Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Story of God | Creation, Crisis, Covenant, Christ, Church, (New) Creation


What is the Story of God?



A Hindu scholar of world religions once said to Lesslie Newbigin:

I can't understand why you missionaries present the Bible to us in India as a book of religion. It is not a book of religion  and anyway we have plenty of books of religion in India. We don't need any more! I find in your Bible a unique interpretation of universal history, the history of the whole creation and the history of the human race. And therefore a unique interpretation of the human person as responsible actor in history. That is unique. There is nothing else in the whole religious literature of the world to put alongside it.

Ever wondered what the point of the Bible is? Does it make any sense? And if so, how is Jesus the one who helps connect the beginning and end? 

Key questions to consider as you see the story develop are:

(1) Who is God?
(2) What is God doing?
(3) Who am I in the story?
(4) How would my life be changed if I believed this story about 
God, humanity, and the world?

The Story of God Helps Us Understand His Love
and His Kingdom Mission for His People and His Creation


Act 1: Creation

 

Emmaus City Story of God Act 1 Symbol Creation Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities

What would life on earth look like for us if we lived the way God created life to be good, right, and perfect? 

The story begins with God, the holy Creator and King who came and spoke the universe into existence by His Word. His Spirit was present with all that He made. In reflection of the Creator God being good, right, and perfect, everything He created was good, right and perfect. He made outer space surrounding the earth, the sky above and the sea around the earth, and the land and plants on the earth. And then He did wonderful work to fill these places. He spoke stars and planets into existence to fill space, birds and fish to fill the sky and sea, and animals to fill the land and help spread out the life and plants. And it was all beautiful and good. Then He made humanity, the crown of His creation, by breathing into them His very own life. He formed a man and woman, diverse and unified, to reflect His own image. And then He rested from His very good work. And before the man and woman did anything for Him, He graciously blessed them. In resting in their identity in Him, they then learned to work well in His creation. There was family, food, and work. The holy Creator God and King walked with them like a good Father for this first family, and as a generous King He gave them wonderful responsibility to rule the land and animals with Him in His Kingdom mission for the earth. He placed the first humans inside a garden at the center of His creation and called this family of husband and wife to receive knowledge from Him in how to give life to everything around them. They were to make the world flourish by working and resting as they spread the glory of God and the beauty of His garden temple to the ends of the earth. They were to work like He did by being creative, making more image bearers to fill the earth, cultivating the potential of the earth, and ruling the garden and animals with understanding, authority, and care. The relationships between God and His family, between the man and woman, and between the humans and the creation were all very good in the garden. The man and woman trusted the Word of God. Their lives were a song, full and wholly good in working, ruling, playing, and resting like God. God dwelt among them and His glory filled the garden with the humans and creation. God was with humanity and everything was very good.

Creation Scriptures Genesis 1-2; John 1:1-5Genesis 5:1-2Psalm 90:17Isaiah 40:28Psalm 24:1; Deuteronomy 10:14Psalm 19:1-7; Psalm 47:6-8; Psalm 74:12; Psalm 90:17Psalm 148


Act 2: Crisis 


Emmaus City Story of God Act 2 Symbol Rebellion Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities

If God created us and the earth good, right and perfect, why is there so much evil, self-destruction, and brokenness in us and around us? 

After a period of time of walking with God, receiving life from Him, and doing good work that flourished in His ways, humanity chose to break relationship with God as Creator, Father, and King and chose to irresponsibly rule in their own way by taking instead of receiving and giving. They stopped trusting God's Word and walking in His ways with Him. In ungratefulness for all that He provided them, the man and woman chose to take knowledge and life in a different way than God had given them to receive. Rather than trusting God’s good reign and relationship with them, this first family chose to turn away from God and turn to God's enemy, listening to the evil one's slippery lie of twisting God's words into meaning that serving themselves would bring them life instead of death, and that this life separate from God would be better for them instead of loving God and each other, and continuing in their good work and responsibility of ruling God's Kingdom with Him on earth. The consequences were personal and far reaching as the man and woman, named Adam and Eve, invited ungratefulness, entitlement, and separation into every crevice of their life and the world. Family was fractured. Food became more scarce. Work became toil. Instead of filling their relationships and responsibilities with goodness and love, they felt the emptying impact of sin's shame and blame-shifting, and ran away from their relationship with God and responsibility before Him by hiding. The entire creation fell under the shadow of death, corruption, and destruction. Sin, like a parasite, entered into God’s good world as death began to eat away at everything. God, the Rescuer and Righteous Judge, moved on behalf of humanity and the earth by cursing the enemy and promising that there would be a future promised One who would crush the evil one. But the holy Creator God and King who loved them like a Father, in keeping His Word that if they chose to not believe Him that they would die, had to make these broken humans leave His holy presence in His temple garden so they would not be consumed by His perfect justice. On their way out, He covered them in animal skins to cover their shame and nakedness. Relationship with God and each other, and responsibility to work the gift of creation, would now be fractured and difficult because humanity chose their selfish pride over God's self-giving peace. History began to spiral into increasing hardship, violence, greed, poverty, erosion, and disrepairThe first child of this now broken world committed murder. And the taking of life multiplied. The fear of death was everywhere and sin crouched, attacked, and sought to rule over humans instead of having them serve God as King and working together to bless and fill the earth as His good co-heirs. More and more, humanity chose to manage good and evil in their own ways instead of by God's words and instruction, doing what was right in their own eyes and taking from God, each other, and the earth instead of receiving and giving. They continued shamefully focusing on making and taking a name for themselves, and they became more and more irresponsible in warping the purposes of family, community, art, and vocation, which in turn led to increasing evil and death. God the Creator, King, and Righteous Judge, sought to cleanse the world of this great wickedness including all of humanity. But He had grace on one man named Noah, who walked with God in close relationship, which in turn led the way to the salvation of this man's whole family, creation, and the world. Noah listened to God's Word in relationship with God, did responsible work for God, his family, and creation, and saw God begin again His Kingdom mission after the cleansing of the world.

Crisis Scriptures | Romans 5:12; Ecclesiastes 9:3Genesis 3, 4:6-1216-246:5; Romans 1:19-32Deuteronomy 9:2432:6Psalm 14:2-351:5Isaiah 59:2Jeremiah 17:922:1-17Ezekiel 22; Matthew 15:19; Luke 6:45Romans 3:23Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:56; Revelation 12:9; 1 Peter 5:8Genesis 6:8-13Genesis 9:1-38-17


Act 3: Covenant 

 

Emmaus City Story of God Act 3 Symbol Promise Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities

Does God desire to step in and restore what we have broken and ravaged? 

Despite continuing to choose their own ways over His again and again, God pursued humanity with mercy and justice. God the Provider, the Promise-Maker, and Promise-Keeper, made generous covenants, promising to intervene and graciously bless humanity again so that humanity would be with Him and work together with Him to bless the world. He told Adam and Eve that He would defeat the evil one, sin, and death with a promised One in the human line. He would not destroy creation, but would restore it and make it fruitful and multiply like He promised Noah and his family. He would bring a solution to the problem of sin and death that was infecting His good creation through blessings that would create a relationship between Him and people from all nations. After Noah died, in His grace-filled love for humanity despite them choosing to not fill the earth and instead build a tower for their own names, God chose to call and bless a family again, led by a man named Abram, telling him and his family to go, multiply, fill the land with His glory, and demonstrate and declare His goodness and grace throughout the earth. God told Abram, who He renamed Abraham, which means father of many nations, that He would make Abraham's family as numerous as the stars and make the land his family cared for flourish like a bountiful garden. In being blessed by receiving this covenant promise from God, this household was to bless and give to people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. Abraham's family became a nation of people called Israel, and God, the Redeemer and Rescuer, brought them from out of slavery in Egypt and brought them into relationship with Him, calling them to be a kingdom of priests who were to bless every nation throughout the world by taking on the responsibility of demonstrating and declaring the good ways of God in relation to Him, each other, and all of creation. He gave them His Word of life in the law and called them to follow it to show what humanity on earth was intended to be in relationship with Him and in responsibility for the world. Families were blessed, food was provided, and work was valued. He dwelt with His people in all His glory in a tabernacle, which was created by His direction, and Spirit-fueled work in chosen people. The tabernacle was modeled to resemble the Garden of Eden and the entire cosmos, showcasing His continued purpose to walk with mankind and make the earth His Kingdom's dwelling place. He taught the people how to provide pure sacrifices like a firstborn spotless lamb that would remind them that life was in the blood He gave them, that their sin caused death to creation, and that their sin needed to be covered and removed from them and the earth so that they could continue to be with Him. The high priest did this for the people before entering into the Holy of Holies to show that humanity's place was with God when their sin was paid for and removed. Celebration meals involved recognizing their freedom from slavery, death passing over them when blood was marked on their doors, and the firstfruits and fulfillment of the harvest. These happened yearly, and forgiveness of debts and giving to the foreigner were also part of these great celebrations in recognition of how God forgives debts and welcomes the foreigner and the poor. But even with God and His glory and power dwelling with them on the earth, the people were stubborn and rebellious and soon rejected their relational identity to Him and the responsibility He gave them for the world even after He redeemed and rescued them. They fell back into putting themselves before anyone or anything else, including the sojourner and foreigner even though they were once the same in Egypt. And they took advantage of the poor, the weak, the orphaned, and the widowed among them, and misused creation instead of cultivating it. They continued to selfishly do what was right in their own eyes. However, even when they didn't listen to God and rebelled, He still pursued them as a Father lovingly seeks his lost son or daughter and rescued them over and over again from their destructive ways. He even gave them the promised land of flourishing He told Abraham about, and He gave them a good king in King David and a wise king in his son, King Solomon, to provide glimpses of what God's Kingdom and good rule could be like on earth. King Solomon built a temple even greater and more beautiful than the tabernacle where God came to dwell with them in His glory. The surroundings of His Holy of Holies in the temple were also created to look like the Garden of Eden and the cosmos in design and purpose. But future kings continually forgot God's relational promises and responsible commands, and fell into repetitive destructive habits until eventually God let them turn themselves over to their desires for lesser idols and often horrific lusts involving sexual abuse, greed, violence, and even child sacrifice outside the walls of their city. They rejected God and His Kingdom reign, and were enslaved by other kingdoms and gods. The temple was destroyed and the people were taken captive in exile by other harsh and abusive nations. Throughout all of this time, even in the midst of their slavery, rebellion, and exile, God continued to provide faithful men and women who called the people to repent and turn back to God's ways. These priests, judges, kings, and prophets reminded the people to remember what God had said in order that they might hope for the day when He would graciously come to dwell with them in close relationship again and free them to obey His life-giving commands. The prophets said that God would write His law on their hearts so that they could obey Him, and that God would give them His Holy Spirit so that they would walk in His steps. The prophets also spoke of a promised anointed One called the Messiah who would suffer as a servant and die for them, but also raise up and bring God's mighty Kingdom. God continued to hold to His Word that He would atone for His people and forgive them, that He would gather His people from all nations, removing the deceitful, wicked, and selfish from the land, that He would bring His Kingdom's justice to the oppressed, and that He would restore all of creation to be good and bountiful again under His loving reign. But after a period of time, only some remembered the covenant promises and the promised anointed One.

Covenant Scriptures | Genesis 3:159:1-38-1712:1-51517:1-9; Exodus 4:22-2312:1-2819:5-622:21-2223:6-12, 31:1-11, 35:30-35; Leviticus 26:9Deuteronomy 11:8-2815:1-1128; 302 Samuel 7:8-16; 2 Chronicles 7Isaiah 42:1-710-1252-5355:3-662:2-410-12; Jeremiah 23:331:31-3432:37-41; Ezekiel 36:23-3837:24-28Zechariah 8:1-820-23Isaiah 66:1-222-23Psalm 6796


Act 4: Christ 

 

Emmaus City Story of God Act 4 Symbol Redemption Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities

How does God return to fulfill His promises and rescue, redeem, and restore us and His creation?

God sent Jesus Christ – the "Yes" and "Amen" to all His covenant promises – to save His people from their sins. Jesus came to the earth as the Word of God made flesh, and the Spirit of God was with Him to speak the Good News of the Kingdom being near now and coming fully again. He was born into poverty as part of an oppressed and ethnic minority people group – Nazarene Jews in the Galilee region of the Gentiles under the rule of the Roman Empire – working well to cultivate creation as a carpenter, and growing in favor with God and man. As the Son of God, He was the only human to live a whole life of selfless, holy service in relationship to God, with other humans, and with all of creation. Jesus was good, right, and perfect. He made family members of people from all walks of life. He ate with them and gave Himself as the Bread of Life for them. He also calmed creation with His voice, and creation listened to His voice in harmony with what He said. All of Jesus' good, right, and perfect work brought healing, redemption, and restoration. He received and He gave without taking. His message and life were loving God and loving others as He called people to turn back to relationship with God and each other, instead of continuing in selfish and destructive ways. He taught them how to seek first the Kingdom of heaven, so they could learn again how to rest in their identity from God the Father, and then responsibly work to serve the world around them. Jesus, the Son of Man, came to make the crooked paths of humanity straight by following every one of God's instructions and law, and walking in every one of God's ways so that people from every tribe, tongue, and nation could walk together in God's ways with Him. He did this to fulfill God's promise to Adam and Eve that the evil one would be crushed, the covenant promise to Noah and his family that the earth would not be condemned, the covenant promise to Abram and his family that their generations would bless all the peoples of the earth, the covenant promise to Moses and Israel that God's people would be a light to the nations and a kingdom of priests, and the covenant promise that the Kingdom He established in David's line would never be broken and that a King after God's own heart would sit on the throne. Jesus was the Redeemer, just like God with His people in Egypt, and the Rescuer who set men, women, and children of all kinds free from slavery. Jesus, whose name means "God saves," was the fulfillment of the ultimate plan and promise of Emmanuel, "God with us." He came and tabernacled among us as God's true temple, man with God and God with man, bringing together the Kingdom of heaven and earth, the meaning of the whole cosmos. His good news of the Kingdom of God was full of grace for the foreigner, the weak, the widow, the orphan, and the poor in spirit who knew their need of Him. He came to heal those who knew they were sick in heart and mind, and to seek and save the lost who were humbly hoping to be found by God. He resisted all of the enemy's lies and obeyed all of God's Word. And He did this all when humanity so often played the enemy of God and His ways. The evil one's power play wasn't enough and he felt the victorious impact of this anointed promised One's crushing power. But this also means that those who continued to listen to the lies of the enemy already thought they were right in their own view of the world and did not want Jesus to be the answer to their ungratefulness, entitlement, and separation from others they did not like. They did not think they were broken, so they did not want to listen to Jesus' good, right, and perfect words and follow His life that revealed they needed Him. Jewish leaders thought He was blasphemous by equating Himself with God. Romans thought He was mad for even desiring to be a king of an oppressed and enslaved people. So just like humanity didn't follow God's righteous reign in the beginning in the garden and broke relationship with Him and responsibility to the world, those in power when Jesus came to earth did not want Him to be God with them and reign over them either. They decided to break relationship with Him and any responsibility to Him by killing Jesus, the Messiah sent from God, outside their city, sacrificing the Son of Man and Son of God by crucifixion. Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed One who fulfilled the new covenant promise of restored relationship with God, and the responsible Servant King of God's Kingdom, was killed on a cursed cross as the perfect spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus took on and received the just punishment of sin and death we deserved and continue to unleash on the world. But, as God promised, after three days in the grave, Jesus was raised to life, defeating sin, death, and the evil one, and came back to invite us to trust in His death-defying words and walk in His evil-crushing ways. Jesus was the perfect Rescuer, Priest, King, Redeemer, Prophet, Provider, Promise-Maker, Promise-Keeper, Messiah and Victor over all that is evil. God's ultimate plan of restoration and renewal to turn the tide of our human history was revealed and accomplished. His Kingdom purposes had been showcased, and the full extent of how far He would go to restore our relationship with Him was revealed.

Christ Scriptures | Matthew 16:15-17; John 11:27Psalm 111:9130:7-82 Corinthians 1:19-20; Isaiah 52:7-53Hebrews 8:69:11-15Matthew 1:21-23Deuteronomy 16:11; Mark 10:45Luke 1:68, 22:14-20; Acts 10:38; Romans 3:23-24, 8:18-2510:9-13; 1 Peter 2:24, 3:181 Timothy 1:152 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 2:11-14; Philippians 2:6-11; John 1:293:16-17; 1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15Colossians 1:12-17, 2:13-15


 Act 5: Church 


Emmaus City Story of God Act 5 Symbol Church Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities


If God came in Jesus to redeem and restore us and His creation, how do we follow Him and His ways in countering all the evil, self-destruction, and brokenness still prevalent in the world today?

The story isn’t over yet. Jesus, whose name means "God saves," and who was the fulfillment of the ultimate plan and promise of Emmanuel, "God with us," lived, died, resurrected, ascended, and sent the Spirit of God to you for you to believe in Him, be redeemed and reconciled with God, and join His Kingdom mission of sharing and showing this Good News throughout the whole earth with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. He gave a new promise that He would continue to be with us and would return as King of kings to reconcile heaven and earth and establish His Kingdom forever. When you trust in Jesus' perfectly good words, works, and ways on your behalf, your sins are forgiven and removed, and your relationship with God is restored. Instead of trying to achieve fulfillment by your own merit while continuing to struggle with ungratefulness, entitlement, and separation from God, you gratefully receive the abundant life He selflessly provides by His grace because He has defeated sin, death, the evil one, and separation from God for you. When you believe and trust in Him, you will be able to rejoice in how you now understand and know the Good News that though you were more broken, selfish, and rebellious in yourself than you ever dared believe before, you are more loved and accepted in Jesus than you ever dared hope. When you receive this gift of life with God in Jesus like God has always done with people who walk in His ways He dwells with you by His Spirit so that you become part of His family and His temple. In loving relationship, He gives you His name, baptizing individuals and households in the name of the Father, and the name of the Son, and the name of the Holy Spirit. He also gives a celebration meal where Jesus' body broken and blood shed for us, represented in bread and wine, help us remember what He did and that He is with us until He comes again. He gives you the responsibility to dwell with Him and walk with Him to bless people and His creation throughout the world. By trusting His Word and walking in step with His Spirit, you will be able to embody His purpose for humanity to showcase glimpses of His Kingdom in your community and city by demonstrating and declaring the Good News of God's reign in and through Jesus with those who know they are sick and lost. You will also be able to remain faithful to Him even as many will also reject you for following Jesus' words, works, and ways as many rejected Jesus when He walked the earth. But in faith in God's providence, you will be able to strive on faithfully in life with God, each other, and all of creation because of His grace, and His growing desire in you to see restoration happen in others and the world around you. Your family, food, and work will be able to be received as gifts from God, and you can give them to others freely in Jesus' name. You will be able to love both neighbor and enemy as Jesus did. You will join Jesus in welcoming the sojourner and foreigner to believe in His salvation. And you will share His compassion in caring for the weak, the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, and the poor in spirit. As you discover that people across all ethnicities and cultures are your family in Jesus' name, you will be able to lay down your prejudices and privileges so that you join together brothers and sisters in your King's bloodline to represent His Kingdom of priests to the world. You will suffer because much of the world did and many still do reject Him as King of kings and Lord of lords. But, as Jesus promised, He will be with you in the suffering, and will bring others who will suffer with you. We follow Him and do this together as His Church  His family of Kingdom servants who are redeemed by His shed blood and empowered by His Holy Spirit. Jesus has called us to be God's light to the nations together. We can love, forgive, and sacrifice in Jesus' name for each other. We can enjoy family, food, and work for the glory of God, doing all for Him rather than for our value or greed. And we can serve those around us, and the world in the spheres of our neighborhoods, workplaces, avenues of art, and the environment as a preview of what Jesus will soon completely fulfill when He returns to bring God's good, right, and perfect Kingdom of heaven to earth.

Church Scriptures | Mark 16:15Colossians 1:11-22Matthew 16:16-1825:31-46; Luke 10:25-3714:7-14Mark 10:42-45Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-47; John 20:21-22Acts 1:8Acts 2:42-47, 4:29-352 Timothy 1:9-10; 2 Corinthians 9:6-12Ephesians 1:15-23, 2:13-22; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, 6:16-18; 1 Peter 2:9-12Romans 12:9-21; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23-24John 17:6-26; Romans 8:18-23


Act 6: (New) Creation 

 

Emmaus City Story of God Act 6 Symbol New Creation Restoration Worcester MA Soma Acts 29 3DM Christian Reformed Church Multi-ethnic Network of Missional Communities

How does this story of God come to completion for us and the earth? 

When Jesus comes back to earth to bring God's Kingdom reign to fruition, He will make all things new. Everything will be good, right, and perfect again. God will be with His people and He will justly remove from the earth all of the sin, death, hell, destruction, and the evil one, and will restore the earth's brokenness to complete peace in His Kingdom of flourishing mercy and power. The place where heaven meets earth will include the garden where God used to walk with humanity, only now it will be a garden city full of people from every part of humanity. God's family from every tribe, tongue, and nation will be His Kingdom and priests, and His glory and goodness will fill and overflow from the temple – which is now God on His throne dwelling with man on earth – into every area of humanity and the earth. Those who reject God's grace and Jesus' holy good reign will receive justice in their desire to reject relationship with Him. They will be made responsible for their ungratefulness, entitlement, and separation, and be forever set apart from Him without His redemption or restoration outside the Kingdom city with the evil one in isolation, darkness, and weeping. For those who have a redeemed relationship with God through Jesus, and who have answered His call in obedience to be responsible to follow His ways in declaring the Good News of His Kingdom and caring for others – including feeding, clothing, welcoming, healing and helping the poor and oppressed in the world – they will be with Him and will be fully blessed to enjoy good, right, and perfect abundant life together with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation forever. All relationships in God's Kingdom – between God and humanity, mankind with each other, and humanity with the earth – will flourish. Work will always be good and productive, art will be beautiful all the time, creation will be cared for with understanding and appreciation, and the glory of God will fill the earth. God will be with us – His family featuring blessed men, women, and children from every cultural and ethnic background as He promised – and we will thrive in perfectly loving God and each other, and cultivating His creation together. We will always take on the responsibility of reflecting His goodness in the reconciled heaven and earth as His Kingdom and priests. This will be better than even the very good at the beginning. It will be more than we can ask for or imagine. 


(New) Creation Scriptures | Psalm 90:1; Matthew 5:5Habakkuk 2:14; Isaiah 602 Chronicles 6:18-21; Isaiah 65:17-25; Mark 16:15Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9-1021-22  


What if this story is true? 
How would this change the way you live and who or what you trust in today? 

The word "repentance" actually means to have a change of mind and to make a turn in direction on the path one is walking. What would it be like for you to think differently about Jesus and begin to follow His way, His truth, and His life? How would your thoughts change? How would your behavior change? How loved would you feel that God is willing to do all of this for you even after you have ignored and rejected His pursuit of you so often? How would you receive this gift and then share this good news with others in word and deed? 

For those who like to read and want to look more into the details of the story, I encourage you to read Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen's The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story. For something shorter, be sure to check out Missio Dei's "True Story: From Creation to Restoration" doc as they are the ones who came up with the helpful symbols above. 

If you'd rather not do more reading, and instead would just like to talk with someone about this, feel free to contact me. I would be more than willing to meet you at a cafe or pub and answer any questions you have, as well as listen to your story. If you ask me for my story, I'd be more than willing to share it, too. The Story of God is not only my favorite thing in the world to share, I believe it is the true story and I strive, by the grace of God and joy from His Spirit, to live my life following Jesus in light of it.

Next post: The Story of God | Jesus: True and Better by Timothy Keller

Christ is all, 

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan
 

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