How often have you wondered whether a good God could be responsible for the world we see on the evening news, a world that is so broken and full of suffering?
Our world wasn’t always this way.
The Bible is God’s written message to us. These are the very first words in the Bible:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
Our world didn’t flash into existence without a cause; God created everything that we see and hear and touch, all the matter and energy that we’re made of. And he made them from nothing. God formed the land and the water and the sky. He filled the universe with galaxies and stars, filled our world with plants and animals and other living things, and finally formed two human beings, a man and a woman. Everything God made was good.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
God made the man and the woman to resemble his character and represent his authority over his world. That’s what makes us valuable—we are created in the image of God. Our value doesn’t come from our intelligence, our beauty, our power, or our usefulness; our value comes from our relationship with God. We are blessed with tremendous dignity.
And because we are blessed with tremendous dignity, we are also burdened with tremendous responsibility. [Read more]
“You will be like God…”
If a painter were to paint your image, her work would be judged on how well she represented you. That’s because an image is meant to reflect the nature of something else. So when the man and the woman were created in the image of God, they were meant to represent the many facets of his character, such as his holiness and his love. Adam and Eve and their descendants were meant to rule over his world as his good representatives, worshipping him as their King. So he placed them in the very first place of worship, a garden in a land called Eden.
God provided for all of their needs. He told them:
You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. (Genesis 2:16–17)
But rather than learning to live wisely from God, they disobeyed his command. One of God’s creatures, Satan, rebelled against him and took the form of a serpent. And he lied to Eve and told her:
You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:4)
This is what caused all of the evil that we see in the world today, from small cruel words spoken in secret to genocides broadcast around the earth. Our first parents chose to sin—to usurp God’s place as King instead of representing his good authority. They did exactly what we would have done if we were standing in their place.
And so the image, the painting, was ruined beyond repair. Sin corrupted the man and the woman throughout their being, down to the heart, the very core of who they were. And to this day, every one of their descendants are corrupted from birth. And so the poet-king David cried out in anguish:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.… Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Psalm 51:3, 5)
God was angry that Adam and Eve had rejected his kindness and committed treason against his authority. God responded with justice by imprisoning our world under a great Curse.
The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20–21)
Even though the great Curse seems inescapable, God promises that our world will be set free from corruption. And from the beginning, he had already planned how he would do it. [Read more]
“My treasured possession…”
Roughly 4,000 years ago, God chose a man named Abraham and told him:
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:1–3)
God blessed our world through Abraham. He promised the land of Canaan in the Middle East to Abraham, who became the father of Isaac, who became the father of Jacob. Then God gave Jacob a new name: Israel. His twelve sons would become the fathers of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. God rescued the nation of Israel from 400 years of slavery in the land of Egypt. He brought them into the Sinai desert and gave them his law, teaching them how to represent him as his image. He told the people of Israel:
If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5–6)
God brought them back to the land he promised them, the land of Canaan. But life in the Promised Land wasn’t the paradise the people of Israel had envisioned. Their hearts were still corrupted by sin, so that they turned from God and his law and chose to worship the idols of the nations around them, thinking that these gods could give them health, prosperity, and success. Instead, they found themselves trapped in a downward spiral of futility, overrun by enemies, descending into civil war, living a lawless and brutal existence.
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
So God gave them a king. His name was David, and under his good reign the people of Israel flourished. David too was corrupted by sin, but God had shaped him to be a man who loved God and wanted to represent God as his image. David made Jerusalem his capital, and there his son Solomon built a great temple where God was to be worshipped.
Unfortunately, Israel’s golden age didn’t last for long. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom split in two, and after several hundred years of chaotic rule, the northern and southern kingdoms were each sent into exile. God brought the southern kingdom of Judah back from exile, but they never returned to their former state of glory.
But this was all part of God’s plan, because he was about to fulfill all of Israel’s dreams with the greatest glory he could ever give. [Read more]
“The kingdom of God is at hand…”
Sometime around 6 B.C., a baby boy was born just outside of Jerusalem, in the birthplace of King David, in the small town of Bethlehem. His mother wasn’t even married; in fact, she was a virgin. But God had given her a child who was to be what a later hymn writer would call “great David’s greater Son.”
This man, the Son of David, was given the name Jesus. He grew up in the town of Nazareth, and around the age of 30, he began travelling throughout the land of Israel, choosing twelve disciples to follow him. He performed many miraculous signs, and preached many things that his disciples wrote down in the Bible, in the first four books of the New Testament.
The central message of Jesus’ preaching was this:
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. (Mark 1:15)
It was now time for God’s plan to reach a critical juncture. God was going to establish his kingdom on the earth in a new way. Jesus would be his chosen King. He would rule not only over the Promised Land, but over all of our world. Jesus would be the new Temple, the one who would give us access to God. As Abraham’s descendant, he would be God’s way of blessing all of the nations on earth. And as a son of Adam, he would succeed where Adam failed, living a perfect and sinless life, perfectly representing every facet of God’s character—his love, his holiness, his justice, his mercy, his faithfulness, his anger against sin.
Jesus called himself the Son of God. Through him, we learned what the Old Testament scriptures had only hinted at—that God is a Trinity. He is one being in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Even the greatest theologians cannot wrap their minds around this. Nor can they understand how God the Son could become a man, fully human while still remaining fully God. Yet this explains how Jesus was able to perfectly represent the character of God on our behalf. He explained to his disciples:
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.…I am in the Father and the Father is in me. (John 14:9–10)
Jesus claimed to be the the Messiah (the Christ), God’s chosen King from the line of David. He was ready to establish God’s kingdom. This was his “gospel”—his good news. But it required the people of Israel to repent of their sins, to turn away from their sins and and follow the way of life that governs people in God’s kingdom. And so Jesus made a lot of enemies among his fellow Jews. The authorities realized that he would take away their power. And so, just like Adam and Eve, they chose to usurp the authority of God the Father.
And this time, they would do it by killing his dearly loved Son. [Read more]
“Unless a grain of wheat falls…”
Roughly three years into his public ministry, Jesus told his disciples a parable:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24–25)
Jesus knew that he was about to die. The Jewish authorities had been plotting to kill him for years, but Jesus knew that this had been his Father’s plan since the very beginning. He would die to save his people from their sins.
Jesus allowed himself to be captured by the authorities. They took him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who reluctantly agreed to execute him by crucifixion. Jesus was beaten severely, then nailed to a cross. He suffered tremendously. The physical pain was unbearable, but far greater was the spiritual pain of being alienated from God his Father:
At the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
This is how God has saved our world. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit decided to send the Son as a man, so that he could represent humankind as a second Adam. He died on behalf of the world so that everyone who believes in him would not face a final, eternal punishment for their sin. Instead, the Son of God took the place not only of believing Jews but believing Gentiles as well. Jesus was separated from his Father and bore God’s punishment for our corruption and our rebellion:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:13–14)
And so Jesus died on the cross. He took our sins on himself and bore the punishment for them. And his goodness, his righteousness, was credited to us.
And the best news of all is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. [Read more]
“All authority in heaven and on earth…”
Jesus died on the cross, and he was buried in a tomb. A great stone was rolled over the entrance and the tomb was placed under guard by the authorities. But on the third day after his death, his disciples discovered that the tomb was empty. And then Jesus began appearing to them. It was really him—his body bore the scars of crucifixion.
Jesus told them:
I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. (John 20:17)
Jesus promised that God the Holy Spirit would be sent to them, and to everyone who believes in him. The Holy Spirit would give them the power they needed to tell others the good news that God was saving the world through Jesus, the Christ. The Holy Spirit would also renew them so that they begin to escape from the corrupting power of sin. And he would bless them with the ability to serve one another as part of God’s people—his church.
Before leaving the earth to return to his Father, Jesus told his disciples:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19–20)
In the 2,000 years since Jesus ascended to his Father, his church has made disciples of nations all over the earth. The story of the church has been messy and stained with the lingering effects of sin. But even so, God’s church has grown and spread, so that people all over the world have an opportunity to see what God’s kingdom will look like.
And one day, the whole world will see what God’s kingdom is like in all its glory:
As by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.…Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.…For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:21–27)
Jesus Christ will return one day, and everyone who has died will be raised to life. Those who have continued in their rebellion against God will face eternal punishment in hell, which is the just reward for their sin. But those who have repented of their sin and trusted Jesus Christ to save them will be forgiven, and God will graciously invite them to reign with Jesus forever and ever.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)