Heavenly Treasures in Familiar Stories
BY MARK MEYNELL
One of the biggest challenges for preachers the world over, especially if listeners have been believers for many years, is our over-familiarity with the Scriptures. That is especially true of the gospel accounts of Jesus’s ministry, or perhaps favourite passages in Paul’s letters. We think we’ve heard it all before – we know the stories, we know how it will end. For example, if asked to retell the Parable of the Good Samaritan, many people could give a reasonable account without even turning to Luke 10. And so we don’t think we need to listen very carefully. We just switch off.
So what should a preacher do to prevent snoring in row fifteen!?
Preachers use all kinds of tactics – but not all are helpful or edifying! That is because many of them actually distract people away from the Scriptures and onto the preacher, rather than helping us to see the treasure on the page for ourselves. For the truth is that even with the most familiar of bible stories, there are surprises in the text. It’s simply a matter of reading the passage a little more closely, and a little more patiently. Too many of us are impatient when it comes to bible reading! The result is that we read what we think the writer has written, instead of what the writer actually wrote.
Whether we preach or not, one way to slow our reading down is to ask various questions of a passage. My key question of any text (especially those I am already familiar with) is ‘what is surprising here?’ Or to put it another way, ‘how would it be different if I had written it?’ In essence, asking good questions in order to understand the Bible better lies at the very heart of What Angels Long To Read. In that respect it is useful for any serious bible reader, whether involved in preaching or not. It is all about being sensitive to what is actually written.
For example, when Jesus questions the lawyer after telling the Good Samaritan parable, he does not ask what we expect him to ask. He doesn’t ask ‘who was the neighbour in the story?’ He asks the more politically charged question, ‘who was neighbourly in the story?’ The lawyer cannot even bring himself to utter the word Samaritan. Instead, he can only mumble back, ‘the one who had mercy.’ That surprise actually opens the whole story up to some real challenges in application.
By splitting the New Testament into its four key literature genres – gospel narrative, parable, letters, apocalyptic (in the Book of Revelation) – What Angels Long To Read seeks to deepen and enrich all bible reading, and consequently preaching. That way, we can always expect to find heavenly treasure even in the passages we thought we knew well.
Buy What Angels Long to Read today for more insights from Mark on the hidden treasures of New Testament Scriptures.
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