A Story that Changed the World

"I got saved when I was four years old", said J., our preacher for Part Three of our Engage Gospel series. At his Sunday School, they had sung about having two birthdays if they asked Jesus into their heart, and that sounded pretty good to a four year old. At home he asked his Dad, who explained to J. how to pray the traditional prayer for salvation - acknowledge your sin, believe Jesus died to set you free, commit to following him. J. prayed the prayer, and for years, he said, he was convinced that he "had a little bearded man living in his chest". I am delighted to say that over thirty years later, he is still a convinced follower of Jesus, though his understanding of salvation is more nuanced than it was on that day.

Salvation is the theme of the third of the graphics in The Big Story, James Choung's explanation of why Jesus came among us. My post about the first two graphics showed the world as it is and the world as it was meant to be, and identified our gut conviction that things aren't right as a sign that they once were - just like the feeling of hunger points to the existence of food. "Created for good; Damaged by evil". The brokenness of our world and of humanity is due to an alienation or evil than has damaged us, our world and our relationships. But the Big Story tells us God, who created us for good, is at work to fix it. God loves the planet, and us, too much to leave us that way. Christians believe His rescue plan revolves around the Life Death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth

The Story of Jesus includes not just the familiar narratives of Christmas and Easter, but a message about a new way of doing things - a kingdom ruled not by occupation forces of Rome or its puppets the Temple aristocracy, but by a spirit of mercy, inclusion and simplicity.  A kingdom ruled by God. This message was, J said, wildly popular amongst the poor but gained Jesus enemies among the proud and powerful, enemies who did away with him. The Big Story tells us how three days after he died a cruel death, women found his tomb empty and they and others experienced his restored presence in a way that changed their lives - and ultimately changed the world. With the help of a burst of spiritual energy to send them out, they literally staked their lives on this good news, and passed it on to us 2000 years later. 

The heart of this Story, said J, is that God's life is available to us. That he breaks down the barriers caused by that primeval damage, and makes possible a new, abundant life. This happens in three ways:
  1. Jesus shows us what God is like. Its a very different picture from the demands of the capricious Baals, the bloodthirsty Aztec gods or the hedonist Greek and Roman  deities. We wouldn't think this picture up on our own. Jesus is loving not angry, a servant not a slavemaster. He demonstrates faithfulness not fickleness, humility not hubris. He reveals the character of God.
  2. Jesus conquers the power of sin, a word we only see on dessert menus. Our preacher introduced us to the notion of sin as HPTFTU, the human propensity to (stuff) things up.  Human beings  are genuinely nice people but we also have the capacity to be incredibly mean, selfish and cruel. This damage creates in an imbalance, or debt between us and the One who created us for good. That debt has been paid for by Jesus, in an act of divine justice that says to us the relationship is more important than the debt. 
  3. Jesus sets us free from the inevitability of death. In the fully mortal body of this itinerant preacher we now recognise as the Christ (messiah), God defeated death and destroyed its power.  He took everything evil with him to death on the cross, and through his resurrection, all of it was restored for better. Next week's sermon will show how in time, all will be fully restored, but until then,  followers of Jesus are sent together to heal people, relationships, and the systems of the world. We can share in that transformation as by faith we change our orientation ( metanoia) and align our everyday life with God's way of mercy, love and faithfulness. 

Thanks to J for his helpful take on the meaning of salvation. The Big Story - which you can get as an app on iTunes or the Playstore - demonstrates this chapter of the saga with an arrow showing God's action in the Cross event and and a smoothing out of the bumpy lines that had typified our relationships. The Engage Gospel participant booklet puts it like this, in a quote from Tom Wright:

"Christianity is all about the belief that the living God, in fulfilment of his promises and as the climax of the story of Israel, has accomplished all this – the finding, the saving, the giving of new life – in Jesus. He has done it. With Jesus, God’s rescue operation has been put into effect finally. A great door has swung open in the cosmos which can never again be shut. It is the door to the prison where we have been kept chained up. We are offered freedom: freedom to experience God’s rescue for ourselves, to go through the open door and explore the new world to which we now have access. In particular, we are all invited – summoned, actually – to discover, through following Jesus, that this new world is indeed a place of justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty, and that we are not only to enjoy it as such but to work at bringing it to birth on earth as in heaven. In listening to Jesus, we discover whose voice it is that has echoed around the hearts and minds of the human race all along." (NT Wright, Simply Christian, 2010)

"Created for good; Damaged by evil; Restored for better". 

To Chew Over: What motivated you to accept Salvation? How has your understanding of that decision/process changed over time?

Happy Birthday to you 
Only one will not do
Take the gift of salvation 
And you will have two.
Taught to me too by Child Evangelism in 1959.