The Bible is a massive book, composed through thousands of years by numerous authors from diverse cultural, historical and religious backgrounds. And while many of us are familiar enough with its various stories, discerning unity in this conglomeration can be daunting. But when we step back far enough, the broad contours of a Story begin to emerge, a Story which gives context, and therefore meaning, both to the hundreds of smaller stories that compose it, and to our own lives and mission.
From Creation to Consummation
The Story begins by introducing us to a God whose word inviolably reaches perfect fulfillment (then God said … and it was so,Gen 1:3, 6-7, 9, 11, 14-15, 20-21, 24, 26-31). Everything this God makes is good (and God saw what He had made, and it was good,Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), and the climax of His creation is a creature who images Him by ruling over a perfect dominion (Gen 1:26-28). This ideal situation lasts no more than two pages, however. For mankind takes to himself a prerogative reserved for God alone: now it is the woman who sees and decides what isgood (Gen 3:5-6). The man quickly follows. Thus rather than exercising God’s authority over all creation (Gen 1:26, 28), man usurps God’s authority and thereby finds himself dominated by the creation.
However, God immediately promises that the woman’s offspring will ultimately prevail over the serpent, though the victory will be hard bought (Gen 3:15). In many ways, the remainder of the Story flows from this promise. And so the Author leads us on a massive offspring hunt, exploring numerous “dead end” genealogies (Cain, Ham, Japheth, Ishmael, Esau) before returning each time to find that the Story unfolds via some rather unlikely characters. Thus the Text focuses our attention on Seth, then Noah, then Shem, then Abram. To Abram, God promises innumerable offspring who will bless the entire world (Gen 12:1-3; 18:18; 22:18;26:4;28:14). God also promises that Abraham’s line will include kings (Gen 17:6, 16).
The trail of offspring continues through the accounts of Isaac, Jacob, and his twelve sons. When famine forces Jacob’s family out of the Promised Land, Joseph saves them by successfully exercising dominion over the cursed ground. But somewhat surprisingly, Jacob’s deathbed prophecy singles out Judah as the father of a kingly line whose dominion will have worldwide implications (Gen 49:10). But presently, Judah and his kin live in Egypt; and, as promised, Abraham’s offspring multiplies. But contrary to promise, they are not a blessing to the world; rather, they have become slaves to the mightiest ruler on earth, Pharaoh. God, however, remembers His promises and forcefully demonstrates His own dominion over Pharaoh by delivering Israel, His firstborn son, from Egypt. He then leads His people to a mountain called Sinai where He enters into a covenant with them. At risk of oversimplification, we may summarize the benefits and obligations of this covenant as follows:
1. God will dwell with Israel (Exodus 25-40).
2. Israel must have a sacrifice to commune with this God (Leviticus).
3. Israel must obey God’s law wholeheartedly (Deuteronomy).
Israel eagerly commits to keep these regulations and thereby to serve a mediating role between Yahweh and the families of the earth (a kingdom of priests, Ex 19:6). Furthermore, obedience will inevitably lead to Eden-like blessing in the Land promised to Abraham (Ex 3:8;Deut 1:25; 8:7-9). But the naivety of Israel’s optimism becomes readily apparent when, within less than forty days of covenant ratification, they violate two of the covenant’s most fundamental laws (Ex 32-34), thus jeopardizing their status as covenant participants. This same generation then refuses to receive Yahweh’s gift of Land and is thus doomed to perish in the wilderness. With rare exception, each succeeding generation of Israelites follows in these steps of the fathers, demonstrating that if Abraham’s offspring are to enjoy blessing and be a blessing, it cannot be through Mosaic law, for they cannot keep it (Joshua-Kings).
In tension with this pessimistic portrayal of Israel, the Author continues to highlight Yahweh’s interest in the restoration of mankind’s dominion. Just before Israel receives the Land, Moses describes the ideal ruler as a man characterized by heart devotion to Yahweh and His law (Deut 17:14-20). Then, at a time when Israel’s wickedness has grown to match Sodom’s (Judg 17-21), the Author suggests that the solution lies in a king (Judg 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). And Hannah, living during these very days, prophesies that Yahweh will indeed intervene, reversing the situation by means of an anointed king who exercises worldwide dominion (1 Sam 2:1-10). Thus we meet Saul, the people’s choice for king, but rejected by Yahweh for his failure to trust Yahweh’s strength. We also meet David, offspring of Judah and a man after God’s heart who consistently trusts Yahweh’s strength and thus rises to victory over all his enemies. When David desires to build a house for Yahweh, Yahweh makes two surprising covenantal promises:
1. I will build a house for you.
2. Your son will build a house for me.
Thus God declares that He is the one who will build a house for David, an unending dynasty (2 Sam 7). Yahweh will never reject David’s line permanently as He did Saul’s. Our search for the promised offspring who will seize the lost dominion and crush the serpent’s head is narrowing. Furthermore, this unending dynasty will produce a son who will build a lasting dwelling place where God and His people will meet.
As the Story progresses into the New Testament, we find the gospel writers making every effort to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the long-promised son of David (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:26-27,67-75; 2:4, 11). This Jesus proclaims the arrival of a Kingdom composed of citizens who structure their lives under the authority of the King. This King, Jesus, stands in contrast to all previous kings, from Adam to David to Jehoiachin, in that He exercises His dominion in perfect submission to His Father (Matt 3:17-4:11; John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29). All who would enjoy the blessings of His Kingdom must repent of their sins and embrace the King and His teaching. Israel, however, rejects the King’s authority and ultimately executes Him as a common criminal. And though His death apparently astonished His small band of followers, it in no way took Him by surprise. For He not only predicted it numerous times; He also interpreted it (as did some of the Old Testament prophets and later New Testament writers): His death (and subsequent resurrection) was the means by which the woman’s offspring would crush the serpent’s head (1 John 3:8; Heb 2:14); His death was the sacrifice needed to inaugurate the New Covenant (Matt 26:26-28; Luke 22:19-20) (cf. Ex 24, where Moses inaugurated the Sinai covenant via sacrificial blood). But in contrast to the countless animals sacrificed under the Sinai Covenant, God raises Jesus from the dead, enthroning Him at His own right hand, thus fulfilling the Davidic promise of an unending dynasty (Acts 2:22-36). And so this Son of David turns to that first generation of followers and commands them to carry the message of His saving grace and authority to all peoples of the earth (Matt 28:18-20). The long-awaited King now sits enthroned and graciously grants forgiveness and life to all who recognize His rightful authority in their lives (cf. Ps 2:10-12).
But in many ways, the Kingdom Jesus brings appears notably different from the one that Old Testament prophets have led us (and Jesus’ first followers) to expect. And so we find subsequent New Testament writers regularly pointing us to a still future Consummation of this Covenant and Kingdom. One of the effects of this extenuated unfolding of the Kingdom is that we find ourselves living in a Story that is still unfolding. And our place in the Story is that of emissaries who carry the message of our King to all peoples: we tell them of His historic arrival, atonement for sins, and enthronement; we describe for them the present joys of life as Kingdom citizens; and we warn them of the future return of the King to destroy all opposition to His rule and to consummate His Kingdom with His people.
Listen to the Story
Other Sermons and Lessons
- The Nations and the Anointed (Psalm 2)
- The Context of the Great Commission
- The Servant of the Lord and His Mission to the Nations (Isaiah 49:1-7)
- The Prayer of a Worthless Woman (1 Samuel 1-2)
- Except the Lord Build the House (Psalm 127)
- Ecclesiastes: What’s the Use?!
- The Book of Isaiah (6 lessons)
- The Power of the Scriptures and the Spirit (Luke 24; Acts 1)
- Adam, Israel, Jesus, Us
- The Hope of the Saints (Advent)
- Hold Fast to Our Apostle and High Priest (Hebrews 3)