Jim Hamilton teaches on the Bible's big story.
Series: Summer Preaching Series 2014
We are what we remember.
I read a book by Joshua Four, called Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art & Science of Remembering Everything. It was about a man named E.P. who at some point in his life got Herpes Simplex. It destroyed the medial temporal lobes in his brain, which is the part of your brain that turns perceptions into long-term memories. As a result of this, this poor man couldn’t remember anything after 1950 (he was in his eighties when Four met him in 2010). So from 1950 forward he perceived but didn’t remember any of the conversations he had had. You could ask him who the last president he remembered was and he’d name Roosevelt. You could tell him about the birth of his grandchildren and his eyes would well up with tears. Then he would promptly forget their existence. He was trapped in a limbo of an eternal present between a past that he couldn’t remember and a future that he couldn’t contemplate.
Today we’re going to think about the past as the Bible describes it in order to contemplate the future as the Bible describes it in order to understand the present in which we live.
Our lives are structured by what we remember. As we get older it feels like the years go by faster. One reason this happens is because we’re no longer experiencing things for the first time. We’ve been around the circle. We’ve done it. We’re now in an established routine. There aren’t those major signpost events anymore, like going off to college, or getting married, or your first job. Those radical transitions, those signature events that mark time for us are no longer there.
I want us to construct a memory palace that you’ll be able to use to remember the grand narrative and the big signature events in the Bible’s story.
A memory palace comes from a Greek poet named Simonides from the fifth century BC. He was at a banquet hall in Thessaly when he was summoned outside. As he stepped out of the banquet hall, the entire building collapsed killing everyone inside. The carnage was such that the remains of these poor people were unidentifiable. As spouses, children, and parents began to try to identify their deceased loved ones they couldn’t do it. So Simonides closed his eyes and spatially envisioned the room and walked each person to where their beloved had been seated at the banquet. He identified everyone who was lost in that colossal wreck. From this was born the idea of a memory palace.
Today we’re going to use my home. The downstairs floor has four rooms, a formal living and dining room, a kitchen and a living room. The kitchen is behind the formal dining room and the living room is behind the formal living room. We’re going to go through this space and populate it with vivid images that are going to call to mind these major movements in the Bible story. We’re doing this because we are what we remember. Of all things, what we want to be defined by, and to use to structure the world as we understand and interpret it, is the Bible.
We’re going to start across the street at the neighbor’s house. I want you to imagine watching a movie with your neighbor. In this movie dice invade a garden. It’s a perfect garden, like the Garden of Eden. The temperature, the moisture level, and the amount of light are perfect, all for the producing and growing of onions. So the onions in this garden are glorious, until the dice come rolling in.
As they come in, envision their white cube shaped bodies with the black dots all over them having arms and legs. Hear them clicking against each other. Once they’re in the garden they begin to rub their shins. What you have in that perfect garden is a disruption (dice rubbing their shins), which stands for the disruption in creation introduced by sin.
The Bible is a story in which God didn’t create the world for people to die. He didn’t create the world for hurricanes to ravage creation, or for parents to die long slow painful deaths of cancer, or for children to be abused. No, God created the world and it was very good. You know this world from Genesis 1 and 2.
This is a very important part of the Bible’s narrative. It’s altogether different from the world’s narrative. It begins with a holy God who makes a good creation. But then there’s a disruption.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. Romans 5:12 (ESV)
As we tell people the good news of the gospel, it’s important we insist that God made the world good. That world suffered a tragic fall as a result of man’s sin.
Let’s cross the street from the neighbor’s house into my front door.
As you enter the front door you see mice on the ground. You can hear them squeaking and they’re scurrying everywhere. You can feel the revulsion and panic you’d naturally have to a whole horde of mice in front of you. But you realize these mice look like professionals. These professional mice are actually doing an ice sculpture and it’s an ice sculpture for the prom. The prom ice that’s being sculpted by the pro mice (promise) is depicting the scene of Genesis 3.
God comes in judgment against the woman and the man, but most significantly the serpent. He speaks over the serpent saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV).
As Adam and Eve listen to what God says to the serpent, they hear Him say there will be ongoing enmity between themselves and the serpent. Adam probably began to think that evidently they weren’t dying that day. Not only was the enmity going to be ongoing, but the seed of the woman was going to crush the seed of the serpent. Not only are they going to live, but they’re going to have a child and the child was going to overcome the one who introduced evil into the world. Adam responded in faith.
The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Genesis 3:20 (ESV)
In Hebrew the word Eve sounds like life. She was the mother of all living. So Adam was hoping life was going to come as a result of the triumph of the seed of the woman over the serpent and his seed.
That’s the promise.
The world was very good. Then there was disruption, or dice rubbing their shins. Then the pro mice sculpting the prom ice tells us about God’s promise to overcome the evil that has been introduced into the world.
From the entryway we turn right into the formal dining room. In the dining room we’re shocked to see these red imps, which are really annoying little creatures. You can hear their obnoxious screaming. As you get over your initial confusion and shock you begin to realize they look like a marching band forming patterns on the football field.
These red imps are shaping themselves into the pattern of the events of the exodus of Egypt. You can see them enacting the sacrificing of the Passover lamb after the ten plagues, the blood on the doorposts, the people coming out of Egypt and into the wilderness. But then they’re trapped between the army of Pharaoh and the Red Sea. The Red Sea opens and they go through. They get manna from heaven and water from the rock. Then they arrive to Mount Sinai where God enters into covenant with them. The red imps are enacting the pattern of redemption.
The pattern of redemption is tremendously significant for the rest of the Old Testament. For example, in Hosea 2, the Lord warns Israel through the prophet Hosea about how He was going to drive them into exile. After they’ve suffered in exile He was going to woo them out into the wilderness, just like Israel was brought out into the wilderness. Then He will speak tenderly to them just as He spoke tenderly to them from Mount Sinai. He talked about how He was going to betroth Israel to Himself in faithfulness, righteousness, and justice, which is exactly what happened after the pattern of the redemption at the exodus.
The Lord entered into covenant with Israel. It was a marital covenant between Himself and Israel.
We’ve seen the destruction in the garden. We’ve seen the pro mice sculpting the prom ice. We’ve seen the pattern of redemption. Then we continue into the kitchen.
We see a wedding cake on the counter. It’s just perfect. It’s beautiful. There’s even a bride and groom on top. But then you see the ants. There are thirteen ants going at that wedding cake and it’s about to be ruined.
Why are there thirteen ants? Thirteen makes a coven. We’re talking about the covenant, a coven of ants, between God and Israel. After the redemption, the exodus from Egypt, Israel enters into covenant with the Lord at Mount Sinai. The relationship between God and Israel is like a marital relationship.
Marriage is built into the structure of reality. When God goes to give humanity a way to understand how he relates to his people, he created a world in which there would be marriage.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 31:31-32 (ESV)
Already at Mount Sinai, the Lord was warning Israel they’re not to go and whore after other gods. That imagery presumes this marital covenant between God and His people. It treats unfaithfulness to the Lord as spiritual adultery.
At Mount Sinai the people of Israel made a golden calf. They broke the covenant. They couldn’t keep it even though it had just been made. Moses saw this happen. As Moses told Israel about what awaited them in their future, in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 4 and 28 through 32, he told them repeatedly what would happen. They were going to enter into the land of Israel and break the covenant, which they had already broken. It was going to get to the point where the Lord would drive them out of the land into exile. But from there they would seek the Lord and find Him. Essentially Moses was saying that when you seek the Lord He would restore you to the land. Moses was prophesying there was going to be exile and then a return from exile.
So the Lord and Israel are in this marriage. We’ve got the disruption, the pro mice sculpting the prom ice, the pattern of redemption, and the coven of the ants and then a prophecy of exile and return.
Now we go from the kitchen into the living room where we see this strip of carpet. It looks like it’s been well trodden on. This strip of carpet apparently was an aisle. It’s gotten up off the floor and is walking around. This ex-aisle is working at a return counter.
As you look at what he’s doing you see that it looks like he’s got a small-scale version of what happened in the garden. There was this pristine place, but there was a transgression and Adam and Eve were driven into exile from the garden. Then you watch this ex-aisle process another return that looks like the pattern of red imps enacting the exodus from Egypt and the pilgrimage from the wilderness and then the conquest of the land, then the exile from the land.
Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden. Then God created a new garden and promised it to the people of Israel. But just like Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden, the people of Israel were exiled from this land in which God was present. So they went out from the land into exile hearing promises God was going to do a new work of salvation.
As the prophets describe this new work of salvation that God was going to do, they begin to make comparisons. They start comparing the sojourn in Egypt that led up to the exodus to the sojourn in exile ultimately in Babylon that’s going to lead up to this new exodus.
“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land” (Jeremiah 23:7-8 (ESV).
Jeremiah was saying this new work of salvation is going to be like the exodus from Egypt, but it’s going to be so much bigger that they’d forget all about the exodus from Egypt. They weren’t going to identify God anymore by the exodus from Egypt. Rather they would identify Him by this new work of salvation.
Israel’s prophets, men like Jeremiah, were using Israel’s past to interpret Israel’s present and point to Israel’s future.
All of this matters and is important, because when we get to the New Testament, we see the back story that the New Testament authors use to make sense of what God has done in Jesus, is all this stuff about the exodus, the new exodus and the return from exile. This is why when Jesus comes in Matthew’s gospel, He goes down into Egypt, comes up and then is baptized in the River Jordan, and then goes out into the wilderness where He’s tempted for forty days. He was redoing the history of Israel. But when He got out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan, whereas Israel had sinned and rebelled, He overcame. As you continue through the life of Jesus, you keep seeing these patterns.
In John 6, Jesus feeds the multitudes and then goes into this long discussion about how God gave manna from heaven in the wilderness to the people of Israel, but the bread of life is the One who comes down from heaven to give life to the world. Then He says, “I’m the bread of life.”
In John 1, we see John identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus is the new Passover Lamb. Jesus is the manna from heaven. We enact this as we partake of the Lord’s Supper. We’re fed by the bread of life on our sojourn through the wilderness, having been liberated from slavery to sin and we’re now pilgrimaging through the wilderness on our way to a new and better land of promise, which is the new heaven and new earth.
Your story is not the story that’s on the magazines in the grocery store, or the one being held out to you in the Nike commercials. It’s not the story you see enacted in the movie theaters. Your story is in the pages of Scripture. This is how you’re to understand your life. You are a liberated slave who is being sustained on your way to the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and new earth. You’re on your way to this Promised Land. You’re story includes resurrection from the dead, because the way Jesus accomplished this new exodus was by being crucified for the sins of the world and in being raised from the dead.
If you’re here this morning and not a Christian, you have to hear this. God made the world good. God is holy and righteous. All the pain in your life results from sin, because the world is defiled by sin. But God is not going to allow sin and evil to have the last word. He has overcome it by sending His only Son, who took all the sins of the world onto His shoulders and beard all the weight of the wrath of God as He was crucified on the cross so that God could justly keep His word about punishing sin and then mercifully extend forgiveness to anyone who says, “I agree with you God about what sin is. I’m going to turn away from it. I’m going to trust in Jesus and that He died in my place.”
What we want for you is to turn away from everything that’s going to ruin your life, run to Jesus, and embrace Him as the One who died for you. If you do that, this story is your story. You are a liberated slave; you are now on your way to a new and better land of promise, which is going to be a new and better Garden of Eden where you will dwell in the presence of God in a resurrected and glorified body.
I can remember when I was in high school; I wanted nothing more than to be a great athlete and to win a state championship. But it didn’t happen. At the end of my high school basketball career, I could sense within myself not wanting it to end. I wanted to somehow keep it going. I wanted to somehow treasure every aspect of it.
But what would it have been like if I had known I was about to enter a new and better season of college basketball? I didn’t, but if I had known there was another season then the high school stuff would have been nothing compared to what awaited me.
This is the way the resurrection can function in our lives. If I know I’m going to be raised from the dead and live in a new and better heaven and earth, I’m free to throw my life away here. I’m free to lay my life down here. I’m free to take up the cross and follow Jesus here. The world’s story doesn’t define me. The Bible’s story defines me. I can let go of all the stuff from this life, because a greater life awaits me.
So we have the disruption in the garden, the pro mice sculpting the prom ice, the pattern of red imps, the coven of ants approaching the wedding cake, the ex-aisle and return and then we leave the living room to pass into the formal living room.
What we encounter looks like the ring of power from the Lord Of The Rings and it’s radiating light. It’s a glow ring (glory). What’s emanating out is the very glory of God from the new covenant God is going to enter into when Christ comes for the marriage feast of the Lamb. The Bride has made herself ready and she’s clothed with white and is glorious. Then Jesus remakes the world and everything is right and new.
You want to live for the glory of Christ. You do this by taking up the cross and following Jesus.
Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24, ESV).
Jesus was talking about His own life and the way He was about to be crucified and then resurrected to bear much fruit. He then tells His followers to follow Him in laying down their lives.
We live to die so that we can die to live.
Now we’re going to go back across the street to our neighbor’s house where they show us another movie. In this movie the garden was turned into something that looked like a battlefield when onions explode out of the earth from the dice rubbing their shins, from the disruption. The garden is re-onioned. It’s reunion.
It’s a cosmic reunion when God, through the death of Christ, reconciles the world to Himself and makes all things new.
The Lord is going to wipe away every tear. Death will be no more. There will be no more sorrow. The sun will never set on Jerusalem. The Bible says that we will see His face. We will dwell in the presence of God in glorified bodies, perfectly fitted, and perfectly equipped to do the will of God forever. It will be glorious.
This is the true story of the world. This is the true story of the Bible.
How do we live this way and make it so that all of that we’ve been talking about shapes who we are and influences what we do?
First, you want to increase your Bible intake. I would urge you to read the Bible and listen to the Bible as much as you possibly can. Download the Bible onto a mobile device. Then as you mow the lawn, do the dishes, drive to work, or whatever, you can have the words of Scripture rolling through your mind.
Secondly, you want to memorize and meditate on the Bible. To show how this can affect you, I want to give an example. I know there’s probably someone here dealing with same sex attraction. If the Bible defines the world for you, you will agree with Scripture that the only appropriately context in which sexuality can be indulged is in a marriage between one man and one woman. If the Bible defines the world for you, you will rethink your identity. You’re not identified by your sexual desires. You’re identified by the fact that you’re made in the image of God. By turning from sin and trusting in Jesus, you’re redeemed and being reformed into Christ’s likeness. This will begin to reshape and transform you into the image of Christ.
If you deal with inappropriate desires of people of the opposite sex. You too want to submit all those desires to the Scriptures. It will cause you to banish all inappropriate fantasies. It will cause you to want only what’s right and good. This is significant because God built marriage to be a display of the relationship between God the Father and Israel in the old covenant and Christ the Son and His Bride the Church in the new covenant.
Near the end of WWI, Winston Churchill fell out of power. In his last address to the House of Commons he tried to urge them to take Constantinople. He wanted the British to get away from trench warfare and try to attack Germany from the backside. He said, “In the East, take Constantinople. Take it by ships if you can. Take it by soldiers if you must. Take it by whichever plan, military or naval commends itself to your military experts, but take it. Take it soon. Take it while time remains.”
What is at stake in our lives is bigger than the outcome of WWI. The very glory of God and your eternal destiny is at stake in whether you will take the sword of the Spirit and fight.
Take the sword of the Spirit. Take it by audio if you can. Take it into your heart. You must take it by whichever yearly reading plan or monthly study schedule commends itself to you. But take it. Take it soon. Take it while time remains.