Do you ever wonder what is happening in our world? There is so much darkness, and we see it every day in the news. Just last week tens of thousands, and according to the latest news reports maybe even 200,000, people died in an earthquake in Haiti, and thousands more may die from lack of food, medical care, and hygiene. In the past few months a number of terrorist attacks around the world have succeeded; an attempted attack on an international flight bound for the United States was botched. We recently watched in horror as bodies were carried out of Fort Hood after a doctor killed his fellow soldiers. On a more personal level, we all know people who are battling life-threatening illnesses. The pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, which is reaching thousands of young people, has a brain tumor that cannot be totally removed. A member of my extended family was left financially strapped and emotionally hurt last year when her husband of 36 years suddenly divorced her. All of us are touched personally by the darkness. What do we do with all of this if we believe there is a loving God behind the universe?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I grieve over these situations as much as you do. I often wonder what God is doing. Why must a fourteen-year-old boy deal with chemo? Why do poverty-stricken Haitians have to lose the little they do have, especially loved ones? Why does my family member, who believes in Jesus, suffer from the selfishness of a man who has little time for God?
I can’t answer those questions. So what keeps me believing and trusting God when I am faced with tragedy, heartache and grief? I can trust because I know the story in which I find myself. I know the bigger picture. I may not understand the darkness around me or what purposes it serves, but I know the one who does.
We all find ourselves in the midst of a much larger story. It’s as if we have been plopped down in the middle of the epic, not knowing what came before or after. And if we don’t know the story, we will be totally lost when the darkness overwhelms us. We must be able to see clearly where the plot is taking us so that we can trust the one who created the story.
Even as believers, we often don’t comprehend the epic story of the Bible because we have never read the individual stories in the larger context. Only as an adult was I able to piece together my childhood Sunday School lessons to see the greater outline behind them. The Bible presents the original epic, the greatest story ever told. I believe that God has placed its elements deep in the hearts of humans: thus, we have always been drawn to adventures filled with heroes, villains, and love—the stuff of God’s story.
Don’t you just hate turning on a show when you missed the beginning? I do! I won’t even start watching if I don’t understand what is going on. If my husband can’t catch me up, I refuse to watch! Well, we have no choice in God’s epic story; we arrived in the middle of it; the only way to get our bearings and figure out what is happening around us is to hear the story itself from the beginning.
God’s story begins in eternity past when God—the one God in three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit—planned out the creation of the universe and anticipated the story that would grow out of that creation.
Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God made the blueprint for all that we see and all that we can’t see. In the midst of his world he prepared a garden where the first man and woman lived a perfect existence. God designed them for fellowship with him and to be custodians and caretakers of the creation which he had formed. There was no sin, no sorrow, no tragedy and no death in that perfect place where man and woman walked with their God. Nothing separated them from him or fellowship with one another; they experienced intimacy with both God and one another in the ideal environment.
Thus, the first part of God’s story is “Paradise.”
But darkness came into that perfect world when the woman was enticed to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit; then, her husband ate as well. As a result, they learned through experience the loneliness of living out of fellowship with God and one another. Their intimacy with God and each another died.
At that point, God let them know how sin would affect them and the world.
Look at Gen. 3:14-19:
The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all the wild beasts
and all the living creatures of the field!
On your belly you will crawl
and dust you will eat all the days of your life.
And I will put hostility between you and the woman
and between your offspring and her offspring;
her offspring will attack your head,
and you will attack her offspring’s heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your labor pains;
with pain you will give birth to children.
You will want to control your husband,
but he will dominate you.”
But to Adam he said,
“Because you obeyed your wife
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you,
‘You must not eat from it,’
cursed is the ground thanks to you;
in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
but you will eat the grain of the field.
By the sweat of your brow you will eat food
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust, and to dust you will return.”
Although this entire passage is often called the curse, only the serpent and the ground were cursed, not the man or the woman. But sin brought dark consequences to their lives that continue to this day. From that day on, the story took a turn for the worse, and so I am calling it “Ruin.”
First was Paradise, but it was ruined. As we see it every day! As God said here in Genesis, it’s no longer easy to see that marriage is “made in heaven.” Instead of enjoying the oneness that God designed for husband and wife, we fight with one another to get the upper hand. God also said that the serpent, whose other names include the devil and Satan, would war with the first couple’s descendants. Thus, all over the world people follow the darkness rather than the light. But on the bright side, embedded in God’s descriptions of the darkness wrought by sin is this wonderful promise: the woman’s child would overcome this ancient enemy.
As time passed after the Ruin came, the darkness grew; the descendants of Adam and Eve seemed to forget God entirely, being so lost that they could not find their way clearly through the darkness. But God still had his plan: the offspring of the woman would come at the right time and rescue his brothers and sisters. In the meantime, God determined that he would not leave people in total darkness but would bring light into their lives through those who remained loyal to him.
As a result, God set apart one man and his children to become lights in the midst of the darkness to help others see more clearly that God was there loving them and beckoning them to follow him. This man was Abraham, whom we will study this week as a foundation to understanding the days of the judges. Abraham’s descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. From among them, God raised up individuals to write various books of the Bible to help people see clearly through the darkness. He gave his people the Ten Commandments which taught them how to live in a way that aligned with God’s best for their lives.
Through all of these things, God showed his love to his creation. Out of that love he continued to woo people into a relationship of intimacy with him, which was his heart all along for those whom he had created.
God’s epic story began with a perfect creation and intimacy with his people— Paradise. It took a turn for the worse when sin caused his light to be clouded in darkness—Ruin. Finally, the time was right for God to fulfill his promise to bring a Hero, one who would destroy the villain and rescue people from the darkness, restoring the creation to its original design.
The hero that came to the rescue is Jesus.
Let’s read John 1:1-14:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. The Word was with God in the beginning. All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it.
A man came, sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify about the light. The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children– children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father.
Jesus is the light in the darkness for those who desire to see clearly where they are going. Jesus is God himself who came to earth to redeem or buy the creation back from its ruin. We’ll call this part of the story Redemption.
Look at John 3:16-21:
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.
Redemption tells us of God’s initiative to fix the problems that people generated by their sins, to right the ruin of paradise. It is the story of God himself coming to earth as the hero to restore mankind to a loving intimate relationship with him and with one other.
But you may be thinking, “Our world isn’t fixed.” Creation is still in darkness. Was Jesus unsuccessful?
No. Jesus redeemed mankind by his death on the cross. He freed us from enslavement to sin and its consequences; however, he has yet to restore creation to its original state. We are in a waiting pattern for the final curtain when all wrongs will be made right.
Look at Rom. 8:19-25:
For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly but because of God who subjected it – in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance.
The apostle Paul recognized that all of creation is still in a state of disrepair, so to speak. But the day will come when all will be restored: our decaying bodies will be replaced with new ones that are perfect, and the world around us will be replaced with a new earth without storms, earthquakes, and destruction. It will be the time of restoration, when paradise returns to earth so we’ll call that part of the story Restoration.
The apostle John describes it in Revelation 21:1-4:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had ceased to exist, and the sea existed no more. And I saw the holy city – the new Jerusalem – descending out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying: “Look! The residence of God is among human beings. He will live among them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more – or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.”
God’s epic story can be summarized this way: paradise, ruin, redemption, and finally restoration. Between ruin and restoration, we enjoy many of the benefits of redemption but not all of them. We are in what has been called the “already but not yet” chapter of God’s epic. Jesus has already done the work of redemption and his children are redeemed, but the consequences of that redemption aren’t wholly enjoyed yet. We still live in the ruin’s darkness but we are now part of the kingdom and enjoy intimacy with God once again.
If your roots are in Texas, you probably know about the unofficial holiday called Juneteenth. According to Juneteenth.com, “it is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.”
The slaves in Texas were free by law, but they didn’t realize freedom’s benefits for two-and-a-half years. So it is with us. Jesus has already come and redeemed all of creation but we won’t see all that entails until the day he returns and makes all things new.
So, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with the book of Judges?
The stories in the book of Judges are stories of the darkness, of the ruin that sin has wrought; they relate how even God’s people, the Israelites, failed to seek the light. There was no king of Israel at that time, and the people embraced the darkness, turning from the mighty God who had brought them out of Egypt and from the laws that he had given them for their own good. They were stubborn children, just like we are, who did what they thought was right rather than follow their Father’s guidelines.
That is the theme of the era of the Judges. Both Judges 17:6 and Judges 21:25 repeat exactly the same words: “In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right” (NET). Or as the New American standard puts it, “Each man did what was right in his own eyes.”
We, too, even in the church, live in a time of darkness, a time when everyone does what seems right in his or her own eyes. We can learn much from the stories of the Judges. We can learn how risky it is to approach life as the world around us does rather than allowing God’s word to saturate out patterns of thinking. The Bible is our light in the darkness. Ps. 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (NASB). We cannot see clearly without it.
We also need to know God’s epic story so that we realize that the world isn’t a hopeless place and so that we remember that God does love us, even when the darkness is overwhelming. God didn’t leave his creation in ruin but sent Jesus as the epic hero to save the day. That same loving God was at work in the darkness in the times of the Judges, and we must continually look for his love and his care in the midst of those stories as well as in the darkness of our world today. There is a better day to come. There is a better world to come. All that God desired for his perfect creation will come to pass in the fullness of time. And we will all see it. In the meantime, we have been redeemed and belong to God’s kingdom, where we enjoy many of its benefits now.
God’s epic story: Paradise, ruin, redemption, and restoration; a story of love.
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