The Greatest Story Ever Told part four

28 Aug

I have been trying to tell the story of the Bible in the last several posts. 

We began before Creation with God. 

Then we looked at the perfect world God made. 

And after that we saw the way Adam rebelled against God and messed everything up. 

It’s tempting to be hard on Adam, but the truth is as we look at our lives, we have all done what Adam did.  We have all said to God, I don’t want you to be my king.  Maybe we haven’t said that with our actual mouths, but we have definitely said it with our lives. 

If you have lied, you have said it.  If you have gotten angry, you have said it.  If you have been selfish, you have said it.  You have all walked out on God, just like Adam did and do you think you can fix it that, you can’t, you can’t.  The truth is, if God left you to yourself, you wouldn’t even really want to fix it because this is what people are like, we are all doing exactly what these people in the first chapters of Genesis were doing and that is running away from God, seeking to be our own god and trying to find ways to keep ourselves from having to do what God tells us and absolutely destroying ourselves, our relationship with Him, our relationship with others, and our relationship with this world as a result.  

The tragedy and the ugliness is that through our rebellion we destroy ourselves, but we can give thanks because the story the Bible tells doesn’t end there, it doesn’t end with that, God stands against sin in judgment, it is true, but he also stands over us in love because He is that kind of God and across the storyline of the Bible, He comes after us, which really us to the third important part of this story. 

CREATION, FALL, REDEMPTION.

You need to understand when man ruined God’s creation, God could have ended it right there.  He had every right to.  But He didn’t. 

Even as He sent them out of the garden, He made a promise that someone descended from this woman Eve would come to put things right and fix what man has broken and the whole rest of the Bible is a story of how exactly God keeps that promise.

Some people actually divide up the Bible this way, in the first part of the Bible God makes promises and in the second part we see God keeping those promises. 

Promises made, promises kept.

This is the part of the sermon that could get kind of long actually because it is most of the Bible, but we can at least try trace some of the highlights real quickly.

We can start with Abraham. 

We see the beginning of this great salvation promise in Genesis 12:1-3 where God chooses a man out of this whole mess of rebellious humanity for Himself.   

This man’s name was Abraham and God makes a promise to Abraham that will shape everything else that happens in the course of history.  He promises to make this man a great nation, to give that nation land, to bless them and through that nation to extend His blessing to everyone else.

The problem with this promise is that it seems really unlikely because Abraham and his wife are very old and they have no children. I think God designed it that way.  There’s no way that Abraham can do this on his own. It seems so impossible that when Abraham’s wife Sarah hears about it, she actually laughs, she thinks it must be a joke, but of course it isn’t.  God is the creator.  He spoke and a universe came into being, and so when he says something will happen it will happen, however impossible it looks to us. 

Which is why, after some ups and downs, and lessons on trusting God, Abraham and Sarah have a son, his name is Isaac, and then that son Isaac has a son named Jacob, and Jacob has a son named Joseph and Joseph is so special to him that even though he is one of his youngest sons, Jacob treats him like he is the eldest.

This makes his brothers mad of course, and so they sell him to a bunch of slave traders, but this doesn’t end up so bad because Joseph becomes a slave to one of the most important men in Egypt, but because Joseph is really good looking, his master’s wife sees that and gets upset with Joseph because he won’t sleep with her, and so she sends Joseph to prison which again seems like really bad news, but it isn’t because in prison Joseph meets someone who knows the Pharaoh and God uses this opportunity to get Joseph to meet the Pharaoh and to be given the job of second in charge of all of Egypt. 

Which is actually an important part of the whole story because back where Jacob and the rest of Joseph’s family was living, there was a famine and this famine is very bad news, because if Joseph’s family dies how would God keep His promise to Abraham to bless the entire world, but of course, God uses the terrible things that happened to Joseph as part of His great salvation plan, because when Jacob’s sons come to Egypt to ask for help, they find their brother Joseph is in charge of handing out the food.

And I am telling you this because it kind of sets the stage for the whole rest of the way that God goes about fixing what man has messed up, while things seem to be spiraling out of control, like they were for Joseph when he was sold into slavery, God is actually right in the middle of that working out His plan to keep His promise.

The way He was doing here with Abraham, He had promised to make Abraham into a great nation and He did, the descendants of Abraham were saved from famine, they came down to Egypt to be with Joseph, and they kept having children, to the point where there finally became so many of them that the Egyptians became scared that they were going to become to powerful, and so the Egyptians start really doing terrible things to them and they end up basically as slaves. Which didn’t seem too good to them and so they cried out to God, and God of course heard them, because He had forgotten His promise and He sends an old man named Moses to free them from slavery, and he does this through a whole series of plagues that were intended to make it clear to everyone that He alone is God, and Pharaoh’s heart is so hard to the idea of God telling Him what to do, that those plagues don’t quite do the trick, and so God ends it with the most serious plague of all, He warns that He is going to come in judgment and strike down every first born in every family in Egypt, which was to be a big reminder of how serious it is to not submit to God’s rule and authority and to act like you were king instead, but even in this judgment God shows mercy and provides a way of escape, telling His people that if they would take a lamb and kill it and then smear its blood on their doorposts, the death of that lamb would be like a substitute for their firstborn child, and when God comes in judgment He would pass over that person’s house.

And so as someone has put it there was a death in every house in Egypt that night, for those that didn’t have any blood on their doors, it was the death of their first born and for those who had smeared the blood of the lamb on the door, God passed over, but there still had been a death, the death of a lamb, and so in the morning when the firstborn children woke up, they knew, they had been kept safe by the blood of the lamb.

And as you can imagine, all of this dying, finally hit Pharaoh hard, and so he let this descendants of Abraham go, God delivered them through all this death, and God brings them to a mountain called Sinai, where He meets with them, where He constitutes them as a nation, the nation of Israel, and He gives them a job to do. 

God has rescued them for a purpose, they are to be part of something bigger He is doing in the world, they are to be a nation and they are to be a kingdom that functions, works, like priests and their role is to be the means through which God spreads His blessing to all the nations of the world and to serve as a model, attracting all peoples to God. 

They were to be like a showcase or a model before the nations, showing everyone the beauty of God’s original design for life.

But the whole nation failed and they failed big time.

Even a nation of people couldn’t fix the universe.

In fact, the Israelites were failing from this beginning, even at this moment, when Moses came down from meeting with God to tell them all of this, they had already turned from God to do what Adam and Eve did, to worship an idol, to worship a god of their own making, and not too long after that, when God brings them to the land He had promised them, they won’t trust Him enough to actually do what He says, and so there in what the Bible calls the wilderness, they fail to overcome temptation and they are judged as a result and God condemns the whole adult generation who had been rescued from Egypt to die, but He doesn’t give up on His promise and brings their children into the land He had promised forty years later and once God kept His promise through Joshua and brought them into the land, it only takes one generation for them to walk out on God again and go their own way and try to rule over their own life and destroy pretty much everything in the process, and this all comes to a climax where they actually come to God’s representative at the time, a man whose name was Samuel and they say to him that they want to be like all the other nations, and have a king over them, which was just another of saying the same thing men had been saying all along and that is God, in spite of all your goodness, in spite of all your mercy, we don’t you to be our king, but what’s so amazing about God is that even in the middle of this rebellion, He is steadily working on His great salvation plan, and so He raises up a king for His people whose name was David, and for a while David is a great king and you think he might be the PROMISED ONE, but then he too turns his back on God’s rule, but while David and everyone else are turning their back on God, God doesn’t turn His back on them and so He makes David a promise in a book called 2 Samuel, chapter 7, that one of His descendants, a king in David’s line will be the one the world is waiting for, the one through whom God will fix everything.

But what you can see is how God’s rescue plan keeps getting clearer and more specific, it will be the seed of a woman, a descendant of Abraham, of the nation of Israel, and one in the line of David. 

We are also getting more insights into how this salvation plan of God is going to work out, this PROMISED ONE, will come to rule as an eternal King.

And what’s amazing is that in spite of this gracious display of mercy, after David, things in Israel again go from bad to worse.  David’s son, Solomon builds a beautiful temple, a new kind of garden of Eden you might say, for God’s people to meet with Him, but Solomon ends up walking out on God and turning to foreign Gods instead, and his son Rehoboam is so foolish that splits the nation in two. 

From this time on, the two halves of the nation have their own kings, and neither one does a good job of being a showcase to the nations of God’s glory.  They have problems in their relationship with each other, with God, they push God’s patience to the limit, God in His grace sends prophet after prophet telling them to repent and turn to Him, but they harden their hearts, and God judges them by expelling them from the land.

This gets the people’s attention, but it doesn’t so much cause them to question themselves but God and God’s faithfulness to His promises.  God I thought you said you were going to fix the world through us?  What happened to your great salvation plan?  Have you given up for good?  We know of course that He hasn’t, and He sends prophets to tell the Israelites so, and what they tell the Israelites is that God’s great salvation plan is bigger than they could ever possibly imagine and they explain the plan more and more specifically, especially the prophet Isaiah; who describes the coming eternal King as being like a servant, and that this coming servant King, “will do the sorts of things that only God can do.  He will once and for all rescue the people from exile,” restore their relationship with God, with each other, and with all of creation as well.  

What Adam failed to do, what Noah failed to do, what Moses failed to do, what Israel failed to do, He would do perfectly and completely.

And so by the end of the first part of the Bible, which we call the Old Testament, though Israel has finally been allowed to return to their homeland, they are living their under the rule of foreigners, and as a result, this nation God’s chosen to be the means through which He would bless the world, this nation Israel is waiting, desperately waiting for God to send the Servant King and keep His promise and make things right fixing what man has broken.   

“During this time,” one man explains, “Israel continues to believe that they are God’s chosen people and that God will act in the very near future to make things right in the universe.  Under the oppression of the Persians, Greeks, and especially the Syrians and the Romans, the flame of hope ignited in Jewish hearts is fanned into a raging inferno.  How God will do this, who will do it, and how they should live until he does it, on these things there was much difference among the Israelites at the time, but they all agreed that He would do it, and so they waited, they waited in hope.

They waited for about four hundred years, just about the same amount of time they were in Egypt before the Exodus, actually.  And just when you might have thought it was time to give up hope, God steps in once again, and raises up this prophet named John who wears funny clothes and eats strange food and lives out in the desert and tells everyone that he meets how they need to get ready because God is about to keep His promise and send the Servant who would be the means through which God fixes everything that was broken in the world.

And after being baptized by John, this man who people thought was the son of a carpenter named Jesus, stepped up and said, that it was Him. He said that in Him, the kingdom of God had come.  He claimed to be the one who would crush the head of Satan, the king who would rule over God’s people perfectly, the final answer to the problems in the universe.  And throughout His life He does what no one else in the history of the universe has been able to do, He submits Himself completely to God the Father’s rule.  He obeys God perfectly even when tested by Satan.  He showcases in Himself what it look like when a man lives in absolute trusting dependence on God’s Word.  What’s more, however He not only shows us this, throughout His life He demonstrates what it is like for us as men when God is king, by defeating demons, curing sickness, and even overcoming death itself. 

All these things that Jesus was doing, it caused people to ask questions, and if you read the gospels, you will see even his own followers looking at him and asking, who exactly is this man?  And throughout it is as if Jesus keeps asking them, are you serious, don’t you actually recognize me?  Who do you know that has power over the sea, and can feed people from nothing, and who can forgive sins, and bring the dead to life?  Finally, as he is about to leave, the disciples say, show us the Father and Jesus says straight up, If you have seen me, you have seen Him!

Which is absolutely huge, because here we have men breaking God’s good creation, and then hardening their hearts to pretty much every time God reaches out to them with grace, and what does God do, God steps in, God the Father sends God the Son to actually become one of us, and here’s what is so tragic, because when God does that, do you know what men do?  How do they respond to this astounding act of grace?  They hate God’s authority so much that even when God comes to the people He’s been preparing years and years for this moment in their hour of greatest need, they reject Him and they end up turning on Him so violently that they crucify Him on the cross. 

But of course once again, if we have been following the way in which God has been working his salvation plan out so far, it’s no surprise to us that God is able even in the midst of man’s terrible rebellion to accomplish exactly what the good thing was planning to do in the first place which was to provide an actual solution to the problems man had created. 

You see, God’s not going to simply put a band-aid on the mess man’s created, He’s going to fix it completely and make it something better.

The reason the disciples and pretty much everyone else were surprised when this man they thought was the Messiah the Old Testament promised was crucified because they imagined him fixing the problems people had in their relationship with the world and in their relationship with one another first and quickly, but what they didn’t seem to realize was that God before could fix all of that, He had to provide a solution to a deeper and more significant problem and that was the problem in their relationship with Him.

For God to be a just judge, He has to punish sin. 

God would not be a good God if He overlooked sin and said it was o.k. 

He would be evil Himself.

He can’t just say I forgive it without doing something about it.

And so what He did was send His own Son in to this world to live a perfect life and die a death He didn’t deserve on the cross so that He could act as a substitute for guilty repentant sinners who submit their lives to Him and take the punishment they deserve for the sins they committed.  

God the Father takes His anger and pours out His wrath and judgment on the sins of those would put their faith in Jesus on Him on the cross.

This is really the heart of the good news the Bible proclaims. There are many passages in the Bible which explain this. 

1 Peter 3:18 is one.  “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God…”

2 Corinthians 5:21 is another.  “For our sake, He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Galatians 3:13 and 14 is one more.  “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles…”

But at first, of course the disciples don’t get it.  They so in their minds had God fixing their problems one way that they didn’t get it when Jesus died.  They were so sure that Jesus was the Messiah that God sent to crush evil once and for all and restore things to how they were meant to be right then, that they didn’t have place for that Messiah ending up murdered. 

But then, on Sunday, three days after Jesus died, some of them went to the tomb and Jesus wasn’t there.  And a short while after that, He shows up, having defeated death, and he takes them back to the Scriptures and shows them all the promises that they had been missing, and that absolutely changed everything for them.  They go from having no clue to what’s going on, to understanding God’s great plan so clearly and they begin taking the message out, explaining that it’s actually through Jesus’ death on the cross that God is beginning to accomplish His great plan to recover a lost and broken world because it is there on the cross that Jesus took the sin and brokenness of the world on himself so that the world might be healed, he took the punishment guilty sinners deserved, so that they might be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with God. 

And so they go out with what must have seemed like a crazy message at first to the world, that this crucified Jewish man was actually also God and that He was the hope of the entire universe and that He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises about the coming Universal and Eternal King, but they were not ashamed or embarrassed about that message because they had seen Him risen from the dead and they knew that his defeat of death was only the beginning, it was evidence of a new day dawning and they take this message out with no thought to their own life, because before Jesus went into heaven to sit at the right hand of God, He commanded them that they were to go into all the world and proclaim His lordship and to make disciples of all men until He returns.

And to help them do that, God the Father sends God the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit comes in an explosive way, enabling them to get a taste of the future restoration God has in plan, where God fixes the language barrier that divides us as humans and they are able to speak and proclaim the message in many different languages.  He affirms that the apostles and prophets are really speaking God’s Word through miracles and healings and the ability to cast out demons.  And most of all, He saves people through the proclamation of the gospel and transforms them and makes them part of the church. 

The early believers begin to see that God’s plan is bigger than just Jews and they start taking the gospel out to the ends of the earth, probably no one playing a bigger role in doing that than a former persecutor of the church named Saul whose name was changed to Paul, and Paul goes on three journeys throughout the Roman Empire, founding churches and then goes on to write a number of letters back to those churches to help them know how to live for God until Jesus returns.  These letters continue to shape our lives today, helping us know how to wait for our Savior and Lord as well.

Because He will return. 

That’s part of the promise.  

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