The Story

February 7, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

In this article I want to talk about the story behind the message. It’s a story that you are already familiar with, a story which changed your life. While the plot and story line remain the same, there are many ways of telling the story, and I thought that going over a summary might bring to mind details or aspects which perhaps you haven’t thought of for some time; and that this could aid you when you feel the need to tailor the message or relate it in a way those you’re ministering to will understand.

As related in the Old Testament books written by Moses, at the very beginning of time God created the universe and within it the world and all that’s in it. He created human beings in His own image. How He did all of this is something that I will be writing about in a future Heart of It All series article. For now, it’s enough to understand that He did.

The first human beings, Adam and Eve, lived in a world that was very different from the world of today. It was a world in which they did not have to toil for their food, in which they were in harmony with one another, creation, and God. They lived in a beautiful world where everything was “very good.”[1] They had no knowledge of evil, and while they had free will as we do, they had the ability to never sin. At some point in time in their idyllic world in the Garden of Eden, they were tempted by Satan to doubt what God had told them, which led them to disobedience and thus sin. Once they had chosen to disobey God, they knew evil.[2] Because of this, it was necessary for God to send them out of the garden so they wouldn’t eat of the tree of life and thus live forever in their disobedient state.[3]

Their disobedience brought a separation between God and them, which is what sin does, as well as altered the relationship they once had with Him. Their world was radically changed. They were no longer innocent; they knew evil, and thus evil entered into humanity. Humanity and creation were altered, the ground was cursed, and death entered the world.[4]

Because of sin there was a separation between mankind and God, like a gate which man could not open or pass through. God, out of His love for His creation, had a plan that would in time open that gate and lift the curse and defeat death.

In time God chose a man, childless Abraham, and promised that He would make Abraham a great nation, that kings would come from his line of descendants, and that through him all the people of the earth would be blessed.[5] Abraham’s descendants through his son Isaac were the children of Israel. God confirmed this covenant to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (and renamed him Israel).[6] From that time God called the descendants of Abraham His people, and had an extraordinary relationship with them.

He protected and prospered the children of Israel, saving them from famine through moving them to Egypt. Over time, the Egyptians enslaved them, but after 400 years God raised up Moses to deliver them from slavery through a series of incredible miracles, including plagues upon the Egyptians, the night of Passover,[7] the parting of the Red Sea so that the children of Israel could escape from the Egyptians, and the destruction of the Egyptian army as they attempted to pursue them. Once the children of Israel started their journey out of Egypt, God’s presence was with them in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Soon after this, God’s presence settled upon Mount Sinai, and God instructed Moses to come up into the mountain, where God gave him His words and commandments, which the children of Israel were supposed to obey and live by.

After 40 years in the desert, God brought them to the land of Canaan, which He had promised them as Abraham’s descendants. Before they entered Canaan, Moses spoke to them about God’s laws that they were to obey in the land. He went on to list the blessings they would receive if they kept God’s law and obeyed His commandments, and the curses which would be upon them if they didn’t. One of those curses was that if they disobeyed, they would be taken captive by another nation. Another curse was that their nation would be destroyed and their people scattered. In time this happened.

The children of Israel went into the land and conquered it. Over the centuries, God raised up prophets, judges, and then kings to guide and rule the people. He made a covenant with King David, saying that through his line God would raise up a son who would build a house for God and that David’s throne would be established forever.[8] After David’s death, his son Solomon built the first temple, the place where God’s presence would be among the people and where they would come to worship Him.

After Solomon’s death there was a split that divided the kingdom in two, with the Kingdom of Israel consisting of ten tribes in the north and the Kingdom of Judah consisting of two tribes in the south. No one knows exactly what happened to the ten tribes after Israel was destroyed by ancient Assyria in about 720 BC, but the Kingdom of Judah continued on. Due to their continued disobedience to God, He repeatedly sent prophets to warn them of impending destruction if they didn’t repent and change. In 587 BC, in accordance with prophecies given, the Babylonian army conquered Judah and destroyed the city and the temple and took the king, his mother, his servants, his officials and mighty men of valor, the craftsmen and the smiths, to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also took all the treasures from the temple, and eventually also destroyed the temple and the walls of Jerusalem.[9] This was known as the Babylonian captivity.

About 50 years later, after the Babylonians were conquered by the Persians, some of the Jews in Babylon were allowed to returned to their homeland. Over time, they built the second temple. It was during this time that the last prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi—prophesied, and this brought to an end the writings of the Old Testament. Centuries later the second temple was renovated by Herod the Great and became known as Herod’s temple.

During the time between the building of the second temple and the birth of Jesus, Israel was conquered and ruled by the Greeks. More specifically, Israel became part of the Seleucid Empire, which was ruled by one of Alexander the Great’s generals after his death. About a century and a half later, after the Jewish Maccabean revolt, Israel was ruled by the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty. In 64 BC, they were conquered by Rome and were ruled by Jewish-Roman client kings.

The events of the history of the Jewish people always pointed toward the fulfillment of God’s promise—that through the line of Abraham the whole world would be blessed, that through Israel God would bring a blessing to all people. That time came with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament, promises were made by God that the glory of Israel would be restored; that the enemies of Israel would be defeated; that the king of Israel would rule the world, and that God would dwell with His people.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Israel was an occupied country. Because of the promises given in Scripture, many of the Jewish people were hoping for and expecting that God was going to raise up a king, a messiah, who would throw off the Roman yoke and restore Israel’s political independence. They were expecting that Israel would be ruled by a righteous king, and that this would usher in a new era.

Jesus preached that the kingdom was near. There are over 70 mentions of “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” in the Gospels. The first century Jews understood this to mean that Jesus would lead a movement that was going to defeat the Romans and bring about all the blessings God spoke about throughout the Old Testament. From things said in the Gospels, it seems that some of the disciples were thinking in these terms as well.

But that wasn’t God’s plan at all. In fact, much of what Jesus said, the parables He told, and His actions, such as casting the moneychangers out of the temple and overturning their tables, proclaimed judgment on Israel, much like many of the Old Testament prophets did. Jesus taught that the old way of forgiveness of sins through the temple sacrifices was over, and the physical temple, the sacrifices, the strict adherence to the Torah, the Laws of Moses, were no longer necessary.—That Israel, because of her sins, was going to be judged and destroyed. Only a few decades later, in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the temple and the city and didn’t allow Jews to live in Jerusalem any longer. In 132 AD some of the Jewish people again revolted against Rome. This led the Romans to destroy nearly 1,000 villages in central Judea; killing, enslaving, or exiling the inhabitants.

The fulfillment of God’s promises that salvation would come through Israel to the rest of the world was going to happen in a manner that was completely unexpected. It was going to come through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Their messiah was going to look like a failed messiah, someone who had made big bold promises, only to be executed by the authorities. But this “failed messiah” rose from the dead and never died again, and in doing so, He defeated death. Never before had someone died, been resurrected, and not died again eventually. There had been a few people who were raised from death, such as Lazarus, but these eventually died again. Jesus didn’t. In Jesus, God did a completely new thing.

Everything the Scriptures had foretold about the salvation of the world came to a climax through these events. There was a fundamental change which ushered in a new age, known as “the last days”; an age which started with the resurrection of Jesus and will end with His return, when the victory over death is completed, and those who have chosen to be His will be raised—body and spirit.

Jesus was the first to be resurrected, including His body, and He is now in heaven, body and spirit. His body was changed. God created a new kind of body in resurrecting Jesus’, one that was material in that it could be touched, but was beyond material in that it could disappear and pass through walls and doors. This kind of body did not exist before, but it does now in Jesus. This is the kind of body that human beings will possess at the end of the “last days.”[10] Jesus ascended into heaven bodily. The risen and exalted Lord exists today in body and spirit. Those who receive Jesus as their Savior will be raised in the same manner—body and spirit.

Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfilled the promises and covenants contained within the Jewish scriptures, and in doing so changed everything!

With His death and resurrection, the temple was no longer needed, for sins would no longer be forgiven yearly through temple sacrifice, but would be forgiven eternally once and for all through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death. The temple was no longer to be the dwelling place of God, because after Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit dwelt in believers.

The Torah was superseded by the words of Jesus, as He was the Word made flesh. When He said, “You have heard it said … but I say to you,” He was stating that His word had more authority than the Laws of Moses, that He was giving a new version of it, and that He had the right to do so.

When Jesus ate His last meal with His disciples, He was celebrating Passover, the event when the blood of a lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts, which saved the Jewish firstborn children from the angel of death and made the Jews’ exodus from Egypt possible. However, He taught at that last meal that the sacrifice that was about to take place represented a new covenant, a new agreement—that the shedding of His blood would permanently save us from sin and would bring a new exodus from the bondage of sin and death.

The gate that was closed after Adam’s sin has now been opened. The separation is no longer there. The opportunity to become part of God’s family is now available to all. Humankind has been given the right to become children of God through Jesus.[11] God’s Spirit will dwell within and empower anyone who receives Jesus.

The clincher in this story is that Jesus’ death and resurrection began a new era, a new creation, the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth. The people of the world can now be reconciled with God. Permanent forgiveness of sin is available without our having to pay the price for that forgiveness, as it was paid in full by Jesus’ death. We are part of God’s new creation. We are reconciled to Him, received back into His favor, able to become one of His children, and are called to help others find that same reconciliation.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.[12]

The story doesn’t end there, as death itself will eventually be defeated and creation will be fully restored, with no curse, no sin, no evil.[13]

Jesus, God the Son, was born of a woman and lived the life of a human. He was the nature and character of God in human flesh. His actions, His words, the life He lived, manifested what God is like, made tangible in the life of Jesus. The ultimate love, the deep compassion, the hatred of evil; the anger at injustice, hypocrisy, and taking advantage of the poor and weak; the mercy and understanding; all of these were the personality of God played out in a way that we, as humans, could understand.

Jesus was God’s love, God’s Word, walking the earth. He was called to pay the ultimate price of dying for the sins of those in the world, and in doing so, He made it possible for us to be reconciled to God, to become God’s children, to have the right to receive the inheritance of our Father, which is eternal life.

We, as members of God’s family, His adopted children,[14] play a role in God’s great story, in His love for humanity, His love for His creation. For we are called to share this story with those who haven’t heard it, who don’t understand it, and who have trouble believing it. With God’s Spirit dwelling in us, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are ambassadors of Christ, who have a personal relationship with God, and our commission from Jesus Himself is to share the message, to tell the story, to let others know that they can be part of God’s family. They can become part of God’s kingdom, of His new creation. Their sins can be forgiven, all for free, since the price of their entry into God’s family has been paid for. It’s theirs for the asking.

It’s helpful to remember the end result of it all, what God is offering, so it’s fresh in our hearts and minds when we offer it to others. Those who become members of God’s family will live forever in a place of incredible beauty, which is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,”[15] with the radiance of jewels,[16] with a wall constructed from precious stones.[17] A place with no need of the sun or stars, for God will be its light.[18] There will be no death, mourning, crying, or pain.[19] It’s a place that is free from all evil,[20] a place where God will dwell with men.[21]—Forever! Ours is a message of joy, of happiness, of the possibility of eternal life in the most wonderful place possible, and a renewed life now. It truly is the most important message there is.

As partakers of these eternal blessings, as His ambassadors, His messengers, we should do our very best to live in a manner which reflects God and His love, which lets people see God’s light and feel His warmth through us, His children. We are to be messengers of the divine invitation, inviting one and all to the feast, to the kingdom of God.[22] We are to preach the Gospel, the good news that anyone can become God’s child, that His free gift is available to everyone.

We are to be messengers of love, in word and in deed, to a world desperately in need of God, of His love, His forgiveness, and His mercy.[23] We are His messengers; our job is to pass on the invitation, to share the good news, to tell the story, and to do so in a language that they understand, through our words, our actions, and our love. Invite them!

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. [24]

[1] God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. Genesis 1:31 ESV.

[2] 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. Genesis 3:4–7 ESV.

[3] The Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever,” therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life. Genesis 3:22–24 ESV.

[4] To the woman He said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” And to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:16–19 ESV.

[5] The Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:1–3 ESV.

Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.” Genesis 17:3–6 ESV.

[6] The Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:13–15 ESV.

[7] Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. Exodus 12:22–23 ESV.

[8] When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me. Your throne shall be established forever. 2 Samuel 7:12–13, 16 ESV.

[9] Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to the city while his servants were besieging it, and Jehoiachin the king of Judah gave himself up to the king of Babylon, himself and his mother and his servants and his officials and his palace officials. The king of Babylon took him prisoner in the eighth year of his reign and carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made, as the Lord had foretold. He carried away all Jerusalem and all the officials and all the mighty men of valor, 10,000 captives, and all the craftsmen and the smiths. None remained, except the poorest people of the land. 2 Kings 24:11–14 ESV.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king's house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. But the captain of the guard left some of the poorest of the land to be vinedressers and plowmen. 2 Kings 25:8–12 ESV.

[10] Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself. Philippians 3:20–21 ESV.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1 Corinthians 15:42–44,49 ESV.

Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2 ESV.

For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:52–54 ESV.

[11] To all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, John 1:12 ESV.

[12] 2 Corinthians 5:17–20 ESV.

[13] I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more … He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1, 4–5 ESV.

[14] When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4–7 ESV.

[15] I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Revelation 21:2 ESV.

[16] He carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. Revelation 21:10–11 ESV.

[17] The wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass. Revelation 21:18–21 ESV.

[18] The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. Revelation 21:23 ESV.

[19] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 ESV.

[20] Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. Revelation 21:27 ESV.

[21] I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Revelation 21:3 ESV.

[22] The master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” Luke 14:23 ESV.

[23] How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? Romans 10:14 ESV.

[24] Revelation 22:17 ESV.