If you had to summarise the Bible in broad brush strokes, what might be some of the things that you mention? Let’s see, there’s creation and the fall, the Exodus and Exile, the advent of Christ, His saving work on the cross, and the life of the early followers of the Way. Did I miss anything? If you had to take a stab at it, what would you say is the one great story of the Bible, the overarching narrative? In a funny way, that meta-narrative has to do with one key element of Scripture: The Law.
I can imagine you’re shaking your head at me right now. The Law? No way! But let me try and paint a picture for you. I approach a random lady in the street and inform her that Jesus has saved her. “Great!” she says, “A sale is on! How much has He saved me?” I’m being a little bit silly, but the point stands. Jesus’ offer of salvation means very little if we don’t know what we’re being saved from. And that is where the Law comes in.
In Exodus 19:5-6 God makes a covenant with Israel, saying: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be mu treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The Lord plucked the people out of slavery in Egypt – He saved them – and He promised to give them the Promised Land and make them a blessing to the entire world. All they had to do, in return, was obey the laws that He gave them. Simple, right?
Unfortunately, we all know how this story goes. Moses hadn’t even finished receiving the laws they were to keep before the Israelites had convinced Aaron to make a new god for them – the golden calf. See, this is the meta-narrative of the Old Testament; the story of the gradual decline of humanity, and Israel’s failure, as a nation, to do the right thing. Time and again, we see the Israelites do the wrong thing, turn away from God, and time and again God delivers their just punishment. The Old Testament rings with the message that God is just, and people are inescapably mired in sin. Even the great heroes of the stories – Noah, Moses, David and so on – all of them sin, all of them deserve their just punishment.
If the grand story of the Bible ended there, it would be the greatest tragedy ever told. It is a real testament to the goodness of God that, as we know, it doesn’t end there! See, even in the midst of God’s righteous judgement upon the nation of Israel, we see some of His other character traits peek through. We see grace, patience and love. God had every right to abandon the Israelites after they broke their end of the covenant, again and again, right from the moment they made it! But He never did. Even when the walls of Jerusalem were being broken down, and the beloved Temple was destroyed, God was with them, giving them hope, showing His steadfast love for them (Jeremiah 29:11).
So, we have the story of a God who is just, but also patient and kind, slow to anger and abounding in love (Nehemiah 9:17). And then, in the New Testament, we find out just how far He is willing to go to show His love and redeem, once and for all, the whole world. On the cross, Jesus took on Himself our justly deserved punishment (1 Peter 2:24). On the cross, Jesus became a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of His blood (Romans 3:25). On the cross, Jesus tore the curtain that separated unholy people from a holy God (Matt 27:51).
Without the Law, Jesus’ death and resurrection don’t make sense. We have to understand God’s righteousness and our sinfulness (Rom. 3:23). We have to understand the way that God, despite all of our failings, chose to take our justly deserved punishment on Himself – that now, because of the work of the cross, we have access to Jesus’ own righteousness, and we can no longer be separated from God.
I don’t know about you, but when I begin to grasp this idea, of just exactly what God did for us, I am filled with gratitude and awe. In Youth Group Bible Study last year, we talked about the 4 P’s of the Gospel. God’s position, our problem, God’s provision, our part. Take a moment to think about what those P’s might mean (ask some of the youth if you’re not sure!). It is crucial as Christians to be aware of these things: the way God loves us, the way He redeemed us from sin and the way we ought to respond. I know one good way to respond: with deep, heartfelt praise.
SONG: Anastasis (O Praise the Name) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqBpifDpNKc