November 7, 2006

Genesis 1:1 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Genesis is the book of beginnings.  It’s all about beginnings and what develops out of them.  And so we hear again and again about “the generations of” various people, that is, about what came from those people.  But before all the other beginnings, we hear about the beginning of the whole of creation: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That first verse is like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: “Dah dah dah DUM.”  Those notes in that particular rhythm jump out at you at the very beginning of the symphony, and that’s all most people know of the symphony.  But if you listen further, you’ll hear those notes or that rhythm again and again as Beethoven works out that theme in various ways.  That’s how it is with this verse.  Already in this verse, we encounter themes that are going to be worked out and developed and unpacked in the rest of the symphony, in the rest of God’s Word, in the rest of history.

(1) The first words of Genesis stretch our minds.  Try to think about nothing.  Take away the building where we’re meeting and all the people here.  Take away Medford and the United States and the world.  Take away the Sun and the solar system and all the stars.  But you’re still not thinking about nothing.  You’re thinking about empty space.  But in the beginning there was no space and there was no time either.  There was nothing.

Except God.  God was already there.  He was always there.  That’s how the Bible starts: “In the beginning God….”  The Bible starts with the living God.  The most powerful person you know is still dependent on many things.  Every creature is dependent.  But God isn’t.  Everything else came into existence at some point in time, but God didn’t.  Everything else is a creature, but God alone is the Creator.

That isn’t what many people believe.  Nor did many people believe it in the past.  What God says and what paganism claims have always clashed.

Paganism has always taught that matter is eternal.  (Can you hear Carl Sagan intoning: “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be”?)  Even when the pagan myths talk about a creator god, he’s still a lot like us.  He’s just higher up the scale of existence.  You’re “Mister” and he’s “Doctor”: more knowledgable, more skillful, stronger than you are.  There’s no radical distinction in paganism between gods and human beings and other creatures.

In fact, there really are no pagan creation myths because the pagan gods don’t really create.  They don’t create out of nothing.  They “create” the same way we do.  They simply rework the stuff that’s already there.

The ancient pagan myths aren’t all that different from the modern ones.  Here’s the modern myth: Once upon a time, a long time ago, everything was all compressed together into a tiny egg. And then one day, that cosmic egg hatched. It exploded. All this goo came gushing out. It was hot.  It was flying everywhere.  But eventually, things slowed down and cooled off and got lumpy.  Some of that gunk turned into stars.  A blob of it turned into the earth.  And eventually, through various scientific laws and over billions of years and with the help of a lot of good luck, it turned into the universe we have today.

But where did that cosmic egg come from? Where did that stuff come from? On the pagan view, it was just always there. It always existed. And our world — and we ourselves — are just that stuff put together in interesting ways. Well, interesting to you. But everything that exists today is just atoms stuck together by chance. Beauty is an accident. And so are you.

Paganism — whether it’s old-fashioned paganism like you find in the Greek myths or brand-new up-to-date paganism like you find in the university classroom — paganism presents a cold, impersonal universe. And ultimate reality is just scientific laws and eternal stuff, like Play-Doh, that can be molded and reshaped and rearranged by other bits of stuff like the gods or artists or scientists. And the only purpose in the universe is the purpose that people have.

That’s what makes that myth so attractive to people. If the universe is just this cold impersonal stuff and I’m just the product of time and chance, then there’s no God who has a purpose for me. There’s no God who has authority over me. There’s no God who is going to hold me personally responsible for what I do. Better to have blind chance than a seeing God.

And then the only ones who have purpose are people: “Move over, God of the Bible. There’s a new god on the scene and it’s man. Sure the universe is really meaningless. But I can act as if it has meaning. I have purposes (or I think I do: maybe they’re just chemical reactions in my brain) . But while I live I’m going to act as if I’m in charge of some things and maybe I can even shape the future course of evolution.”

But ultimately, on this view, we’re all just stuff. Life is just a matter of chance. You’re just a collection of atoms. Love is chemical reactions or it’s habits ingrained from childhood. And death is just the inevitable decay.

That’s the view that so many people are trying to live with in our world today. And it leaves them broken and empty. It doesn’t satisfy their needs because it doesn’t tell them the truth about themselves and about their world.

Paganism starts with matter. But the Bible starts with a Person: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

He didn’t start with matter. He didn’t simply rearrange the stuff that already existed. He didn’t find some stuff lying around and then do the best job He could with it. He created out of nothing. Everything that exists was created by our God, the one true God, the Triune God. That’s what we hear in Genesis 1.

We read in Genesis 1 that God created the heavens and the earth. But the very next verse tells us that as soon as God created, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” And then we hear that God spoke: “God said, ‘Let there be light’ — and there was light.”

We hear something similar in Psalm 33:6: “By the Word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath” — that is, the Spirit — “of His mouth.” We hear it again in John 1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”

We talk about the Father as the Creator. But the Bible tells us that the Spirit was also involved in creation, and so was the Word who is the Son of God. Each person of the Trinity was involved in creation. And that’s good news for us.

We don’t live in the cold, impersonal universe that so many modern scientists describe. We live in a universe that was created by the God who is personal, the God who is three persons bound together in a covenant of love and communion and fellowship.

And the whole universe bears witness to Him. Everywhere you look — whether you’re staring at the stars or squinting down a microscope — you’re seeing things that were personally designed by your God and created by His power.

You aren’t an accident. The universe isn’t an accident. It isn’t the product of chance and time and scientific laws. It’s the product of God’s personal choice. He didn’t need to create. He didn’t have to create. But He wanted to create. He created the world and He created you in deliberate, thoughtful, purposeful, powerful love.

And that’s another thing we need to recognize about this account of God’s creation here in this verse. God takes the initiative. God comes first. He acts first. Every other action of every other creature is a response to God’s action. Dogs bark, fish swim, birds fly, grass grows, people love because God acted first.

That’s true in creation and it’s true in redemption, too. God initiates. God carries out His plans. God acts first and we act in response. If we trust in God, we’re simply responding to Him and it’s His power that empowers us to respond. It’s His power that created the world and it’s His power that holds it together and it’s His power that has brought about life and new life for us. He created the world and, when our sin brought death and destruction, He’s the one who recreates it by His same power.

That’s what Paul tells us in Colossians 1. He proclaims that God’s Son is the one by whom all things were created: “All things were created through Him and for Him.” And then he adds that by Him God is reconciling all things to Himself.

The God who created the world is powerful enough to rule the world. And He’s powerful enough to keep His promises. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head and He had the power to keep that promise.

He promised Abraham a seed, offspring, as many as the stars of the sky. Abraham didn’t see that promise in his own day. But we’re starting to now, and God keeps His promise by His creative power and draws people into Abraham’s family, into the church of Jesus Christ.

By His power, God brought you to Christ and He has the power to keep you safe with Christ. God has made promises to you. And He’s strong enough to keep those promises. He’s the Creator of heaven and earth, and He’s strong enough to accomplish all His purposes.

(2) What was God’s purpose in creating the world? We get a glimpse of it here in the first verse of Genesis. It isn’t unpacked here. It isn’t spelled out in detail. But we get a glimpse of it when we look at what God created and the order in which He created it.

We read in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But what does the Bible mean when it talks about “the heavens” here?

It isn’t talking about the sky or outer space. Those heavens — the place where birds fly, the place where the stars are — those heavens were created on the second day. They’re called the “firmament-heavens” there. But here in this verse we’re still back at the beginning of the first day.

This heaven here in Genesis 1:1 isn’t the firmament. It isn’t the sky or outer space. It’s God’s throne-room. It’s the place where God dwells.

It’s the place He’s talking about when He says in Isaiah 66:1, “Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool.” Or think of Psalm 115:16: “The heavens, even the heavens, are Yahweh’s; but the earth He has given to the children of men.”

The first thing God created were the heavens. But that‘s all Genesis 1 tells us about the heavens. It tells us that God created them, that He created them first, and then from verse 2 on, Genesis focuses on the earth: “Now the earth was unstructured and empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep.”

We’re going to look at that more next week, but notice right now that there are three “problems” that God is going to “fix.” These things aren’t problems to God. They aren’t bad things . God didn’t make a mistake when He formed the world.

But God did create the world as a fixer-upper, in a sense. He created the world unstructured. It wasn’t a total chaos, but it wasn’t organized in such a way that people could live on it. God created it empty — that is, unpopulated. And God created it dark. When God created it, the earth needed development.

But heaven didn’t. We don’t read in the Bible about God structuring and developing heaven. In fact, from the rest of the Bible, we learn that heaven was already perfectly structured and fully developed. It was already bright and full of light. And it was already populated and full of angels.

We don’t know exactly when God created the angels. But He says in Job 38 that they sang when God laid the foundations of the earth. It seems that they were created the same time the heavens were, before God created the earth. They were created in the first half of Genesis 1:1. From the very beginning, heaven was full of a host of angels praising God and serving Him.

Heaven was created already structured, populated, and bright. But God deliberately makes earth unstructured, unpopulated, empty, and in need of development. What’s He doing? He’s setting out heaven as a blueprint and the earth as a construction site. All the way through the Bible, from Genesis 1:1 on, heaven is the pattern for earth.

And all through Genesis 1, God is at work, making earth more like heaven. Heaven is bright and earth is dark. But God says, “Let there be light.” And there is light.

Heaven is ordered and structured in the way God wants it and the earth isn’t. But then God begins to structure things. He separates light and darkness, day and night. Then on Day 2, He separates the waters putting a firmament between waters above and waters below. On Day 3, He separates the waters below so that dry land appears. All through those days, as He moves from high up to the earth below, God is structuring the world, impressing heaven‘s pattern on it.

Heaven is full and earth is empty. But God begins to fill it. He causes grass to grow on the third day for beauty and for food. And then on the fourth day, He fills the firmament with the sun, moon, and stars. On the fifth day, He fills the waters with fish and the skies with birds. On the sixth day, He creates all the land animals and then finally He creates man. Again, He moves from high up — the lights in the firmament — down to the earth, impressing heaven’s pattern on earth.

That’s the pattern we see in Genesis 1. Heaven is complete, structured, light, and full. And gradually, through this chapter, earth becomes more like heaven. It becomes brighter, more structured, fuller.

But the process isn’t finished on the sixth day. God tells Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth, and subdue it.” God created the world for Adam and Eve, but now they have a role to play. We have a role to play. God began the process, but now He enlisted man to pick up the work, to follow the pattern of heaven and to impress that pattern onto the world.

Moses gets the pattern of the tabernacle on the mountain and then brings it down and builds it. David receives the pattern from God and then makes the plans for the Temple. Again and again, we learn that heaven’s pattern is the blueprint for our work here on earth.

Our goal isn’t to escape from this world and these bodies and to go to heaven to be spirits up there. People have often thought that. People have taught that the physical stuff in this world is somehow inherently corrupt, that material things are bad. But that isn’t what the Bible tells us here. As C. S. Lewis once said, God “likes matter. He invented it.”

And our goal is not to escape from it. Our goal is to work with matter, to work with these bodies God has given us, to live with our spouses, to raise our children, to work in our homes and our jobs, to work in God’s world, to take the raw material that God has given us and to fashion it and refashion it according to heaven’s pattern.

And our sin hasn’t thwarted God’s plan. Though man fell and man’s sin brought death and destruction into the world, God still intends the world to be united with heaven, shaped and formed according to heaven’s pattern. That’s why He sent His Son, not just so that you could be forgiven but so that you could be re-enlisted in the work. That’s Jesus’ work as God but also as a man, and that’s our work in Him.

And so we keep praying as Jesus taught us to pray: “Hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done — all three on earth as it is in heaven.” And we keep laboring toward that goal. And by His Spirit, Jesus is laboring with us.

God’s first act of creation displays His power and His glory. But the creation of heaven and earth isn’t the end of the story; it’s only the beginning and it pushes us forward. Creation leads to formation, to shaping and structuring and ruling and working and filling

God’s goal is to unite heaven and earth. That’s why He made two things in the beginning and not just one. That’s the covenantal pattern: God unites two things and makes them one. And that’s the goal that God is going to reach. It’s the goal that’s already hinted at in the first verse.

Genesis is about beginnings and about what develops from them. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s good news.

The ultimate reality in life isn’t chance and time and stuff in an impersonal universe. The ultimate reality is personal. The ultimate reality is God, the Triune God, the almighty God, who created everything for a purpose and who enlists us in working in His world until it is united with heaven as a house for Him and for us together.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:15 pm | Discuss (3)

3 Responses to “Genesis 1:1 Sermon Notes”

  1. Jim Says:

    In line with the theme of God taking (or making ) two things and then uniting them, what do you suppose in the ultimate idea between the two destinations of “heaven” and “hell”? We have one place that is all about light and life in God’s Presence for eternity, and another that is characterized by darkness and the absence of God’s blessing. Will God also eventually make these two into one?

  2. John Barach Says:

    Thanks for the comment, Jim.

    I don’t think that everything God separates is eventually going to be reunited in some way. On the first day, God separates the light and the darkness. But in the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, there is only light (“There is no night there”) while the wicked are outside: Light inside, darkness outside.

    The two aren’t eventually joined, the wicked entering the city as wicked people, that is, as darkness.

    It appears, then, that not every separation leads to a more glorious reunion.

  3. Andy Packer Says:

    Did you get my email last Friday?

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