Author’s Note: I am preaching through Genesis on Wednesday nights. Here I will present edited notes in blog form. You can access the audio of this sermon here. May God be glorified and His people edified. Comments below if you like.
We live in a day and age much like other days and ages, where the Christian worldview — and those who hold it — are demeaned and dismissed. Such demeaning an dismissing is more overt a it used to be, as the facade of cultural Christianity collapses under the weight of its own largesse. Recently the fire chief in Atlanta was fired for having the temerity of holding an opinion about homosexuality and so-called “same-sex marriage” that isn’t in line with the cultural narrative’s prevailing winds. When you go against the flow you’re no longer deemed different. You are intolerant, outdated, bigoted, and/or a hate-monger.
The difference between those who hold the Christian worldview — that is, the biblically faithful worldview — and those who do not is that when it comes to controversial issues like the definition of marriage, homosexual and transgender what not, a woman submitting to her husband, and fill in the blank, our answers are not (and cannot be) determined by the so-called progress of the culture, or by tradition and history for that matter.
The truth is offensive, and if you want to cut to the core there is something much more offensive to unbelievers than Christian views on human sexuality or marriage. There’s something more offensive than the idea that some day, as I recently heard it put, a once dead man now alive again will arrive in the sky on a horse. All of those issues really are, believe it or not, periphery. The world just nibbles around the edges when they attack us on those points, and we are wasting time when we defend ourselves on those things apart from the core issue. That core issue is the most offensive thing you can believe.
The most offensive thing I believe is “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and everything that verse implies.(1)
It’s offensive because those words teach us that there is a Creator… who is Sovereign… who is Lord… Master… who determined everything. Everything in the heavens and on the earth… the laws of physics, the laws of morality… you… me. We are all… everything was… created by a Creator. That’s what Genesis 1:1 says. He is called “God” in Genesis 1:1, the Hebrew Elohim. This Elohim, this God, singularly created everything. He gave value to everything. He defined everything. Elohim is our Creator. Elohim is our Lord… and that means, since we are His creation, we are subject to Him, completely dependent upon Him.
And since this is the case, we, the creation, are not free to create meaning. We are not free to assign value. For example, to draw on a previously mentioned topic, to know what the meaning of marriage is, we have to go to the One who created it. We are not free to change the meaning of marriage. When we see that God created man in His own image, male and female He created them, we are not permitted to assign new meaning to that. That means there is no such thing as transgender. There is only male and female, and you are one of the other, and it’s not what you feel, it’s what God made you. It’s what you are.
Any time anyone brings up a question about anything, we can either advocate rebellion against what our Creator has made — which is what most of creation is doing, or we can submit to Him and seek to understand what He has made. We can either obey in faith or rebel. One or the other. It’s that black and white.
As Dan Phillips puts it,
“So yeah, insofar as I’m consistent with my core beliefs, everything I think about sexuality, relationships, morals, the whole nine yards, all of it is derived from what the Creator says. If I deviate from that, I’m wrong.” – Dan Phillips
This is the most offensive thing I believe.
Now left to that, there is no hope. If there is just a Creator who has created and here we are and we’ve got to do what He says, there is no hope. Why? Because none of us does what He says. I repeat: None of us does what He says. Not perfectly.
Even so, our English translations start with a prepositional phrase, and the object of that preposition, the first noun in the Bible — beginning — lets us know that there will be an end. And as we unfold the pages of Scripture we know that Jesus, the Son of God, is that end. He is the Alpha, the first letter in the Greek alphabet, and He is the Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet. He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Thus, the first verse of the Bible, the most offensive thing we believe, ultimately points us to salvation through the gospel of Jesus, which is really what we need to be talking about.
We can debate at dining room tables and school board meetings and on Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court about all of these peripheral issues — important as they may be — but ultimately it comes down to what we believe about Genesis 1:1 and all of its implications.
Is there a God who is God, and we are not? Is there a God who has created all things and, thus, has dominion over it all? Or do we get to make up the rules as we go along? Is man his own sovereign?
These reasons and more are why it is so important to understand the beginning. As David writes in Psalm 11:3, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” If we get the foundations wrong — the beginning — everything is up for grabs. The whole thing can be lost. We must understand the beginning. So that is why I’ve begun this study in Genesis.
God has created us and so much of what He created is defined in this book. And again, it’s His definition that matters, not ours. It’s His definition that is the definition. We must build the right foundation if we are to understand all of Scripture, and we can’t build the foundation rightly without understanding Genesis.
Genesis is, of course, the first book of the Bible. But from the outset of this study I do not want you to think about this book without relation to the rest of the Bible. Genesis is the first of what we call “the book of the Law,” or the Hebrew word Torah. In the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, the books are understood to be divided into three categories: Law (or Torah), Prophets, then Writings. Genesis is the first of the five books of the Law, the Torah, also called the Pentateuch, which means five scrolls. So don’t think of Genesis isolated from the rest of the Bible. It’s the beginning. There will be an end. But especially remember Genesis in light of it being the beginning of the Law, the beginning of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Now… what is the main point of Genesis? I mean, Genesis is fifty chapters long. By Hebrew word count it’s right up there as one of the longest books of the Bible. It covers, as I understand it, the first 2200 years of world history, by far the longest span covered in any book of the Bible. So there are a lot of things we could draw out of Genesis as important, and we’d be right. But what… what is the main point?
Well, I think it’s ultimately the same main point as every other book in the Bible, the overarching theme of the entire Bible. It could be summed up by this quote from Jonathan Edwards, a pastor and theologian in the 18th century, and one of the most important figures in early American history. He said,
“All that is ever spoken of in Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works, is included in that one phrase, the glory of God; which is the name by which the ultimate end of God’s works is most commonly called in Scripture, and seems most aptly to signify the thing.” – Jonathan Edwards
I agree with Edwards. The whole of the Bible, and I’d say the main point of Genesis, is the glory of God. And even more to the point, it’s the glory of God revealed in salvation through judgment. (HT: Dr. Jim Hamilton, whose book you need to get.)
And the reason there is judgment is because there is one Creator, who is God… Elohim. Right from the start of the Bible this one true God, later identified by the name YHWH, differentiates Himself from other ancient mythologies that have their own creation accounts. Other tales of creation are filled with sexual overtones and violence among “the gods,” but in Genesis God is in His sovereign majesty speaking all of creation into existence. He is not in competition with other deities. He is the only One, the only God. Not created. Not produced by any means or by other entities. In the beginning, God already is. YHWH is self-existent. He proceeds out of nothing. He simply says, as He will tell Moses in Exodus, “I AM WHO I AM.” There never was a time when God was not existing. He needs nothing. He doesn’t even need to be loved or worshiped. He is completely self-sufficient in and of Himself.
Sometimes I’ve wondered, and as a pastor I’ve been asked, “If God is eternal, what was He doing the whole time before He created the heavens and the earth?” The implication is, “Wouldn’t that be boring?” To which Scripture says “no.”
God didn’t need to create, and He didn’t do so because He was bored or lonely, either. God was not lonely because He had Himself, all of who God is. Actually, we get the Trinity implied in Genesis 1:1. Elohim, the word for God, is plural, the implication being that in God there is more than one. There’s not more than one God, but in God there is more than one, and as Genesis unfolds, and as the Bible unfolds, we find that there are three in one, Trinity in unity. The Spirit is named in verse two, and the Son will be revealed in time as well.
So there is more than one in the one true God, and there is perfect, glorious community within the Godhead before there was ever a creation. God wasn’t bored. God wasn’t lonely. The Father had the Son and Spirit. The Son had the Father and Spirit. The Spirit had the Father and Son. And don’t ask me to explain it all. I don’t think any human can adequately this side of glory, but it is revealed in Scripture, and Scripture has to be our guide, our authority.
Now, the reason we know there is not more than one God — not more than one God who created — is that the verb created, in the English and in the original Hebrew, is singular. So Elohim (plural) created (singular).
Why did He create, then? Well this is where that overarching theme of Genesis, and the entire Bible, starts. God created for His glory. First and foremost, God created so that He could display His glory. God is ultimately committed to His own glory, and displaying that glory in creation — and creating an audience at that — is the maximum way to show His glory… to glorify Himself.
Through creation God will get to display all of His attributes. Not merely that He is all powerful, all knowing, eternal. But that He is holy. That He is loving. That He is the Judge. That He is truth. These attributes of His character which display His glory are displayed with reference to His creation, the audience.
From beginning to end, then, this book of beginnings — Genesis — is not merely a collection of facts. It is an offensive statement to the unbelieving that there is one God who created everything and He reigns. And when man rebels against Him He sets in motion a plan to display His glory in the greatest way possible, in showing His grace and mercy and love in salvation, showing His righteousness and justice and anger toward sin in judgment.
Having done some intro here, then, and seen the who of creation; namely, Elohim… God… later called YHWH; in the next installment of this series we will examine the when of creation.
But by way of application, though, I ask you to consider the implications of Genesis 1:1 on your life. That He has created means He says what goes. He does this through His word. We behold the glory of God through His word, and thus have a responsibility to faithfully obey Him. I pray you will. I pray you will not take offense at our Creator, but lovingly submit to the One who loved us and sent His Son. Let us, the creation, follow the wishes of our Creator and be disciples, who make disciples, for the glory of His Son and our Lord and Savior, the One we see in the beginning — Jesus Christ.
(1) Major credit to Dan Phillips, whose 2013 article “The Most Offensive Verse in the Bible” really helped set the tone of this article.