The story of history is glorious, but it’s huge. It’s so huge we are constantly forgetting it. Because, frankly, it would be a full-time job remembering all of it all the time. Turns out it is, it’s called Historian. Knowing what it all means is called Theologian. Questioning it all to death is called Philosopher. Bleeding your emotions all over it is called Artist. But ultimately, all we regular folks need is a good reminder of our story. Because we Americans don’t get that much: we don’t gather around the fire and hear grandpa tell us our story and that makes us feel “free” to create our own. But with that freedom comes ignorance and confusion. We’ve forgotten our True story, and it’s my constant passion to call people to the fire to hear the way things really are.
This is our Story, such as I can tell it
God exists. Then He decided to create everything to reveal His glory through a cosmic drama, the most dramatic story ever told. Evil provides the conflict and we humans are the characters. Satan is the enemy. Adam and Eve sin against God, choosing to believe their own words over God’s, and Satan wins the battle (though it’s yet to be shown who will win the war). God, in the greatest act of power ever displayed, doesn’t put an end to His enemy—He lets it play out. Because in the drama that unfolds, His glory will be made manifest to the entire cosmos. Meanwhile, on earth, the first couple spend the rest of their lives listening to the words in their head taunt them for what they lost. Their son murders his brother. Paradise seems to be forever lost.
God steps into history-out-of-control by making a Covenant with Abraham, promising him land, children, and blessing. Abraham spent almost a hundred years of his life childless in a culture where childlessness was shameful. Then, when God promised him a son, he laughed. So God names his son “Laughter” (translation of “Isaac”) so he would remember his faithlessness every time he looked at his beloved son. Isaac’s family manipulated each other behind his back. His son, Jacob, in a rich twist of irony, after manipulating Isaac gets himself manipulated by his father-in-law after running from home to a strange land. His son, Joseph…well you know the story. He endured one hardship after another, including years in a foreign prison.
But these are God’s people! God chose them and called them Israel, which means “Yahweh fights”, because they’re whole purpose was to serve as God’s warriors against Satan and sin. These aren’t small people like you and me, living in our small worlds; they’re leaders. They’re the patriarchs of the greatest religious movement in history, and they serve the Creator-King himself, whose plans never go unfulfilled. They are the backbone of history. And yet they’re lives are broken. One scholar said Genesis is fundamental to knowing what it means to be human. Brokenness is center stage.
Genesis gives way to Exodus where God’s people become God’s nation after spending 400 years in slavery, four-hundred years in oppression and dehumanizing subjection. After God rescues them in the single greatest act of Redemption in history, within days they forget God and make another God to serve, one much easier to manipulate with their own desires. Satan, again, sneak attacks people by manipulating even their own desires away from God. So He (the real God) curses them to 40 more years of desert wandering. After God kills off that faithless generation as judgment for their sin, Israel enters the promised Land, taking control by killing all the people there. Except they disobey (again) and fail to finish the job by leaving some alive, which causes Israel to crumble from the inside-out.
But God, in yet another act of grace, delays their crumbling for over 900 years, allowing Israel to prosper, even to usurp Egypt as the greatest nation on the planet under the reign of King Solomon. But after him the Kingdom falls apart as God begins to lift His protecting hand, and He hands them over to another exile, like the Egyptian enslavement. This time there are no more promises. No more Israelite tales of future prosperity. The covenants of God seem to have failed. The Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic Covenants are all played out and it’s left them scattered across the earth, a people with no land, no king, and no identity. Israel was supposed to be God’s nation among all the nations, but now she was a stump of a tree in the midst of a forest.
For 70 years Israel languishes spread out between Babylon and Syria, back where they started in the land of the Chaldeans, back near Ur, the very place where God called Abraham to be a blessing to the whole world, as if God decided to renege on His promise and put them back where He found them. Their only hope for restoration lay in a hope and a prayer embodied in some crazy prophets running around talking about some future salvation that will come from the arm of Yahweh Himself. Something totally new, a fulfillment of all the promises springing out of Yahweh Himself. They said God hadn’t forgotten His promises to them, that even though they broke the Covenant, He would keep it…in their place. Talk about nostalgia.
Eventually, against all odds, Israel gets back to their promised land, and they even rebuild some of the wall and temple. Nehemiah rises up as their new leader-king, but he fails to bring them together. He’s pitiful. At the end of his life he repeats over and over, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (Neh 30:31; cf. 30:14, 22, 29), because all he can remember is failure.
The Old Testament era ends with this depressive anti-climax of Ezra-Nehemiah, but the OT canon ends with 2 Chronicles, which ends very differently. In the flow of history, Israel seems hopeless. In the Scripture, they have every hope of God keeping His promise: 2 Chronicles ends with the hope of Yahweh moving in Cyrus, the King of Persia, to let Israel come back to the Promised Land.
Thus says Cryus king of Persia, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up!” (2 Chron 36:23)
The OT ends with this glimmer of hope: God is still moving in the hearts of men (even pagan kings) to do His will, and He’s not forgotten the promise He made to Abraham. He proves it with a literary connection: that last line “let him go up!” are the same words God used when He began this whole thing, when He called Abram from his hometown in Gen 12:1. He said, “Go up from your country.” Words which are echoed at the end of Abraham’s story when God tells him to “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac (“laughter”), and go up to the land of Moriah” (Gen 22:2). Abram was proven faithful by going up both times, and now Israel wonders if God will be faithful and cause them them to go up too.
So even though Israel is in their land again, they aren’t. They are functionally still in exile. But they have a promise yet. But what is the central promise that God hasn’t forgotten? It’s in that verse: the house for God in Jerusalem. God’s main mission, ever since the garden, has been to dwell with His people in His land, like He did with Adam and Eve in the Garden. The OT ends with a word and a prayer: Messiah, the Hope of Israel, whom Yahweh said would make all things new, is coming.
After 400 hundred years of silence, that Word steps into Life and does for Israel what they can’t do for themselves. He is born a human but exists in the same essence as Yahweh God. He is the walking-temple, the very epicenter of the interface between God and man. He is the walking-Torah, the very embodiment of the Law. He is the strong right arm of God, condescended into the Story of history in order to restore God’s relationship with mankind.
His name is Jesus, which is Hebrew for “Savior”, and His title is Emmanuel, which is Greek for “the with-us God.” He is God-in-flesh, and He has come to conquer and Redeem.
In a flare of dramatic irony, His story ends up mirroring the story of Israel. He is born into the exile, into the nation of Egypt, even though geographically he is in the nation of Israel. Israel has become Egypt, and He is here to turn that around. But first, while this infant-King is still a child, adult King Herod feels the existential crisis of this new intimidation to his throne, so he becomes the new Pharaoh, slaughtering Jewish babies by the thousands, instead of casting them into the nile, he uses swords.
Jesus grows up in relative obscurity, growing and learning, preparing to do the work He has come to do. When his time finally comes, the first thing He does is to become the new Adam, being tempted in the wilderness by the same temptations Adam faced, and He becomes the new Moses, spending 40 days and nights in the wilderness, just as Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. When that is complete, He begins his ministry in Israel by crossing the Jordan and following the same attack-pattern as Joshua over a thousand years before, re-conquering the land for a New Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. But this time, the new Israel isn’t using a sword, He’s using Words. And Love. Instead of conquering the land with a physical army, He’s conquering it spiritually with a rag-tag group of a dozen misfits. And what He does in those three years is essentially run around and do incredible things, things utterly magical to us, then stop and give explanation when needed. He preached, yes, but only to explain the extraordinary things he actually did.
He eventually makes His way to Jerusalem and conquers it by riding in on a donkey, coming over the Mount of Olives into the temple—the reverse direction God’s spirit left the temple in Ezekiel (10). Jesus, as Yahweh, comes back to the temple, cleanses it (twice), and declares its obsolescence to a Samaritan outcast woman. The temple’s job is over as He points to the future when the entire earth is God’s temple, when God will dwell directly with man, something He himself foreshadows.
He gives this new people a new constitution (Matt 5–7) to replace the old one (Deuteronomy); He fulfills the law; and He brings new life in a new world order of transcendent salvation.
But at the end of His short story in history, he is put on trial …not before Satan and the accusers, but before Israel itself. In the most ironic drama in history, God’s people condemn their own King to death, and in condemning Him they condemn themselves. “Let His blood be on us and on our children,” they say. They don’t realize they’ll get what they asked for. Jesus isn’t the one on trial, they are, and they just announced their verdict.
Sure enough, the judgment of God falls on Jerusalem in AD 40 and AD 70, as the Romans utterly destroy Jerusalem. The destruction is so severe that the Jewish women are eating their children to survive. Because they judged Jesus guilty, they suffer the judgment of God.
But before He dies, Jesus accuses them not even once. Because in condemning their King they also facilitate His Redemption of the Covenant Yahweh made with them and their forefathers. Behind the scenes, Satan seems to be winning the war, finally, because here is God, dying on a cross. Ever since the beginning, those who sin in God’s creation commit the essential sin of wanting Him dead. And yet, when God laid down His life, Satan’s victory became his biggest defeat, because death couldn’t hold Jesus. Jesus lives forever because he exhausts death. As Jesus dies, He Himself, True King of Israel, takes the curse of His people and pronounces the death of death, confirming all the promises ever given to humanity.
Ironically, in the moments of His death, His kingdom grows. While He is hanging on the cross, His Gospel reaches the Gentiles as a Roman centurion looks on in faith. He sees a man so in love with Life he’ll give it up. A King so in love with His people, He’ll die for them. And he believes that his story is True.
the Kingdom of God expands from then on, crossing barriers of culture, race, geography, and language, reversing the curse of Babel as Yahweh God completes what He started in bringing redemption to the whole creation. Because what can conquer self-sacrificing love? The blood of martyrs pave the way for a Faith and a Love transcending time and space, yet made out of the very stuff of time and space.
We must remember, and we must try to live up to it.