How many of you remember a television show that premiered back in 1981 called “The Greatest American Hero”? William Katt played a substitute teacher named Ralph Hinkley, who took his students on a field trip in the desert. Somehow, he got separated from the them, and found himself face to face with aliens from another planet.
Because they were worried about the direction the world was headed, the aliens gave Ralph a box with a superhero suit inside. There were also instructions included telling him how to use the suit. Ralph was supposed to use the suit to bring some level of order to our world, which was spinning out of control.
Frightened, Ralph quickly loaded the box in his car but failed to notice as the instructions fell out and disappeared. By the time Ralph got home and put on the suit, he had no idea how to use it. If you have seen the show, Ralph discovers he has many superhero abilities; for instance, he learns he can fly but he has no idea how to land.
By trial and error, over the next 3 seasons, Ralph becomes the Greatest American Hero, but he never gets everything figured out because he never read the instructions. When I looked it up online, I found the series still has a huge following.
I could give you many examples of folks I know, that tried to cook or build things without following the directions. Heaven knows, I have done it myself. But after the job gets to complicated, most of us go back to the instructions.
Some years ago, someone coined the phrase, that the word Bible stands for ‘Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth’. Maybe you have heard that before. The word Bible means book. You have probably heard it called the Holy Bible. Holy in this sense means set apart. It is really a collection of writings.
The Bible, many people agree, is composed of 66 books by 40 different writers over 1,500 years. Of course, when I say that, I am referring to the protestant Bible. The Catholic Bible includes extra books, and there were some other writings excluded, from the final closed canon. While the Bible was written by men, we believe they were inspired by God.
The reason we can say that is because this book is amazing. Imagine writing a book over 15 hundred years and then having it come together perfectly. It proofs itself and is complete from beginning to end. While it is a book about our faith journey, it covers many different writing styles.
For a real disciple of Jesus, knowing God’s word is life-giving, life-affirming and life-fulfilling. You cannot be an affective disciple without spending time in God’s word. In Jesus’ day, they were taught to memorize the early teachings of the Torah and prophetic writings. While it is still helpful to memorize scripture, most of us have a Bible close by.
In 2017, it was reported by the American Bible Society, that almost nine out of 10 households (87 percent) own a Bible and the average household has three. But over half those who own a Bible, seldom open it. While the Bible is the world’s best-selling book, only about 20% of Americans have read it through completely. So, the Bible has acquired the nickname “The book almost nobody reads”.
The flipside of that information is, that there are more discussions and arguments about what the Bible says, means or includes then, any other book yet it is often done by people who have never read it.
Vince Lombardi died in 1970, but he is still considered by many to be one of the greatest football coaches to ever live. At the beginning of every season, and often several times throughout, he would tell his players they must return to the basics. Then he would grab a game ball, hold it up and proclaim, “Gentlemen, this is a Football!”
He wasn’t doing it to speak down to them, he was doing it to remind them of what’s important. He would say, “Keep your eye on the ball. Never lose sight of it. Without a football, you are just a bunch of guys, standing in a field. The football helps define you. It gives you purpose. Always know where it is.”
As Christians, the same thing could be said of the Bible. ‘This is a Bible’. Read it, study it, refer to it, master it. The Bible is your guide for life. It gives you purpose. Scripture even tells us to ingest it or make it part of us. Jeremiah 15:16 reads, “When Your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your name, LORD God Almighty.”
Some folks pick up their Bible and say, “Its huge!” I have heard is said that there are 773,692 words in the average Bible. But don’t get discouraged, it is divided up in many sections. As I said earlier, there are 66 parts. 39 chapters in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament.
Please pick up your Bible and open it to the first Chapter, Genesis. Most Bibles are clearly divided between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament begins with Genesis and ends with Malachi. It was written a long time before Jesus was born; It took 6 to 7 hundred years to write and was completed about 950 years before Jesus was born.
Genesis begins by answering a few simple questions; How did everything come into being? How did God’s relationship to man and the world begin? And where did the nation of Israel and the people if God come from? By the way, Genesis is the most read book in the Old Testament.
The question, “How did everything come into being?” is answered in the first sentence. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” From there you can read the creation story in Macro and Micro view. Read about the first people, Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel, the first sibling rivalry. Noah and the Ark. The story of Abraham, God’s first friend. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph with his coat of many colors. That is just a quick overview.
Genesis is part of what is called the Torah or Pentateuch, it includes the first 5 books of the Bible, recorded by Moses. It is often called the Books of the Law.
Exodus covers the life of Moses. It tells how God delivers the Hebrews or Israelites from slavery and enters into a special relationship with the Jewish Nation. Just to clarify, the words Hebrew, Israelites and Jews are often switched in and out. But they do have slightly different meanings.
Hebrews were often defined as the descendants of Abraham. The Israelites are the descendants of Jacob, who was named Israel later on. And the Jews are the people who live in and around Judah.
Leviticus gives us direction on how to worship God, honor him and live in peace with one another. It is one of the least read books because people don’t like to get bogged down with rules and laws.
Numbers categorizes the clans and families and records the Israelites’ journey and rebellion in the wilderness. It has Balaam’s talking donkey, and an overview of how to celebrate the holy holidays. It ends with, the setting up of cities of refuge for those in need.
In Deuteronomy, Moses climbs a mountain to get God’s 10 Commandments. From there, more laws, rules, and ways of dealing with legal issues come up. One of the most important chapters is 30, when God tells the people to choose between life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, he says. That completes the Torah.
The next section is the history of the former leaders. It includes Joshua, who led God’s people into the Promised Land; Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Esther. In these books you can read about the success and failures of the early leaders of the nation of Israel. Also, the way they were oppressed. The Life of Deborah, judge and ruler, and King David are contained in them.
Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs are classified as the poetic or wisdom writings. Job deals with the issue of Good and Evil in relation to God. Psalms were believed to have been sung. And the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs are credited to King Solomon, the wisest man ever to live.
The next section is the writings of the prophets, there are 4 major, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Jeremiah is also believed to have written Lamentations. Daniel slips in with his story. You might remember Daniel in the Lion’s Den. He was a faithful follower during the exile. Then you will find the writing of the last 12 minor prophets. That’s the Old Testament!
The New Testament begins with the 4 Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each tells about the life of Jesus from their own perspective and cultural setting. Matthew addresses Jesus from the perspective of the Jews. He is the Messiah and King.
Mark is the most often read Gospel because it was first, shortest, and gives a clear picture of Jesus. It explains his purpose, work, and suffering.
Luke is the Gospel that reaches out most to the Gentiles. Jesus is Lord to all. It gives order and a fuller account to Jesus’ life and Journey. The Acts of the Apostles is the follow up to Luke that fills in the life, ministry and challenges of the Disciples after Jesus ascended.
Finally, John is rich in detail and imagery. He uses flowery language and metaphor to give a deeper significance to Jesus’ life. The Gospel of John is many people’s favorite because of the images such as, I am the bread of life, I am the Gate, the light of the world and I am the Good Shepherd. Also, People love John 3:16 and the washing of the feet of the disciples.
After the Acts of the Apostles, we have the 14 letters (called Epistles) of Paul and 7 General letters by others. Some letters are to churches and others are to individuals. In them, Paul defends the faith and many others deal with issues or questions of the day. They are filled with pastoral advice and wisdom.
Finally, there is the last book of the Bible, Revelation. It is the most feared and generally the most misunderstood book in the Bible. It is rich in apocryphal language and images. John is on the Island of Patmos doing hard labor when he writes it. Revelation means God is taking away the veil or uncovering and revealing the truth.
It is a letter to the churches encouraging them to keep the faith in times of trouble and persecution. Some believe it was written in a way to confuse anyone outside the church from understanding it. It truly proclaims divine judgement and power. In the end, God wins, and Jesus is on the throne. And there is a new heaven and a new earth.
Finally, Revelation 22:18-19 gives us this last piece of instruction; “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take from him his share in the tree of life and in the Holy city, which are described in this book.” We call that God’s copyright!
That is a quick tour through the Bible. When you read it, the stories come alive. Every time I return to it, I see things I never saw before. It has mystery, intrigue, wonder, adventure, mountaintop views and stories of heartbreak. It has heroes and villains, but just as often, you will see the flaws in all of them. They were real, just like you and me.
The Bible has it all. It will make you laugh and cry. But you must spend time in it. Don’t try to read it from beginning to the end, unless you have spent ‘many years studying it. Just pick it up and begin with one of the Gospels or read Genesis.
When you begin to explore deeper chapters, it is best to do it in a small group. Some passages of the Bible are hard to understand without the right context or historical perspective. It is also good to know their social customs and values. But be warned, once you really start reading it, it is often hard to put down.
There is a reason while it is called, “The greatest true story ever told”.
Episcopal Pastor Phillip Brooks once said, “The Bible is like a telescope. If a man looks through his telescope, he sees worlds beyond; but if he looks at his telescope, he does not see anything but that. The Bible is a thing to be looked through to see that which is beyond; but most people only look at it and so they see only the dead letter.”
Your assignment is…to read a portion of your Bible this week. Take notes if you have questions. God blesses his people when they read His book. Inside you will find the most amazing stories, poetry, songs, and reflections. If you do that, I will be praying that God’s words will fully come alive in your heart and life.
May it be so.
“And all God’s People said, Amen”