The Whole Story in Five Acts Introduction The Bible is a remarkable book. If you open a Bible at random you could come across poetry, proverbs, history, love-songs, architectural details or a national legal code. This amazing collection of literature was drawn together by numerous authors over a period of hundreds of years, yet amazingly â€“ miraculously, even â€“ it still tells one consistent story. This story is not like any other story you are likely to come across. The Bible story claims to be the ultimate story which explains why the universe exists, why the world is the way it is and where the whole of creation is heading. It is a story that makes a claim on your life: which says that you were created for a purpose and which tells you what that purpose is.
Act 1: Creation Genesis 1-3 Reading Genesis 2:4-25
1. God Created the World The world is not a random collection of atoms that have come together by chance. The universe was made by God and has a meaning and purpose. Human beings in their variety were created by God. Every human being, male and female; of whatever creed and race has a dignity which comes from being created by God. We are created in God‟s image or likeness (1:27). The point of an image is to represent the original to the whole world. Human beings created as God‟s image to show God to the world – we were to do this by caring for the world he had made (2:15) What difference does it make to the way we look at the world and at other people when we remember that they were created by God?
2. Man and Woman Rebel against God (3:1-12) Adam and Eve were to rule the world and care for it under God‟s authority, but tempted by the snake, they chose to ignore God. God could not ignore what Adam and Eve did, and because of their rebellion they came under his judgement. This affected the whole of creation and the world became broken. The relationships in the garden were all broken. Adam now hid from God; Adam and Eve could no longer be naked together without shame and the mutual relationship of nurture and care between Adam and the Garden turned into hard work, sweat and thorns. Just in case we think we might have done better, the next 8 chapters of Genesis show different people all effectively repeating Adam‟s mistake in different ways. In what ways do we experience the effects of the fall in our daily lives?
3. God Fights the Fire God comes down to look for Adam (3:8, 9) - He didn‟t stay in heaven and ignore him - He didn‟t simply zap Adam and Eve God judges their rebellion (3:13-19). This includes the fact they will die (18) God promises redemption (3:15). The woman‟s son will defeat the serpent. God cares for Adam and Eve (3:21). He makes leather clothes to help them cope. In this short passage, God has announced and started a rescue plan that will undo the damage caused by Adam and Eve. The rest of the Story is about how that plan works out.
Stories from Bible Translation God Didn’t Create Water In Genesis 1:2 it says; “darkness was over the surface of the deep waters”. A group of Christians in Asia were discussing this passage in a story-telling workshop and wondering what „the darkness‟ was all about. Eventually they decided that the water was dark because God had not created it! If you look at Genesis 1:1 it says that God made the heavens and the earth; but there is no mention of „deep water‟. This group reasoned that this meant that God didn‟t actually create the water and that it was already there before creation started, but because God didn‟t make it, it was dark. This is a perfectly logical conclusion and it demonstrates the importance of learning to read and understand the Bible in context.
God Didn’t Create Women In one language group in the Pacific, the creation story caused a great deal of strain between the village chief and the Wycliffe translators. The chief was not at all prepared to accept the idea that God had created women as well as men. As far as he was concerned, men were evidently superior to women and had to have a special place in creation. This is a reminder that the Bible will always challenge our views of the world. It is also a useful reminder to look at our own attitudes to other people, are we sometimes as dismissive of people who are different to us as this village chief was about women?
We Didn’t Dance Well Enough One isolated people group in South America believe that there are only two types of people in the world; themselves and outsiders all of whom they lump together in one group. When God created the world, he told everyone to dance for him. The outsiders danced really well, so God gave them aeroplanes, cars and lots of good things. The group themselves, however, danced very badly, so God only gave them bows and arrows!
Act 2: Israel Genesis 12 – Malachi 4 Reading Genesis 12:1-9
1. Background After Adam; the world got worse and worse - Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4) - The flood (Genesis 8) - The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) Rejecting God and his ways had an impact on all of mankind.
2. God’s Choice A central theme of the whole Bible is that God takes the initiative. He created the world, came down to speak to Adam and now he chooses Abraham. He called Abraham to go on a journey with him in time and space. - Abraham was called to go to a new land that he had not seen before (12:1, 4-5) - He was also called to believe God for a future that he would not see – his offspring becoming a great nation (12:2, 3) God had a purpose in calling Abraham – it was not just to be nice to him! God’s choosing is always tied to a purpose: what is God’s purpose in your life at this moment?
3. God’s Promise God promised that Abraham‟s descendants would become a great nation. - This seemed highly unlikely given Abraham‟s age (Genesis 17:17). Abraham would also never live to see this accomplished – but he trusted God. The promise was not deserved. Abraham‟s behaviour could be dreadful – see the second half of Genesis 12. The promise did come true. God’s promises are always undeserved and they always come true. This principle is known as Grace in the New Testament. In what ways have you experienced God’s grace recently?
4. God’s Purpose God chose Abraham‟s descendants so that he could bless them (12:2) But he also planned to bless all of the nations on the earth through Abraham‟s descendants (12:3) - The plan was always to bless all of the nations. God did not choose the Jews first and then give up on them to bless the others – the others were in his sights from the start.
- Abraham‟s descendants were called to be a light to the gentiles: to show God‟s goodness and grace to them. God chose Abraham’s descendants in order to bless the nations of the world. What implication does this have for us today?
5. God’s Reasons Why did God choose to act in this way? - God values relationships and works through people and families. The story of Abraham and the nation that descended from him shows us how much God values working with people. - Good parents let their children work alongside them, even though it slows the job down. God worked through Abraham and his descendants so that they could grow and develop. - God is not in as much of a hurry as we sometimes are. We might have gone straight from the fall to the Gospel; but God has a much broader agenda. God could send angels to evangelise your friends, but instead he sends you. What is your reaction to this?
Stories from Bible Translation
Act 3: Incarnation and Redemption The Gospels Reading John 1:1-18
1. Background Abraham‟s descendants were called to be a light to the nations, but they turned their backs on God and failed in their calling. But God did not forget them.
2. Who is the Word John is using oblique language to introduce a person. The Word was with God and was God from the start of time and was involved in the creation (1:2, 3) The Word showed us God in a way that we could not understand before him (1:14, 18) The Word was announced in advance by John the Baptist (1:6-9) Eventually, John tells us that the Word was Jesus Christ (1:18) What does it mean to you that God came to live in the world he created as a human being?
3. What did the Word Achieve? Jesus came into the world at God‟s initiative (John 20:21). Just as God took the initiative with Abraham, he did so again with Jesus. Jesus came as light (1:4, 18) - Light reveals things to us – in particular Jesus reveals who God is. Jesus came to make us sons of God (1:10-13) - He came to Abraham‟s descendants, but they did not receive him. But Jesus made it possible for anyone to become a child of God. This does not depend on being in a particular family, but depends on God‟s grace (1:17) Jesus brought blessing upon blessing (1:16) Because of Adam, we were separated from God, because of Jesus we have been made children of God. Compare the different effect that each of them had on humanity.
4. How Did the Word Do This? The secret is in the word grace (1:17). Human beings don‟t deserve God being good to them, but God does so anyway. Israel had a system of sacrifices which showed that God is angry with human rebellion and that serious action is needed in order to remedy the problems that Adam caused. - John described Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (1:29, 35).
When Jesus died on the cross, his death and resurrection were the reality that the Jewish system pointed to. On the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for human sin (REF) and did what was necessary to reconcile the world back to God (Colossians 1:20). Jesus was in effect the second Adam and he brought back together all of the relationships that Adam broke.
Why is the cross so central to the Christian faith?
Stories from Bible Translation Words and Problems In many languages, the concept The Word (logos in Greek) is really difficult to translate. In one situation in West Africa the same word was used for both „word‟ and „problem‟. As if this was not difficult enough, there is no distinction between singular and plural. This means that a straight forward translation of In the beginning was the word could equally read as In the beginning were problems. Obviously, this wasn‟t what was needed. As we saw from the first study, creation was good in the beginning! The translators solved this by saying In the beginning was God’s Word, and the word was God.... When God became man in Jesus, he translated himself so that we could understand him. Human beings are not capable of understanding God, he is too vast for us to begin to comprehend what he is really like. So God came down to our level; lived as a human being and showed us what God is like. If you want to understand God: look at Jesus! Bible translation is simply carrying on the work that God started in Jesus!
Light and Dark are Sometimes Just Light and Dark We are so used to the idea of light meaning „good‟ and darkness meaning „evil‟ that we do not even question it. One translation team in Mexico translated the words light and dark in this passage from John (and elsewhere in the Bible) as light and dark without ever questioning them. But just before the New Testament was published they decided to check that people really understood the figurative language of darkness and light. To their amazement they found that for the people they were working with light and darkness simply meant bright light and no light. They had no idea that these words could have a figurative meaning. The translators had to go away and rethink how to present this Biblical concept. This is what they came up with for John 1. 4 That word is the source of long life, and he is like light that shows the true teaching about how God saves people. 5 And the light of that true teaching penetrates the hearts of people who are under the power of sin and death. But it is impossible for those evil powers to put that light out. 6 God sent a prophet to his people the Jews. And that was John the Baptist. 7 He came in his preaching about the Light who is Jesus, so that all people might believe in him. 8 John the Baptist was not this Light God sent. But he came only to preach about this Light to people. 9 Jesus is the true Light which came to the world. And in his coming, he penetrated the hearts of all people. Can you see how they have brought out the figurative meaning in John‟s text for a group who just did not understand it?
Act 4: The Church Acts – and 2000 Years of History Reading Acts 1
1. Background The life, death and resurrection of Jesus changed everything. And this passage shows Jesus commissioning his disciples to carry on his work through the ages.
2. Work To Be Done Jesus commissions his disciples to be his witnesses to Jerusalem (home town), Judea (nation) and the ends of the earth. - To be a witness means to tell people about Jesus and what he has done. - It is not about us, our church, our ideas or our denomination. - Jesus expressly avoided being drawn into political power plays (1:6) and so should we! It is God‟s idea that we should reach out as witnesses. He came to Adam and Abraham, he sent Jesus and now he sends us (John 20:21) In what different ways can you contribute to being Jesus witness in your home town, for the whole country and for the whole world?
3. Power for the Work The disciples were told to wait for the Spirit to come and empower them. Jesus sends us, but we still need the power of the Spirit to do his work. The Spirit gives us a tangible knowledge of Jesus‟ presence in our lives. In Acts 2 the Spirit descends on the disciples and everyone hears their message in their own language. What is the implication of this for us today?
4. Time for the Work Jesus left the earth, but he will return (1:11). We have to work and witness till he comes back. His return is God‟s affair and not us. We need to concentrate on being witnesses not on worrying about the date of his return (1:7) We also have to do the basic work of running the church (1:21-25). There are lots of ministries in church life and all need to be taken care of. This small group of men looking up into the sky has grown into a worldwide movement present in every country on the globe. What do you know about the way in which the Gospel has spread over the years?
Act 5: The Future Revelation Reading Revelation 7
1. Background We need to realise that much that is said in the book of Revelation is symbolic and we need to understand the symbols. Christians disagree, sometimes vehemently, over some of the details of the end times. This study aims to steer a middle course and to avoid any of the highly controversial areas.
2. God Protects his People (1-8) God marks his people to protect them from ultimate harm. Through all of history, God has kept and protected those who follow him and who are bearing witness to Jesus. God knows the people who are his (and we don‟t!) - This is not a literal 12 tribes, but a symbol which speaks of all of his people. - This passage reminds us of Jesus saying that even the hairs on our heads were numbered (Matthew 10:30 / Luke 12:7) - Imagine what a promise like this means to people suffering persecution – the Christians who first read this were being persecuted by Rome. What does it mean to us that God has marked us out in order to protect us?
3. God’s People Praise Him (9-12) God knows his people, but the number is so vast that no human can count them all. - The promise to Abraham about his descendants becoming a nation that was so large no one could count them comes true in this passage. - Sometimes we feel that Christianity is a minority religion – but this promise changes all of that. Every tribe, tongue and language praising God - People from every part of the globe will be there. We often think of Christianity as a minority interest – but this passage indicates something very different: a worldwide triumph! - No one language is enough to describe how marvellous God is, but when all the languages and cultures of the earth are combined together, they will be able to say far more about God than could ever be achieved in just one setting. Even then, we won‟t be able to tell the full story! List some of the languages and musical styles that will be used to worship God on that day. How many can you come up with?
4. The Future of God’s People (13-17) God‟s people are those who he has cleaned through Jesus death and resurrection - Symbolised through clean garments They will live eternally with God without suffering hunger or pain. We are effectively taken back to the garden before Adam spoiled everything. We probably shouldn‟t think of this in terms of sitting around on clouds doing nothing. We were created to work and care for God‟s world – no doubt eternity will have some fulfilling purpose for us. The story started with mankind and God living in harmony and ends at the same point. Summarise what God has done through history to bring things back together again.
Stories from Bible Translation A pastor from Guatemala heard the story of Revelation chapter seven and exclaimed; “they must all be using their own languages!” In that part of the world, each ethnic group has a different costume and you can easily distinguish which group someone belongs to by their clothing. But the pastor noticed that everyone in Revelation 7 is wearing white garments. But the passage says that people from every tribe, tongue and language was present. So, if you can‟t tell who they are by their clothing, the only way to do it was by listening to the language they were speaking!