How the Story Begins
by Nathan Brown
Our story always begins with Jesus. Before our first word, He is the Word: “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Only in discovering Jesus do we truly discover the rest of the story, or the rest of our faith.
Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart puts it like this: “That ours is a fallen world is not, of course, a truth demonstrable to those who do not believe: it is not a first principle of faith, but rather something revealed to us only by what we know of Christ, in the light cast back from His saving action in history upon the whole of time.”
That God would intervene so dramatically and enter so fully into the suffering and injustice of human history raises profound questions. These include why this was necessary? What were human beings saved from and for? How does this intervention and sacrifice “work”? And what is the larger narrative into which God’s acts in Jesus might fit, including questions of the origin of evil and its eventual end or resolution?
Our salvation story—or any other evangelistic endeavor—rings painfully hollow if it does not begin, end, and find its center in Jesus. Too often, we seem to have the idea that we must preach bad news before we share good news. We begin with fallenness—“You are a sinner . . . Repent!”—which either further condemns those who already feel their brokenness or does not engage with those who see themselves as “doing OK.” Neither category benefits from our first-up attempts to illicit an acknowledgment of an individual guilt somehow inherited from something that happened a long time ago. Rather, both need to see Jesus, whose gracious and abounding mercy simultaneously lifts up the broken and breaks down the self-sufficient.
When we begin with the story of Jesus, we begin with something remarkable, historically, personally, and intrinsically. His is a story that is attractive and engaging in itself, even without explanation or embellishment. He is a Person who will draw all people in some way, if and when He is lifted up (see John 12:32). Then, from this incredible true story, questions inevitably arise as to why Jesus did what He did, and what it means for who we are and what we are “saved” from.
When we tell, share, and live the story in this way, these same questions come back to us as people who have known the story. We are reminded of our place in the story, the grace that has been offered to us, the big story of our world, and our call to worship Him who creates, loves, and redeems (see Rev. 14:6, 7).
This also has practical significance. In telling and living out the story in this way—always beginning with and centered in Jesus, always starting at the Cross—we never encounter sin, except that we have already encountered its forgiveness. We never address brokenness—which we must—except that we have already known its redemption. We never confront death, except that we have already seen resurrection. We never experience pain, except that we have been offered its healing. We never face darkness, except that we have recognized the Light. We never work against injustice, except that we have already seen its exposure and overthrow. We never endure oppression, except that we have already seen our liberation. We never talk about disappointment, sorrow, or tragedy, except that we have already been offered hope.
Our story always begins with Jesus. This does not mean that brokenness, fallenness, sin, and death are not real. In the experience of Jesus, we see and acknowledge how horrifically real they are. They are not yet diminished, but they are now defeated.
Which gets us back to Hart’s argument, that it is primarily the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice that illuminates our desperate fallenness, how Creation has gone wrong, and how God is working to redeem, restore, and re-create. As the “visible image of the invisible God,” it remains His creation and “He holds all creation together” (Col. 1:15, 17). We are invited to be part of this story within this creation, so let’s ensure that our stories—those that we tell and those that we live—always begin with Him.
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia, and a Manifest co-convenor.