Epic: God’s Love for All People

We began a new series at Gateway Church in Austin called Epic!

To get the most out of this series, read through the daily Scripture readings and the Next Steps with your family, with running partners, or in a life group.

You can watch the message here:

Here are the notes from the message:

Deep inside we can sense that things are not what they should be. Things in this world are broken and things are not as they could be.

Our hope for you in these next 6 weeks through the Bible is to help you discover God’s story and to help you find your place in God’s story.

Our prayer for us today is that we might open our heart and our mind to what God has for us, and see how God speaks to us through the Bible.

First, we need to reframe our view towards the Scriptures. Second, we will look at the Big Story in the Scriptures. Third, we will look at the core message of the Scriptures.

1. We need to reframe our view towards the Scriptures.

Our love stories give us a glimpse into the greatest love story of all – God’s pursuit of humanity!

Like a love letter, The Bible is designed to connect us to the One who loves us.

Filled with history, poetry, songs, prophecies, and letters, the Scriptures reveal God’s character.

The goal of the Scriptures is not to get more information. The goal is transformation – understanding who God is and living a new life under His leadership and with His guidance.

Applying the Bible means trusting God and trusting God means a real relationship with God. That is the goal of the Scriptures.

He doesn’t want us to simply think highly of Him or reach out to Him just when we are in trouble. He wants a relationship with us!

Some of us get this. We’ve experienced and continue to experience God speaking to us through the Bible.

Our Resistance

But, some of you are thinking: “Ok, you had me then you lost me.”

  • “The Bible is an ancient and irrelevant book with an archaic view on women, sex, and violence. The Bible has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and even used to hurt or oppress people.”
  • “I’ve tried reading the Bible! I can see some value in it, but most of it doesn’t make sense. The Bible is too old and too long and too confusing to understand or apply to my life.”
  • “I want to read the Bible, but I am just so busy!”

For just a moment, whatever resistance you may be feeling, or whatever your experience has been with the Bible. I want you to consider having an open mind.

What if what keeps us from experiencing all the Bible has to offer has more to do with our view of the Bible than the Bible itself?

Some of us have hit a ceiling in our spiritual growth. We think we have arrived, or we think that this is all there is. We come to closure too soon on who God is in our life or what God wants to do in your life.

We need to become more open-minded to the possibility that God has more for us!

Some of us have rejected the Bible because of what others have said negatively about the Bible.
Let me ask you: what if what you’ve heard was not true?

Some of us have been inoculated to the Bible. We’ve heard just enough to think we know it all.
What if I told you, you haven’t even scratched the surface!

Some of us think it’s important, but we can never quite make spending time in the Scriptures a priority.
What if I told you, if you make spending time in the Scriptures a priority you will be more fulfilled and faithful  in all of your other priorities?

Let me acknowledge:

  • The Bible has been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and even used for the agenda of people who did not have the heart of God or were a product of their times.
  • The Bible can be hard to understand. Some passages were written so long ago and seem so different than our day and time.

To make matters even more complicated, many of us have given up on the Scriptures, haven’t understood the Bible, or haven’t made spending time in the Scriptures a priority because there are spiritual forces opposing us. The darkness in our heart, and the darkness in the world around us does not want us to discover the mysteries that are revealed in the Scriptures.

We can trust that what we have as the Bible is a trustworthy document. In other words, we have enough proof that what we have is what was written.

We have more proof that the Scriptures are authentic than our grandparents or great grandparents did. Discoveries in science like carbon dating and discoveries in archaeology like the Dead Sea Scrolls or the fact that archeologists have found cities mentioned in the Bible that skeptics did not believe exist.

We have some great resources on the reliability of the Bible provided in the Next Steps including some messages from John Burke.

Consider this:

  • The Bible is not a giant “Don’t Do” List – a book of rules to make us feel guilty.
  • The Bible is not a series of boring stories that have no relevance in our lives.
  • The Bible is not what you probably think it is.

Erwin McManus puts it this way: The Scriptures are a portal into God’s presence! 

So let’s consider what the Bible says about itself:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

The Bible is never to be used as a weapon to bludgeon people. Instead, the Bible is more like a scalpel that does work on us to heal us from what ails us.

Don’t just read the Scriptures, let the Scriptures read you.

We can grow to trust God and His Word fully when we surrender our opinions, our experiences, our pre-concieved notions, or even our politics or ANYTHING that we impose on God or impose on the Scriptures.

I recently saw a billboard in Florida: “Read the Bible, it will scare the hell out of you.”

Arguing or debating or scaring people to change their point of view does not work.

We aren’t trying to convert anyone or force anyone to believe! We can’t! Instead, we are looking for those who want help. The Scriptures can only help those who want help – only those with an open mind.

Which leads to another helpful passage in the Bible about the purpose of the Bible:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

For those who want to grow and change, the Bible absolutely helps with that!

Consider what Paul writes to the church in the city of Corinth. He reminds them that when we choose to fully surrender our lives and follow Jesus, through the Spirit of God and through God’s revelation to us through His Word: we can understand the character of God and even the mind of Christ! His thoughts can become our thoughts! He reminds us that we are those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed! Mysteries not to keep hidden, but a mystery to share with all who want to know!

2. We need to understand the Big Picture of the Scriptures.

Understanding the Big Picture will help us avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings. This way we can read every passage in its context.

The Scriptures share the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.

Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration

Author Gabe Lyons in his book The Next Christians points out that we need to understand, live out, and share the whole story of God. Too often people of faith have forgotten the first two chapters and last two chapters of the Bible. We live out the Gospel – the message of faith – as if it was only about the fall and redemption, but when we do we are leaving out the creation and restoration.

When we do this, we forget to speak hope into the lives of people. Everyone was created in the image of GOD!! Everyone! There is a fall which led to brokenness and a disconnecting with God, but once we are redeemed and discover a relationship with God we are now to be restorers. We are to bring healing to the world! We are to help God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

This epic story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration is revealed in 3 ways:

  • God and humanity.   God created humanity in His image, but we chose to rebel against Him. Even still, He pursues to redeem us, and we can join Him in restoring the world back to the way God intended.
  • God and His chosen people (Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament and the Church in the New Testament). God chooses one person to bless so that all nations will be blessed. He sets apart His people so that the way we live is attractive to others. He sends out His people to bring His love, faith, and hope to those around us.
  • God and each person. Each story in the Scriptures is a case study in how people have interacted with God and become heroic in spite their brokenness or have rejected God. We have the same opportunity!

So consider: what’s your story? 

Do you realize that God wants to intervene in your life? He wants to take on all of the pain, struggle, brokenness, and confusion that you have experienced and bring healing to your heart, mind, and soul.  He wants to intersect with your story, because no matter how tragic, when He gets involved, He can write a new story and even use your story to help others going through the same.

When we look at the Scriptures through the lens of faith and consider the Scriptures tell of the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, we are in a better position to understand what is happening.

The Bible is incredibly broad in the beginning and the end and incredibly specific in one place – the passion of Jesus (the week before His death and resurrection). In fact, we have four accounts of that one week in the life of Jesus with details almost hour by hour.

We aren’t exactly sure when God created or when this universe might come to an end, we just know that God created the universe and one day, He will make all things right. What we do know is that all points towards Jesus and all flows out of that critical moment. Even time was split into two parts!

When we read all of the Scriptures through the eyes of that critical moment in history – Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, so much more makes sense.

Perhaps you’ve heard us talk about the bullseye in which the center of the bullseye is Jesus. The Gospel – the message that God loves humanity and came to pursue us by walking among us, bringing healing and hope then ultimately dying on the cross and rising from the dead. That is the most important part of the story. What unites those who follow Jesus is Jesus.

Even when you disagree on Jesus or secondary or tertiary issues, you are welcome here!

Too often, Christians make secondary and tertiary issues in which there are different interpretations as important as the main message of Jesus.

When something doesn’t make sense, we need to look at the context and use the Scriptures to interpret the Scriptures.

So many people throw out all of God’s Word because some of it doesn’t make sense at first glance.

Remember, the historical accounts are descriptive rather than prescriptive. In other words, we are reading what happened not necessarily what God intended or wanted from His people.

Let me give you an example of reading the Scriptures in context.

So many people throw out the Scriptures because they have heard the Bible looks down on women or the Bible was used to justify slavery. Maybe you’ve even read passages that seemed to justify oppressing women or justify slavery.

So consider a couple of misunderstood passages about women and those who were enslaved.

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” – 1 Timothy 2:11

We hear the second part of the verse and think: see I knew the Bible was out of date! Looking at the context though, we discover this verse is actually revolutionary!

In a time in history, when women were seen as property and women were not valued, Paul actually said a phrase that would have made anyone do a double take: “women should learn…”

This is truly remarkable! In those days, most societies were more like the Taliban! They did not value women at all! This past year, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize was a young woman from Pakistan named Malala who defied the Taliban’s ban on girls receiving an education going to school.

2,000 years ago, Paul says: “women should learn….”

Using the Scriptures to interpret Scriptures, you discover that Paul mentions women who were prophets and church leaders. He even mentions that anyone who chooses to follow Jesus receives spiritual gifts including women and those who were enslaved. In other words, women and slaves could very well have the spiritual gift of leadership or teaching.

In terms of slavery, even though Paul encourages slaves to submit to their masters (and masters to be kind to them), there is something bigger going on.

This seems so backwards to us, but consider a few elements of context.

Remarkably, Paul is writing to slaves directly. This shows he sees those who are enslaved as people too and not as just property. Also, this makes clear that there were Christ-followers who were enslaved. He is reminding them that their suffering is not in vain. In fact, we know some of the most important figures of the Bible like Joseph and Daniel were actually slaves at one point in their lives!

You might think that Paul should call those who were slaves to rise up and rebel (and we know there are times when this would be absolutely the right thing), but the plight of slaves in Paul’s day is different than what we think of when we think of the early history of the United States of America or even those who are forced into slavery today. Many of those enslaved were paying off a debt. They chose servitude as a way to get out of their difficult circumstances. The Bible calls for those who were enslaved to be freed every 7 years (very different than forced slavery). The Bible does not advocate slavery. Instead Paul is writing to help slaves know how to handle their difficult circumstances. Even still, there is a trajectory towards freedom in the Bible. For example, Paul’s letter to Philemon was a letter asking him to free his slave Onesimus. The early church leaders knew that as people were freed from spiritual slavery, then the end of physical enslavement was soon to follow.

Paul even writes an incredible declaration of freedom and equality for women and those who were slaves. He writes:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

This is revolutionary!!

The reality is that all nations informed by Christianity (informed by the Bible) have moved towards women in leadership and away from slavery throughout history. Sure, we still have a long way to go, but the trajectory that began in the Scriptures moves towards value and worth and love beyond what any culture would be like naturally.

3. Consider the core message of the Scriptures.

Some of us may have read part of the Old Testament or heard others talk about the Old Testament as if the God represented in the Old Testament is angry and vengeful and full of wrath far different than the way Jesus represented God in the New Testament.

It is true that God is going to make all things right.

One day, there will be justice, but God’s loving character has never changed.

Throughout the Scriptures that Jesus studied (the Old Testament), a phrase is used 9 times to describe God’s character:

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”
– Psalm 103:8

Over and over and over, God’s character is shown to be loving, gracious, and compassionate.

From the beginning of the Scriptures, the Bible says:

“… I will bless you… and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1-3

In choosing to bless Abraham, God was choosing to bless all peoples on earth!

Even at the end of the Bible, we discover that

[The angels] sang a new song [to Jesus], saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9

God’s love is for all peoples! Every nation! Every people group!

The Bible is the only religious text that was written to all nations! All of the other religious writings were written to a local group without concern for the rest of the world.

God, out of His great love created the universe and created people with whom He could share His creation and His love.

Because of His great love for us, God created us with freedom.

After a beautiful and poetic beginning of the creation story, the Scriptures say in Genesis 1….

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness….” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:26-27

Catch that, from the beginning all of humanity was created with value and in the image of God!

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2:15-17 (NIV)

Did you catch that?! “You are free!”

When have you experienced a time when you knew that you were so loved that you actually felt free?

The story continues, God gave Adam and Eve so many options – an amazing number of options and only one limitation.

The Creator of the Universe created us with the freedom to choose – an incredible act of love. God created us for relationship with Him.

  • He could have created us in such a way that we were forced to love Him.
  • He could have created us and tricked us into choosing Him.
  • He could have even started over once humanity chose to rebel against Him.

Notice instead what happens…

Adam and Eve walk over to the tree they were to avoid. It was then they encountered a tempter in the form of a serpent (or “shining one”):

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:4-7

Perhaps you don’t like the idea of a talking snake. Have you considered: what if you could see the origin of the voice that we all have  in our minds who whispers evil thoughts? Perhaps, if we could see evil, he would look like a serpent.

Maybe you’ve heard this story. Both Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God’s desire for communion. In their freedom, they walked away from God.

As a result, sin entered our world. Our genetics were altered. Humanity was broken and that brokenness has passed down from generation to generation.

Ever since, all of us have had moments when we have fallen to temptation – wanting what we know we shouldn’t. We have believed lies that led to choices that eventually inhibited our ability to feel free.

Even still, God intervened. In a powerful moment that points towards a rescue plan through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, notice what happens:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. – Genesis 3:21

To cover their nakedness, an animal was sacrificed to cover for them – a moment of foreshadowing – the Son of God would come as a sacrifice for us to cover over our evil choices when we ask Him for forgiveness and surrender our lives to Him.

The Scriptures share the story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. What is your story in relation to those four themes? How are you living out the full story of God?

How is God using your story to help others who are struggling with the same things as you?

What do you need to do in your life to allow Jesus to restore the work of art that is your life? If you’ve never trusted Him, would you do that now? If you have, what do you need to continue to surrender to Him to see a more full restoration?

What is your next step?

  • Join us each Sunday.
  • Reconnect with your life group to work through the Next Steps.
  • Read through the daily Bible readings throughout this series.
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