Let’s imagine flipping through our bibles from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Here’s a summary of the story that emerges:
C. Jesus Christ
A’. New Creation
As the story got underway in Genesis 1-2, God set humanity in place with specific purposes. At the fall, this plan was subverted. Humanity rebelled against God, and all creation bore the consequences. With Israel, hope dawned. All had not been lost. The story had not yet reached its end. A new chapter began.
Apart from the biblical narrative, Christians have struggled with what to make of Israel. The confusion has led to responses in the church ranging from a sense of Israeli nationalism all the way to anti-Semitism. But Israel’s true significance lies within God’s story where they were called to represent humanity by living faithfully before God and to redeem humanity as a witness to the nations (Deut. 4:6).
Blessing. This representative and redemptive purpose began with God’s promise to a man named Abram: “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” (Gen. 12:2-3). After subsequent episodes of worldwide destruction and incorrigible rebellion (Gen. 6-11), the promise to Abram was a sign that God’s original plan for humanity’s blessing was not lost forever. God’s redemptive mission began as a particular man was chosen to partner in restoration.
Making God Known. The story continued and developed many generations later following God’s deliverance of Abraham’s descendants from slavery in Egypt. God’s purpose for Israel was further revealed: “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” (Ex. 19:5-6). As a kingdom of priests, Israel was to make God known to the surrounding nations that desperately lacked the knowledge of God. They would exemplify the testimony of God’s sovereign deliverance and model genuine humanity in their obedience to God. In this way, Israel would be a witness to the surrounding nations (Deut. 4:6). Through Israel’s national priesthood, Abraham’s blessing to the nations would be realized.
Reigning. Later still, the final aspect of God’s purpose for humanity was reintroduced through Israel’s narrative: cooperative participation in God’s reign. This promise came to Israel’s kingly archetype, David: “And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Once again, God had not given up on his creative intentions for humanity. He set people in place in the garden to govern creation on his behalf. And now, through the faithful reign of David and his descendants, Israel was to be a witness to the surrounding nations of God’s restored purpose for humanity.
Nuances. However, each renewed aspect of humanity’s purpose in God came through Israel with its own nuance as the story progressed from Creation to Israel.
- The blessing was now conditional & associated with a potential curse (Leviticus 26).
- The knowledge of God could come through both deliverance from evil & oppression and through judgment of sin & rebellion (Deuteronomy 29).
- The throne of David was only established as the people rejected God as their king (1 Sam. 8:7).
Though Israel’s narrative reverberates with many of the same features as creation, a great deal had changed. Creation had spiraled into decay and futility after the fall. Even so, God’s story was progressing:
Israel was set apart as a particular people to represent genuine humanity in the midst of a fallen world and also to be a redemptive witness among the nations through whom the blessing, knowledge, and reign of God would once again proliferate through Creation.
Israel’s chapter, however, was not to be the final chapter in redemption. Despite their high calling, Israel was plagued with the same rebellion that defined the rest of humanity. Ironically, as Israel fell prey to self-obsession as a chosen people, they became more and more like the surrounding nations. Like the rest of humanity, they rebelled against God’s purpose and dominion. So like Egypt and many nations before them, Israel came to know God through the judgment of their sin. In a scene reminiscent of the Fall (Genesis 3), Israel’s Old Testament narrative grinds to a halt with the people once again exiled from their home and from the presence of their God.
Son of David. We know by now that Jesus wasn’t a random act of divine intervention. He’s where all of God’s story came together and turned toward ultimate restoration and renewal. As we discovered last week, Jesus redeemed and fulfilled God’s purposes for humanity that were established at Creation. He also fulfilled God’s calling for Israel that emerge throughout the Old Testament:
- Through Jesus, God’s promise to Abraham is fulfilled and all the world is blessed.
- Through Jesus, God’s covenant with Moses and Israel is fulfilled. God is made known, and the royal priesthood reaches its culmination.
- Through Jesus, David’s throne is eternally established – not just over Israel, but over all creation.
A powerful reminder…
As was initially the case for humanity at large, Israel forgot their larger context. Though they clung to God’s promises, they also grew victim to self-interest. They sought God’s blessing…for themselves. They sought the knowledge of God…for themselves. And they sought dominion and authority…for themselves. And when Jesus arrived on the scene, most of Israel was blinded by its own self-centeredness.
This must not be the case for us as Jesus’ followers today. We must remember the story in which we find ourselves. We must resist the same temptation toward self-interest that is left unchallenged when Jesus is reduced to a “personal Savior,” a means of “individual forgiveness,” and an opportunity for “personal relationship with God.” We must not place ourselves at the center of God’s story. We can never lose sight of Jesus. Our Redeemer. Our King.
Instead, we should rejoice that God invites us to be part of something so much bigger than ourselves. We must embrace his invitation to live beyond our own interests and to take our places as faithful servants within his eternal Kingdom. We must be reminders to the world of what it means to be truly human: to be blessed and to be a blessing, to know God and make him known, and to submit to and someday participate in his reign over all creation.
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)
Most Christians know that the incarnation of Jesus is a big deal…for some reason. Most know that he came to show us how to love others. Most know that he came to die for our sins. But our understanding of the significance of Jesus’ life and ministry tends to fade out quickly beyond his compassion & crucifixion and our corresponding forgiveness.
But biblically speaking, Jesus didn’t step out of heaven just to get himself crucified so we could all go back to heaven. During his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed and manifested good news that went far beyond “Be forgiven. Be good. Be with me when you’re dead.”
As you might guess based on the amount of Scripture before and after the gospels, Jesus became human to enter into a story that began long before his incarnation. Much had already transpired. Much needed to be done. Much was in store for humanity and all of creation. So when the time was just right…
the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
John 1:14 (MSG)
To understand the significance of the incarnation, let’s go back a few years…
The Beginning. Beyond the evolution debate and Sunday school lessons for the kiddos, there is a tendency in church life to move past Genesis 1-2 without much thought. But what if we slowed down and actually paid attention to what was happening in Creation? What was God setting in motion? What were God’s original intentions for humanity? And most pointedly:
If Jesus is the REDEEMER, what scenario is he redeeming?
God’s Purposes for Humanity. According to Genesis 1-2, God’s creative intentions for human life included three intertwined elements:
- The blessing of God. On the heels of their creation, God’s first act was to bless humanity (Gen. 1:28). He intended humanity to live as a blessed people before him. This blessing defined God’s original context for humanity.
- The knowledge of God. Humanity was also created to live in the knowledge of God. The fullness of this divine intention does not emerge in the creation narrative until near its end. Genesis 3:8-10 reveals that people knew God in a manner hard for us to imagine: Adam and Eve recognized the sound of God walking in the garden with them and (it seems) audibly heard God calling to them. God’s intention was never to be separated from his people. His plan was to dwell with humanity amidst a whole creation without the veil that now lies between the heavenly and earthly realms of creation.
- The reign of God. God chose to reign over his creation through his governors – men & women. As his image-bearers, they would reflect his character and beauty throughout creation as they governed it on his behalf (Genesis 1:26-27). Through this divine-human cooperative effort, all creation was to continue to grow and develop in a state of God’s blessing (Genesis 1:28-30).
The Fall. When humanity rebelled against God’s order and purposes for creation, the fallout was catastrophic. We colluded in the dominion of evil. All creation became subject to the consequences of our selfishness & rebellion. God’s blessed creation was marred by the curse of sin and evil. The knowledge of God faded. A veil came to separate the heavenly and earthly realms of creation. And people forgot what it was like to walk with God.
The Son of Man. It was into this dark scene that Jesus came. Into God’s story. Into the midst of fallen humanity. Into the midst of a broken creation. The Redeemer came. The Son of Man moved into the neighborhood.
For God’s story to get back on track, humanity needed redemption. We rebelled. We failed. But Jesus didn’t. In him, we (humanity) were faithful to God’s creative intentions. As the Son of Man, Jesus stepped into God’s story to REPRESENT and REDEEM humanity:
- The blessing of God. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, all creation has been blessed and presses forward on a trajectory toward complete restoration and renewal.
- The knowledge of God. In Jesus, God was revealed and made known (John 14:9 & Colossians 1:19).
- The reign of God. Jesus submitted himself to the purposes and reign of the Father – and became the King of kings and Lord of lords (Philippians 2:5-11).
Jesus’ humanity was not lost on the New Testament authors. They were highly aware of God’s story and Jesus’ place within it. For example, notice how the following passages renew the human story in and through Jesus:
- Temptation (Matthew 4 & Luke 4). The ministry of Jesus is inaugurated in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) by Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation. But unlike Adam and Eve, who succumbed to temptation, Jesus remained faithfully submitted to God. The human story was renewed.
- The Garden (John 18-20). Near the end of his gospel, John carefully echoes the Creation narrative just as God’s story turned from disaster to the dawning of the New Creation. The ultimate culmination of sin and evil at the cross began as Jesus and his disciples entered THE GARDEN (John 18:1). Then, as the New Creation dawned in Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was mistaken to be the GARDENER (John 20:15). So, John subtly reminds us – Creation fell at the hands of humanity in the garden. And in another garden, it was redeemed.
- “like God” (Philippians 2:5-11). Where Adam rebelled and grasped at the possibility to be like God, Jesus faithfully submitted himself and laid down his life.
- Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). In two of the most direct Jesus/Adam comparisons, Paul explicitly names Jesus as a “new” Adam. Whereas Adam set humanity on a trajectory of sin and death, through Jesus came righteousness, resurrection, and renewal.
Humanity was created with a central role in Creation. After the fall, we needed redeemed if God’s story was to get back on track. So the Redeemer came as the Son of Man. As a man, Jesus faithfully represented humanity. Through him, God’s people look forward to the fullness of our own redemption when Jesus returns and we take our places under him: sharing God’s blessing and likeness everywhere, living in the unabated knowledge of God, and reigning over the New Creation.
(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)