The Central Character

Central Character

Imagine that you and I are in a cult-like Star Wars fan community. Can you picture it? We bring ceremonial lightsabers to the conventions we attend. We publish riveting articles on Wookiepedia. We eat, sleep, and breathe Star Wars.

Now, let’s say we have some new recruits. And we want them to be as sold out as we are. How do we indoctrinate them? Of course, we have them come to the next convention and discuss our latest post on “How Jango Phett’s Genes Changed Imperial Tactics.” However, we all know that there’s no substitute for simply watching the movies. To truly catechize our new converts, we sit with them and experience the saga all over again. And again. And again.

As we do this, we tell them about our peculiar way of understanding the Star Wars storyline. You see, our Star Wars cult differs from others. What sets us apart is that we believe Anakin Skywalker is the central character. Other followings have heretical ways of interpreting the movies, you know, that nonsense about Jar Jar Binks, for instance. But for us, an orthodox understanding of Star Wars means that we believe all the sub-plots are fulfilled in the person and work of Anakin Skywalker.

We’ve come to accept that Anakin is the single character who is ultimately responsible for every turning point in the plot. He brings about the resurgence of the dark side. He wipes out the Jedi. He, as Darth Vader, brings the Empire to power. And, in the end, he throws the Emperor into the reactor core and wins the rebellion. From the beginning, he was the one who was prophesied to “bring balance to the force.”

All other characters point to Anakin. Pádme and Leia struggle against the Empire, and Anakin completes that struggle. Han was an outlaw who became a hero, while Luke was an apprentice who grew into a master, both prefiguring Anakin’s development and climactic turn from the dark side.

We have this axiom to guide us:

to understand our story, we see all sub-plots fulfilled in the central character.

The writers of the New Testament tell a radically different story, but embrace exactly the same axiom.

They have a peculiar way of understanding the storyline started in the Old Testament. As Paul said, “All God’s promises find their ‘Yes!” in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). They believe Jesus of Nazareth is the central character. By writing these documents, they were recounting a grand narrative that moves from creation through sin and evil, finally resolving in new creation. Jesus is the one who is ultimately responsible for every turning point in the plot. He was present at the beginning and spoke creation into being. He overcame temptation to sin and battled with evil. He endured God’s judgment in death. He rose from the dead and launched the new creation. In the end, he will return in glory to resolve every remaining conflict. From the beginning, he was the one who was prophesied to crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3) and “save his people from their sin” (Matthew 1:21).

Just as Anakin fulfilled the subplots of the other characters, so also Jesus fulfills the storylines of the Old Testament. Let’s look at four of these represented by Adam, Moses, Aaron, and Israel the nation.

Last Adam: Strike and Stomp

The Adam and Eve subplot begins with human beings at work and in fellowship with God, each other, and all creation. Then they are deceived by an enemy. They break trust with God. They blame each other. God intervenes and promises a new son of Adam who will crush the enemy, but, in the line duty, he will suffer a mortal wound (Genesis 3).

The Gospel of Luke identifies Jesus as “the son of Adam” (Luke 3:38). He stomped the enemy by speaking God’s truth. Then the father of lies incited God’s own people to oppose Jesus. They mortally wounded him by nailing him to a cross. But God raised Jesus from the dead as the Last Adam, the first human being of the New Creation.

This is the work of Jesus, the Last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).

Chagall, Fraumünster of Zürich
Stained Glass by Marc Chagall installed at Fraumünster Church, Zurich

New Moses: Passover and Exodus

The Moses subplot begins in slavery. God’s people, the children of Abraham are blessed by God to be God’s blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12). But they cannot fulfill their calling as slaves in Egypt. So God sends Moses, not in the first place as a Law-giver, but as a deliverer. Through the blood of the Passover Lamb, sacrificed to mark God’s people, Moses leads them out of slavery, toward the Promised Land.

Jesus delivers from a greater slavery to sin and death. Just as Moses was initially rejected by his people, so also Jesus was rejected and crucified (Acts 7:35–53). Yet, in this bloody death, Jesus becomes of the Passover Lamb whose blood marks the people as God’s own (1 Corinthians 5:7; John 19:36). In his resurrection, Jesus delivers them out of captivity and leads them into the Promised Land of the New Creation.

This is the work of Jesus, our deliverer.

Exodus-1966, Marc Chagall
“Exodus,” Mark Chagall

High Priest: Sins Banished Aaron was Israel’s first high priest. His subplot begins in guilt. After the exodus, the people are free from Pharaoh yet still enslaved to sin. They grumble. They reject the Lord. They trust in the work of their hands, inciting God’s wrath. Yet again, in his love, God intervenes. He appoints Aaron to enact a way to ritually banish their sins. Aaron slaughters a goat as a guilt offering. He puts his hands on a second goat and speaks the sins of the people upon its head and sends into the wilderness to die in exile. Then Aaron goes before the ark of the Lord, with its mercy seat covered in blood, to intercede for the people (Leviticus 16).

Aaron could not do this perpetually. As a mortal man, he was doomed to die. Israel needs a permanent high priest who has passed through death and cannot die anymore: Jesus. He offered himself up as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices and banish sins once and for all (Hebrews 9).

This is the work of Jesus, our substitute, sacrifice, and priest.

Chagall, Christ in the Night, 1948
“Christ in the Night,” Marc Chagall, 1948

Israel-in-One: Exile and Return

The hopes of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Aaron converge in the people of Israel represented in the person of their king. God promised that the line of King David will continue forever (2 Samuel 7:13). David’s descendant will lead Israel to be a light for all nations (Isaiah 49:6). Tragically, Israel’s subplot is pockmarked with persistent failure. They’re free from Egypt but still in slavery. They’ve slaughtered herds of goats, but are stuck in sin. So God banishes Israel into exile to die in Babylon.

But that exile pointed something greater. In the end, it is Jesus, “the King of Israel,” (John 12:13) who must represent them. He dies in exile for them and they die in him (Romans 6). All the subplots start and stop with him. If God abandons him to the grave, the hope of the world is lost and the narrative has come to a dead end. But if God were to intervene and undo his death? That would be a radically different story.

This is the work of Jesus, our representative, paradigm, and King.

Israel as One, Chagall, Reims Cathedral
Stained Glass by Marc Chagall, installed at Notre-Dame Cathedral, Reims

My Life’s Story is fulfilled in Him

How do you imagine your life story? Is it a comedy—a play that started bad but turns out good? Is it a tragedy—one that had a happy beginning, but everything falls apart in the end?

Is it a tale of rags to riches? or of boom to bust?

Is it a story centered on a comfortable retirement? on finding your soul mate? on your children, your home, or your hobbies? Is it a story centered on you?

The New Testament calls us into the story of Jesus. When our intergalactic trade proves meaningless—find purpose in the work of Jesus. When your creditors have put a bounty on your head, when you’re ruled by a heartless empire, and you can’t even control your feelings—let Jesus be your deliverer. When you’ve betrayed your friends, your family, your cause—let Jesus bear your guilt away. When all your force has come undone—let the risen Jesus be the death of you, the end of that story, and a new hope in him.

Martin Luther said we could sum up the entire work of Jesus in this one little word, “Lord” (Large Catechism, Creed, 2nd Article, para. 31).

“I believe that Jesus Christ has become my Lord.”

And so we say at our strange, cultish conventions,

“May the Lord be with you.”

“And also with you.”

 

Acknowledgments

Artwork by Marc Chagall

Fraumünster window, fraumuenster.ch/das-fraumunster/fenster/

“Exodus,” wikiart.org/en/marc-chagall/exodus-1966

“Christ in the Night,” theartstack.com/artist/marc-chagall/christ-night-1948

Reims window, reims-cathedral.culture.fr/windows-chagall.html

 

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