Bible 101 Part 3
Walk 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 shelves:

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 else.
And on the fifth shelf we have the Revelation.

Letís take a look at these shelves one at a time.

 

The Gospels

 

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 occupation.

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 pointless.

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 Kingdom.

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 he did.

 

Acts

 

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 Acts.

SHOW MAPS of Missionary Journeys (PowerPoint)

 

Paulís Letters

 

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 as well.

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 Fame.

 

General Letters

 

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 Jesusí.

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 teachers.

 

Revelation

 

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.

MAP (PowerPoint)

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 it is.

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 God.

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.

Jesus said:

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.

 

Commitment Time.


 

 

 

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