The Whole Story, from A to Z
A sermon on Revelation 22 by Nathan Nettleton, 27 May 2001
Christs story - the crucifixion of the truly good and its resurrection and coming victory - is the whole story of Gods work in the world and the whole story of the Bible.
We come to the last week of the Easter season, and to the last sermon in our series on the Revelation to John, and to the very last page and the last words of the Bible. The very last word of the Bible you could have probably guessed it if you hadnt known is Amen! It is a word with no exact equivalent in our day to day language. Fair Dinkum is not far off when its used as an affirmation rather than as a question. Too Right is perhaps as close as we get in individual speech, but Amen is usually a group expression. And so say all of us is as close as I can come up with. And when you remember that it is not just closing the Revelation to John but the entire Bible, thats not a bad note to finish on: And so say all of us!
It raises the important question though, of what it is we are saying Amen to. What exactly is it that we are affirming if we join in with this cry of So say all of us? Its a bit too easy to say the Bible, were saying Amen to the Bible. We can pat ourselves on the back and say were good Bible-believing Christians without it actually making a jot of difference in our lives. We can far too easily reduce the Bible to a slogan; a mere bumper sticker, for all it affects us. If were not careful we could do exactly the same thing if we say that it is Christ that were saying Amen to. Christ may be a perfectly good answer, the correct answer even, because we clearly heard him saying in the reading tonight, I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Or in other words, I am the whole story, from A to Z. So our final Amen to the whole story is an Amen to Christ. But if we just say that like a slogan and congratulate ourselves on getting the right answer it might not be worth much more than a bumper sticker either.
When Jesus says, I am the whole story, from A to Z, it is not a Muhammad Ali type I-am-the-greatest statement, although we might want to make such a statement for him. Nor is he suggesting that the whole Bible was actually talking about him and that youve just got to crack the code to see him in every page. There are people who see the Bible that way, but such a view always seems to reduce the Bible a big detective novel and distracts people from actually living out a faithful response to the God that it bears witness to.
What I think Jesus is saying is a little more subtle and a whole lot more earth-shattering than that. Rather than saying that he can himself be seen in the whole story of the Bible and the whole history of the world, its the other way around. He is saying that the whole story of the Bible and the whole history of the world can be seen in him, in his life-story. The distinction is subtle, but important, so Ill try to make it as clear as I can. If Jesus was saying that he was in the whole story, from A to Z (which incidentally might be true too, Im not sure), it would simply be a statement about the details of that history, or at the most, a statement about the nature of Gods involvement in that history. Was Jesus at work in the cosmos prior to his birth or wasnt he? That kind of stuff. Probably nothing thats going to inspire you live life differently when you get out of bed tomorrow morning.
But if Jesus is saying that the whole story of the Bible and the whole history of the world is summed up in himself, that is, by contrast, a statement about meaning. It is a statement that enables us to see the story of the Bible and the history of the world in a whole new light. It tells us that when we immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus Christ we are immersing ourselves in the story of life itself. When we look at this life which was lived in passionate commitment to liberating the godlikeness in all people, to breaking the grip of injustice and hostility, and to writing love into the very fabric of the universe, we are looking at the quest of every life, at the yearning deep within the heart of every one of us. When we look at the suffering and apparent defeat of his death, we are looking at the story of what the callous and corrupt powers of this world inflict on everything that embodies true goodness and love. When we look at his resurrection from the dead we are looking at the only possible reason why love and mercy and hope have not been utterly extinguished the fact that death cannot entomb them, that Gods power to keep raising them up again is stronger than even the formidable forces of bitterness and destruction.
And what we are also seeing in this is yet another layer of the great picture of reconciliation that weve been seeing articulated in the Revelation. This great reconciliation, this marriage of heaven and earth is seen in Christ himself, for in him we see the story of God becoming one with the story of the world. Our story becomes his story and his story becomes our story. As Michael Leunig put it, That which is Christ-like within us shall be crucified. It shall suffer and be broken. And that which is Christ-like within us shall rise up. It shall love and create.
When we see our stories becoming Christs story, we are filled with hope, because Christs story contains the promise that suffering and brokenness are not futile and are not the end of the story. And lets not get stuck with looking only at our own stories. The Bible is full of stories which become Christs story and which through Christ become our stories too. A people suffering and enslaved, break free, passing through a seemingly impassable obstacle, and then wander in the wilderness, unsure of whether freedom is better than slavery, before finally receiving their promised land. We know how that story is gathered up in Christs story, because we hear echoes of it throughout the Easter season as we speak of Christs Passover from suffering to the promised land of resurrection life through the deep waters of death. And we know how often it is our own story; how often we find ourselves stuck in a no-mans-land between the security of slavery and the terrifying unknown of the promised land, unsure of which way to go, and yet somehow irresistibly drawn onwards towards life.
I could go on, story by story through the Bible, drawing the connections with our own stories and showing how they all come together again in the ultimate story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But talking about them can be overdone. It would be better perhaps if we came to the Table and recalled some stories and saw them come together in the body broken and the blood poured out as they become the bread and wine of the new life of the risen Christ, nourishing us to rise with him and fulfil our stories. For even now we stand waiting. We come to the last page of the Bible and it is not complete. Something is missing. The story points us towards something that is yet to be fulfilled. Something for which we hunger and thirst. Something for which we yearn. Something for which the Bible itself seems to be yearning, as in its last paragraphs, all it can say is Come, Lord Jesus, Come. And we stand here, affirming that Christ is the first and the last, the A to Z, but suddenly realising that our story and his story is still somewhere around W or X, still with a bit to come. And we yearn for fulfilment and our prayer is Come, Lord Jesus, Come. And so in the end, our Amen is not to a final closure, but to a fervent prayer, Come, Lord Jesus, Come. And so say all of us!