Everyone loves a story. Stories grab our attention and draw us in. Some stories don’t satisfy – perhaps because there’s no conclusion, or injustice and evil succeed. Great epics, such as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stir our imagination and touch our inner longings for a better world. We don’t want epics like this to end: we become involved with the characters and the plot. But they do end, and we have to come back to earth.
Significantly, in a world that is crying out for identity, there’s a very real interest in the ‘story’ of family forebears, or culture.
The Bible has been described as the greatest story ever told. But it is an epic with a difference – it is set in the context of real events that point to a future.
Consider the opening lines of The Letter to the Ephesians. In one long sentence, from verses 3 through 14, we glimpse God’s awe-inspiring epic – his plan and purpose to draw us into it.
The themes of God’s love and grace are palpable. God is the subject of almost every main verb – for example: It is he who has blessed us… ’; He has freely bestowed upon us his grace (1:6); He has made known his will and purpose which he set forth in Christ… to unite all things’ (1:9f); He accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (1:11). The God of the Bible is a big life-giving, warm-hearted, loving God – so different from the cold, impersonal force of Star Wars, and the ruthless rule of human dictatorships.
A costly love. In verses 5 through 8 we learn of what that love cost God: He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
In our western world today there’s a complex mix of victimhood that says others are at fault, while I’m OK. Any sense of personal failure is rejected, as is also the need to forgive. The truth is that in turning away from our creator God and our need for his forgiveness, we also fail one another.
King David, when confronted with his adultery with Bathsheba and Uriah’s murder, wrote in his prayer of confession, Against you only Lord have I sinned (Psalm 51:4) David understood that his real guilt lay in breaking the first commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul.
Our real failure is in not loving God. And because God requires that all his just requirements are met, the supreme sentence is to be carried out on all who have failed the test. That said, God has offered and has provided a way forward: someone who is without sin, could stand in our place. Only Jesus Christ, God’s Son could do this for us.
It is because God’s nature is to love and to give life that he pursued the costly path required. As we read in John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son so that whoever believes in him, should not perish but have life everlasting.
The tragedy. Many churches have not grasped the real significance of this. They insist that Christianity is about love – loving your neighbour, caring about the injustices of the world – but they do not have a vocabulary of a love for God. They don’t have a ministry or a liturgy that calls for repentance and for the forgiveness of sins by God.
God’s plan is to build a vibrant, new community of forgiven people. Eleven times we read the phrase, in Christ or in him. And in verses 9 & 10 we learn that God’s ultimate plan is to bring everything and everyone under the rule of Christ.
Assurance? Having believed, you were marked in him (in Christ) with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession— to the praise of his glory.
The New Testament reveals that the Spirit is a Person, having his own identity. On the night Jesus was arrested, he told his disciples he would not leave them bereft. He would send them a Comforter who, as we learn from John 16, is another Person in the Godhead.
God seals us as his own by putting his Spirit within us. Long before he had promised his people that he would personally live with them (Jeremiah 31:31ff). Ephesians tells us that the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives is a down-payment on our future inheritance.
What should my answer be when one day I am asked why I should be given entrance into God’s presence? I will ask that the Register of names, the Book of Life be checked. And when that great Register is opened, the presence of the Holy Spirit within me assures me that my name will be found there – listed as an adopted son of the Father, signed in by Jesus Christ, embossed with the great seal of the Holy Spirit of God.
It is with humble, heart-felt thankfulness for the humility of our great and wonderful, all-glorious and loving God, that I look forward to that day with joy, because he has honored me with a part in his epic story.
A prayer. Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, so that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love for one another and to you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.