In September through November, I gave a sermon series I called “Learn the Story” that was based on two main ideas. First, the Bible is really one story told over many books, authors, and years. Second, that story points to and is centered on Jesus, our God made flesh.
Artwork by Aase Mattson
I was motivated to preach this series because of how often I encounter the suggestion that the Old Testament is, well, “old” and unimportant, or that it has little to do with the New Testament, or that “the God of the Old Testament” is not the "God of the New Testament." The more I personally study scripture and Christian theology, I find these ideas to be false and often dangerous.
For those who couldn’t listen to all the sermons, or anyone who wants a written reference point, here is a summary of my ten sermons from “Learn the Story.” (All the sermons can be viewed in the worship services on our YouTube Channel starting on September 11, 2022.)
1. Made in God’s Image (Genesis 1:24-2:3 and Mark 12:13-17)
- Big Idea: When humans are made in God’s image, we are created to be representative of who God is to the world. When we are fully human, we remind anyone who sees us of what God is like. Language in the creation story suggests we should see all of the earth as God’s temple and we are the priests who manage proper worship.
- Jesus Connection: Jesus, being both fully God and fully human, is the most perfect image of God we have ever known. A huge part of his mission was to restore the proper relationship between us and God and us and creation so that “Your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.”
2. Rejecting God’s Image (Genesis 1:1-13, 19-23 and Mark 7:1-23)
- Big Idea: Sin (with a capital S) isn’t a broken rule, it’s a broken relationship. Sin comes into the world when we reject God’s image for our own. We prefer to seize control of our lives and don’t trust God to truly be good.
- Jesus Connection: After losing “paradise” because of sin, God goes with Adam and Eve into the unknown. Jesus meets us in our unknown and dark places and even when we try to put God to death on the cross, Jesus returns to save us from ourselves and restore our lost relationship.
3. Abraham, Sarah, and the Forever Promise (Genesis 12:1-8 and Luke 1:67-79)
- Big Idea: God makes a promise to one faithful family, Abraham and Sarah, that they will become a great “nation” or “gōi” in Hebrew. But God’s timeline is not always ours. It takes 25 years for Sarah to give birth and hundreds of years for the full promise to arrive. And the promise is for all because “gōi” is usually the word that refers to foreign people, not Jews alone.
- Jesus Connection: Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham and Sarah. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, all of humanity is invited into the family of Abraham and becomes part of the promise made forever.
4. Blessed and Limping: Jacob (Genesis 32:9-12, 22-31 and Luke 5:27-32)
- Big Idea: Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, has a checkered past of lying and cheating to get what he wants. It comes to a head when God shows up to wrestle with him in the night. In the morning, Jacob is wounded by God but blessed with a new name and destiny: Israel, “wrestles with God.” We will likely wrestle and struggle with God in our lives, but we can emerge blessed and limping.
- Jesus Connection: Jesus specifically seeks out the “sinners” like Jacob and blesses them. His goal is to transform our shortcomings into blessings.
5. God the Liberator (Exodus 3:1-14 and Luke 4:16-21)
- Big Idea: This may be the most important story we have outside of the Gospels because it shows us God’s heart. God sides with the oppressed and hurting, and seeks to liberate them. We are meant to “image” God, but sin breaks that and creates a cycle of violence and oppression. God seeks to free the enslaved from their pain and free the slavers from their sin.
- Jesus Connection: What God does in Exodus, Jesus does at Easter. When we cannot free ourselves, Jesus leads us through the sea of baptism, drowns our oppressors in the water, and we come out as God’s freed people.
6. Becoming God’s People: Commandments and Wilderness (Exodus 19:1-8 and Matthew 5:13-20)
- Big Idea: God seeks for the Israelites to be “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” The Commandments are often seen simply as a list of rules, but God intends for them to tell us what a priestly and holy people look like, what it looks like to bear God’s image.
- Jesus Connection: Jesus comes to “fulfill the law,” meaning to help us know it’s proper place. We love one another because we have been loved, not because we expect a reward.
7. What is a Messiah?: Saul, David, and the Kings (1 Samuel 10:17-25 and Mark 8:27-37)
- Big Idea: “Messiah,” or “Christ” in Greek, was not a title unique to Jesus. Messiahs in the Old Testament were usually kings who rescued God’s people from their enemies, established a kingdom for them, and restored proper worship of God (like King David). They were military and political heroes and that’s what people expected Jesus to be.
- Jesus Connection: Jesus is the True Messiah who turns our assumptions on their heads. He rescues us from the enemies of Sin and Death, establishes the Kingdom of God that has no borders or end, and restores us to worship God as image bearers.
8. When Everything Falls Apart: The Exile to Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14 and John 13:33-35)
- Big Idea: When Jerusalem is destroyed and God’s people sent to exile in Babylon, many question where God is and what they should do since everything they’ve known is gone. God’s answer is to live with hope, act with love, and create peace. No matter the circumstances we should seek that same goal.
- Jesus Connection: Jesus one time says that the greatest commandments are to “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” In times of crucifixion and times of resurrection, we are called to do the same things, just as the exiled Jews were.
9. How to Speak to God: The Psalms (Psalm 13, Psalm 23, and Matthew 26:36-44)
- Big Idea: The Psalms are my favorite book because of their raw honesty. They include songs and prayers that are angry, confused, joyous, hopeless, and everything in between. Instead of “dressing up” or wearing a mask to come before God, we can be honest with our thoughts and emotions. We sometimes limit faith to what we do, but more importantly it’s about what we are: God’s beloved children.
- Jesus Connection: Jesus teaches us to pray to God as “Our Father,” because that’s the relationship God wants with us. And even Jesus prays to God with brutal honesty: “Father take this cup from me. Yet not what I will but your will be done.”
10. Don’t You Remember?: The Prophets (Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 23:23-28)
- Big Idea: The prophets can make God sound like a grumpy landlord — “Don’t break the rules or I’ll evict you!” — but their words are more like the concerned parent who can see their child going down the wrong path: “If you keeping doing that, there are going to be bad consequences, so please don’t.” Micah summarizes many of the themes from the Old Testament in three simple commands: “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.”
- Jesus Connection: What Micah commands is what Jesus does — for us! He brings justice for the suffering in his ministry and for all at the cross, he shows kindness and compassion to all, and he walks humbly with us, teaching us the way of God’s love.
The Big Story’s Big Idea: God created this world and us to be a physical living-out of everything that is good about God. Out of fear and our self-centered nature, we reject God’s image and choose to pursue our own images or idols. God spends the rest of time seeking to call us home and show us that everything we are seeking — liberation, purpose, community, security, hope, peace, justice, acceptance — are found in relationship to God. Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s way, but more importantly is the Messiah who rescues us from ourselves and restores us as God’s image bearers.
From the Gray,
“I’m still learning things I ought to know by now.” -Vertical Horizon, "You’re a God”