Sermon Transcript - Sunday, March 1, 2020
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ The Story, Chapter 1 ~ Sunday, March 1, 2020
Imagine you are an actor or actress. You have landed a role in a movie and the day comes for filming to begin. You arrive at the studio. The costume people get you dressed up. The make-up crew makes you camera ready. You get called on set because you’re in this scene. The crew gets everyone, including you into place and the director calls, “Action!” But you don’t know what to say. You don’t what to do. You haven’t had a chance to read through the screenplay. What kind of a difference would it make to take some time and become familiar with the script?
When it comes to life in this world, understanding the bible is something like an actor/actress getting to know the storyline of the movie in which they have a role. That’s why I’m grateful that you’re here and I’m excited to go on this journey into The Story with you!
As we launch into the bible’s story today it’s helpful to recognize that there are really two storylines going on simultaneously, the Upper Story and the lower stories. The Upper Story is the eternal plans of God. The lower stories are the details of what we’re working out in our day-to-day lives. The lower stories in the bible are something like the episodes in a tv series, relaying the day-to-day details in the lives of real people, people like Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his family. As we study the lower story details of their lives, we gain insights for our own. Even more importantly, the more we learn about them and God’s work in their lives, the more we discover our place in the Upper Story, the big picture, grand narrative of God seeking relationship with humanity from the beginning of it all through to the final culmination of life here below. Your part is an important part and his plan isn’t something you want to miss!
And the grand saga of The Story starts out like this: In the beginning, God. God is the central character of the grand story of the Bible. In the opening chapters of Genesis, the Upper Story is in full view. The power, creativity, and ingenuity of God on dazzling display each day of the first week of this universe’s existence. “Let there be …” the voice of God commands, and there is! Suddenly the screen fills with skies and seas, sun, moon, and stars, birds and fish, plants, and animals. Teeming with life, beautiful life, vibrant life. The view is stunning. And yet all of it is but a lead up to God’s greatest work of all: human beings!
Human beings are at the heart of God’s story because the origins of our existence trace back to the very heart of God! This is the grand Upper Story. The human race isn’t a cosmic accident triggered by a big bang billions of years back, setting in motion some random, chance progression that eventually turned primordial ooze into people! The bible teaches from the opening chapter that we are the crowning jewel of God’s creation, the apple of his eye. We are unique creations made to reflect the very image of God our Father as we live in close relationship with Him as his dearly-loved children! In other words, God intentionally created the lower story, so he can come down from the Upper Story and do life with us. God’s big idea, the point of his story is to be with us! It is all about relationships—heart-level relationship with God and right relationships with each other.
To see how the grand story of God ends, thumb to the back of the bible, the final two chapters of the book, and once again God is on full display, at the center of another garden, described as the new heavens and the new earth. Everything is beautiful like the first garden, only better. We will live in the beauty and bliss of the goodness of God’s creation, a place that is higher, better, more glorious than even the most beautiful, most luxurious, most exciting place on this planet! The best part? We will live in constant and complete connection with God. And that perfect relationship with God translates into perfect peace and connection with one another too. And better still: it never ends!
Between the bible’s beautiful beginning and its glorious conclusion, the question really is: “What on earth, happened?” If you miss this question of The Story, the rest of the storyline won’t make much sense. Actually, it’s more serious than that and more sinister too. Through the millennia people have looked at the suffering, the heartache, and the plain wickedness around them in the drama of daily life that stirs this cry deep within: “How could a good God allow this evil to take place?”
This first chapter of The Story answers that question. Only the answer doesn’t point to a failure on God’s part. Abuses of power, the spread of viruses, the sudden loss of wealth due to natural disaster or a steep drop in the stock market, homelessness and hunger, the kinds of problems that are prevalent in our world today, trace their roots back to a destructive decision Eve and Adam made way back in that beautiful Garden. They break faith with God as they doubt God’s loving command and listen instead to a creature rather than the Creator, taking a bite of the forbidden fruit. Their decision is devastating!
Of all the things that sin ruins, what is the costliest? What suffered the most? In a word: Relationships. The kind of relationship God desires with human beings is the kind of relationship that characterizes his own existence as three persons in one God. From eternity Father, Son, and Spirit have lived in perfect and mutual love with and for one another. Our God desires to share that kind of relationship with every person. But here’s the thing about such a relationship: ultimately you can’t force love if you really want to it thrive. Such relationships exist because they begin and thrive only with mutual love. I can’t force my wife to love me, and God doesn’t force us to love him either. When we choose to listen to a creature rather than the Creator, the first and greatest casualty are the relationships.
Sin happens when a person pursues something or someone at the expense of their relationship with God.
Sin affects Adam and Eve’s marriage relationship: they feel shame and blame each other for their problems.
Rather than passing down the image of God, Adam and Eve now have children in their image, with hearts infected by sin.
The whole earth is cursed and begins to die – the relationship between humanity and this world changes forever.
When we compare our world with what the world was like before sin, we discover why nothing is as it should be. Nothing. Because sin changes everything. And here’s why: it’s infectious. Sin is an aphrodisiac in the worst possible way – sometimes it’s one whiff and that’s the ballgame. It’s an inherited disease – it metastasizes throughout your life and your family. Just ask Adam and Eve about the effect of their one sin on Cain and Abel, on you and me.
Sin is virulent and noxious so, so remember: every bite matters. Sin is a virus that circulates throughout the body. While the easiest thing to do sometimes is to excuse a dalliance – to rationalize an indulgence, another drink, keeping something from your spouse or your parents, because hey, it’s just this one time…it’s never just one time. Sin is a stench that is distributed through the ventilation system where it permeates through every room, every compartment of our hearts and our lives. And so, before you blow off the hundreds of small, seemingly insignificant decisions you make every day, think about what C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity: “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, of who you are, into something a little different from what it was before.” Before you’re quick to excuse that one urge of rebellion, that one thought of unfaithfulness, that one dishonest word, that one action that veers off the path of God’s plan; remember: those small, seemingly insignificant choices actually change you, but not for the better. As you pluck the forbidden fruit from the tree, just remember, every bite matters.
Yes, this first chapter of The Story is vital to understanding God’s Upper Story plans. For not only does it pull the wool off of our eyes about the source of all of our problems, it also reveals God’s Upper Story action plan. Just as soon as Eve and Adam fall into sin, God goes to work to draw us back into a right relationship with Him; and that Upper Story never changes even to the last chapter of the Bible. Even after God brings judgment upon a wicked earth, Noah and his family still emerge from the ark with their sin nature. It is going to take something beyond people to solve the sin problem. God alone is our only hope. And that Grand Theme never changes even to the last chapter of the Bible too!
1. The first step is a promise and a prophecy:
In Genesis 3:15, God is saying: “Satan, I’m going to change things now so that Adam and Eve see you as their enemy, your offspring and their offspring will be enemies. Jesus is coming to crush your head though you will strike his heel.”
2. Second, God Himself makes a covering – clothes for Adam and Eve.
This signifies two important things: First, He loves them and wants them to be protected, now that the earth is cursed. But second, God clothes them specifically from an animal’s skin — the blood of an animal is shed to cover their sin. God reinforces the reality that blood is required – innocent life must be tendered – to pay the debt of sin.
Later, an elaborate system of sacrifices of bulls, goats and lambs and other animals would be instituted to symbolize the deadly price for the people’s sins. And then, a few thousand years later, to accomplish what these symbols sought to portray: blood and death would be offered once more…once for all…the perfect Son of God in the place of whole sin-stained human race to pay in full the debt of sin before God. What starts in the garden – blood shed by an animal for covering – ends at the cross, with the blood of God’s Son clothed in human flesh, completely covering the stain of human sin.
3. God’s third action is also an illustration. When God rains down his judgment on the world of people who have been unfaithful to Him in the form of a global flood, He preserves faith-filled Noah and his family through the Ark.
This world rejects God and rebels against him, but God saves us from the faithless influence of this world through the ark of His Church. Jesus draws us into this ark through faith in Him. And by faith he keeps us under the shelter of his protection as he also draws us together to one another, a community of people who gather in his name and among whom he promises to dwell personally! In this storm-tossed world, God protects us through this ark against the temptations and traps that are designed to shipwreck our faith in Jesus.
It’s a dramatic story. But it isn’t fiction. This is real life. The real life story of God and his people! And God will use every lower story to work into and work out his upper story plan. He’s been doing it for thousands of years and he’ll continue to do so. On a personal level, the question for each of us is: will you play the part of antagonist or protagonist? The antagonist is the character who tries to defy and defeat the central character. Will you turn a blind eye and a darkened heart to the light of God’s Word because you want to do life by your rules, living it up in the dark for as long as you can? Or is your heart searching for something more? Something better? Some hope in the darkness of this world? Do you want to play the part of the protagonist? The one who sees the ray of hope that Jesus brings and wants to walk in the light of God’s will in this life and follow the light of his Word into the life that the Son of God is preparing for us in the Garden that is yet to come? Your presence here, gathered around God’s Word, together with God’s people tells me you this is what you want. Not only to know of God, but to truly know him, to participate in his Story, enjoying deeper connection to him and to his people and all the blessings that brings, both now and forevermore! God graciously grant it! Amen.