This is the fifth small group study for the Christianity series (By Dave Miles).
Theme: Image of God
1) The big story
Recount what you know of the big story of the bible... through the 5 layers of the story (below) and focusing on the theme of the image of God...
(Being in the image of God means we were created to be the ones who rule God’s world wisely and gently and caringly under his authority. And the ones who as the priests are summing up the praises of creation and presenting them before God’s throne. We see that picture exactly in Revelation chapters 4 and 5.)
- God and creation – Genesis 1-2, Revelation 21-22
- God and humans – Genesis 1:26-28
- God and Israel – Genesis 12:1-3
- God and Jesus – Romans 8:3
- God and church – Colossians 3:10, Hebrews 8:29, John 20:21-22
2) 6 Strands
Across the big story there are several interlocking themes which help us understand more fully God’s mission in the world and our mission, as the church renewed in God’s image. Read, or creatively present this summary and discuss the questions below, pray and encourage each other.
- Judgment and mercy
God loves his world so much that he doesn’t want evil, corruption, decay, and death to infect it forever. So there are times when... and there will be a time when he says, ‘Enough – that’s not the way my world should be.’ Judgment is God saying ‘no’ to all that corrupts, defaces or destroys his glorious creation. And there is a final judgment day coming. And part of our mission as the church is to announce that, and to announce that there is mercy available through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5).
- Garden and city
When God makes the first creation – its described as a garden (Genesis 2). Then after humans mess up, Cain goes off and founds a city (Genesis 4). It’s as if he knows in his bones that humans are supposed to be community makers. The trouble is, these communities are full of the corruption, deceit, decay, fear and hatred, that go with human life as it now is. Then humanity comes to a place called Babel. The people of Babel build a city with this great tower as a symbol of human arrogance. The city becomes the sign of human arrogance and corruption. What will God do? God calls Abraham and Sarah, and their descendants and gives them a land of their own – a garden. And some time after they get that new land, that new garden, they build a city, the city of Jerusalem. And the city of Jerusalem, ever afterwards, retains the ambiguity of those earlier stories. The city which is now in the garden – Jerusalem in the land – remains a place of both hope and of warning and judgment, as we see in the Prophets.
And the point is... now through Jesus we’re re-constituted as community builders – we’re the new garden city people... headed for the ultimate garden city in the New Creation to come (Revelation 21-22). And so, we’re created to be people in community (church). Not arrogant community – like the tower of Babel – but vibrant, God-glorifying, creative, justice-bringing, fruitful, flourishing communities of shalom. Here’s the thing... God is going to remake this world, and he wants us in the present to do things that are a foretaste of that future garden city... working for justice, bringing beauty into the world, loving each other deeply, being very creative through our various giftings, living life together and working fruitfully together in all kinds of ways.
- Slavery and freedom
God allows his people to go into slavery in Egypt and then rescues them, so that forever after, he is known as the God of the Exodus – the God of Passover – the God who rescues people from slavery. And that is simply folded into the DNA of Israel and of the Jewish people to this day. That’s the story that determines everything. It’s no accident that Jesus went up to Jerusalem and was killed at Passover time.
So we as the church are the new Exodus people. We know a God who delivers people... ultimately in the power of Jesus’ death. And one of the things we need to keep exploring and understanding at Soma is the power of Christ to release people from all kinds of bondage and sin. This is where Redemption Groups, prayer, prophecy, the gospel and love are so important. We want to be a church where people come into our midst and receive freedom through Christ from the powers that stand against us (Romans 6).
- Tabernacle and temple
Even though the people of Israel were still extremely rebellious and extremely sinful, God said, I want to come and live in your midst, so please build me the most amazingly beautiful construction you can imagine – a tabernacle – a glorious tent made out of the finest stuff you can possibly get, because I want to come and be there personally present with you. And so the divine presence - the shekinah, the glory of God - comes and dwells in the tabernacle, but it’s still only on the edge of the camp – not in the middle of the camp. But then finally David decides to build a temple in Jerusalem. And Solomon, his son, actually builds it.
And actually, this theme of the temple goes right back to the garden. God was with the humans in the garden. Now God is with his people again in their new garden – their new land, Israel. Only now it’s this tricky and dangerous thing. And then when they finally mess up really badly, he abandons them. The book of Ezekiel talks about God leaving the temple – leaving the city – going off somewhere (Ezekiel 1). And from the time of the Babylonian exile to the time of Jesus, Israel is still waiting for God to come back as he promised in Isaiah, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezekiel all over the place. And Jesus is the return of God to his people – he himself is the glory of God tabernacling among us (John 1). And we who are in him become the temple of God. And God dwells in us by his Spirit, both as individuals and together as the church (Ephesians 2). This is only possible through Jesus’ atoning death.
And as Soma I think we’re moving slowly forward in our understanding of this... of how the Spirit is among us, and works through us... and that what really matters for our mission, is the Spirit’s help, guidance and empowering. Partly the Spirit helps us by giving us different gifts, and animating these gifts. We’ve still on a journey to understand this more.
And also, this theme of the church as the new temple people means we are priests called to holiness, to worship God, and to pray for those around as. To set up an ‘altar of prayer’ in the midst of the communities we are reaching out to. We are the new temple people.
- Covenant and renewal
God says to Israel, ‘You are my people, but I know you’ll mess up, so I know you’ll have to go into exile, but then I will bring you back.’ Then the new covenant is a covenant sealed by the blood of Christ (2 Corinthians 3). And central to our mission is living by faith in our faithful God who has pledged himself to us through Jesus’ death on our behalf. We live by faith in his promises, calling others to put their faith in him. Communion is a key way we celebrate the new covenant (1 Corinthians 11).
- Anointed leader/s
Throughout the Old Testament there are prophets, there are priests and there are kings. And God says one day there’ll be a king of kings. And he’ll be my truly anointed one. And under his rule, creation itself will be restored. One of the coolest passages in the whole of the bible... Isaiah 11... this vision of the coming king under whose reign, justice will come at last... and the animals who would otherwise tear one another apart, will live together at peace... because, Isaiah says, the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the seas. This is the promise from right back in Genesis 1 and into Revelation... the promise of new creation under the rule of the true human being, the true Israelite, the true king. And through him God’s pulsating generous love will fill all things.
And this Jesus, this anointed one, the appointed leader appoints other leaders – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers... people anointed by the Spirit for that task (Ephesians 4). We need to understand that he is Lord and he is giving us people. How do we discern who Jesus has sent and then submit to them in his name? He is the head and we are merely the body. And he is pulsating through us and through the leaders he is sending us.
So this means our mission centres on Jesus – especially declaring that he is Lord. And calling on people to receive forgiveness and follow him into being the human beings they were created to be, renewed in God’s image for his mission. And again, the way forward for us at Soma is to be bold with declaring Jesus as Lord, and wise in discerning the ones he is raising up to lead us. And understand the importance of forming communities that publicly worship him.
- What themes do you feel you know best out of these?
- What ones are new for you?
- Do the implications make sense to you?
- Do you find yourself more energized by one or other of these?
- Which are you attracted to?
- How have you lived that out in the past?
Encourage each other
What encouragement can you give to others in the group? For example, This garden city thing... maybe someone in your group has mentioned how much they love their garden. Encourage them to see that as important. And ask questions like, How could you bring people into your garden? Etc, etc.