Broadly speaking, there are two main points that the today’s Scriptures are making. The first, comes from our Psalm which continuously repeats praises to God. Praising Him for His work as a creator and for His splendor. The other passages seek to put Jesus’ ministry in context. Over the course of 10 verses, Matthew identifies 3 different places where Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. Throughout the rest of the Gospel, Matthew continues to constantly identify how Jesus fulfilled what the prophets said. He does this to argue that Jesus is the Messiah, as well as ground Jesus’ ministry in the Biblical story.
It is this notion of the Biblical story that I find particularly interesting. Sometimes, I think we get so focused on the specifics that we lose sight of the whole. I grew up in a very conservative, occasionally fundamentalist church and most of my experience of religion was based on morality. So rather than learning what God was doing, I learned what I should and shouldn't do. With that in mind, let's look at the story of the Messiah. Let’s examine what is the broad story of the Bible. Then, from that, we can learn who Jesus is, and helps us to praise God as well.
The story begins with creating this spectacular world and creating humans in the “image of God.” It’s a really beautiful, and mysterious comment, but it seems to imply that God has a special relationship with these creatures. In this garden, they are free to explore and continue God’s creative work as they take care of the garden. The only problem is that there is this mysterious tree, called the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The story gets even more mysterious when a talking snake convinces the woman, eve to take and eat some of its fruit. The snake is this really strange character and isn’t ever really explained. We aren’t told his name, how he got there, or even why Adam and Eve are comfortable talking to a conscious snake. Anyway, both the man and women go onto eat the fruit, which causes something horrible to happen. God’s perfect creation, becomes infected. Somehow, evil seems to have seeped into the nature of the world and caused things like painful childbirth and that humans would struggle to flourish, but would have to fight to survive.
So God explains to Adam and Eve what life will be like as a result of this new evil, but he also says something really strange to the snake. He says that sometime, in the future, there will be a be a man who crushes the head of the snake, but gets bitten in the heel in the process. Its this mysterious statement, that isn’t really explained at the time. In fact, we don’t really hear much about it again, until later in the story, we meet a guy named Abraham.
Abraham is chosen by God to be the Father of a great nation, which will go on to be the people who will restore creation. After Abraham dies, one of his descendants, Jacob has a strange dream where God tells Jacob that he will have many descendants, who will become a great blessing to the world.
So fast forward many years, Jacob’s descendants, known at this point as the Hebrews, became enslaved by the Egyptians. With God’s help, Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery and helped them to become a new nation. A nation of Abraham’s descendants that God said were “to be a nation of priests” working to restore the beauty of God’s creation to the rest of the world. They were to be the ones who would fight the evil that was infecting the whole world.
Unfortunately, things don’t go very well. This nation of priests begins to do the same evils as everyone else around them. They enslave, murder, rape, and worship idols. So then this king comes along, David, who looks to be the king who would restore the Hebrews to the nation of priests. He is devoted to God, a wise, charismatic leader, and is fighting to restore God’s people. Unfortunately, David screws up and his life ends after murder, an affair, and numerous wars,. Then his descendants continue to disappoint as they continuously fail to be the one’s to restore God’s creation.
Eventually, their preoccupation with evil divides them and results in the Israelites being conquered by numerous foreign powers. For generations, the Israelites experienced oppression, persecution, and the overwhelming sensation that God had abandoned them. The dream of all of creation being restored was nearly lost.
During this time there were a few prophets who spoke about God’s earnest pleas for Israel to stop living such destructive lives and his plans to restore everything. They identify this figure, the Messiah, who will be the one to restore the people of Israel. Specifically, Isaiah speaks about this man, Immanuel, who will come and restore Israel. Again, we’re returning to the mysterious language. He goes even further and says that this man will experience profound suffering for the sake of the people of Israel. It says “He was crushed for our iniquities.” It’s another one of those mysterious phrases that isn’t really explained.
So fast forward another few hundred years, and the Israelites are again, being oppressed by a foreign power, this time its the Romans. Many of the people are simply trying to survive, rather than being particularly concerned about conquering evil or anything like that. There is this unbearable yearning as everyone waits.
Then, all of the sudden, an angel appears to Mary saying that she is mysteriously pregnant with the man who will restore everything. He is a descendent of Abraham, Jacob, and David, just as God had said for thousands of years. He would be the man who would crush the head of the snake, as God said at the beginning in the garden.
So Jesus begins His ministry, not by political conquest, but by preaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is here, now. He reveals this kingdom by healing people, preaching about it, and raising people from the dead. However, once the people saw that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah that they had expected, they killed Him. An event that seemed to show Jesus to be yet another failed Messiah.
However, His death, “being bitten on the heel,” enabled him to destroy evil. By raising from the dead 3 days later, Jesus crushes the head of the serpent. Jesus somehow becomes the one who fulfills God’s promise to the Serpent. Jesus fulfills God’s promise to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and the prophets, as the one who will restore creation.
So Jesus returns to heaven and we await a future day when He will return. A day when He will come and truly destroy evil and injustice once and for all and restore creation to what it once was.
The story of the Bible is really strange. It is full of mystery and tends to raise more questions than it answers. But it is a beautiful story of love and hope. Not only did God create something beautiful, but He has been engaged in the effort to restore it. For that, we praise God, follow Jesus, and fight to live into the Kingdom of Heaven, the New Creation.
Sometimes I think we get a bit distracted. I think we get so focused on the details of the Bible that we forget the story. I have friends who are leaving the church after this election season. They are democratic Christians who couldn't stand prominent Christian leaders like Franklin Graham supporting Trump. They are horrified by the huge amount of Christians who voted for Trump and my friends don’t want to be identified with them. I don’t mean to critique any of your politics and opinions about the election are a different conversation.
All that I’m trying to say is that in the extreme tension of this election, we have lost the story of the Bible. We’ve grown to treat it as a book of good teachings for loving others, a series of principles to be followed. While those things do exist in the Bible, it’s unfortunate that we neglect the simple fact that the vast majority of the Bible is written as a story. I love that about our Scriptures. Story allows room for humanity. It allows room for mystery. It’s more concerned with questions than with answers. And it reveals a God. A good, beautiful, frustrating, mysterious, awe-inspiring God who has an incredible love for humankind and the rest of His creation.
Every Sunday, we come together to celebrate communion together. It is this strange, mystical ceremony that we do in remembrance and celebration of Jesus. Scholars have debated what it is, how important it is, and what happens when we take the bread and wine, yet, nobody really knows for sure. Yet, by doing this, we participate in the ongoing story of the Bible. We celebrate together, as the people of God, the work of Jesus to restore the world, making it a more loving, more just, and more beautiful community.
Let us live into that reality as well.