The Story of the Bible

/Get the Sermons Automatically

This week we went for it all—Genesis to Revelation, the whole story of the Bible, or at least as much as we could fit into a single sermon.


Creation

Let me tell you about the very beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. Back then the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. The Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning. This was the first day.

And God separated the waters above from the waters below, calling the vault between them the heavens. This was the second day.

And God separated the water from the land. And He saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout all kinds of vegetation,” and it was so. And God saw that it was good. This was the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the heavens,” and it was so. Thus God created the sun, the moon, and the stars. And God saw that it was good. This was the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters and the vault of the heavens be filled with creatures and birds.” And it was so. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the seas and multiply on the earth.” This was the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures,” and it was so. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let us make a human in our own image, after our own likeness. And let them have dominion over all the creatures in the sea and in the heavens and on the earth.” So God created the human in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over all the creatures in the sea and in the heavens and on the earth.” And God saw everything that He had made—and, look, it was very good. This was the sixth day.

So the heavens and the earth were finished and everything that fills them. And God rested on the seventh day, blessing it and making it holy.

Now on the day God made the earth and the heavens, before any plants or shrubs had sprouted, before there had been any rain on the earth, the LORD God fashioned the human of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the human whom he had fashioned. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed through Eden, watering the garden.

The LORD God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the human, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the human should be alone; I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” So the LORD God brought every kind of animal to the human to have it named. But there was nothing found for the human that would be a suitable companion for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the human, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the human he built into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This one at last is bone of my bones

 and flesh of my flesh; 

this one shall be called Woman,

 because she was taken out of man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the human and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

From the Fall to God’s People

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the evening breeze, and the human and his woman hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the human and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The human said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

 cursed are you above all livestock

and above all beasts of the field;

 on your belly you shall go,

 and dust you shall eat

 all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

 and between your offspring and her offspring; 

he shall bruise your head,

 and you shall bruise his heel.”

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;

 in pain you shall bring forth children. 

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

 but he shall rule over you.”

And to the human (whom most of us know as Adam—that’s “human” in Hebrew) he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife

 and have eaten of the tree

of which I commanded you,

 ‘You shall not eat of it,’ 

cursed is the ground because of you;

 in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

 and you shall eat the plants of the field. 

By the sweat of your face

 you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,

 for out of it you were taken; 

for you are dust,

 and to dust you shall return.”

Then the human named his wife—Eve. Then the LORD God provided clothing for them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the human has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the human, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

So the experiment in Eden ended in exile and death. And things would only get worse, with humanity at odds with each other, at odds with nature, and at odds with God Himself.

God blessed Adam and Eve with two sons who were very different from each other, one a farmer and one a herdsman. The first son Cain’s sacrifice to the LORD was not regarded. But the second son Abel’s sacrifice was the very best of his flock, and the LORD regarded it. Cain was incensed. The LORD spoke with him and warned him not to be ruled by the sin that crouched outside his tent, but Cain wouldn’t listen. He took his brother into the field and killed him. After this God came and questioned Cain, just like God had questioned Cain’s parents. Cain the farmer was cursed by the soil, condemned to be a restless wanderer. And though he was driven away from the presence of the LORD, the LORD marked him with a sign of protection, that whoever he met might not slay him. And Cain found a wife and built the first city. And his children and grandchildren became the first tent-dwellers and first musicians and first metalworkers, but they became increasingly violent.

In fact, that’s how it all went. Cain had children and grandchildren. Adam and Eve had another son Seth, who had children and grandchildren who had children and grandchildren and so on. Many of them lived what were apparently extraordinarily long lives. Yet all of them died. And the evil of the humans was great, with every scheme of their hearts perpetually devising evil. The earth was corrupt and filled with violence.

And the LORD regretted having made the human on earth and was grieved to the heart. So God decided to uncreate what He had created. He would spare righteous Noah along with his wife, his sons, and his sons’ wives. But everything else God would undo. He would remove the separation between the waters above and the waters below. Great torrents of water would swallow up the dry land and swallow up all the beasts that filled the earth and the vault of heavens, humanity included.

After this great flood and the unmaking of all that had been made, God once again separated the waters in the heavens from the waters on the ground, and once again He separated the dry land from the seas. And once again He blessed the humans, telling them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

But the world started by these humans was soon just as violent and corrupt as the previous one. Noah quickly finds himself naked and ashamed in the midst of beautiful, fruitful vegetation, and at odds with one of his three sons who ends up cursed. All these had children and grandchildren who had children and grandchildren. Some of them were great, being people of the sea or warriors or hunters, building great cities and founding great nations. But in the time when they all still spoke the same language, they gathered together with urban zeal and technological hubris, intent on making themselves glorious. But the LORD stooped down to their ziggurat in the heavens and scattered the humans over the face of the earth. At the same time, he baffled their languages—each group now speaking in a tongue that the others couldn’t understand.

And yet, immediately after this, the LORD took one of these families with their new languages and decided to make them His own. He told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Now this promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope Abraham believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he was told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of his wife Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” And the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.

And Abraham had that promised son Isaac, as well as another blessed son Ishmael. And Isaac inherited the same promise from the LORD that Abraham had. You see, the LORD had told Abraham: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram (father of many), but your name shall be Abraham (father of many nations), for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God."

And this promise was handed down from Abraham’s second son Isaac to Isaac’s second son Jacob as well. Like just about all of the humans who came before him, Jacob was only and always looking out for himself. After tricking his way into receiving the blessing and birthright that were supposed to belong to his older brother, Jacob’s brother Esau was planning on killing him. Instead, Jacob was merely exiled, sent away from his homeland by his father Isaac, who blessed him and said to him: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!"

Years later, when Jacob was returning to his homeland, he was still filled with fear over his brother’s murderous rage. God had told Jacob to return, that God would protect him. But on his way, in the midst of his great fear, Jacob found himself wrestling one night. They wrestled all night, and at the end of it, Jacob insisted on being blessed. The wrestler said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.” And Jacob named the place “God’s face”, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

And the nation that was God’s people was properly born—Israel. And this Israel had many sons whose offspring would become the twelve tribes of Israel. Because of a great famine, the people of Israel found themselves displaced from their homeland, sojourning in Egypt. Out of fear over of their great size and influence, the Egyptian rulers enslaved Israel, and it would be a total of 430 years before Israel was able to leave their captor state.

Now, there was a certain Israelite who had been raised by the house of Pharaoh, an orphan rescued from the river and raised as an Egyptian. This orphan, Moses, eventually killed a man, trying to stand up for his Hebrew brethren, and ended up having to flee. He was exiled from the land and home where he had been raised. Yet in his wandering, he came across a very strange bush that was burning, on fire, but not consumed. And out of that bush the LORD spoke to him, saying:

“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land that's flowing with milk and honey And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

At all this, Moses asked who he should say had sent him—what was this God’s name?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you. The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

So God raised up Moses to save His people Israel. He sent ten plagues upon Egypt, and Pharaoh finally acquiesced. The final plague was the plague on the firstborn sons of Egypt. As the LORD had promised: “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son."

Now to escape, the Israelites were instructed to slaughter the passover lamb, a one year old without blemish. They were to roast it, to eat it all in haste like they’re ready to run, and to brush its blood on their doorposts so that the plague might passover their own households. After this plague, the Egyptians sent Israel out as fast as they could. Yet Pharaoh changed his mind and chased them down with his army. God brought his people safely through the waters of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh was finally defeated.

Now that they were out of Egypt, God led His people Israel towards the fruitful land that He had promised.

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

And Moses himself sang this song to the LORD:

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;

 you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. 

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,

 the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode,

 the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. 

The LORD will reign forever and ever.

And the LORD told His people, Israel: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”

And God provided for His people. He gave them knowledge of Himself. He met with Moses face to face, with such glory that when Moses would return to the people Moses’ own face would glow with residual glory—he had to start wearing a veil so as not to spook the rest of the people.

And God gave His people water in the middle of the desert and food fell from the sky, gathering on the ground each morning for them to eat, without any work of tilling or planting or harvesting. Every morning when they awoke, there was their food.

And the LORD made a proposal to Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

So the LORD made a treaty with Israel, a covenant, making them promises and outlining rules for them to keep in return. He would be their God and they would be His people.

He called Moses up on the mountain to meet with Him for forty days. Yet Israel quickly lost faith. They became afraid, started fighting with each other, and in their paranoia decided maybe what they really needed was to sacrifice to some other deity who might really be able to help them—Moses was taking so long, maybe he’d never come back.

Because of their faithlessness here and also later, God condemned this generation that had seen all these miracles and come out of Egypt by the leading of God’s own cloud and fire to wander in the desert until they died. They would never enter the flourishing land the LORD had promised to them.

God continued to lead this people and provide for them, giving them an ark that became the place of the fire and the cloud. It held a stone copy of the covenant God had made with Israel, a miraculous staff from their first priest Aaron, and some of the miraculous food that appeared each morning, the manna. The LORD even gave them instructions for a tent complex that would house the ark. It would have an outer chamber and an inner chamber. Priests would be chosen from a certain lineage, and then they would be trained in how to do all that was needed—from routine setup and maintenance of the tent to offering sacrifices on behalf of the people in line with the covenant.

After this faithless generation, God finally led the following generation into the land of promise. He made people flee from them and renewed His merciful covenant with Israel. He would be their God, and they would be His people. They would flourish in this fruitful abode, with His presence in their midst, forever and ever, as long as they would obey. They were to live upright lives, to worship God only, to consistently care for the marginalized and oppressed around them. They were to be God’s blessing to the world, just like He had promised Abraham that his people would be.

In addition to the priests, God provided judges for them to settle their disputes and keep order. Yet the judges took bribes and perverted justice, and since there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They practiced child sacrifice like all the other nations; they raped and dismembered their own; the country was a sinful mess. The elders of Israel finally decided what they needed was a king like all the nations around them had.

The first king that Israel chose was the most handsome in the land and a head taller than everyone else. Yet he was wicked and insecure and didn’t follow the LORD very well. So he was replaced with a king after God’s own heart, David.

David, a great warrior and famous worshiper of God, decided that he wanted to build a permanent house for God, a proper temple. But God said not yet. Here’s what the word of the LORD said to David:

And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.

In the wake of this beautiful promise, David impregnated the wife of one of his greatest soldiers, had that soldier killed, and lied about it to God’s prophet. David married the woman, as well as other women who bore him other children. One of David’s sons raped one of David’s daughters, and other sons decided to kill him for it. Another of David’s sons rose up in rebellion against him, trying to take the throne. Yet David, as compromised as he had become, remained king until his dying days when he appointed his son Solomon to be king after him.

Solomon finally builds temple, echoing the architecture of the garden, a place for God’s bounty and presence as a magnificent, holy place:

And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.

Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

Yet Solomon too was a compromised king, and he even abandoned the LORD in his later years. He served other gods, and his kingdom was filled with violence. When he died, he appointed his son Rehoboam as king. But Rehoboam was a harsh king and soon another king arose in the north, causing a civil war and a permanent split among God’s people, the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.

And it never got better. King after king served the wrong gods, promoted violence, refusing to worship God or do anything He asked. So God sent prophets who said things like: "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Eventually, things got so bad God kicked His own people out of the flourishing land of the promise. In 722 BC the Assyrians laid siege to the northern kingdom. By 586 BC the Babylonians did the same in the south, destroying Jerusalem and its glorious temple. And the presence of God no longer lived in Israel.

After 70 years of exile, God’s people were finally allowed to return. But nothing was ever quite the same. The glory of the LORD never refilled the temple, the much smaller, much more modest temple that had been rebuilt. And not all of God’s people returned—many of them remained in exile for centuries to come.

Redemption & the Promise of Restoration

In the very beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. He was in the very beginning, with God. All things were made through the Word, and there wasn’t anything that was made without Him. In this Word was life itself, the life that is the light of humanity. This Word is the Son of God. He upholds the universe by the word of His own power. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of God’s nature. He is the way we see the unseeable God. All things were created by Him, visible things and invisible things, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through this Word and for this Word.

And this infinite Word became human, the fullness of God dwelling in human flesh, God Himself living among us as one of us. This Word of God is, of course, Jesus. He’s the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the Christ, the son of David, the second Adam, the offspring of Abraham, the true Israel, the prophet like Moses, the suffering servant of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

He was born to a Jewish peasant family under Roman occupation, the first son to a young virgin named Mary and her betrothed, Joseph. His family was exiled to Egypt, fleeing from the ruler of His land. When this ruler died, they returned and settled in Nazareth. Jesus’ parents had more children, and Jesus trained as a carpenter, living a peaceful and quiet life, despite a knowledge of scripture that even at the age of 12 astonished the religious leaders in the Jerusalem Temple. He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.

Once Jesus grew up, when He was about thirty, He went along with great crowds to the countryside, to the River Jordan to be baptized by a great prophet, John the Baptizer, who was preaching a message of the imminent kingdom of God. And as John baptized Jesus, when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens themselves split open. The Spirit of God came down like a dove and rested upon Jesus. And a voice from the sky thundered, “You are my Son, my beloved! I am delighted with you.”

And immediately this Spirit of God drove Jesus into the desert, where He fasted for forty days and forty nights. At the end of this time, the great adversary, whom we often know as the devil, came to Jesus and tempted Him with power, glory, authority, and a full stomach. This adversary tempted Him with twisted scripture, tempted Him to prove God’s love, tempted Him to prove His own significance. Yet in all of this, Jesus persevered, true to God, quoting true scripture back to correct the untrue, twisted scripture that had been quoted to Him.

And Jesus immediately began preaching a gospel of the coming of the kingdom of God. “Repent for the kingdom is at hand!” He called twelve disciples to follow Him, to be with Him, to be trained by Him, to be like Him. And He had many more. He was funded by women. He marched the countryside, growing in fame, honor, and influence. He gave forgiveness, grace, and healing, miracles helping people to walk that had never walked before, ceasing bleeding that had never ceased before, raising people from the dead, and teaching things that people had never been taught before—all of this proclaiming forgiveness in the presence of God, His gospel, and the coming of God’s kingdom.

This Jesus was opposed by religious leaders, from the Pharisees to the Sadducees to the scribes to the chief priests to Herod and Pilate and everyone in authority. They opposed Him because He was the friend of sinners, the healer, the physician for the sick. He taught upside down ethics. Blessed are the poor! He proclaimed good news to them. He proclaimed a time of God’s favor, a time of God’s grace, the coming of God’s kingdom.

He modeled love. He proclaimed that the Old Testament was about Him. He said that the Old Testament was all about love and that all of the people seeking to earn their way back into God’s presence by doing everything just right were all off—because they all refused to love God with all of themselves and to love their neighbors as themselves. He commanded His followers to love. And He Himself loved His own followers to the end. He served them. He did not lord Himself over them. He was not the master of them, though they called Him “Master.” He was a servant among them.

And at the end of all of this, for all of His love, for all of His teaching, for all of His miracles, for all of the fame that He was gathering from the oppressed and marginalized throughout Israel, the leaders gathered together and conspired against the Lord and against His Messiah. And they exiled Him to death, to make a blood sacrifice. And they nailed Him to a wooden cross. And on that wooden cross, He said, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.” And the One who is life, the One who gives life, the One who created all things in the first place, who had come to His own people was finally and ultimately rejected by His people. The light of the world was swallowed by darkness.

His followers who were still with Him peeled His body off the nails and off the wood. And they quickly dressed His body and dumped Him in a grave on a Friday afternoon. Sabbath was coming, so they didn’t have time to give Him the proper burial that He truly deserved.

He was dead Friday evening. He was dead all day Saturday. And then Sunday morning, very early, while it was still dark outside, this chaos that reigned in the hearts of Jesus’ followers compelled them to return to the grave to finish a proper burial. They showed up with ointment and oils, ready to care for His body, loving the One who had loved them to the end.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener—if only she knew how right she was, as this was the one who planted the Garden of Eden in the first place—she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

In doing this, He recreated, inaugurating a new creation. He revealed Himself to be the great I AM that He had claimed to be when the Jewish leadership had opposed Him. They objected that He was making Himself equal with God, and He replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

And Jesus spent the next several weeks appearing to them, preparing them for the day when in His resurrected body He would rise on a cloud to the presence of God to rule from the heavens and await the day when He would return and collect His kingdom in fullness and in power. He instructed His followers to remain in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit had come upon them. So they were praying and wondering and waiting and longing for what Jesus had promised. And on the day of Pentecost, about fifty days after the Passover, the Spirit of God came down upon them and multiplied their languages. Groups of them began speaking languages that the others had never heard before, each of them hearing the gospel in their very own language. And the Holy Spirit rested on all the followers of Jesus and started to make them alive.

As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive. Jesus had told His people, “Because I live, you also will truly live.”

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man, Jesus, is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

The first followers of Jesus started living into this message. They lived according to a New Covenant that God had made with His people. In this New Covenant God gave His Spirit. And they began living as a radically inclusive, new family. They shared all their things. They loved each other. They loved their enemies. They marched around the world doing the things of Jesus, loving their God with their everything and loving their neighbors as themselves, all while awaiting the promise of the great day when Jesus would come back.

This is the promise John saw at the end of his revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

And an angel carried John away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed him the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. The city was magnificent, measuring 1400 miles by 1400 miles. But in this Jerusalem there is no temple for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

Then the angel showed John the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

This week we went for it all—Genesis to Revelation, the whole story of the Bible, or at least as much as we could fit into a single sermon.


Creation

Let me tell you about the very beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth. Back then the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. The Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning. This was the first day.

And God separated the waters above from the waters below, calling the vault between them the heavens. This was the second day.

And God separated the water from the land. And He saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout all kinds of vegetation,” and it was so. And God saw that it was good. This was the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the heavens,” and it was so. Thus God created the sun, the moon, and the stars. And God saw that it was good. This was the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters and the vault of the heavens be filled with creatures and birds.” And it was so. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the seas and multiply on the earth.” This was the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures,” and it was so. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let us make a human in our own image, after our own likeness. And let them have dominion over all the creatures in the sea and in the heavens and on the earth.” So God created the human in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over all the creatures in the sea and in the heavens and on the earth.” And God saw everything that He had made—and, look, it was very good. This was the sixth day.

So the heavens and the earth were finished and everything that fills them. And God rested on the seventh day, blessing it and making it holy.

Now on the day God made the earth and the heavens, before any plants or shrubs had sprouted, before there had been any rain on the earth, the LORD God fashioned the human of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the human whom he had fashioned. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed through Eden, watering the garden.

The LORD God took the human and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the human, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the human should be alone; I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” So the LORD God brought every kind of animal to the human to have it named. But there was nothing found for the human that would be a suitable companion for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the human, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the human he built into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This one at last is bone of my bones

 and flesh of my flesh; 

this one shall be called Woman,

 because she was taken out of man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the human and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

From the Fall to God’s People

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the evening breeze, and the human and his woman hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the human and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The human said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,

 cursed are you above all livestock

and above all beasts of the field;

 on your belly you shall go,

 and dust you shall eat

 all the days of your life.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,

 and between your offspring and her offspring; 

he shall bruise your head,

 and you shall bruise his heel.”

To the woman he said,

“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;

 in pain you shall bring forth children. 

Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,

 but he shall rule over you.”

And to the human (whom most of us know as Adam—that’s “human” in Hebrew) he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife

 and have eaten of the tree

of which I commanded you,

 ‘You shall not eat of it,’ 

cursed is the ground because of you;

 in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

 and you shall eat the plants of the field. 

By the sweat of your face

 you shall eat bread,

till you return to the ground,

 for out of it you were taken; 

for you are dust,

 and to dust you shall return.”

Then the human named his wife—Eve. Then the LORD God provided clothing for them. Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the human has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the human, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

So the experiment in Eden ended in exile and death. And things would only get worse, with humanity at odds with each other, at odds with nature, and at odds with God Himself.

God blessed Adam and Eve with two sons who were very different from each other, one a farmer and one a herdsman. The first son Cain’s sacrifice to the LORD was not regarded. But the second son Abel’s sacrifice was the very best of his flock, and the LORD regarded it. Cain was incensed. The LORD spoke with him and warned him not to be ruled by the sin that crouched outside his tent, but Cain wouldn’t listen. He took his brother into the field and killed him. After this God came and questioned Cain, just like God had questioned Cain’s parents. Cain the farmer was cursed by the soil, condemned to be a restless wanderer. And though he was driven away from the presence of the LORD, the LORD marked him with a sign of protection, that whoever he met might not slay him. And Cain found a wife and built the first city. And his children and grandchildren became the first tent-dwellers and first musicians and first metalworkers, but they became increasingly violent.

In fact, that’s how it all went. Cain had children and grandchildren. Adam and Eve had another son Seth, who had children and grandchildren who had children and grandchildren and so on. Many of them lived what were apparently extraordinarily long lives. Yet all of them died. And the evil of the humans was great, with every scheme of their hearts perpetually devising evil. The earth was corrupt and filled with violence.

And the LORD regretted having made the human on earth and was grieved to the heart. So God decided to uncreate what He had created. He would spare righteous Noah along with his wife, his sons, and his sons’ wives. But everything else God would undo. He would remove the separation between the waters above and the waters below. Great torrents of water would swallow up the dry land and swallow up all the beasts that filled the earth and the vault of heavens, humanity included.

After this great flood and the unmaking of all that had been made, God once again separated the waters in the heavens from the waters on the ground, and once again He separated the dry land from the seas. And once again He blessed the humans, telling them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

But the world started by these humans was soon just as violent and corrupt as the previous one. Noah quickly finds himself naked and ashamed in the midst of beautiful, fruitful vegetation, and at odds with one of his three sons who ends up cursed. All these had children and grandchildren who had children and grandchildren. Some of them were great, being people of the sea or warriors or hunters, building great cities and founding great nations. But in the time when they all still spoke the same language, they gathered together with urban zeal and technological hubris, intent on making themselves glorious. But the LORD stooped down to their ziggurat in the heavens and scattered the humans over the face of the earth. At the same time, he baffled their languages—each group now speaking in a tongue that the others couldn’t understand.

And yet, immediately after this, the LORD took one of these families with their new languages and decided to make them His own. He told Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

And the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the LORD came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.

Now this promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as God told him, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope Abraham believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he was told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of his wife Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” And the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.

And Abraham had that promised son Isaac, as well as another blessed son Ishmael. And Isaac inherited the same promise from the LORD that Abraham had. You see, the LORD had told Abraham: “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram (father of many), but your name shall be Abraham (father of many nations), for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God."

And this promise was handed down from Abraham’s second son Isaac to Isaac’s second son Jacob as well. Like just about all of the humans who came before him, Jacob was only and always looking out for himself. After tricking his way into receiving the blessing and birthright that were supposed to belong to his older brother, Jacob’s brother Esau was planning on killing him. Instead, Jacob was merely exiled, sent away from his homeland by his father Isaac, who blessed him and said to him: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!"

Years later, when Jacob was returning to his homeland, he was still filled with fear over his brother’s murderous rage. God had told Jacob to return, that God would protect him. But on his way, in the midst of his great fear, Jacob found himself wrestling one night. They wrestled all night, and at the end of it, Jacob insisted on being blessed. The wrestler said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have fought with God and with men, and have prevailed.” And Jacob named the place “God’s face”, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.”

And the nation that was God’s people was properly born—Israel. And this Israel had many sons whose offspring would become the twelve tribes of Israel. Because of a great famine, the people of Israel found themselves displaced from their homeland, sojourning in Egypt. Out of fear over of their great size and influence, the Egyptian rulers enslaved Israel, and it would be a total of 430 years before Israel was able to leave their captor state.

Now, there was a certain Israelite who had been raised by the house of Pharaoh, an orphan rescued from the river and raised as an Egyptian. This orphan, Moses, eventually killed a man, trying to stand up for his Hebrew brethren, and ended up having to flee. He was exiled from the land and home where he had been raised. Yet in his wandering, he came across a very strange bush that was burning, on fire, but not consumed. And out of that bush the LORD spoke to him, saying:

“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land that's flowing with milk and honey And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

At all this, Moses asked who he should say had sent him—what was this God’s name?

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you. The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

So God raised up Moses to save His people Israel. He sent ten plagues upon Egypt, and Pharaoh finally acquiesced. The final plague was the plague on the firstborn sons of Egypt. As the LORD had promised: “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son."

Now to escape, the Israelites were instructed to slaughter the passover lamb, a one year old without blemish. They were to roast it, to eat it all in haste like they’re ready to run, and to brush its blood on their doorposts so that the plague might passover their own households. After this plague, the Egyptians sent Israel out as fast as they could. Yet Pharaoh changed his mind and chased them down with his army. God brought his people safely through the waters of the Red Sea, and Pharaoh was finally defeated.

Now that they were out of Egypt, God led His people Israel towards the fruitful land that He had promised.

And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people.

And Moses himself sang this song to the LORD:

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;

 you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. 

You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,

 the place, O LORD, which you have made for your abode,

 the sanctuary, O Lord, which your hands have established. 

The LORD will reign forever and ever.

And the LORD told His people, Israel: “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer.”

And God provided for His people. He gave them knowledge of Himself. He met with Moses face to face, with such glory that when Moses would return to the people Moses’ own face would glow with residual glory—he had to start wearing a veil so as not to spook the rest of the people.

And God gave His people water in the middle of the desert and food fell from the sky, gathering on the ground each morning for them to eat, without any work of tilling or planting or harvesting. Every morning when they awoke, there was their food.

And the LORD made a proposal to Israel: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

So the LORD made a treaty with Israel, a covenant, making them promises and outlining rules for them to keep in return. He would be their God and they would be His people.

He called Moses up on the mountain to meet with Him for forty days. Yet Israel quickly lost faith. They became afraid, started fighting with each other, and in their paranoia decided maybe what they really needed was to sacrifice to some other deity who might really be able to help them—Moses was taking so long, maybe he’d never come back.

Because of their faithlessness here and also later, God condemned this generation that had seen all these miracles and come out of Egypt by the leading of God’s own cloud and fire to wander in the desert until they died. They would never enter the flourishing land the LORD had promised to them.

God continued to lead this people and provide for them, giving them an ark that became the place of the fire and the cloud. It held a stone copy of the covenant God had made with Israel, a miraculous staff from their first priest Aaron, and some of the miraculous food that appeared each morning, the manna. The LORD even gave them instructions for a tent complex that would house the ark. It would have an outer chamber and an inner chamber. Priests would be chosen from a certain lineage, and then they would be trained in how to do all that was needed—from routine setup and maintenance of the tent to offering sacrifices on behalf of the people in line with the covenant.

After this faithless generation, God finally led the following generation into the land of promise. He made people flee from them and renewed His merciful covenant with Israel. He would be their God, and they would be His people. They would flourish in this fruitful abode, with His presence in their midst, forever and ever, as long as they would obey. They were to live upright lives, to worship God only, to consistently care for the marginalized and oppressed around them. They were to be God’s blessing to the world, just like He had promised Abraham that his people would be.

In addition to the priests, God provided judges for them to settle their disputes and keep order. Yet the judges took bribes and perverted justice, and since there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They practiced child sacrifice like all the other nations; they raped and dismembered their own; the country was a sinful mess. The elders of Israel finally decided what they needed was a king like all the nations around them had.

The first king that Israel chose was the most handsome in the land and a head taller than everyone else. Yet he was wicked and insecure and didn’t follow the LORD very well. So he was replaced with a king after God’s own heart, David.

David, a great warrior and famous worshiper of God, decided that he wanted to build a permanent house for God, a proper temple. But God said not yet. Here’s what the word of the LORD said to David:

And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.

In the wake of this beautiful promise, David impregnated the wife of one of his greatest soldiers, had that soldier killed, and lied about it to God’s prophet. David married the woman, as well as other women who bore him other children. One of David’s sons raped one of David’s daughters, and other sons decided to kill him for it. Another of David’s sons rose up in rebellion against him, trying to take the throne. Yet David, as compromised as he had become, remained king until his dying days when he appointed his son Solomon to be king after him.

Solomon finally builds temple, echoing the architecture of the garden, a place for God’s bounty and presence as a magnificent, holy place:

And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.

Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that he would dwell in thick darkness. I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you to dwell in forever.”

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O LORD my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

Yet Solomon too was a compromised king, and he even abandoned the LORD in his later years. He served other gods, and his kingdom was filled with violence. When he died, he appointed his son Rehoboam as king. But Rehoboam was a harsh king and soon another king arose in the north, causing a civil war and a permanent split among God’s people, the Kingdom of Israel in the north and the Kingdom of Judah in the south.

And it never got better. King after king served the wrong gods, promoted violence, refusing to worship God or do anything He asked. So God sent prophets who said things like: "For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Eventually, things got so bad God kicked His own people out of the flourishing land of the promise. In 722 BC the Assyrians laid siege to the northern kingdom. By 586 BC the Babylonians did the same in the south, destroying Jerusalem and its glorious temple. And the presence of God no longer lived in Israel.

After 70 years of exile, God’s people were finally allowed to return. But nothing was ever quite the same. The glory of the LORD never refilled the temple, the much smaller, much more modest temple that had been rebuilt. And not all of God’s people returned—many of them remained in exile for centuries to come.

Redemption & the Promise of Restoration

In the very beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. He was in the very beginning, with God. All things were made through the Word, and there wasn’t anything that was made without Him. In this Word was life itself, the life that is the light of humanity. This Word is the Son of God. He upholds the universe by the word of His own power. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of God’s nature. He is the way we see the unseeable God. All things were created by Him, visible things and invisible things, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through this Word and for this Word.

And this infinite Word became human, the fullness of God dwelling in human flesh, God Himself living among us as one of us. This Word of God is, of course, Jesus. He’s the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, the Christ, the son of David, the second Adam, the offspring of Abraham, the true Israel, the prophet like Moses, the suffering servant of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

He was born to a Jewish peasant family under Roman occupation, the first son to a young virgin named Mary and her betrothed, Joseph. His family was exiled to Egypt, fleeing from the ruler of His land. When this ruler died, they returned and settled in Nazareth. Jesus’ parents had more children, and Jesus trained as a carpenter, living a peaceful and quiet life, despite a knowledge of scripture that even at the age of 12 astonished the religious leaders in the Jerusalem Temple. He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.

Once Jesus grew up, when He was about thirty, He went along with great crowds to the countryside, to the River Jordan to be baptized by a great prophet, John the Baptizer, who was preaching a message of the imminent kingdom of God. And as John baptized Jesus, when Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens themselves split open. The Spirit of God came down like a dove and rested upon Jesus. And a voice from the sky thundered, “You are my Son, my beloved! I am delighted with you.”

And immediately this Spirit of God drove Jesus into the desert, where He fasted for forty days and forty nights. At the end of this time, the great adversary, whom we often know as the devil, came to Jesus and tempted Him with power, glory, authority, and a full stomach. This adversary tempted Him with twisted scripture, tempted Him to prove God’s love, tempted Him to prove His own significance. Yet in all of this, Jesus persevered, true to God, quoting true scripture back to correct the untrue, twisted scripture that had been quoted to Him.

And Jesus immediately began preaching a gospel of the coming of the kingdom of God. “Repent for the kingdom is at hand!” He called twelve disciples to follow Him, to be with Him, to be trained by Him, to be like Him. And He had many more. He was funded by women. He marched the countryside, growing in fame, honor, and influence. He gave forgiveness, grace, and healing, miracles helping people to walk that had never walked before, ceasing bleeding that had never ceased before, raising people from the dead, and teaching things that people had never been taught before—all of this proclaiming forgiveness in the presence of God, His gospel, and the coming of God’s kingdom.

This Jesus was opposed by religious leaders, from the Pharisees to the Sadducees to the scribes to the chief priests to Herod and Pilate and everyone in authority. They opposed Him because He was the friend of sinners, the healer, the physician for the sick. He taught upside down ethics. Blessed are the poor! He proclaimed good news to them. He proclaimed a time of God’s favor, a time of God’s grace, the coming of God’s kingdom.

He modeled love. He proclaimed that the Old Testament was about Him. He said that the Old Testament was all about love and that all of the people seeking to earn their way back into God’s presence by doing everything just right were all off—because they all refused to love God with all of themselves and to love their neighbors as themselves. He commanded His followers to love. And He Himself loved His own followers to the end. He served them. He did not lord Himself over them. He was not the master of them, though they called Him “Master.” He was a servant among them.

And at the end of all of this, for all of His love, for all of His teaching, for all of His miracles, for all of the fame that He was gathering from the oppressed and marginalized throughout Israel, the leaders gathered together and conspired against the Lord and against His Messiah. And they exiled Him to death, to make a blood sacrifice. And they nailed Him to a wooden cross. And on that wooden cross, He said, “Father forgive them. They know not what they do.” And the One who is life, the One who gives life, the One who created all things in the first place, who had come to His own people was finally and ultimately rejected by His people. The light of the world was swallowed by darkness.

His followers who were still with Him peeled His body off the nails and off the wood. And they quickly dressed His body and dumped Him in a grave on a Friday afternoon. Sabbath was coming, so they didn’t have time to give Him the proper burial that He truly deserved.

He was dead Friday evening. He was dead all day Saturday. And then Sunday morning, very early, while it was still dark outside, this chaos that reigned in the hearts of Jesus’ followers compelled them to return to the grave to finish a proper burial. They showed up with ointment and oils, ready to care for His body, loving the One who had loved them to the end.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener—if only she knew how right she was, as this was the one who planted the Garden of Eden in the first place—she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

In doing this, He recreated, inaugurating a new creation. He revealed Himself to be the great I AM that He had claimed to be when the Jewish leadership had opposed Him. They objected that He was making Himself equal with God, and He replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

And Jesus spent the next several weeks appearing to them, preparing them for the day when in His resurrected body He would rise on a cloud to the presence of God to rule from the heavens and await the day when He would return and collect His kingdom in fullness and in power. He instructed His followers to remain in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit had come upon them. So they were praying and wondering and waiting and longing for what Jesus had promised. And on the day of Pentecost, about fifty days after the Passover, the Spirit of God came down upon them and multiplied their languages. Groups of them began speaking languages that the others had never heard before, each of them hearing the gospel in their very own language. And the Holy Spirit rested on all the followers of Jesus and started to make them alive.

As in Adam all die, so in Christ all shall be made alive. Jesus had told His people, “Because I live, you also will truly live.”

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man, Jesus, is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

The first followers of Jesus started living into this message. They lived according to a New Covenant that God had made with His people. In this New Covenant God gave His Spirit. And they began living as a radically inclusive, new family. They shared all their things. They loved each other. They loved their enemies. They marched around the world doing the things of Jesus, loving their God with their everything and loving their neighbors as themselves, all while awaiting the promise of the great day when Jesus would come back.

This is the promise John saw at the end of his revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

And an angel carried John away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed him the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. The city was magnificent, measuring 1400 miles by 1400 miles. But in this Jerusalem there is no temple for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

Then the angel showed John the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Share this: