In the Beginning
The title of my message is: “In the Beginning.” It’s based on Gen 1:1-25. My key verse is verse 1. Let’s read this verse together, please. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Last week we concluded our study of 1 Corinthians with the message “Do Everything in Love” from 1 Cor 16. Pastor Philip talked about how the apostle Paul cared for the Corinthian church even though they were backsliders and had many problems, such as divisions, sexual immorality, and misuse of spiritual gifts. Paul wrote them a beautiful sixteen-chapter love letter. Paul said that his most important objective was to remind them of the gospel: how Christ died, was buried, and was raised according to the Scriptures to forgive their sins and bring them back to God.
Today we begin our study of the book of Genesis. Genesis is a foundational book of the Bible. If one were to take out the book of Genesis from the Bible, the Bible would make little sense. Without it, reading the Old Testament would be like watching a movie from the middle. In the New Testament there are at least 200 quotations or allusions to Genesis. Jesus himself refers to it, thus upholding its truth. What does the word “genesis” mean? It means origin, birth, or beginning. This is indeed a book about beginnings: the beginning of time and space, the beginning of nature, the beginning of human civilization, and … the beginning of God’s redemption plan to save the world. In Genesis, God reveals himself as Creator, Lord, and Redeemer. God did not just create the world. God also exercises sovereign rule over it. And, God provides the means to save the world from sin and death.
Who wrote the book of Genesis? Jesus refers to the first five books of the Bible as the “Law of Moses.” (Luke 24). But how could Moses have written about things that he hadn’t personally witnessed? How can anyone, for that matter, write about things that happened before there was any life form? A good answer is in 2 Peter 1 For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (v. 21) So, Moses must have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to reveal the origins of the world. I believe it’s important to approach the subject of creation with faith and humility. Modern science has not yet succeeded in decoding the mysteries of the universe. I believe it never fully will. Yet, the Book of Genesis provides an unequivocal account of how the world came into being, and why. I pray that God may give each person reading Genesis spiritual insight to recognize the hand of God in creation and humbly accept the truth of the biblical account by faith.
My message has two parts: Part I God Created, and Part II It Was Good.
Part I God Created
From the beginnings of human civilization, people have pondered big questions like: Who created the universe? When was the universe born? How was the universe created? And, What is my role in this universe? The Bible does not shy away from these questions. In fact, it tackles these questions head on. Look at verse 1, my key verse. Let’s read this verse together, please. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This seemingly simple statement contains several profound truths.
First, God is before the beginning. The verse implies that God was there before the beginning of the universe. God is an eternal uncreated being. He has no beginning or end. This is evident from a psalm 90 written by Moses “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (v.2) We also know from the book of Job that at some time before the beginning God created the angels, who witnessed the creation of the universe. In other words, the spiritual realm existed before the physical realm.
Second, God created something out of nothing. The Hebrew word for “created” in the phrase “God created” is “bara,” which means something like “to bring into existence.” This is different from saying “God made” which implies shaping something out of something else, some pre-existing material. This point is important, because it means that God did not create the universe out of Himself. God is separate from his creation. The Bible teaches that the universe will eventually perish, but God remains (see Hebrews 1). In other words, the biblical account of creation does not support a pantheistic view of the world where everything in nature is divine, as some Eastern religions claim.
Third, creation required both power and purpose. The galaxy where our planet Earth resides is called the Milky Way Galaxy. It is shaped like a giant spiral which rotates in space, with arms reaching out like a pinwheel. According to today’s astronomers, it contains 250 billion stars plus/minus 150 billion. The sun we see in the sky today is only one of those “approximately 250 billion” stars. And this is only our galaxy. There are millions if not billions of other galaxies out there, we don’t even know how many exactly because science does not have an exact number. Can you imagine the force needed to bring all the universe into being? The Hebrew word for God in today’s passage is Elohim. It means Almighty, or All-Powerful. Some scientists believe that one great explosion was the initial force behind the creation of the universe. This is known as the Big Bang Theory. The problem with this view is that power alone is not sufficient to make the whole system work. That power has to be channeled according to a carefully-designed plan. Otherwise, planets and stars would randomly crash into each other. The complexity, structure, and balance in the universe suggest a work of purpose by an intelligent being.
The presence of a clear purpose in creation is also evident in the orderly process through which the natural environment was prepared to accommodate life. At first, the earth was formless, empty, and dark (according to v.2). Then, in the first three days, God gradually set in place the elements needed to sustain life: light, air, water, and land. And then, in the following three days, he created the bodies that govern these different realms: celestial bodies, birds&fish, animals and, lastly, human beings.
So, first God created the environment. On day one, God created light and separated it from darkness to make day and night. On day two, God created the sky, the atmosphere of our planet, which separates the water below from the water vapor above. On day three, God created the land and the seas, and also seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees on the land, of different kinds. At the end of these three days, the earth was no longer formless – it had clearly delineated realms. But it was still empty.
During the next three days, God would create what was needed to fill the earth and bring a rhythm to it. On day four, God spoke into existence the sun, moon, and stars to govern the day-night cycle and mark sacred times. On day five, God commanded the seas to be filled with fish of different kinds and the sky to be filled with birds of different kinds. Lastly, on day six, God created animals of various kinds from the dust of the ground. Notice the repetition of the phrase “according to their kind.” Some scientists believe that today’s species evolved from lower forms of life. This is known as the Theory of Evolution, first proposed by the British biologist Charles Darwin in the 19th century. The problem with this theory is that it requires transition or crossover from one species to another. However, paleontologists have been to date unable to find evidence of species transition in the fossil record. Okay, maybe a amoeba evolved into a mouse, and a mouse into a squirrel, and a squirrel into a dog, and a dog into a lion. But where are the intermediate species between a squirrel and a dog? Not in the fossil record.
As we will see next week, day six is very important because at the end of it God also created humankind in his image to rule over the other living creatures. In the span of six days, God created a complex self-sustaining system that is unique in its variety and functions.
On Dec 21, 1968, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA launched a spacecraft into outer space. The mission’s name was Apollo 8. Its specific purpose was close-up Moon exploration. It was the first time humans were going to leave the orbit of the Earth. The commander of the expedition was a man named Frank Borman, a no-nonsense former Airforce pilot. Many young American boys (some girls too) dream to one day become astronauts to fly into space and explore worlds unknown. Frank Borman was selected from dozens of thoroughly trained NASA officers. He and his crew were going to be the first ever to see the surface of the Moon with their own eyes. If this mission succeeded, it would be a truly historic achievement. To reach the Moon they flew over 20,000 miles per hour, for 70 hours, with stars everywhere around them. What do you think they saw once they arrived in the Moon’s orbit? In Frank Borman’s words: “Meteor craters, no color at all. Just different shades of grey.” (He was not very impressed.) But, a few moments later, while still peering out the spacecraft’s windows over the gray lunar landscape, they saw something rise up over the horizon. It was the Earth. A beautiful blue-and-white marble. The only thing that had any color. The mission plan instructions required the crew to take hundreds of pictures of the Moon surface. No protocol for taking pictures of the Earth. However, Frank Borman asked a crewmember for a roll of color film, and took this picture. [SHOW Earthrise PICTURE] It was to become one of the most iconic pictures of the 20th century. A National Public Radio reporter recently interviewed Frank Borman, now retired, about his successful Apollo 8 Moon-exploration mission. The reporter asked Frank: “I was looking at the moon the other night, and it still feels crazy to me that you were there. When you think back to it, is there a particular part that you tend to remember?” The former commander replied: “The thing that reminds me of it, that I’ll recall till the day I die, was the Earth, looking back at the Earth.” Frank Borman had made the trip of his life to the Moon – only to discover the Earth.
Psalm 33 says: “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” (v.8-9). Like with many other things, people tend to take this planet for granted. They may forget how amazing and unique it is. Until something puts things in perspective. When one fully sees the beauty of God’s creation, the natural response is simply to be in awe of God and revere him for what he has done.
Part II It Was Good
God is indeed all-powerful. But his great power is not expressed with the purpose to crush or destroy. The purpose of God in creation is rather to bless and do good. What is the purpose of creation? To bless and do good, and thus to reveal that God himself is good. Do you believe that God is good? When is He good?
Before day one, when the earth was still formless, empty, and dark, verse 2 says that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” This shows that God was not detached from the process of creation, but was intimately involved in it. As a mother carrying her baby in the womb, he was looking forward to his new-born. God is a relational God. When he creates, he makes himself known. He makes himself known by calling out new things and naming the outcomes of his work. “And God said … And it was so.” is repeated in this passage every time something new is being created. Communication is the hallmark of relationships. God could have brought things into being with a motion of his hand or a thought of his mind. But he chose to use words to carry out his work because he wants to have a relationship with his creation.
After every stage of creation the text says “And God saw that it was good.” Creation is not simply about the material substance that goes into it, but also about the moral fiber that holds it together. God designed creation order to demonstrate his goodness. When creation order is distorted, God’s goodness is undermined, and bad consequences follow. For example, recently scientists have tried to manipulate genetic material to create new plant varieties or even animal species. Such mutations generally end in failure; when they apparently succeed it’s unknown what are the long-term consequences of integrating the new forms in the current eco-system. More sadly, many people worship the creation instead of the Creator. These practices lead to serious sins, such as revelry and child sacrifice, as subsequent chapters in the Old Testament document. However, even when humanity distorts creation order, God demonstrates his goodness by redeeming his creation through the Cross of Jesus Christ.
When a person lives in opposition to (or in ignorance to, as was my case) God’s moral order, they eventually become empty and their life is filled with darkness. Just like the earth before God said “Let there be light.” God certainly knew that his creation would eventually become corrupted. He knew and was prepared for that outcome. The highest expression of God’s goodness, therefore, was still to be revealed. 1 Peter 1 says He [that is, Christ] was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. (v.20) Through Jesus Christ, I can re-establish a right relationship with my Creator God. When I know that I am part of God’s creation; when I know that God created everything to show his goodness; when I know that in Christ I was redeemed; then I can praise God and seek God’s glory with the precious life he has given me. I like how 2 Cor 4 puts it: For God who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (v.6)
Today we began our study of Genesis with the creation account. We learnt that it was God who created the heavens and the earth. He did so by his power, wisdom, and goodness. God put in place both the physical environment and the moral order needed for life to thrive. I pray that God may give you faith to recognize the truth of his Word and trust his goodness. May God richly bless you with the word of Genesis in the coming weeks.
Let’s read the key verse together, please. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.