An Introduction to God
Week 1 – Genesis 1-2.3: An Introduction to God
By: Matt Barnes
Beginning with the ancient Israelites fresh out of slavery and continuing to today’s age of science, the account of God’s creation of the heavens and earth captures the human imagination. For a good chunk of that history people have been focused on the “when” of the opening pages of the Bible. And while this question is certainly thought-provoking, it does not appear to be the central thrust of the passage itself. Instead, the “who” of Genesis 1-2.3 stands out as important to Moses, the original author, and could do so for us today as well.
However, it should be noted well that people who have submitted to Jesus and who believe in the authority of the Bible have read the opening pages of the Bible differently, especially with regard to the “when” question. Some believe that the universe is ~10,000 years old, others believe that the universe is ~13 billion years old, and still others find themselves somewhere in between. And folks have used reason and sound interpretation of the Bible to come to their conclusions about the age of the universe. Therefore, it would be wise for all of us to exercise some hospitality and grace toward one another with regard to the “when” question.
On the other hand, followers of Jesus have always agreed about the “who” question. Genesis 1-2.3 is God’s authoritative introduction of himself to the world. This is supported by the ancient Christian creeds, like the Apostles’ Creed (“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”) and the Nicene Creed (“We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”). Our statement of faith here at Lake Avenue Church reflects this same orthodox Christian position as well: “We believe in one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing...”
We can learn much about God from this opening pages of Genesis. Most importantly, we see that God is the creator of all things, that he desires to be personally known and understood, and that he is the one who brings order out of chaos.
“Science has given me a deeper awe for creation - the more I learn the more magnificent I find our universe. The fact that the questions in science are growing even faster than the answers has increased my reverence for our Creator. My study of science has resulted in an ever increasing humility and admiration for God's omnipotence and omniscience.”
- Shaun Kirby, PhD, Internet of Things Researcher
- Read through Genesis 1-2.3 and make a list of characteristics of God that you can find there. What about each of these characteristics makes you more inclined to worship and adore God?
- What do you make of the idea that God's creation in the first chapters of the Bible was very good? What does that mean? How good is creation today?
- God built order into the way that he created the universe. What evidences of that order do you see in your life? How can your life be lived more in line with God's order today?
- In several places in the opening pages of Genesis we read that God is a God of blessing. What does it mean that God blesses something or someone? As followers of Jesus how can we also be people of blessing?
- What do you learn about God in Genesis 1-2.3? Is there anything that surprised you or especially stood out to you when reading it afresh?
- How can Christian community help us personally know the God we meet in Genesis 1-2.3? How can we help one another continue to move from chaos to order in our lives individually and as communities?
- How does our understanding of Genesis 1-2.3 impact how we share the good news with people who have yet to meet Jesus? Could you foresee any potential issues with evangelism with regard to Genesis 1-2.3? How might we overcome these challenges?
This week when you experience any chaos or uncertainty, find a way to remember that God created order out of chaos and he continues to hold the chaos at bay even today (Colossians 1.17)!
"I feel that science glorifies God. The more I learn about creation (e.g., the universe, our environment, human bodies), the more impressed I am with God."
- Joe Stehly, JPL Europa Project Engineer
“In the beginning, God created…”
With those words, the Bible begins, like a majestic overture, to declare to us that there is a God who made all that is. Above anything else that Gen 1 is, it is an overture about God. God is the subject of the first and the last sentences. Indeed, he is the only character in the chapter. God is mentioned 35 times in 34 verses. When I read it, I hear God declaring, “You have been made to know me. Now, I will make myself known to you!”
So, I am thrilled to speak today about our Father God, the one who created me, as we begin 5 weeks of messages about Genesis 1-3. I must confess to you that I know that churches can be, have been and still are divided over these chapters – not so much by what God’s Word makes known about our creator God but by issues related to when he created and how long it took him to create.
Over the past two months, scientists in our own church family have been meeting to talk about Genesis and science in sessions facilitated pastorally by Matt Barnes. We’ve discovered what, I imagine, most of you already know, i.e., some in our church family are convinced that God created everything less than 10,000 years ago. At the same time, we have a large community of Jesus-following people here at LAC who are convinced that the world they observe is more like 13.7 billion years old. And, both groups of people are faithful followers of Jesus who believe in the truthfulness of the Bible.
The questions we have about how old the earth is and how long God took to create it are questions I’m quite sure most of us who have come today to church ask. I believe that, although these are not the most important questions raised by Gen 1, they are still important – and, of course, they are of great interest to us all. At the same time, I believe those questions are not best answered in a setting like a sermon in which we have only one-directional communication. We need to talk about them together. So, over the next several weeks, we are going to be offering settings in our church in which we can talk with one another about those questions of how God created and when God created.
But, I am convinced that the “how” and “when” issues about creation are among the many things that genuine followers of Jesus can disagree about and still be in fellowship with one another. That’s because we are unified by the central truths of our faith even when we often disagree about issues that are not central to the Gospel. Let me show you what God’s people have always agreed about when it comes to God creating. In the Apostles’ Creed, Christians all over the world and throughout history confess:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
And the Nicene Creed agreed upon several centuries later:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And the LAC Statement of Faith:
We believe in one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing...
Christians are united in these basic commitments to God our Father being the creator of all that is. And I say, what God has joined together, let not disputes over disputable things pull apart.
With that in mind, here’s what we will be doing in coming weeks to further discussion about those matters in Genesis 1-3 that we might disagree about: We will be offering post-service luncheons – “conversations” – over the last three weeks in February.
February 12 “Listen” – How Christians May Speak about Controversial Things
February 19 The Bible and Creation with Dr. Richard Averbeck
February 26 Science, Faith and Creation with LAC Scientists
We have also prepared some devotional materials for you to use as an individual or as a group. If you would like these devotionals emailed to you, then please text your email address to 626-765-4453.
In our worship gatherings, Matt Barnes and I will focus on the central points of what our Father teaches us in the opening chapters of his Word. So, we start today where the Bible starts, i.e., with the way Gen 1 introduces us to God. Of the many truths God makes known there, I find to be most relevant to our lives today.
#1: From Wondering to Knowing -- The God of the Bible is God.
“God created the heavens and the earth.”
This is the first truth that strikes me here. I want you to remember that, when Moses put together the Book of Genesis, after the people of Israel had been in Egypt as slaves for so long, his people almost certainly believed in many gods. Probably, those Israelites who crossed the Red Sea under Moses’ leadership believed that each nation had its own set of gods. But, as Moses was called to go to Egypt’s Pharaoh to set the people of Israel free from slavery, he discovered that the Pharaoh had no inclination to let his cheap work force go free. So, as you may know, God sent ten plagues to Egypt. Each of those plagues was a direct attack on one of the gods of Egypt. God was thereby saying, “Those gods are not God.”
Then, God’s people experienced the great miracle of the Red Sea parting, of them escaping through the waters and then of seeing the armies of Egypt swallowed up by the waters. The people of Israel must have wondered, “What kind of God is this that we have? We’re such a small nation but our God has given us victory over all the gods of Egypt. Who is our God? How can we know what he is like?”
With that in mind, imagine Moses opening his mouth and saying, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth!” In this opening to the Books of Moses, God is saying, “I am. I have always been. All the things that others worship are not God. They’ve all been made by me. I alone am God. There is no other.”
So, let me ask you a question: Who made God? That's a question children often ask. In debates about the origins of the universe, we are asking that same question, i.e., of how everything actually that is actually began. Did some big piece of matter crash into another piece randomly so that sparks flew and life began?” Is matter what is eternal?
God opens his book by saying, “That uncaused cause that you intuitively think must exist – I am! God is saying, “You sense that there must be something/someone greater than yourself in this universe who made this world you live in? I am and I am ready to tell you what I am like.”
And please don't be fooled by those who say that all religions say that an uncaused God started the world. That’s not true. Other ancient accounts of the origins of the world begin with an original substance already existing before there were any gods. The creation stories of the Egyptians in the days of Moses, of the Babylonians and the Acadians are not creation stories at all but “theoganies”-- stories of how the gods came into existence. But not Gen 1. In Gen 1, God is, always has been and always will be. The God of the Bible is God and there is no other. That’s what Gen 1 is saying. “In the beginning, God created…”
#2: From Chaos to Order -- What God Does is Characterized by Order and Purpose.
“Now the earth was formless and empty…” “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.”
Both my friends who are scientists and those who are artists love this aspect of what they read in Genesis 1. It gives them the freedom to explore, and discover what is in the world that our Father has made. Just notice how God does His work throughout the chapter.
When I read Gen 1, it sounds to me like an artist or an architect building something. He starts on the first three days with the structure. And then he fills each part of that structure in days 4-6. So, God speaks light into being on day 1 and then fills in the operation of lights in his creation on day 4. He separates the sky from the water on day 2 and then fills in the sky with birds and the water with fish on day 5. God separates the water from the land and even begins to fill in the vegetation on day 3 and then fills in the land with creatures – ultimately with human beings – on day 6.
The way Moses reports God’s act of creation sounds like a builder taking a snapshot after each day of his work. He says, “There – I made it and it’s good.”
I want you also to notice that in those six days of God’s creative work, creation is taken:
* from chaos to order,
* from utter darkness to the separation of darkness and light,
*from a disordered "expanse" to the distinction of sky and then water and dry ground,
*from emptiness to filling,
*from inanimate and unintelligent creation to intelligent life made in God’s image.
Notice this too: God knew that the first readers would mostly be those who would not be readers – but would need to be able to remember what they hear. So, the language is rhythmic: “and God said”… let there be… and God saw… and it was good…” And he used a lot of repetition, e.g.: the numbers 7 and 3 and 10; the use of “and it was evening and it was morning” to mark off the days of his creative work. It seems to me that God is speaking in such a way that people will be able to remember what he has done and pass it down.
In all this, God is telling us he is both creator and craftsman-‑ giving things in his world a beautiful form. And, when he is done, all that He does is good. It is very clear that, throughout the process, God knows what He is doing.
And, of course, that is still true. This God “who is” is still ordering ‑‑ turning chaos into beauty, sinful people into whole people. God is still working all things, as in creation, for good (Rom 8:28). Of course, since we believe that he is the powerful one who made everything, then we can always have hope in the midst of our chaotic lives that God is present and at work – and that he will continue to do his beautifying work in this world and in our lives. God makes beautiful things out of dust. Indeed, he made beautiful things out of nothing!
Do you see how this gives you consolation and hope when your family, your career, and your whole life seems to be chaotic? God is! He is still at work. And, when God works, in his time, he turns chaotic things into things that are ordered and beautiful. I tell you, when you know him, we will do that in your life.
#3: From Impersonal to Relational: God Is a Person, One Who Is Distinct from His Creation.
“And God said...”
This may be the most striking part of Genesis 1 as it spoke into an ancient near-eastern world. Remember again that, as Moses was being inspired by God to put the first five books of Scripture together, the Egyptian culture in which his people had lived for so long worshiped the sun, the river and many other inanimate parts of the material world. But, the five books of Moses open by proclaiming, “God is a who; not a what!”
All the verbs of the chapter make known that the world’s Creator possesses mind, will and intellect – all the elements of personality. The phrase, "And God said", is repeated again and again. God is a God who speaks. It’s clear that this God we encounter when we open the Bible is not an it but a "You".
What difference does this make? I tell you, when you believe in a God like this, it changes the way you look at everything in the world. Like what? Let me tell you just two:
- It changes the way you look at the world (worldview).
Christians believe that the world we live in is no random event. This beginning of Genesis tells us that this world is the purposed product of a God who knew what He was doing.
Genesis 1 said no to the polytheistic worldviews God’s people had lived in the midst of while they were slaves in Egypt. And it says no to the naturalistic world views of our own world. Some modern philosophies tell us that matter is eternal so that the world and life itself emerged by a chance collision of particles. When people believe that, they are left wondering whether there is any purpose in life at all. That worldview leaves us thinking that life is a consequence of a random event in a meaningless universe.
Then, you open the Bible and it says, "In the beginning, God..." The ultimate truth behind the universe is not impersonal energy but a living Person. And the ultimate director behind this universe is not mathematical equations but a person who opens his Word by declaring, “I am a who; not a what.”
- It makes possible a relationship with your Maker.
When you think about it, in the way God has inspired the Bible to begin, he is saying, “I am ready to make myself known to you.” In a very personal way, God is saying, “Here is who I am. I want you to know me.”
This is the beginning of a story that we’ll think about for the next five weeks. We see God doing life with people in Gen 2. It shows us the kind of relationship with him that God intends for us. In Gen 3, we see why we may intuitively sense as human beings that there must be a God but do not really know him. We have sinned against him and walked away from him.
The main reason why Jesus, God in flesh, came to this world is to reestablish a relationship with God, our personal God. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son… No one has seen God at any time except God the one and only Son. He makes him known (John 3:16; 1:18).
Do you know him? Do you want to know him? Let me tell you now: If you enter into a relationship with God, he will still be who he is, i.e., God. The God who commands the light to shine in Gen 1 is the God who will command you to. When you meet him, you will have to surrender your life to him and trust him by faith. The God who can distinguish good from what is not good in the world He has made is a God who will insist on goodness in you too. As the Apostle Paul said, when you enter into a relationship with God through faith, your life will no longer be your own. Your life will no longer be able to revolve around you – but be guided by him.
But, I tell you that the kind of relationship that faith in Jesus makes available to you is life as your life was created to be. You were made to know your Maker. You were made for him.
"In the beginning, God created." God’s is still creating and re-creating. He will re‑create you...if you will trust Him.
在過去兩個月中，Matt Barnes 組織我們教會的科學工作者就創世記與科學的問題進行了系列討論，帶給教牧同工很大幫助。我猜你們也都知道，我們教會某些會友認為上帝是在近一萬年前創造了萬物；與此同時，還有更多在洛杉磯地區的耶穌跟隨者們相信，人們所觀察到的世界至少有一百三十七億年的歷史了。並且，這兩群耶穌的門徒都相信聖經的真確性。
2月19日 與Richard Averbeck博士談聖經與創造
Greg Waybright 博士