Alvin Rogness (1906-1992) was a Lutheran pastor, author, and seminary president. In his sermons and books he would often retell the ‘big’ story of the Bible, summarizing the whole story of God and His world in a single narrative. The following reading is a blend of several of those narratives.
Colossians 1:21-23a — Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.
I Corinthians 1:18-25 — For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
The Apostle Paul candidly admitted that this great story of the Gospel, the whole Biblical story climaxing in Jesus Christ, would be an offense to the Greeks, and a stumbling block to the Jews, and its preaching would be sheer foolishness for all who did not believe it. There was no attempt on his part to camouflage the magnificent absurdity of this story of the Bible, and he said those of us who believe the story and are captured by it are a peculiar people. Now most of us don’t, think of ourselves as particularly strange because we are Christians, largely because we have grown up with it, and the story, radical as it is, is a familiar one for us. We can confess our faith and that doesn’t seem strange. But we ought to back away once in a while and say “What really am I saying when I say I believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”
First of all, we are saying that we believe that this vast universe of billions of stars and planets, and billions of light years of space, has a Maker whom we call God. And then, we say we believe that this Creator decided to raise His family on one tiny speck out in the middle of all that immense space. And so He created them in His image and likeness and gave to them– to us– a gift which He alone (and His angels) had. To us, and nothing else in all of creation, God gave the gift of independence. We could choose to obey or disobey, to love or despise, our Creator. The largest galaxies, with all their power and energy, are not free, and do just what they are programmed to do, nothing more and nothing less. The birds that fly and the fish that swim can’t obey or disobey. They are governed by the laws of instinct. Only we humans have the ability as children of God to obey or disobey Him, and to have a relationship with him. And then God gave us custody of this planet and said, “Will you run it for me?” That’s the opening part of the story.
But then comes the dark chapter where we used the gift of choice to disobey Him. And this is not just in the story of Adam and Eve. That is the life story of each of us, as we choose to use our freedom to disobey God and turn against each other. And in disobeying Him, we are now estranged from Him, separated from Him.
The enemy of God threw us into his prison, telling us that there we would really be free, deluding us into thinking that if we could capture enough money, pleasure, and power, we would all be happy. It was a lie, of course, but he brainwashed us so that we loved the darkness more than the light. What he actually did, therefore, was to unleash in his concentration camp where he put us, a ruthless, struggle for property and money and prestige and pleasure. Having forsaken God’s way, we insisted on having our own way. Satan set brother against brother, sister against sister, nation against nation, race against race; in a scene of utter chaos that has become our history.
Now we would have remained there forever had we been on our own. We wouldn’t even have thought to leave, because we had been brainwashed to believe that this was wonderful, or at least the best we can expect. So we grow content with our temporary diversions, even to the point of closing our eyes and ears to any other hope.
But God intervened. He did not let us go. He might have given up and destroyed his ruined creation. He almost did at the time of Noah, but He didn’t. He immediately promised to deliver us from the concentration camp.
In the fullness of time, He sent a deliverer; not millions of angels, but His own Son. And here comes the climax of the story: that in this carpenter of Nazareth, in His life and death and resurrection, in some strange way, Jesus shattered the doors of the prison, threw wide open the doors of the Father’s house again, forgave our sins, and offered us freedom and victory. (continued…)