One Marvellous Story
Lately my kids want to watch all the marvel movies. It started when, after seeing the film ourselves first, Joanna and I decided to let Jack and Harry watch Infinity War in the theatres. The boys LOVED the movie and were determined to know more about the characters. They thought Iron Man was so cool but didn’t understand how he came to be; they thought Captain America was very heroic but wanted to know what happened to his iconic shield; they thought that Wanda Maximoff was amazingly powerful, but were confused because in their LEGO sets from the previous Avengers movie she was a villain. In short, the amazing saga that was this epic movie made them curious about the story that led up to these events and now as a family we are working through all the previous eighteen films in the franchise to help them understand the backstory.
The whole thing got me thinking though about the way we treat the Bible (yes, I managed to make that leap. The joys of being a pastor AND a giant nerd). Often, we come to church and we are captured by the gospel story and the epic scale of that culmination of all the narrative threads that led to it. We are transfixed upon the person of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of love he made for each of us on the cross, and we desperately want to know more about him. What would make a man (what would make God) want to give up his own life for mine? What is so special about humanity that would warrant such a costly gift? What sort of power was on display when death was ultimately conquered, and the grave was shown to be empty on that climactic Sunday morning? These are the narrative beats of the greatest story ever told - but like the third Avengers movie, they should drive us to want to understand the reasons why God became man.They should make us want to know how humanity got themselves into such a mess. They should force us to ask who this God of Israel is, and when this plan of his began?
If I may be so bold as to spoil a bit of the story - none of those questions are explicitly answered in the Gospels. You can read through Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and only catch glimpses of the build-up to the incarnation. You can survey the book of Acts and only infer some of the cultural and religious assumptions that underpinned the evangelistic work of the church. You can read the entirety of the New Testament epistles and only come away with a sinking feeling that there is much more to this story that you have somehow missed. And that’s because, just like the writers of Infinity War are expecting you to come into their film with an awareness of (if not an intimate familiarity with) the previous 18 films in the MCU, the New Testament writers are expecting the readers of Scripture to come to their writings with an awareness of (if not an intimate familiarity with) the previous 39 books of the Bible, what we call the Old Testament.
Recently a high-profile pastor in the USA made headlines for talking about how Christians need to “unhitch” their faith from the Old Testament. It caused a huge uproar on Christian social media sites and feeds and this pastor generated huge backlash from his comments. It turns out in the end, it wasn’t so much a matter of bad theology as it was carelessly chosen words and remarks taken somewhat out of context, but it caused such an eruption among Christian leaders and thinkers because we all know too many Christians and churches who live their lives as though that were true. There are far too many “New Testament Christians” who think that the message of the Gospel stands alone with no other context as a wholly sufficient revelation of God’s work. But doing so denies the clear fact that Jesus Christ himself never divorced his identity, his message, or his promises from the historical work of God through Israel beginning back with the calling of Abram. God’s redemptive work climaxed in the early chapters of the New Testament, but the seeds of the story, and the groundwork for that redemption started centuries earlier in the stories held in the pages of the Old Testament. To ignore that is to walk into the movie with no cognizance of who the characters are, how they got into the predicament they find themselves in, what the enemy is up to, and how the hero (in this case God himself) is going to overcome the circumstances. If you don’t read from the beginning - the story doesn’t make sense. That’s not blasphemy, or a critique of the scriptures, but rather it’s an indictment of lazy Christians who don’t pay enough attention to the plot to notice the holes; and subsequently don’t show any interest in learning the backstory.
That’s why Joanna and I are rewatching the entirety of the MCU with our kids this month. Because they, at their age, have come to realize that the story is bigger than one blockbuster and they want to know why things happened the way that they do. It’s the same reason why at The Bridge Church we are committed to regularlypreaching and teaching the books of the Old Testament. It’s because we understand that to fully grasp the totality of what Christ has done, we need to know why things happened the way they did, and the framework that God is working within to redeem creation. You can’t understand one without the other.
So, you have to ask yourself, have you been paying enough attention to the story to want to learn more?
Until next time,