Sermon Transcript September 12, 2021
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ John 20:31-32~ Sunday, September 12, 2021
Quick poll by show of hands. How many would say “I would like to understand the Bible better”?
I congratulate you! The Bible contains the very words of God. Understanding the Bible unlocks the secrets to give you access to the most amazing life possible, the one God wants you to have, the one he sent his Son to live, die, and rise again to give you!
How many would be willing to say “I would like to understand the Bible better, but I find it challenging”? You are not alone. My job is to help you gain greater access to and understanding of the Word of God so that what you want(better understanding of the bible)you can actually grab hold of.
To move us in that direction, I’d like to go on virtual trip with you today to two famous works of art. As we “look” at these works of art, they’ll help us get some important insight on how to approach and understand the bible.
So let’s get going! The first stop on our virtual trip is Paris, France, to the renowned Louvre Museum. You are excited to see paintings by Rembrandt, van Gogh and Monet but you are the most eager to gaze at arguably the most famous painting of all time –The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci–worth an estimated $700 million dollars.
When you first enter the room you are stunned at how small the painting actually is. Based on the legend of the painting you expected it to be massive. But, it is only 20”x30” –about the size of an oven door.
As you probe deeper into the story behind Ms. Lisa you discover she was born on June 15, 1479 during the Italian Renaissance. Her husband was a wealthy merchant from Florence who supposedly commissioned the painting for their home to celebrate the birth of their second son, Andrea. Interesting to know, but surely there must be more to her story, you think to yourself. What was happening in her life at the time she posed for this picture? What was that enigmatic smile on her face all about? Was she happy or even amused? Or was she covering up a deep sadness?
I apologize for interrupting your mental investigation, but it’s time for the next leg of our virtual trip. Leaving the Louvre and Paris, we’re heading south and east to Rome.Specifically we’re going to the Vatican, home of the famed Sistine Chapel, site of arguably the second most famous painting in the world: The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo. The strong finger of God is reaching out to give life to the limp finger of Adam.
Both paintings are stunning, and interestingly, Da Vinci and Michelangelo were painting them at the same time in history. But there is one very obvious difference. The Mona Lisa is sitting in a room all by itself completely isolated from the other paintings. The story of Mona’s life completely disconnected to the stories behind the other paintings in the same building. But The Creation of Adam is connected to paintings of over 300 characters, like Noah and Jacob, Moses and David, Abraham and Ruth.
The Louvre is an art gallery. The Sistine Chapel is a mural that tells one grand story of redemption.
While the Bible is a kind of museum with many different people from the beginning of the world until the 1stcentury AD, the Bible is really more of a mural that tells a single story. As such, we do well to view God’s seamless story unfolding through many lives and lifetimes, all entwining to communicate one overarching epic... intersecting within God’s one grand story. The purpose of this book is to ponder God’s divine design of life in this world and discover our role in it. To stand beneath an all-encompassing Sistine ceiling and see what the entire narrative from beginning to end says about us and to us as individuals.
I’m proposing we approach the bible’s story like a mural. You can focus up close on the details of each individual scene but you can also step back and take in the whole grand sweep of the artist’s work. That’s how we’re going to approach the bible as we journey through The Story.
As we journey through The Story, we’ll be chapter by chapter, exploring details in the lives of biblical characters. It’s like looking at an individual scene in a mural. We’ll call this view the Lower Story. The Lower Story reveals the here and now of daily life, the experiences and circumstances we see here on earth. This is the stuff of life that we know so very well. There are bills to pay, important life decisions to make. Things we are responsible for doing for our families, our friends, our teachers, our bosses, our government, our neighbors, our God. There are moments of extreme joy and times of deep sadness. Along the way we experience weariness and boredom but also intense thrills and soul-rattling fears. We deal with breakups and work through conflicts. These are the story elements we find ourselves in daily, the kind of details that consume our attention and stoke our anxieties.
As people of faith, we trust that God is present with us in this Lower Story and he will provide, protect and preserve us in this Lower Story. And he does! God meets us in each of our Lower Stories and helps us by offering us wisdom and guidance on getting through life with dignity and purpose. He intervenes and applies healing salve to our physical and emotional wounds. Like a tenderhearted Father, God loves to lavish us with his care, stretching out his arms to comfort us when we are in distress and encourage us when we are down.
But heal so has a higher agenda than just our survival and comfort for a time on this earth. When we rise above the here and now, look beyond the daily grind, and look at the stories of the Bible from God’s perspective, we see something much bigger. When we look up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, it gives us hints that the Bible isn’t filled with a thousand individual stories of God’s intervention just to get people through rough times, but rather one grand story of something larger, something that stretches beyond us even beyond our lifetimes, something that is eternal.
This is the Upper Story. As we view the Bible through this lens, we see that God has been up to something amazing from the very beginning. He has a vision, a big idea, and it is all good news for us. When we look at the Upper Story of God –his magnificent mural –we discover where we fit in, because this story was created to deliver one singular message. This is it: To find and enjoy the full, abundant life God designed for you both now and forever, you need to get to know and grow in trust of the One he sent for you, his Son who promises: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”(John 10:10).
Jesus explains further what this means when he says: “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me” (Matthew 10:39 ~ The Message)
These aren’t the ramblings of an egomaniac. This is the life-giving wisdom from the One who himself perfectly practiced what he preached. Ina Garden called Gethsemane, the night before he was to be brutally tortured and then executed by crucifixion, he prayed to his Father: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”
The cup Jesus is talking about is the suffering he’s about to face. Jesus is fully God, but also fully human. In his divine nature, Jesus knew just how excruciating it would be to bear the weight of the guilt of every person who has and will ever live, experiencing the tortuous pain of having his Heavenly Father turn away from rescuing him. In his human nature, Jesus knew how painful and humiliating this torture would be. In Jesus’ Lower Story, he asked if there was any way that he could be released from the horrific experience of death on the cross. This was his cry from below. But even in this intense moment as he was preparing to face unimaginable pain that he didn’t deserve, Jesus saw his situation with an Upper Story perspective. It’s why he ends his prayer by saying to his Father with this extraordinary thought: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Jesus knew the painless path might not be his Father’s route, so he aligned his life with this Upper Story plan. If this was the only way for God’s grand story to unfold, then Jesus was willing to go through with it. The cross held the only way, and Jesus accepted the journey to the cross and died a humiliating death. Jesus could accept the painful plot twist of the Lower Story because he knew the beautiful theme of redemption, the overarching arc of the Upper Story.John captures that beautiful theme this way: “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
As a pastor, I have the privilege and responsibility to help people understand what the Bible says and come to embrace what it teaches. I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades now and it has become clear that the majority of people –even people who have attended church all their lives –view the Bible as an ancient book about what God did in the lives of people “back in Bible days.” This may well explain why so many people who carry their Bibles to church don’t give high priority to finding time to read them on their own time, or if they do, they come away a little confused: “Why should I care if Noah built a boat?” “What does Daniel in a den of lions have to do with me?”One of my greatest joys, however, is to see that “aha!” moment when people learn God’s Upper Story in the Bible and come to see how it connects with their own Lower Story of going to work or to school, caring for their families, and the struggles of trying to live decent, honest, and respectable lives.
This also why reading the bible is not like sitting in a movie passively watching the story line unfold. No, as we’re actively engaged, giving careful attention, we each have a role to play in God’s story and it profoundly impacts the way God’s story turns out for us personally.How exciting is this? God’s story is a living, breathing story!
It is my prayer that when you come to the end of this book, not only will you know and better understand God’s story; you will have been overwhelmed by his love for you and understand how your portrait fits on the vast canvas that he continues to paint even now.
This is my prayer for you each of you as you dig deeper into The Story experience personally.It’s why I’m urging you to fully engage with God through his Word and through prayer throughout this journey! I’m also praying that this journey is going to be a rich blessing for us in our lives together as a community too! I want you to come through his experience not only with more head knowledge of what the Bible is saying, but I’m especially praying that you will come away with greater clarity of heart and firmness in faith, believing and trusting that what it says is speaking to you, that God’s message is for you, that it is vital to your life.To make the most of this journey, I’d like to encourage you to engage in this experience in at least three ways:
1.Personal Life:I’m inviting you to read the chapter in the book The Story each week prior to coming to worship on Sunday.This is an assignment for everyone in the family –we want you to read one chapter a week for 31 weeks. You can choose from amongst these books whichever one you want to do your reading in. We have a book designed for every age level, or reading level in the family, so everyone can read together. We want everyone reading God’s Word together for this entire ministry season.If you don’t have books yet, they are available for purchase in the church lobby today, or you can order from your favorite bookseller.
2.Small Group:I tend to get more out of the bible when I spend time discussing portions of it with other people. With this in mind we’ve put together several small group bible study opportunities in different locations, including one online, and on different days and times of the week. You can sign up online or at the small group sign up table after worship today. We’re also providing a kind of small group for children, ages 3 through 1stgrade, and children ages 2ndthrough 5thgrade through our Children’s Church groups. Starting next Sunday, those groups will meet during the sermon of the 10AM service. To provide sufficient space for social distancing and excellent ventilation, these groups are going to meet out in the covered picnic area in the playground. Additionally our teen ministry gatherings will open with devotional time focused on The Story too. The goal for all the groups, children, teens and adults is to deepen your understanding of God’s Word.
3.Sunday Worship Services: I’m also encouraging you to commit to coming for each Sunday’s worship service, whether that’s joining in person or participating online. Each Sunday’s service and message aims at summarizing and applying the message of the chapter of The Story that we’ve been reading, studying and discussing in the week leading up to the weekend! With all ages focusing on the same chapter in The Story each week, everyone literally on the same page,it’s exciting to think about how God will increase his blessings in our community as we align our lives with his truth.
4.Personal Devotional Reflections.I have a fourth environment, a bonus for anyone who is interested: Personal devotional reflections. I’ll be sharing a home devotional format that is straightforward and will help you apply the bible truths you’re learning to your own life. The format is so simple you can use it with people of all ages, friends and family alike, in a way that lets God’s Word speak into your daily life.
I am convinced that if you will engage in these three environments (or four, if you want to do the bonus environment too) and make the commitment to do this for the 31 weeks of The Story, that you will experience a great increase in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, awe of God, generosity, humility and hope!
This is what The Story experience is all about. It is designed to give you perspective on your Lower Story by helping you see and sense more clearly the one Upper Story of God that he has been unfolding since the beginning of time. The Story is an abridged chronology of the Bible. It is not designed to replace the Bible, but to be a gateway to the Bible. It knits the Lower Stories of several of the bible’s key character to read like a novel.Like your own story, each of these stories will be unique, filled with drama, heartache, and joy. Taken individually, not all of them may make sense, but when viewed from God’s Upper Story, they fit together perfectly. So, as you turn the page, imagine you have just walked into the Sistine Chapel. You will see many other characters in the pages to come, but they all work together to tell the one story of God, the story of his great love for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Once you see it, this story will change your life, for the better, forever! God creates the best plot line anyone could ever write for our lives. Are you excited to discover it? It all starts with chapter 1, the story of the earth’s beginnings. Amen!