The greatest tragedy that has befallen Western Christianity over the past few hundred years is the chopping up of the drama of biblical story into cold and sterile propositional truth claims. I was orthodox in my beliefs long before I knew God. I was “confirmed” at St. John’s Lutheran Church years before I was swept up into the Grand Story of Scripture. If there’s one gift I’d love to give to everyone I meet or minister to, it is the gift of grasping the Big Story of the Bible in narrative form and the thrill of discovering their own place in the unfolding plot. Here’s a great place to start.
The Story: A Narrative Summary of the Bible
By Paul Eddy & Seth McCoy
Before anything existed, there was the one, true God—an amazing, mysterious, three-Personed Being who is self-giving love. He is the only one who always does what is good, right, and loving. Out of the fullness of love, God chose to create all that exists. His first creation were beings called angels. One of these high-ranking angels was jealous of God and instigated a rebellion in heaven, choosing to become God’s enemy, he became the “satan” (which means “adversary”), the prince of the rebellious kingdom of darkness.
God then created the earth as a place for life, filled with plants, water, and all kinds of creatures. The most special of these creatures were humans, formed in the image of God Himself. It was God’s desire to create a being that reflected His own loving nature, so He created humans as beings who hunger for, and find life in, loving community. God entered into a covenant-love relationship with humans, showing them the best possible way to live, under His care and protection. He gave humans the responsibility and authority to partner with Him and care for the earth, and all the life on it. As God’s partner people they were called to extend His loving rule over the whole earth. This way of life was whole and complete, just like God, and was characterized by agape-love (the self-giving love that God Himself is) and a deep trust in God.
Since authentic love always requires freedom, God gave the first humans, Adam and Eve, the choice of whether they would love and trust Him. He placed two trees in the center of their garden—the Tree of Life (God’s loving care and provision for them) and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the power to make independent moral judgments apart from God). God asked Adam and Eve to show their love toward Him by trusting his provision and being obedient to His commands. Every day God would walk with the humans in the cool part of the day, and the humans loved being with God.
In spite of this close relationship, the humans broke their covenant—and God’s heart—by believing the adversary, eating of the forbidden tree, and being disobedient to God.
Adam and Eve’s decision to join Satan’s rebellion against God resulted in giving themselves and the creation over to Satan. Under Satan’s rule the humans suffered from sin and bondage; and the powers of demons, disease, and death overwhelmed God’s creation. But God promised that one day He would send a deliverer, the Messiah, who would crush the adversary, free humans from the powers of the kingdom of darkness, and restore humans relationship with God, each other, and creation.
After Adam and Eve, humans continued a pattern of rebellion, self-centeredness, violence and hatred toward each other.
God’s heart was broken.
Determined to restore his creation, He first “de-created” the earth with a flood, rescuing only a small remnant of faithful humans and animals on a big boat, called an ark. This remnant would be like a seed to start creation over again. God made an unconditional covenant, an enduring promise, that He would never again “de-create” the world with a flood, and that humans could count on the regular cycles of nature without fear or worry. Soon after the flood the humans continued to rebel and live in whatever ways seemed best to them, usually full of self-centeredness, violence, greed, and pain.
But God was determined to restore His dream for creation.
This time He chose a faithful man named Abraham and his descendants to be His special community, and made a covenant with them, that they would become His ambassadors to the rest of the world. This covenant called them to return to His way of life and live closely with Him. These people, known as the Hebrews, were called to be a contrast society and show the world what it means to live in God’s ways and partner with Him to extend his blessing and restoration to the entire earth.
God cared for and protected the Hebrews in amazing ways. He rescued them from slavery to another nation and even provided miracle bread, meat, and water for them in the desert when they had no food. He asked them to build a portable temple—a tabernacle—that would represent His presence in their midst. He led them through the desert by appearing like a tall cloud during the day and a tall flame at night. He was guiding the Hebrews to a special piece of land to live on called the Promised Land. This land was like a new garden where humans could live in God’s ways and bless the whole world by showing them how to live as God’s covenant people.
This way of life is called Shalom, full of peace and wholeness.
The Hebrews were a special people, with a special covenant, a special plot of land, and a special God—the Creator of all—named Yahweh. God called some of the Hebrews to help lead them. He called some of them to be priests at His temple, to help them make sacrifices to worship God and find forgiveness. He called others to be prophets, and speak God’s words to His people. They would bring messages of correction and hope. Eventually, God also allowed some of the Hebrews to serve as kings, to be His representative leaders and to fight for His people.
But even God’s special people rebelled against Him and His ways and continued to break their covenant relationship.
Choosing to live outside of God’s care and protection, they encountered great pain and more slavery under other nations. They were even carried away from their promised land and forced to live in other nations.
In spite of their selfish ways, God continued to be faithful to the covenant He had made with them.
He continued to love and provide for His people giving them hope. He sent His prophets to urge the Hebrews to return to God’s ways of love, justice, and faithfulness to the covenant. These prophets also brought words of God’s promise to send a rescuer and final king, called the messiah, to forgive and heal them as a people.
Then, for 400 hundred years, God did not speak to His people.
The next time God spoke, He had a surprising message that was given to unexpected people. He spoke to young women, blind old men, shepherds, and kings from other nations. He said that the time had come for God to heal and rescue His people: The Messiah was coming.
God spoke to His people through a prophet named John who urged the people to return to God’s ways and warned the people that the King and His kingdom were coming. This Messiah would be a priest, a prophet, and a king. He was named Jesus, which means “Yahweh saves.” Just like God, His father, He was the only human who always did what was good, right, and loving.
In fact, this Jesus was not merely human, he was the eternal Son of God in human form—the God-man, sent to deliver humans from all forms of bondage. His life, teachings, and miracles all showed God’s power and helped some of the people see that He was the rescuer and king! Others were expecting a different kind of ruler, so they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah.
Jesus always chose to trust his Father and live in His ways, never rebelling against God.
He showed what a life of peace, wholeness, and justice looked like in a broken and hurting world.
He showed us perfectly what God was like, and He showed us how to be fully human again. He taught us that He was the bridegroom (a title that God had used of Himself with the Hebrews), and that He would return to gather His new covenant people to be married to them forever.
Jesus chose a surprising way to help humans return to God—and all of it was designed to create a new kind of covenant relationship between God and humanity. He began by living a life of perfect covenant faithfulness with His Father God, something no other human being had done or ever could do. Having lived this perfect life, He offered to share His own identity with anyone who would receive it, so that they too could live in perfect relationship with their God and Father. Through His ministry and miracles, He began to dismantle the evil powers of Satan’s kingdom.
Wherever He found sin, He brought forgiveness.
When faced with disease, He spoke healing.
To the demonized, He brought deliverance.
And in the presence of death itself, He brought new life.
Through His death on a cross, Jesus took upon Himself the deadly consequences of our covenant-breaking sin and rebellion. By His death, Jesus also paid the ransom that would finally free humanity from the bondage of Satan’s kingdom. Jesus not only paved the way for God and humanity to be reunited; He also broke down the walls of division and hostility between human beings, and in the process created a new, reconciled human family—the new covenant people of God.
After suffering a brutal death, God brought Jesus back to life three days later, defeating Satan and all of the evil powers in our dark world, and showing all people that what Jesus said and did was true. For forty days the resurrected Jesus was with His followers, and He was seen by over 500 eyewitnesses. Jesus had brought the beginnings of God’s kingdom into our world and invited humans to find true life under the loving leadership of a new kind of Servant-King.
Jesus promised that He would return one day to take the new covenant people as His bride, and bring the kingdom in its fullness. He challenged those who believed in Him to live as God’s kingdom people in this dark and broken world.
He called them to follow His example and give their lives to continue His mission of building faith communities that would extend God’s blessing and restoration throughout the earth.
He gave them the responsibility to continue His work of tearing down Satan’s kingdom of self-centeredness, hatred, pain, and violence, and to invite all human beings into Jesus’ kingdom of agape-love, wholeness, and peace. He said all of His followers would have the honor of carrying their own crosses and sacrificing their lives for others, just as He did.
Then, Jesus returned to His Father and took His place of supreme authority over all created things. He sent the Spirit of God to live in the hearts of His new covenant people, providing them the healing, power, guidance, and gifts necessary to be a contrast society that could reveal the kingdom of God to the world. The Spirit is a gift that the Groom, Jesus, gave to His bride as a promise that He would come back for her. This was the beginning of the Church—the new covenant community of people all over the world who follow Jesus’ way of faithfulness, peace, wholeness, and justice as they share His mission to restore the world.
The story continues with us. We are called to be the new covenant people, the faithful bride of Jesus, a new and living temple, and God’s agents of restoration and love in this world—a contrast society that will show the world what it means to return to the way of life and self-giving love we were all created for.
Living in humility and confident trust in God, we are called to continue the work of demonstrating and announcing the kingdom in a way that leads others to embrace it. Entrance into this beautiful kingdom happens as we choose to abandon the paths of self-centeredness, covenant-breaking, and love of false idols, turning instead to trust Jesus and embrace His way of life.
In response to this choice, God lavishes upon us His forgiveness and fills his people with His powerful Spirit, which alone enables them to begin to think, live, and love as Jesus did. As God’s kingdom people, we are called to a life of on-going conversion, cooperating with God as He progressively transforms us into the image of Jesus, and advances His kingdom in us and through us.
But the story doesn’t end there. One day God will complete His mission of healing the whole universe, returning everything back to the way it was created to be, under the loving leadership of Jesus. God will live with His people again. Jesus will marry His bride and everything will be the way God dreamed it would be. Satan’s kingdom of darkness and all of its evil powers will be entirely done away with.
And the reign of God will finally be whole, complete, fully revealed, and everlastingly beautiful.