Starting from the Right Place

Suppose you want to go to Bismarck. You know that you have to go due north to get there. So you start out going due north. You keep going and going and going. It starts to get colder and colder and colder. You cross the border into Canada. You didn’t get to Bismarck, because you started in Minneapolis! You can have the most accurate idea in the world of where you are going, but if you don’t start in the right place, you won’t get there.

Suppose you want a relationship with Christ. You know that you have to believe in Him as Savior. But if you believe in evolution, if you believe that the earth is eternal, if you believe that man wasn’t created holy, if you believe that man didn’t really fall, then you are going to have a warped view of what Jesus came to do. And you will have a warped view of salvation as it applies to you. For instance, suppose you believe in evolution. This means that God did not create mankind with any purpose in view, since God didn’t create mankind at all. There isn’t any fall, since mankind was never “holy,” and was never given any command by the God who held mankind responsible for their decisions. As a result, you will probably believe in the brotherhood of mankind, and the fatherhood of God, whoever He is. God is love, and not justice and holiness. As a result of believing that, the “atonement” is not for the purpose of appeasing God’s wrath against sinners. Jesus died only to be an example to us of what love is. Never mind how that is the case. We can see that if you start at evolution, you will wind up with a terribly wrong view of Jesus Christ. Evolution is the wrong starting place. But it is not the only wrong starting place. If you believe that God and the world are the same thing, then evil is part of God, since it is part of the world. There is not a need for Christ to come and die then, because evil isn’t a problem, since God is not holy. If you believe that God created the world and then completely abandoned it such that the world is left to itself, then you have God who couldn’t possibly care enough about human suffering to come and die for mankind. Where you start from is a huge factor in getting to the right place. No doubt, you also have to take the right road to get there, and there are many places to go astray. However, if you do not start at the right place, then your journey is doomed from the start.

We are going to embark on a journey through Genesis. It will take us quite a while to finish Genesis. However, do not be discouraged at the slow pace at the beginning. The first three chapters of Genesis are some of the most important chapters in the Bible, and we cannot rush through them. There are an amazing number of places to go wrong in these few chapters, and so we need to be very careful in how we walk through them.

Genesis means “beginning.” Genesis is a record of how God created everything. It can be divided into two parts: in chapters 1-11, God calls the universe into existence. In chapters 12-50, God calls a special people into existence. But right there, we need to notice something: Moses spends a lot more time talking about the origins of Israel than he does talking about the origins of the universe. The time from creation to the flood is the same amount of time as the time from the flood till now, as it says in 2 Peter 3:4-7. Yet Moses only gives the first part of that history nine chapters. When it comes to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, Moses writes thirty-nine chapters about them. This is not to diminish the importance of the first chapters of Genesis. However, we do need to remember that Moses was primarily concerned about the history of Israel. The creation is a prelude to the story of Israel. Moses is saying that the God of Israel is the same God who created the heavens and the earth. He is saying that the story of Israel is a partial answer to the problem of the fall. God begins the fulfillment of the promise recorded in Genesis 3:15 by creating a people for himself, out of whom will eventually come the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Genesis is the starting place, and the rest of the OT is the road by which we arrive finally at the person and work of Jesus Christ. Do not be excessively interested in the sometimes attractive side-roads that branch off from the main road leading to Christ. We must remember that famous saying of Augustine about how the OT and NT relate: The Old is in the New revealed, and the New is in the Old concealed. But we must modify the statement a little. Because we have the NT, the OT is much more revealing to us. It is like a mystery novel. As you read along, there are many things that do not make sense, or that might be misleading to you, if the writer is a good mystery writer. However, after you have read the ending, and you go back to read the beginning again, details will pop out at you as pointing to the end, if you have eyes to see them. You didn’t see them as clues before, but now you do. Because we know the end of the story, which is Jesus Christ, details in the entire OT will show us the way. Genesis is the starting point of that journey to Jesus.

But how does Genesis point us to Christ? By promise and by blessing. By promise, God gave us hope after we had fallen. God promised that a savior would come would ultimately do away with Satan and death. By promise, Noah was assured that the world would never be destroyed again by water, thus making room and time for salvation to occur. By promise, Abraham would be a father of many nations. By promise, his descendants received the same covenant as Abraham did. Christ conquered Satan and death, by Christ many nations would come under Abraham’s tent to be saved, and in Christ the descendants of believers receive the same blessing of the covenant. By promise, Genesis points us to Christ.

But also in blessing does Genesis point us to Christ. The blessing of being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth shows us God’s command to go out and proclaim the name of Jesus Christ so that Christians may multiply and fill the earth. By blessing Noah with the same blessing, God insures that his purpose will be carried out in Christ Jesus. By blessing Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with the material and spiritual blessings of the covenant, God increased their numbers, so that eventually Jesus would come out of that lineage which was guaranteed not to fail. By blessing and by promise Genesis points us to Christ.

What does this mean for us? It means that we too can have a new beginning. 2 Cor 5:17 says that if you are in Christ, you are a member of the new creation, the old has gone, and the new is here. It is a new starting place, from which you will journey to the end, which is heaven itself. The road which starts in Genesis ends in the new heavens and the new earth. I would encourage you to read Revelation while we go through Genesis, because Revelation echoes Genesis at so many points. I will point out the more important connections as we go along. See Rev. 21:1-5.
It is easy when we read Genesis to think of the story as “out there.” Yes, Moses wrote it for our benefit, but it still doesn’t seem to hit home like it should. We have to realize that Genesis gives us our story. We are actually taking part in this story. In that respect, Genesis is unlike a mystery novel. We do not take part in mystery novel. But we are all part of humanity. Adam’s story is our story. Romans 5:17 says that Adam’s story got messed up. That is, our story got messed up. So, a new Adam had to come and make it right. Christ is the second Adam. Therefore, if we believe in Jesus Christ that He came to make the story right, then Christ’s story is also our story. We are actually part of that great story. This is the good news. This is the new right road starting from the new correct starting place. This is the road for us. Let us travel on it. When we do, we will get to a far better place than Bismarck.

The Eternal God

Genesis 1:1
Eternity rides on the back of time. Our time here is short. But two things we learn from our short life. One is that what we do, and in whom we put our trust in this life has implications for the eternity that is to come. The second thing is that God has put eternity into the heart of man. We long for eternity with God. We are made that way. So what is this eternity that God has put into us? And who is the God of eternity who has put this eternity into us? We can scarcely ask more important questions than these. To learn this, we must go back to the beginning. The main point of the sermon today is that God is eternal. He exists outside the boundaries of time and space. Indeed, He created time and space, and so must be outside time and space in order to create time and space. This is marvelous and beyond our comprehension. Nevertheless, the Bible calls us to believe it. When we do, we will find the implications for our lives.

The first four words are the basis for the sermon today. Do not fear, we will look at more verses at a time later on in the series. But this verse is if not the most important, then one of the most important verses in the Bible. It behooves us to look at it carefully, and recognize just how foundational this verse is for our faith.

The first things we learn from these words is that there was a beginning of everything in this world. This world did not exist forever. Many people throughout history have thought that this world was eternal, that it always existed. Aristotle thought this, as did a great many other Greek philosophers. Darwin, the founder of evolution, believed it, as have many of his followers. In fact, it is more than probably that the idea of evolution came into being precisely to get rid of any idea of a God who might actually hold mankind accountable for his deeds. Evolution is a false faith in the godhood of man. Contrary to this idea, Genesis 1:1 says that the world, of which mankind is a part, had indeed a beginning. This means that the world and everything in it is completely and utterly dependent on God for its existence. If God withheld his supporting hand from the world for one nanosecond, everything would instantly be destroyed. In fact, scientists have not been able to figure out why matter sticks together. That means that our existence is entirely dependant on God every second of our lives. This is not what sinful mankind wants to hear. But it is essential that we come to realize this dependence. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon in which he made the point that the very existence of sinners was in the hands of God who was displeased with their sin. He used many vivid images to describe this. One of the most vivid was that the sinner is like a spider which is hanging by a thread from the hand of a God who is incensed at the sin of this mere creature. All that God would have to do is shake His hand once, and the spider would be doomed to hell. The name of the sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” You see, sin is not a real problem unless God is this eternal, all-powerful being who made heaven and earth. Sin has no meaning unless you sin against such a God as this. I am going to leave you hanging (!) on that thought for a little bit. There was a beginning to the world.

The second thing we learn from these words is that God was there at the beginning. God existed before the world began. He existed in all eternity past, in contrast to what Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) mythologies said, as well as what people today say. We cannot understand this. I will not attempt to intrude on matters beyond us. However, there are some misconceptions about this that we can clear up. Some person might ask, “Why did God not create the heavens and the earth much sooner than He did?” The problem with that question is the use of the word “sooner.” You see, eternity and time do not operate the same way. Time is finite and in a straight line through history. Eternity is infinite and is not parallel with time. A circle is perhaps a better way to think about eternity. It has no beginning and no end.

It is important also to realize that God as triune existed in eternity past. Proverbs 8 gives us a picture of the Son in eternity past. The very next verse in Genesis tells us that the Holy Spirit was there at the beginning. And it is God the Father who commands the presence of light. Without the triune God, creation is not possible. God the Father speaks, God the Son, who is the Word, as John tells us, is the agent of creation. John says that without the Son, nothing was made that has been made. The Holy Spirit gives life to creation. The hovering over the face of the deep, as recorded in verse 2 here, is like a hen hovering over her eggs, giving them warmth so that they can develop into chicks later, when they break out of their shell. All three persons of the Trinity were there at the beginning. That’s what Scripture means when it says that God was there at the beginning.

What does this means for us? Well, consider that we are finite creatures that have only the briefest of times here on the earth to live. We are utterly dependent on God for our very life. Know also that this life God has given to us is all that we have in which to determine where it is we will spend eternity. It will all be decided in this life. And we are all sinners in the hands of an angry God. That is the bad news.

The good news is that there is a solution. The eternal God became a son of man so that we might become sons of the eternal God. He entered our finiteness, and became dependent. When he died, Jesus committed his spirit into the hands of Him to whom it belonged. He was dependent. But He was also God Himself. The triune God planned that Jesus would come into the world to save sinners. In John’s gospel, the first verses are telling us that just as God created the world, he would also recreate it through the Word, who is Jesus, the Son of God. And you see, when we put our trust in Him, and in his saving work done on our behalf, we learn that just as the triune God was there at the creation of the world, so the triune God is also the cause of the new creation that happens in our heart. God the Father plans and commands our salvation, Jesus the Son accomplished our salvation in time, and the Holy Spirit applies it to our hearts. The same God who created the universe created a new heart in us. We can read about this especially in Ephesians 1. We must trust in this God who has saved us. Then, instead of being a spider hanging by a thread (which we can understand to be our very life) from the hand of an angry God, we will understand that God has taken pity on us, and now holds that spider in the palm of his hand, and indeed will condescend to use that spider to spin the web of the Gospel to catch others for the Lord, and also to combat the works of Beelzebul, the lord of the flies. Spiders eat flies. That God who was angry with us before we trusted in Him, is now existing inside of us by the power of the Holy Spirit. We also exist in Him. That is true power. That is also eternal life. That is a new dependence on God’s power day to day that can lift our eyes beyond any pain, temptation, discouragement, or persecution, because it lifts our eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Are you discouraged? Remember that your identity is a child of the King, not a person given to alcoholism, or depression, or anything else. You are a child of the King who is struggling with alcoholism, depression, or something else. And instead of wallowing in our sin, we need to look to Christ. As Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “For every one look that you look at yourself, look ten times at Christ.” Satan wants nothing more than to prevent us from seeing Jesus, and communing with Him more. He wants us to wallow in our sin such that we come to a state of perpetual doubt. The more we depend on ourselves, the more depressed we will be. The more we look at Christ, the more free we will be, for He is the truth, and the truth will set us free. This is not to say that we should not be sorry for our sin. Indeed, how can we do anything but grieve over something that grieves the Lord who bought us with His own blood, that we might be holy even as he is holy. However, that punishment that comes to us because of sin, if we are believers, is the discipline of a Father to His children, not the ultimate wrath that will come upon unbelievers. The Lord disciplines those that He loves. There is, therefore, always a good reason for what happens to us as believers.

God, the eternal God, has put eternity into the hearts of mankind, as Ecclesiastes says. That eternity in our hearts is the longing for eternity with God that only God can fulfill. Realize that there is an eternal Sabbath rest waiting for the people of God, as it says in Hebrews 4:9. We did not exist for eternity past like God does, but we will exist for eternity future with god in heaven. As the great poem says, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun; we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we’ve first begun.” Now, I want you to notice something about the language used in that famous hymn. In English grammar, we use the word “fewer” for things that can be counted, and we use the word “less” for things that cannot be counted. So, for instance, we have fewer chairs in our house than in the church, but we have less water in our well than there is in the ocean. Newton uses the word “less” when he is talking about days, which we usually think of as countable. Newton is saying that the days in eternity cannot be counted. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun. That, my friends, is a beautiful thought. It is made possible by the eternal God, who existed before the world was created, and therefore is the only person who can change darkness into light, chaos into order, a sinful person into a holy person. That means we will spend eternity with the eternal triune God. We had a beginning, but we will not have an end.