Our Act in the Cosmic Story

Maybe you’ll furrow your brow at this, or maybe you’ll understand. Either way, here goes. In the back of my mind, not really seriously, I have always sort of pitied the people of the Old Testament. They had so little to go on, you know? How could they trust in their salvation without knowing the story of Christ? How could they have such passion for God when they didn’t know how he would save them? How did they know that He didn’t desire the blood of bulls?

I know this attitude isn’t right – I’ve always known that – it’s just a prejudice in the back of my mind that, for the most part, I’ve always ignored. [Aside: let’s ignore the whole issue of God dwelling among them in named prophets and through visions that may or may not exist today. I don’t intend for this blog post to run that long. Maybe another time.]

I picture the Bible as a story, a great big long epic story (and just so you know, all the other great big long epic stories ever written or experienced …


    

… are just sidenotes within the great big long epic story of the Bible).

It’s easy to think of the Bible as a collection of stories …

    

… And while it is that, I really believe there is an elegance, a completeness, to the single story of existence, from the beginning to the end. The Cosmic Story.

And I pitied the people of the Old Testament, figuring that they only had part of the story. They had the part where the conflict is introduced. They had a hope for resolution. But they didn’t experience that resolution. Poor suckers. We have Jesus! We know the end!

Most stories, especially epic ones, come in three acts. Here’s the Cosmic Story:

Act I. Old Testament. Poor suckers.
Act II. Umm … more Old Testament?
Act III: Jesus!

Wait. That’s not right, is it? How about:

Act I: Old Testament.
Act II: New Testament.
Act III: The Grand Finale. The End. Revelation. Armageddon.

*headdesk*

We don’t have the whole story, either, do we?

In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus feeds the five thousand. Verse 15: Jesus “withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” The next day, the crowd finds him and a conversation about the bread from Heaven ensues. The Jews want Jesus to perform more miracles and give them all the answers; Jesus maintains that He’s already given them answers, and they’re not listening. Verses 41-45:

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

The Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t know the particulars about Jesus’ coming. They were surprised to hear Him saying things like “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (verse 54). And much more than that, they were surprised to see Him willingly go to His death. I think this confusion was pervasive in the crowds Jesus spoke to. But there were two distinct reactions to it:

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” … After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (verses 60 and 66)

as opposed to Peter’s glorious declaration of faith,

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (verses 68-9)

What led these people to these standpoints? That’s exactly what Jesus was saying: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.” The first people, the ones who denied Him, did so because they couldn’t match Him to what they believed, to everything they’d been doing their whole lives.

The second group of people sat there scratching their heads, but it didn’t even occur to them to leave Jesus. Why? Because, as weird as He sounded, they heard the ring of truth in His words.

Those second-groupers had soft hearts – teachability, humility – and through that soft-heartedness, they had come to know the voice of their Lord. They didn’t trust themselves. They trusted Him. When He spoke, it didn’t matter if what He said sounded weird.

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. … The sheep follow him, for they know his voice.

John 10:3-4

Oswald Chambers said:

At the bar of common sense Jesus Christ’s statements may seem mad, but bring them to the bar of faith and you begin to see with awestruck spirit that they are the words of God.

Let’s read our Bibles. Let’s pray. Let’s open our ears and learn His voice.

Because next comes Act III, and I don’t want to be one of those first-groupers that think they’ve got it all figured out, and then be surprised to find I didn’t know His voice as well as I thought.

Which of Jesus’ words do you struggle with? Something in the Bible that confuses you, but that you’ve just decided to trust?

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8 Comments

Filed under Bible Talk

8 responses to “Our Act in the Cosmic Story

  1. Joe

    Brittani, one passage I’ve always struggled with is the parable He tells at the beginning of Luke 16, verse 9 especially – “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” I’ve read commentaries on this parable and have had friends explain it to me, but am still in the dark a bit. What’s your take?

  2. That’s an excellent example, Joe! I have struggled with that text in the past, too – and never really come to a clear idea of what it’s supposed to mean, exactly. I’ll email my pastor and see if he’s willing to chime in on this.

    I poked around a little bit on this one, reading notes and listening to sermon clips on this parable. Two things I think worth mentioning:

    From the note in the MacArthur study Bible, “Most believers are wiser in the ways of the world than some believers are toward the things of God,” and also, “The unrighteous manager used his master’s money to buy earthly friends; believers are to use their Master’s money in a way that will accrue friends for eternity- by investing in the kingdom gospel that brings sinners to salvation.”

    Also, I have a really cool program called e-sword (which you should get, at e-sword.net), which I used to look up the real meaning of the word rendered “shrewdness” in ESV. I was excited to stumble across the fact that it’s the exact same word used in Mt 10:16, when Jesus says, “Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

    I think the point of the parable is not be on the dishonest side of ‘shrewd,’ but to be on the intelligent side of ‘shrewd.’ Nonbelievers do it to advance their own beliefs. Why don’t we do it for our beliefs?

    Let’s see what Tim thinks…

  3. Tim

    Well, here’s what I think. I am open to discussion and/or correction. First, don’t squeeze the details in any parable too hard…parables are generally designed to make one point (or a few interrelated points) in a rather shocking manner. They were used to cut through cultural values and assumptions that were not necessarily correct. So listen to the point that Jesus is making rather than pressing the details too hard.
    Second, context is king in interpretation of the Bible. Notice in v. 1 that Jesus shifts His discoiurse here from the crowds (ch. 15) to the disciples. With the disciples, Jesus worked constantly to prepare them for the time when He would be physically with them no longer. He follows the parable with instruction to the disciples on the nature of faithfulness (v. 10-13), and concludes that instruction with a very strongly-worded point in v. 13: “You (you disciples, who have left everything to follow Me) cannot serve God and money.” The point of the parable, then must be in the context of the faithfulness of the disciples in their use of money. The faithful servant will use his master’s resources wisely and carefully, seeing opportunities for sevice, planning for future service–all with an eye to the eternal consequences for people. So without going into all the details of the parable, I would just say this: follow the example Jesus illustrates here–He never commends the man’s unrighteousness, but his foresight, his planning, his shrewdness. Use the resources you have for things that will impact the eternal destinies of people–that’s all that will matter ultimately anyway. Believers will be called to give an account to God for what we have done with the gifts, abilities, resources, and talents we have been given. Your money is simply another opportunity for investment in eternal things. Well, that’s what I think.

  4. I would agree with all of that. I am curious, though, what you mean by pressing details too hard? I feel like you saw our takes differently, when I felt like they matched perfectly. :) (except that I admittedly didn’t take context into account like I should have. *shame* … lol)

  5. I’m also curious to see whether we’re answering Joe’s question effectively or just muddling the issue. …?:)

  6. Joe

    Brittani and Tim, thanks so much for taking the time to respond. I’d say I’m guilty of pressing details too hard at times and also not seeing the full context. I remember talking with a pastor friend a few years ago about how I felt stuck in Romans 7 with the struggles Paul describes. My friend said, “Don’t give me Romans 7 without giving me Romans 8. You can’t have one without the other.”

    Having said that, I’ll have to think about what Tim has said about Jesus’ commending of the manager’s foresight, planning and shrewdness. I struggle with this and being “in the world but not OF the world”. I’m also looking over those familiar words in Romans 12:2 about not being conformed to this world and wondering how that relates to this manager’s worldly dealings…it’s tough I tell you!

    Thanks again for the discussion …this blog makes me think and I like that :) Blessings to you both –

    • Tim Young

      Joe–I am glad to hear that you are struggling with certain passages of Scripture. Too many too easily accept whatever is told them with little or no significant thought. Jesus said that one of the actions of the Holy Spirit in the post-resurrection world would be to “guide you into all truth.” As you do the things the Bible tells us to do with it–read, study, meditate, memorize, and obey–you will, gradually, over time, grow into a fuller, richer understanding of God, His ways, His thoughts, His values & priorities, and His will. It’s interesting to note in Luke 16:14 that, as soon as Jesus told His disciples to use money wisely instead of letting it use them (v. 13), Luke adds a little editorial comment about the Pharisees…”who were lovers of money.” They were very religious, but were “of the world”–they gave evidence of that by their attitude toward money. They used money selfishly instead of selflessly. Money is just a tool…my attitude about it demonstrates who is on the throne in my heart. Strikes me that James might have a little something to say about how we use money…4:1-4, 5:1-5. And you’re right Joe–it is tough sometimes to determine not only the correct interpretation and correlation of Scripture, but also its application. I think that’s why Paul told Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightliy handling the word of truth.” So keep thinking about it, keep studying, keep asking God for illumination. I do the same thing.

  7. Not much I can add to that!

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog, Joe. I meant it to be a discussion starter, not a pedestal, so I’m thrilled to see it working that way. Thanks for joining in! :)

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