We are back in the saddle for a new series! I am excited to be back in a book in THE book again. If you haven’t noticed, we will be in the book of Genesis next. Yes, it does have 50 chapters, but the good thing about narratives is that we can cover more ground in shorter time. I have titled the series, “New Beginnings: The Gospel of Grace in Genesis.” The older I get as a Christian, the more I see that the core problem of my heart always seems to come down to this: a failure to believe the Gospel for my life; not just for me getting saved, but for me walking saved.
R.C. Sproul says, “The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the God we believe in.” That’s our problem. We don’t believe Him and the heart of what He is about, which is the Gospel. And what God loves to do when we get under God’s Word is to shake us so that we can believe Him more. So like the picture, I believe when we are in Christ, we are like butterflies, out of the cocoon of living for self and sin and free to explore the vast universe-sized life with God. However, we fly instead back into the cocoon of unbelief and try to live as a caterpillar again. But God keeps pushing us out and gives us new beginnings! So write this prayer down for this series: “Lord, bring a genesis, a new beginning, to my life throughout this study.”
I want to explore that in the book of Genesis. And since Jesus said the entire Bible really is pointing us to Him (Luke 24:27), I want to dig in this first book of the Bible to see Him in new ways that will lead to transformational living as I believe the gospel more and more. Genesis actually means “in the beginning.” This is an appropriate title, not just because it is the beginning of the Bible, but because also because it is the beginning of all the doctrines we learned about in our last series. It is the beginning of the doctrine of God, of creation, of man and of salvation. One commentator says Genesis “…provides the theological pillars on which the rest of the Bible stands.” But more than just learning about the beginnings of doctrine, I pray we also see that this book offers us new beginnings in our relationship with Christ, since in Christ we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).
So this is a very important book. We know a lot of the stories in this book, probably from most of us trying to read through the Bible in a reading plan or growing up in Sunday School. But I want to look at this book in light of the bigger narrative, the Gospel narrative. So for example, what does it mean to study the Flood narrative in light of God’s ultimate story of saving people from destruction? Hopefully this will be clearer as we go through the book and let the book go through us.
Let’s get to the outline of the book:
This is straight from Bruce Wilkinson’s Talk thru the Bible. You can see that there are four major events before we get to the four major patriarchs. You may remember that we already considered the Fall in Chapter 3. So, Lord willing, we will cover each of these as a mini-series within Genesis.
There are a couple things to consider before getting into this book. First of all, Moses is the human author of the first five books of the Bible. He wrote this after the people of God were delivered out of Egypt. And whenever you read Scripture, you have to ask yourself if there are clues that reveal the author’s intent in writing the particular book. So when you study Genesis as a result, take note: Genesis is not merely history, but theology. Moses is not merely giving us a history lesson. He is teaching them and us theology about who God is compared to the gods they were used to in Egypt and the gods of their neighbors. So when Abraham goes down to Egypt and things go wrong, what is Moses doing? He’s reminding his people that leaving God’s place and going down to Egypt is never a good idea, even as they are tempted to go back to their old lives. This is very important to understand Genesis. Hopefully we will see that in the first chapter.
Alright, let’s get down to business. Genesis 1. This is probably one of the most familiar pieces of literature in history. Now we just said Genesis is more than history. It is theological. Let’s apply that to Genesis 1. Most of us when we read Genesis 1 immediately go in with one question: “How did God create the world?” and “How long did it take?” Then everyone gets into all kinds of arguments about how many days and years, if there are gaps, etc. and if it was out of nothing or was it out of matter? But it seems to me that we are starting with the wrong presupposition. Perhaps the question is not how but “Why did God create the world?” and “What kind of God created the world we live in?” and “What is creation here for?”
It seems to me as well (I believe in a literal six day creation and a young earth) that this chapter is more poetry than history. Yes there is history here, but there is a poetic flavor to it as well. Notice the extensive repetition. Let me share some of them quickly: (1) announcement of the commandment, “And God said” (10 times; vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29); (2) order, e.g. “Let there be …” (8 times; vv. 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26); (3) fulfillment formula, e.g. “And it was so” (7 times; vv. 3, 7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30); (4) execution formula or description of act, e.g. “And God made” (7 times; vv. 4, 7, 12, 16, 21, 25, 27); (5) approval formula “God saw that it was good” (7 times; vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31); (6) subsequent divine word, either of naming or blessing (7 times; vv. 5 [2 times], 8, 10 [2 times], 22, 28); (7) mention of the days (6/7 times; vv. 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31 [2:2]).
So it would not be wrong to say that Gen 1 is a creation song! It’s a song about what God did and who God is. Remember in Exodus 14 the people of God walk through the Red Sea on dry land and Exodus 15 follows that with Miriam’s Song? Also in Judges 4, Israel has a great victory over the Canaanites and what happens in Judges 5? Deborah and Barak sing a song. So it may be that Genesis 1 is the song about what happened in Genesis 2. And when you have poetry in Scripture, it is important that you do not stress the details, but take a more general approach to the text. You don’t read a phonebook and love letter the same way do you? Similarly, I think Genesis 1 is more poetry and Genesis 2 is more historical literature (and must be read differently) and both are very theological, telling us about who God is and why He created this world we live in. So there is no reason to study all the details in depth here in Gen.1, but to look at the bigger picture.
So what I want to do is talk about what Moses wanted to talk about, which is what God wants us to think about. I don’t look down on people who want to look at Genesis 1 for clues to answer the how question as brilliant Bible believing scholars have and been satisfied. However, I think it will be more fruitful for us to look at the more important questions to feed our soul this morning.
All of that was for introduction. Let’s dig in! What does the creation narrative tell us about who God is and why He created creation? First of all, jot this down, we see:
I. God’s Word has creative and effective power, so we must come under it
Really if we want to be biblical, our worship of God must be first because He is Creator before He is Redeemer (Rev. 4:11; Rev. 5:9-10). Have you accepted Christ as your Creator? The first sentence of the Bible tells us that the subject of the Bible—God and that God is a God of purpose and not chance. Whatever God creates, He owns. And He owns everything! So as Creator, He is worthy of our allegiance and devotion. And how was it all created?
Back in those days, the King would speak and it would be done or you would die. His word had power. Notice the King of the Universe with His powerful word, creating the world. But unlike a human king, who would need messengers to get the job done, God can speak the world with ease. I can say, “Let there be light,” but Eric or Steve or somebody will have to go flip the switch. But God creates just from speaking it. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it happens. He wills and it comes to pass. God said, “Let there be…” and eternally trumped Descartes who said, “I think there I am.” Actually it should be that God spoke, therefore we are and it is.
God’s Word has creative and effective power. Also interestingly, notice in Gen. 1:1 and the word “create.” The striking feature of the word is that its subject is always God. Humans may make (ʿāśâ), form (yāṣar), or build (bānâ); to the Hebrew, however, God creates. Every great painting, beautiful piece of music, technological and medical advance, magnificent architecture, etc., whether people realize it or not, was actually created in the mind of God. We tend to say, “wow that guy can sing” or “that author is a genius,” but that is partly true as we forget that we never truly create anything. God creates. We simply discover what He already has created.
Notice 10 times, “And God said.” What would the Israelites who came out of Egypt and was at Mt. Sinai, think about when they see the number 10? God spoke 10 words in creating this world? They would undoubtedly have been reminded of the ten words of God’s covenant at Mt. Sinai; i.e. the Ten Commandments.
Notice also that God’s Word brings order out of disorder and beauty and fullness out of emptiness in Gen. 1:2. The idea of “without form and void” is “a common expression for a place that is disordered and empty and therefore uninhabitable and uninhabited—the very opposite of what the earth would be after the six days of creation.” God is a potter, taking a lump of clay, the raw material, to sculpt and mold something in His mind. Notice the Spirit of God right there in the middle of the formless and empty world. The word “hovers” is used in other places (Deut. 32:11) to describe a “mother-bird…or fluttering over her brood.” This shows God is intimately involved in His creation as much as a parent over a child.
Notice also the arrangement here. One commentator adds, “A quick read reveals that the six days of creation are perfectly divided, so that the first three days describe the forming of the earth and the last three its filling. The two sets of days are a direct echo and remedy to the opening statement that the earth was “without form and void.” The earth’s formlessness was remedied by its forming in days one to three, and its emptiness by its filling on days four to six.” In other words:
And so today if you want God to create something new in your own heart, come under God’s Word. If you want God to bring order out of the chaos of your life, the Spirit is God is right there to do it! If you want God to bring beauty out of emptiness in your heart, come under God’s Word again. When you come under God’s Word for your life, chaos turns into a cosmos and disorder turns into order. Paul sees the Gospel in these first verses of Genesis. Listen: “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’” (2 Cor. 4:6). Later he said, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
All of creation obeys His Word and recognizes Him as their Creator and King, except the pinnacle of His creation, man (Is. 1:3). Sin has made us deaf from hearing His voice, but in Christ, who is the Word of God, we can hear God again. We know from the New Testament that John the apostle thinking about Genesis says, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). Jesus is the Word of God and thus it coming under His Kingship and obeying His Word where we can experience His creating power working within us. He can recreate what we have destroyed. God wants to do something new in our hearts. New faith, new love for Him, new joy and new encouragement since His mercies are new every morning! If you want that new work to be done in your heart, get under His Word. His Word is sharper than any two edged sword, able to cut us open and lay us bare (Heb. 4:12-13).
Martin Luther once said, “God creates out of nothing. So until we are nothing, God cannot make anything out of us.” Are you formless and empty? Confess that to the Lord! Who needs the Lord to breathe a fresh word that brings life and beauty and order in their lives again? The Spirit of God is waiting for you to submit to His Word.
II. God is a lavish giver, not a cruel taker, so believe His goodness
The picture of God is here is one of a Father who prepares and provides everything for His children. The creation is ultimately for His glory, but it was also for our good. I almost see Him as a parent preparing to take care of a child that is about to be born. I think I shared this with you before, but I remember right before Abbie was born, I was laid off from Moody. We had a baby shower and had gotten so many clothes. But I still did not have job. We had to move in with my in-laws. One day I was really discouraged. I have a baby coming and no job. As I was sitting in the bedroom, I looked up at all the clothes Abbie was going to wear. Jenny had arranged it according to month. By this time, we also had a play yard for her and tons of diapers. I laughed and thought, “If only Abbie knew that all of these things are already provided for her even before she was born!” Then it hit me. “Robin, as an earthly father you have taken care of your child even before she born, but how much more have I already taken care of you?” Trust God and His timing!
Yes, this is before sin has come into the world. Satan actually challenges this thought about God being a giver in Gen. 3. He says God is a taker and not a giver to the first couple. Actually, Satan is the taker and not a giver. But he likes to paint God as the bad guy. He gets into their mind that God wants to keep things from them and that God is stingy. And when Adam and Eve believed that, they took control of their own lives, wanting to take God’s place in their heart. Mankind fell. Now everything is stolen from us. Death takes our loved ones away. Sickness takes our health away. People rob others of their stuff and sometimes their innocence. Sin takes our joy and peace away.
But what did God do for us? The Bible says that God so loved the world that He GAVE (John 3:16). Look at Rom. 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with Him GRACIOUSLY GIVE US ALL THINGS.” In Christ, what we lost in creation, God recreates and gives us back. One day we will have the new heavens and the new earth and God says, “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5). And then we will see that the only thing God took away from us was our sin and gave so much, including Himself to show us how committed He was to us!
Do you believe God? Do you believe He will graciously give you all that you need (not all that you greed)? Do you believe Him? Or do you constantly live in fear that something will be taken from you? Gary Witherall, a graduate of Moody, lost his wife to Muslim terrorists as they were missionaries in Lebanon about six to seven years ago. But Gary, through many tears and pain, decided to stay and minister there. And when some people asked him, “Why would you stay at a place where your wife was taken from you?” He replied, “No. Nothing was taken from me. No one can take anything from me, because I have given it all away.” Do you believe God? That even if everything is taken from you, you will have Him? Where neither death, nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? (Rom. 8:38-39). Paul says he is persuaded that nothing will separate him from God’s love. Are we? We come under His Word as He is King of the Universe, but we also believe this Creator King is a good King who lavishly gives to us all that we need. Lastly,
III. All of God’s creation is to be enjoyed, but not to be ignored or worshipped
This implies something else for us as well. Notice the refrain, “And God saw it was good” over and over again. In fact, Gen. 1:31 says, “And God saw it was very good.” What does that mean? Simply put, this means He is enjoying what He did. So as Francis Schaeffer says, “this means that a tree is not good only because we can cut it down and make a house of it or because we can burn it in order to get heat. It is good because God made it and has pronounced it good.” Have you ever tasted some good food like some good fish head or frog’s legs and you take a bite and say, “Man, that is good!” You are enjoying it. God is giving His blessing here. God says creation is good.
Now Tim Keller says that we tend to go two ways when we think of creation. We either become ascetic or materialistic. In other words, we deny it or we worship it. Let me explain that. First, let’s talk about asceticism. It seems like all the other religions focus on creation being either not real or not important. The philosopher Plato said that our bodies are bad and it is a prison for the soul. Some Christians go this route as well. Over the years, I have noticed some Christians who ignore any social activities and come just for Bible studies or prayer meetings just as much as Christians who only come for the hangouts. The extreme kinds of this are the ascetics who said, “If you want to get real with God, get rid of physical things. Pleasure isn’t good for you. Don’t enjoy it. It’s going to corrupt you.” There was even a guy who lived up in a basket on a pole because he didn’t want to lust!
Most Christians aren’t that bad, but some would avoid hangouts. Their reasoning is that hanging out, eat together, playing together is not as spiritual as studying the Bible or praying. I grew up in a church like that. Don’t laugh or smile or talk about enjoying anything except God or “spiritual things.” But if you believe Genesis 1, you see that God says all of the physical is good, because He created them and they are His gifts pointing to His glory and for our good. The Bible has such a high view of the physical world and the physical body like no other book. In fact, God is all about resurrecting our physical bodies one day as well as resurrecting the world. Even in Genesis 2, God literally has His hands in the dirt to create man.
If I give my daughters a gift and they enjoy it, I am not upset that they are not paying attention to me. Because when they are enjoying the gift, they are glorifying me. And notice God doesn’t just create Adam and Eve to sit in a black space in front of Him and sing songs to Him. God creates a world for them to inhabit and as they do what they are created to do and enjoy it, they are worshipping Him. And what about us? Don’t we tend to compartmentalize our lives? We have our spiritual/sacred life in our quiet times and at church or bible study/prayer meeting, then we have our secular life or physical life where we are sleeping, driving, watching television, working, eating, hanging out with friends, etc. But here is what Genesis 1 is teaching us: there is no sacred/secular divide in God’s eyes. Everything is sacred! God loves creation and is interested in all of it!
Think also how we picture Heaven. Hollywood and the media make us think its just clouds where you are floating away playing on your harp. Some Christians think we don’t even have bodies! Do you really think the God who spoke creation and this world into being thinks floating on a cloud with a harp will be the best thing for us? All of Scripture teaches us that the natural world is a shadow of what the future world is about. Genesis 1 tells me that Heaven will be glorious and full of life, mountains and trees, lakes and valleys, city and country! And we will glorify Him as we enjoy all of that and finally be and do what we were created for.
In fact, as the world and its religions talk about escaping this body and this world to be in a spiritual world, it is interesting that in Revelation 21, God says that He’s not taking us to a new Heaven, but He’s bringing the new Heaven down to the new Earth (Rev. 21:10). So God will look at us and say, see that terrific sunset? See that great meal? That’s a dim picture of what is to come. So enjoy it now! After we feed our girls in the morning, we always say, “Go and play!” All of this is given to you to enjoy and steward.
I don’t think most of us struggle with enjoying God’s creation, but it is the other extreme we have problems with. It is materialism. Instead of the creation pointing to the Creator and helping us serve God better, we look to it to serve us. We worship creation. Notice how God describes the sun and the moon in Gen. 1:16. Why doesn’t He say the “Sun” or the “Moon,” instead of “the greater light” and “lesser light”? The reason is because Israel’s neighbors worshiped the sun and the moon. Those people feared them. But here Moses shows that they are merely “lights” not to be worshipped, but should cause us to worship their maker, God. So Moses is saying, “Don’t worship the creation!” They point us to God, who alone is worthy of our worship. Same thing with the stars, but now people look to the stars and horoscopes to tell them about their destiny. Bad idea. God made those stars to reflect His glory!
Now you may be like, well I don’t worship the sun or moon or even the stars, what’s that have to do with me? Well if the world is not ascetic and they don’t believe in verse 1 of Gen. 1, then they become materialistic. So they worship pleasure. So they worship money. Or power or possessions. Everything else then becomes god controlling your life. Romans 1 says that an ungrateful heart creates idolatry in the hearts of people, worshipping creation instead of the Creator.
So Christianity says the world is real and there is a goodness to creation. Pastor James Boice says, “If God finds the universe good in its parts and as a whole, then we must find it good also.” Yes it is marred by sin, but we can still find value in it because God created it. Enjoy and steward it as God’s gift but do not ignore it. At the same time, Christianity says that the creation is finite and since it is not all there is, don’t worship it. And so even if I don’t have money or food or power or anything created, I still have God.
Have you ever wondered why nature is so moving? I remember being at Niagara Falls and being so moved. The roar of the waters almost shakes my physical heart inside me. The Bible tells us why. Romans 1 says that the beauty of nature points to God and tells us about God. Ps. 19 says the heavens declare the glory of God. In Job 38 God rebukes Job and asks him, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth, while the morning stars and the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).
Creation sings to us about God. Creation sings to God. Author Elizabeth Elliot says that a clam glorifies God better than we can. Yes, it sounds a little weird, but her point is that a clam, simply by existing, is glorifying God because it is being just what God made it to be. All of creation can sing because they are doing what they are meant to do: glorify God and sing of His beauty. And guess what? We cannot sing with nature. We cannot enter the song, but there is something wrong in our relationship with God.
And because they do what they are made to do, do you know what they get? They get God’s blessing. God blesses the world He created with His Word. Of course the birds, the trees and the waters sing. They have the delight of God. They were made to get that blessing from Him and each time God sees it is good, He is pronouncing a benediction, a blessing. He is enjoying creation. He is so excited and moved by it because they sing of His glory. He delights in them.
We are made to receive that benediction from God. But we have messed things up. Because of sin, we have worshipped creation instead of the Creator. We look to creation for a benediction. We go to our parents to give it to us. We look to social media to give it to us. We want that blessing of, “I’m delighted in you. You are wonderful. I adore you.” Or we go to our friends or hope our spouse will give that to us or we find that career to get that benediction. We get jealous when see that others are getting the benediction and we are not. But really the benedictions from the world last just a moment. It never satisfies because it is God’s benediction that we ultimately need.
If you think about it, God never says, “It is good” anymore after Genesis 1. He doesn’t give any more benedictions. Do you know when God gives His benediction again? It was when the creative Word of God became flesh. At His baptism, God said to Him, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” This was the first time since the Garden of Eden that anybody got and earned the benediction of God. He received it because He had the delight and love of God.
But just as He was about to die, do you remember what happened? It got dark. What is happening? All of creation stopped singing as its maker bows His head. All of our sin was poured on Him and Jeuss became without form and void, de-created and worst of all, received no more benediction from God. What irony! The Son of God gets the silent treatment and even worse, He gets the malediction, the curse. Do you see what was happening? Jesus Christ got our malediction—the curse, the word of condemnation that we deserved as we worshipped creation so that we can receive the benediction He earned by virtue of His life.
So now if we believe the gospel, God makes you His new creation! And He finally gives the benediction to us that we have been trying to find out in the world, when we are trying so hard to squeeze it out of people, job, money, sex, etc. One of my favorite verses is Zeph. 3:17. It says that God rejoices over you with singing. I get that now. All of creation stopped singing because God out of love, wanted to give us a new song and make us new. Now it is not even that we can sing to God again with nature, but God also sings over us! In Jesus Christ, we are now declared good. Receive His benediction! He says, “In my Son, I find you delightful. I love you. I enjoy you. I love being with you. You are mine, my re-creation.” Oh for grace to believe this tremendous gospel this morning and have God give us a genesis to our hearts even the joy of a new beginning again!
Sproul, R.C. found in in http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/408769 accessed 17 August 2011.
Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word (15Wheaton,
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Wilkinson, B., & Boa, K. (1983). Talk thru the Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson.
Wenham, G. J. (2002). Vol. 1: Word Biblical Commentary : Genesis 1-15. Word Biblical Commentary (6). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
Mathews, K. A. (2001). Vol. 1A: Genesis 1-11:26 (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (128). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
Ross, A. P. (1998). Creation and Blessing : A guide to the study and exposition of Genesis (106). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Hughes, R. K. (21).
Kidner, D. (1967). Vol. 1: Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (49). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Hughes, R. K. (24).
As quoted in Boice, J. M. (1998). Genesis: An Expositional Commentary (84–85). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.
Keller, Tim from a sermon “The First Word” preached at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, downloaded from redeemer.com 17 August 2011.
As quoted in Kaplan, Kalman J. “Two views of body and soul: psyche versus nefesh,” http://www.juf.org/news/world.aspx?id=15852 accessed 19 August 2011.
Greidanus, S (2007). Preaching Christ from Genesis (47). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Boice, J. M. (85).
 From the blog “Ten Minutes with God: Timely Devotions” http://coffey-break.blogspot.com/2011/02/tuesday-february-1.html accessed 17 August 2011.
Keller, Tim. Ibid.