The World's Greatest Story
Reading the World’s Greatest Story
The heart and soul of the Bible is its story. It is the real adventure of the people God chose. He did this so they could bring God’s blessing to all people.
The Bible is a very big book. It is made up of lots of other books. But all the different parts of the Bible come together as one grand story. It is very helpful to understand this big story before you try to understand all the small parts.
Here are the main parts of the story the Bible tells:
The Good World God Made
It all started when God decided to create the world. He made everything perfectly. He made the earth, the sky, and then plants and animals. Then he made humans in his own likeness. He created us to represent him on earth. God put the first man, Adam, in a giant and beautiful garden. He told him to tend it and take care of it. The Bible tells us that God lived with Adam and Eve in this amazing new world. God wanted to be with us.
The first part of the story shows us how much God loves us and his world. It tells us that we were made to take care of what God created. We were made in God’s image, so we can love God and love each other.
Here’s what God said about his brand new world:
God saw everything he had made. And it was very good.
-- The Book of Genesis
All Fall Down
But things went wrong in the story very quickly. The humans decided to go their own way. They didn’t trust God completely and then they disobeyed him. They listened to the lying voice of God’s enemy, Satan.
Because of this, some terrible things happened. Sin and death came into our world. The creation itself was cursed. The way humans live together in the world was hurt. Our friendship with God was broken. As a result, God had to do something.
The Lord God drove the man out of the Garden of Eden to work the ground he had been made out of. The Lord God drove him out and then placed cherubim on the east side of the Garden of Eden. He also placed a flaming sword there. It flashed back and forth. The cherubim and the sword guarded the way to the tree of life.
-- The Book of Genesis
When God made the world we learned what he wanted. But God’s plan was knocked off course. So new questions came up in the story. Can God repair his friendship with us? Will the curse on the creation be removed? Or did God’s enemy ruin God’s plan forever?
These first two parts of the Bible take place in just a few pages. Yet they introduce the struggle that we see in the rest of the story.
God Calls Israel to a Mission
The Lord called a man named Abram and said:
I will make you into a great nation.
I will bless you.
I will make your name great.
You will be a blessing to others.
I will bless those who bless you.
I will put a curse on anyone who calls down a curse on you.
All nations on earth will be blessed because of you.
-- The Book of Genesis
God began working with Abram’s family (God later renamed him Abraham). This family grew into the nation of Israel. God’s plan was to use Israel to bring his blessing to all the people of the earth. God wanted to forgive people, to heal them and bring them life. He wanted to remove the curse from his good creation. He wanted to come and live with us here in the world he made for us.
When the people of Israel became slaves in Egypt, God heard them cry out for help. He came down to rescue them. God made a covenant with them and gave them his law. He intended for Israel to be a light to the nations of the world. By following his law they would show the world how God wants people to live.
God then brought the people of Israel to the land he had promised to Abraham. God told them that if they would stay faithful to him, he would bless them in their land. He would make it beautiful and fruitful like the Garden of Eden. However, God also gave Israel a warning. If they were not faithful to God’s covenant they would be punished and sent out of the land, just like he sent Adam and Eve out of the garden.
In spite of God’s repeated warnings, they were determined to go their own way. They broke the covenant and followed the false gods of the other nations. They brought God’s judgment down on themselves. They were sent into exile.
The family born to Abraham was chosen to reverse what went wrong with Adam. But in this part of the story they were not able to complete God’s purpose. Israel was controlled by sin and death just like the rest of the world.
But God had a plan. He chose a man named David to rule and he became Israel’s greatest king. Then God promised to send another king to Israel. He would be a son of David who would show Israel how to fulfill God’s mission. God would forgive their sins. He would come and live with them again. This king would be called the Messiah. He would be the one to bring blessing to the people of the world.
Part 3 of the story ends with Israel in trouble. But there is still hope because of God’s promise.
The Surprising Victory of Jesus
Hundreds of years later the people of Israel were suffering under the Roman Empire. They were eagerly waiting for God to return and save them. An angel of God came to a young woman named Mary and said,
“You will become pregnant and give birth to a son. You must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God. The Lord God will make him a king like his father David of long ago. He will rule forever over his people, who came from Jacob’s family. His kingdom will never end.”
-- The Gospel of Luke
Jesus began his work and told the people that God’s kingdom was near. The Holy Spirit came on him in power. He healed people who were sick and he defeated evil spirits. He forgave the people’s sins. He announced the gospel, or good news, that the new king had come. In all these ways he showed Israel that God had kept his promise.
At first, many people were excited to hear and see Jesus. Some of them became his followers. Others were not sure who he was. They wondered: Is he a prophet or teacher of some kind? But most the leaders ended up being against Jesus. Finally they decided to arrest Jesus. They called for the Romans to nail him to a cross and kill him.
It looked like Jesus lost everything. He was killed the way the Romans killed everyone who claimed to be Israel’s new king. But God had a surprise. On the third day after his death, God raised Jesus back to life. What looked like defeat was actually God’s greatest victory. This showed that Jesus really was the king that Israel had been waiting for. He was God’s son. Jesus was willing to suffer and die as a sacrifice for Israel and for the world. An early follower of Jesus name Paul later wrote about what God had done.
He has saved us from the kingdom of darkness. He has brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Because of what the Son has done, we have been set free. Because of him, all of our sins have been forgiven.
-- The Letter to the Colossians
Israel had been looking for a Messiah who would fight the Romans and win a battle. But Jesus did not come to fight the Romans. He came to fight against evil itself. He came to rescue not just Israel, but the whole world. Jesus came to fulfill Israel’s mission to share the blessing of God’s life with all people. He came to bring them back into God’s family.
Jesus is the center of the Bible’s entire drama. He is the hero of the story. Jesus fought the key battle of God’s enemies—sin and death. He restored what had gone wrong at the very heart of things. His victory meant that God’s new creation was beginning. Jesus is the king that now rules the whole world.
The New People of God
If the key victory has already been won, why is there a Part 5 in the story? The answer is that God wants the victory of Jesus to spread all over the world. After he was raised from the dead, Jesus told his followers: “The Father has sent me. So now I am sending you” (The Gospel of John). The Bible says that all those who follow Jesus are children of Abraham. It is now their mission to share the good news about Jesus with the world.
God is gathering this family from every tribe, language, people and nation. This new family is based on love, serving others and not thinking of yourself first. The members of this family give their loyalty to Jesus above all. They are the new people of God. They want to share in God’s work of bringing the new creation into the world.
These followers of Jesus are waiting for his return. Then everyone will know that God rules the world The curse that was put on the creation in Part 2 will be take away. God will raise his people from the dead. He will live with them in a new heaven and a new earth.
The Bible is the true story of God and the world. It moves through history all the way to our own time. It invited us to see our lives as part of its story. The message about Jesus and his kingdom has come to us. We have to decide how we will respond to it.
What will you do? How will you fit into this story? Will you join in God’s work of making everything new? Will you follow Jesus?
Reprinted by permission from the International Bible Society