Lent (7 weeks): during the season of Lent we will look at Jesus the Forgiver. We will ask questions like: How does Jesus forgive? Who does Jesus forgive? Who needs to be forgiven? Why does Jesus forgive? Forgiveness plays a central role in the mission of Jesus. Mark records Jesus declaring the very reason he came like this, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In addition to forgiveness being fundamental to why Jesus came, it is what his followers are told by Jesus to proclaim, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
Spring (2 weeks): We will fix our eyes on Jesus’ gentle care for those who are struggling to place their faith in Him.
Winter (7 weeks): We will look at Jesus’ teaching on the practical matters of everyday life. What did Jesus say about money, poverty, marriage, parenting, and how to deal with broken relationships? We will be reminded that he taught “as one with authority” (Matthew 7:28-29). We will seek to surrender our own authority and autonomy to live under Jesus’ authority in communion with him, our spouses, children, and the church.
Advent (5 weeks): During the season of Advent we will ask the great question that hangs over any honest look at Jesus: who then is this (Mark 4:41)? We will look at the beginning of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke to answer the question, and join with Jesus’ mother, Mary, by treasuring what we learn and pondering its mystery (Luke 2:19).
Fall (9 weeks) – Jesus with people
After a two-week introduction to the annual focus theme, we will fix our eyes on Jesus with people. What did he say to them when they were afraid? How did he invite them into his mission? How did he respond to their limitations? We will be instructed by Jesus, the master teacher, and seek to apply everything we learn. In addition, we will examine what Jesus did when the crowds thinned, and he was alone with his Father.
The book of Revelation is a disclosure of history’s final outcome so that believers and the Church may view the present moment in light of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises. The Greek which the author of Revelation (John) uses to describe its contents is apokalypsis from which we get our English word “apocalypse”. The Greek term means “disclosure or unveiling”. In Revelation, we see the unveiling of the Messiah’s return, heaven and earth re-united, and the new creation that finally and completely establishes the Kingdom of God about which Jesus preached.
Due to its prophetic nature and heavy use of symbolism, Revelation has always been a challenge for believers to understand. However, we must remember that all of God’s Word is “profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16). God did not give us a book to confuse us. Rather, though the imagery takes work to unpack, God structured the visions in a clear outline so that every reader could follow the plot line of God’s story till the end of time and into eternity through the repetition of the number “7.” In the Bible seven symbolizes completeness or perfection, as in the seven days of God’s perfect creation. As God brings history to its perfect conclusion, we encounter seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls. Along with an introduction and the conclusion of the whole biblical story, these “sevens” give you handles to grab on to any part of Revelation and know what you are reading. As you read Revelation, look for the repetition of the number 7 and when you encounter it, slow down and consider the symbolism of what comes next.
In the one Book of Revelation, we see God triumph over evil to live with His people forever. God’s story of creation, rebellion, redemption, and new creation with Jesus at the center moves from challenges in the Church to the new creation through evil’s ultimate defeat. We see Jesus at the center of the story for it is only Jesus, portrayed as the lamb who was slain, who is worthy to open the seventh seal of God’s scroll. The wedding feast of Jesus, again represented as the lamb, takes place at the culmination of history at the dawn of the new creation. And it is Jesus to whom the final petition of the entire Bible is addressed, “Amen, come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
The 21 Letters in the New Testament are the explanation and application of the Gospel for the earliest churches and believers. Like letters today, the Bible’s Letters were the personal communication between one person or group and another. Unlike letters today, however, the letters we find in the New Testament contained such clarity in their explanation of the Gospel, and such insight in their application of the Gospel, that people could discern that these were more than human compositions. They understood that in addition to everything that came before in the Old Testament, these too were “breathed out by God” (1 Timothy 3:16). Churches began to circulate the letters, and they were ultimately recognized as the authoritative witness to true life in Christ and life in the church together.
The book of Acts tells the story of how the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed in the Gospels continues to be established through the power of the Holy Spirit by Jesus’ followers on mission in a new historical movement called “The Church.” Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. At the end of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples are instructed to wait in Jerusalem until they are “clothed with power from on high.” In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus’ disciples ask Jesus when the kingdom will be restored to Israel; that is, after all, what all pious Jews in the first century believed the Messiah would do. It is at this point that Jesus informs them that the reason they are waiting in Jerusalem is not so that the kingdom may be restored in Jerusalem, but that from Jerusalem, His Kingdom might reach the whole world, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The disciples had Israel and Jerusalem as its capital on their minds, while Jesus had the end of the earth on His.
The Gospels report the good news that God has come to rescue His people in Jesus Christ. Our English word “gospel” is derived from the Greek word for “an announcement of good news” that was often a royal proclamation about a ruler’s sovereignty over a kingdom. The Gospels announce that Jesus is the world’s True King. They describe what life in His kingdom looks like. They call people to follow Jesus the King through a process called discipleship. They make it clear that discipleship is not a personal matter alone but that all disciples participate in the mission of the King. Disciples do not merely read the Gospels, they become announcers of the gospel themselves by reflecting life in the kingdom in all they do and inviting others to trust Jesus’ Lordship in their lives. The Gospels culminate with Jesus’ death and resurrection. The King takes on all the forces of darkness and chaos that have wrecked humanity since the third chapter of Genesis. The King offers His life on behalf of His people. He defeats evil, sin, and their ultimate consequence, death, through His resurrection so that all who place their lives under His Lordship through faith may live a new life in Him.
The Prophetic Books tell God’s people the truth when they are in danger. They call God’s people to repentance as the only viable option in the face of sin. In the midst of war, national collapse, social breakdown, famine, and all varieties of human sin at its worst, the Prophetic Books proclaim God’s promises and faithfulness. Walter Brueggeman summarizes their message in three words, “Reality, grief, and hope.” These books reveal to God’s people the reality of the painful situation in which they find themselves along with how they arrived at such a desolate place spiritually and physically. They plead with God’s people to grieve over their sin and repent, turning back to God who has never turned from them. Finally, they unwaveringly proclaim the hope that God will restore His people, execute ultimate justice, and defeat their enemies.
The Books of Wisdom and Poetry show God’s people grappling with humanity’s most difficult questions, profoundest longings and highest aspirations. Their content transcends cultures and historical context to deal directly with the concerns of the universal human condition. The Hebrew word for wisdom is connected to the concept of skill. Wisdom has been defined as, “the art of skilled living” (Bruce Waltke). These books were written to instruct people who are struggling to live well, worship well, love well, suffer well, or die well. They reveal a better way, a more prudent way, a wiser way — God’s way.
The Historical Books provide a “God’s eye” perspective on the history of God’s people, Israel. These books span an approximately 1,000-year time period. They cover the history of and provide historical context for everything that follows them in the Old Testament. These books show how God works through ordinary events and how God supernaturally breaks into the natural world. Whether God uses ordinary or extraordinary means, the Historical Books are clear: God is powerfully at work in history for God’s redemptive purposes. Though Israel suffers defeat as it attempts to inhabit the Promise Land, though Israel’s culture spirals downward under the leadership of Judges, though God’s people reject God as their true King, though wicked rulers are enthroned as kings and queens, though foreign armies deport God’s people, though the temple is destroyed and, even when God’s name is not mentioned as Esther attempts to save God’s people in Persian exile, the narrative stresses this point at every turn: this remains God’s story. It is all His-story.
The Hebrew word, “Torah,” literally means “Instruction.” The Torah is instruction for living in God’s world. These instructions include narrative, poetry, and laws. In light of this section of Scripture containing many of God’s commandments, the word “Torah” has also been translated as “Law.” However, while law giving is one theme of the Torah, its contents are much broader than lists of laws. As the first section of books in the Bible, it holds the keys to understanding the Bible as a whole. As a book’s ending often makes sense only in light of its beginning, so the conclusion of the Bible can only be understood if one understands the Torah.