This is a bit long, but I encourage you to keep reading to the end.
There is a story of four young Jewish Yeshiva students, (Jewish seminary). One afternoon in a study session, one student gave a book to one of the men asking him to take a look and “Tell us what you think.”
Later that night, curious of the book, in eagerness, he sat down and opened to Genesis 1:1. He started to read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Pause). “What?” he thought. He read it again “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Excited, he stood up, exclaiming, “NO!” And continues, “God’s not finished!” And closed the book!
You see, in the ancient writings, originally there were no chapters – no verses and no punctuation. According to Hebrew thought (and method) they never paused until the complete thought was finished, they read to the edge of the story. The book handed to this young man was the English version of the bible, The King James.
The very first verse is just part of a story. That story is part of a bigger story – the historical story of God. We often read, pause, or stop before the whole of a particular story is in sight. Or we come to a famous or familiar portion of scripture, so familiar that with a “Oh I know this part” we run our finger down and turn the page.
I want to offer; in our familiarity we may be missing some very key elements to the story.
One example is 1 Samuel 17, David and Goliath. We all know the story, we’ve heard it, we’ve seen it played out on the flannelgraph board. Younger brother comes into camp. He hears the noise out front. He is told the battle line has been drawn. The Philistines’ biggest warrior awaits one of the Israelites to come fight him. David volunteers. The king offers his armor. Young David tries it on. Too awkward. Taking it off, he goes with what he knows best. Gathering stones, carrying his staff and sling. He and Goliath have words – he runs at the giant of a man. Swirling and releasing his sling, the stone struck Goliath in the forehead and down he went. YAY! Great story! Turn the page. But.
The story isn’t over. Keep reading. It says David ran over, taking Goliath’s sword and cut off his head. It was here, the narrative says the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they turned and ran (v51). From their perspective they may have only seen the lil guy throw something at Goliath but taking his head off – he was dead – bad dead. He was not getting up from THAT!
Another example of reading beyond the familiar. We fast forward to the NT – Mark chapter 4. Jesus and the disciples are on the shore of Galilee. Jesus tells the guys, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” They load up and head out. At some point Jesus lays down and falls asleep. A huge storm hits the lake. The disciples wake Jesus up rather excitedly. Jesus rebukes the wind and says to the waves. “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. YAY! Great story! Turn the page. But. The story isn’t over. It reads that the guys were filled with great fear. The narrative says the disciples weren’t afraid of the storm – they were overwhelmed with great reverence and respect for – Jesus. Asking each other “WHO IS THIS?” The wind and waves obey Him (v41). They had underestimated Him. Jesus had their attention.
We read the story of Christmas. Found in both Matthew and Luke. We know this story as well – very well. Both Mary and Joseph are told great things, divine things through angelic visits. In short (but not belittled) – Mary, although never being with a man, would become pregnant, conceived of the Holy Spirit. This baby boy would “save the people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21) At one point, Joseph, and Mary head to Bethlehem for the national census. There are some housing issues. Once settled, the baby, who is to be called Jesus, is born.
Luke chapter 2 tells of the shepherds living in the fields taking care of the sheep. They too get angelic declarations. An angel appears declaring good news, for “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (2:11) The shepherds are told what to look for, the wrapped baby laying in a manger. Then the backup singers appear, angels singing God’s praises, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” (v14) When the angels exit, so do the shepherds, excited, they go and find Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus. As they do, they tell any and all who will listen what they were told. YAY! Great story! Turn the page.
We tend to stop here. We close the book and head to Christmas dinner or begin ripping the presents open. But the story isn’t over. Keep reading. All who heard what the Shepherds reported hearing were amazed. Then v19, this verse is challenging, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” This young gal took all that has been said to her, Joseph and now the shepherds and treasured them. What do you do with a treasure? A truly valuable treasure? You guard it!
The Jewish people were (are) a storytelling culture. From a noticeably young age, they are told the story of God and of their people. From the very beginning when Adam and Eve were in the Garden – where mankind broke relationship with their God. Throughout many, many generations God used prophets, law and the lives of people to tell His story – the story of restoring relationship. May I point out, the excitement of the shepherds sharing with the people wasn’t what they saw, although spectacular – it was what they heard! When the angel declared to the shepherds “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Lk 2:11) there were keywords used, these Jewish shepherds didn’t miss it! What they heard, slipped into the ongoing story line, and fit perfectly.
Savior is referenced as one who rescues, a Rescuer. Christ is the Anointed One, the Messiah, the One they had been waiting for – the answer! And Lord, (Kurios) was the word the Greek-speaking Hebrews used for God. In essence, the angel’s addition to the story was saying; You’ve been told all your life, the Jewish people were waiting to be rescued, the Messiah, the Answer – is God Himself. And it’s happened!
The angelic choir too adds to the story, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace…” Peace. Biblical peace isn’t just the lack of conflict; it is the presence of the rightness of God. It literally means (Eirene in Greek) “to set at one again.” Conveying that once something was upright, but has toppled over (chaos, strife is the result) but when righted and set at one again – peace. Mankind broke relationship with God through sin – God has just sent the answer – His Son Jesus (more historical story to come). Peace isn’t a concept or a feeling, peace is a person.
Mary took ALL this and she pondered it. Her pondering isn’t mere tucking it away and thinking on it now and then. The word Luke uses conveys “putting together.” She connected all the dots. She lined it all up. When all strung together – all the pieces (so far*) fit. Each piece has beauty in itself. But what a glorious bigger story. There is evidence we see later of her pondering. Jesus is a grown man. He, Mary and the disciples are at a wedding. Remember when Jesus turns the water into wine? Mary tells the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (Jn 2:5). These are the last recorded words of Mary.
Such confidence in the fitted pieces of God. Jesus.
This is an excerpt of the message I recently shared with the women of our church. I challenged us, first, when reading our bibles, don’t stop or skim over the famous or familiar parts, keep reading beyond to the edge of the story. The same Holy Spirit that inspired the writers, inspires we the readers – invite Him to read with us. And second, as we are in this Christmas season, may we truly treasure the bigger story, ponder, keep putting together the great God stuff – be in awe of Him – God’s gracious, loving restoring of relationship, “Today in the town of David a Savior is born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” May our mindset and our last recorded words be the same as pondering Mary – “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
In Him, DeDe (“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love & good deeds.” – Hebrews 10:24)
*I say “so far” because we know, Jesus had yet to die and resurrect from the dead – a HUGE element yet to be added to the bigger story.