Have you ever noticed how much your expectations impact your experience? When it comes to movies, I’m extremely hard to please—which can be annoying to my friends. I have high expectations and have reached the conclusion that most movies produced today are not worth my time or money. However, I’ve found that my enjoyment of a movie can be increased by reading good reviews beforehand. A good movie reviewer can increase my expectations by pointing out subtle complexities that I would likely miss on my own. The knowledge that more is going on than meets the eye increases my enjoyment of the movie.
Something similar happens when we read the Bible. If you approach the Bible as any other book, your experience will be limited by that expectation. I think about this often during the Christmas season when I read the birth narratives of Christ—stories I’ve probably read hundreds of times. It seems fair to question the benefit of re-reading these familiar stories. At this point, many of us can finish the lines. We’ve memorized the gifts the wise men brought and have a picture in our minds of Mary wrapping the baby Jesus is swaddling cloths and lying him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. Why do we keep reading? Wouldn’t it be better to focus on something a little less familiar?
Here’s where we need to remind ourselves that God’s Word is not like anything else. It’s “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). It’s a living Word because it’s the Word of a living God. God accomplishes his actions in the world through his Word. When he created the universe, he did so by speaking. When he saves sinners, causing them to be born again, he does so “through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Jesus came as the Word, who was with God and was God and is God (John 1:1). When we meet God, we do so through his Word. When we read the Bible, we are not merely reading words that God spoke long ago; we are encountering God here and now. If you are in Christ, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (Romans 10:8).
When you hear a sermon or read the Bible, you have a choice. You can approach it like any other manmade book, or you can mimic the Thessalonians who “accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). It’s your choice, but the way you choose to go will greatly impact the outcome. If it’s just another book, you will be missing faith—the one requirement enabling you to meet God there.
What does this mean practically? It means that when Jesus addresses a particular person in the Bible, he is at the same time addressing every sinner, man or woman. When Mary is initially troubled and fearful at the news from the angel that she is going to conceive a baby who will be called “the Son of the Most High,” it’s right to place ourselves beside her, even in her role. Like Mary, we too do not fully understand all that God is doing in the world. Like Mary, we too know the experience of fear in response to what God calls us to do. However, we can also know what it means to be called “favored one” due to our relationship to the baby in Mary’s womb.
The Bible does not present the dialogues and encounters with Jesus as mere examples for us to emulate. When God through Christ addresses one particular sinner at one particular point in history, he is addressing every other sinner at the same time. When Christ blesses Mary, he is simultaneously blessing all who, like Mary, cling to his promises by faith. In this sense, there is no historical distance separating us from the nativity scene. Through the Word of God, we were there and are there. Those utterances belong to us equally. They are living and active. God did not just speak at some point in history. God continues to speak today. The only question left to answer is: will you hear him?