Series: In the beginning... - Part One
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
January 1, 2017
Does anyone know what building this is? This is the Millennium Tower in San Franciso. When the Millennium Tower opened in 2009 it was the tallest residential building west of the Mississippi. It is 60 stories tall. Actually 58 - floors 13 and 44 don’t exist for superstitious reasons. The tower cost $350 million to build. Penthouses go for $12 million - the most expensive on the west coast.
Earlier this year they found that the tower was not only sinking but also tilting… badly… and getting worse.
Apparently they used friction piles sunk into mud and sand and not end bearing piles that load directly into bedrock. A major oops - which raises some huge questions and makes the value of those penthouses questionable.
Good foundations are crucial. What our lives are built on makes a huge difference in how are lives are lived - now and forever.
This morning being January 1st - the beginning of a new year - we are going to begin where God begins - the foundation that God has laid for His creation. In the next four Sundays we’ll be unpacking Genesis chapters 1 to 3. What are familiar verses. What are crucial verses for us to be reminded of and marinate on as we begin a new year.
Genesis is foundational. It is bedrock for everything that comes next.
God’s power and authority in human history are predicated on His creative acts. The account of creation is repeated over and over in Scripture because it’s foundational to the rest of Scripture. The authority and deity of Jesus are related to creation. God’s love and care and provision for His creation - for us - is best understood in light of His creative work. Understanding our own existence and purpose and destiny is tied to understanding these first three chapters of Genesis.
This morning we are unpacking two verses: Genesis 1:1,2. Would you read these with me: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Quick quiz: What book is this the first line of?
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Answer: 1984 (George Orwell, 1949)
How about this? “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” Answer: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (C. S. Lewis, 1952)
First lines are crucial. Yes?
Genesis 1:1 has been called one of the most profound statements made in the hearing of men. Arguably the greatest first line. Process that idea and it’s true. 10 English words. 7 in Hebrew. Hugely profound.
Those few words answer two of the fundamental questions that every person who’s ever lived - since the day we start noticing the world we live in and started to take seriously our lives and the universe around us - every person starts to think about the origin of existence - our existence - and the reason all this exists. Is there any purpose and meaning to my life? God used just 7 Hebrew words to give us the answer.
“In the beginning” is actually one word in Hebrew. It has the idea of a beginning point. Like the headwaters of a river. The exact location where the river begins. There’s nothing before it and everything else flows from it. Meaning that time - history - everything in what God has created comes after the point which was “in the beginning.”
A lot of good people - people having smarts and education - scientists - theologians - others - a lot of really good people have spent a lot of grey matter trying to figure out just exactly when that beginning point was.
Some people - observing what they’re able to observe around us - and thinking that through with what we’re able to understand about what we see happening around us today - some people have concluded that what exists has been around for about 13 or 14 billion years - plus or minus.
Some people - studying through the Bible - and especially the genealogies there - following through the who begat whos - and how long those different begetters lived - some people have concluded that the beginning point was somewhere between 6,000 to 10,000 years ago - plus or minus.
If you’d like my answer to the “when” question - which you didn’t ask for but you’re going to get anyway - I think that the earth is about 8,000 years old - plus or minus - probably plus. I know that some people here would agree with me. Some would disagree. Maybe some would recoil in horror at my - tossing reality out the window - answer.
And that’s okay. A lot of good people disagree on the chronology of “when.” It is an interesting study and discussion. But the point is that - with all that back and forth study and discussion - bottom line - we don’t know. And that’s okay. Because having a fixed date for when time began isn’t the point. If it was, God would have told us.
The point is that there was a beginning point before which there was nothing.
No peoples. No earth. No solar system. No galaxies. No universe. No energy. No gravity coiled ready to spring everything into existence. Some big bang that just needed to happen - waiting for a push - maybe from God. No laws of celestial mechanics. No universal laws that God had to abide by. No atoms or dark matter. No throne room of God. No heaven. No angels. No Satan. No prayer. No future history waiting to unfold. No time. Nothing. Nada. Not even nada. Nothing - except God.
As created beings who exist in what God has created - isn’t that just a tad hard to wrap your mind around?
But, we need to let that sink in: “In the beginning…” before which nothing existed. Only God. Period. After which all this exists.
Closely related to the “when” question is the “how” question. How did that happen?
The word order of Genesis 1:1 - is different in Hebrew than we have it in our English translations. The English translations smooth out the Hebrew to make it more like English. But, we’re going to follow the Hebrew word order because that’s the order we’re given to help us answer the “how” question.
Next in the Hebrew word order is the verb “bara” - which is translated “created” - meaning “absolute creation.” Theologians use the term “ex nihilo” - which means “out of nothing.” There are other Hebrew verbs that describe making stuff out of stuff.
But here - “creation” - “bara” is not like forming something out of something. Like existence is like playdough. Ever play with playdough? Great stuff.
Creation - “bara” - is not like God takes some pre-exiting blob of playdough and makes a universe. Rolls up little pieces into balls and makes stars and planets and stuff. There was no playdough until God created the playdough.
What exists did not need to come into existence because of the gravity of the situation - as some have theorized. That just kicks the can farther down the road.
Where did gravity come from? According to Genesis 1:1 - in the beginning - even gravity was created out of nothing.
The next word in the Hebrew is... God. Emphasis God. God, Who in the beginning created everything out of nothing.
Paul writes in Romans 4:17 that it is God Who “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” (Romans 4:17)
Creation isn’t about growth and process it’s about God’s word of command and creation - existence - exists - comes into being.
God - out of nothing - God fashioned everything that is. God creates out of nothing what it is that He uses to fashion what is fashionable.
That’s the answer: All those things that didn’t exist before the beginning point now exist - because God willed them - us and the stuff we’re made of - willed it all into existence.
When and how did it all begin? Answer: “In the beginning God created…”
That reality may be a tad hard to get our minds around. But we need to pause and calmly think about that. What we’re reading here in Genesis is given to us by God to help us gain a greater understanding of just Who God is and what He is about doing - even with us.
One significant truth - what God reveals to us about Himself - is this: Before anything existed God is.
First: Cosmological - The existence of the cosmos demands a Creator.
Second: Moral - God’s existence is a practical - moral - necessity.
Third: Ontological - God is an absolutely necessary Being.
Fourth: Teleological - The design of the cosmos demands a Designer.
Which are all great arguments for the existence of God and a lot to take in and a discussion for another time. Point being that there are great arguments for the existence of God. But Scripture doesn’t go there. Why? Not important.
The Bible simply assumes that God exists. That before the beginning God is. Which is not about God proving that He exists but about God telling us what we need to know about Him.
John Piper writes: “There is no ‘before’ God and no ‘after’ God. He is absolutely there, no matter how far back or how far forward you go. He is the absolute Reality. He has the honor of being there first and always.” (1)
The reality of God’s existence being separate from His creation opens up to us a ton of truths about Who God is. More truths that we have time for this morning. Which is why on your message notes you’ll see a URL that will take you to a .pdf file on our site where you can do some more study on the attributes of God. (2)
Meaning that God is independent of His creation. His existence isn’t dependent on us or anything. God did not need to create us. He exists because He exists. We need Him.
And God is eternal. He has no beginning or end or is a part of or bound by a succession of events. God doesn’t grow old. God is not some old guy with a long white beard.
Nothing limits God. He’s all powerful. He’s every where there is a where to be. He already knows everything about everything. Meaning that wherever there is a wherever God is doing and is completely able to do whatever God has willed to do. God doesn’t get surprised by current events.
God is unchangeable. Nothing can change who He is - or His purposes - or His promises. What God has intended to do with His creation - with us - He is doing and will do.
God is sovereign in that God upholds all things by His power and determines their just end. God is in complete control.
God is holy - meaning that God is pure moral excellence - totally without sin. God is the final standard of what is right and so God is righteous and just - even in His dealings with us.
And yet - coming back to verse 1 - as brain popping as all that is - God is knowable. God exists in such a way that He reveals Himself to us - as He begins here in verse 1 - reveals Himself to us so that we can get a glimpse of Who He is and so that we can come to know Him personally. In His act of creation we see that God is love and mercy and grace and truth and patience and faithfulness and goodness.
Another truth about God comes in the name of God being used here in the Hebrew. In verse 1 the name used for God is “Elohim.”
That name “Elohim” - “God” is in the plural form. The verb “created” is singular - He created - 3rd person singular. Meaning Elohim - God in plurality - is the He - the singular One God - Who created.
Different cultures down through history have come up with a whole lot of gods in order to cover the range of abilities and powers that should exist with divinity. Cultures that have made gods that have characteristics that we can relate to.
But the One God of the Bible is the Creator not a creation. The One God of the Bible isn’t limited by our understanding of what we think a god should be like. Certainly He’s not a plurality of gods so that all the bases get covered.
What we’re being introduced to here in verse 1 is what theologians call The Doctrine of the Trinity.
Some other religions - like the Jehovah’s Witnesses - are quick to point out that the word “trinity” is not in the Bible. Which is true. It isn’t. But it is the word that’s used to label what God describes to us about Himself.
The description of the triune God is consistent from Genesis through Revelation. God is uniquely the one true God. God exists as one divine being yet three distinct persons - Father, Son, Spirit. Each distinct person sharing equally and without division all of what it means to be completely God in nature and essence. And yet each person is distinct in the workings of the Godhead.
And if you understand that you are in unique company because only God gets it. As creations of God - it is impossible to wrap our minds around the reality of Who God is. But just because there are limits to what we can understand about God doesn’t make these truths any less true.
The Doctrine of the Trinity is unique to Christianity and it is foundational to everything else we believe - about incarnation and redemption and sanctification. The whole basis of our community and fellowship and unity as the Body of Christ.
Hold onto this: One God - three persons - affirms that we believe in One God and not a lot of little gods or a god of our own creation.
Here in verse 1 God - our creator - is beginning to reveal to us Who He is. We’re just looking and being astounded by what God reveals to us.
In the beginning - He - Elohim - created.
Going on in verse 1: God created “the heavens and the earth.”
Which is our introduction to what God created.
If you’ve ever read through some the creation myths that are out there - some female deity giving birth or people coming out of holes in the ground or some magical creature doing something... magical. The earth sitting on some pedestal or riding on the back of a turtle or something. The Bible avoids all that silliness.
Someone has said that this phrase “the heavens and the earth” is the beginning of true science because a fundamental part of the task of science is to observe and classify all that can be observed in the makeup of the world of nature.
The phrase is an invitation - a jumping off point - to search for understanding. There’s no need to check our brains at the door. God is giving us an invitation to explore and be impressed by what it is that the God - Elohim - has created.
“The heavens” is plural. “Heavens.”
The Hebrews thought of heavens as three places. Heaven meaning the atmosphere that wraps itself around our planet. Take a deep breath and you got heaven.
Heavens - number two - meaning the universe out there.
There are an estimated 300 to 400 billion plus stars in our galaxy and there are 500 billion plus galaxies. We say plus because we just don’t know. Can’t know. The farther we look the more we see. How do we accurately measure what’s infinite?
The Bible was the first to say that the number of stars is beyond computation. Isaiah 51:13 says that God “stretched out the heavens” into limitless expanse and - Genesis 22:17 - God filled it with stars as numerous as the sand on the seashore. With our increase of knowledge - since Moses looked up at the stars - with our increase of knowledge we still have to agree with that truth.
And Heavens - number three - means THE Heaven where God has His throne room.
“The earth” is singular. Terra firma. Which is a study in itself. What makes up this little ball of dust we call home.
The invitation behind these words “the heavens and the earth” is to focus our attention on the purpose of the heavens and the earth.
Psalm 19:1,2 - TNLT - says, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display His craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make Him known.” (Psalm 19:1,2 TNLT)
What we observe around us testifies of God.
When we observe what is - the more we learn about the universe we live in and planet we live on - even when we contemplate heaven as our eternal dwelling with God - we begin to understand that God operates very very very differently than we do. God is not man. And yet the heavens and the earth are one huge illustration inviting us to know the God - the Creator Elohim - Who is enthroned above it all.
Still together? I realize that this is a lot to take in. But sometimes we read these verses - which are very familiar - and we can pass by all this in way that - in the familiarity of it all - looses the significance of what God is revealing to us. It is God - Elohim - who in the beginning created out of nothing - everything - even us.
7 words - the answer: How? God created. God created the when - the beginning. A what - everything - meaning a where - the heavens and the earth. And a why. Everything about anything - life itself - our ability to process life - the very fabric and essence of life - now and forever - all of that is about God.
God has given to us the heavens and the earth to teach us about Him and about what life is all about. God desires for us to know Him - to live life with Him - to live life on a very different level than we can even begin to imagine but deeply desire - that we were created to experience forever with God.
Going on to verse 2: The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Some really good theologians have pointed out that there appears to be a change of perspective between verses 1 and 2. We’ve gone from the vastness of creation to the specifics of this earth. Some have theorized that that change of perspective is describing a gap in time - a gap in the record of what God is revealing to us.
What is commonly called The Gap Theory. Which - as each of us is a student of the Bible - it’s important that we have some understand of what that means.
What falls into the gap - some say - may be all those billions of years and what accounts for the fossil record. In that gap may be an earth inhabited by a pre-Adamic race and ruled by Satan. When sin entered in God’s judgment came in the form of a great flood when light and heat from the sun ended - which is the set-up for verse 2 with its “without form and void.”
Ultimately The Gap Theory is an attempt to harmonize the Bible with current geological theory.
Meaning that - good theory - good to be aware of it - helps us to process what’s here - but it most probably isn’t the point God is making here - with this change of perspective between verses 1 and 2.
In Hebrew “without form and void” means “without form and void.”
Literally the phrase means a confused unreal emptiness. There’s no land formations - no mountains - no valleys - because there’s no land. Just empty nothingness.
The word for “darkness” means really really really dark.
Years and years ago I was in Moaning Cavern up by Columbia - 235 steps down - 165 feet below ground - giant cavern - and they turned the lights off. That’s dark. I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I can’t see nothing.
Ever been on one of those cave tours?
Darkness here is darker than that. Darker than blackness. Darker than extraordinary darkness - extreme darkness.
Verse 2 tells us that darkness is over the face of the deep.
Later in verse 2 that deep is defined as waters. Moses is describing the earth as being completely covered or surrounded with deep water, upon which was complete darkness.
Point being - in the beginning - when Elohim created everything out of nothing - before Elohim goes on to complete His work of creation the earth is uninhabitable.
And at that point the Spirit of God - meaning God the Holy Spirit - third Person of the Trinty - was hovering over the face of the waters.
“Hovering” in Hebrew is a beautiful image that’s calls to mind a mother watching over her infant child. It’s full of passion and compassion - grace and mercy.
Moses - in Deuteronomy 32:11 uses the same word to describe a mother eagle that’s hovering over its young - protecting them - gently helping her young to grow and mature.
Hovering is not detachment. Hovering involves relationship. Hovering means anticipation. Anticipation of everything that God does next. Bringing order out of chaos. Bringing light into darkness. Creating life and a place for us to dwell with God.
Are we together on the contrast here between verse one and verse two?
In verse one we’re introduced to Elohim Who creates out of nothing what is impressive in that it’s intricate and immeasurable. In verse two we’re introduced to the Spirit of God hovering over one planet in the midst of all that vastness with all of the intimacy that’s implied in the imagery of “hovering.”
One planet covered in water - in chaos and surrounded by darkness. Unformed. Uninhabited. And yet over that planet - this planet - the Spirit of God - third person of the Trinity - chooses to hover - to be involved - to shape and use to display His glory.
Why? Why this planet? Why in all of the cosmos - in all of His creation - in all of the vastness and glory that is declared by what He has created out there - why should God - who has no need for any of this - let alone us - why should God involve Himself here - with us.
Without God choosing, we don’t exist. Never have. Never will. None of this - all of this that we take so for granted as so permanent - so fixated on the ages and history of what we see around us - so wrapped up in our little understanding of our miniscule corner of creation - what we get so nutted up about - so stressed over the events or our lives - it’s all made of stuff God willed into being. Heaven - salvation - eternity. It’s all because of God.
It is God who knew before creation was creation that someday you would be created in His image with the opportunity to know Him - the God who knew you by name before you were born - all to His glory.
We need to process that. The God who creates the very stuff that we’re made of - God chooses to hover over this planet. Not detached from His creation but intimately involved - engaged here - even with us. With you. With me.
Processing through that…
I don’t know. But, I would suspect that your life is like mine - pretty much like most of us here. There are times when we feel like our lives are pretty much disorganized chaos. Pretty dark. There are times when our hopes tend to fade to black. There are foundations that we’ve built on that crack - sometimes crumble. Our lives tend to lean a bit off kilter. Disaster seems immanent.
God isn’t put off by our chaos. When our lives seem out of control He’s not detached from all that - off somewhere putting brush strokes on some distant planet. In the drama and craziness of our lives God hovers. He seeks us that we would understand Who He is - His chosen passion for us - that we would turn to Him.
I don’t know what that’s like for you. I’ve had my own struggles. With addictions. With divorce. Death. Illness - mental and physical. Financial. We’ve all got stuff.
Maybe for you it’s watching someone you love come apart with some kind of self-destructive behavior. Maybe it’s some addiction that’s taken hold of you. Or, long buried temptations that have come back. Maybe it’s an illness. Or an uncertainty about what comes next. Anger. Depression. Maybe it’s what’s been said to you or about you. Or done to you. Maybe it’s something you’ve done that you just can’t get passed.
Maybe it’s just that things that at one time made sense - but they just don’t makes sense no more. Whatever used to have order now has chaos.
Grab the reality of Who God is - what all this is - and who you - who we are - to God.
The same God who created all this - the Spirit of God who hovered over the water to form it - that same God will come near to you - to us - in our darkness - in our sin - in our brokenness and need for Him.
There’s another “in the beginning” in Scripture.
John writing of Jesus - John 1:1 - John writes - “In the beginning was the Word - Jesus - and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1,2)
John’s description of Jesus - the Word - second Person of the Trinity. Before anything existed God existed. God created creation. Jesus existed before the beginning. Bottom line: Jesus is God.
As someone has said, “Jesus is God with skin on.”
Either inwardly - because of our deepest thoughts - or outwardly in our actions - we don’t deserve God’s attention and care. His forgiveness. His love. His grace. His mercy. And yet Jesus came in a body made of flesh like ours - was born in a manger - lived among us - and on the blood stained cross - gave His life to deal with what separates us from God - the ravages of sin in our lives - and to offer us a new beginning with God. The recreation of our lives.
Astounding. Isn’t it? The Creator God - our Creator - takes on what it means to be humanity in order to die at the hands of His creation in order to save those who are murdering Him.
Jesus is at the beginning of our new creation - our re-creation from sinners separated from God - to sinners - who live in the forgiveness of sin and renewal of life in God.
As we begin this new year with God… where do you need God to create a new beginning with you?
1. John Piper, “Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ”, Crossway, 2004
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.