Everyone loves a good story and the one over-arching story of the entire bible is a really good story about a missionary God who is on a mission to save sinners who are far from him.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
(Isaiah 52:7 ESV)
Thesis :: If read as one story, the Bible is a beautiful and well crafted story that has a beginning, middle and end. In the beginning God created the world, in the end God will recreate an new world, and all that is in between, the middle, is a story about the mission of God. God’s mission is to redeem.
Everyone loves a good story. A good story is powerful. Story has the ability to move people, masses of people — because everyone loves a good story.
When I was in college I dreamed of being a songwriter. I wanted to write music. However I was having a hard time because I felt like my songs were missing something. I began listening to all of the songs I like the most and I realize that all of my favorite songs had one thing in common. They tell a story. A good songwriter can tell a good story in just four verses and a course.
The artist STING is a masterful storyteller in his music. Perhaps you’ve heard this song: “Young teacher, the subject, of schoolgirl fantasy.” Now if that’s not an opening that immediately draws you in, I don’t know what is.
Johnny Cash is another masterful storyteller. Almost every single one of his songs is a story. Tell me if you’ve heard this one. “I hear the train a comin’, it’s rolling around the bend, and I ain’t seen the sunshine, since I don’t know when. I’m stuck in Folsom Prison and time keeps dragging on.”
Everyone loves a good story. In our house we always read stories to Josiah to wind him down for bed. And it’s completely obvious that even toddler’s love a good story. Unfortunately, he’s getting smarter now and he knows that story time means bedtime and since he doesn’t ever want to go to bed, Kelly and I have had to become master story maker up’ers.
We might say something like. “Once upon a time there was a little boy who was standing out in the middle of a big forest — and while he was standing there a horsey came up to him and said, “Hello my name is Frank. What’s your name?” And the little boy said, “My name is Josiah.” Josiah will perk up and say, “What? Astory — aout me? And he will jump into bed to hear more. It really works.
In fact, the other night I had a masterful stroke of genius. Now I don’t mean to brag by I just made up this story, that I thought was — well it was awesome. It was so good, and so easy for me, it must have been deeply seated in my sub conscience or something. Josiah was there, couldn’t get him to come to bed, so I just started, “Josiah, I know this story about a famous woodpecker. And this woodpecker is so famous he even had his own song. This song sound like this…..” All of a sudden Josiah got up and dove on to the bed, snuggled up real close and said, “Do it!”
Do you know why? Because everyone loves a good story.
Now, I’ve been saying that everyone loves a good story and so I should perhaps clarify what I mean by a good story. Because another thing I know is that really no one likes a bad story.
The Elements of a Good Story
Now you may already know this but I should state that every story, in order for it to be a good story, must have certain elements. These elements go back even before the time of Christ. The Hebrews were amazing storytellers and that’s obvious from the Scriptures that you have in your hands today.
But, allot of what we know about the elements of story, have been document for us be the Greek philosopher Aristotle. In a famous work entitled the Poetics, Aristotle taught that the “first principle” or the most important feature of every story is the plot. The plot is the skeleton that holds the entire story together. Plot is not the story. The story is the story. The plot is just the skeleton that connects the beginning to the middle to the end. Plot is the course or the plots within the map of the story that determine where the story is going and how it all connects.
Aristotle taught that every plot must have a beginning, a middle and an end. The beginning is where the story begins and the end is where the story ends and this is extremely important. Have you ever experienced a story that had no ending? I hate those stories. Or, have you ever watched a movie that a long back story that seemed to be a complete waste of time and didn’t really matter to the whole of the story? I personally feel like Star Wars was better with-out the 7 hour backstory. I’m just sayin’.
Finally, the story must have a middle. The middle is the journey in which you’re taking the audience to get from the beginning to the end. Obviously, the middle is extremely important because within the middle of a good story we will experience conflict, resolution, climax and all kinds of elements that make a story interesting.
Now I don’t know if you have ever heard this but, some will say that there is essentially only one basic plot structure that makes up every story ever told. I know this to be especially true in the chic flick genre. Every girly movie I’ve ever seen has the same exact plot structure. Boy meets girl, and they usually start off hating each other – but then (I’m trying to build a small element of surprise here) – they fall in love. But – he messes something up and so they break up and he spirals into total despair, losses his job, and grows a long beard. Finally, he remembers that there once was a time when she actually loved him. So, he shaves his beard, gets a jam box and holds it over his head while playing 80’s music outside of her bedroom window — or office — or best friends wedding.
Everyone loves a good story, and it may be true that all good stories follow one basic plot line.
Lets take the Bible for instance. (At this point, you might note that I am beginning to move away from my introduction into the plot of today’s message.) The entire Bible is actually one beautifully well-crafted story. And like all good stories, it too follows this same plot structure. There is a beginning. Our story begins with the God creating the entire universe. God creates humans in his own image to reflect his own likeness — to be like himself. At the beginning of this story there is a garden, and this garden has a few interesting and important trees.
The Story of the Bible also has an ending. And the story ends with a new creation, where God reconciles all that has been broken throughout the middle of our story. It ends, again, in a garden, and in that garden there are a few interesting and important trees.
And our story has a middle. An outstanding middle. In the middle of our story there are actually little mini-stories and every single one of those mini-stories are reflections or foreshadows of the grand story, or the meta-narrative, of the whole Bible. The story of the bible is masterfully crafted story.
Well — today I would like to tell you the story of the Bible and for the sake of time instead of beginning in Genesis and working our way through the ending at the book of Revelation, I just want to share some key verses from the book of Isaiah. Isaiah is often called the Bible in miniature because there are 66 chapters in the book of Isaiah which correspond precisely to the 66 books of the Bible.
Now, before we begin this story we need a really good title. I strongly believe that the title of this story should be “The Mission of God” — because the story is essentially about God. In the beginning God created humans, in the end God reconciles or redeems those humans, and the middle of the story is all about a God who is on a mission to redeem creation. He is a missional God.
So — let me give you a picture of where I want this message to go. Outside of the importance of a good plot every story needs to accomplish three things. First, it needs to tell you what happened. A good story essentially tells you what happened. So, the first point of today’s message is about what happened. What is the Bible about? Secondly, a good story must not just tell you ‘what happened’ – it must also tell you ‘why it happened’. The second point of this message is about why the Bible is about what it’s about. Thirdly, a really really good story not only tells you what and why but it draws the reader in so that the reader actually begins to believe that he is either a character in the story or that the story is really all about him.
If you read the Bible like most Americans read the Bible then you have been fooled into believing that the story is essentially about you. That’s because its a really good story. So, the third point of today message is about why the story is not about you, but — you are an important character in the story.
Now, before we begin I need to make one more quick introduction. I would like to recommend several books that do a great job teaching and unfolding the meta-narrative of this story called “The Mission of God”. The first book is called the Mission of God by Christopher Wright. It is a very thorough work and theological resource that has been recognized by many of my professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. Also, the book Missional Church by Darrell Guder, written many years ago but is also an instrumental work for missiology today. Finally, Christopher Wright wrote a follow-up book after The Mission of God entitled The Mission of God’s People.
Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s begin to answer these three questions: what’s the story about?, why is it about that?, and how are we characters in it?
“Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”” (Isaiah 40:9 ESV)
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”” (Isaiah 52:7 ESV)
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1 ESV)
I. What is the Story About?
The terms ‘herald’ and ‘good news’ are extremely significant. The OT ‘ba’sar’ is the same as the NT ‘euangelion’. (Euangelion is used to in the Septuagint.) It is essentially what the story is about. The story of the Mission of God is good news. It is a story that when heard it is received as good news. This is a good story.
It’s important to note that in each of these passages there is sending going on. God sends Israel to get up on the mountain to declare the good news. Then God sends his son to preach good news to all nations. That sending part is very important. The OT is full of examples, as well as mini stories that reflect what the grand story is all about. God is on a mission to redeem creation and that is good news.
When we get to the Gospels the story of The Mission of God continues as God sends his own son to atone for sin and to preach the good news of God’s Mission to redeem creation. It is clear from Jesus’ ministry and his own words that he understands his place in the story. He actually begins his ministry by reading Isaiah 61 in the synagogue and claiming, “Today this reading is fulfilled”
He tells his disciples that the son of man came to seek and to save the lost and that he was sent to do the will of his Father. On two separate occasion, at the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus open the eyes of his disciples by explaining and showing them from the whole of scripture the purpose of Messiah and His mission to proclaim Good News.
Through out the rest of the New Testament, the apostles continue to tell the story. Paul says, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”… (1 Timothy 1:15) The followers spread this good news and explain how it was the mystery declared through generations past but now is made known in Christ.
So — what is the story about. It’s about God’s mission to redeem his creation. God is the great architect of an astonishing plan to send his son to save mankind from sin and to preach good news to all people.
That is what the story is about. But why. Why does God redeem mankind. Why does God send his son?
II. Why is the story about what it is about?
The book of Isaiah does a great job of explaining the plot line of the Bible. God creates mankind, God wants mankind to reflect his image. God chose Israel to be a his servant to lead the nations into the knowledge of the one true God. God wants Jerusalem to be the light unto the Gentiles. But Isaiah explains that Israel can not be an influence nor a light if she is walking in darkness and being influence by the world.
So God is going to atone for, forgive and redeem his people so that they will be capable to fulfill their destiny and be the light unto the nations. Isaiah 6, becomes an outline of the entire story. God is upset about our disobedience, Man comes to place of despair recognizing his need for forgiveness. God washes away his sin and asks will you now go and Isaiah says here am I send me. This is the plot of the whole Bible.
For instance, if we go back and look at our first passage, it is clear that God is saying, now that you have been forgiven, get thee up upon the high mountain and herald Good News. So, in order to insure that this is clear. The good news is the what of our story, God is on a Mission to save and that good. But why? Well God is still on a mission and he saved Israel in order that she might be capable of participating in the mission and preach good news.
This same is revealed in the Gospels. Lets look at Luke 24:44ff.
“Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:44–48)
Jesus searches his disciples form all of the OT why the Christ had to suffer. He suffered, and died and resurrected for the forgiveness of sins and to redeem a people to proclaim this good new to all nations, again beginning from Jerusalem. Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21)
Something interesting happened to me as I was studying this. I learned that the Epistles prove that the Apostles understood their place in the story. They understood that the story has a ‘what’ and a ‘why’. And they understood that the why includes them being the light to the nations. What really drove this home for me was the simple fact that the so called “Great Commission” is mentioned no where in the NT out side of the Gospels and Act 1:8. No where does Paul say, “I preach the gospel because Jesus told me to.” No where does Peter declare that the Gospel must go out because of the Great Commission. Instead it is clear that they understood their role in this story because they understood the OT. Now we just learned that Jesus spent like 40 days teaching them the OT, so its no wonder that they understood their role in that story.
By way of example, lets quickly look at Acts 13:44-47.
“The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:44–48)
You see Paul doesn’t say, Because Jesus said so, but instead Paul explains the plot of the whole story. The story is all about the Mission of God to spread salvation to the very ends of the earth, and Paul and the apostles understood their place in that story.
Isaiah tells us that God redeemed Israel so that she would be his servant to proclaim Good News, Jesus told the disciples that he atoned for their since so that they might be sent to preach good news, and the Apostles continually taught that the Good news of Jesus was destined to be preached to all nations.
III. A really good story draws audience in as a character
Ok — so I began by stating that a good story tells us what happened. And we discussed that a really good story also tells us why those things happened. So now we are going to look at the fact that a really really good story makes the audience feel and believe that the story is essentially about them.
Even my son Josiah understands this truth. Over the holidays Josiah developed an obsession for the movie The Polar Express. Josiah absolutely loves trains, and he would beg to watch The Polar Express at least twice a day, and he has actually verbalized that the boy in the story, the main character, is like himself. Josiah naturally sees himself in the story.
So what I want to ask us today is this. Where are you in this story? You are a character, in fact, you are a major part of the plot line. This story that we are calling The Mission of God is about saving you (the what) so that you can reach others who need to be saved (the why). That is why you are still a character in this story. So — where are you, currently, in the story?
If we are not engaged in The Mission of God, that God has sent us to be engaged in, then we are living in disobedience to the very gospel that we claim to be Good News.
The title of this story the Mission of God is sometimes called, by theologians, the missio Dei, which literally means the sending of God. So you see, the point of the whole story is that God is on a mission to preach good news to all people, and the good news that was once preached to you, and saved you, you now are being sent, by that gospel to herald it. It is an essential part of the message. Receiving the message means naturally means that you have received your responsibility to be sent with it. It is all connected. That is our story.
“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? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”” (Romans 10:14–16)
Did you notice that Paul quotes Isaiah, and then states that the Jews did not obey the gospel. They did not receive it nor preach it. And so for that reason Paul reminds his readers that we must obey the gospel and preach the good news!
So I’ll simply close this message with the question at hand. Where are you, currently, in this story.