How do you start The Story?
I recall an evangelism class in seminary that was insistent that, in order to share the gospel with someone, you had to begin by impressing upon another his personal sin. If he cannot recognize his own sinfulness, the argument went, then how can we expect him to know he needs saving?
Personally, I don’t like to start there. My own feeling is that most people know they’re not perfect. Few people have to spend more than a couple seconds in front of a mirror to realize they may not be all they want to be, or should be. Few people need the reminder.
Me, I like to start (and the way I’m starting The Story with these campers tonight) with exile. I’ll be starting with the first century Jewish hopes for a deliverer from Yahweh, who would (1) defeat Israel’s enemies, (2) restore the Lord’s glory to the Temple, and thereby (3) restore Israel’s relationship with her God.
Of course, Israel found herself in exile as a result of her sin, but I won’t explain that unless pressed, because the fact of the matter is that most people can understand themselves as being in an exile of one sort or another. Whether a person is suffering feelings of depression or deficient self-worth, caught in a detrimental pattern of behavior, or carrying an long-standing injury or illness, she is all too aware that all is not right with the world. The world at large, as well as her personal universe needs the rescue of the Creator and Redeemer. God seems somehow distant: exile.
Such was the national milieu in Palestine as John was baptizing in the Jordan. Along came Jesus, one greater than the prophet John, over whom, upon receiving baptism, the skies opened, the Spirit descended, and a voice spoke, affirming him as God’s son. All of these symbols, I would argue, are symbols that would speaking to any attentive first century Jew of God’s representative king finally arrived. Here, say these symbols, is the one who will fulfill all our hopes. Here is the one through whom Israel’s enemies will meet their demise, through whom the Lord will return to the Temple, and through whom God Himself returns.
I like to start The Story this way, with a felt exile and with the hope of restoration.
But again, how do you start?