The Story—Part Two
By Peter Amsterdam
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This article continues with the story behind the message of the gospel. As I mentioned previously, while the plot and story line remain the same, there are many ways of telling the story. This summary might bring to mind aspects which you haven’t thought of for some time and might help you when relating the message to those you’re ministering to. This second part begins at the New Testament.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Israel was an occupied country. Because of the promises given in Scripture, many of the Jewish people were hoping for and expecting that God was going to raise up a king, a messiah, who would throw off the Roman yoke and restore Israel’s political independence. They were expecting that Israel would be ruled by a righteous king, and that this would usher in a new era.
Jesus preached that the kingdom was near. There are over 70 mentions of “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” in the Gospels. The first-century Jews understood this to mean that Jesus would lead a movement that was going to defeat the Romans and bring about all the blessings God spoke about throughout the Old Testament. From things said in the Gospels, it seems that some of the disciples were thinking in these terms as well.
But that wasn’t God’s plan at all. In fact, much of what Jesus said, the parables He told, and His actions, such as casting the moneychangers out of the temple and overturning their tables, proclaimed judgment on Israel, much like many of the Old Testament prophets did. Jesus taught that the old way of forgiveness of sins through the temple sacrifices was over, and the physical temple, the sacrifices, the strict adherence to the Torah, the Laws of Moses, were no longer necessary.—That Israel, because of her sins, was going to be judged and destroyed. Only a few decades later, in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed the temple and the city and didn’t allow Jews to live in Jerusalem any longer. In 132 AD some of the Jewish people again revolted against Rome. This led the Romans to destroy nearly 1,000 villages in central Judea, killing, enslaving, or exiling the inhabitants.
The fulfillment of God’s promises that salvation would come through Israel to the rest of the world was going to happen in a manner that was completely unexpected. It was going to come through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Their messiah was going to look like a failed messiah, someone who had made big, bold promises, only to be executed by the authorities. But this “failed messiah” rose from the dead and never died again, and in doing so, He defeated death. Never before had someone died, been resurrected, and not died again eventually. There had been a few people who were raised from death, such as Lazarus, but these eventually died again. Jesus did not. In Jesus, God did a completely new thing.
Everything the Scriptures had foretold about the salvation of the world came to a climax through these events. There was a fundamental change which ushered in a new age, known as “the last days”; an age which started with the resurrection of Jesus and will end with His return, when the victory over death is completed, and those who have chosen to be His will be raised—body and spirit.
Jesus was the first to be resurrected, including His body, and He is now in heaven, body and spirit. His body was changed. God created a new kind of body in resurrecting Jesus’ body, one that was material in that it could be touched, but was beyond material in that it could disappear and pass through walls and doors. This kind of body did not exist before, but it does now in Jesus. This is the kind of body that human beings will possess at the end of the “last days.”1 Jesus ascended into heaven bodily. The risen and exalted Lord exists today in body and spirit. Those who receive Jesus as their Savior will be raised in the same manner—body and spirit.
Jesus’ death and resurrection fulfilled the promises and covenants contained within the Jewish scriptures, and in doing so changed everything!
With His death and resurrection, the temple was no longer needed, for sins would no longer be forgiven yearly through temple sacrifice, but would be forgiven eternally once and for all through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death. The temple was no longer to be the dwelling place of God, because after Pentecost, God the Holy Spirit dwelt in believers.
The Torah was superseded by the words of Jesus, as He was the Word made flesh. When He said, “You have heard it said … but I say to you,” He was stating that His word had more authority than the Laws of Moses, that He was giving a new version of it, and that He had the right to do so.
When Jesus ate His last meal with His disciples, He was celebrating Passover, the event when the blood of a lamb was sprinkled on the doorposts, which saved the Jewish firstborn children from the angel of death and made the Jews’ exodus from Egypt possible. However, He taught at that last meal that the sacrifice that was about to take place represented a new covenant, a new agreement—that the shedding of His blood would permanently save us from sin and would bring a new exodus from the bondage of sin and death.
The gate that was closed after Adam’s sin has now been opened. The separation is no longer there. The opportunity to become part of God’s family is now available to all. Humankind has been given the right to become children of God through Jesus.2 God’s Spirit will dwell within and empower anyone who receives Jesus.
The clincher in this story is that Jesus’ death and resurrection began a new era, a new creation, the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth. The people of the world can now be reconciled with God. Permanent forgiveness of sin is available without our having to pay the price for that forgiveness, as it was paid in full by Jesus’ death. We are part of God’s new creation. We are reconciled to Him, received back into His favor, able to become one of His children, and are called to help others find that same reconciliation.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.3
The story doesn’t end there, as death itself will eventually be defeated and creation will be fully restored, with no curse, no sin, no evil.4
Jesus, God the Son, was born of a woman and lived the life of a human. He was the nature and character of God in human flesh. His actions, His words, the life He lived, manifested what God is like, made tangible in the life of Jesus. The ultimate love, the deep compassion, the hatred of evil; the anger at injustice, hypocrisy, and taking advantage of the poor and weak; the mercy and understanding; all of these were the personality of God played out in a way that we, as humans, could understand.
Jesus was God’s love, God’s Word, walking the earth. He was called to pay the ultimate price of dying for the sins of those in the world, and in doing so, He made it possible for us to be reconciled to God, to become God’s children, to have the right to receive the inheritance of our Father, which is eternal life.
We, as members of God’s family, His adopted children,5 play a role in God’s great story, in His love for humanity, His love for His creation. For we are called to share this story with those who haven’t heard it, who don’t understand it, and who have trouble believing it. With God’s Spirit dwelling in us, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. We are ambassadors of Christ, who have a personal relationship with God, and our commission from Jesus Himself is to share the message, to tell the story, to let others know that they can be part of God’s family. They can become part of God’s kingdom, of His new creation. Their sins can be forgiven, all for free, since the price of their entry into God’s family has been paid for. It’s theirs for the asking.
It’s helpful to remember the end result of it all, what God is offering, so it’s fresh in our hearts and minds when we offer it to others. Those who become members of God’s family will live forever in a place of incredible beauty, which is “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,”6 with the radiance of jewels,7 with a wall constructed from precious stones.8 A place with no need of the sun or stars, for God will be its light.9 There will be no death, mourning, crying, or pain.10 It’s a place that is free from all evil,11 a place where God will dwell with men.12—Forever! Ours is a message of joy, of happiness, of the possibility of eternal life in the most wonderful place possible, and a renewed life now. It truly is the most important message there is.
As partakers of these eternal blessings, as His ambassadors, His messengers, we should do our very best to live in a manner which reflects God and His love, which lets people see God’s light and feel His warmth through us, His children. We are to be messengers of the divine invitation, inviting one and all to the feast, to the kingdom of God.13 We are to preach the gospel, the good news that anyone can become God’s child, that His free gift is available to everyone.
We are to be messengers of love, in word and in deed, to a world desperately in need of God, of His love, His forgiveness, and His mercy.14 We are His messengers; our job is to pass on the invitation, to share the good news, to tell the story, and to do so in a language that they understand, through our words, our actions, and our love. Invite them!
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.15
Originally published February 2012. Republished on Anchor August 2016.
Read by Jason Lawrence.
1 Philippians 3:20–21, 1 Corinthians 15:42–44, 49, 1 John 3:2.
2 John 1:12.
3 2 Corinthians 5:17–20.
4 Revelation 21:1, 4–5.
5 Galatians 4:4–7.
6 Revelation 21:2.
7 Revelation 21:10–11.
8 Revelation 21:18–21.
9 Revelation 21:23.
10 Revelation 21:4.
11 Revelation 21:27.
12 Revelation 21:3.
13 Luke 14:23.
14 Romans 10:14.
15 Revelation 22:17.
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