On November 2nd I went to a Theology Study morning at St Mark’s Church Harrogate ‘The Big Story’ Bible Overview’ led by Mark Powley. The Big Story at a glance shows God’s relationship with his people beginning with Creation and the Fall; Genesis 1-11 – in Mark’s summary God created the universe and gave humans a special role, but sin has spoiled God’s world. God’s intention to love his people and pour his blessings on them in response to a covenant relationship of obedience by being responsible for the care of the world, and living in harmonious relationship with God and each other. Almost as soon as the covenant was set up there was a breech of trust between God and people when disobedience came. God still wants to bless people but their disobedience makes God’s presence more distant, leading to jealousy, murder and escalating acts of violence leading to the flood but not all was destroyed.
The second section of the Bible is seen as the Chosen People from Genesis 12 to Deuteronomy when God chose Abraham to be the father of the Jewish people and rescued them from Egypt. God chooses the individual and calls him to radical trust when he is told to leave the security of his home and go where God leads him and he will bless him and his descendants. In response they trust God and circumcision becomes the sign of that covenant and through their nation global blessing would be there for all. God is revealed in a newer and fuller way to Moses as the ever present ‘I am’. God’s presence is seen in the cloud and the tabernacle and the Law; despite their disobedience in the desert. In response they are to love God and each other guided by the Law sharing the image of his loving rule with the world.
The Promised Land is the third section of the Bible from Joshua to 2 Chronicles, as Mark Bowley explains in his summary; God gave his people the Land of Israel and then kings to lead them but many disobeyed him. God’s presence is seen in the Ark of the Covenant, in the temple and celebrated in Psalms. The prophets such as Elijah called Israel to trust God and keep covenant faithfulness to Yahweh. Amos and Hosea and Isaiah call them to love each other and to seek for justice in their land. Idolatry and injustice are not the response God has called them to. They look forward to God’s rule to the world; nations will come to Zion.
The fourth section is the Exile and the Return from Ezra to Malachi. Israel was split in two; one kingdom was destroyed, the other was exiled in Babylon and eventually returned to Jerusalem, seen through the eyes of Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah. In the Exile their expectations of God became greater leading to Apocalyptic vision of God healing all the world and destruction of its enemies. During the exile there grew a new understanding that God might be with you in your suffering. Hope emerges that Good news will come in Isaiah and God’s covenant will be written on their hearts in Ezekiel and a new covenant as described by Jeremiah. God is revealed in a newer fuller way. God’s suffering people will be lifted up as seen in Daniel and the Lord will return to Zion seen in Malachi. In section five the Kingdom of God is revealed in the first part of the gospels when Jesus announces God’s kingdom, works miracles and calls the disciples. The kingdom will bring in God’s blessing, good news for the poor, healing and deliverance to a broken world and a gathering together and welcome for the scattered lost Israel. God’s presence is revealed in Jesus, Emmanuel, Son of God, Messiah. Jesus responds to God on our behalf, in full obedience, loving and serving others showing God’s loving rule to the world, and inviting us into his relationship with the Father. Because he responded in this way to his Father the presence and blessing of God can flow to all through Jesus. Jesus lives in a covenant relationship with the Father, always trusting him for the healing and teaching. He shows us how to interpret the law to people and teaches us the right way to respond to God. He is constantly tested in the wilderness and by his friends and enemies but yet he loves and forgives as he fulfils the covenant on our behalf.
The sixth section is the Cross of Christ in the second part of the gospels. Mark draws from Galatians 3v13 which describes how God’s curse was exhausted when Jesus was rejected, condemned and executed so he became a curse for us as he redeemed us from the curse of the law. Jesus endured the absence of God for the sins of the people and sin and death could not triumph as human unfaithfulness was reversed when Jesus did not let go of the Father. His trust was unbroken when he said into your hands I commend my spirit. Love was undefeated when he asked ‘Father forgive them they know not what they do.’ God’s image was revealed in a new way.
The seventh section was the resurrection and the church. God did not let go of Jesus, but continued to pour his love and blessing onto to the Son and raised him from death. Jesus became the source of all blessing and with God he gathers the new Israel under him; that new life in God’s presence of Jew and Gentile together. Now through Jesus the church is called to trust in God the Father, through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Now we are in Christ, gathering together people of Christ, God’s children, his beloved nation groaning in the broken world and we know God in Jesus and trust him and receive his blessing.
Section 8 is the New Creation where there will be no break in the covenant with God in the city of God with the tree of life restored for the healing of the nations and God’s abundant blessing. There we will see God face to face and be constantly in the presence of God and the people will serve him. The image of God would be restored to us. God’s love is without limit. We know where life is heading, but we don’t know how it will end. If we broke covenant with God it would not be possible for him to give us blessing; if we cut ourselves off from God and chose to be outside God, God could hand us over and reject us. However God handed over Jesus so that he did not have to hand us over ever. Mark Bowley summed up his talk by saying that salvation is three dimensional, our relationship with God, others and the world.