How to Read Biblical Narrative

Almost half of the Bible is written in narrative form. So how should we approach this literary style as we meditate on and digest the Word? We hope these videos from the Bible Project and our suggested readings will help!

It’s critical to catch the whole plot of God’s characters. Through the whole plot, we see God’s commitment to use weak people to accomplish big things. The following are two examples. Read just one or both and see how God transforms people and their hearts to use them for His Kingdom. He can do the same with you!

We can watch these characters through the Bible, the choices they make, and the consequences of their choices. “Biblical stories use characters as a mirror so we can see ourselves and discover our own human nature in the reflection.” Biblical writers limit detail of physical characteristics so when they are given, they are critical to the story. For instance, Jacob’s skin is described as smooth (just like his talk!)

  • Genesis 25:24-34
  • Genesis 27:11 (Gen 27:1-31 optional)
  • Genesis 32:24-32 – It is at this point and in the following chapter that we see Jacob seeking God’s blessing and his brother’s forgiveness.
  • The Bible Project – Character

The character and relationship struggles these two have are relatable to the struggles in relationships we have today. We can look at Jacob’s story and see how God is with us in our struggles, even when we are in the wrong. He blesses us, even when we don’t deserve it. Because of this blessing and forgiveness, we know how to seek forgiveness from others.

The setting is where the action took place. The biblical authors use the setting to set up what is going to happen. The settings are used to prepare you for what is going to happen. “Settings evoke memories and emotions because of other stories you know that happened in similar places.” These settings throughout the Bible are used like themes. If we know about Egypt, we can know that bad things happen in Egypt (at least until the upside-down Kingdom is at hand!) We can know that moving eastward seems to be related to exile as moving west (or from the east) is a return to the garden and presence of God.

  • Genesis 12:10 – The start of trouble in Egypt for Abram
  • Genesis 42:1-3 – How the Israelites got to Egypt
  • Deuteronomy 17:16 – Don’t have anything to do with Egypt…
  • 1 Kings 3:1 – Then King Solomon has something to do with Egypt…
  • Matthew 2:13-23 – The tables have turned. Jerusalem becomes Egypt.
  • Hosea 11:1 – Egypt’s role is flipped from a place of pain (slavery) to a place where redemption comes from
  • EAST
  • Genesis 3:23-24, 4:16, 13:11 – Exiled to the east
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15-20 – Exiled to the east again (Babylon)
  • The Bible Project – Setting

“The biblical authors have used character, setting, and plots to create a series of repeated patterns that weave through story after story and bind them all together.” This builds key themes using reoccurring words and images. One such theme that is used throughout the Bible is seeing something desired and then taking it. Then Jesus transforms this, setting his own desires for God’s.

Each of these 4 books, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are trying to connect Jesus’s story to all the rest of the Bible. The good news is about Jesus’s Kingdom arriving. The story begins with God creating a good world and leaving humans responsible for its care but through them, sin, death, and destruction enter the world. The Gospel brings hope with the Kingdom of God and the Son of God, to restore humanity to its role of ruling the world with God. Jesus invites people to live in a new world, bringing the whole biblical world to its fulfillment. Each book quotes the Old Testament to show that all the stories before pointed to Jesus. All four books show how the life of Jesus leads up to the cross where Jesus is enthroned on the cross. When he is raised from the dead, we are watching the beginning of a new creation. “The Gospel is designed to persuade us to trust and follow Jesus so we can follow Jesus in the new creation He began.” Each book of the Gospel presents the good news of the Kingdom from its author’s unique perspective.

  • Matthew presents Jesus as a greater Moses so he groups Jesus’s teachings into 5 sections, just like in the Torah. It was written primarily for the Jews so Matthew presents Jesus as the Son of David and the Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1). Matthew tells how Christ speaks of “the throne of His glory” (Matt 19:28, 25:31). He refers to Jerusalem as “the holy city” (Matt 4:5). He is speaking to Jews who are anticipating the coming of a new king, and revealing instead the Kingdom of God, also referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • “Mark presents Jesus as a new start for humanity bringing the mystery of God’s new creation crashing into the present.” Mark writes to the Roman world and very quickly introduces Jesus’s purpose in Mark 1:14-15.
  • “Luke highlights how Jesus is God’s royal servant from Isaiah who brings God’s light to the nations.” He wrote primarily to the Greeks. He presents Jesus as the Servant of the Lord while also being human, sent to accomplish a specific work for God. As the servant of the Lord, Jesus fulfills Messianic prophecies such as Isaiah 42:1-2 and Isaiah 61:1-2 (See Luke 2:32 and Luke 4:16-30). He is the one who speaks the most of Jesus’s childhood, revealing his humanity.
  • “John focuses on Jesus’s claim to be Yahweh, the God of Israel, to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. John defined his purpose in John 20:31, presenting Jesus as the Son of God (Jn 1:34, 49). John defines who Jesus is with the “I am” statements.
  • The Bible Project – The Gospel

“Jesus didn’t tell parables to make everything clear. Rather he wanted to provoke the imagination and invite people to see what God is doing in the world from a new perspective.” These can be read many times with new revelations taken away each time and can be read by multiple people to reveal many different perspectives and insights!

  • Matthew 13:10-17 – The purpose of the parables
  • Matthew 11:25-26 – The truth will be revealed to those who have the faith of children
  • John 12:23-36 – Jesus brought the light, but many did not have eyes to see or ears to hear
  • Matthew 7:7-11 – Seek Him and you will find Him. Bring this desire to your readings of the parables
  • Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 – The parable of the sower. Which soil are you today? Yesterday?
  • Luke 8:18 – How are you hearing?
  • Isaiah 5:1-7, Matthew 21:33-46 – Parables of a vineyard
  • The Bible Project – The Parables of Jesus

The Parables of Jesus are enough for decades of study just by themselves. Realizing the importance of them is key and how we should apply them. Jesus tells his disciples in Mark 4:13, just after telling them the parable of the sower, that if they don’t understand that one, how will they understand any of them? What do you think that means? Why is that parable so important?

May we all develop eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to seek, minds to grasp, and faith to grow!

The Chosen Reading Plan – Week 6

It’s week 6 of our “The Chosen” reading plan! We hope these last several weeks have encouraged you and given you renewed vigor in your mission as a disciple of Christ. If you aren’t yet committed to be a disciple of Jesus, we hope that going through these readings and watching these episodes has been the encouragement you need to follow the one and only way, truth, and life (John 14:6).

If you’re behind, take the time and catch up. I guarantee you it’ll be worth it.

Day 1
Psalm 63:1
Psalm 104:31-34
Isaiah 40:3
Romans 8:27-39
Day 2
Matthew 8:1-4
Mark 1:35-45
Leviticus 13:45-46
Jesus heals a leper
Day 3
Luke 12:35-40
Genesis 49:8-12, 50:15-21 – the Jews didn’t recognize the Messiah just like Joseph’s brothers failed to recognize him
Luke 10:13-16
Keep your lamps burning
Day 4
Matthew 6:1-8
Luke 18:1-14
God knows what we need
Day 5
Mark 2:1-12
Luke 5:17-26
Matthew 9:1-8
Jesus heals the paralytic
Day 6
Watch Episode 6

Questions to consider:

Why is it so provocative that Jesus calls Matthew to follow him? How might that Romans 8 passage apply to that, and how does it apply to you?

Leprosy was a disease which the Jews supposed to be inflicted for the punishment of some particular sin, and to be, more than other diseases, a mark of God’s displeasure; and therefore Christ, who came to take away sin, and turn away wrath took particular care to cleanse the lepers that fell in his way. Jesus’s apostles were amazed when they saw the leper healed. Do we still see the works of God with amazement? If not, are we following Him close enough to see them?

Concerning the Luke 12 passage, we need to keep our lamps burning! Matthew told Gaius in this episode, “Conquest is not simply conquering nations but imposing a way of life.” What parallel is there between this statement to Jesus’s purpose as well as this scripture?

Simon doesn’t understand why Jesus asked him to join him. Do you ever wonder why Jesus asked me to join Him? How does Simon figure out his purpose? How can you figure out yours?

Parenting with an Eternal Perspective – Part 2: Kingdom Community

This morning Luke and I were talking about when boy Jesus was lost from his parents. We discussed how he and his parents had gone to Jerusalem with a group of family and friends for Passover (Luke 2:41-50). Luke’s immediate response was, “like Life Group?!” (what we call our small group we worship with). The more I thought about it, the clearer a picture came to me of what their lives must have been like. They went to Jerusalem with Jesus’s village. They went with people they worked and lived in community with to help raise each other’s children. God trusted Mary to raise his Son and Mary trusted her village. I stopped in awe at the insight my 4-year-old son had brought to this story.  

We see another community formed in the name of Jesus in Acts 2:41-47. The first Christians worshipped, evangelized, took care of each other, ate together, rejoiced together, and had all things in common. The result of that was that (vs 47) “the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” It is so easy in our busy lives to compartmentalize family, “church,” work, entertainment—but what would our lives look like if we meshed all of those together?  What if our church was our family, and what if those bonds were woven through all aspects of our life?

What if our church was our family, and what if those bonds were woven through all aspects of our life? Share on X

If we mixed family and church together, the church would look a lot more like family. We do call each other brothers and sisters but do we really have a relationship close enough to really be analogous to that of brothers and sisters? I would say the first century church did. We can only achieve that through engagement with one another. We need to know each other well enough to know our spiritual and physical struggles, not just by sharing them during confession or a prayer request time but because we are living the struggles together, discussing them, supporting one another through them via prayer and spiritual discipleship. When Jesus taught people and discipled them, he took time to break bread with them. Meals are a time of fellowship and conversation when we learn what is going on in each other’s lives. We all need to eat so we might as well do that together, in restaurants or in each other’s homes like family. Today people often live far from their biological families so what a blessing it is that we can raise our children with spiritual aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc., wherever we might be! 

What if we mixed church and work? It might look like putting in a few extra hours of work so we have more to share with a family in our group who is struggling financially (Ephesians 4:28); taking care of a sister’s children so she can work; discipling co-workers and introducing them to the rest of our community to show them Jesus’s love abiding in all of us; hiring a brother or sister to do some extra work to provide for our own. We are not told to work so that we can have enough to build bigger barns or store more in our storage shed. We’re told to work so that we can have enough to give to him who has a need. If that is our motive, our occupation should not be what defines who we are. In our community, we all have a variety of spiritual gifts but the nature of a group also offers a variety of physical skills we can offer one another, whether that be fixing an air conditioner, treating a pet, teaching a child, etc. We are more complete and provided for because we have each other.  

God lays the foundation for rest in the Old Testament at creation. He institutes the Sabbath as a time to stop working and rest in Him. He set aside feast days for his people to rejoice and celebrate their lives and who they were in Him. Likewise, today we all need a rest. We need time to clear our minds from the stresses and trials of life. We need to rejoice together in our successes and rejuvenate one another to continue.  We need to celebrate our unity by gathering frequently and participating in it. We all have hobbies or things we do for entertainment. Do them together! Take a night to gather to eat dinner to celebrate a graduation, promotion, or a new Christian. Make spontaneous invitations to lunch!  The technology and communication of the day makes this easy for us. Every time we gather, for whatever purpose, we have the opportunity to keep or place our minds on spiritual things, to encourage one another, to find out a need, to pray together. It allows our children to be around other children who are being taught to follow the same God and to view other godly role models. Playing a game together, sitting around a fire, or drinking a cup of coffee together fosters the perfect environment for us to invite those outside of Christ to experience the love of our Savior through our kindness, gentleness, and goodness to all men (John 13:35). Jesus’s village even went on a trip together! (Luke 2:42) 

Paul tells the Christians at Colossae to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is… Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3). We can surround ourselves and our children with a people who strive to “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14). We have already been granted the Kingdom of God here on this earth and our Christian villages are a reflection of what we anxiously await (Philippians 3:20). What better way could there be to prepare our children to be disciples for our King?! 

(If you missed Part 1, read it HERE.) 

Parenting with an Eternal Perspective – Part 1: Jesus’s Village

What does it look like to raise my children with an eternal perspective? How do I even do that? Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

This is what I want my children to know, to feel, to believe, to experience; this eternal life that we have already been given. I want them to see it lived in me as I strive to reflect Jesus. However, I am only a piece of the body (1 Corinthians 12:14,27). I can never show them the fullness of Christ on my own. I am flawed, and if I am the only mold they have, they will reflect my flaws. Paul beautifully describes the temple that we are all being built into with Jesus Christ as our Cornerstone “in whom the entire building, tightly framed together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-22). This is the place I want my children to grow! I want them to grow and learn where the Lord is, where He can mold them and shape them into a dwelling place of God through His Spirit!

The world is fallen and is such a difficult place to raise godly children, but thank God, He has given us a better place! We have all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Perhaps there is more truth in this than we have been trained to think. There are so many pressures as moms to get everything right, to be everything your child/children need, to hold it all together, to do it all alone and not ask for help. But, ladies, Jesus is the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17), and He is represented here on this earth as resting in a temple made up of many believers. How can we ever expect to fully represent Him with only ourselves? Paul continues to talk about the believers in Laodicea and says he wants their hearts to be “knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3). We can’t give them true assurance and understanding of God until they see it through our love for one another (John 13:35). I have strengths that I want to pass on to my children, but I also see so many strengths in my children’s village that I would like to be passed on to them as well. I would love for them to have my faithfulness, my husband’s diligence in searching for the truth and righteousness, Katy’s loyalty and enthusiasm for God’s work, Sarah’s patience, Brittany’s kindness, Aunt Carrie’s thoughtfulness, Jerica’s zeal for learning more about God, Alex’s devotion to the Lord’s work, Josh’s and Stefanie’s passion and dedication to the body, and Kim’s and Jeff’s trust and hope in the Lord. There are so many other faithful people they are surrounded by who love them and lead them that I could not name them all. Even if I had all of these characteristics myself (God knows I don’t), how much greater will it impact them to see these qualities in so many familiar faces around them?

I have strengths that I want to pass on to my children, but I also see so many strengths in my children’s village that I would like to be passed on to them as well. Share on X

The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 is one of my favorite passages depicting a godly woman, a model for me and other women to strive for. Sometimes reading through, her example seems nearly impossible to reach, but embedded into the text, we see her village that helps her make everything possible. Clearly, she has her husband, but she also lives in community with her household (which was likely more than just her husband and children)—maidens, merchants, the poor and needy, and her children. She relied on and allowed others to help her provide for her family and in doing so, she provided for not only her family but other families as well, setting an example of and becoming a part of the great love Jesus would display as He humbled himself, even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).

Acknowledging Jesus’s village is not the entirety of raising my children with an eternal perspective, but it would be terribly hard for them to understand the Kingdom of Heaven if they can’t experience it now on earth through a local group of believers.

If you live in Starkville and don’t have a village with whom to raise your children in the Lord, please join us in His work, growing together, learning together, and listening for guidance from the Holy Spirit. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, thought many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). Come be one with us! Send us a message. We would love to connect with you.

More to come in Part 2.