The entire Bible in 5 weeks: Climax

climaxNote: This is part 4 of 5 in a series looking at the overall story of God’s plan, or redemptive history, as told across the breadth of Scripture and ancient Near East history. I am preaching this series as the beginning of my time serving as pastor of Foundation Baptist Church in Rosebud, Texas. Follow these links to read week 1, week 2, and week 3.

This past spring, I watched as the University of Virginia claimed a historic win against Duke University in the ACC championship game. I didn’t realize at the time I was also watching a young man named Danny disguise himself as a Virginia assistant coach in order to spend the entire game on the court. A basic ticket, a cheap suit and orange tie, and a bucket of confidence gave him a handshake with Coach K, a picture with the ACC trophy, and the memory of a lifetime. And it all worked because of how he looked, how he acted, and how we perceive power. We’ve decided as a society that power looks like a suit and a swagger. Possess these things, and no one can question you. As Deadspin author Barry Petchesky wrote of the incident, “Look like you know what you’re doing, and dress the part, and you can go pretty much anywhere.”

It was this same kind of power expected by the Israelites of Jesus’ day. Hundreds of years of being overshadowed by other nations’ wars and subjugation had the people longing for independence and the full return of God’s blessing. Some expected a great teacher, some expected the ultimate high priest, and some expected a warrior to break their chains. As Rome ruled Israel as the latest in the parade of conquerors, the people of God looked to the places of power for their liberation.

But out in the desert, a man stood on a mountaintop. Raised in the home of a simple laborer, his meager clothing would have stood out in the seats of power even before the wear and tear of the desert. As the dust swirled, he looked out on the splendor of all the nations, their power and ability to subdue on full display. All this would be handed over and subdued, if Christ would but bend his knee to Satan.

What did Jesus see when Satan showed him the glory of the nations, and what about it would have been tempting? Given how genuinely tempting it would have been to finally get some food or to prove to a crowded Jerusalem that He really was favored by God, I have a hard time believing Satan would have lobbed the softball of essentially inviting Jesus to take up the rockstar lifestyle of money and fame. Details are scant in the story, but the word choice is interesting. The Greek word doxa, often translated as “splendor” or “glory”, is more often used of God but here is used regarding the nations. When we read this, we should see the nations with not only their material riches, but also their power.

And, perhaps, in that power Jesus saw a way forward. He saw glory that could be used for His Father’s glory. Perhaps he saw the thousands upon thousands of slaves in Rome, or brutal military conquest, or the poverty of his hometown, or even injustice today, and a scepter with which He could end it all. Christ was tempted like the Israelites had been in 1 Samuel 8: to be like the other nations with a king in charge. They had been tempted to trust their protection and justice to an earthly king, and He could be that king, powerful to destroy all the unjust. Christ could give us the earthly justice we yearned for without enduring the cross.

But He didn’t. Because the cost was too high. Because even the best ends don’t justify evil means. Because He would rather take the long road of suffering than the short road to power in order prove His love for us and win us back. Because Jesus knew such a choice was true power, not kings, or thrones, or chariots, or presidents, or politics, or guns, or even a confident stride in a suit.

Here, at the climax of the story of redemption, we find ourselves turned around by a plot twist. We, both ancient Jew and modern American, expect a Messiah to destroy the things we don’t like and save us from their snares. We wait for our kind of power to save us. But the Messiah is here to save us from ourselves, and to save the oppressors from their own oppression. Our understanding of power and love are entirely upside down, and we could only see that when the Son of God bled on a cross to open our eyes, free us from our self-made cages, and invite us back to walk with Him again.

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The entire Bible in 5 weeks: Climax

The entire Bible in 5 weeks: Rising action

rising actionNote: This is part 3 of 5 in a series looking at the overall story of God’s plan, or redemptive history, as told across the breadth of Scripture and ancient Near East history. I am preaching this series as the beginning of my time serving as pastor of Foundation Baptist Church in Rosebud, Texas. Follow these links to read week 1 and week 2.

In my last post, we looked at the can’t-be-overhyped moment when God looked down on humans, His rebellious children who had marred the beauty of Creation, and decided to enter covenant and community with one of us. Rather than letting us wallow in our destruction, the Creator of everything reached across from divinity to humanity in order to overcome the conflict of all human history, our separation from God. The only righteous One even decided to set in motion His plan by befriending Abram, a man known to have been involved in tribal power struggles, violence, and the bondage of human beings. God promises to make Abram a great nation, powerful and famous, through which He will bless the whole world.

If we didn’t already know the broken reality in which we live, it would be easy to think this was the resolution of the story. Unfortunately, we’re a stubborn lot, and the path back to joy grew rough and difficult as our brokenness pushed back against our only hope. Literary scholars point out that the best stories go through a time before the climax in which the story becomes more complicated, pushing the protagonist to rise. Humanity has always staggered under our separation and pain, but what could truly present an obstacle to God’s desire to be our God and for us to be His people? A flat out, verbatim rejection of His plan.

After Abram is renamed Abraham and has a son (plus a lot of trouble in the process), the children of Abraham, eventually known as the Hebrews, spent centuries toiling in Egypt before being led out by Moses. Once they reach the Promised Land of Canaan, they survive for a time as a confederation of sorts, only coming together in the interest of emergency defense. But when faced with the growing threat of the technologically advanced Philistines, the tribes of Israel demand to be like the other nations and have a king to lead them. God warns them that they will indeed be like the other nations, now toiling under the yolk of one of their own, and that such a desire is a rejection of His lordship. Yet they persist. Humans reject God’s plan throughout the Bible, but I believe this is one of the most important rejections in all of Scripture. Like someone wanting to stay married while adding another spouse to up the family income, Israel completely declines to trust God. After working so hard to reconnect with us, God watches as we flee in a moment of fear.

This is also one of the most important rejections, however, not simply for the depth of our failure but also for the depth of God’s grace. Too often preachers, writers, and readers see this text as a closed story. God gives in, the people suffer, end of story. But the action is only rising, not ending. Israel weathers the storm of the Philistines, but pays for it dearly. The Jewish kings become increasingly wicked, holding their subjects further and further under the water in order that they might climb to greater heights. The worship of God becomes mixed with and even replaced by the worship of local pagan deities. Tangled alliances are made with nations God had warned against, even the Egyptians who had once ruled the nationless Hebrews. Royal oppression increases and national righteousness decreases until the system breaks down entirely. Assyria routes the northern splintered Kingdom of Israel, while Babylon takes the southern Kingdom of Judah, taking their leaders and nobility into captivity hundreds of miles away from home. Israel, the promised kingdom, is no more.

But even the darkness of a captivity the Israelites themselves caused could not hold back God’s plan. Persia pushes aside Babylon, freeing the Jews to restore Jerusalem and the Temple. Their leader, Cyrus, is even named as a messiah (anointed one) by Scripture despite his pagan background. The Persians, once God’s tool to free His people, in turn are overcome by the seemingly unstoppable drive of a young Macedonian. Dying before he can truly rule his empire, Alexander the Great left the Eastern Mediterranean to anguish in the throes of border struggles between the descendants of his followers. It is in this time that some Jews rebel, attempting to restart the kingdom in an effort known today as the Maccabean revolution (the origin story of Hanukkah takes place in this time). This squabbling cultivated fertile soil for the rapid Mediterranean expansion of Rome. 

So, other than briefly freeing the Jews from Babylon, what was God up to in this time? At the end of all this fighting, all of the lands surrounding Israel shared the common language of Greek, thanks to Alexander. The known world was connected in spectacular fashion by the shipping routes, advanced roads, and hegemony of Rome. And centuries of oppression endured by the Jews had placed an unquenchable longing in their hearts for God to send one great and final Messiah who would restore their nation and rejoin the covenant God had begun so long ago with a man named Abram. Despite their rejection of His lordship in favor of a human king, God had been working the whole time to create the perfect circumstances for a King to unite Jew and Gentile, a man whose anointing was craved by the Jews and whose Name could spread like wildfire through a common language and a united empire. And that King would be the descendent and true heir of the very kings God had warned Israel against.

Our God is not a God who is only willing to aid the worthy. He is not a God who is only willing to love those who always follow Him. He is not a God who quits when the action rises and the path grows more complicated. He is not a God who will only work to overcome the evils done to us. The God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and even of the Israelite peasants lost to history is a God who is willing to use even our mistakes. And He is willing to work while we run from Him to bring us back to Him. He is willing to do this in order that He might take up our pain and walk among us, an act of love that forms the very climax of God’s story.

-Geoff Davidson

The entire Bible in 5 weeks: Rising action