The Message of Jesus: The Divine Drama
Do you know what is God doing in your life? And what is he doing in the world as a whole? These two questions are of course interrelated: What God is doing in your life, has something to do with what he is doing in the world as a whole.
But just what is that? What’s he up to?
We wouldn’t know much about God at all, except for what the Bible tells us. In order for us to see what God is doing, he has to reveal himself to us, and he does that in the Bible.
So what is he up to?
I think that the biblical story can be summarized as a great drama, a story about what God is doing in our lives. Today I will sketch that story, sort of an overview of the Bible and how it relates to us.
Act 1, scene 1, chapter 1 begins in the beginning, and the starting point for the whole story comes in Genesis 1. It says that God made the heavens and the earth, the land and the sea, the birds and the fish and the animals. He said, Let there be…, and there was.
And how does it relate to us? In Genesis 1, verses 26-27,
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Why did God do this? He didn’t have to do it this way. He didn’t have to create us to be a little bit like himself. So why did he do it?
Genesis doesn’t tell us. Novels and dramas are sometimes like that, aren’t they? They just begin, and we find ourselves in a scene and we have to learn what is going on. The novel starts out by saying that “it was a dark and stormy night,” and we have to figure out what is going on, and as the novel progresses, we start to see how everything fits together, and what is going on in that scene.
Genesis tells us that God created human beings in his own image, in his likeness, so that we can rule over the animals and the earth. It’s like we are kings and queens, and God has not only created us, he has given us a domain, a kingdom for us to enjoy, and we can be a little bit like gods in the domain that he has given us.
But why? Genesis doesn’t tell us. It is only later in the biblical story that we begin to see why he did it. Now, for the purpose of this message today, I am going to tell you. So alert, alert! Here’s a “spoiler.” I’m going to tell you how it ends up, so if you don’t want to know, if you’d rather watch the movie and be surprised, then you can stop right now.
OK, for all those who are still with me, I’ll tell you how it all ends up. Why did God create human beings? The Bible says he did it because he loves us. God is love, the Bible tells us. He is a Creator, too, but he hasn’t always been a creator. But he has always been love. Before he created the universe, he was love. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit loved each other, and they said, “Life is good. Let’s make some creatures who are a similar to us, and can enjoy life the way we do.”
So God created human beings in the image of God, gave them a wonderful place to live, and gave them everything they needed in order to prosper and be happy. And since God is love, he gave them his own friendship. He was ready to help them.
So I call Act 1, Scene 2 “God Loves Us.” That is the way the story begins. God told Adam and Eve, “You’ve never had a life before, so you might not know how this works. I’m here to help you. There are a few things that could go wrong, so I will try to steer you clear.”
Most of you know how that turned out. And so I call Act 2, Scene 1 “Humanity Runs Away.” Genesis 3 tells us how God told humanity that a certain kind of fruit in the garden was poisonous. That symbolizes the fact that there are some choices in life that can make life pretty unpleasant.
God wants to share a good life with us, not a life of frustration and pain. So he tells us, If you live this way, you are going to be happy. But if you choose to go some other way, then you are not going to like the results. God gives us the power to choose, because that’s part of the power that’s a little bit like God; it is part of the image of God; it is part of the life that God wants to share with us. We have to make decisions as we go along in life.
Every story needs a plot, a danger of some sort, what the literary people call an antagonist, who threatens to turn the drama into a tragedy. And Genesis 3:1 introduces the antagonist: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’”
Who is this serpent, and how did he get here in the garden? Genesis doesn’t tell us. He just shows up, causes trouble, and he disappears from the scene for a long time. It’s like somebody from off the stage threw a stink bomb into the drama, and it’s a long time before we find out “who dunnit.”
Here again, for the purpose of this literary review, I am going to spill the beans and tell you who dunnit. The Bible says it was a powerful spirit named Satan – that’s a Hebrew word that means “The Adversary.” Or we might say he is… “The Antagonist.” If this was a Western, he’d wear a black hat.
It doesn’t help us much to learn another name for the snake. The question for us now is this: How did this antagonistic snake get into the story? The Bible doesn’t tell us. It drops a few hints here and there, but it just never comes out and tells us. That’s because the Bible is not about the snake. It’s about you, and me, and God’s love for us. The snake is just part of the set. It somehow got into the scenery and it makes a mess that we have to deal with even if we don’t know how it got there. It’s part of what makes this story a drama. There’s a difficulty that needs to be overcome.
What happens in this scene is that the snake convinces the humans to be antagonistic. By trickery, by deception, he gets human beings to turn against God; he gets human beings to be antagonists in the divine drama. The snake tricks humanity into rejecting the life that God offers, and going off onto their own way – a way that God knows is going to cause us lots of trouble.
And so the story goes. God told Adam and Eve that there was one tree in the garden that had strange fruit. It was sweet to the taste, but when it got to the belly it was horribly bitter. It would cause them to die. The snake said, “Don’t be silly. It’s OK – just eat it.” They did, and then they were ashamed.
Verse 8: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” They had rejected his advice, and now they rejected him. They had chosen to go it alone. They ran away.
So the framework of the story is set: We’ve got a problem, and the story is about how God is going to fix that problem.
Act 2, scene 2: God Pursues Us. Now, God is used to getting his own way, and he doesn’t take “no” for an answer very easily. And he is love, so this story is a romance, and as part of this romance, he is going to pursue us even when we run away from him.
So, even though the man and the woman tried to go it alone, God still helped them out. He gave them some clothes; he gave them some instructions; he intervened a few times to prevent the story from turning into a total tragedy with everyone dead.
And he showed up every now and then. He told Abraham, I am going to rescue the whole world through one of your descendants. He told Israel, You know, life could be a lot better if you just followed some basic rules of decency. And Israel said, That’s a good idea – now go away. We’d like to worship a golden calf.
God brought them into the land of Canaan and helped them move in and get started. And they said Thanks – now go away. We’d like to worship Ba’al. God went away and the Ba’al worshippers took over, and Israel didn’t like it. So God rescued them and they said, Thanks – now go away. We’d like to worship Molech.
And he did, and they did, and they didn’t like the results, and he rescued them again and again and they kept on saying, “Thanks – now go away. We’d like to do something else. No offense, but we don’t like you.” All the fruit that was attractive to the eyes ended up being bitter in the belly.
God gave them leaders and they said, “Thanks, but we’d rather have it some other way.” God sent them prophets, and they said, “Those guys are just party poopers, crackpots, spoilsports. We’d rather go our own way and do our own thing. We can do just fine on our own.” God saw that they were lame and blind and sick and not nearly as happy as they could be.
And so that is Act 2: God pursues us in love, and we keep running away. There is an interesting parable in Ezekiel 16 that describes God’s love for his people. He describes them as a baby abandoned on the trash heap of history, a baby that was just thrown away without being wanted.
On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
That happened a lot in the ancient world. If the parents didn’t want the baby, they just threw it away. It’s called infanticide, and it was an accepted practice in most of the ancient world. So Ezekiel is using that image as a beginning point to describe God’s love for his people. Instead of creating the baby out of nothing, the story starts here with the baby barely alive, and God rescues the baby.
Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who had been naked and bare. Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.
He is describing this as a marriage. He rescued her, gave her life, and promised to take care of her for the rest of her life. He took care of her needs, and gave her lovely clothing and the best food.
You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD. But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute. You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.
It’s the same story, isn’t it? God loves humanity and eagerly wants humanity to have the best that life can offer, but humanity keeps going astray, rejecting God, messing life up. Verse 17 continues,
You also took the fine jewelry I gave you, the jewelry made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them. And you took your embroidered clothes to put on them, and you offered my oil and incense before them. Also the food I provided for you—the fine flour, olive oil and honey I gave you to eat—you offered as fragrant incense before them. That is what happened, declares the Sovereign LORD. And you took your sons and daughters whom you bore to me and sacrificed them as food to the idols. Was your prostitution not enough? You slaughtered my children and sacrificed them to the idols.
The story gets worse and worse, and the chapter goes on and on with how God pursued the woman he loved, and she spurned him – and every good thing he gave her, she turned it into wickedness and made herself detestable. To use a more modern analogy with roughly the same amount of revulsion, it might be like saying that she pours hydrochloric acid on herself and creates horrible pain, and then there are huge sores in which maggots live.
But God did not detest her – he loved her. In verse 53 he promises, “I will restore your fortunes.” It is not just Israel he says this to – he even includes Sodom in this promise. It includes all people. All people have gone astray, but God wants all people to come back, to stop polluting themselves, to stop hurting themselves.
Verse 60 promises, “I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” And verse 63 says that God himself will make atonement for all that she has done. He will make amends for what she has done. He will keep pursuing her until she accepts his love and loves him back.
That brings us to Act 3, the climax of the story: Humanity Kills Christ. God loves us so much that he sent his own Son into the world so that whoever trusts in him can have a good life, and not a miserable one.
Yes, God himself came to earth and lived among us. And as you know, we didn’t like it, and we killed him. It wasn’t just the Jews who wanted him dead – it was the Romans, too. Every last ethnic group on earth would have done the same thing. In Romans, the apostle Paul tells us:
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
God is not really angry at us. People might think he is, they might hide themselves from him. They are afraid of him, because they know they deserve to be punished, but God doesn’t want to punish us. No – he wants to rescue us. He wants us to stop pouring hydrochloric acid on ourselves, to stop eating poisonous fruits that cause bitterness in our lives, to stop doing stupid things that hurt us.
People might talk about God’s wrath, but God is demonstrating his love for us by sending Christ to rescue us. He wants to rescue us from self-inflicted punishment, to rescue us from making stupid choices in life that just end up hurting us. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, the Bible says.
Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’ [Ezekiel 33:11]
Even if they are wicked, he doesn’t want to punish them. He wants to rescue them! If he causes us pain, it is for a purpose. His goal is not punishment – his goal is that we are created in his image, in his likeness. He doesn’t want to punish – he would far rather that people turned from their stupid ways and live a life that will bring them joy and happiness instead of anxiety and frustration. But he doesn’t force them to do it – he lets them make their own decisions.
As he promised in Ezekiel 16, God himself will make atonement for all that we have done, and he did it by sending Christ to die for us. So Paul uses a legal metaphor to assure us: We are justified by the death of Christ. That means that we have been declared right. Christ experienced the results of our sins, and so we can be forgiven and we can live.
For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! [Romans 5:10]
Even when we run away, even when we tell God to leave us alone, he will pursue us. He loves us so much that there is nothing we can do that will ever make him turn away. Not even killing his Son will make God back off. Nothing can make him change his mind.
He still wants us to enjoy life, the kind of life that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have had for all eternity. God has not forgotten the fact that he made human beings in his own image, each of us a little bit like God, because God wants us to be more and more like he is and to have the kind of life he has.
So we are already in Act 4: God Persists. It’s a lot like Act 2, God pursues us. Now, he has raised Christ from the dead, and he is still pursuing us, eagerly desiring that we will finally get the picture and start loving him back, eagerly desiring that we stop running away and trying to live on our own and making hundreds of mistakes that just end up hurting ourselves and other people.
God is still pursing us, like a man who is trying to win the love of a woman who finds it hard to make up her mind. Now, that’s a drama, isn’t it? God is a lot more persistent than any man on earth would be, but that’s an analogy that might help convey a little bit of what is going on in this divine romance story.
In Ephesians 5, Paul compares God’s love for his people to a husband’s love for his wife. There is no man on earth who has as much love as God does for his people, but Paul is saying that this is the sort of love Christ has for his people:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
This is a mystery, he says in verse 32 – a mystery about Christ and the church. Christ sets the pattern, he loves his people, and wants them clean and looking good. He’s not afraid of dirt – he’s used to it – he has experienced the worst of it, and that won’t put him off. He knows how to clean up messed-up lives – he knows a lot better than we do how to fix messed-lives. We can trust him in that.
Paul uses a similar metaphor in 2 Corinthians 11, verse 2: “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.”
The image is of a marriage. It’s a happy ending to the romance story. It doesn’t matter how messed up we used to be – Christ can cleanse us, and we will be clean indeed – we will be a pure virgin, a perfect partner for this divine marriage.
I am already talking here about Act 5: The New and Happy Ending. We can see it in Revelation 19, verses 7-9. In a vision of the future, John sees and hears some wonderful news:
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:
“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb [that’s Christ] has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
This will be a wedding far more glorious than any earthly prince could ever dream of. It will be glory, and rejoicing, and beauty like we have never seen. But the best part of it, is that we will be there.
Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding of the Lamb – and you, and I, have been invited to be there. Not just as a guest who gets to watch. Not just as a groomsman or bridesmaid who gets to be there on stage. No, we will be the bride, the center of attention.
Don’t take this too literally – we will not all literally be in one white dress, billions of people all in one white dress. This is a metaphor, designed to give us a truth that is too good for ordinary words. It’s a truth that we will be joined to Christ forever, living in the joy and thrill of the divine life. We will be where God wanted us to be all along – sharing in the love and life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There – we have read to the end of the book, and the good news is that we win, and we win big. There could be no happier ending, no more successful story, a dream come true. This is where the story was aiming from the very beginning, the destination that we could see only hints of in Genesis.
But that is in the future – that is not where we are in the story right now, is it? Revelation says, Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding of the Lamb.
Who is that? It’s all of us. It’s everybody we meet. It’s people we haven’t met. It’s Tibetans in the Himalaya mountains. It’s Uzbekistanis in the heart of Asia. It’s Auca people in the jungles of South America. It’s stone-age cultures in Borneo, and doctors and scientists in Sweden.
God wants everybody to come, everybody to enjoy the kind of life he has.
The question is, Will they come, or will they run away?
What about that antagonist, the snake? Revelation tells us that he will eventually be isolated where he can do no more harm, but for right now he is still lurking in the scenery, throwing stink bombs onto the stage, trying to deceive people into thinking that God is angry at them and they ought to run away. He tries to tell them that the fruit looks good, or the acid smells good, and they ought to give it a try.
He tells every lie he can think of, and from the way that the Bible tells the story, it seems that some people will reject God just as persistently as the Antagonist does. Where he comes from and where he goes may not be clear, but that’s because the story is not about him – it’s about us. It’s about you and me, and the question for us is this: Where are we in this story? This part of the story hasn’t been written yet, and God is asking us how we would like it to go. Do you want to go it alone, or do you want to go with God?
The Adversary would like you to think that God’s way is too restrictive, too old-fashioned, too limiting. You should have the freedom to pour acid on yourself, to eat the poisonous fruits, to really experience the freedom of choice.
God says, Yes, you have the freedom to choose, but you can’t change the results. If you play with acid, you will get burned. If you eat the poisonous fruit, it will get bitter in your stomach. He loves us, and wants us to avoid the bitter results of going our own way.
Can we trust that he really loves us and wants to help us avoid pain? Or do we listen to the Adversary whisper in our ear, “Is this really the best way for you? Why don’t you try dot dot dot. Surely that will work out better. Don’t accept God’s solution to the problem – try to find one on your own. Be your own person, do your own thing. And besides, God is such a grumpy old guy that you don’t want to be around him anyway, so run away. Keep on running.”
And God says, “I love you. I gave you life. I gave you everything you have. I don’t want you to use it to hurt yourself. You really have nothing to lose except pain and sorrow and frustration. A life like that really isn’t worth living, so stop. Let me show you a different life, a happy and glorious ending. Trust me.”
God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son, Jesus, so that all who trust him will not die, but live forever in peace and joy and happiness. Blessed are all who are invited to the wedding of the Lamb, and blessed are all who accept the invitation!
Author: Michael Morrison