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23 speak of a drink offered to Christ at the beginning of the crucifixion that was mixed with gall.  He would not take it. Gall was used to dull pain.
  • The second time, here, it was simply vinegar, the drink of the commoner.
    • Why was vinegar there?  It was popular among the Roman soldiers.  They would mix vinegar and water to prevent scurvy and other water born diseases.  It was also better at quenching thirst. Think of it as the Gatorade of Jesus’ day.
  • Jesus would drink the bitter cup that he asked the Father to let pass from him in the Garden of Gethsemane.

A man like no other.

  • Matt. 27: 48-49, “And straightway one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.  The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him”
  • Matthew 27:50-54, “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”
  • 2 Peter 2:22-24, “21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:  24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.

What do we see and are challenged to follow?

  • Jesus’ physical humanity.
  • Jesus’ knowledge of the scriptures.
  • Jesus’ commitment to fulfilling the Father’s will.

Seven Sayings: My God, My God, Why hast Thou Forsaken Me

Jesus was on the cross for six hours at this point. It was about 3pm (the ninth hour of the day).  Up to this point, we have seen a great bit of detail about the physical side of Jesus’ crucifixion.  In this fourth statement, we are now fully introduced to the deeper anguish pressing down on the Savior.

Matthew 27:46

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Fully God – Fully Human

  • The suffering was very real, it was more than a feeling.  However, it is difficult for us to understand.  Jesus who had always been with the Father for all eternity is now feeling separation with God.
  • He had all power and was without sin being fully God.
  • But, with our full humanity, he bore the weight of our sin and punishment under the intense pressure of cross and the shame and reproach.  He suffered our physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional pains.

Psalm 22

  • Jesus was not speaking random words.  Nothing He said or did was with waster breath.  We find this statement in Psalm 22 and a deeper reading here finds many similarities to what Jesus was experiencing.  I will highlight some of the easier ones to see.

Psalm 22

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.

All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.

10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.

11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.

13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.

18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.

20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.

21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.

22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.

23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.

24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.

25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.

26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.

27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.

28 For the kingdom is the Lord‘s: and he is the governor among the nations.

29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.

30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.

31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

  • We so much messianic prophecy being fulfilled from this Psalm in the crucifixion of Jesus.  I believe it also helps us see what is happening.
  • When Jesus went through the temptation in the wilderness and the intensity of the prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, Angels came to minister to Him and restore His strength (Matthew 4:11; Luke 22:43).  Help was always near.
  • Jesus cries out on the cross, and from the content of Psalm 22, speaks of desperation for God’s presence and help.  However, on the cross, it was not there.  Why?

Christ became Sin, who knew no sin.

  • Christ was not forsaken from communion with God.  He did not cease to be the second person of the triune God.  Even Psalm 22 shows a still confident faith in who God is and trust in His character.
  • The sinless Son of God who had been, from all eternity, in an intimate relationship with His Father, is now spiritually separated from Him as we are when sin is present in us. When the sins of the world were put upon Jesus there was, for the first time, a separation between the Father and the Son. The Bible records something happened between them that we can only understand through the eye of faith.
    • That is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).
  • The Father was placing the sins of the world upon the Son in order that everything in the universe that had been affected by sin could again be made right with God. Jesus was suffering the pain and separation that we deserve:
    • For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • In order for this to occur, the Father had to forsake the Son and allow our punishment to fall on Christ as our substitute.  
  • At this time, Jesus is standing not before God as Father (abba), but God (el) the righteous judge of sin.
  • May we grow in greater appreciation of Christ giving His life for us.
  • Christ was forsaken so we can have confidence before God in saying, “…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.  So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Seven Sayings: Today

The second sermon in our series, “Seven Sayings from the Cross” comes from Luke 23:35-43.  Everything Jesus did and said had a purpose.  There were no wasted movements or waster breath with Him.  Including the words, He spoke from the cross.  While I don’t think they were intended to be wordy theological dialogues like the parables, they are indeed practical theology.  The complexity and immensity of what Jesus accomplished on the cross are demonstrated in these statements in a way that every person can understand with ease.

Luke 23:35-43

35 And the people stood beholding. And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God. 36 And the soldiers also mocked him, coming to him, and offering him vinegar, 37 And saying, If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself. 38 And a superscription also was written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew, This Is The King Of The Jews39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. 40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. 42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. 43 And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.

First, we see this Scripture demonstrating the instant nature of salvation by the grace of God alone received by faith alone.

  • In the very moment, “today,” we receive God’s gracious offer of salvation by faith we are brought into justification and adoption.
    • Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”
    • Romans 8:14-17, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
    • Romans 10:9-13, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
  • Notice, the only thing the penitent thief could do was confess his fallen nature and need of the Father’s grace.  He could do not works, and we can do no works to gain or add to our salvation.
    • Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

This Scripture also demonstrates the reality of heaven and hell.

  • The cross stands as a dividing line between those who receive Christ by faith and those who reject (the two thieves being on each side of Christ).
    • Lazuras and the rich man in Luke 16:9 show the clear teachings of Jesus’ teaching on our eternal destiny.
    • While our culture talks about a lot of grey areas, Jesus did not.  For example, look at Jesus’ “altar call” at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-29).  There are two separate gates, two different paths, two different endings to find.  You either bear good fruit or evil fruit.  A person can either build on the teachings of Jesus (rock) or reject them (building on the sand).  There are no grey areas in any of our responses to Christ.  You are either with Him or against Him.

 

Lastly, this Scripture demonstrates the comfort knowing Jesus brings to us.

  • Since salvation is made a reality at the moment we receive Him by faith, we can have confidence before God in the Judgement.  We do not trust in ourselves but in Jesus’ glorious work on the cross and His Word to us.  We find comfort in knowing Jesus, for at the end of our life we will be with our Lord in eternity.
    • 2 Corinthians 5:8, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

Get out of the cave.

Last weekend, my wife and I took our children to Carter Caves and toured Cascade Cave.  The guided tour was 75-minutes long and included 225 stair steps.  Our children loved it, and we did too.   At least, the older two that stayed awake.  Our youngest fell asleep towards the end and was carried through pretty much the entire trip.

When we came out of the cave, our signal returned to our phones and messages and voicemails came on them.  We missed a lot of what was going on and valuable communications.  The experience reminded me that we can enter into spiritual caves in our lives.  The cave is not evil itself and is something that somehow provides protection and a place of solace.  However, it is not a place we are meant to stay.  Let’s look at a couple passages of Scripture to learn more.

David.

1 Samuel 22

David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. 2And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.

3And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. 4And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold. 5And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth.

Elijah.

1 Kings 19

And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? 10And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? 14And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

15And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. 17And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. 18Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.

The Rest of Us

John 16:33 reminds us, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  I am thankful that God has provided grace that is sufficient for all our needs.  Thankfully we can experience His grace during our times of grieving and other overwhelming emotions.  While our feelings can betray us, we must still understand that God has created us with these capabilities.  Emotions are just some of the ways the Lord has given us the power to cope with all the ups and downs of life.

However, as far as the emotions associated with sadness and anger go, we must not stay there too long.  In the passages above, we see that David and Elijah went to the caves in time of despair and depression.  However, both were not there for very long.  It allowed for a moment of profound soul-searching.

We can do this deep searching of the heart during this time because typically we find seclusion.  For Elijah, it was a time where God could speak to Him in a mysterious, yet miraculous way.  Saints of old have called these times the dark night of the soul.  These are times when we feel withdrawn and numb in our emotions.  Communication with God may be foggy at best.  However, it is during these times that we can hold on to God’s Word alone by faith and in the end find out that He still reigns.  This is the peace that Jesus talked about in John 16:33.  We can have trouble and should expect it.  However, we can overcome and have peace because of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death.  That triumph extends to every arena of life.

F.A.S.T. Church Leadership

What is leadership?  Some understand leadership is Influence – Every person is an influencer.  Good leaders motivate others for the others right.  Bad leaders manipulate others for the leaders good.  Another way of understanding leadership is through the actions of a person during stressful situations.  In either stream, local churches are in need of godly leadership.  Sometimes pastors go into churches, and there are few to no leaders, and they need help to share the ministry with others fast.  Selecting and further development of these leaders are essential where there is lack.  This is a model that I have been implementing.

F.A.S.T Church Leadership

  • This model is about identifying leaders in the congregation.  The four areas are essential qualities of each leaders quality that help you see future growth.
  • This model is about equipping people.  It’s not enough to identify leaders.  They need to grow, and you need to provide them with help for that growth.
  • This model is about shared leadership.  Each quality is more than a personal pursuit.  Leaders work in tandem with other people, not alone.  No one is a leader without anyone willing to follow.
  • This model is about Christian leadership.  FAST reminds us of the spiritual discipline of fasting.  Fasting is about mental fitness, not physical (Mt. 17:21; Mk 9:29).  Ultimately, the unnamed requirement is the person has an obvious relationship with the Lord.  Don’t make the mistake of being desperate enough to just put warm bodies into positions of leadership.  Especially if they have not repented of their sin and professed faith in Christ.

 

Faithful

As implied by the previous section, leaders need to have a personal relationship with God.  This means they are faithful to God (Pro. 3:5; 1 Cor. 4:1-2; Heb. 10:23) and committed to the Church (Acts 2:42, 20:28; Heb. 10:25, 13:17).  It also implies they are available to answer the call to lead in the local church (Is. 6:8; Mk 1:17-18).  

 

Accountable

As stewards of the Gospel and church, leaders need to be held accountable.  They are responsible for honesty (Pro. 11:3; 1 Jn 1:6, 3:18), responsibility (Rom. 12:6-8; Gal. 6:5; 1 Cor. 3:8), accountable to the church (Pro. 17:17; Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:16).  

 

Servanthood

Servant leadership is a great model to follow for further development.  However, in identifying your next leader, there should be some hints of servanthood already.  They should be a servant first, leader second (Mark 10:45; John 13:1-17) They need charisma, but not by the typical definition of an outgoing personality.  Instead, charisma in that they are other-centered (1 Cor. 10:24)  Finally, they need to be content in knowing their identity is found in Christ (Titus 1:1; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1)

 

Teachable

The final quality is that this person has a holy discontent with their current state and want to be taught and developed further.  They learn to listen (Pro. 1:5, 19:20, 25:12; James 1:19).  Learn the learning process of action, reflecting, and changing,  (Pro. 1:7, 9:9; 10:17).  They pursue learning opportunities intentionally (James 5:12; 1 Pet. 2:2).  Leaders are open to not only instruction but also correction (Pro. 18:13; John 8:32, 16:13; 2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16-17).

Four Hindrances to Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth.

When Jesus spoke to the women at Jacobs well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John, He spoke on worship.  Jesus stated that God the Father searches for those that will worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23).  The conversation basically boils down to the point that true worship does not depend on the physical location of the person but their spiritual position before God.

So what hinders our worship from being in Spirit and in Truth?  Here are a few issues impacting our personal and gathered worship.

An unrepentant and deceitful heart (Acts 5:4-5 & 8:9-25)

In these two passages, we see the damage caused by unrepentant and dishonest hearts.  Highlighting the necessity of a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, made into a reality by the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit.  God is not pleased by anything that is not done by faith (Heb. 11:6).  The activation of faith begins with repentance of sin and belief in God.  If there is unconfessed sin in our life, we are deceiving ourselves and hindering our worship.  We need to come clean with God and allow Him to do the full work of Grace in our life.

Lack of prayer (Mt. 21:13)

When Jesus made his way into the temple at Jerusalem, He was disturbed at the marketing chaos and lack of respect for prayer.  He turned over tables and drove the moneychangers out.  Now, we might say this is a location but let us cross-reference with the Scriptural teaching that our bodies are the temple of God as well (1 Cor. 6:19).  We are to be a people of prayer.  Prayer marks our lives because it is more than a ritual of obedience.  It is intentional dialoguing with God.  If we do not have a habit of speaking with God through prayer, how can we also talk, sing, and serve Him in worship?  Prayer is a part of worshipping and can’t be separated from it.

Limited Biblical knowledge (Hos. 4:6 & Col. 1:9)

Despite those with an attitude of intellectual snobbery, Scripture has much to say about the need for Biblical knowledge.  Knowledge of God’s Word and His Ways in the world have a significant impact on our worship.  Worship is more than emotional outburst and your feelings.  A limited Biblical knowledge leads to shallow worship.  C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity noted a conversation that demonstrates this.  The individual he witnessed to said they did not need the Bible because they thought it restricted what they had already experienced with God through personal observations and feelings.  However, Lewis noted that there is a difference between standing on the beach and going out on a ship into the ocean.  You can only experience so much in the shallows.  But, to go out deeper and experience the totality, you need a map, or you will get lost.  The Bible is our map, and it helps us navigate deeper into our relationship with the Lord.  The more we know of God, the more we can honestly know God.

Toxic attitudes (Phil. 4:8-9 & Eph. 4:32)

Attitudes of ungratefulness, dishonesty, irreverence, pride, jealousy, cynicism, and more also hinder our worship.  We are challenged to think about things that are pleasant and good in the sight of God.  We are challenged to have a spirit of forgiveness and preference of others instead of self.  If we harbor this ill-feelings and negative thoughts, without ever giving them to God, we will find our souls drifting farther and farther from God.