Our lives are informed by story. We all have a reigning story in our minds of the world that colors the way we perceive ourselves, others and the events that unfold around us. There are countless stories that we believe or are tempted to believe every day—the world is about me, the world is helplessly and hopelessly evil, the world is not all bad, this life is all about making money and climbing the ladder, the world revolves around college football. All these stories are ultimately lies. They offer no real, lasting hope. There is one story, and only one story, that is perfectly true and proclaims majestic glories of unimaginable, never ending hope. The Christian story is the one true story of the whole world, the story that makes sense of all the other stories human tells about themselves. It is the story that all good stories imitate and whisper. It is the greatest story ever told.
The Christian Story begins, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn. 1.1). We know from the first sentence of the Christian story that it is a story about God. God is the creator of all things, and all things that exist evidence his glory and his handiwork (Ps. 19.1) such that it can be said that “what can be revealed about God is plain because God has made it plain [in creation]” (Rm. 1.19). In other words, all of creation serves as a window that allows us to see beyond what is in front of us into a truer reality, namely the existence of God. We are often fascinated with the world around us. Take for example the beach. We stand and marvel at the unknown vastness of the ocean gently meeting the enchanting smallness of a sea shell as though they are calling us further up and further in to a reality beyond that which we can see. The glory of God is echoed in every crashing wave and his handiwork is etched in every sea shell. All creation declares together the existence of God.
God, who is infinite (Ps. 90.2), whose existence does not know a beginning nor will it ever know an end, is not only the creator of all things but the sustainer of all things who “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hb. 1.3). All things exist and are sustained by his decree—the sun, the moon, the land, the sea, the plants, the animals, man and woman, all that is seen and all that is unseen. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therein” (Ps. 24.1). When God created all things in the beginning, he declared it “good.” But there is one exception. When God created the first humans, Adam and Eve, in his image and set them up as a vice regents of God’s creation, God declared it “very good.” The pinnacle of God’s creative work is humanity to whom God gave charges to “cultivate and subdue the land” and “multiply and fill the earth.” Humanity was created to live obediently to these commands before their Creator—creating out God’s creation and filling the earth with image bearers and worshippers of God.
So we have a picture of humanity existing in the beginning in perfect relationship with God, with the creation God over which God gave them dominion, with one another (Adam and Eve), and with himself. There was a universal flourishing of all things. All things were as God created them to be.
Yet when we look at the world around us, even at the mirror, we know that something has gone terribly amiss. This picture of universal flourishing in Genesis 1 and 2 seems so far removed from our experience of reality. We learn from Genesis 3 the cause for this disconnect. Remember God had created the entire world “good,” and set Adam and Eve in the middle of the good creation that they might live fully and holistically in perfect relationship with him, one another, themselves and the created order. Yet Adam and Eve did not trust either the goodness of the infinite God or the goodness of his created order. Adam and Eve rejected the command God gave to not eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and they partook of the fruit thereby rejecting God’s rule over them and his created order and set themselves up as judge and sovereign. This disobedience and rejection of God we call sin, and for such sin there must be consequence because God is perfectly good, holy and righteous and must defend anything that assails his goodness and righteousness. Consequences are determined to a degree by the magnitude of the sin, but more so by the magnitude of the one sinned against. So sin against an infinite and eternal God demands infinite and eternal consequences. And the consequence of sin is death, eternal death. Having sinned, we are separated from the God in whom we live and move and have our being, and we are as fish on the shore of the pond unable to live apart from our source of life, God. Immediately we discover our foolishness for there is no life to be had apart from God, yet we are helpless to return ourselves to him and remain under the curse of eternal death for our sin. And not we ourselves only but the whole of the created order is subjected to the consequences of sin. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods—all are foreign to God’s good creation. “The whole creation groans in the pains of childbirth” (Rm. 8.22) crying out for rescue and redemption.
Yet God would not see his glory tainted by the rebellion of his image bearers. Immediately following the first transgression in the garden, God promised a seed, an offspring, born of woman who would one day, though his heel would be bruised, crush the head of the serpent (Gn 3.15). And the narrative of the Old Testament is the continual fall of Israel and the continued faithfulness of God to his promise to send One who would be crushed for man’s iniquities but would crush sin and death.
Adam falls. Noah falls. Abraham falls. Moses falls. Joshua falls. The judges fall. The kings fall. And yet God’s promise to rescue his people from the dominion of sin and death does not once falter or waiver. At last, Jesus, the promised One of old. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (Jn. 1.29)”. To rescue his creation from the corruption of sin, God sent his own Son, to take on flesh in order that he might live a life of obedience to God that no man has or can ever live. Though he was righteous in all he did, though he was sinless and blameless, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities and upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Is. 53.5). The just wrath of God that stood against man in his sin was executed in full and exhausted as Christ hung upon the cross. Jesus drank every last drop of the cup of God’s wrath and turned it over as he cried, “It is finished” (Jn. 19.30). Then he hung his head and died. As the old hymn cries—Tis mystery all! The immortal dies.
Yet death would not have the final say. Three days later, the stone that guarded Jesus’ tomb could not hold the power of the Spirit of God that raised Jesus to life. The stone rolled away to reveal a resurrected Jesus. In dying he paid the penalty of our transgression and exhausted the wrath of God. In his resurrection he triumphed over sin and death and set in motion the renewal and restoration of all things. At long last, the promised One begins to undo the curse and plague of sin. And this begins by reconciling men to God. Where we in our sin once stood separated from God, we can now, in Christ, by his payment-for-sin-executing death and his restoration-of-all-things-inaugurating resurrection be “brought near to God” (Ep. 2.13).
So there is in Christ a secured, firm, promised hope that one day all the sad things will come untrue. God not only promised to reconcile us to himself in Christ but to reconcile all things to himself. Christ will one day come again to consummate the reversal of sin and “make all things new” (Rv. 21.5). There will be a new heaven and a new earth filled with unimaginable beauty and splendor. This is the country we long for! This is the world we long to enter! Can you imagine beholding the glory of the mountain peaks and the wonder of the ocean depths; can you imagine enjoying the warmth of friendship and the bliss of the wind blowing through your hair; can you image basking in the child-like joy of chasing lightning bugs and the thrill of a new adventure—can you imagine these things free from the stains of sin? This is the world that awaits all those who repent of their sin and believe in Jesus. And yet the greatest wonder of them all—“the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rv. 21.3). And so it will be, forever and ever without end.