“In the beginning, God made the world.” These are the bold, radical, opening words of the Bible! The world, as we know it, had a beginning, and a Supreme Being caused it! This is at odds with the dominant assumptions of the contemporary secular thinking of the Western world. It is also at odds with many of the religions of the world. Yet it is what the Bible boldly proclaims in its opening, affirms in its ending, and evidences in all that lies between.
After making a world perfectly fit for human life, God then made the first humans, Adam and Eve, to enjoy the world that He had made and to enjoy Him as their Creator and Friend. From these first people, He made all peoples. Our common origin is just one more reason for us to love all the peoples of the earth as equals – we are one Family and we belong to each other!
But there was trouble in Paradise! Our first parents came to believe a lie – that they could have life, separate from God, the Giver and Sustainer of True Life. Disagreement, disease, despair and death were some of the consequences of this small seed of defiance. The world changed from that point on – relationships with other people, with other families, with other clans, and with our environment were all broken as a consequence of our rebellion against our Creator. This helps us understand the ultimate origin of all the ‘wrongness’ in our world.
Yet God’s commitment to His world and the people He made did not end with our rebellion against Him. Faced with the choice of justice and love, He found a way to choose both! True to His justice, He could not let this ‘wrongness’ go un-noticed or un-punished (how terrible a world that would be!). Yet His love compelled Him to remain faithful to His Creation, and bring about change that would result in blessing for all peoples.
He chose a man, called Abraham, and promised that through him and his offspring, all peoples would be blessed. Abraham’s descendants multiplied, they became a people, God gave them a land and they became a great nation – the nation of Ancient Israel. It was amongst this people, that God revealed Himself to the world. He spoke with them, he ‘walked with’ them and they were blessed as a result.
For a time, they walked with Him – as they listened to His Word and learned to walk in His ways, they experienced the blessing of life with their Creator. Yet, as individuals and as a nation, and just like our first parents, they separated from God and chose to believe a lie – that life would be ‘better’ if they rejected God’s ways and made their own way. Life did not go well, the nation suffered, the land was conquered and the people were scattered.
Yet God was faithful. His plan was not stopped. Having chosen a nation to reveal His Ways to the world, He now chose to make Himself known in a Person. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us.” The great celebration of Christmas is an annual reminder of the birth of Jesus, who, during his life, revealed the true character of God. “He was called ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us’”.
Jesus lived his first 30 years, out of the spotlight, in the northern regions of Palestine in rural Galilee. Born as a baby, he grew as a boy and became a man. At age 30, he began his public life, living as an unconventional and controversial Jewish rabbi. “He welcomed people, spoke about the Kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing” (Luke 9:11). He called men and women to follow him – and they did, making radical departures from their former habits of life in order to walk with Jesus and learn his ways. Lives were transformed and hearts became free!
Opposition developed, however, mainly from religious leaders and those with interests in ‘keeping the status quo’. “So from that day on they plotted to take his life” (John 11:53). The words and the ways of Jesus were so dramatic in their implications that people radically followed him… or radically rejected him. Enough chose the latter that, at age 33, Jesus was arrested, condemned and publically executed.
Despite the injustice of it, the death of Jesus was not a surprise to God. In fact, it was part of God’s plan to bring blessing to all people. ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but will have eternal life.’ (John 3:16) Jesus, as an innocent man, died as a substitute for guilty people. What an amazing, loving, generous gift of God!
The death of Jesus was to be the death of death! God proved this by raising Jesus from the dead. Those who trust in Him will still suffer a physical death but will not suffer an eternal death – instead they will live, to enjoy all the blessings of God in a perfect, renewed world!
We are given a glimpse of this renewed world in the final book of the Bible. We hear a song being sung about Jesus – ‘you are worthy…because you were slain and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’ (Revelation 5:9). Later, we see ‘a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb’ (Revelation 7:9). This is the climax of all of history – Jesus, the Lamb of God, receiving the honour that is due to him, from all the peoples of the world.
God is calling people from all tribes, all languages, all peoples, all nations to know Him and follow Him. He is calling black and white, Asian and African, rich and poor, urban and rural. He is calling all people to turn from their sin, believe in Jesus and follow Him. Those who hear His call and respond, join an international and multicultural gathering of people, who have tasted and seen that God is good, and who love Him greatly as a result!
This is great news!