To visually represent the broad story of the good news Jesus last week I started scribbling before going to speak at Rutgers Cru. One of the core values/identities of Jacob’s Well is that we desire to be a gospel centered people. That our lives, our community, our flow as people would be found in the story of a redeeming God pursuing people and bringing them back into relationship with himself and all things. The centrality of Jesus life, teaching, death on a cross for sin and resurrection for our justification (declared forgiven before God) should be the core reality that we live. This story of redemption is one of the great clues to the fabric of reality in the universe.
Anyway, I wanted to represent this story visually in a way that shows both the darkness and glory of the cross of Christ, that honors the full historical and futurical sweep of redemption and to show mad love to the visual learners. Because I think it is sad that people make them read and don’t provide enough pictures. So here’s to you Mr. downcast visual learner guy, this pics for you…
To be honest this diagram sort of happened while scribbling and then I “saw” after the fact some cool things which could be communicated using this. Anyway, I’ll explain as we traverse through the diagram. It reads left to right, no offense to the right to left readers…
To see a slightly larger version of this diagram, you can click here
We begin by drawing a dot which represents the beginning of all space and time. The Scriptures teach and scientific reasoning accords that the universe began to exist in the finite past. God spoke the world, the stars, galaxies, plants, animals, all the elements into existence. As the crown of creation he creates men and women in his image and likeness to rule creation with him as his stewards. The creation was in rhythm and God and people were in harmony and order.
The next line is drawn downward and dark. The Old Testament teaches us that the first human beings, in direct contradiction to their creator, disobeyed him and reaped the consequences on the world and the human race. The Christian teaching of the fall of humanity is established in the Old Testament in the first three chapters of Genesis. As a result of our rebellion, God brought a state of decay upon creation and human beings. The results are devastating. Each person sins against God by nature and by choice. We are guilty before our creator for our rebellion and as a result of sin, all people die, though we act like we will live forever. The consequence of human sin has translated into a world which is not a paradise, but rather a war zone full of disease, human atrocities, natural disasters, and our separation from God and each other. Yet God did this in hope, (Romans 8:18-30) for his plan was just beginning. Though we had sinned, in love God set about to forgive and restore. He would win back a people from the curse and vindicate his name which had been dishonored by the very creatures he had created.
Even though things had grown dark, the promise of God redeeming the world was given just after the sin of the first human beings. A promise was made that the offspring from a woman would one day crush the head of the serpent and restore the broken world. This blue dotted line is the line of redemption that God began to weave into creation. Even though at times it seems a bit dark in this world, God is constantly at work in the course of redemption. The plan included many people and nations, many hundreds of years and a complex matrix of events and signposts. His plan would find its fullness when God himself, incarnate as the second Adam, the person of Jesus of Nazareth, would pay the final price for sin and bring us back into relationship with God. This drama unfolded throughout the Old Testament and was ultimately fulfilled in the New Testament. It unfolds on various continents, centered in the Promised Land, through various covenants by which God invited people back into relationship with himself. This was all extended by grace, a free gift from God who offers peace to those who now live at war (either passively or aggressively…or passive aggressively) with him.
As God worked to redeem a people throughout history, he did so by making promises, or establishing covenants with people. Seeing the whole of redemptive history, particularly the Old Testament, through the grid of the unfolding of the covenants is very helpful.
History marched forward under the direction of God until the arrival of what the Scriptures describe as the fullness of time. Of this time, the book of Galatians tells us a beautiful truth:
4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
Yes, the fullness of time had come. God the Father had sent God the Son into the world as a fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises over the ages. His coming was foretold by prophets, his work unfolded in the covenants, and his love would fulfill the hearts of his people. And a cross was waiting for him.
The Cross - The Paradoxical Jewel of our Faith
It was a fortuitous event of providence that I drew lines “UP” for the work of God in promising to save his people and a line “DOWN” to indicate the fall. For both arrive at a cross, both the brightest moment and the darkest hour of history. For in the one event God the Son saves the world and at the same time, the Roman government murders him. Acts 2:22-24 shows this complexity of the crucifixion of Jesus:
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
This simultaneous paradox is the crown jewel of our faith and the lines will soon form a diamond, the most precious of jems. The Kingdom of Jesus came with the crucified King and now continues through all the people that he saves and redeems.
From the darkness of Jesus’ abandonment and execution comes his resurection whereby life is proclaimed to forever conquer death. Our own lives that are stained with sin and separation from God can be transformed when we hear the gospel message. When we hear of the love of God expressed towards sinners through Jesus’ death on the cross we are called to repent (change our minds and turn away from) of our sin and receive his forgiveness by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9). The gospel teaches us that Jesus died a death that we deserve, his death for sin. Additionally, he lived the life we cannot live, a life without sin. By placing our trust/faith in him we receive forgiveness and pardon from God for our sins and are counted righteous before God in him. In Jesus we are brought back into relationship with God and given eternal life as the gift of a gracious and loving God. We are then transferred from a dark path into the path of redemption and mission in the world. We intersect with eternity on Jesus’ mission which is manifesting and ultimately bringing into fullness the Kingdom of God.
Jesus is constantly on mission in the world to seek and save the lost and manifest his rule and reign on the earth through his people. We join this two fold mission by proclaiming good news so that people, sinful people like ourselves, experience the saving power of Jesus as he saves people and places them in his church. The church then represents and manifests a different Kingdom than the Kingdoms of the earth serving as a display of God as a counter cultural community of hope and love. Redeemed people on mission in the world…heading towards an ultimate and final consummation of the Kingdom awaits.
[Quick TheoNote: The diagram here represents a person’s existential connection to the Kingdom, not when the Kingdom begins “in time” - the appropriate temporal “beginning of the Kingdom” would be during the incarnation. See Mark 1:14,15 - “The Kingdom is at hand” - the diagram here shows how the mission of Jesus through the church connects people to the Kingdom - this happens when someone is redeemed and transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness to the Kingdom of Jesus (See Colossians 1). I am also using “simple” eschatology and making no comment on those issues…only that the Kingdom comes with Jesus and people are connected to it through his mission and the redeeming work of the cross.]
The final destination for the people of God is the coming fullness of the Kingom of Heaven, the kingdom where the rule and reign of Jesus is full and final. All sin and evil will ultimately be eradicated and we will live eternally in a realm sans disease, war and death. It will be a reality where God wipes away all tears and his presence will illuminate existence fully for all time. The feeling we have in this age of things not being quite right will surprisingly be lifted and the souls of men will finally be at peace. All those who repent and believe and follow the resurected Jesus will live forever with him, those who refused to believe, chose themselves as their own god, who did not trust and follow him will remain in their sins outside of his Kingdom forever.
This view has a few things which I find commendable. First, it has the cross of Jesus central to the gospel. Second it has redemption occupying the scope of all history not simply a few moments. Third, it acknowledges the church’s role as an in-breaking of the Kingdom into this present reality with good works and doing justice manifesting that reality. Finally, it keeps the short gospel, Jesus died in the place of sinners as their substitute, to save us from sin, death and hell as the central message the church proclaims. At the same time that message is proclaim from the church who live as servants to the world, fellow sinners and sojourners on the road to the heavenly city…a Kingdom which will be realized fully by God and not human beings.
All is made possible by the cross of Christ, the diamond of our faith. Whereby God is seen most clearly by suffering and giving his life for those he loves and saves. This diamond, much like an engagement ring, declares God’s promised love for his people, which will end on a great wedding day where Jesus the bridegroom, and his bride the church, will party together to enter into eternal communion at the end of this age.