Instilling Hope

“A Story to Tell,” © 2017 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2017 Lynn Abbott

He decided to surprise me.  He actually made a challenge of it each day on our sojourn: my husband looked for unusual and visually rich settings for our hotels and overnight stays.

He may not be a painter, but he’s certainly creative.

I usually like to know where I’m going, but I trust him implicitly.  And so, I went along for the ride.  At times, it was a rough one.  On one particular occasion, our destination lay at the end of a dirt and gravel road.

Eventually, we arrived at a lovely villa, nestled among vineyards.  My husband proudly announced that we would stay overnight.   He hoped it would provide inspiration for future paintings.

It provided oh-so-much more.   Our host invited us to dinner. And what a dinner it was!  It included every course in the book … four hours of culinary delight.

Each course provided abundantly beyond what we needed for basic nutrition.  Our host honored us with his attention to detail. His thoughtfulness allowed us the opportunity to slow down as well as to celebrate life with the other guests.

And celebrate we did. During those four hours of feasting, a great many stories were shared.

Much to my delight, my husband and I conversed with the couple to our left.  Soon, they  revealed that they both were artists.  He, in fact, had exhibited his work in well-known, international venues and museums.

We represented different points on life’s journey.  Yet, despite the artist’s amazing career, he humbly conversed with my husband and me.  We exchanged stories  of our travels.  In addition, he and his wife encouraged me on my art journey.

It was all that I imagine “breaking bread together” to be.

And although we began our meal as strangers, we said “goodnight” as friends.

It’s amazing what can occur when we share a meal,  story or celebration.  I think that sometimes we tend to overlook the importance of story-telling, the significance of symbols that connect us.

But it’s no surprise to our God.  Through  the writer of the book of Hebrews, in fact, our Creator exhorts us to slow down and prioritize time for reviewing all the grace that God has shown to us (Hebrews 10:25).

And far beyond the experience that the vineyard owner gave my husband and me, our Creator-God has provided you and me with all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).

Through Scripture, He has graciously presented us with a complete meal of Biblical history, teaching, stories and symbols.  Each course offers us strength for today and hope for tomorrow.

Jesus, of course, was the master story-teller. Parables served as the hallmark of his instruction.  And He obviously understood the importance of evenings like the one we shared with new friends over a meal in a distant vineyard.

After all, He taught as He walked alongside His disciples and as they ate meals together.  Those conversations not only inspired, but they also instilled the hope that the disciples hung onto in dark hours after Jesus’ crucifixion.

During their final Passover meal together, Jesus painted a profound visual of the days that immediately lay ahead, “…’Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’?  I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.

You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.  A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you:  Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:19-22)

He also told them over that meal of bread and wine,  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing,” (John 15:5).

Sure, dark days would come, but those days would usher in tremendous joy.  And in Him, they would do great things.

Then, our Savior gave them a profound visual aid:  the bread and the wine.

He said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me,” and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you…” (Luke 22:19-20).

Without a doubt, our Savior understood the role that shared symbols play in our lives.  He knew the power of breaking bread together and recalling the work of God in our lives.  Communion expresses God’s great love and grace toward us in a dramatic way.

As a child, I used to wonder why my elders designated our mealtime prayers as “grace.”  I think I understand now.  You see, the food on the table not only represents the grace of God’s physical provision for us, but it also provides an opportunity for us to gather and celebrate the spiritual blessings or grace that we have in Christ.

Stories told; blessings recalled…when we assemble together.

Again and again, Jesus gave us vivid images of God’s plan and grace.

Through His parables and analogies, we learn that we are…

beloved sheep cared for by the Sovereign Shepherd ( John 10:14),

branches grafted into the Vine (John 15:5),

lost coins– treasured and found (Luke 15:10),

a bride waiting the return of her groom (Matthew 25:1),

a faithful servant rewarded upon the return of his master (Matthew 25:21),

a disciple celebrating the “Lamb of God” with wine and unleavened bread (Luke 22).

Symbols and stories of God’s grace…  After Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples often recounted those stories to one another, and before long their testimonies were recorded for those who would follow.

Yeah.  When I read the Gospels, I have the opportunity to “sit in” on their meals together. But the disciples weren’t the first to encourage one another through shared testimonies and recollections of God’s work in their lives.

After all,  God has always known the importance of oral history, story-telling and memorials.  And through these, He has provided hope for our journey even when the fulfillment of that hope seems far off.  Long before Christ’s last supper with his disciples, our Creator set the table.

Throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh gave hints of future redemption for His people.  Glimmers of grace broke through in Israel’s celebrations, symbols of worship and sacrificial system.

You see, our Creator-Host arranged all the specifics so that redemption’s story would be revealed. In the darkness, Yahweh offered hope to humanity.

When Adam and Eve rebelled in the garden, they faced terrible consequences.  Their rebellion separated them from their heavenly Father and all the glorious blessings that He had planned for them.

In that moment when they yielded to temptation, death snuffed out humanity’s hope.  The future suddenly went dark.  It became uncertain.

Even so, God gave Adam and Eve a road mark promise. Speaking of the serpent–Satan, our adversary–God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and your will strike his heel,” (Genesis 3:15).

At first glance, this seems simply a description of humanity’s interactions with snakes.  However, God had given the first couple an object lesson, a story to tell on their travels up and over the rocky path that spread ahead of them.

I suspect they spoke of God’s promise often.  Eve may have hoped that Cain or Abel would be the promised offspring who would crush the serpent.   But the victorious Savior was yet to come.

The Old Testament, in fact, is filled with glimmers of God’s grace,  sparks that indicated future joy despite present pain.  Each course of the faith meal offered hope and opportunity for celebration of God’s past, present and future work.

When the people celebrated Passover, they told the story of God’s salvation and rescue of the people from slavery in Egypt.  Each aspect of the Passover sacrifice, offerings and meal pointed to that historic event.  But more than that, the Passover provided an object lesson for God’s people.

The sacrifices not only pointed back in time; they also pointed forward to God’s ultimate Passover Lamb, Christ.

Indeed.

God presents the perfect meal,  comprehensive and intricate in its design.  The Passover represented the work of the Messiah, and Jesus predicted His death and resurrection during His last Passover meal with the twelve.

Story upon story; layer upon layer.

Our Savior gave His disciples hope through an object lesson expressed through a shared meal.  But it wasn’t just any meal.  Abba provided the symbolic setting–the Passover Celebration–to provide the ultimate context for Christ’s person,  teaching, and work…God’s grace, unveiled.

It’s all there in glorious, intricate and meticulous detail.

Perhaps, like me, you have, at times, slogged your way through the detailed descriptions of feasts and offerings given in the books of Old Testament law.  If you are not a detail person, the lengthy lists may even seem rather redundant.

Why did our God include the seemingly unimportant details in books like Numbers?  Quite honestly, I never really bothered to answer that question.  Instead, I used to simply skim through the detailed accounts in the Pentateuch.

“Let’s get on to the ‘good stuff’,” I’d say.

But recently, the Holy Spirit gently showed me that in my hurry, I was missing “the good stuff.”   He reminded me that Old Testament sacrifices and offerings foreshadowed God’s plan to satisfy His justice while at the same time, offering grace.

Humanity  rebelled.  A judicial response was required.  Yet, God’s love and grace ultimately provided a bridge over the chasm created by humanity in the garden.  Old Testament people of faith looked forward to the completed work of salvation.  Although they did not fully understand God’s plan,  the trespass and sin offerings gave clues to the future work of Christ on the cross.

The burnt offerings spoken of in Numbers 28-29 were “sweet savor” offerings.  Biblical scholars tell us that these offerings pointed to the perfection and completeness of Christ, our Savior and Intercessor.  Repeatedly, God commands that the offerings be without blemish.  Of course, Christ would live a sinless life and thus, offer himself as a perfect substitute and sacrifice for our rebellion.  The sacrifice’s symbolic significance  required that the details be observed.

Each specific, even those I initially dismissed as redundant, emphasized  our Creator’s incredible plan of salvation.

Abba’s grace and great love are revealed in every line and stroke of His masterpiece.

Yup.  In Scripture, God’s story unveils gradually like a multi-course meal.

From beginning to end, God reveals His plan and hints of the incredible future He promises to those who place their faith in His Son…

For this reason, we relish each flavor; we memorize each line.  We rejoice and remember Abba’s goodness and grace as we walk along the way or as we break bread together.  And the encouragement we receive for our journey is greater than any I recently received that evening at the vineyard.

God’s story of grace brings hope.  His plan illuminates the darkness when we cannot find our way.  His promises buoy you and me when the future seems bleak, when we cannot understand the whys of our circumstances.

We look back on His faithfulness; our faith grows.  We trust our Savior’s meticulous provisions.  And we share each grace glimmer when days grow dim.

You betcha. It’s all “the good stuff.”

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds…Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up,” (Deuteronomy 11:19).

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching,” ~Hebrews 10:25

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