It's possible to read the Bible, study the Bible, and memorize large portions of the Bible, while missing the whole point of the Bible. It's entirely possible, in other words, to read the stories and miss the Story.
This is what happened to the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.
They were dejected, down, and despairing because the one they had put all their hope in had just been executed. They heard "rumors" that he was missing from the grave but, as far as they knew, these were unsubstantiated claims. As they were walking and talking Jesus came up and walked with them "but they were kept from recognizing him." Jesus asked them, "What are you two talking about? Why are you so sad?" Looking strangely at this stranger, they asked, "Where have you been? Don't you know what's just happened? It's the talk of the town." They went on to explain that the one they were banking on to restore Israel to it's national and political prominence had just been put to death. Their hopes had been dashed, their dreams shattered.
Jesus looked at them and said, "Do you not read your Bibles?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Jesus showed them that if they had understood what the Old Testament was really about, they wouldn't have been so shocked by the things that had happened. They knew their Bible's, but they missed Jesus.
Luke 24:21 tells us what they thought the Bible was about. They read it as if it was fundamentally about their glory--Jesus was coming to restore their prominence, position, and power.
We make the same mistake.
As I mentioned in my last post, we often read the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us: our improvement, our life, our triumph, our victory. And as a result we treat it like a book of timeless principles that will give us our best life now if we simply apply those principles. We treat it, in other words, like it's a heaven-sent self-help manual. But by looking at the Bible as if it were fundamentally about us, we totally miss Jesus--like the two on the road to Emmaus. In fact, unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our devout Bible reading can become fuel for our own narcissistic self-improvement plans.
So, if we read the Bible asking first, "What would Jesus do?" instead of asking "What has Jesus done" we'll miss the good news that alone can set us free.
As I've said before, the overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. The Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living, but a revelation book of Christ who is the answer to our unchristian living. Scripture, in other words, is the portrait of Jesus. It's a picture of who he is and what he's done. The Bible tells one story and points to one figure: it tells the story of how God rescues a broken world and points to Christ who accomplishes this. The OT predicts God's rescuer; the NT presents God's rescuer. In all of its pages and throughout all of its stories, the Word of the Lord reveals the Lord of the Word. The plot line of the Bible, in other words, is Jesus-centered. He is the Hero of the Story.
Even though it's a children's Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible is, in my opinion, one of the best resources available to help both children and adults see the Jesus-centered story line of the Bible.
In the Introduction of that book, author Sally Lloyd-Jones rightly explains what the Bible is not before she beautifully explains what the Bible is. She writes:
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn't do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn't mainly about you and what you should be doing. It's about God and what he has done.
Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you'll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren't heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose), they get afraid and run away. At times, they're downright mean.
No, the Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It's an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It's a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne--everything--to rescue the ones he loves. It's like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!
You see, the best thing about this Story is...it's true.
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in the puzzle-the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
For an amazing article by Sally on the need to teach children that the Bible is not about them, go here.
And here's a message I gave on the subject of what we miss when we don't read the Bible in a Christ-Centered way. This message was delivered at the 20/20 College Conference 2012 at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a few weeks ago.