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The Beginning and the End

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The Big Story of the Bible

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The other night, Krista and I were invited to a lovely dinner party at the home of a church member. On a table in their den, was a picture book showcasing Cambridge’s history - I don’t recall the name of the book. But it was fascinating to flip through the pages, see these old photographs and listen to the memories shared among those in the room. The skipsjacks that used to fill the harbor, the bustling downtown with all the various stores, the railway that used to run up to area near the drawbridge, the massive fairground, the opera house, Cambridge Creek frozen over with crowds of people ice skating. There was a section on the 1967 race riot - an event deeply embedded in the psyche of this town. When I visit people in their homes and listen to their stories, at some point in the conversation the memories of that time period will come out.
2/3 through the book, the photos flip from black and white to color. We see the newer bridge being built over the Choptank, the purchase of a fire truck, marching bands on parade, and a few other ‘modern’ pictures taken back in 90s. And then the book ends. That broad segment of history is captured and the story is told and the book closes. But the story of Cambridge is not over. There is more to come. We jump ahead to the present day and we see signs of renaissance and renewal. A new waterfront on the horizon that will reshape part of the city. New businesses being established, new challenges having to be met.
We can look back at the age that was, hopefully learn lessons from it - the good and the bad. We can give thanks for the many blessings we have received from those who came before. What we cannot do is return to the past, time doesn’t work that way. We must keep our eyes on what is to come.
When we read the Big Story of the Bible, we find that there is a beginning and an end, Genesis to Revelation, but that the end is simply an end to an age, not the end of the story. There is more to come.
The Big Story of the Bible begins and ends with God. As we heard this morning, Rev 21:6
Revelation 21:6 (ESV)
“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
This is God’s Story, it is also our story. The author of the Universe writes us into His Story and we are the audience. This is the story by which He reveals himself to us and the main thrust of the story is that God desires to be with us. To be present.
We find this in the very beginning. God creates. He creates the sky, the stars, the planets, the earth. He creates the oceans and calls forth the dry land to appear. He creates vegetation, sea creatures, every specie of animals, and as a finishing touch, the pinnacle of his creation - he creates rationale, intelligent, self-aware humans.
Genesis 1:27 ESV
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And all is good! In fact, God declares it very good. He takes his Sabbath Rest and He walks with man and woman in the Garden. He is present. They interact directly with Him. He places them in a position of stewardship - they are to oversee all of Creation and to enjoy it. One boundary they could not cross - eat anything you desires, but don’t eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for you shall surely die.
They already possessed knowledge of Good. Everything around them was good. very good. Because God was present - and God is good. That lacked nothing. The spiritual realm and the physical realm were one and the same.
But it did not last. Chapter 2 of the Big Story - what is commonly referred to as the Fall. The deceiver, the serpent, entices the first couple. Where God’s word brings life, Satan’s words bring death and chaos.
Genesis 3:4–7 ESV
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
I’m sure the Apostle John was contemplating Genesis 3 when he wrote the warning in 1 John 2:16-17
1 John 2:16–17 ESV
For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
the fruit looked good for food - desire of the flesh
the fruit was a delight to the eyes - desire of the eyes
the fruit was to be desired to make one wise - the pride of life.
Humanity reasoned that God was holding something back - that there was better things to be obtained by following our own desires. We know best, we are our own gods.
Sin enters God’s Creation and the consequences are catastrophic. A chasm is created that separates the holiness of God from the rebellion of humanity. God is no longer face to face with humanity - Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden. To be separated from God is to die - since God is the giver and sustainer of life.
In his book Genesis for Everyone, John Goldingay shared the following story:
I was once walking through the seminary campus when I spotted a former student, whom I had known quite well, sitting in a patio area with rather a disconsolate look. When I asked him if he was OK, he replied, “I’ve made a train wreck of my life.” He had had an affair, his wife had walked out on him with their children, and she was not interested in having him back. In a class soon afterwards, we were discussing Genesis 3, and I thought the image of a train wreck was an appropriate one for the consequences of Adam and Eve’s action...One mistake can have disastrous consequences for many people other than oneself, and you can’t undo the consequences.
“The first human beings decided to do the opposite of what God said, an act that had a devastating effect on everyone who was to follow, thus the expression “original sin.”
Sin does not remain stagnant - and it does not decrease without intervention. Sin grows. It spreads like a cancer. As humanity populates and flourishes, so does sin.
Genesis 6:5–6 ESV
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Early in the Story, Judgement comes in the form of a Great Flood. Yet God does not wipe away everything and everyone. There is a remanent - a righteous few who chose to follow God. Noah, his family and two of every creature are delivered through flood. God is present with them through the Flood, it was God himself who shuts the door to the Ark when the rains began to fall.
Chapter 3 is Israel. God chooses a specific tribe of people to become his own children and to be present among them. He rescues them out of slavery to the Egyptians, bringing his people to freedom through the parting of the Red Sea - the Exodus story. The Spirit of God is present with them throughout their deliverance - in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
They were rescued, redeemed and set apart. Deut. 7:6
Deuteronomy 7:6 ESV
“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.
I need to move us forward, but Israel was set apart, given the Law to follow, and provided a sacrificial system that would atone for their sins - enabling them to stand in the presence of a holy God. They were to bear witness to the power and goodness of God to a wicked world. God also gave them certain promises - the most important was that from this tribe of people would come a Messiah who would save people from their sins.
Enter Jesus, chapter 4. God in the flesh. Do you see the pattern - God desiring to be present with His people?
The deceiver, the Satan, tries to tempt Jesus - like he did with Adam, but he fails miserably. Jesus remains faithful to God the Father and by his words and miraculous works - he points people toward right standing with God. Many can’t stand him because we love our sin, and so men nail him to a cross. But that was God’s plan all along. The perfect sacrifice, the unblemished lamb of God, dies for the sins of the world.
John 3:16–17 ESV
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus rises from the grave, tells his disciples to go to Jerusalem and wait. When the Spirit of God comes upon them, they are to go out in His power and spread the Gospel throughout the world. Sin has been defeated, eternal life is found in Christ.
Enter the Church, chapter 5. God is present, through the agency of the Holy Spirit, in every believer. We demonstrate the now and the not yet. New life is available now. One can be reconciled with God now. One can be in fellowship with God now. One can walk in the power of the Holy Spirit now. One can be an overcomer, a victor, now. And one day, not yet, we will see God face to face. One day, not yet, there will be no more death or suffering, crying or pain. What an amazing time you are born in! The age of God’s grace.
It will not last forever. One day Christ will return and this age will end. One day all will stand in judgment.
Chapter 6 has not occurred yet, but it could happen at any moment. The Return of Christ which will lead to Judgment. This will mark end of the present age. 1 Cor 4:5
1 Corinthians 4:5 ESV
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
While all will face judgement, those who have turned to God in faith, those who accept the sacrifice Christ made on our behalf, will be spared the punishment for sin - which is eternal separation from God. Hell.
For those who are counted among the righteous, those whose sins have been atoned for, paid for, by the blood of Christ - we go on to continue the new story. A story that begins with a new heaven and a new earth.
In our reading out of Revelation this morning, John is doing his best to present what has not fully been revealed and what we cannot fathom. What is it going to be like when all things are made new?
Think of moments in you life when something new appeared or happened and afterwards nothing was ever the same.
Maybe you got married and entered into a whole new relationship.
Maybe you brought a new child into the world - and your priorities in life completely changed.
Maybe you experienced a new second chance at life - having recovered from a serious disease or injury.
John uses similar images in describing the new heaven and earth. A New Jerusalem - completely unlike what we have known, coming down from heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.
It will be like a new birth “I will be his God and he will be my son.”
It will be a new kind of life - a life without mourning, crying, pain - for the former things have passed away.
God’s ultimate purpose for life will be realized - “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
Revelation for Everyone Revelation 21:1–5: New Heaven, New Earth

What God did in Jesus, coming to an unknowing world and an unwelcoming people, he is doing on a cosmic scale. He is coming to live, for ever, in our midst, a healing, comforting, celebrating presence.

We are now living within a beautiful yet tragic story. We are surrounded by hurt, pain, and death - but we also experience wonder, delight, and love. And in Christ, we have within our possession the promise of hope - knowing that God is with us and will see us through. Death does not have the last say. And a new heaven and earth are coming.
To be clear, the biblical future is not that we leave this broken world to go live in some heavenly realm. The future is that heaven comes to earth and all things are restored and made new. The spiritual and the physical are brought together.
And we will see God face to face.
If you desire to be part of the future story, which begins now, but are not sure that you are welcomed into it - then hear the good news. God desires to be present with you - so much so that he sent his Son to die for your sins so that you may become one of his children and inherit eternal life.
Have you accepted God’s gift of grace? If not, please join me in prayer. If you have, please intercede in prayer for someone else. That God’s love would break through their hardened hearts.
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