I’ve read the Bible; I’ve listened to the Bible; and I’ve read and listened to a lot about the Bible for my whole life. It took a lot of years to quit tripping over this and that, over this law and that custom, and to just find the overlying theme. I’m no expert, but here is what I shared with a friend who was new to the faith. This is my version of the history of the dynamics we are living with today.
Originally God had angels in heaven. One of them was named Lucifer. He wanted the glory instead of giving it to God. He got some of the angels to side with him. God cast Lucifer (and his angels) to earth. Lucifer is also known as Satan, Prince of Lies, the devil, and a few other names. He is aware that God is truly the most powerful, and he knows that in the end he will be cast into the lake of fire (hell), so his only recourse is to hurt God in any way he can (since he can’t win). Since he can’t truly hurt God, he tries to hurt those he loves (His creation). He hurts God’s creation (us) by deceiving us so we will not follow God and spend eternity in heaven with Him. Lucifer wants us to go to the lake of fire too. Nutshell is, he is here, he is working hard to hurt God because he is mad at God (knows God will win in the end, so is doing all the damage he can now to hurt who He loves…..US).
So “In the beginning” refers to Genesis (beginning of the Bible), how everything came to be. God created earth, man (the species), then the animals (Adam named every one then still didn’t find a good companion…not even a dog) so God took his rib and made a woman. Adam really liked that idea. And they all lived happily ever after? Nope. Adam, Eve, and God were like one. It was Utopia. They had intimacy with God like none of us know. They had no rules but one. Don’t eat of this one tree. They lived in a HUGE garden and that was their only rule. Don’t eat that one. Adam and Eve were fine until a serpent (Satan) talked to Eve. He lied about the fruit. He asked Eve, “So, you’re not supposed to eat of ANY of the trees?” “No, only just this one,” Eve said. “So, God doesn’t want you to eat this tree because it will make you just like Him!” Satan added. Then Eve doubted God for the first time. Her trust in God had been breached. Satan won. She ate; she gave it to Adam; he ate. Suddenly they knew they were naked for the first time. What? They didn’t know they were naked? No, because that tree bore the fruit of ‘the knowledge of good and evil.’ They didn’t know before they ate what naked even was. (God had told them if they ate of it, they would surely die….apparently until then, death was not an option.) After they complained about being naked (hiding), God made them clothes out of animal skins. (He had to kill the animals…sacrifice them…to pay for their sin…then He used their skins.) After the ‘original sin’, they lost that total intimacy with God. They knew they would die. It was a dark day for mankind. They had shame for the first time ever. Through one man (Adam) death came to man, but later you will see through one (Jesus) life came to man.
All through the Old Testament, people had to sacrifice animals to God for their sins. It was their atonement (compensation, punishment) for their sins so they could be right with God. See, God is perfect (Holy). He cannot be around sin, so in order to be near to God, we have to have our sins paid for, punished, or compensated for (covered). In the Garden of Eden, there was one rule (until it was broken), but after that original sin, many more rules followed.
God’s chosen people were the Jews. They are good examples of how, no matter if God chooses you or not, you can be a real screw-up (the reason I relate to them so well). I won’t include all of their stories in the fly-over, but you just want to know about them. They ended up with tons of rules to try to keep the law. God started them with the 10 commandments, and then it snowballed. They tried to keep the commandments; they would make animal sacrifices for their sins when they messed up. It was all about works at that point. Oh, and the sacrifices couldn’t be an old lame cow that wasn’t in too good of shape anyway. It was the absolute best of your flock (or heard). The most perfect sacrifice that you could find. The best was His.
OK, through the old testament, lots of sacrificing going on, lots of sinning, but still, lots of forgiveness. Some of God’s punishment for sin is clearly recorded (and scary sometimes!). He is a god of love, but also of justice, of mercy, and grace (undeserved favor). When God would talk to people in the Old Testament, He would talk through a cloud (sign), through prophets, angels, and such. Once he didn’t talk to them for 400 years. He broke His silence (New Testament begins) when he talked to John the Baptist’s parents (way too old to have children) to say that John was on his way. His mom and Mary (Jesus’ mother) were cousins. Angels told them what was happening. John (a voice in the wilderness) would make the way for the expected Messiah (Jesus)…the long awaited Savior. Prophecies spoke of him hundreds of years before. Mary was a virgin and engaged to Joseph, but conceived a baby by the Holy Spirit. An angel explained it to her or she probably never would have figured out what in the world was happening. Joseph was going to divorce her (how they broke an engagement) but an angel explained to him what was happening, so he stuck around. They had to get a babysitter for their honeymoon later. (They didn’t consummate until after Jesus was born.)
Jesus lived the only perfect life. He was fully God, and fully man. He had all the power of God, but stepped down from his high position to be a helpless baby, diapers and all, to come to earth to get our separation from God (started by the original sin) taken care of so he could restore the intimacy that was lost in the garden of Eden. God really loved us as He gave His only son to be sacrificed for our sin. He was the only truly perfect sacrifice. (Didn’t need animal sacrifice after that…which reminds me—why don’t Jews still sacrifice animals? Most of them don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah! Let me know if you have the answer.)
When Jesus was about 32, he has a short ministry here on earth, teaching people that He had come to fulfill the law. He talked about love and grace and forgiveness. They would no longer have their ton of rules, but he would be sacrificed (the perfect lamb) to atone (compensate) for their (our) sin. Oh, and when he died on the cross as our sacrifice, we did it to him. Man, his beloved creation did it to him. And while on the cross, he asked God to forgive us, for we (man) didn’t know what we were doing. Wow. That’s love. I don’t know any other leaders like this.
After Jesus came, the 10 commandments are still good to show us that we are sinful, but we no longer needed sacrifices for atonement. If we want our sins paid for so we can be in the presence of God, we accept the sacrifice that Jesus made for us; we make him Lord of our life and follow Him. He forgives our sins (past, present, future), and we are His. We begin our relationship with Him. Simple as that. Satan will try to make us doubt and lie to us about the whole thing, but remember. His days are numbered, so he will be lying through his teeth as long as he has breath!
So if you don’t go to heaven, where to do you go? You guessed it, hell. Why does God have hell? It’s special made for Satan and his angels (demons). BUT. Although Jesus wants us to accept Him and his sacrifice for our sins and join Him in heaven for eternity, He wants it to be our decision. It is our choice. He is a gentleman. He won’t make us. He could have stopped Adam and Eve from eating the fruit, but he wanted them to choose to trust Him or not. You just can’t make someone trust you; you just can’t force someone to love you. THAT would be a shotgun wedding. He wants us to love him genuinely, not by force. Many say that a loving God wouldn’t send people to hell. Consider that a loving God would give the choice to us. Eternity. It’s not a long time. It’s permanent. We can spend it in heaven, in utopia, or we can spend it in unending torment (hell). Not a hard decision. Not hard, that is, unless you have a liar (Satan) whispering in your ear. A lot of that is going on, sadly. That’s why we need to tell the truth to people. Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven, it’s been said. If we put our eyes on Christians too heavily, eventually we’ll be hurt, and most likely disappointed. People will let us down, but God can be trusted from here to eternity. He’s not here to be our waiter (giving us all we ask for—and the only thing we focus on is what we can get from Him), he is our God (someone to get to know and have a relationship of total trust). We worship Him; He lavishes his love on us, and teaches us lessons to make us stronger, stronger in Him.