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The Back Story to the Jesus Story

The Back Story to the Jesus Story April 13, 2012

If you take any historical book of the Old Testament, say Genesis or 1 Samuel or 2 Chronicles, and read it from beginning to end you get a good introduction to the Bible’s Story — and it is a Story about God’s election of Israel and of Israel seeking to live as God’s people, and most notably a Story about kings and prophets and priests. Put another way, the first thing the reader encounters is not how to get saved or stories of how people got saved. Or how to get happy. Or how to find personal fulfillment. Or.. or… or.. but … It is a Story about God’s work with God’s people to make a nation that embodies God’s will — and witnesses to the nations about Israel’s God! And it is Story that is seeking resolution because something’s not right.

How would you summarize the “Story” the Gospels are resolving? Have we been taught another way to approach the Bible, another way that too often blocks our seeing the Story of Israel as the Gospels’ true back story? What stories do you hear?

The Story of Israel, as Tom Wright makes abundantly clear in his new book How God Became King, is the prequel or back story to the Story of Jesus. Too many read the Jesus Story as if Israel’s Story was not the back story and as if another story was at work — what I call in The King Jesus Gospel Plan of personal Salvation. He opines that many think it is only the story of Adam and Eve, of “Everyman” (67), of Genesis 1-3 that then needs Jesus.

But the Gospels all open with sketches of Jesus that show dramatically, clearly, forcefully, and undeniably that they see Jesus completing/climaxing the Story of Israel. That’s the Story that sets up the Story of Jesus.

So he sketches this theme for each Gospel:

1. Matthew: the story reaches its goal, and he observes that Matthew begins with the genealogy, and that genealogy cuts up Israel’s Story into Abraham, David, Exile, Jesus chapters. This permits Wright to develop again his well-known End of Exile theme, and who can deny its relevance for how Matthew reads Israel’s Story when he begins with that theme in the genealogy?! Jesus is the Jubilee in person. To be sure, this solves Adam’s problem because Adam’s problem is solved in the election of Israel for the redemption of the world.

2. Mark: Jesus and the breaking in of God’s new world, and he focuses on Mark 1 mostly …

3. Luke: the Scriptures must be fulfilled, and anyone can spot this in Luke 1-2 and in Luke 24 where Jesus opened both the Bible and the minds of his listeners to show it all pointed to him, the one who was crucified and raised.

4. John: the themes of creation (John 1) and new creation (John 1!).

The Gnostic Gospels don’t do this; they don’t like Israel’s Story; they don’t want a creational monotheistic God but one who takes humans from this world into the spiritual world.


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