Over Easter I gave a Bible Overview seminar at a TAFES camp. The plan was to tell the story of the Bible from beginning to end in a way that could be remembered. I used 6 pictures for 6 stages of the story, telling it first in English, then in Swahili, then asking students to get into pairs and tell it to each other. People often choose a common thread to trace when telling this kind of story, perhaps kingdom, or the presence of God, or the people of God. I tried to choose one that would naturally connect with the interests and categories of my audience: blessing and curse. Here’s what I came up with (the English version anyway!)
The first picture is of a tree, representing the garden of Eden. ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’ ‘The earth was formless and empty,’ but God created a world, this world, our world. He made the world because he wanted it to be a blessing. He created human beings so that he could bless them and so that they could bless the world. This world is to be a world of blessing.
The man and the woman receive God’s blessings – life, good food, safety, a place to live, harmony with each other, walking with God. But they are also to be a blessing. They are given work to do, to tend the garden. This is how they will extend God’s blessing.
God’s world is set up to be a place of blessing. Not just receiving blessing but of extending it to others as well.
But in the second picture, we see a snake, and ‘the serpent was crafty’ and deceived the woman. He asks her questions like, ‘Did God really say…?’ He makes it sound like God doesn’t want to bless the world, like he’s withholding blessing. And the woman believes him. She ‘took some fruit and ate it’, and her husband was with her and he ate it. They ‘hid from God among the trees of the garden’.
Straight away, things start going wrong. They have believed that God does not want to bless them, and so they start to experience the curse of God instead. The man and the woman are sent away from the place of blessing. ‘The Lord God banished mankind from the Garden of Eden’.
They will also find it much harder to be a blessing to others. To Adam God said, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you… It will produce thorns and thistles for you… Dust you are and to dust you will return.’ The world of blessing becomes a world of curse instead.
The story raises many questions. Can the curse on creation be overcome? Will the blessing God intended humanity to receive and to extent be restored? Has God’s enemy won?
God answers these questions by speaking to a man named Abraham. He says: ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
Did you hear how many times the word ‘blessing’ came up? ‘I will bless you… you will be a blessing… I will bless those who bless you… All the peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.’ God still wants to bless the world!
Abraham and his family will be the ones God will use to bless the world. Abraham has a son Isaac; Isaac has a son Jacob, and Jacob has 12 sons who become the 12 tribes of a new nation, a nation called Israel. This family is the family that God will bless, and who will bless the world.
And God does bless them. He sets them free from slavery, he provides food and water for them in a desert. He gives them a wonderful land.
But there’s a reason for this. The reason is so that they will bless the world. God gives them a law which teaches them how to live. He calls them a light to the nations. As the follow the law, they will show the world what life with God looks like. They will be a blessing to others by showing how good life with God is, and attracting people to him.
At first, Israel does a good job of this. They arrive in the land of blessing. God is with them in the great Temple. They follow God’s laws, their kings help them to do that and God blesses them. There is the story of King Solomon. All the kings and queens of the earth come to listen to his wisdom because it is God’s wisdom. This is Israel blessing the nations!
So at first Israel experiences God’s blessing and is a blessing to others. But over time, they start to forget that blessing comes from God. They look at other gods and wonder if they will give them more blessing than God. Along with that, they forget that they are to be a blessing to the world. They forget their purpose.
God sends prophets to warn them. They remind the people that if they do not experience the blessing of God, they will experience his curse. Just like Adam and Eve were sent away from the Garden of Eden, they will be sent away from the land of blessing. The prophets come again and again to tell the people but the people do not listen.
And so, God sends them away from the land of blessing. God’s presence leaves the Temple and it is destroyed. The whole of the land of blessing is destroyed and the people are sent far away. This is called the exile. It is God’s curse on the people.
The prophets also promise that this curse is not the end. God promises to send a new king, who will lead the nation back to its destiny. One day, they will experience God’s blessing again, and they will be a blessing to the world. God still wants to bless people, and he still wants Israel to bless the world. Once again, there are small signs of hope. For example, some of the people are allowed to come back from exile. But they are left waiting. This is where the Old Testament ends – waiting for God’s true blessing.
The New Testament opens with the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and he declares, ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.’ He is the fulfillment of the prophecies of blessing. Jesus announces the end of Israel’s curse and exile, and he forgives sins. He heals the sick, raises the dead, and banishes the powers of darkness. He welcomes sinners and everyone considered unclean and he reminds them of their mission. Remember the mission? To be a blessing to the world.
But then, Jesus dies. Dying is not a blessing, so what does this mean? Is Jesus cursed?
Galatians 3:13-14 gives us the answer: ‘Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE ” [this is another way of speaking about the cross] — in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.’
Jesus’ death empties the curses of their power. It looks like a great defeat but actually it is a great victory! Jesus becomes the one who can bring blessing because by his ultimate sacrifice, he has taken all of the curse.
Jesus does what Israel couldn’t do. He becomes a blessing to the world. And we know that because he was raised from the dead. Death could not bind him! He brings life and blessing.
Jesus had told his followers, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Jesus’ followers are sent into the world to be a blessing to others.
Adam and Eve were to be a blessing to the world, but failed.
Israel was to be a blessing to the world, but failed.
Jesus was to be a blessing to the world, and succeeded.
Now his followers are empowered to be a blessing to the world as well. That’s us!
Just as Israel was called to be a light to the nations, so are Jesus’ followers. God is with us by his Spirit, and our job is to bring his blessing to the world. We begin to live as Jesus did, speaking and acting out this new order. As we do so, we bring blessing to the world.
But remember, Jesus suffered, and this was how he brought blessing to the world. Jesus warned his followers that they should expect to suffer. Just as Jesus suffered, his followers suffer as well. He is our model.
This is very important because some people will tell you that Jesus only wants you to experience blessing, but they forget that Jesus himself suffered. For now, there is still suffering and evil. Something of the curse remains.
Our job is to invite people who still live under the curse to experience God’s blessings – forgiveness of sins, life with him, healing and wholeness.
Jesus has promised to return and to make these blessings complete. These blessings will be made complete on the day when Jesus returns. Remember it is in him that blessing is found, so any blessing is really about a relationship with Jesus.
God’s mission is to bless the world, but wanting blessing is not enough. Listen to how the Bible speaks of that final day of blessing blessing: ‘God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ This is the end of the story and it is true blessing.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.