First Things First – How the World Came to Be
1. “In the Beginning” - The Most Important Verse in the Bible
Genesis 1: 1
We are beginning a new series - First Things First: How the World Came to Be. We’ll be looking in detail at the opening chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1-11. Our goal is simple. We want to know what God has said about the origin of the universe. We want to know where we came from and how we got here. Are we the chance products of mindless evolution or are we here because God created us? The issue is very stark - Did the universe just “happen” or was it caused? Did the human race rise up from the primordial ooze or were we intentionally created by the hand of God? Those questions are fundamental to our understanding of reality. If you believe that we evolved over billions of years, that we are nothing more than time plus chance plus a few helpful mutations that separate us from the shark, the monkey and the porcupine - that’s all we are, then you don’t need God because the universe can take care of itself quite nicely without him. But if you believe that every single man and woman is a creation of God and that we are unique because God made us in his image, then you will have an entirely different view of the universe and your place in it.
Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
I think we’re going to have a wonderful time as we journey through these early chapters of the Bible. It’s only fair that I tell you up front where I’m coming from. I accept the words of Genesis as literal truth from God. Because I believe they are all literally true, I reject outright the idea that these chapters are myth, legend or poetry. Read it and see for yourself. I do not think you will come away saying, “This was meant to be a fairy tale.” To the contrary, these chapters were meant to be taken as a true account of the origin of the human race, and that is how we will approach them in this sermon series.
The Hottest Battleground
For well over 100 years, from Charles Darwin until today -unbelievers, skeptics and doubters of all kinds have attacked this part of God’s Word from every angle. We are told that science has proved that these chapters cannot be true, that evolution must be accepted as fact and that no intelligent person could ever believe in a literal Adam and Eve, a literal serpent talking, a literal Garden of Eden, a literal Cain and Abel, a literal Noah, a literal ark, a literal worldwide flood and a literal Tower of Babel. These things are nonsense (so we are told), foolishness and the product of a pre-scientific era. Unfortunately, many well-meaning Christians have bought into these attacks to a significant degree. Because we are intimidated by the criticism that comes whenever we dare to say, “Yes, we do believe this is how the world came to be,” it has been easier for us to keep silent so we won’t be mocked, or to make a series of compromises so that we can live at peace with the unbelieving majority that largely controls education and the media. If they’re going to shoot at us, we might as well fight it out with our guns blazing.
These chapters present us with intriguing questions. How long were the “days” of Genesis 1? Were Adam and Eve real people? Where was the Garden of Eden? Did God really make Eve from Adam’s rib? Why did Satan appear to Eve as a serpent? Where did Cain get his wife? Was there really a flood and did it really cover the whole earth? What happened to the dinosaurs? Who were the “giants” who roamed the earth in Noah’s day?
There are some questions that pop up from time to time - “Did Adam have a belly-button?” and “How did Noah keep the ark clean with all those animals on board?”
There are questions relating to contemporary social issues: How does Genesis help us understand the roles of men and women? How does Genesis apply to the question of homosexuality and gay marriage? What should we learn from Genesis about cloning, stem cell research, capital punishment and abortion? What is the biblical foundation for marriage and the family? Is euthanasia wrong? What about human rights? Why is racism wrong?
I am not going to be able to answer all these questions. For some, the Bible doesn’t tell us enough for an answer. In some cases, the answers are clear and of vital importance. So I invite your careful attention as we begin our journey together. Remember that this is the Word of God to us, to you and to me. Everything God wants us to know starts right here.
The Headwaters of Divine Revelation
Genesis is God’s eyewitness testimony to the creation of the world, which is why skeptics attack it so bitterly. Satan hates this part of God’s Word because of its message. It establishes that there is a God who reigns supreme over the universe. It tells us that God made us, that he established the rules for life and therefore we are totally accountable to him. The purpose of these chapters is to reveal God to us that we might come to know him personally.
The First Question You Must Answer
There are 3 questions we all must answer eventually: Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? Genesis tells us where we came from and why we are here. We were made by God and we were put on the earth to know God and to serve him. In serving him we find meaning, purpose, fulfillment, incredible satisfaction and a sense of self-worth. We were made for God and the more we know about him, the happier we will be.
I urge you to ask the Lord for his guidance. “Lord, reveal yourself to me as I study your Word. Show me who you are that I may know who I am. I want to know you so that I might know your purpose for my life. May your Spirit give me an open heart and ears to hear what you are saying to me. Amen.”
With that we come to the very first verse of the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” I am struck by the fact that it is a declaration, not an argument. The Bible nowhere argues for the existence of God. The Bible simply declares that God is and that he created all things. Once you get it settled in your heart that “God is,” a lot of other problems will be solved as well.
I’d like to suggest 4 implications. If this is true, what then follows?
1. The Universe Had a Definite Beginning
“In the beginning” refers to the beginning of all created things. This is where everything starts. That fact helps us understand that matter is not eternal. There was a time when matter did not exist. The universe is not eternal. There is a time when the heavens and the earth did not exist. The things we see around us - the trees, the buildings, the cars we drive, the things we own, the mountains and the oceans - none of it has been here forever. Only God is eternal. Everything else had a beginning. Even time was created by God.
A question children like to ask (and adults secretly wonder about): Who created God? The answer is, no one “created” God. He was there before the beginning. He had no beginning - He did not create himself. He was, he is, and he will always be. I admit that we cannot comprehend what that means. But know this. God stretches back farther than the mind can imagine. He goes far beyond the reaches of chemistry, biology, history or mathematics. He dwells in eternity, which means no telescope can find him and no computer program can define him.
2. The Universe Was Created By God Out of Nothing
Apostles’ Creed begins -“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” God created all that we see around us. He created the sun, the stars, the moon and the planets. He created the comets and the asteroids. Scientists estimate there are 400 billion stars in the Milky Way. There are more than 100 billion galaxies, each with at least 100 billion stars. Psalm 147: 4 “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” No wonder the Bible says, Psalm 19: 1 “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
God has left his fingerprints all over the universe. This world is God’s house. He’s left clues everywhere about what kind of God he is. When you stand at the Victoria Falls, you can’t help but be overwhelmed at the mighty power of God to create such magnificence. He must have had a mighty hand to scoop out the Blyde River Canyon. He is as infinite as the dark recesses of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. Each snowflake testifies to his uniqueness. The changing colours of the Cape Mountains proclaim his creativity. The galaxies shout, “He is there.” The wildflowers sing, “He is there.” The running rivers join, “He is there.” The birds sing, the lions roar, the fish write it in the oceans—“He is there.” All creation joins to sing his praise. The heavens declare it, the earth repeats it and the wind whispers it—“He is there.” Deep cries out to deep, the mighty baobabs tell it to the eagle which soars overhead, the lamb and the wolf agree on this one thing—“He is there.” No one can miss the message.
He created the heavens and the earth out of nothing. The technical term is “ex nihilo.” He spoke and the stars filled the sky. He spoke and the birds began to fly. He spoke and the fish began to swim. He spoke and the roses began to bloom. He spoke and the snail began to creep, the jackal began to howl and the hummingbird started to hum. Hebrews 11: 3 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
On the basis of Genesis 1:1, we know these things are true: God is. God acts. God creates. He is sovereign. He is Almighty. He is Omnipotent. He is Supreme. Only God creates. We don’t create anything. We take existing material and fashion it into something new. We make things. Only God creates something from nothing.
Because he is the Creator, he is greater than his creation. Because he is the Creator, he is absolutely supreme over all things. There is nothing in my life that is greater than God. There is no problem I have that he cannot solve. Nothing that baffles me baffles him. Nothing that stumps me stumps him. He is the Unstumpable God!
3. All Things Owe Their Existence to God the Creator
Because God is the Creator, he is also the owner of all things. Since God made us, he has the absolute right of ownership over us. At this point we gain a crucial insight into why some people fight so bitterly against Genesis. Evolution for some people is just an excuse to reject God’s sovereignty. People want to be free. We want to do our own thing, go our own way, live the way we want, do whatever we feel, whenever we want and no one has the right to tell us what to do. But if God created us, he owns us. If he owns us, then we are accountable to him for everything we say and do. That’s not a happy thought for many people.
4. True Wisdom Begins Here
If we say we believe the Bible, we must start where the Bible starts, with the very first verse. Wisdom and truth and the search for God all begin right here. If you want to end up where the Bible ends up, in the New Heaven and New Earth of Revelation 22, then you’d better start where the Bible starts “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Let me put it another way: If you can believe Genesis 1:1, you won’t have any problems with the rest of the Bible. If you can believe that there is a God who miraculously created everything in the universe, you won’t struggle over the other miracles of the Bible. Why should you struggle over the Resurrection of Christ if you are willing to believe that God spoke and the stars sprang into place? In that sense we can fairly say that the Christian faith starts with the very first verse of the Bible.
Here is the choice we face: Either we were directly created by God or we evolved over billions of years by the random acts of mindless, purposeless, materialistic evolution. Either we come from the hand of God, being made in his image, or we come up from the mud through eons of mindless evolution.
You are free to believe what you want. As for me and my family, we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. If you don’t believe in God, you are forced to say that nothing plus nothing equals something. It takes more faith to believe that than to believe Genesis 1: 1.
Our Culture is in Trouble
It might be said that the sort of worldview I have presented is out of step with the majority view today. That would be correct. I would go a step farther and say that the Christian is almost always out of step with the majority culture in one way or another. Because we embrace God’s truth, because we stand on the rock of Holy Scripture, we will always be out of step with those who have no time for God or who have pushed him into the corner. We propose to be Theocentric—that is, God-centred in all we say and do because we believe God must be at the very centre of life. In him is life and apart from him there is no life at all, only barren, dreary existence.
Our culture says - God must be kept out at all costs. They can’t let him in because if you let God in, there’s no telling what will happen next. If God is more than myth or legend, if God is more than a slogan, if God is going to be God, then modern culture is in big trouble. We have so effectively marginalised God and removed him from the marketplace of ideas that the very idea of taking God seriously is something like secular blasphemy. If you take God out of the picture, you have to explain everything without him. But nothing makes sense without God. That’s why we’re in the mess we’re in.
On Christmas Eve 1968, the 3 astronauts of Apollo 8 circled the dark side of the moon and headed for home. As their tiny capsule floated through space, they saw the glistening blue and white earth slowly fill their window. In that moment, what do you think those men did? They did not quote Einstein or Shakespeare or Darwin. Only one thing could capture the magnificence of the moment. Billions of people around the world heard the voice from outer space begin to read: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The astronauts read Genesis 1: 1 to a worldwide audience. In that moment no other words would do. Nothing makes sense without God.
We believe that God created us, that he made us and we did not make ourselves, that God created everything that exists merely by speaking words, that God is at the centre of everything, that God is supreme, and we therefore gladly bow before him in worship, wonder, adoration and praise. In him we live and move and have our being. We owe him everything. He alone is the Lord. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is where the Christian faith begins. Amen.