Best.Story.Ever :: God’s Story

At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a new series called “Best.Story.Ever.”

The Bible is an epic story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, but it’s also an intimate story describing God’s pursuit of a love relationship with each of us as individuals. We need to understand the big picture so that we don’t miss the personal application. Where do we fit into God’s big picture?

These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.

Here is the audio of the message I shared:

Here are notes from the message by John Burke:

God is a storyteller. He’s telling a story through humanity. Story is all around us. I have a story. You have a story. We all do. You may feel that you don’t have one, but every human life is an incredible story, a creation of God.

God is trying to include us into a bigger story, His story. In fact, that is why He created us. Each one of us have a stewardship for the story He has given us — not just the good parts, but the bad parts, the messy parts, and how that story intersects with God. We all have an obligation to own our story and to tell it. That actually points to God.

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring these ideas. How should you take part? Simply put, own your story. Tell it. Tell it to your neighbor. Talk about it with a coworker. Share it on social. In fact, help us see how your story intersects with everyone else’s story here at Gateway by adding #ownyourstory. Use this story on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and any where else you show up online. It will be an encouragement to all of us and help others see how your story intersects with our story and intersects with the Best.Story.Ever — God’s story.

See, the Bible is an Epic Story, of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and ultimate Restoration.

  • If you zoom out all the way, on the Largest Scale it’s the story of God pursuing a love relationship with you, me, all humanity—it’s a love story full of more drama than a teenage romance.  
  • If you zoom in mid-view, you see a story of God and the nation of Israel.
  • If you zoom in all the way, you see a personal story of God and you—and how every story, poem, command, and promise applies to you personally.

But if we don’t have the Big Picture, we often miss the personal application.  So today, we zoom out to look at God’s Big Picture story, so we can see where we each fit in His story, and where our church fits.  

So I’m about to do the impossible—I’m going to tell you the story of the whole Bible in 30 minutes. What makes that so difficult, is the Bible is not one book, it’s 66 books, written across 1500 years of history, with so many twists and turns—tension, drama, poetry, wisdom, woven throughout real history of nations, kings, and people—yet there is a common thread across the whole story – revealing God’s character.

Our Resistance

But, some of you are thinking:

  • “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?

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.

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

Some of the confusion comes in when we look at just part of the Bible outside of its context. We don’t do that with other stories, but we do it all the time with the Bible. Let’s look at the entire story of the Scriptures.

It’s God’s Story—creating us for a love relationship with himself—but that’s Risky Business.

Act 1: Risky Business—Genesis.

In the beginning Genesis 1 says, God created!

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth….” – Genesis 1:1a

  • Have you ever really pondered how ridiculously creative God must be—the billions of galaxies, stars, planets—on our planet such beauty, diversity of animal life, the uniqueness and diversity of each of his greatest creations—men and women.
  • God created people different from the animals, he created people in his image—with the ability to co-rule with God.

 

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 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.

  • In his image means creative, with the ability to co-rule or watch over and be good stewards of the planet and animals and each other—God gave us that responsibility.

And God created people for relationship with God and each other—they would walk and talk together—and God gave every good gift to enjoy.  

But there was one thing that was off limits: The tree of the knowledge of good…and evil. God gave humanity freedom to choose—free will—because God wanted to create creatures who were able to love God and each other.

God is love. But love is risky business—even for God.  Love requires freedom to choose. So for God to create Creatures who could truly love God, they had to have freedom to choose NOT GOD.

But God IS Love, and God is Good.

So then a dark, mysterious character enters the story… introduced to us as a serpent. It represents evil at its source… and it lies to them and says: “You won’t die, you’ll be like God, knowing good and evil”…and it entices the humans to doubt God’s generosity and to rebel against Him.

Now, we could get derailed right here with all kinds of analytical questions and miss the point.  But the point is clear:

We chose… and keep on choosing… to play God and choose “my will” and “my ways” over God’s will and His ways… and we experience the knowledge of evil along with God’s good gifts.

… and this leads to disaster… humanity’s relationship with God is fractured, and our relationships with each other, with our families, and with the earth all breakdowneverything becomes infected by this knowledge of evil.

But fortunately… there’s much more to this story!

Act 2: The Promise: A Nation for the Nations.  

So 4000 years ago, about 2000 B.C., God chose Abraham and Sarah, a couple full of faith, to create a Chosen nation – the Jewish Nation.  

Chosen is a very misunderstood term—it doesn’t mean better than, or more valued than, it means “set apart for a purpose.”  God declared that purpose in Genesis 12:1-3:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others…All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:1-3  

Notice the big Picture—God chooses Abraham and Sarah to create a nation, but for a distinct purpose: To bless all nations! God says, I will lead you to a land, I will make you into a great nation, through your family line I will bless all peoples on earth. Close to 500 times in the Bible, God speaks of all nations—he doesn’t play favorites—when He chooses some, it’s not because they’re better but for the sake of others also.

As His church, we can never forget that—God calls us to himself so that we might share His love and show His kindness to others. Are you actively doing that for those around you? (cause as we’ll see, Israel’s downfall was forgetting that).

How is God going to bless all nations?

Two primary ways—he will create a nation set apart with very distinct laws and protections to do two things:  

1). Record and preserve God’s Words through the prophets.

2). Foretell and prepare His own self-revelation as Messiah (or Christ, greek word).  

Keep both those in mind—reveal the Scriptures and reveal the Messiah for the sake of all nations.

But it’s not that simple, see. Because Abraham and Sarah were barren—they’d been trying for years to have children, even when they’re really old God was promising a nation through their offspring, but Viagra hadn’t been invented yet— so then how? God says “trust me—I’ll make a way”

“Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. Genesis 15:5-6

Don’t miss this—from the very beginning with Cain and Able to Abraham, it’s by faith that people are made right with God.

That’s only possible because God’s plan from the beginning was to bless all nations by coming as Messiah and paying for our sins—so a simple act of faith or turning our hearts back to God in love, is all he needs.

So after 10 years of waiting (and a few big mistakes along the way), Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah. God came through—all his promises are true—God’s going to bless the nations through Isaac, Jacob…down through King David—God spelled it out.

And if you’ve read the New Testament lineages of so and so begat so and so begat so and so and wondered, who cares?  It’s because God wrote many clear signs into history of his coming—including the exact genealogy on mother and father’s side.

And God even had Abraham act out the crucifixion of Jesus 2000 years before it happened—Abraham traveled 3 days to Mt. Moriah and was asked to sacrifice his only son—but God provided a Lamb in his place. It was the Mountain Jerusalem would be built on, Jesus would be sacrificed on.

Act 3: The Law   

3500 years ago, God told the nation of Israel through his prophet Moses:

The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. Deuteronomy 30:9-10, 19-20  

God’s desire has always been to have people he could delight in and bless and help prosper. The Old Testament God is not different from the New Testament—To love God with all your heart was the Shema—the creed of Israel. This is the God of the Old Testament, revealing his heart.  Do you realize, God wants to delight in you and lead you to prosper…and it starts, like this says, when you turn to the Lord with all your heart and soul…it flows out of right relationship with God.  And as this says, he’s given us his commands and decrees written in His Book, so that we may obey his words and live.

The Old Testament trips up a lot of people. You have to remember: these are laws to a specific people in a specific time and place. The Laws helped the people of Israel live set apart and differently from the rest of humanity. In those days, all tribes were like ISIS!

A friend of mine who works for a non-profit in Austin that works to take good care of our green space read Leviticus and came back to our life group and said it was a genius description of how to survive in the wilderness. So many of the laws were about hygiene.

Be sure to look at the Hebrew Scriptures through lens of the Cross – through what we have seen God to be in Jesus.

God is more near to you than you can imagine, and he longs to lead you into life. But he has also given you a free will – the opportunity to choose.  And throughout the scriptures he’s given you signs—pointing the way to life or to death.  It’s why we should read and follow God’s commands in scripture. And he says to you today, I’ve set before you the signs pointing the way to life or the path to death and destruction—now Choose Life! Choose the path of loving God and following his word–Choose Life!

Exodus is the story of God giving the Law, his commands to Israel.

First, setting Israel free from slavery.

God gives Pharoah chance after chance to obey God and trust God to provide, but Pharoah likes his power and slave labor, so Pharoah hardens his heart 10 times despite 10 plagues of warning. The last plague is important because it became the Passover Festival of Israel—and a foreshadowing of Christ. Moses told Pharoah, 9 times you said you’d let Israel go but didn’t. Let my people go, or every firstborn son will die. Then God said this as an act of mercy—even if Pharoah hardens his heart, I will forbid this plague from harming any people (Jews or Egyptians) who trust in God and obey Me by taking a lamb’s blood and marking your door—the angel of death will Passover that house.

God commanded them to observe The Passover celebration every year for the next 1500 years. The Passover Celebration foretold and symbolized God’s provision to pay for all our sins so that spiritual Death would Passover all who trust in Him. Every year, on Yom Kippur a lamb was Sacrificed for each person to cover the sins of the previous year. God specified that the yearly sacrifices must be made in the Temple in Jerusalem. Then Jesus was sacrificed on the Passover as the final Passover Lamb—That’s when the Jewish Pharisees and the Roman government crucified Jesus. That’s history—outside the Bible—and yet all Jewish sacrifice stopped soon after Jesus Crucifixion because the Temple was destroyed by the Romans. Real history, foretold. That’s why Jesus is called “The Lamb of God”—the final sacrifice who takes away the sins of the world.

So Pharoah finally lets the people go—Exodus tells of how Moses led them out to Mt. Sinai where God gave the Mosaic Covenant—the Law. On Mt. Sinai, God says:

You yourselves have seen what I did in Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine,

you will be for me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. Exodus 19:4-6

  • See, the covenant that God made with Abraham was a promise to bless all nations through Israel… it was unconditional… to come through Jesus the Messiah.
  • The covenant God made through Moses was conditional. God wanted a Holy Nation… which means “set apart” for God’s purposes. A nation of priests… a priest helps reconnect people to God.
  • If you obey… then you’ll be blessed. If you rebel… you’ll experience suffering, because the purpose of the law was to show that there are natural consequences when you go against the ways God intended us to live.

… but this does not go well… and fortunately there’s a lot more to the story.

God faithfully leads Israel into the land He had promised to them… of course, because God always comes through on His promises… but as for Israel in this part of the story…

they blow it… big time.

  • They begin worshiping the false-gods of all of the other nations around them… instead of remaining faithful to The One True God who’d rescued them from slavery in Egypt and delivered them into the Promised Land… and this leads the people of Israel in to all kinds of corruption and injustice.
  • As the story unfolds… even Israel’s best kings just fumble the ball over and over again… like King David (know as a man after God’s own heart) or his son, Solomon (known as perhaps the wisest of any of Israel’s Kings)… they all fail miserably… and eventually run the nation into the ground.
  • Then the Tribes of Israel are conquered by the Babylonians… the superpower of the known world… and most of the Israelites are then dragged into exile in Babylon.

At this point in the story… all of the nations have continued with their rebellion, ruining God’s good world. Even God’s own chosen people are doing the same!

… but to me, the craziest part of this point in Israel’s story is that, despite all of their failures… all wasn’t lost.

So what is the purpose of the Law?

Jesus said: I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. Matthew 5:17  

The purpose of the law was to show us why we need Christ and to lead us to a faith that changes our hearts. Here’s an interpretive Key—Paul explains

19 Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins… So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. Galatians 3:19-25  

So we are no longer under the Mosaic “if…then” law—But that doesn’t mean we are to be less ethical, or less moral, or less godly than the law lays out. The law just told us if we were out of bounds.

What Jesus was leading us to is a way for God to live among us and live through us by faith—so that by His Spirit we learn to love even our enemies. We don’t just refrain from “committing adultery” by His Spirit we learn to treat each other as whole, valuable spiritual creatures that we don’t want to objectify—the Way of the Spirit surpasses the way of the Law.  

But much of the History of the nation of Israel, told through the times of the Judges and the Kings is the story of humanity. Incredible case studies for us. Examples of how to follow God and lots and lots of examples of how we often fail to follow God and the consequences that come.

God wanted to be their King—to lead and guide and bless the nation—and Israel is located at the crossing of caravan routes to Europe, Russia, Asia/India, and Africa. He wanted Israel’s blessing to be a witness to the nations passing through that this is the One True God.

This history of Israel is history of humanity. They wanted to be like all the other nations, who had a King. God warned them, a human king will use you and abuse power—but they insisted. God was hurt.

the Lord told [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 1 Samuel 8:7  

It’s an important lesson—sometimes the consequences of our rejecting God is he gives us what we want, even though it’s not going to be good in the end.

The first King rejected God and led them astray, so God appointed King David, and for 2 generations it was the high point of Israel.  David was humble, and a good leader. He wrote most of the Psalms of worship to God. And God did bless David and his son Solomon, gave them peace on all sides—about 1000 BC and the nations did seek Yahweh the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the Queen of Sheba in Africa and others came to learn of Solomon’s wisdom and Solomon and Israel were very blessed.  

But here’s another learning about humanity—God had warned them that when they are blessed, they may forget God, and think it’s by their own hands and for themselves—they’ll forget—blessed to be a blessing.  And King after King led Israel astray.  So God sent prophets to warn them and turn them back to God.

Act 4: The Hope  Among the community of Israel… there were these people known as the prophets. Previously, they had warned of Israel’s downfall… but they also made it clear that it wasn’t the end of the story.

  • God had promised to restore His blessing to the world through this family… remember His promise to Abraham? God always comes through on His promises… and so even Israel’s rebellion wasn’t gonna stop him.
  • The hope of the prophets was that after the exile… God would return to live among his people once again… and a great leader… a Messiah would come and lead Israel in faithfulness to their God. Moreover, it would be through this Messiah… that God would rescue the entire world.

From about 700BC to 400BC God sent prophet after prophet to warn his people, turn back to me, stop giving your hearts to things that are not gods—they’re leading you to your destruction.  Sometimes they’d turn back, usually when things got bad, but as soon as blessings came, they’d forget God again.  God gave them 300 years of warnings. It’s one of the reasons people perceive the Old Testament God as vengeful—because He keeps warning them of all the horrible things He knew would happen if they keep giving themselves over to evil.  And he did it for so long due to his mercy, it seems like he’s always mad, but he’s always merciful—desiring to protect all who turn back.  In fact, Nineveh was an evil, pagan city, not Jewish—he warned them of their destruction, but they turned to him, and he protected them from the evil he had predicted.

And through the prophets, we see God’s heart—he’s like a wounded lover who’s been rejected. A whole book, Hosea, is a prophet who gets cheated on again and again, and God says—that’s me with my people.  Jeremiah

“‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will frown on you no longer, for I am faithful,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will not be angry forever. 13 Only acknowledge your guilt—you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favors to foreign gods…and have not obeyed me,’” declares the Lord.14 “Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband.”  Jeremiah 3:12-14

When we make other things—people, money, careers, first in our lives, our gods—when we obey what they want more than what God wants, he feels rejected like a jilted lover. God is a feeling God—he created us for himself.  He alone has our good in mind.  What we learn is that it hurts the heart of God when people He loves keep rejecting him for things that can’t give them Life like God can.

So as the story of the Old Testament comes to a close… we’re left sitting in a lot of unresolved tension… a pretty epic storyline… waiting for the final ending.

Act 5: The Messiah

Enter Jesus of Nazareth who is often called Immanuel… meaning God with us.

The writers of the 1st four books of the NT… offer accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus… and they present him as the as The One that God has been pointing to throughout the entire biblical story… that He’s the answer and resolution to all of the conflict of the Old Testament.

  • Jesus is presented as: the embodiment of all of God’s Love and Mercy…
  • the kind of human we were all made to be… but have failed to live up to…
  • the faithful Israelite who would fulfill God’s promise to return divine blessing to all of the nations through Abraham.

… that even though evil and people’s rebellion against God and His Ways had created a world of violence and death…

Jesus announces the return of God’s Kingdom… and that He was bringing God’s reign back over the earth… and that He, Himself would settle the “problem of evil” once-and-for-all.

 

…but then as the storyline progresses… we quickly come to realize that Jesus’ plan to triumph over evil was not what the people were expecting at all… that Jesus’ plan to defeat sin and death, was to ultimately surrender His own life… to pay for sins of all of humanity.

After dying for the sins of the world… his resurrection from death seals his victory over all of our evil and death.  

So now, for all who would choose to follow Him… Jesus offers abundant Life and Freedom!

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  John 3:16-17

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.

Jesus, the Messiah, introduced God’s Kingdom. This invisible Kingdom of God has come and has captured the hearts of people from every tribe, tongue, nation. His Kingdom is not confined within borders. His Kingdom is not advanced by weapons of war but by faith, hope, and love.

The Final Act: The Kingdom of God

God’s kingdom is already here and yet not fully here. One day – all will be made right. In the mean time, Jesus told us to pray that God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

As we are redeemed, we become His representatives to help others find redemption.

As we are reconciled, we help other reconcile with God.

As we are restored, we bring restoration to the world around us.

Even when we want to make the change to become a good person, we fail! But we are not alone! God is here to help us! That’s why we celebrate Christmas –the Creator of the Universe came to be with us – born in Bethlehem and then giving His life for us 2000 years ago.

He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good – Titus 2:14

Truly, this is the Greatest Story ever told… the story of God’s love for all nations… and all humanity . . . a love so Great He would reveal himself through Prophets but ultimately unite himself to Humanity, and even go through suffering and death because of His great love for us.  But it’s not just for us… or even for all nations… but for you—personally.  

He wants your story to become part of His Story, but again, the choice is yours… to either define good and evil for yourself…or to trust in God’s Love and His wisdom… to surrender your heart to God and to allow His Will to be done through you… as you choose to walk in Life and in Freedom with Jesus.

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