“Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.” (Joel 1.3)
How do you tell the story of what God has told us about Himself, about ourselves, about what on earth is going on, and about what’s going on on earth?
How do you tell it to your children, your grandchildren, or to anyone else who’s never read the Bible or heard about it before?
Gill Kimber, in just a 50 minute read, tells the story of the Bible so that we can grasp the whole thing. She helps us to understand God’s story, helps us to put ourselves into it, and offers us a way of telling it to children, young people and adults – in our own voice.
An excellent introduction to following our own ‘Pathway Into The Bible’ and being able to lead others into ‘Walking with God.’
Let me tell you a story
The first of the three stories in The One Great Story
The True Story where all truths have their place
Of things God said first, and of God’s first families…
In the beginning, God
(because there is nothing to begin without God who never began and who never ends, but always Is).
In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth; and God Said – Everything.
God Said everything heavenly, and everything earthly; everything that can’t be seen and will never be known except by Him, and everything we might see and know. So, the continents and the seas, the sky and the stars, the plants and the animals, and the germ of every form of life that can ever be, was created when God Said.
And God Said that they should Be and Become what was in his mind when he Said them into being; to have young, bear fruit and seed, to settle down and to settle into this world that had been made by God.
Especially, God Said into being A Man and A Woman, made in his Image, to bear his image into the world he had made, and to fill it with the knowledge and love that he made it for, and to rule over all the creatures he had made.
That Man was called Adam, which means “made out of earth” and the Woman was called Eve, which means “made alive.”.And the first thing Adam and Eve were told to do, like all the plants and animal, was to Multiply. This meant they were to have babies, to settle down and to settle in to this world that had been made by God. Then they would discover and grow together in the depths of God’s wisdom and love, day by day.
This was the First Family in the world, doing what God had made them to do, loving the God who made them and all living things.
And God Said:
“It is good. It is very good”
But in order to be like him, God had made them able to Choose, to Decide, and Take Responsibility for what they did.
Adam and Eve Chose to go their own way, not God’s.
They turned away from God’s way. But they didn’t Take Responsibility.
Their family became a family where it was harder and harder to decide to be and become what was in God’s mind when he said them into being.
That was their Responsibility in turning away from the God who gave all life. Soon Jealousy and Murder were invented, and Greed and Exploitation grew strong, along with Bad loving and Bad discovering. Things went from bad to worse. Terrible things were happening. God’s Image in men and women was almost lost.
Until God Took Responsibility and Said another thing:
“I’m sorry I made you.”
….and decided to start a Rescue Plan with a man called Noah and his family.
There was a terrible flood.
Nearly everything and everybody that wasn’t in the great boat, or Ark, which God had told Noah and his family to build, were destroyed……. Awful to imagine and terrible to think that God had to do this.
He started again. God’s first Covenant, or Big Promise, began with Noah when God promised he would never again destroy the whole earth.
But, as God knew it would be, it wasn’t a completely new start.
Noah couldn’t hear God’s voice as clearly as Adam and Eve had before they decided to choose for themselves what to do. Noah had children and grandchildren and all the families on earth now are descended from those children and grandchildren. And still people found it harder and harder to choose to do what God wants, and easier and easier to choose to go the other way.
Now the descendants of Adam and Eve, and even the descendants of Noah and his wife (we aren’t told her name, which is the beginning of a long sad story that is with us even now) were no longer acting like one family at all. There were many peoples in many families, each jealous of each other and ready to exploit one another.
So, God took a man and his wife, Abram and Sarai, and said to Abram:
“Go from your country and family to the country I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation and bless you
I will make your name great and you will be a blessing
I will bless those who are good to you and whoever wishes harm to you I will harm in the same way
And all peoples will be blessed through you.”
Then later, when Abram had given up hope of having any children, God said:
“Do not be afraid Abram, I am your shield and your very great reward.
Look up at the sky and count the stars – if indeed you can count them.
That’s how many your descendants will be”
Then he said another very important thing:
“Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own
and that they will be enslaved and ill-treated there.
But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves
and afterwards they will come out with great possessions.
You however will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.
In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,
for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Abram did an absolutely vital thing – he believed God would do what he had promised, and because of that, God forgave the sins Abram committed during his life due to ignorance, fear and foolishness.
This is the first thing we must know about the Great Story: when God Says a thing, especially a Promise, the people who hear it must believe it.
Later God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “Father of Many” and Sarai’s name to Sarah, which means “Mother of Many” and gave him the rite of circumcision so that his family would always remember their special relationship with God.
Abraham and Sarah’s Son, Isaac, would go on to become the father of twins, and his younger son, Jacob, who was also called Israel, was the founding father of the twelve tribes who were called by that name, the people of Israel. And just so you know, the names of Jacob’s children and all the tribes named after them were:
from whose descendants would come Moses, Aaron his brother, and all God’s priests.
from whose descendants would come King David.
Then from his family, another King: Jesus, Saviourof the world.
from whose descendants would come the famous judge Samson.
who would later be the saviour of his family.
Later still, Joseph’s two sons Manassah and Ephraim became two half-tribes,
and a descendant of Ephraim would become the last and most famous judge, Samuel.
Finally, the baby of the family was
These tribes became the new First Family about which the next story will be told. And the famous people who would be descended from them will be in the other stories.
But first, we need to tell an important story about Abraham and Isaac, because without it the other Stories will not make sense.
When Isaac was a boy, God said something to Abraham that is truly shocking and difficult to understand.
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love
And go to the region of Moriah.
Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”
Abraham really believed God.
He believed God could raise Isaac from the dead – and so he did what he’d been told.
He really did.
Right at the last minute, God showed Abram a ram to take the place of Isaac.
Because he did this, we know that although the LORD who gives us life has the right to take any life he wants, he is not like the blood-thirsty ‘god-lets’ worshipped by other peoples. Many children have been sacrificed to these. But the LORD, the God of the whole universe, will never tell another father to sacrifice his son in order to prove the extent of his love and obedience.
He really won’t.
Now, every time Christians celebrate Easter, or take Communion, we remember the agony of Abraham and the trust of Isaac – and wonder at the cost to God of Taking Responsibility.
When we read the Whole Great Story in the Bible, we hear how the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel came to be a great and lasting nation in the land that God had promised Abraham. People from that family, the Israelites, or Jews, have suffered most of the great wrongs that humanity have suffered – and probably done many of the great wrongs that humanity have done.
In the Great Story we will hear that from this family came Jesus the Son of God who would bear, in his death, the guilt and sorrow of the sinning and suffering world so that there would be one New Family. This family would be made up of members of every nationality and culture. This family would do what Abraham did: believe that God keeps his promises. This family would also bear the Image of his Son into his world, his broken world.
So, from this First Story we hear of God, Maker of all First Things, including the First Humans, made in his Image. The story tells us about Families – and that the God worshipped by the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is also Judge, Rescuer and Promise-Maker. He is the God who doesn’t give up on the people he made in his Image, even when they turn from him to do terrible things.
But now we are ready for the next Story……
Let me tell you a second story
The second of the three stories in the One Great Story
Where a people are made slaves and God leads them to freedom
I’m sure you know that families and the people in them aren’t perfect.
Despite everything, Abraham wasn’t the perfect father and nor was his son Isaac. Isaac’s wife Rebecca gave birth to just two children, twin boys called Esau, the firstborn, and Jacob who came out of the womb holding on to his brothers heel.
Unfortunately, neither parent was wise enough to know that they should value both their children equally.
The boys had different natures: the elder, was a man of action and impulse who loved the outdoor life, but his brother wasn’t macho at all. Jacob preferred to stay indoors with his mother and was particularly good at things like cooking. Very sadly Isaac made no secret of preferring Esau, and Rebecca followed suit by preferring the much quieter son Isaac.
A recipe for disaster!
This is what happened: Jacob tricked his brother Esau into promising him the larger and more important inheritance of an eldest son in exchange for just a tasty meal. Then, working together with his mother, he impersonated his brother and tricked his father, old blind Isaac, into making it official.
Jacob had to run for his life to take refuge with his uncle Laban after Isaac died. There he learned the hard way what it is like to be shamelessly exploited and cheated by a close relative. Much later he had to wrestle with God, his guilty conscience, and his fear of Esau, before he was ready to return home, complete with his twelve sons.
If you remember, these sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. These would be the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
But Jacob never did learn how important it was to value all your children equally. No, he not only had favourites among his wives (yes, he had four. Leah, her younger prettier sister Rachel who was the favourite, and, I’m afraid, their two maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah) but also, among his sons, he predictably favoured Joseph and Benjamin, the two sons of his favourite wife. These are just some of the things in the Stories that are sad and not right, and nearly always lead to other things equally sad and bad.
What I didn’t tell you in the first story was that Abraham had taken a surrogate wife Hagar, and had a son Ishmael by her. This was a sin against Hagar, and a doubting sin against God that he had needed to forgive. He is always faithful, so he blessed Hagar and Ishmael too, with a nation descended from Ishmael’s own twelve sons.
But you can see how Jacob probably thought that having wives and surrogate wives wasn’t really a sin. After all everybody did it, even Abraham, and God didn’t seem to mind.
This is one of the problems God often has – if he punishes us for our sins, we think he is an angry God. But if he doesn’t, we reason that he approves of what we’ve done!
Back to Jacob.
When he returned finally, he found that Esau wasn’t still angry with him and they both settled down with their families at a reasonable distance from each other. But his favourite son Joseph got into trouble by not realizing how jealous his older brothers were of the way he was loved and pampered. They plotted together to get rid of him by selling him into slavery. They then covered up their crime by telling their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. In the end Jacob’s lasting grief made them ashamed.
To cut a long and interesting story short, God brought Joseph into a very important job in the government of the Pharaoh of Egypt, so that when a famine drove the whole family there as refugees, he was able to rescue them and settle them into the land. After he’d forgiven them, of course. Joseph and all his family lived and died in Egypt.
Their descendants stayed on. They didn’t fit in and become Egyptians partly because they had a different God. And also because Egyptians thought keeping sheep and goats made them dirty. However, they did well and grew in numbers so much that their rulers thought they were a security risk. The new Pharaoh decided to control them and use them by making them all into slaves.
Then the Rescuing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob put his next part of the rescue plan into operation.
The Pharaoh had started to commit genocide by drowning all the boy babies born to the Israelites. One of these, a descendant of Jacob’s son Levi was put into the river in a little waterproofed basket like a tiny version of Noah’s great boat. Then God arranged for a royal princess to find him and decide to bring him up as an Egyptian.
She called him Moses, a name meaning ‘drawn out’ (of the water).
Later we will find lots of reminders of this event including when God rescues his people, led by Moses, by parting the waters of the Red Sea. Jesus is also ‘drawn out’ of the water of baptism. And the way we signal our rescue by God from our sins is by being baptized ourselves.
But first Moses had to grow up to adulthood in the palace and start to see how badly his fellow Israelites were being treated.
First, he had to try, and fail, to rescue them himself – then run away, meet the God of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and learn that he isn’t just another ‘god-let’, but the LORD Who Is. Finally, The LORD sent him back to Pharaoh to set his people free by the power of his Mighty Hand. It’s a long and very exciting story, as Pharaoh again and again refuses to let his slave workforce leave. Through ten terrible plagues, the LORD showed how much more powerful he is than the gods of Egypt. His last plague involved the death of all the firstborn of people and animals. Only the Israelites and those who sheltered with them in a house marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb were spared.
This is called the Passover, and many years later, Jesus, God’s only Son was crucified at the yearly Passover festival.
After that Moses, Aaron his brother, their sister Miriam, and all the the people and animals, spent forty years wandering around the desert gradually learning who the LORD is, and what it means to worship him and know him and be called by his Name.
Probably the most important thing they learn is that the LORD is Holy: meaning a kind of unchanging goodness that is dangerous to people like you and me.
This is especially important whenever we want to talk to him, ask for forgiveness or ask him to help us.
The TEN COMMANDMENTS that God gave to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai are the foundation of the holy way of life that God’s people are to live, and the miraculous provision of water and food in the desert reminds us that we should trust God to meet all our needs. These Commandments have been the conscience of his people ever since, whenever they have started to treat other humans as possessions to be used and abused.
Later, manna, the staple food that God provided, came to be thought of as ‘bread from heaven’. Jesus, however, said he was the real Bread from Heaven. He taught us to pray for ‘daily bread’, and to remember his body broken on the Cross in the bread of Communion.
The Ten Commandments tell us:
‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Do not have any other gods besides me.
Do not make an image of a god to worship.
Do not misuse the Name of the LORD.
Remember the Sabbath day of rest by keeping it holy and separate to worship me with all your family, servants and animals.
Honour your father and mother.
Do not murder
Do not break the marriage bond
Do not steal
Do not give false testimony
Do not covet anything belonging to another person’.
Later, Jesus would help us to understand that the first four commandments could be further summarised by the commands God gave Moses to “love the LORD with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” and the second six to “love your neighbour as you love yourself”.
Jesus brings us an even greater Rescue from slavery than the Exodus from Egypt, so that we can truly live a life of love and freedom with our God.
There are some words for a song in Psalm 105 that praise God for the events surrounding this Exodus:
‘Give praise to the LORD,
proclaim his name
Make known among the nations what he has done
Sing to him, sing praise to him
Tell of all his wonderful acts
Glory in his holy name
Seek his face always
He is the LORD our God
He brought out his people with rejoicing
His chosen ones with shouts of joy
That they might keep his precepts and observe his laws
Praise the LORD.’
The first five books of the Bible, are together referred to as The Torah or The Law by Jews of Jesus’ time and now. The English word ‘law’ doesn’t really express the combination of different kinds of law, the stories of people good and bad, and the Portrait of the Person of God which emerges.
The Story so far: Sometimes, when we hear of wars and greed in the world, we think that… “if God removed all the bad people in the world, then good people could live together fairly and peacefully”.Well the stories of Adam and Eve, of Noah and his descendants, and then of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob show us that since the first bad choice to do things our own way, even the best people carry a kind of seed of badness in them.
At other times, when we realise how often we destroy ourselves and each other through fear, hatred and ignorance, we imagine that… “if God rescued us from our painful situation and taught us how to live together, we could do so fairly and peacefully”. Well if you read the stories of Moses and the people you will, I hope, be convinced that rescue and education, though wonderful, are not the final answer either.
And so from this Second Story we find even more about how our God is a Rescuer, how patient he is with our failings, and how faithful he is when he has made a Promise.
In the Third Story we will hear about the last of our usual ideas about how to put the world to rights………
Let me tell you a third story
A story about leaders and people
About different kinds of freedom and slavery
About choosing a kind of slavery
And losing your freedom
It is, I’m afraid, a rather long, sad story about wars and times of peace, and about how hard it is for nations and leaders to behave better than families. And, just as you are about to give up hope, it’s about the astonishing Good News in God’s Great Story.
Now, Moses had a young assistant and apprentice, Joshua.
Near the end of his life Moses, who is amazingly called the friend of God, had overstepped the bounds. He lost his temper with the people and took the credit for what God had done. Now Moses was no longer the right person to lead the people: Joshua was. After a glimpse into the country first promised to Abraham, Moses died and God buried him in a secret grave.
Just like Moses had taken the people through the Red Sea, their new leader Joshua took the people through the River Jordan and into the Promised Land. Then the new generation that had grown up during the forty years in the wilderness dedicated themselves to God again by circumcision.
But first, God said to Joshua:
‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you
I will never leave you or forsake you
Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you
Be strong and courageous
Do not be afraid
Do not be discouraged
For the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go’
The four hundred years that God had told Abraham he was giving the people of Canaan freedom to choose how they would live, was over. Their sin and idol worship had reached its peak and God was using the nation of Israel to punish them.
By powerful miracles, very like those Moses had done, Joshua and the people conquered the fortified city of Jericho, the city of Ai, and many other cities with their kings, including one that would become known as Jerusalem. The stories shock us deeply, because God ordered them to kill the people in whole cities.
How could he do that?
We are challenged – can we trust that the LORD, the Righteous Judge knew what had been happening during those four hundred years? We know it included child sacrifice and the abuse of women in pagan worship….
While Joshua led them, the Israelites did serve the LORD, but after he died they were left to themselves, and chose to worship the war and fertility gods of the people they had conquered – called Baals and Ashtoreths. Then they married into their families and copied their way of life. Not good…
So, the LORD stopped helping them, and let them be defeated by raiders from their enemies.
Each time when it got bad enough, they repented – recognised they had done wrong – and turned back to the LORD, who then gave them war leaders called Judges to free them. However, as soon as that person died the cycle repeated. God had to choose judges from the people who were there, and it seems to me he didn’t have that many good people to choose from.
Deborah, a prophet as well as the only female judge, is probably the best role model. Of the other judges the most famous are Gideon, who showed great faith during his campaigns but ended up making an idol himself, and the mighty warrior Samson, who defeated the Philistines but seemed too easily to fall in love with their beautiful women.
However, the last Judge, Samuel, was more than a judge and a leader. He was born in answer to the prayer of faith of his mother Hannah. When he was a very young child she fulfilled her vow and apprenticed him to the family of priests at the shrine at a place called Shiloh. From the beginning he also showed that he was called to be a true prophet of God.
One night the old priest Eli and Samuel were asleep when the LORD called “Samuel!”
Thinking that Eli had called him he ran to him and said “Here I am; you called me”. Eli sent him back to bed, but after this had happened three times he realised that God was calling him. God had a message for Eli: he and his sons were about to be removed because of their terrible behaviour.
Samuel grew up to be a recognised prophet. Eli’s two sons were killed in a terrible battle with their enemies the Philistines in which they captured the Ark of God. This was the ornate gold-covered chest into which Moses had put the sacred stone tablets of the Ten Commandments for safe-keeping.
Eli died of shock.
From then on Samuel was both priest, military leader and Judge, rather like Moses and Joshua, leading the people in fighting the Philistines.
However, history was starting to repeat itself. Samuel was greatly respected, but as he grew old, his two sons who he had appointed to succeed him were clearly unfit to be judges. Together the elders of Israel came to ask him to give them a king instead. Samuel felt rejected, but in prayer God told him to do as they asked, but to warn them about the cost of having a king: serving in his army, paying taxes and losing their freedom.
Still they insisted.
God’s first choice, Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, was everything a fairy-tale king should be. He was tall, handsome, modest and powerful. He was a prophet and successful in battle. Samuel gave a thundering speech reminding the people to depend on the LORD and remember the miracles of the Exodus under Moses. Then he retired as their judge.
For many years King Saul did well.
He expelled mediums and witches from the country, and his son Jonathan led successful campaigns against their enemies. But then, against God’s clear instructions he looted the spoils of war, so God called Samuel out of retirement to tell Saul that he was no longer with him.
So as the story goes on, we find Samuel again operating as God’s king-maker. This time the person of God’s choice is the youngest son of Jesse, David, from Bethlehem of the tribe of Judah. He was much less outwardly impressive than his seven older brothers, not yet old enough to be in Saul’s reserve army, and still looking after his father’s sheep. God said to Samuel:
“Do not look at his outward appearance
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance
but God looks at the heart.”
By now Samuel had died, and without his support, King Saul had become depressed and frightened of losing the kingdom. Meanwhile, as David grew up he became a talented poet and musician. He entered the king’s service as one of his armour bearers, but also as musician to play for the king and lift his moods.
Goliath, a nine-foot giant of a man, was the boastful and heavily armoured champion of the Philistines. Facing Saul and the Israelite army he challenged them to choose a champion for a duel. Embarrassing his older brothers, young David stepped forward in his shepherd’s clothes. Then, carrying just a sling and five smooth stones, he cried:
“You come against me with sword and spear and javelin
But I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,
The God of Israel who you have defied.”
With one stone Goliath was knocked unconscious, and beheaded by David with his own sword. Without their champion the Philistines took fright and fled.
There are many other stories of David and the way Saul increasingly distrusted him and made many attempts upon his life. Yet David waited for God to give him the kingdom he promised, and did not try to take the kingdom away from the man God first chose.
Finally, both Saul and his sons died in battle and David succeeded him as king at the age of thirty.
But life as king was even more difficult. In the forty years of his rule he won many battles against the enemies of Israel, and the prophet Nathan brought him God’s promises, instructions and warnings. We can get an idea of the heart that God was looking at when he chose him, by reading the numerous Psalms he wrote. They have inspired many generations of Jews and Christians to this day.
But in his later years, King David too gave in to the temptations of being in power. Probably the huge number of wives he had was normal for kings in his day, but that does not make it any easier for us in our time to accept him as an ideal ruler.
But God was most concerned by his breaking of a marriage and the cover-up of his affair with Bathsheba by arranging for the murder of her loyal husband.
Unusually for a king, David did repent. However his later years were marred, most terribly, by the abuse of his daughter Tamar by one of her half-brothers. Two of his sons tried to take over as king, and there were rivalries amongst his trusted leaders in his army. Despite his many serious failings, David’s faith, humility and desire to please God came to mean that he and his kingdom became a kind of taster for life on earth in the Kingdom of God, with a ruler he had anointed.
Most importantly, God promises him that:
“When your days are over
I will raise up one of your own sons to succeed you
I will establish his throne for ever
I will be his father and he will be my son.”
So, it came to be that Jews, up to the present time, have understood that the Messiah, (a title which means both an anointed king and the leader who would finally deliver his people from their enemies), must be a descendant of King David.
Greek-speaking Jews used the word Christ, so we ‘Christians’ call Jesus, descendant of king David, our King and Saviour.
God chose Bathsheba’s son Solomon, to be king after David’s death.
Solomon was internationally famous for his learning and wisdom. He was the author of many proverbs, and probably a book on the meaning of life, and a poetic love song. The Kingdom of Israel reached its height during his long reign, and God called him to build the splendid Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark of the Covenant and be the national centre of godly worship. However, he caused great resentment amongst his subjects for the level of taxation – just as Samuel had warned.
Then under his foolish, proud and boastful son Rehoboam, there was idol worship again. Then the kingdom split in two. A northern Kingdom, with its capital city Samaria, broke away under Jeroboam, an ambitious rebel official in the king’s service, and very confusingly they took with them the name Israel.
The story of the many other kings of this northern kingdom of Israel is that they chose to worship the war and fertility gods of the people they had conquered under Joshua. Of each one, a very similar thing is said:
The king “…did evil in the eyes of the LORD
walking in the ways of Jeroboam the son of Nebat
and his sin which he had caused Israel to commit.”
The worst of these was King Ahab and his wife Jezebel who displayed the typical pride, greed and violence of dictators even in our own time. His enemy and God’s mouthpiece, Elijah, was the most famous of the early prophets. God used all of them to warn his people in the two kingdoms of the judgement that would come if they didn’t change, and to plead with them to return to worshiping and serving him.
Later prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, pleaded passionately on God’s behalf for his people to return to him, and warned of the judgement that would follow if they didn’t. Isaiah glimpses the Messiah in his famous Servant Songs. He is also the most quoted prophet by Jesus and his apostles. It was also a prophecy of Isaiah’s that gave us the title Immanuel – meaning “God with us” – that became the fullest portrait of the Messiah.
Eventually after twenty kings, all of whom worshipped idols, the LORD used Assyria to punish the Northern Kingdom for their disobedience and sin. They were mostly taken captive away from their land by the powerful Assyrian Empire, and the people living in that area became only loosely descended from Abraham’s family.
After the division of the kingdom, the Southern Kingdom became the Kingdom of Judah, named after the tribe of their kings who were all from David’s family.
Perhaps now, the political power of the Palace, the religious power of the Temple, and the words of godly prophets, would bring in the Kingdom of God on earth?
However, many kings were little better than their cousins in the north, and most people were happy to follow their example. Unfortunately, as in the case of the Northern Kingdom, God’s warnings fell on deaf ears.
The prophet Jeremiah wept over the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He could see how terrible it was going to be, but nobody was listening to his warnings.
In Judah there were quite a lot of kings like the reformer Hezekiah who, it was said, “followed the ways of his father David”, but many followed the ways of the north instead.
Meanwhile in Exile with the people of the Northern Kingdom, the prophet Ezekiel had had visions of the LORD who sees all. These revealed disgusting scenes of pagan worship back in Jerusalem, right within the Temple itself, and throughout the city and countryside – shocking abuse of one another in ways forbidden by God’s Law.
In time, the increasingly deaf kingdom of Judah would also be punished by the LORD’s instrument: in this case the cruel Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar, after he had conquered the Assyrians. The people of Judah became refugees in countries such as Egypt where Jeremiah found himself, or captured and taken to Babylon like the prophet Daniel, who in a similar way to Joseph, rose to high office, even though he was a slave.
But there are wonderful stories of the way God delivered Daniel and his faithful companions from the political scheming they found themselves caught up in in Babylon – a fiery furnace, a den of lions.
However, probably the most important of Daniel’s God-given gifts was interpreting prophetic dreams. For instance, a dream was given to Nebuchadnezzar of an enormous statue with a gold head, a silver chest, belly and thighs of bronze, iron legs and feet of iron mixed with clay. It was utterly destroyed by a great rock. We can learn how Daniel told the king of his own time that God was telling him his kingdom would decline and then be destroyed. For us it is also a key to understanding how powerful kingdoms grow and are destroyed, and how God uses both good and wicked men to guide history towards his Messiah.
It was Daniel, too, who was able to tell the captives that they would return after seventy years of exile. This would finally happen under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah when the Babylonians were defeated by the “rock” of the Persian king Cyrus. (Bad people being punished by other bad people). Cyrus decided it would be a good idea to send back some of the slave peoples to their countries: maybe they would be grateful to be freed, and perhaps they’d take with them their grateful and humbled gods?
After many difficulties and delays, the destroyed city walls of Jerusalem and the walls of Solomon’s Temple were rebuilt. Then there was a great celebration during which the people promised themselves and God to live as he commanded.
So it seems to me that leaders, both judges and kings, have a hard time being good themselves – let alone keeping the ordinary people from behaving badly. Perhaps we can’t rely on politics to be the answer either…..
But the prophets understood and show us this: God justly and completely rules over all kings and powers. He will be faithful to his promises to Noah, Abraham and David, and therefore he will still establish his Kingdom here on earth – and his Messiah in the eternal city. As the prophet Ezekiel had said:
“And the name of the city from that time on will be:
THE LORD IS THERE”
But before the final coming in of God’s Kingdom
there is a great silence.
Humanity waiting for The Messiah.
God waiting for the right time…
Now let me tell you The Great Story
The crown of those three stories
The Never-ending ‘Story of Stories’ that is happening even now…
Four hundred long years passed, but God never stops being in charge.
The great kingdoms of Persia and Egypt rose and fell.
People prayed, but the LORD did not Speak.
The mighty Greek Empire of Philip, and his son the great Alexander, was swallowed whole by the mightier Romans.
Finally, at the right time, God Said his complete Word
and the Messiah came!
As one of the early leaders of the church said:
“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command.
By faith Abraham …. Isaac…. Jacob…. Moses…. Gideon…. Samson….
David and Samuel and the prophets…. were all commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what was promised,
since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Jesus, was a descendant of David, but born into a humble family. He was clearly fully human, yet his conception and birth wasn’t like anyone else’s. His earthly father Joseph had faith like that of Abraham, and his mother Mary‘s faith was like Hannah’s.
Like Moses he barely escaped being murdered when he was a child, by a frightened and wicked ruler. Like Moses he led his people through waters, as he calls us to turn around and follow him – to repent and be baptised with him in water.
Like David, he started ruling when he was thirty, the age of maturity. But he did not marry, nor did he sin like David and the other kings. David was anointed by the prophet Samuel, Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God.
He alone used God’s power only when and how God willed.
Moses and Elijah often represent the Law and the Prophets. They appeared to Jesus on a mountain where he had gone with three of his closest followers: Peter (the ‘Rock’), James and John.
There, his true, glorious identity was briefly revealed – God with us!
Jesus’ most famous miracles of healing and deliverance from evil spirits, were greater and more numerous than the miracles of all the old leaders. His teachings seemed new, yet they went to the heart of what God had already revealed, and the laws he had already given. Children, women and the poor were treated by Jesus as nobody else had done in any of the Three Stories.
Just before he died, he and his twelve close friends were gathered to celebrate the yearly Passover festival. At that meal, Jesus took the rescue story of Moses leading Abraham’s family from slavery in Egypt, and fulfilled it by making it his own story, the story of the LORD, through his Messiah, finally bringing the kingdom of God to earth.
Yet Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of those close friends working for his enemies, and executed on a cross. It was an unjust and cruel death, ordered by Pontius Pilate who was a politician in a tight political corner.
His death, not the death of Adam, or the sacrifice of Isaac, became the full and fitting ‘Taking of Responsibility and Payment’ for all our sins against our Creator and Father. His willingness to suffer and die is the window that we look through when we want to understand how much God loves us and how much love costs.
Three days after his death, Jesus’ body was no longer in the tomb. More than five hundred people met him alive…. recognisable by the wounds from the Cross, but radiantly alive, speaking, eating and breaking bread as he used to do.
Yet he is changed.
Now Jesus’ body is no longer mortal – and perhaps because it is not touched by the limitations we experience, even people who knew him best were slow to recognise him. Perhaps we have a hard time recognising God’s perfect Image in flesh and blood….
Finally, before he left the limitations of space and time and went back into the eternity of complete unity and love with His Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to them.
So Jesus completes in The Great Story, everything that God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, had Said from the beginning.
And his Story is our Story…
His call to “Repent” is a call back to our first purpose to bear his image into his world, and to do it his way.
The Good News he brings us, is of the forgiveness we need for the wrong choices we made and make still, and the rescue we long for from the badness that enslaves us.
It is also of the resurrection victory he had over death and his promise that our deaths, too, will be defeated by him
God’s own Spirit is with us, helping us to hear his voice again. He takes Jesus’ words and teaches them to us, he inspires us in our prayers, he opens to us the many other stories of people in the Bible – examples both good and bad. He coaches and encourages us in our new Family of people we find both easy and difficult to love. He joins with us in our worship and takes us into the heart of God in Communion.
And the Kingdom of God grows quietly and steadily between us….
Together, as his Family, we tell The Great Story of how God made a beautiful world. Of how he gave us the task of taking his Image into it and ruling and shaping it to his glory. And of how we chose another way of brokenness and false gods, of exploitation and greed and death. The Story tells of the many ways we failed and fail still – and of how God ‘Took the Responsibility’ of bringing us back to himself. It is the Great Story of how each one of us – man by man, woman by woman, child by child – in our families and communities and nations, are being invited to be members of his new First Family, living his way in his Kingdom.
And when God finally judges all things, the Story tells us that his people will rule over his world as his Image Bearers – the Body of Christ – and as his beloved Bride.
Jesus says: “Yes, I am coming soon.”
And we call out to him: “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”
THIS IS THE ONE GREAT STORY OF THE LORD
FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT
OF BEGINNING AND CHOOSING
OF FAMILIES, NATIONS AND THEIR LEADERS
OF SLAVERY, FREEDOM AND FULFILMENT
IT IS THE STORY THAT HAS NO ENDINGS, ONLY BEGINNINGS
IT IS THE NEVER-ENDING STORY
THE STORY OF JESUS…………..