An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The Drama of Scripture: The king arrives

Here are my notes for a talk I'll be doing on Sunday night. We are in the middle of a series based on Bartholomew and Goheen's book The Drama of Scripture. There are a set of slides to accompany it which I'll upload later.

Where are we in the story?

Act 1 Creation
There is one God, who is king over all

Act 2 Fall,
We’ve messed it up – we want to be our own king

Acts 3 The promise of restoration

Act 4 Redemption
Jesus comes onto the scene – the kingdom is restored.

We find ourselves at a crossroads: at the intersection of two stories. Two stories that claim to be comprehensive and both claim to be true. The question is which story are we part of?

An atheist was walking through the woods.
"What majestic trees"!
"What powerful rivers"!
"What beautiful animals"! He said to himself.

As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him.

He turned to look. He saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charge towards him.

He ran as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder & saw that the bear was closing in on him.

He looked over his shoulder again, & the bear was even closer. He tripped & fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw that the bear was right on top of him, reaching for him with his left paw & raising his right paw to strike him.

At that instant the Atheist cried out, "Heaven help me!"

Time Stopped.
The bear froze.
The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. "You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don't exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident." "Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer"?

The atheist looked directly into the light, "It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR do something like a Christian"?

"Very Well," said the voice.

The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head & spoke:

"Lord bless this food, which I am about to receive, Amen."

What would we do when asked to something like a Christian? If we know and live out of the Christian story of creation, fall and redemption we won’t need to do something Christian – we will be Christian it all that we do.

How can we be living out of the biblical story if we are not living, soaking and immersed in it?

Let’s look at the quick overview we had two weeks ago.

The Greeks and Romans in a way had paved the way for the coming messiah.

The Greeks provided a common language Koine Greek, most of the world understood Greek.

Pax Romana meant there was much stability in the “known” universe and Roman roads were straight and durable and could be found in most places the Romans conquered so the early missionaries were able to make good use of them.

We come now to the turning point of history: Jesus; our calendars testify to the importance of his birth. Yet as James Allen Francis wrote in One Solitary Life:

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Twenty long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

We often say that every preacher has only one sermon and most of you will be thinking, yes here’s Steve’s one talk regurgitated once again. But in the Gospels we have one sermon between three people. Such was the importance of the gospel of the kingdom.

Let’s look at this one solitary life that change the world.

Jesus’ early life is seen in his baptism, the descent of the Spirit and his immediately going into the desert.

His mission has three main focuses: his initial obscurity, his increasing popularity around the Galilee area, this brings him to the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, form which he faces some opposition. Jesus then goes up to Jerusalem to confront the opposition.

Jesus’ mission is the mission of the kingdom. The king has come and he wants his kingdom back. However, it’s not the type of kingdom most of the Jews were expecting.

They expected that the kingdom of God would be "the age to come " ushered in by the coming of God and the Day of the Lord. God would assume his royal power, vindicate Israel, liberate them from their (Roman) oppressors and bring peace and prosperity for his people. It meant that God would rule Israel and that Rome would not. It was seen in nationalistic and even militaristic terms.

Jesus took up this theme of the kingdom and transformed it. He stripped it of any nationalistic and militaristic overtones. He redefines Israel's enemies: it is not Rome but Satan who "has made his home” (as Tom Wright says) “not in the ... Roman forces but in the central institutions of Judaism itself"; he redesigned Israel: it included the outcasts, the Gentiles, tax collectors and women.

The Jews had a one-stage view – God would come and the age to come would be established. However, there is an overlap. The kingdom has come with Jesus – we are now living in the overlap.

Most of Jesus' teaching was in parables, 40 odd of them, where he constantly transformed and challenged the prevalent Jewish view of the kingdom (eg Lk 8:9; 13:18-20); however, perhaps the most dramatic reinterpretation was that the future kingdom was already present (Lk 11:20; 16:16). It was already here, but not yet in its fullness. The kingdom is now and the kingdom is not yet.

Jesus’ miracles also testify to the kingdom. It is now – the rule and reign of God has come, people are set free, but it has not yet arrived in its fullness, if it had there would be no need for miracles.

Miracles make the abnormal normal. They restore creation. The naturalist says that the world is normal and miracles are abnormal, but for the Christian it is the opposite, the world is abnormal and miracles are normal.

As sin has affected every area and aspect of life, so too does Jesus’ work of redemption. Redemption potentially ‘undoes’ the consequences of the fall. The work of Jesus redeems and restores the whole of creation; as Al Wolters writes: ‘redemption in Jesus Christ reaches just as far as the fall’ (Creation Regained, 1985, p. 71).

There have been a number of glimpses of redemption in the Old Testament, the flood – incidentally Noah was perhaps the first financial entrepreneur, he floated his business when all else was in liquidation – the sacrifices, the Sabbath and jubilee legislation all point towards a redemption and restoration of creation. They are hints that life isn’t as it should be and point the way towards a more harmonious way of being and living, not only for humans but also for animals and the rest of creation.

Redemption means a number of things, including restoration and reconciliation. It means a restoration of all that was lost at the fall, relationships are restored: the relationships between humans, relationships between the sexes, between humans and the rest of creation can be healed and reconciled. It is this ministry of reconciliation that we have been charged with.

The cross – Jesus’ death and resurrection - is the instrument of redemption.

The cross does deal with the sin of individuals and it does enable us to have a relationship with God and in this sense it is personal. Jesus paid the death penalty that we were guilty of and died in our place, so we can have a relationship with God the father.

However, to restrict it to that limits the cross; the cross is good news for all of creation! It is all embracing; it touches every area and aspect of life. The cross is not a private personal thing. Lesslie Newbigin says:

We privatize this mighty work of grace and talk as if the whole cosmic drama of salvation culminates in the words ‘for me; for me.

(i) The cross is cosmic in scope
To limit the work of the cross to dealing with ‘personal’ sin or salvation emasculates it. Jesus achieved so much more than this. Paul writing about Jesus in Colossians gives us its full impact. He describes Jesus as: the image of the invisible God; the firstborn of all creation; the creator of the heavens and earth; the means of, and the reason for, the creation of all things; the pre-existent one; the sustainer of all things; the head of the church; the firstborn of the dead; the fullness of God. It is in this context that he says of Christ, that he is the one, ‘to reconcile all things [Gk: ta panta] to himself, making peace through the blood of the cross’.

Jesus’ work on the cross is cosmic in scope. It reconciles all things (ta panta). I’ve said before, that in the Greek the word ‘all things’ means ‘all things’. Hence nothing is exempt from its power; it has implications for the whole of the created order, whether it is humans, animals, institutions, the principalities and powers, Satan and his hordes or the earth.

(ii) The cross vindicates creation
The cross redeems creation; it also declares God’s love for his world. ‘God so loved the world [Gk: kosmos] that he gave his Son’ (Jn 3:16). Because all of the creation is included in the work of the cross it shows the love that God has for it. It is in the cross that God reaffirms his ownership of the earth (Ps 24:1; Job 39). Humanity is not to be redeemed apart from the created order but with it. Indeed the earth will be the scene of God’s total completion and consummation of the ages-although it will be a renewed and transformed heaven and earth (Rev 21: 1-2).

(iii) The cross deals with the consequences of the fall
The cross dealt with all the consequences of the fall. On the cross Christ completed a cosmic reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19), the relationships between humanity, God and the earth, were restored and the barriers of hostility were destroyed (Eph 2:14-18). We can once more experience shalom. This, though, has not happened automatically - it is to be fulfilled by the ministry of the body of Christ. We have been entrusted with this ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). We are to bring shalom to the earth (Matt 5:9) by proclaiming the cross and resurrection of Christ. But that’s the topic of the next talk that Si will deal with.

The cross then has manifold implications. Its significance to Christianity cannot be over-emphasised. By failing to grasp its full implications we water-down Christianity; it becomes domesticated and irrelevant to God’s creation and the kingdom of God becomes other-worldly.

Of course, the cross wasn’t the end. Jesus destroyed death, the last enemy, and rose again.

The resurrection and the sending of the Spirit marked the dawning of a new creation. Jesus is the firstborn of the dead, the first fruits. These are pledges of our resurrection – resurrection comes in three stages: Jesus, the church experiencing the resurrection life and then the whole of creation and the return of Christ.

The Holy Spirit comes and equips us he enables us to experience the future kingdom today; he equips us to carry on the words, works and wonders of Jesus, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of all of creation (Mk 16:15)

So, what has the drama of scripture told us so far?

Where are we?
We are in a purposeful, lawful creation.

Who are we?
We are the image bearers of God.

Why are we here?
To subdue and rule the creation as stewards of God.
To develop and unfold God’s good creation
To play our part in God’s developing story

What’s wrong?
We are in a fallen distorted and broken world

What’s the remedy?
Redemption and restoration through Jesus Christ

Jesus on the cross accomplished it all – that why he was able to declare, it is finished.


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