Bible 101 Part 3
Through the New Testament
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 9, 2003
Last week we talked about how the various books contained in the Bible
are organized in categories, much in the same way that I organize my
bookshelves at home. I put all my music books on the same shelf, all my
leadership books on the same shelf, all my youth ministry books on the
same shelf, all my reference books on the same shelf, and so on.
In the New Testament, we have 27 books divided onto five different
On the first shelf we have the Gospels.
On the second shelf we have the Acts.
On the third shelf we have the letters written by the Apostle Paul.
On the fourth shelf we have all the other letters written by everyone
And on the fifth shelf we have the Revelation.
Letís take a look at these shelves one at a time.
When we finished looking
at the Old Testament last week, we talked about the prophecies about
the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. Well, between the end of the Old
Testament and the beginning of the New was a gap of about 400 years
during which the Jewish people anxiously awaited the coming of the
Messiah. They expected their Messiah to be a Mighty conqueror who would
overthrow the Roman government and free the Israelites from their
Well, the New Testament does pick up with the birth of this Messiah,
but He wasnít quite what the people expected. Which is why they werenít
exactly willing to accept Him. Instead of being a Victorious Warlord,
He came as a meek baby. Instead of being born to royalty, he was born
into the family of a poor carpenter. Instead of arriving in a palace,
He arrived in an animal stable as the son of a young girl who became
pregnant before she was married.
And itís His story, the story of Jesus that we read in the Gospels, the
first four books of the New Testament. This shelf contains the books of
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And interestingly enough, these books
were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
These books talk about the birth of Jesus, the life of Jesus, His
teachings, His miracles, His death, and His resurrection. All four of
these books tell the story of the same Jesus over the same period of
time, but they are written from four different perspectives for
different purposes and for different audiences. Thatís why not all four
books contain all the same information. Besides, that would be pretty
Itís in these books where we find many of our familiar New Testament
Bible Stories. Itís here that we read the Christmas Story and the
Easter Story, we see Jesus teaching on the banks of the Sea of Galilee
and feeding 5,000 people with a few fish and a couple of small loaves
of bread. We marvel at Jesus as he walks on the water. We weep with
Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus, and then laugh
and rejoice with them when Jesus raises him from the dead. And itís in
these gospels that we reel in horror at the death of Jesus, and then
realize the triumph of his resurrection.
The author of the book of Matthew was one of Jesusí apostles, who was a
tax collector before he began to follow Christ. Tax collectors arenít
particularly loved today, but during Matthewís time they were
absolutely despised. And Matthew was one of them. It was Matthew who
threw a party after he was called by Christ, and he invited all his
slimy buddies over to meet his new friend. The distinctive thrust of
the writings of Matthew is to reveal Jesus as the Messiah foretold by
the Old Testament Prophets. His book was addressed particularly to a
Jewish audience, and he frequently used phrases such as, ďThe Kingdom
of HeavenĒ or the ďKingdom of GodĒ which would specifically connect
with the Jews who would be familiar with the Old Testament writings and
prophecies and who were waiting for the Messiah to come and set up His
The book of Mark was written by a man also known as John Mark. He was
the son of a widow in Jerusalem whose home was a meeting place for
early believers. According to tradition, Mark acted as a scribe for the
Apostle Peter and may be telling the story from Peterís perspective.
The book of Mark is believed to be the first of the Gospels to be
written, and was written to encourage the believers as they began to be
persecuted by the Roman authorities.
Mark is a very fast paced Gospel, giving you the highlights of the life
of Jesus. Mark skips many of Jesusí sermons and teachings, choosing
instead to focus on His miracles; so itís more about what Jesus did
rather than about what Jesus said.
The Gospel of Luke is believed to have been written by a Gentile doctor
whose name wasÖ Luke. Surprise, surprise. A little trivia for you: Luke
is the only non-Jewish writer in the New Testament. He wrote this
Gospel for a friend by the name of Theophilus, which you might think is
ďthe-awfulestĒ name youíve ever heard. Actually, the name Theophilus
literally means, ďLover of God.Ē So not such a bad name after all.
Dr. Luke wrote this book primarily to show that Godís love reaches
beyond the Jewish people to the entire world. Luke, being a doctor,
included more detail then either Matthew or Mark. And itís in Luke that
we find many of the details of the first Christmas. Whatís the focus of
Luke? He tends to focus on the kindness and compassion of Christ.
Now we get to John, which is the favourite Gospel of many people. A lot
of people think it was written by John the Baptist. It wasnít. It was
actually written by the apostle John, who is sometimes referred to as
ďthe disciple whom Jesus loved.Ē The focus of the book of John is that
Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. The purpose of the book is summed up by
John himself who wrote;
John 20:31 (NLT)
But these are written so that you may
believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by
believing in him you will have life.
We mentioned that the Gospel of Mark focused more on what Jesus did
than what He said; the Gospel of John is just the opposite because John
focuses more on what Jesus said, especially about himself, then on what
The next book in the
Bible stands by itself. Itís the book of Acts, sometimes called the
Acts of the Apostles or even the Acts of God. The Gospels began with
Christís birth and ended with his resurrection; the book of Acts begins
with the resurrection of Christ and chronicles the formation and life
of the early church. The writer is the same person who wrote the third
gospel, Luke, and again it was written to his friend Theophilus. In
fact, if you take the book of Luke and the book of Acts and put them
together, youíll have one fourth of the New Testament.
The first chapter tells how Christ ascended to heaven and how the
apostles chose someone to replace the traitor Judas Iscariot. As you
keep reading, youíll read about the first Christian Martyr: a young man
named Stephen. Youíll also read about the conversion of a prominent
Jewish teacher by the name of Saul who was renamed Paul and went on to
become perhaps the greatest teacher of Christianity in history and the
man primarily responsible for the spread of Christianity beyond the
Jewish community. He travelled all over the known world at the time,
and took three trips in particular that are documented in the book of
SHOW MAPS of Missionary Journeys (PowerPoint)
The next shelf of books
was written by the Paul who we read about in the book of Acts. They are
simply letters that he wrote, also known as epistles. They include:
Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians,
Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus
and Philemon. It also includes Hebrews, although some scholars feel
that there isnít enough evidence to say that Paul wrote it. Other
possible writers would include Barnabas (who was a friend of Paulís),
another man named Apollos, or possibly even Luke. But, because
tradition ascribes it to Paul weíll leave it here.
The main thing you need to understand here is that these books were
originally letters to specific churches or people dealing with specific
issues. Itís like weíre opening someone elseís mail and reading it. So
we have to keep in mind that the first people who read these letters
may have had some inside knowledge that we donít have about what was
happening in their particular situation. However, God in his infinite
wisdom chose to preserve these specific letters for the entire church,
and theyíre included in our Bible today. So even though we werenít the
original recipients of these letters, they are applicable for us today
Itís in Romans where we discover that none of us are truly innocent:
weíve all turned against God to one degree or another and because of
that we deserve the punishment of death, but despite this truth God has
arranged for us to be forgiven and to receive eternal life, if we will
only turn to Him and accept it. In 1st Corinthians we find out about
spiritual gifts and in 1st Corinthians 13 youíll find the famous ďLove
ChapterĒ so often quoted at weddings. In the letter to the church in
Galatia we discover the fruit of the spirit, and in the letter to the
church in Philippi we are told that we can do everything through the
power of Christ. In Ephesians we are reminded that we are saved by
grace through faith, and in Hebrews we read about the Faith Hall of
The next shelf contains
the books known as the General Letters or the General Epistles. Paul
wrote so many letters that he gets his own shelf; the rest of the
letters written by everyone else are clumped up on this shelf.
The seven letters youíll find here are: James, 1st & 2nd Peter,
1st, 2nd & 3rd John and Jude. These letters were written for
the same reason the letters of Paul were written: to encourage and
instruct local churches. James and Jude wrote James and Jude, and they
were both brothers of Jesusí. Peter and John were both disciples of
James is one of my favourite books in Bible because itís a very
practical book. It was written to warn believers about being guilty of
slander, showing favouritism, being prideful, misusing wealth, and
having a lack of patience. This may even have been the first New
Testament book written.
Simon Peter wrote 1st and 2nd Peter for two very different reasons. The
first letter was a letter of encouragement to a persecuted church. It
offered the early believers hope and meaning in the middle of the
suffering they were enduring for their faith. The second letter, on the
other hand, was written as a warning against false teachers and
contains very harsh condemnations of these teachers. In fact, these
warnings still apply today to people who twist the words of the Bible
to serve their own ends, and who even form cults and spread false
teachings, spreading lies while claiming itís the truth. And weíre also
instructed about how to recognize these false teachings and how to
protect what we accept as truth.
1st, 2nd and 3rd John were all written by the same John who wrote the
Gospel of John. And they were written for very similar reasons as
Peterís letters. The first letter is a letter of encouragement, the
second a letter of warning and the third letter is a short personal
note warning a friend about a specific person in the church who was
power-hungry and who had started to spread lies about other leaders in
the church, including John!
Jude is a dark little letter that ends the epistles. It was written by
Jesusí brother Jude, and it warns believers about the dangers of some
of the strange doctrines being spread throughout the church by false
And here we are at the
end, the book of The Revelation. Notice first of all that thereís no
ďSĒ. Many people call this the book of Revelations, but itís the book
of Revelation, singular. Itís not many revelations, never has been,
never will be. Itís only one revelation. Sometimes itís called The
Revelation of John, but actually itís the Revelation of God to John.
While God is the author, the human writer is identified in the book as
John, and he wrote down the revelation and sent it to seven different
churches in Asia. We donít know exactly which John this was, but
tradition tells us that it was John the Apostle who also wrote the
Gospel of John and the three letters of John. Weíre also told that he
wrote this book while he was exiled on the Island of Patmos, located in
the Aegean Sea just off the coast of modern day Turkey. Itís a small
Island, about four miles by 8 miles, and was probably a Roman penal
colony where John was sent for preaching about Jesus while the Romans
were trying to squash Christianity.
The Revelation is where you find a lot of prophecy about the second
coming of Jesus and all the events that will precede, accompany, or
follow it. The best-selling Left Behind book series is based on this
book of the Bible. If youíre into this series, thatís fine. But keep in
mind, it is a fictitious story based on one personís (actually, two
personís Ė Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins) interpretation of this
Revelation. It is not on par with the Word of God, and just because Tim
LaHaye says things are going to happen this way or that way doesnít
mean itís true.
Revelation talks about things such as the Rapture, the Great
Tribulation, the Millennium, and the Anti-Christ. Some are mentioned in
detail, others are mentioned only briefly. Over the past 2000 years
there have been countless attempts to explain what all of this means
and how all of it fits together, and many people have pointed to events
of the day as signs the end is near. So far, theyíve been wrong. Some
day, they will be right. But the truth is I donít understand how
everything is going to occur. And it really doesnít matter. What
matters is that I live like Jesus may even return today, and that I
have my name written down in Jesusí Book of Life.
ďRevelation is the playground of the religiously eccentric.Ē
~ William Barclay
The point is, donít get so caught up in what you donít understand here
that you miss all the stuff you can understand in the rest of the book.
Thatís the New Testament. Thatís what youíll discover there and how you
can find your way around. Itís important that you know how to use your
Bible, but whatís even more important is that youíre able to understand
and apply what it says.
Now, just as we finish here and as we prepare for The Lordís Supper, I
want to do one more thing. Over the course of the past two weeks we
have walked, or rather run, through the whole Bible. Weíve covered a
lot of information and weíve touched ever so briefly on what youíll
find in different parts of the Bible. So what I want to do right now is
boil everything down and give you the core message of the Bible. Here
The Bible teaches that we were created to be in a relationship with
God. But sin, the things we do that hurt God, broke that relationship
and came between us. As a result, weíre separated from God and
condemned to death.
There are plenty of ways that we can try to cross the gap and reach
GodÖ we may turn to religion, we may try to buy our way by being
generous and giving to the needy and tipping God at church, we may try
to be kind and be a good neighbour and be a nice person, but ultimately
all of these efforts fall short. Nothing we can do can reach across to
But the good news is that while we canít reach God on our own, He has
provided the way for us. By dying on the cross, Jesus took our place
and paid the price for the wrongs we have done. And because of Him we
can reach God and receive His forgiveness, His love, and the eternal
life Heís promised.
John 14:6 (NLT)
Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth,
and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
Itís only through a relationship with this risen Saviour, Jesus Christ,
that we can have a restored relationship with God and live the life we
were meant to live. So when you look at this picture (PowerPoint),
where are you? Are you here, as far away from God as you can get? Or
here, thinking about things and evaluating whether or not you can trust
the ďBridgeĒ to hold you? Or have you crossed over into the arms of
God? If you donít know Jesus, you need to get to know Him.