A New Look at a Great Book:
Part 2, The Big Picture
February 22, 2009
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
2 Kings 2:1-12
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."
Elijah said to him, "Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho.
The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be silent."
Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit."
He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not."
As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our topic today is ďA New Look at a Great Book, Part 2: The Big Picture.Ē Today I want to talk with you about the big picture of the Bible, but before I do, let me do a little review with you about what we talked about last week. Remember how we talked last week about different ways to look at the Bible? Last week we talked about the spiritual lens. We talked about looking at the contents of the Bible, not necessarily as a historical book or as a work of literature, but as a spiritual book. I wonder if youíve been able to think about that this week.
Letís think about it in relation to the scriptures that we heard this morning. In the first lesson, from the book of Kings, we heard the story of Elijah and Elisha, his student. If you look at it historically, itís interesting. But I would invite you to look at it spiritually. Did you see the end of the story, how Elisha tore his clothes? What can that mean to us? He was grieving the loss of his great teacher, whom he called father. And we can relate to that if we grieve; that clothes-tearing kind of grief is something we can relate to. And thatís how we can read the Bible in a spiritual way.
The other encouragement that the Bible gives us in relation to this story is that Elijah said that he would bless Elisha with a double portion of his gifts, which meant that Elisha would be able to carry the flag of his beloved father in the faith. So, too, can you carry the flag of those whom you grieve. Perhaps they gave you wonderful blessings and spiritual insights. You carry their flag now, and you are the blessing to the world that they have started. To read the Bible this way is to read it spiritually.
Today, I want to talk with you about the big picture. Remember that we said that one of the goals of this series is to answer a person who absolutely is new to the Bible and new to the faith, if he asks us the question, ďwhat is this book about?Ē What would you say if one of your friends asked that? Iíd like to give you a few ideas this morning.
The Bible is the story of your relationship with God. Not just anyoneís, but yours. And thatís what makes it a beloved book. You might tell them that the Bible is like a door that opens between you and God. The Bible is the story of your relationship with God, and itís a way that God uses to tell you His will and to tell you how much He loves you.
This morning, I want to give you a panoramic picture of the Bible, a sweeping snapshot of whatís in this great book. I invite you to picture yourself standing on the side of a hill. In front of you, as you look out, is a tremendous landscape. Itís a mountain. It starts on one side, and it gradually rises up to a peak, and then it descends again. And thereís a bit of a surprise that happens after that. At the peak of this mountain is a glowing light and what looks to be a radiant cross. In this panoramic snapshot, the Bible is like a mountain whose pinnacle is Jesus Christ. If you hold that image in mind, you have a panoramic view of what the entire Bible is about. If someone asks you, you can tell him Ė this is what itís like; itís like a mountain whose very peak is Jesus Christ.
Now, when you study the Bible, you look at different scenes along the mountain. You interpret them for what they mean to you in your life. Letís explore some of those scenes together. What do we see when we look at that mountain?
A way off, on one side, we see this remarkable burst of clouds and waterfalls and animals and plants and birds and people. The very beginnings of creation are poetically expressed in the Bible. Thatís on one side of the mountain. And as we look, we see many people on the mountain. Off to the side, near the story of creation, we see a very old man named Abraham, who put his faith in God and left his home and followed God, climbing up the mountain. We look a little farther, and we see Moses. We see him kneeling on the mountain, and in front of him is a bush, glowing with light. And in that light, Moses sees God. Heís standing on holy ground.
As we go farther along on that mountain, we see many, many people, the people of Israel, and theyíre all climbing up the mountain. And as we continue farther, we see King David playing on his harp inspiring music to the Lord. ďThe Lord is my shepherd,Ē he sings. ďI have everything I need.Ē Itís all on this great mountain, people making their way up toward the top.
We see prophets of the Old Testament who had glimmers of what the mountaintop was going to be like. The prophet Isaiah is saying, ďComfort ye, comfort ye my people, thus saith our God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and declare unto her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned: that she has received double from the Lordís hand for all her sins.Ē Heís giving us hope; heís making his way up the mountain.
Closer and closer to the top, we see an angel near the top that says, ďBehold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, for unto you this day is born a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.Ē The angel is close to the top of the mountain, and as we focus on the top, we can see something that looks like a cross. But as we look closer, we see that it is the figure of a person, a glowing figure of light with arms extended like a cross. It is Jesus, calling the world to Himself.
Around the top of the mountain, we see scenes from Jesusís life Ė Jesus healing people; Jesus forgiving people; Jesus teaching people; and we do indeed see a cross, the cross of Good Friday, where Jesus gave himself for the sins of the entire world, for everyone on the mountain and everyone who comes afterward. We see an empty tomb from which he rose. And at the very top, we see the glowing figure of Christ, the figure of light, embracing the world to Himself.
And as we look down the other side of the mountain, we see people running, people with their arms extended into the air, telling each other of the love of Jesus Christ. One to another, one to another, they tell of this great love, of this great mountaintop of the Holy Scripture. And as we look at them, we see that the line grows longer and longer and greater and greater, one telling another about the love of this great One. One person is handing a Bible down to another, and that person to the next, and so on. And then, we see that this great line of people surrounds and comes around and gets rather close to us, for the mountain continues on, and we are standing on it, on the other side. We donít know many of the people there who are nearer to us.
But as the line gets closer, we begin to recognize some faces. Who is that? Was that my grandmother? Who is that? Itís my mother! Itís my father! Itís my sister! Itís the minister I knew. Itís the priest who cared about me. Itís the sister who taught me. Itís the neighbor who shared faith with me. They are right by my side. They are handing me the Bible with love. Iím connected to everyone on the big mountain.
And now, I see that on the other side of me there are children. Who are they? Are they our children? Are they the children of the church? Certainly they are. And there are people who would come to Christ through me and through you. We are part of that wonderful circle of people from the mountain. We are all one; we are all united in it.
And so, my dear friends, that is the big picture. As you think of the Bible, think of that great mountain, wonít you? As you share the Bible, share that image with others, wonít you? And you will be sharing the picture of the greatest book ever written. Itís all there because God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2009 Anthony J. Godlefski