Pastor John, here’s an email, not an uncommon one, from a listener who writes in to ask: “If I’ve never read the Bible by myself before, where should I start?”
Oh, I would love to talk to such a person. So I hope he or she is listening. So let’s start at ground zero, absolute zero and just say a few big picture things that will help my simple, straightforward answer make sense. The Bible is a collection of 66 distinct books. These were written by different people over a span of about 1500 years which makes their amazing harmony and unity and development all the more amazing. But it is important to realize that there were numerous authors, human authors, not just one. So these 66 books in the one book called the Bible are different kinds of writing. Some are history, some are poetry, some is prophecy, some are letters and so on, different styles. And these are divided into two parts, right? We call them the O ld Testament and the New Testament. The word testament is an old word for agreement or covenant about the way God was dealing with his people. The old covenant are the books written before Jesus Christ came into the world and the new covenant are the books written after Jesus Christ. So the Old Testament are books that are preparing for the coming of the Son of God into the world, Jesus Christ. And the New Testament is about what he did, who he was, how he started the Christian movement and how we are to live as Christians in the light of all of that. So 39 books in the Old and 27 books in the New. So where should you start in this big library of God inspired true books?
My answer is: Since Jesus is the central figure in the Bible and he explains everything else, if you understand Jesus you are going to be able to understand the other parts better, then you need to get to know him first. There are four books at the beginning of the New Testament that give an account of his ministry and somewhat of his life, although none of them covers every year of his life, because what he did in his last three years was all important. So that is what they focus on. And these four books are called the gospels, the gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The word gospel means good news and this is the foundation of our good news called the gospel. Here is where I would start. The gospel of Mark is the shortest one, 16 short chapters. I would start here and here is the way I would do it. I would set aside two hours some Sunday morning or Saturday evening or sometimes when you are going to stay away and read the whole thing straight through, 16 chapters. And I say two hours because I am a slow reader and I have done that. I have sat down, read the entire gospel of Mark straight through. You might be able to do it in one hour. And that will give you an overview of the ministry of Jesus, a very fast paced, clip, clip, clip, clip. One of the most common words in Mark is immediate.
And then the second thing I would do is do the same thing with the gospel of John. It is longer, 21 chapters and they are longer. Mark is fast paced, riddled with action, the sorts of things Jesus did. John is reflective, slower paced. It contains lots and lots of the teachings of Jesus. Gets you inside his mind and heart and being in a concerted and focused way. And then when you have read Mark and John just to get you exposed to what he did and what he taught and who he was, I would point you in two directions, depending on the kind of person you are. If you are a lover of seeing things systematized and organized into a beautiful whole, go to Romans next, the letter to the Romans, another 16 chapters. Or if you are the kind of person who loves fast paced action and want to see what happened, how did this movement move on in the world, then go to the book of Acts and hear the very title. And this is how the gospel gets from Jerusalem at the death and resurrection of Jesus all the way to Rome about 30 years later and the amazing works of God to establish his Church.
And the last thing I would say is there is a book in the Bible, right smack in the middle of the Bible. If you flop your Bible open to smack in the middle it is going to open to Psalms, 150 psalms. These are the prayers and the songs of the people of God. Many of them by King David of Israel and they capture all the moods and the ups and downs and the struggles of God’s people and there are a lot of people who love this book more than any book in the Bible. My wife would say Psalms is her favorite book. And that is the approach I would take. It would give you, that last exposure would give you a way to manage lots of the feelings you are going to have as a new Christian.
But let yourself be caught up in what amazes you. Don’t consider my advice or anybody’s advice where you have to read. It is all God’s Word. It is all inspired and reliable. All that is profitable to help you know Christ and know how to be saved from sin and from condemnation and how to have eternal life and how to live a life pleasing to God in this world. So you are on the brink of the greatest adventure of your life.
Amen, well put, thank you Pastor John. … And if you’d like to open the Bible and study it with Pastor John himself, we recently launched a series of video tutorials called Look at the Book. You should check those out. You can find those at desiringgod.org. Click on the tab that says “Labs” on the top of the screen. … Tomorrow we return with a question about how can we go deeper with Christ. I’m your host Tony Reinke, we’ll see you tomorrow.