Our story begins with God. Before anything was…He was…and it’s only through him that what is, has come to be. The story of atheism wants to ask the question “how?” Our story wants to ask the question, “Who?” Our story begins as God speaks. All of life begins with the Word of God! And when God speaks…it is…and it is good. It is a story that reminds us that the design of all things is God’s design. He is the one that forms and fashions the universe and sets our place within it. That humanity was destined for the high calling of bearing the image and likeness of God in this world. Unfortunately, it is a story that reminds us that we are not content with this calling. We would prefer to be our own gods, to be the masters of our own destinies. We’d rather grab hold of our futures, and when we do all hell breaks loose. Our relationships are toppled and our futures are in peril. It is a story of humanity kicked from the perfect communion of the Garden, living outside God’s design. However, our story reminds us that God does not stay in that Garden but exiles himself and comes close to us…even in our sin…God chases us!
It is a story of humanity run amuck, a story of rebellion and obstinance, where we refuse to be keepers of our brothers and plunge ourselves dangerously into the depths of wickedness and evil. But this story has as its author a dynamic and relational God, one deeply affected by our sin. In fact, He is a God that is grieved to his heart, an author that wants to end the story. And just as this author is about to pitch the story in eternal trash can, He pulls up and He gives us another chance through Noah. He is a God that endures our sinfulness and sets in the sky a reminder, a rainbow the story says, to remind himself that He is committed to go all the way with us, to see this through to His desired outcome.
It’s a story of a God with a plan. It is a plan of love and reconciliation. It is a vast plan, one that has the scope of all humanity and human history within its sight. God chooses to start small to go big. So this God sets about a choosing and electing, a picking and a plucking, a calling and equipping to carry his plan, his promise through to the end. And this God calls the old and the young, He calls the unsuspecting and unqualified. He calls the timid and the weak! Because this God is just looking for someone to say yes. Just someone to say, “I’ll leave behind the former things, the land of my father. I’ll head to that land you will show me. I’ll be a blessing to those around me! Yes, God, here I am.” So God begins this redemption through a man named Abraham and carries that promises through this problematic offspring, reminding us that God is often faithful in spite of us.
However, the story of God’s redemption doesn’t always go off without a hitch. Evil is at work in this world. Even though Abraham’s descendants carry forward the promise, they find themselves trapped in the tyranny of bondage, bound to powers and principalities that threaten their well-being, the future, and God’s purposes. It’s a story that reminds us that night gives birth to day, that hope emerges from darkness, and chaos gives way to order. For the Israelites, this is their beginning. The beginning is a God that hears the cries of the broken and oppressed people crying from their bondage in Eqypt. That is always the beginning. Our story always begins with God...a God that meets humanity amidst their crisis, in the midst of threat of non-existence. It is this God whose ears are especially attuned to the heartache of the marginalized. And their cries come before him. Their cries move God. Their cries are a call to action. And the God of the story faithfully responds.
God responds through an invitation. His purpose is clear and His will is set...redemption and deliverance. God chooses to fulfill this action in the world by inviting his chosen to join Him. Out of the desert of nowhere God calls an alienated stranger from his people, a man whose birth was unusual but whose life had been a failure. God searches for the most unlikely and invites Him to join Him in the setting free of this bound people from the Pharaoh’s grips, from the talons of the empire of power and oppression. From amidst the embers of a fiery bush, Moses is given the calling... “For you will set my people free.” At first there is reluctance, and then God reveals His name to Moses.
Tell them that “I am” sent you. YHWH. One of the most definitive moments in the life of Israel. God’s self revelation. God says my name is “I am” or “I will be as I choose to be.” God says, I am free. I am capable in the face of impossibility. I am able when there is no hope. Moses...go in the confidence that “I am goes with you.” Moses goes.
Through the providence of God and the rebellion of Pharaoh, Israel is delivered from Egypt through a series of plagues. The final plague...the death of the firstborn comes on a night that would eventually be called the Passover. The Israelites slay lambs, cover the doorposts with the blood of the lambs, and the angel of death passes over the Israelites and slays the first born child of each of the Egyptians. As tragic as this event is...Israel interpreted it as their moment of deliverance, of God bringing forth beauty and life from ashes and destruction. God becomes deliverer.
They moved toward the land that God would lead them. Soon they came under the pursuit of their Egyptian enemies, before they could escape they found themselves on the brink of destruction, doubting the hope of their safety. The river, the waters of chaos were before them and the enemy was closing in behind them. “Why would we be brought from Egypt only to die in the desert?” they asked. Then God acts. Moses stretches forth his rod over the waters of the Red Sea and the waters stand on end. The Israelites pass by on dry land and the Egyptians are crushed by the sea as it closes in on them. For this rag-tag group of ex-slaves, God now becomes the Waymaker, a God that makes a way when no other could be seen.
But this people, now free were without a future. But again, God faithfully acts. God calls Moses on top of Mount Sinai and makes him an offer. God says, “It is I that brought you up out of Egypt. I am the hope of your future. I will give you an identity, make you my chosen nation, my royal priesthood...and although all of the earth is mine you will be a peculiar possession...but you must obey my commandments and follow my covenant.” Moses stepped off the mountain and asked the people if they would agree to follow this YHWH, this deliverer, this Waymaker, this grace giver, and covenant maker. The people agreed to follow and a relationship was formed.
This is where the story begins. It begins as God calls a people without hope and without a future, a people threatened by oppression and death. God calls them to himself, God calls them to be his people. The story begins as God does for the Israelites what they were incapable of by themselves. God forms a covenant, establishes a bond and makes a promise. a promise of future, land, hope, and redemption. Their task was obedience and blessing, obedience to the commands of YHWH and blessing to all the nations.