Matt picked up a new bible study leading technique at work a few weeks ago and we have been trying it with our fellowship group. We have been teaching the bible through story telling. It’s been a process of internalizing the passage before the bible study and then re-telling it to our group in a culturally relevant and interesting way – but without any embellishment!
It’s worked so far – mainly because we have been studying narratives in Genesis and Luke (I can imagine it would be much harder to do with Psalms, prophets or epistles!). Also it’s helped a lot in our group because we can build definitions of words and concepts into the stories, which cuts out the time we normally spend picking through all the obscure words in the passage trying to find Mandarin words to explain them!
The idea behind all this is that most of us learn seem things better when they are spoken or presented to us rather than read. But don’t worry – we’re not rewriting the bible as we go! It stays open before us while we tell the story and there is still lots of cross referencing throughout our discussions to stop us saying anything heretical!
This weekend we studied the first chapter of Luke, and this is approximately how I told it:
About 2000 years ago, in the nation of Israel, there was an old preist called Zechariah. He had a wife named Elizabeth. She was old too. They were both very good people who trusted the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth couldn’t have any.
This story starts when it was time for Zechariah’s group of priests to go to Jerusalem and serve at God’s temple. The priests tossed a coin to see which one of them would go to offer insence to God at the alter and Zechariah was chosen. Hundreds of people waited outside, praying, while Zechariah went in. As he offered up the incense an angel appeared beside the altar!
Zechariah was freaked out! But the angel said:
“Don’t be scared. Your wife – Elizabeth – she’s going to have a baby! You can call him John. He’s going to make you both so happy. And he will make lots of other people happy too.
“This child is going to be important in God’s eyes. (Don’t let him drink any wine!). He’s going to be filled with the Holy Spirit – even befroe he is born, even in Elizabeth’s womb. He is going to turn Israel’s attention back to God. He is going to make parents love their children. He is going to make disobediant people wise. He is going to do things just like the great prophet Elijah. He is going to prepare Israel for the Lord!”
But Zechariah was confused. “How can that happen? I’m really old! Elizabeth can’t have children!”
“I’m Gabriel!!” The angel replied. “I stand before God!! I have come to give you this amazing news and you don’t believe me! Fine. You won’t be able to talk at all until these things I have said happen.”
Meanwhile the people outside were getting worried because Zechariah had been inside for so long. They wondered where he was. When Zechariah finally appeared, they realised he couldn’t talk! He made signals with his hands, trying to communicate, and the people realised: he had seen something amazing in there.
When Zechariah had finished serving at the temple he went back home. And he and Elizabeth fell pregnant.
Elizabeth stayed alone for the first five months of her pregnancy, saying to herself:
“The Lord has taken away my shame!”
I just wrote that up then, without my bible in front of me. Please go and cross check it with an actually bible if this passage raises any questions!
Anyway, the reason I wanted to post this particular passage up was because it reminded me of something amazing.
God uses this very special embryo, who later grows up to be John the Baptist, to completely turn around the fortunes of Israel. John brings repentance and hope to Israel, he paves the way for Jesus, Jesus does his thing and then life, justice and joy come to everyone – not just Israel but the whole world! In this story you see the beginning of God’s most amazing and grand gesture of love to the human race.
And then there is Elizabeth, old and faithful. She has lived, loved and served a long time but with no children. She would have been an outcast in her own community – living as a barren elderly woman would have been awfully shameful. But this story shows God’s amazing love and care for her. He hears the prayers of Elizabeth and Zechariah and intervenes lovingly into their lives. Her story ends with a ray of hope – her life of shame is drawing to a close!
I love this story because it speaks so powerfully of God’s love for all people and God’s love for individual people. It’s awesome.