Monday 28 September 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (26/50) – The Key to Scripture

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the twenty-sixth of the fifty emails.

He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself… When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’ They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.
Luke 24:25-27, 30-33

As we move from the old covenant Scriptures to the new covenant Scriptures, this short but compelling scene provides a lens by which to view the whole story. It also captures suggestive truths about our engagement with God through his word.

Cleopas and his companion are able to summarise what has happened, and to do so accurately, but they fail to understand its significance. ‘We had hoped that he was the one…’ (24:21) expresses their sense of loss and disillusionment. What can make sense of it?

Interestingly, they needed more than just an experience of the resurrected Christ. Note that Jesus does not say to them: ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe that I have risen.’ Nor does he say: ‘How foolish you, and how slow to believe all that I have spoken.’ He says: ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken.’ He takes them back to the Scriptures. And he does so in a way which shows how the Scriptures make sense of the situation in which they find themselves. And he does so in a way that they say afterwards that their hearts burned within them while he talked.

We’re not told what he said, although Luke – like the other gospel writers – provides some pointers, showing how the significance of Jesus’ own story is not found in isolated passages here and there, but is woven into the yet larger story of creation and covenant, of Abraham and Moses, of David and Jerusalem, of law and monarchy, of priesthood and temple, of visions of restoration beyond exile. For us, it is a reminder that Jesus cannot be understood apart from the Old Testament, and the Old Testament cannot be understood apart from Jesus.

Even so, the moment of full recognition awaits the fellowship at the table, alluding back to the Last Supper and the reminder that God’s purposes would be carried out through suffering and death, so that sins could be forgiven and the covenant renewed.

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the result of all this is the compelling need to tell others! Engagement with Scripture and the story it tells, which has come to its culmination in Christ, results in the ongoing transformation of disciples as hearts burn within, as eyes are opened, and as feet are energised to pass on the good news.

For further reflection and action:

1. Reflect on moments in your life when Scripture (a) has made sense of a situation you have been facing, (b) has given you fresh insights about Jesus, and (c) has motivated you to tell others about Jesus.

2. Read the next episode in Luke 24:36-49, noting the similar moments of how Jesus comes to a group of disciples in need, explains Scripture to them, makes himself known to them in fellowship, and inspires them to tell others.

3. In Luke 24:47, Jesus’ explanation of Scripture includes the dimension that ‘repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem’. Try to discuss with someone else this ‘all nations’ aspect of the biblical story, how Jesus brings about the fulfilment of God’s plan for the nations, and what it might mean for disciples of Christ living in today’s world.

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