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Brad J. Gray

Pastoring. Writing. Speaking. Podcasting.

Encouraging lives with the eternal truths of God’s gospel of grace upon grace.

© 2013—2019 Grace Upon Grace
The Things Concerning Himself

The Things Concerning Himself

In 2018, Ligonier Ministries released an updated version of their “State of Theology” survey, in which participants were asked to respond to numerous statements regarding the Bible, theology, and ethics, with the goal of uncovering the “theological temperature” of the modern evangelical landscape. Perusing the findings of the survey left me dumbfounded and startled and burdened. I found Statement 14 most intriguing; it says, “The Bible, like all sacred writings, contains helpful accounts of ancient myths but is not literally true.” Of those surveyed, 28% somewhat agreed and 20% agreed with this statement. Which, I believe, betrays what’s already a known fact: Christians don’t really know what their Bible says or why they have the Bible in the first place. Of all the statements posed, I contend that the overriding result was sweeping confusion as to the sincerity and significance of Scripture.

This is disheartening, especially when the modern Christian is afforded manifold technological tools that aid in the study and understanding of the Bible. With all of the apps and online resources available for serious study of God’s Word, the prevailing dearth of biblical understanding is disgraceful. I think, too, it reveals the abysmal state of most pulpits. The rhetoric that spills out of too many sermons resembles the motivational “self-help guru” babble more than it does the “sound doctrine” of the gospel of God. Rather than unfolding the grand narrative of redemption as seen in Scripture, preachers have opted for coaching congregants on how to have their “best life now.” And so it is that churchgoers have been deceived into reading, studying, and learning from the “Aesop’s Fables Bible” as a means of achieving superior spiritual status.

The church, though, is not a place to go to find your purpose, fix your marriage, and live everyday like it’s a Friday. The church is not a place for “tips and tricks” to live better, healthier, stronger. Rather, it’s a place where one and all are reminded of the forever good, eternally gracious news of God choosing to redeem his creation at the expense of his own Son’s blood. The church is a place of death and resurrection. It’s a place of the cross. In like manner, the Bible is not an instruction manual or holy grail brimming with secrets for devout living. God’s Word isn’t a book of “life hacks” for soaring spiritual success. It’s a book of resurrection and redemption from sin and death.

And so it is that we must ask ourselves, What is the Bible all about? What is its point? Its message? Its story? There are over 30,000 verses, 1,189 chapters, and 66 books in the canonical Scriptures, but what does it say? Christians need to know what their Bible says. And though there might be a slew of responses, I maintain that the Bible has a singular message. It tells one story. Though varied in form and style and structure, the Bible’s plot centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s assertion.

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church, he spends the majority of his time vindicating his apostolic authority. The Corinthians expressed uncertainty and reservation for Paul after he failed to fulfill the promise he made at the end of his first epistle, where he expressed his desire to spend significant time with them, as long as an entire winter. (1 Cor. 16:5–7) Such plans were not to be, however, as Paul and his team were hindered from visiting Corinth. (2 Cor. 1:8) But whatever might’ve providentially prevented them from sojourning there again was seen by the Corinthians as evidence of Paul’s fickleness.

And so it is that Paul writes adamantly that their message was true, sincere, and pure. (2 Cor. 1:12) His intentions, thwarted as they were, were purposed by the Spirit; they weren’t of human invention. (2 Cor. 1:17) It was God himself who was hindering him, directing him, even in the course of altered plans. He wasn’t a man of unstable passions. His message wasn’t one of chance. “Our message to you is not ‘Yes and no.’ For the son of God Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you . . . in him it is always ‘Yes.’” (2 Cor. 1:18–19) Paul’s message wasn’t fickle because his message was fixed on Christ.

The apostle, then, goes on to assert that every one of God’s promises is fulfilled in the message of Christ. “For every one of God’s promises is ‘Yes’ in him. Therefore, through him we also say ‘Amen’ to the glory of God.” (2 Cor. 1:20) Jesus fulfills all the promises of the Old Testament by being their fulfillment in and of himself. In him, they are faithfully and finally and fully finished. He is the “Yes” for every divine promise. Likewise, he is our “Amen,” our assurance and guarantee that it is so. He is the Amen of our hope for redemption. (Rev. 3:14) It is thus that Paul’s message was always tending towards “Christ crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) Jesus alone was his “seal” and security in ministry — not the acclaim of men.

Philip’s illustration.

Similarly, there is a poignant episode in the Acts of the Apostles which further illustrates Paul’s assertion. In Acts 8, Philip is instructed by God to leave his current ministry and go “down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (Acts 8:26) On the way, he encounters a “eunuch and high official” in the service of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and is instructed by the Spirit to “go and join” him in conversation. (Acts 8:27–29) Philip does so and finds the eunuch reading from Isaiah’s prophecy but doesn’t understand the things he’s reading. (Acts 8:30–31) The weightiness of this scene, though, is understood when you realize where in Isaiah from which the eunuch is reading.

Now the Scripture passage he was reading was this: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will describe his generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” (Acts 8:32–33)

These are, of course, words regarding Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” in chapter 53. But the eunuch is utterly perplexed by them. “Who is the prophet saying this about,” he inquires of Philip, “himself or someone else?” (Acts 8:34) And such is when Philip steps in to illuminate these words in a simple but profound way. Beginning with the same chapter, Philip proceeds to preach to this eunuch “the good news about Jesus.” (Acts 8:35) This is key. Notice the simplicity of Philip’s sermon. He doesn’t introduce to him the complex system of rules and regulations and morals that must be emulated; he doesn’t convey to him the labyrinth of laws that must be followed in order to attain divine favor. No, rather, Philip preaches a person. The man, who is God, Jesus Christ, is the fulfillment of Isaiah 53 and beyond. In his wounds is found all our longed-for peace, security, and salvation.

Jesus’s declaration.

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, we are given the intriguing account of two disciples traveling on the way towards Emmaus. As they make their journey, we’re made privy to what they’re discussing: “Together they were discussing everything that had taken place,” that is, the crucifixion. (Luke 24:13–14) Suddenly, the risen Lord appears in the midst of them, but they don’t recognize him. (Luke 24:15–16) He inquires as to what’s causing their disputation and discouragement, and that’s when one of them, called Cleopas, attempts to explain their sour disposition. (Luke 24:18–24) “We were hoping that he was the one who about to redeem Israel,” he sighs. “We thought it was him, but now he’s gone.”

There was a prevailing idea in this time that the prophesied Messiah would come to serve as Israel’s champion. He would return in all the glory and splendor of a son of David to overthrow Rome and restore the kingdom of Israel to its former renown. He would usher in a violent displacement of the occupying forces, dealing swift justice on Israel’s adversaries. He would enact sweeping societal and political reform. And so it is that we are made to understand these disciples’ sadness: when Jesus died, their hopes and dreams died, too.

Jesus, though, frustrated by their erroneous understanding of Scripture, denounces their feeble and foolish faith and reveals that their hopes were too low. Their ideas about the Messiah were too earthy. (Luke 24:25–26) “Wasn’t this the point all along?” Jesus seems to say to them. “Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Apparently, these disciples had missed the message. They had missed the forest for the trees. And so, Christ spells it all out for them. “Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:27) He started from the beginning and revealed that the Bible’s entire story revolves around him, around “the things concerning himself.”

Later in the same chapter, as Jesus dines with the rest of his disciples, he reaffirms this truth and shows them how all that they have witnessed fulfills all that the Old Testament predicted and promised about his coming. (Luke 24:44–48) As they were “witnesses of these things,” they were to further witness the same things in all the known world. He himself was their message. He evinces to his followers that this has been the point all along. As he was preaching and performing miracles in and around Galilee, he was revealing himself as the Messiah who had come to suffer. He was God in the flesh come to rescue flesh and blood with his own blood. This is Jesus’s declaration to them (and us): “From beginning to end, all of Scripture is all about me.”

Christ’s apostles largely missed this point. That is, until the cross. Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection fundamentally changed these men, transforming them from a band of cowards who hid with their doors securely shut “because they feared the Jews” after the events of Calvary (John 20:19) to a company of messengers who finally understood what the gospel was all about. They were commissioned to proclaim the good news of God’s Son, and they do so courageously because they finally get it. The apostles finally understood the Christocentricity of Scripture. (Acts 3:18, 24) They stood confidently in the face of contrived tribunals and conspiratorial trials because they understood that their Teacher was God himself. They didn’t cast aspersions on what they were told or what they witnessed. Rather, in the aftermath of Golgotha, they were bolstered by the fact of the resurrection and person of Christ himself. In the aftermath of the cross, the disciples found their purpose.

God’s narrative.

Jesus’s declaration, Paul’s assertion, and Philip’s illustration each serve to show us that while the Scriptures cover an array of stories and themes and subjects, the through-line, the thread that binds each of them together is Christ himself. The narrative of the Bible is that which unfolds the mysterious and glorious manner in which God himself is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This is, in fact, what Jesus’s ministry was all about. “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me.” (John 5:38) “They tell my story,” he proclaims. “Even Moses wrote about me.” (John 5:46–47)

This, then, is the central theme of the entire Bible: God’s work of redemption through his Son, Jesus Christ.

This is the melody of Scripture’s song, from Genesis to Revelation: the deliverance of man through the work of God on man’s behalf.

The Bible is about Jesus. Front to back, page to page, Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21, the written Word of God is primarily and essentially about the saving revelation of the divine Word of God . . . everything the Bible teaches, whether theological or practical, and everywhere it teaches, whether historical or poetical or applicational or prophetic, is meant to draw us closer to Christ, seeing him with more clarity and loving him with more of our affections. The Bible is about Jesus. (Wilson, 77–79)

You ask, Why am I here? Why do you do this? Why are you so vexed over the text of Scripture? Why do you pour so heavily over your sermon manuscript? It’s because of Christ. Christ is the reason. He is the only reason you or I, or anyone in the world, really, should make the effort to cross the threshold of the sanctuary every Sunday. If I am not holding up Jesus’s life and death, his passion and resurrection, then I’m merely wasting everyone’s time. I’m giving them platitudes that can be heard elsewhere, and probably more eloquently at that. But the difference is Christ. Christ himself is the interpretive key for the entire Bible.

We cannot understand the whole of Scripture or its parts unless we understand it to be all about Jesus. He is everywhere in your Bible. He is the promised seed (Gen. 3:15), the brazen serpent (Num. 21:9; John 3:14–15), the greater prophet (Deut. 18:15; Acts 7:37), and the promised Son of David and King of Israel. (Isa. 9:6–7) He is Emmanuel, “God with us.” (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23) Jesus himself is the truer and better version of every character in the Bible — where every hero fails, he succeeds. Our minds are, likewise, opened “to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45) as we understand their preoccupation with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thus all of Scripture . . . is pure Christ, God’s and Mary’s Son. Everything is focused on this Son, so that we might know him distinctively and in that way see the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally as one God. To him who has the Son, the Scripture is an open book; and the stronger his faith in Christ becomes, the more brightly will the light of Scripture shine for him. (Martin Luther, in Gieschen, 3)

Therefore, there is no more crucial subject in Scripture than that of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing that should reverberate from pulpits like that of the crucified Christ. Indeed, I aspire, along with the apostle, to preaching nothing but Jesus’s passion and death. (1 Cor. 2:2) He is my sermon. He is my purpose. He is my boast. (Jer. 9:23–24; Gal. 6:14) You can cut the Bible anywhere and it will bleed with the blood of Jesus. And so it is that the more we see that “all Scripture is pure Christ,” the more we will begin to read the Bible rightly: from a position of absolute victory which has already secured and assured for us by a Truer and Greater Victor, Christus Victor, Solus Christus, Christ alone.

References

  • Charles A. Gieschen, “All Scripture Is Pure Christ: Luther’s Christocentric Interpretation in the Context of Reformation Exegesis,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 81 (2017), 3-17.

  • Jared C. Wilson, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto Against the Status Quo (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015).

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