One week ago, we woke up to the news that terrorists had attacked Brussels, killing and injuring people just beginning their vacation, on the subway to work, just going about their every day lives. We can’t escape bad news.
Every time we pick up the newspaper, turn on the TV, open up our computer, or scroll through our phone. It’s tucked between pictures of cute babies and crockpot recipes on Facebook. The bad news incites fear and anxiety, and the more fearful and anxious we are, the more likely we are to come back for more. Bad news sells more than good news. We’re drawn to it like a moth to a flame. When tragedy strikes, we gather around a flickering screen, refreshing and waiting for an update.
Human beings, people, were made in the image of the Creator, so that the we would reflect God to the creation. So that we could remind each other of what God is like. But instead of emulating God to the world, instead of pointing the world to God’s benevolence, we point the world to our own success, our own victories, our own creations. Instead of loving one another as brothers and sisters, we use and abuse one another.
The news highlights the bad stories, telling us we live in an evil world. The news shows us that humanity is awful and corrupt and that we should be afraid for our lives. And when we hear it often enough, long enough, we believe it to be true. We believe the the bad news to be the truth. We believe a story that ends with despair.
When we believe this story, we believe a story that begins in Genesis 3. You see, in Genesis 3, human beings wanted to be like God. They wanted power and control. God had told them that they could eat from any tree in the garden, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they ate from that tree they would certainly die.
You know how this story goes. They ate from the tree, and death was the result.
But Genesis 3 isn’t where God’s story begins. It begins with Genesis 1.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
God created the light, separating it from darkness. Sky, separating it from water. God created dry ground, and vegetation. God filled the earth with lights, flying and swimming creatures, and livestock. And then, God created humans, people, in God’s image and likeness. The intent was that the people would reflect God to the creation. Humans were made in God’s image so that the world might know God through them. Finally, God gave the people the task of managing the creation, of taking care of both the human and nonhuman creation.
John frames his gospel around Genesis 1.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
On the 6th day of Genesis, God created man (I prefer human, but for this illustration, man) in his own image, and in John’s gospel, Pontius Pilate brings Jesus before the crowds and says, “Here is the man!”
And then, John wrote, “On the first day of the week, very early, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found it empty.” John makes it clear that this is the first day of a new week. It’s the first day of God’s new creation. God’s kingdom is becoming a reality.
God’s plan to restore the creation is taking place in and through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God is working to put everything back together, the way that it was supposed to be. It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle that’s been spilled all over the floor. God is beginning to pick up the pieces and put the puzzle back together the way that it was always meant to be. NT Wright explains it as God sorting out the world, filling it with his glory and justice, just as God has always promised.
At the end of John 20, the disciples were together on that first day of the new week. They were understandably terrified. Their leader had just been killed, and they knew that they would be next. The doors were locked, and then appears Jesus. He said, “Peace be with you.” He showed them his hand and his side and he told them again, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
I love how NT Wright explains it in Surprised by Scripture: The Father completed the work of creation, the Son completed the work of redemption, and the Spirit was given to the disciples so that they could continue on the mission without fear.
This story is the opposite of the one we read and hear on the news. This is a good news story. It’s not an advice column about the 10 steps to a better life. It’s about the news that Jesus has been raised from the dead, and now there’s nothing to fear. God is working to reconcile all things to himself. He’s picking up the pieces, healing and restoring and putting the puzzle back together. And the final vision is God’s kingdom becoming a complete reality.
The good news is that what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future transforms our lives in the present. Too often, our good news stops on Friday. It ends with the 6th day. We end the story with death. With Jesus hanging on the cross. We say that the gospel is that, “Jesus died for my sins.” We talk about and argue over how we’re reconciled to God through the cross (atonement). But this isn’t where the story ends.
If our good news ends with Jesus’ death, we haven’t fully understood the good news. Without the resurrection, Jesus’ death wouldn’t matter. Jesus would have just been another martyr for his faith. But the reason we’re still talking about Jesus thousands of years later is because he was resurrected. In John 10:10 Jesus said that he came so that we would have life, and that it would be a more abundant life.
God's story does not begin with Genesis 3, nor does it end on the 6th day!
The good news offers a new reality that we can live today. It’s an alternative story to the one the world is telling. It’s a story of justice and grace and forgiveness and reconciliation and peace and love and hope and resurrection. It’s about living without fear, because death does not end this story. It’s about loving other people as God has loved you. It’s about forgiving other people as God has forgiven you. It’s about breaking down boundaries and barriers, because in God's kingdom there is no Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And we are sent to the ends of the earth to make this good news a reality for all people, because this good news is not just for people we like, or people who look like us, or talk like us, or live by us. This is good news for all people. Just as the Father sent Jesus, so he is sending us to live out this mission. And there's nothing to fear, because sin, evil and death have been destroyed.
This is the good news.