PLAYING YOUR PART
Written by Doug Ponder on October 5, 2014
All the World’s a Stage
John Calvin described the universe as a “majestic theater” for the glory of God. In other words, all things showcase the magnificent splendor of God’s surpassing wisdom, power, and love. And if the universe is a theater for God’s glory, then the “play” that has been performed since its grand debut is life itself—which I’m going to stylize as Life, just as you would the title of play. God the Father is the Author of Life, God the Spirit is the Director, and God the Son (Jesus) is the Star Actor and Main Character of the story.
Along with everyone who has ever been born, you and I have been cast as supporting actors in Life. We were literally born to play our parts. We were not cast because of our great abilities; we were given a part to play in Life because the Author/Director/Actor wanted us to experience the eternal joy that comes from knowing him. That’s what Life is all about.
Playing Your Part
But how do we know what to do? How do we know what to say?
Thankfully, the Author/Director/Actor doesn’t expect us to make it all up as we go along. Like other plays and movies, Life comes with a script—the Bible. The Bible tells the true story of the whole world and everyone in it, giving us what we need to know to play our parts: character descriptions, settings for the action, lines to memorize, stage directions to follow, etc. The script even gives us a some background information on the Author/Director/Actor, telling us who he is, what he’s like, and where he’s going to take the story.
Here’s where you come in. To play your part well, you must know three things: (1) Whose play are you in? (2) What is the story of this play? (3) Where are you in this story?
We’ve already said that the Author/Director/Main Actor in the play is God himself. As many have put it, history is his story. (So cheesy, but so true.) But God doesn’t write and direct the play from a distance in a behind-the-scenes sort of way. No, God has written himself into the story in the life of Jesus. “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3).
In addition to knowing who wrote the play of Life, you must also understand what story it tells. What happens? What is the point? What is it all about? Jesus tells us plainly: Life is all about him. Our lives find their meaning and purpose only when we discover who Jesus is, what he’s done for us, and why that is such a glorious thing indeed.
Lastly, you’ve got to know where you are in the story. It’s not much good knowing the story if you can’t see where your part fits in. Otherwise, you’ll be deeply confused on what to do in Life, thinking that stage directions given to somebody else were also meant for you. (A great deal of theological confusion today could be clarified with this simple point.)
The Story of Life
Obviously, you can’t know where you are in the story unless you know the story well. So, to keep with the theater metaphor, here’s how the Bible tells the story of Life in five acts:
Act 1 – Creation and Rebellion
The script tells us that God created everything and everyone to know him and delight in his goodness forever (Gen. 1:1; Psalm 16:11; John 17:3). For God is the source of everything good, and all things were created through him and for him—and only in him can they hold together (Col. 1:16-17).
But the first actors thought they could improve upon God’s script. Choosing to ignore his wise stage directions (God’s commands), they sought to replace God as the Author/Director/Starring Actor in Life—and every actor since then has followed in their footsteps. Instead bringing greater harmony, happiness, and fulfillment for all, our actions bring the opposite: the peace between us and God has been broken, selfishness and strife between people is the norm, and we are incapable of putting right what we have put wrong.
Act 2 – Israel
The first stage in God’s plan to put right what we put wrong was to create a new set of actors who would trust him, honor him and tell the world about his ultimate rescue plan. So God called a man named Abraham and promised to give him a son who would reverse the curse of sin and bless all the actors of the world. Abraham trusted God’s promise, and he was counted right in God’s eyes because of that faith (Gen . 15:6; Rom. 4:3). And even though Abraham was very old in years, God did give him a son, Isaac.
Yet Isaac proved to be just like his dad in many ways, including all of his major failures. Isaac couldn’t put his own life back together, let alone the lives of everyone who ever lived. That’s because Isaac was not really the Promised Son that God had spoken about. He was just a sign that the Son of the Promise would indeed come, in God’s good timing.
But a lot had to happen first: an entire nation would arise from Abraham’s offspring, and they would fall into slavery, be rescued by mighty signs and wonders, receive more stage directions (commands) from God for how to play their parts. No matter what God did for them, however, Israel repeatedly proved themselves unwilling to follow God’s stage directions (and we’re no different, truth be told). Many tragedies would befall them because of their disregard for God’s script (read: rebellion), but God kept rescuing them even though they didn’t deserve it. Though they didn’t always see it clearly, God always intended for his people to notice that his merciful acts of rescue along the way were signs of the ultimate rescue that he had promised.
Act 3 – Jesus
The climax of every classical play occurred in the third act, and the same happens in Life. This is when we meet Jesus, the main character and starring actor. It may seem strange to meet him so late in the play, but he was actually present all along, working behind the scenes with the Author and the Director to make sure that everything was set for him to make his grand entrance “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal. 4:4).
Jesus is the Son promised to Abraham who came to put right all that we put wrong. But how does he does this? By fixing the people who made everything wrong, of course. Jesus came to forgive us, to heal us, to cleanse us, to renew us, and to reconcile us to God and to each other. He played his part so well that God was pleased to accept his perfect performance on behalf of every actor that ever graced the stage. More than that, Jesus took it upon himself to repair and repay all the damages that we have done to the Majestic Theater of God’s glory. The price was steep, but Jesus paid it in full, willingly laying down his life to spare ours (John 10:11, 18). And there’re still more. After all this, Jesus decided to share his very lucrative contract deal with every actor in the play who asks him to do so. So when the time comes to get paid, all the actors who don’t deserve a paycheck—because of their disobedience to the Author and Director—will be handsomely rewarded with a paycheck that Jesus earned for them.
Act 4 – The Church
Jesus didn’t do quite what some of God’s rescued actors had been expecting. Perhaps they thought Jesus would snatch them out of the world when he came, but he didn’t do that. Instead, he sent them out into the world to play their part as he always intended while telling others about the point of Life and all that Jesus had done for them.
In this way, Jesus changes the hearts and minds of the actors in Life to see their need for him. Instead of continually repeating the failures of the first actor (and every other actor that followed), they are given a new heart that wants to follow the script—not out of fear of messing up, but out of faith in Jesus and love for him. The word for all these actors is the “church.” The church doesn’t get her lines right all of the time, and she sometimes disregards God’s stage directions too. But the difference is this: the church knows such actions are wrong, and that she is part of what’s wrong with the world, and that she herself is part of what Jesus came to set right once and for all.
Act 5 – The End
With his first coming, Jesus set in motion God’s unstoppable plan to rescue every actor who sees their need for forgiveness and trusts Jesus to give this to them. But that’s not where the work of Jesus ends. By his death on the cross, Jesus posted a condemnation notice on everything evil and twisted and wrong in the world. It reads, “Condemned. Destruction pending.”
Condemned—as in, “This is wrong, evil, sinful, backwards, foolish, destructive, deadly.”
Destruction pending—as in, “I will come again to rid the world of these things forever.”
And that’s how the story ends. Jesus will return to destroy everything marked with a condemnation notice. Thus all sickness, sadness, sin, and death will be done away with forever, along with everyone who insists on trying to keep those things in God’s theater. The church will be resurrected, just as Jesus was, to share in God’s new world together, where they will spend their eternal days living the original “happily ever after.”
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.