Mapping Your Story to the Ongoing Mission of God
Are you too foolish and slow of heart to understand why life sometimes doesn’t make sense? I know I often am. If you are like me in this way—and my guess is most people are—you’ve probably had moments where life hits you in the face and you can’t tell up from down anymore. It might be a job lost out of the blue or the normal stresses of life pressing in on you until you feel like you’re at the breaking point. Or maybe everything is turning out just as you had hoped. You're in your dream job with your dream house and your dream family. But still something doesn’t feel quite right. You're missing something, but cannot put your finger on it.
When life feels like it's taken a wrong turn, we are often tempted to wonder how things ended up this way. When we feel empty in the middle of our greatest successes, it is disorienting and confusing. We are tempted to ask where things went wrong. But if we are mapping our lives with the ongoing story of the Bible, then we may discover that the problem was not so much in us taking a wrong turn but instead in misunderstanding our path altogether.
If you have read or thought much about biblical theology, you probably know well the story of Jesus and his followers on the road to Emmaus from Luke 24. Late in the day on the first Resurrection Sunday, two of Jesus’s followers were walking about seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. While they were on the road talking over all that had happened that day, Jesus showed up and started walking with them—but they did not know it was him.
As Jesus started listening to them talking, he asked them what they were talking about as they walked together. They stopped, looking confused and sad. You can almost hear their voices cracking with sorrow as they describe Jesus’s arrest and execution: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). Notice the past (imperfect) tense: "We had hoped." But now that hope is dead—or so they thought.
Jesus responds to their heartache by calling them stupid: “Foolish and slow of heart.” Not as pastorally sensitive as we might expect. But their stupidity was not rooted in a lack of intelligence. It was rooted in their inability to see how their lives fit with the story of the Bible. They did not understand that it was necessary for the Messiah, Jesus, to suffer and then rise from the dead. They failed to see the direction the story was headed, so they could not understand how they ended up where they did. The bottom line is that they misunderstand their place in the story because they did not have a good biblical theology.
The bottom line is that [Jesus' followers] misunderstand their place in the story because they did not have a good biblical theology.
Later in the chapter when Jesus gathers with more of his disciples, we get a fuller explanation of what those disciples on the road to Emmaus did not see. In Luke 24:46-47, Jesus told them that the story of the Messiah in the Old Testament teaches us at least three things: (1) the Messiah must suffer and die; (2) the Messiah must rise again on the third day; and (3) the good news of forgiveness in his name must be proclaimed to the nations. Jesus suffered and died once. He rose again once. But the proclamation of his name continues until this very day. We are still in this story. Because the story of the Bible is not over, we should shape our lives around this story. And we should not be surprised when this story shapes us.
Your Place in God's Story
But we cannot leave it a general call to let the story shape our lives, because in Luke 24 Jesus gives us at least one specific way that the story of the Bible changes our trajectory. The gospel is to be proclaimed to all nations. That mission has to take priority over our own goals and personal ambitions.
It may just be that part of the pressure we feel in life is because we have mapped our priorities on to an alternate story. We do not see ourselves as participants in the mission of God stretching back through the centuries. Instead, we are Americans or Brits or Aussies or “citizens of the world” trying to make our mark, to be successful, and to leave a legacy. We are defined by the little stories we create for ourselves rather than the story of God’s ongoing mission in the world.
But a failure to engage in evangelism and to prioritize unreached peoples is not just a failure to obey. A failure in world mission is a failure in biblical theology. A misunderstanding of our mission in the world and to the world.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to lay it on thick or be the Holy Spirit in your life. God is not calling all of us to sell everything and go to a martyr’s death (though he is calling some of us to this). I’m not saying that if we use the Operation World daily prayer calendar then everything will be rainbows and kittens all of time (though it is a great resource). What I am saying is that when we interpret our hardships in the light of our little stories instead of asking how they map onto the greater story of God’s mission in the world, we will almost always miss the point.
After Jesus’s crucifixion, his followers failed to understand their place in the ongoing story of the Bible, and it wrecked them. They were sad and confused because they were foolish and slow of heart to understand the story and their place in it. In the same way, to the extent that we do not understand the story of the Bible and our place in it, we will fail to be faithful to the mission that God has entrusted to his people. And regardless of how successful we look or how miserably we seem to be failing, we will be living in the story God has intended for his people and on the mission that he will continue until the end of this story.
The Bible tells us one story about our Creator God, who made all things and rules over all.
We are living in a day of increasing biblical ignorance—not only among the general population, but also among evangelicals.
In this video, Justin Taylor sits down with Chris Bruno to discuss his new book, The Whole Message of the Bible in 16 Words.