In the Beginning…
In Genesis 1 and 2, we see the God above all designing, forming, creating, establishing, directing, resting, walking with. As I read the beginning of this story that is about all of human history, past, present, and future, I am caught up in the beginning. God created all that we know and see. And it was good. Adam and Eve lived the Happy Life. The distortions we know to our contemporary understanding of happiness found no home in Genesis 1 and 2, because man and woman had yet to have knowledge of evil. They had yet to experience any distortions to God’s good creation. But then we turn the page to chapter 3. And 4, 5, 6, 7…and on the story goes. Sin is now a powerful force shaping all human experience of God’s good world.
So often I think we pass over not only the beginning of the story, but the whole first half. We read Genesis but only see it as a distant backdrop for Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. And then we go to First Wednesday and hear Mark Glanville read about God’s command to Israel to care for the refugee. We are reminded that there is an urgent refugee crisis in our world today and are then told that the people of God have specific commands as to what it looks like to respond in light of the Kingdom that we live within—in light of the character of our King. So why does it feel like the Church in the West has no common script for responding to these important areas of life? So many of us seem to choose apathy or personal security.
I think one problem is that the texts that Mark read from last Wednesday are not in the New Testament. For so many of us in the Western Church, we were told somewhere along the way that the Old Testament was a part of the Old Covenant that no longer applies to us. We may have even been evangelized to and given a mini-Bible with the Psalms and the New Testament only. We heard much about our personal sin and our need for a savior and read the New Testament as a guide for personal Christian morality.
This narrative that we’ve heard so many times leaves no room for the Kingdom of God. A kingdom has a king, and it has laws. What is a kingdom without laws? They are necessary to carry out the vision of a ruler for (hopefully) a flourishing society in the midst of a broken world. One day, when sin and death no longer reign, this good law will be made perfect in our hearts so that we will not need external rules to love God and man perfectly. But for now…for this time of the already/not yet, we need the good law of God to show us how to display his goodness as a foretaste of what is to come. We need this holistic vision for the Kingdom to be on mission as God’s people.
The First-half of the Story
As we read The Story, we see that God reveals his own character and the nature of his Kingdom throughout the Old Testament. Or, as Riccardo said, what the Jews referred to as the law and the prophets. The law revealed that character of God and his people, and the rest of the Old Testament helped Israel understand what it looked like to live according to that good rule within their different contexts through history. Jesus’ Jewish audience at the Sermon on the Mount would have heard Jesus loud and clear when he said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Jesus affirms that everything leading up to his arrival was integral to the Kingdom that he was establishing. Everything he says will fulfill or “color in,” as Riccardo said, the picture that God had been revealing for centuries (not simply drawing a new picture on a blank canvas!).
Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for us to have what was promised through the prophet Ezekiel: a heart of flesh and the Spirit of God dwelling in us. The character of God that we see throughout The Story does not change; our hearts do. We need what the house of Israel needed: to be freed from the tyrannical rule of sin and death in our hearts, freed to live under the good rule of God.
The Kingdom of God is an upside Kingdom, surely. But that is because sin has turned God’s good world on its head. When Jesus teaches on that mount, he is renewing our vision to see the happy life that God intended for all of creation.
Encouragement for our journey
As we continue in the True Story Project and the Sermon on the Mount series, I think we are all asking the same questions: if this is God’s story, why are women being defiled and disrespected? How come men that are lying, cheating and stealing are receiving God’s blessing? And how does the story go from circumcision, murder and adultery to caring for refugees and then eventually to “blessed are the meek…”?
As we read this story, it is vital to remember that sin is rampant. Any stories that involve humans will surely be stained with the horrors that erupt from the hearts of men and women living in rebellion to our good God. God’s law is perfect, but we only see it slowly revealed in the context of a sinful society. It will never look the way it’s supposed to until Christ fully reigns. But I hope that we can see, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our hearts, that God is the faithful One, that he was and is on mission, and that he has equipped us to live in accordance with his vision of the world, marked by peace and flourishing for all. And if we really follow Christ in the nature of his life and death, it will be the hardest life we could imagine in many ways—full of sacrifice and sorrow. But in this broken world, it is the only way to live the truly happy life because it is living in accordance with the One who created our hearts and everything that we see. We can keep trying and failing to find happiness on our own, or we can submit to the good King who has a better way, the way of the True Story of the World.
In closing, to spark our imaginations to live within The Story…
Imagine you are one of Jesus’ disciples and you just made the trek up A-mountain, you find a comfy rock, sit and use the back of your hand to wipe that bead of sweat that is sprinting from your eyes. You look up and see Jesus, his eyes eagerly gazing upon you and the other disciples as he prepares to unfurl the character of his Kingdom.
“Could this really be him?” you ask in your heart. “Could I really be lucky enough to be sitting at his feet, learning from the words formed by his lips?” Your great-grandparents almost lost hope that he would really come. Almost. But they didn’t. They still clung to the promise of the prophets that one was coming that would usher in God’s good rule again. As you sit and listen, you can’t help but catch a glimpse of Tempe in your periphery. As you hear Jesus words about the Kingdom, the city begins to be transformed in your mind’s eye. If God’s good laws reigned, what would that mean for the refugee, the mother experiencing homelessness, the young man with the disreputable vocation? What would it mean for your family, the work that you do, the way students are educated at ASU? What would it look like if the Kingdom of God really came in our city?