In the infinity that preceded time, the infinite God decided to create the heavens and the earth. He created humankind to live on the earth and take care of it. God’s fingerprints are evident throughout the entire universe, but it is men and women, boys and girls, who carry the “image” of God – each one fashioned into a conscious, personal, free creature made to love and enjoy God and others.
Because love has to be freely chosen, God made people free. Free to love God or not; to accept His authority or not; to trust him and to follow his lead, or not.
Human beings chose to go their own way, and the world that God created with such beauty and perfection fell into suffering and evil. Choosing our will instead of God’s will is what the Bible calls “sin.” The devastating and tragic consequences affect every person in every age. We lack the wisdom and perspective that only God has; so our choices are inevitably short-sighted and ill-timed. We hurt each other and we dishonor God, who gave us our lives.
The first chapters of the Bible recount the story of our falling out with God. The rest of the story, the real story of the Bible, is what God has done to rescue this world – to pursue us and win us back.
God Prepares a Nation
God began his rescue operation by calling a man named Abraham and his wife Sarah to leave their families and home and start a new life in a new land. God told them he would make them the parents of a new people, a people that would be a light to the nations.
Abraham and Sarah trusted God and risked everything to pursue the future he’d promised them. But then their descendants, the Israelites, back-tracked. God prospered them and rescued them from their enemies, but they were fascinated with the gods and religions of other tribes. They practiced temple prostitution, infanticide, child-sacrifice, the consulting of spirits, and enslaving their own people. God gave his people culturally-relevant laws to help them remember him and live loving and just lives. He made covenants with them, vowing to love and bless them if they would stay faithful to him. They only needed to love and trust him for who he was – the one and only God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, their Savior and Friend.
But over and over again they acted like unfaithful spouses, worshiping different gods and goddesses, and indulging their lowest cravings and impulses. Sexual immorality, injustice, oppression, political intrigue and corruption became the norm. Instead of being a light to the nations, God’s people repeatedly became like the other nations.
But God still loved them. He endured their infidelities. He sent prophets to urge them to “repent,” to turn back to him. These prophets talked to the people about God’s jealousy, his anger, his desire, his readiness to forgive, his heartache – all the emotions of a heartsick father or a rejected lover.
But the people closed their ears; and since love can’t be forced, God eventually withdrew and watched with anguish as other nations with their superior armies had their way with his beloved people Israel. Still, whenever there was the slightest sign of repentance, God rescued his people and reaffirmed his promises. But then the cycle would repeat itself. Over and over God’s people worshiped other gods and turned a deaf ear to his prophets. As God himself said, “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6).
So God stopped rescuing his people. He stopped sending prophets. It wasn’t working. For 400 years God was silent.
Looking back, people remembered how the prophets had predicted the coming of an “Anointed One” or Messiah. This Messiah was going to create a whole new covenant with God’s people. He would rule not only over Israel but over all the earth. Yet for 400 years, nothing happened.
God Speaks Again
(By Coming to Live Among Us!)
Then Jesus came. Born of a virgin, he was both son of a woman and Son of God. He didn’t come as a political king. He didn’t come as a military leader. Jesus, this descendent of Abraham and Sarah, became a traveling teacher – a rabbi. His burning desire was that people understand and enter what he called the “kingdom of God.” The words “kingdom of God” can refer to God’s present reign over all of creation. But when Jesus used them, he was talking about God’s future reign, when God’s original purposes for this world would be fulfilled and everything would be renewed. Jesus said that people could begin to enter that future kingdom now by being “born again” and becoming Jesus’ disciples or apprentices. He envisioned a new kind of spiritual community that would embody his teachings and be a light to the world.
People paid attention, especially when he cured the blind, the lame, the deaf, the paralyzed. Especially when he raised people from the dead!
Jesus spoke with authority, and he preached revolution – a revolution of the heart. He told parables about a revolutionary kind of love, and he lived it. Jesus said that citizens in God’s kingdom love their enemies. They turn the other cheek when slapped. They pay double when sued. They freely share their possessions. Nothing is their own. They trust God for everything they need.
Like other rabbis in his day, Jesus used hyperbole to get his point across. In order to figure out the practical implications of his teachings, Jesus said that people would need his Spirit living in them.
Jesus’ claims for himself were startling; the religious experts were appalled. He said that he was God’s Son. He said that he and the Father were one. He said, “When you see me, you see the Father.” He didn’t just teach the way to God; he said he was the way to God.
This was too much for most people to swallow. Who in his right mind could make such claims?
Gradually the choices became clear. If Jesus was who he said he was, then people had to follow him, no matter what it cost. If he wasn’t what he said, he was either deluded or a fraud. His claims might trigger a revolt; someone had to do something, and the sooner the better.
So the leaders of the Jewish nation used Jesus’ words against him. They told Pilate, the Roman governor, that Jesus claimed to be a king – one unauthorized by Rome. They demanded he be crucified.
Jesus didn’t defend himself. He had already accepted the mission the Father had given him – which was to take on himself all the sin of all people everywhere, paying the penalty that every human being deserved.
Jesus was tortured and killed by the most painful, shameful means of execution in the ancient world. His response? Right while hanging in agony on the cross, he cried out, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Then he died. Jesus was buried in a donated tomb and a huge stone was rolled into the opening. His followers gave up and went into hiding.
It was over….
Except that on the third day after Jesus died something happened that would change the course of history. The tomb that Jesus’ body was buried in was suddenly empty – even though there was a guard of soldiers. That same day and over the next forty days Jesus appeared many times to his disciples and once to over 500 people. They touched him and ate with him – and listened to him talk about, you guessed it, the kingdom of God.
During one of Jesus’ last meetings with his disciples, he gave clear instructions: ‘Go! Tell people of all nations the good news of what I’ve done for them, inviting everyone to become my disciples! After you baptize them, teach them everything I’ve told you. And don’t be afraid – I’ll be right at your side to the very end.’
‘But first, return to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit.’
Then one day, while Jesus was talking to them, he suddenly rose up into the clouds. Once he was out of sight, they remembered what he’d said: they went to Jerusalem and waited.
God Speaks and Continues to Speak
(Coming to Live Within His People!)
The disciples waited and prayed. Then, when about 120 were gathered on a feast day called Pentecost, the Spirit came. The sound of wind like a hurricane filled their ears! Flames that looked like tongues of fire rested on each of them.
Ablaze with the Spirit, the disciples went into the streets and preached about Jesus and the kingdom. To everyone’s amazement, thousands believed and joined them.
And the church of Jesus Christ was born.
This was the city that had crucified Jesus just weeks before. Refusing to be intimidated, the new believers met publically in the temple as well as in each other’s homes. Jesus’ apostles carefully taught the new disciples what Jesus had told them about the kingdom of God. Immediately the community of disciples applied Jesus’ teachings to their lives. They shared their possessions so that no one lacked anything. They prayed for each other, and many were cured of their diseases. Jesus’ power was there among them. He had promised to come to them whenever even two or three gathered in his name. He was alive!
Whenever the disciples worshiped, opened the Scriptures, re-enacted Jesus’ last meal with the Twelve or prayed together, they sensed his presence. When persecution began, many Christians died as martyrs. Forced to scatter, believers talked about Jesus wherever they fled and started new churches throughout Palestine and beyond. Eventually people of all races joined the movement.
Not all challenges were from outside the church. The New Testament honestly records the many failures of believers and their leaders. There were determined antagonists outside the churches and very imperfect disciples within them, which is still true today. Because each of us is a work in progress, no Christian ever “graduates” from needing to be a disciple or student of Jesus.
Now and in the Future
The story of the Bible doesn’t end with the writing of the New Testament. The New Testament itself talks about when Jesus will come back – how he will finish the work he began during his ministry and continued through his church. Then the old creation will be transformed into the New Creation, heaven and earth will be joined, with everything being renewed and perfected.
But first everyone will be examined, and we’ll have to explain the choices we’ve made. If we’ve given our allegiance to Jesus and tried to follow him, we can be assured that his sacrifice on the cross covers everything we’ve done wrong.
But that’s not why we become Jesus’ disciples. Jesus said that before our physical resurrection happens, we can undergo a spiritual resurrection. In other words, we can begin to experience the abundance and joy of that future kingdom before it officially comes.
Paradoxically, all this happens within the difficult and painful circumstances that often plague us in the present age.
Friend, there is no more important decision you can make in this life than to become a Jesus Follower. You don’t have to be worthy, just willing.
Jesus Christ welcomes us, washes us, then teaches and guides us: “Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus told his church to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” Our part in the story is to give the world a glimpse into the future – a future where God reigns and love rules. Ongoing personal transformation is essential to this journey, as well as the hard work of building community, strengthening families, and sharing God’s love and vision with others. We at BRC are glad to be a part of this story.
Maybe you’ll want to join us.