In the Christian worldview, God created all things and His creation is seen as a gift from God. Under no obligation or necessity, and out of His great pleasure, He created us inside this vast universe, living on earth, breathing air, enjoying sights, sounds, tastes, smells, feelings, relationships and many other things that we enjoy on this earth. God graciously gifted all these wonderful things for us to steward and enjoy!
Christians have always believed in creation by an omnipotent, sovereign God. It’s only been since a couple hundred years ago that the origin of creation has been debated in what we call the “age of reason” or the “Enlightenment”.
But there needs to be a disclaimer about the creation account before we begin to unpack it. It’s far too easy to read the first chapters of Genesis with the questions of our time: “Were the days of creation 24 hours long?” “How long ago did this happen?” “Is this history or myth?” “How does this square with modern views of science and evolution?” Of course, these are important questions and we can probably learn some things from Genesis 1-11 that are relevant to them.
But we don’t learn very much from a text if we ask it questions that it was not written to answer. Genesis is answering questions like: “What are human beings? What are we here for? What is our relationship to the nature and the world? Who is God and what is He like? Genesis 1 is not about the “How” of creation but rather about the “Why”.
On the Road to Emmaus, Jesus told those He was traveling with “beginning with Moses and all the prophets… the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures, how they point to Him. So if we were to begin with Moses, he wrote the first five books of the OT. So open your Bibles to Genesis 1:1-2 and let’s look for the Jesus.
There He is. Did you catch that? He’s all over the very first word in the Bible. Of course, it isn’t so easy to see in our English translations, so let’s look at the word as the original Hebrew readers did. In this passage, we see both God the Father and the Spirit of God involved in creation. But it gets interesting when we look at how ancient Jewish rabbis understood this passage as they did their interpretative translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, which was the common language of the people.
The first letter of the Hebrew Bible is “bet”. When the letter “bet” is at the beginning of a word, it means “in”. The first word of the Hebrew Bible is “bere’shit” which has always been understood to mean “In the beginning.” Some Jewish rabbis did a word study on the word “beginning” (re’shit in Hebrew; I know, don’t laugh) and found that it’s used side by side with the Hebrew word “firstborn” (bekor) four times in the OT (Gen. 49:3; Dt. 21:17; Ps. 78:51; 105:36). (On a side note, a word study on every letter in the first word of the Hebrew Bible “bere’shit” could possibly say this if you put all their meanings together in a sentence: “The firstborn son is going to build (create) the house of God. He will be the head of the house, a consuming fire, the almighty God, with God, whose hands are on the cross, who is the strength of the cross.”)
This would mean that the two words, “beginning” and “firstborn,” can have the same meaning and be used together in the same sentence when using “re’shit”. This becomes interesting because of two NT passages. In Colossians, Paul speaks of Jesus being “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Col. 1:15-16).
Then the apostle John uses this idea as he teaches about Jesus Christ being the “Word” (or words of God) at the “beginning” as he starts off his gospel: “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3)
So if this rabbinic tradition is true for this passage, then the translation of the opening words of the Bible includes both words: “In the beginning, by the firstborn, 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.”
So it’s clear that we see the Trinity at work in creation, and that Jesus is the spokesman by which all things were created by and for. Jesus coming to atone for the sins of mankind is vitally important for us to know, but we must also know that creation submits to Christ since He is the Creator (Luke 8:25: the winds and the waves obey His command; Mark 13:31: Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away). So Jesus gives His “words” the status and the durability greater than the whole creation… which is the same voice that said “Let there be light….and it was so.”
So, at the beginning of our universe as we know it, God existed and acted. He receives no introduction or explanation. He simply is present, acting in the most profound manner imaginable. He is the creator. He is the center of life, and truth can only be known through Him, since He is the Creator of all things. Alright, back to verse 1.
Gen 1:1: “created the heavens and earth”: the word “created” is the Hebrew word “bara” and is only used of God, never of human activity. Humans may “make” (asa) “form” (yatsar) or “build” (bana), but only God creates (bara; ex nihilo; out of nothing).
Gen. 1:2: “and the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving” This verse shows the utter need at the outset of creation for God to move and the power by which He will move and create (by the Spirit).
Gen. 1:3: “And God said (God speaks!), ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” We learn here that God speaks, and whatever He says happens exactly the way He says for it to happen. Also, in vv. 2-3, we see God using two instruments to create with.
The “Spirit of God” (the movement) and the “Word of God” (the authority).
Keller: In Scriptures, the Spirit and the Word always work together. In John 3:3, believers are “born again” by the Spirit, but they are also “born again” by the Word according to 1 Peter 1:23. We are told to be “filled with the Spirit” in Eph. 5:18, but we are also called to be “filled with the Word” according to Col. 3:16. In the creation of the world, and in the re-creation of believers in salvation, the Spirit and the Word work together to bring life where there is death. God never brings life and growth without the Word and Spirit.
Also, notice that in verse 2 there is darkness, and in verse 3 there is God, through the firstborn, speaking light into darkness. This is God’s MO (mode of operation). This is what He does. In 2 Cor. 4:6 we read: For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” (referring to Gen. 1:3) has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
So right out of the gates, as God is revealing Himself to mankind, He is revealing His plan to redeem mankind through the Son being the light that reaches into the dark hearts of mankind to take their old hearts, and give them a new heart, a new birth. This is God’s gospel being revealed to us from the beginning.
And starting in verse 3 on through the end of the chapter, we begin to see repetitious patterns appear that teach us about God’s gospel. Let’s look at them:
1. “God” with the word “made” or “created”. “God” appears 35 times in the first 34 verses. He dominates and overshadows everything. Nothing happens unless God makes it happen. Nothing is made or created except by Him. And notice there is no argument or fight with other gods during creation…that’s because there aren’t any!
2. “and God said”: This phrase is found 10 times in this chapter and indicates the divine command which called things into existence at will.
3. “and it was so”: This is used 6 times in this chapter to affirm that the creative command of God was perfectly accomplished and is powerful. We do not see God saying, “I’m going to do this” and then go do it. Almost always, he says: “Let there be…” and immediately “it was so”. Our words only express the intention to act, but God’s word is an action itself.
4. “it was good” or “very good”: This is found 7 times in the passage and it demonstrates the benevolence and wisdom of God in creation. It also serves as a type of benediction (a closing utterance). In verse 31, we have a kind of ‘master benediction’, where God sees “all that he had made… was very good”.
5. “separate” or “separating”: This word is used or assumed 6 times in the passage. The initial act of creation (v.1) is ex nihilo (Latin for “out of nothing”), but after that God’s creative work consists of elaborating, distinguishing, separating, and “drawing out” the creation into greater complexity.
6. “and there was evening and there was morning: This phrase occurs 6 times and shows us that there were days that were allotted to creation and by which God worked within. It’s clear to see that the division of the creative work of God into six days is a repetition in and of itself, but there is also a broader pattern that we find as we look at all of the days together. In the first three days, God creates the realms in which the created things in the last three days will inhabit.
Day 1: the realms of Light and Dark—Day 4: lights to “govern” Light and Dark
Day 2: the realms of Sea and Sky—Day 5: creatures to “fill” or Sea and Sky
Day 3 the realm: of the Earth (Plants)—Day 6: creatures to “fill” or “cultivate” the Earth
Day 7: God the Creator rests: “So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (2:3)
Now as we look at each repetitious pattern that we have identified, we must the observe what we have learned about God, since this is the beginning of God making Himself known to us, which is our mission; to make God known to the whole world so He alone is worshiped.
(these excerpts have been adapted from a study on Genesis 1 by Tim Keller)
1. God is personal. The verbs of the chapter show us a God who cannot be in any way referred to as an “It”. God speaks, plans, creates, sees, evaluates, enjoys. This means that ultimately he is not simply a “force” or an “all soul”. He is distinct from the universe, rather than being the ‘soul’ of the universe, as Eastern religions teach. That means that, contrary to the teachings of mystical religions, we do not know this God simply through mystical experience and oneness with nature. He is personal. We must know him as we know other persons, through a) listening to his verbal self-disclosure (see below), b) two way communication, c) and personal commitment.
2. God is the only God. It is remarkable to notice that this text, written in very ancient times, makes not the slightest reference to other gods or deities. The possibility does not even arise. This is a claim of exclusivity. This God is the only God. This means that only God should be worshiped, not anything else. Genesis 1 warns us about the extreme danger of idolatry, because the things God has created are very beautiful and attractive, but we must not worship created things because Genesis 1 tells us that God is ruler over all.
3. God is sovereign. The power of God is seen in that a mere word from him brings about this universe. Also, there is nothing in existence that does not owe it’s existence to him. There is no energy, force, or substance that is there before him — he is the source of everything. Third “lesson”: Because he created everything, nothing is a) outside of his control, or b) outside of his rightful authority. Therefore, we cannot simply go to him for forgiveness or for crisis needs. We must make him supreme Lord of every area of our lives. It is “all or nothing” with God.
4. God speaks. It is remarkable that God never creates except through His Word. It means that He is all-powerful; even His Word is a power. This certainly must mean that we cannot expect his power in our lives apart from listening to His Spirit and embracing His Word. There is no creative power without listening to His Word through His Spirit.
5. God is good. Nothing He makes is imperfect. Everything is “good”. Everything He touches is pleasing, joy-producing and wholesome. Derek Kidner says: “His ways are perfect. Genesis 1 shows us that because God is good, He cannot simply “make no truce with sin.”
6. God is creative. One doesn’t need to plunge the depths of the oceans or take a trip to space to learn that the God who created this universe was tremendously creative and artistic. The endless landscapes we have to take photographs of and the creatures that look endlessly different. Mankind that looks so familiar yet so radically different and beautiful. God is creative, and the technology we now have to explore unreached places are only proving to us that God is infinitely more creative than we could ever imagine…think of heaven (this re-created earth // 1 Cor. 2:9)
7. God works. We see Him put in a work week and He planted a garden. This tells us that work is not inherently bad, but that it got distorted at the fall. Also, this gives value to every job we do, not just to office/executive jobs. We have lowered the value of working with our hands to an ungodly standard. So much so that physical labor (construction, maintenance, stay at home parent) has been considered a degrading job. Well, the creation account has elevated working with you hands and taking care of things and children. God Himself did it. He got dirt under His fingernails, etc…
8. God rests. God cannot get ‘tired’, we know that his ‘rest’ cannot be mere inactivity (as ours sometimes must be). Rather, the close linking of 2:3 with the master benediction of 1:31 indicates that God (1) enjoyed and delighted in (2) a work that was in some sense “finished” and thus capable of enjoyment. Thus Kidner says: “It is the rest of achievement, not inactivity, for he nurtures what He creates; we may compare the symbolism of Jesus ‘seated’ after His finished redemption (Heb.10:12), to dispense its benefits.” (DK, p. 53). These two aspects are very important. God delights in his creation, and enjoys the benefits of a finished achievement.
Also, there is no ‘evening and morning’ to the seventh day (2:2-3). This means that the seventh ‘day’ continues to the present and that is why believers are invited to enter it in various ways throughout the Scripture. In the Old Testament, of course, the people were called to rest from their work one day a week so that they may be refreshed (cf. Exod.23:12. But there were many other ‘levels’ and ways to participate in God’s sabbath. The Israelites were called to give their land “rest” one year out of seven — a Sabbath year (Exod.23:10-11).
This denotes care of the created environment. When God brought Israel into the good land of Canaan, and gave them an ordered society, he called it entering the land of ‘rest’ (Deut.12:9; Ps. 95:8-11). In Leviticus 25:8-17, there was even prescribed a ‘Year of Jubilee’ which was to be on the 50th year — the Seventh Sabbath year — in which all slaves were freed, all debts forgiven, and all property lost through normal economic means was to be returned to the original family allotments. To join God in his Sabbath was more than to knock off work once a week. It is about devoting yourself to enjoying, affirming, and nurturing life — especially weak and fragile life. This shows that the “Sabbath” was an extremely deep and profound concept. Indeed — it is almost about the meaning of life itself. God calls us to enjoy and care for his created world with him.
1. The world is real. Eastern religions believe that the natural world is only an ‘emanation’ of God, a projection that is superficial, not ultimately real. Their understanding of salvation and eternity is to be liberated from the illusion of a physical world and an individual self. But Genesis 1 shows us that the world is not simply some kind of emanation but is a real existence, outside of God, in the same way that the New Heaven and the New Earth will be real (life, food, love, pleasure, worship, etc…)
Christians are therefore ‘realists’ compared to many others today. Movies like The Matrix posit that physical ‘laws’ and limitations are an illusion, that if the mind could exercise its power we could fly, dodge bullets, and so on. Many versions of the New Age movement and some revived nature religions (like Wicca) are based on this idea that we can transcend diseases and other physical limitations “by faith”. But Christians know that the body and the world is real. Living within limits is a good thing.
2. The world is orderly and purposefully designed. Notice what the overall ‘effect’ of the highly patterned and repetitive text of Genesis 1 demonstrate; that the world is made in an extremely orderly, and purposeful way. There was “evening and morning” not just once — but regularly, faithfully, and continually. It was created by a rational Word. What we have here is a cosmos, not a chaos. Second “lesson”: This is the whole basis for modern science, which grew out of a Biblical view of creation. The only way that science can proceed is upon the assumption of the uniformity of natural causes. For example, we can count on a chemical reaction happening every time under the exact same conditions. But why is that? Why can we count on this? Why should the universe work that way? The answer: because it is the creation of a purposeful God who made it that way. Science did not grow out of Eastern religions (who taught that the world was not real) or Western paganism and polytheism (which did not believe the world was the product of a single, rational mind).
Practical lesson? To a Christian, technology and science in themselves are good things. Christians do not idealize a non-technological existence. There is another, very important “lesson” we learn from the design of the universe. If the universe is the product of random forces, as modern secularism says, then how we live is up to us. We can create our own “purpose” in life, and devise our own standards of “right” and “wrong”. But most people who say cheerfully that this world is an accident refuse to face the implications of this or live consistently with it. Jean-Paul Sartre was more honest:
“God does not exist — and we have to face the consequences of this. We are strongly opposed to secular ethics that would like to abolish God and then find an a priori Good… In other words, nowhere is it written that we must be honest, that we must not lie — because we are on a plane where there are only human beings. Dostoyevsky wrote: “if there is no God everything is permitted.”
If a random universe is often seen as a great freedom, but if it is so, there is a not way to talk about purpose at all. There is no way to talk about anything being right or wrong. It is an empty freedom. However, Genesis 1 is all about being designed to rule and to serve — it is not about the “freedom” that individuals find so important today. We saw that God created ‘realms’ and put in each realm ‘rulers’ — each one higher than the last. The animals ‘fill the earth’ but we human beings ‘have dominion’ over them, while God rules over us all. That means that we will find ‘fulfillment” only if we obey the royal design — both to rule and to serve — of the one who made us. In the same way, a sail boat only “works” when it is used for the purpose of its designer — to sail on the water. It will not “work” if you try to cross the street in it. That is not its design. Therefore, Genesis 1 is tacitly telling us that we will only ever find our purpose in life if we know and serve our Designer.
3. The world is good. The repeated expression “it was good” shows that the material world and physical reality is naturally (basically) good. While the ‘orderliness’ of creation prevents us from being overly fearful of science, the ‘goodness’ of creation leads us to respect natural resources rather than simply using technology to cut it up and turn it into commodity. Third “lesson”: The goodness of creation keeps Christians and Jews from the errors of so many religions and philosophies that believe we must leave the world or eschew physical pleasures in order to connect with God. This is not so much a contrast to Eastern philosophy as to Western. The Greeks (and many others) believed that the creation of the physical world was an accident or even a rebellious action of some lower ‘deities’. They taught that matter was the prison-house of the soul. It was intrinsically bad, dirty and stultifying to soul/spirit. Thus, in Greek thinking, the body was something to be transcended in order to reach spiritual heights. As a result, many in Western history have believed: 1) manual labor is demeaning, 2) sexual pleasure is intrinsically dirty or spiritually polluting, 3) salvation is obtained through denial of pleasures, 4) suffering is good in itself. In contrast to this legalistic view, Genesis 1-2 shows us a God with his “hands dirty”, creating the world, and deliberately putting a spirit in a body. Of course, the incarnation of Christ, and the resurrection of the body show us how Christianity is more pro-physical than any other religion. Even our future is a physical one! No other religion envisions matter and spirit living together in integrity forever.
4. The world is wondrous. Somehow, we cannot do complete justice to the view of creation that we see in Genesis 1 simply by saying that it is real, patterned, and good. There is a wonder and awe about the richness of the world. It’s full of life. God diversifies the life of every living thing. He seems to delight in diversity and creativity. There is another important lesson we learn from the “goodness” of creation. The animals, plants, and even the mountains and seas — are all part of a choir of praise to the glory of God. This is said explicitly in Psalm 19 and Psalm 150. We are therefore made stewards of nature. Mountains, trees, animals are “declaring the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1ff.) by being themselves.
“It is from [Genesis 1] that we need to begin in trying to develop a Christian mind on many of our contemporary environmental and social questions. Our concerns for pollution; our motivation to avert the ecological crisis; our anger at terrorism and our hatred of war; our delight in beauty and our support for the arts; our fighting against the depersonalizing trends of so much of modern ideology and for social and economic justice in the world — all these themes… need all to be traced back to their beginnings. And their beginnings are to be found in the God who makes all things and [therefore is committed to] make all things new (Rev.21:5).” – David Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1-11, p.26.
Are you seeing how remarkably balanced a view we have of the world here! Secularism can lead us to exploit nature, paganism to worship it, legalism to fear it, pantheism to ignore it. Gen. 1 will lead us to love it, care for it, explore it, and have an almost child-like delight in it.
As we close, I want to draw our attention back to two passage that we read in the beginning of the sermon that gave evidence that Jesus was the “Word” of God that created all things in Genesis 1.
If (ta panta) “all things” were made through Him, by Him and for Him, then Jesus owns all things. There is not a square inch of the universe that is not under His rule. This not only shows that He’s the One we ought to submit to, but it also gives us divine confidence in our missionary mandate. Even the winds and the waves obey His command (Luke 8:25 paraphrased). So we can freely tell the world about Him, His love, and His salvation and trust that He will claim what is His!
Also, since “ta panta” were made through Him, by Him and for Him, then John 1 and Colossians 1 make Jesus the hinge of salvation for mankind, but also for the whole earth. We typically think of salvation as nothing but forgiveness of sin and a new inner man. But the Bible tells us that the goal of salvation is nothing less than all of creation regained and restored (John 1; Col. 1; Rom. 8; Rev. 21). Jesus Himself was so committed to His creation that He was literally “un-created” on the cross, so that we could be “re-created” and restored in Him, along with the rest of creation!
If Jesus’ goal is nothing less than the entire rehabilitation of the beauty and integrity of all creation; both visible and invisible (Col.1:16), than we ought not to be content as followers of Jesus to simply see individuals be forgiven and made happy. We are also to use our gifts to heal/reconcile (through Christ) the pain and brokenness in society, in our culture, and in our nature. We are called to the ministry of reconciliation (1 Cor. 5:18), the maturity of the whole person and who cares for God’s good creation as well.
“Since creation forms the platform of all God’s mission in history, as well as being the final eschatological (last days) beneficiary of all God’s redemptive intention, [then] the centrality of Christ in that great mission of God within and for creation is clearly [the focus].” Chris Wright, Mission of God, 113.
Jesus is the true rest that we are to enter into if we are to be ministers of this kind of reconciliation. He is the ultimate Sabbath. In Him we rest our works and only trust in His righteousness, so that we can be empowered and properly motivated to display His beauty and worth to the world. He created all things. He sustains all things. He will restore all things. Will you place your trust in Jesus today?