Sermon: In the Beginning… (Genesis 1:1–23)
Listen to the Sermon:
Read with me as we open God’s word together. Genesis 1:1-23
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 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. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” Genesis 1:1-23, ESV
This is the Word of the Lord.
Last night my family was having dinner together and my wife asked me if I have a good illustration for tomorrow. I said, “Well, what have you got? Do you have something for me?” So, she proceeded to tell me about a time when she was sixteen and she was coming back from school, where she had been helping to decorate for the homecoming. As she was driving back there was a leaf stuck in the dash air conditioner vent and it was rattling along. It was on the far passenger side and it was really annoying. She tried to ignore it, but it became too much. So, she lunged toward it, which as you can imagine brought the car with her. Her tires hit the curb on the side of the street and it blew out both of the tires as she was driving. No one was there and she was safe, so her car just came to a stop on two rims on the one side of the car and tires on the other side of the car.
I started laughing, not at my wife, because we all have bad driving stories from when we were sixteen. I laughed because I had been trying to think of a way to communicate what it looks like to chase red herrings in the text of Genesis chapter one.
And what it looks like is lunging after something that is trying to capture our attention. But if we do so we will go off the rails and cause a lot of damage. That’s my not so subtle way to say that as we come into Genesis, we have an extraordinary text here that doesn’t answer all the questions we want it to answer. How we wish we had so many more details. We wish we had a video camera there to capture what it was like to have God bring everything out of nothing, all by the power of his word.
But we have a flyby account of creation in Genesis chapter one. Then we have another perspective on the creation in Genesis chapter two that slows down and looks at the ground level of what it was like for God to create the earth. What this means is that even though we want to know the scientific explanations for what happened, we can’t find it all here.
Now let me start by saying there are things that Genesis teaches. What we have here is an accurate depiction of reality, of history, this actually happened. However, Genesis is written not to answer every conceivable question we might have. It has a very specific purpose and we are going to look at the purpose. If we stretch this text too much we will miss, for example, the poetry of this language. This is written so that the first verse contains seven words and the second verse contains fourteen words. There are words that show up in multiples of seven. The word “God” appears 35 times, the word “heavens” appears 21 times, “and it was so” appears seven times, “God saw that it was good” appears seven times. There is a rich depth to the literary craftsmanship to this passage and if we are consumed with scientific details, we will miss it.
Also, we will miss the main purpose for which God inspired this text. For what it’s worth, if you’re curious, I’m a literal six-day creation guy. There is some debate that is acceptable even if you believe everything in here happened exactly as it is written. Our denomination actually has a position paper that explains some of the different positions, which all believe:
- Genesis 1 is accurate
- it really reflects history
- it actually is true in everything it affirms; there was a literal Adam and Eve, God did create the world by the power of his Word, yet doesn’t necessarily happen in six 24-hour days.
There are a couple of other variating views on that.
We can believe all this and have a little bit of differentiation, but the important thing to emphasis on the front end is that God created the heavens and the earth. If he didn’t create the heavens and the earth, then he cannot judge the heaven and the earth, and he cannot judge all the nations of the earth. And if he cannot judge the nations of the earth, then he has not footing to become the redeemer of this world.
We cannot say that science is over here, and the Bible is over here, and they don’t have to intersect. Because they do. But that doesn’t mean that we can get everything we want about science from this text.
I hope I have sufficiently riled you up in the confusion of what we have here. I think that’s a good thing because it helps us to turn our attention to listen with more careful ears to the text. This passage is familiar but not necessarily well understood. Even for me, I was thinking that this is not quite how I have read this in the past.
What is God Communicating
So, the first thing we are going to do this morning is wrestle with “what is God attempting to communicate as we open the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of Genesis.” What does he want to cause us to wrestle with and the with the redemption that he has accomplished through Jesus Christ?
In Genesis 1:1 we read “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. This is where everything starts, this is the foundation for everything we have. If this is not true, if the universe came into existence through some other process than God, then the rest of the Bible has nothing that is worth our time to consider. God created the heavens and the earth.
Now there are two main ways we could understand this verse because it’s not entirely clear what is happening here. It could be a heading for the entire creation story. This is the story of how God created the heavens and the earth and then the rest of what we read tells us what actually took place in creation. But the problem with that is when we get to verse two. In verse two we read that the earth exists in verse two, “Now the earth was without form and void”. So, if Genesis 1:1 is a heading, then we don’t actually know where the earth came from.
The better way to understand this is that Genesis 1:1 tells us about the actual beginning. In the beginning the first act that God did in creation was to create the heavens and the earth. But that doesn’t mean that everything was fully formed at once.
Without Form and Void
We learn, when we get to verse two, that there was something incomplete about this initial work that God accomplished. Namely, it was “without form and void”. That phrase has two words in Hebrew, and they rhyme. They are really bad things and we get a glimpse of what is going to happen in the rest of the chapter. This isn’t written to answer the scientific questions we have, but it is setting up the entire story of the Bible.
As part of God making it to be good, the initial act created something that was without form and void. The idea of something without form, it’s the idea of an uninhabitable, chaotic wasteland. Think of the photos that NASA has released that show what it looks like on the surface of Mars. Unless your name is Matt Damon you can’t live on Mars for a very long periods of time. It’s a joke, it’s a movie, don’t worry about it. That is what the idea of a chaotic uninhabitable waste land is, formless.
On the other hand, it’s void, there’s nothing in it. The world and creation are not yet teeming with life. Without birds flying in the air and fish swimming in the ocean and animals creeping across the ground, or human beings which we will see on the sixth day. The world is empty as of yet.
A few weekends ago on Labor Day weekend my wife took advantage of the Labor Day weekend and went up to visit her sister, taking our 8-month-old child with her. Our two-year-old and four-year-old went to the grandparent’s house in Lincoln for some time with them. Which meant that I was left in the home. Which meant two things, my home was incredibly less chaotic. With toddlers running around it’s nearly uninhabitable, you never know what’s going to happen. The things they can do, the messes they can cause in nothing flat is remarkable. It meant my home was also empty. It was such a lonely place. I’m an introvert, but my goodness I couldn’t wait for my family to come back. It was an empty and void place. Children give a good picture of what chaos looks like and the absence of children gives the picture of what emptiness looks like.
The two ideas of formlessness and void structure the rest of how this chapter functions. For example, for the first, second and first half of the third day God is going to address the formlessness. Then on the second half of the third day through the sixth day, God is going to fill up his now inhabitable and now organized creation. Here we see so much more than that. We see just a glimpse into the story of the entire Bible. Let’s look at this.
If what God wants us to focus on is the idea of formlessness and emptiness, where is he going with this? Let’s start with formlessness. What does it mean for the world to be formless at the beginning? Before we get into verse three where God forms light, let’s look at some of the descriptive words that God gives in verse two to describe the incomplete creation.
So, the earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. It’s a dark place. The spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Water was over everything. Creation was just one mass of water and the spirit of God was hovering over it to keep this chaotic, uninhabitable wasteland of water together, so that God could continue his work of organizing and filling creation. So, darkness is actually the first thing that God addresses and water is the second thing that God address in the first through third day as he organizes creation.
Look at verse three,
“3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:3-5, ESV
So, God’s first act is to look upon the darkness of his creation and say this is not good. I need to separate the darkness, establish limits for the darkness. He does so by creating light and ordaining light to reign during the day and darkness to remain at the night. We will come back to that in a little bit.
Day two starts in verse six.
“6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.” Genesis 1:6-8, ESV
So, the first thing God does when he separates the water is to separate them vertically. So that he creates this heaven. This sky that exists to separate the waters under the sky. Initially this water was just everywhere in the act of creation. Then he vertically and separates the seas below from the heavens above.
God also separates the waters horizontally, let’s look at the first part of day three, Genesis 1:9,
“9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” Genesis 1:9-10, ESV
So, God has done good work in the first three days of creation. In this short amount of time God has separated the light from the darkness and separated the waters.
Now darkness is a bad thing, life cannot live without light. To make this place inhabitable God had to create light. But notice that he doesn’t banish darkness, he just relegates it. He establishes division and boundaries telling the darkness that you can exist during the night, but the light will rule during the days.
The same thing happens with the waters. The waters are described as this chaotic, really bad aspect of creation. But God doesn’t banish the waters. He simply divides the waters vertically and horizontally.
In fact, darkness and water will show up throughout the Bible to symbolize judgement and when God is working for salvation. Think of darkness, one of the plagues that God poured out on the Egyptians was a plague of darkness. For God’s own people he let light dwell in their homes.
Think of the cross, really before the cross when Judas Iscariot went out to betray Jesus what time of day was it? John tells us it was night. It tells us that Judas was governed by the darkness. At the cross when the wrath of God’s curse upon his own son, the skies filled with clouds to blot out the sun. In the middle of the day, when light should be reigning, and darkness fills the sky. It goes all the way back to Genesis. Darkness filled the land because it was a horrific act of judgement when Jesus Christ bore our sin and our darkness for us in our place. Yet in that darkness was also the place where God’s salvation shined forth.
In the darkness, when the Israelites would march out, they would be led by a pillar of fire. And at the cross where the darkness flooded upon, yes it was God’s judgement upon Jesus for us, but there we see the salvation of God.
Same thing happens with waters. The division of waters is considered one of the great acts of God throughout the rest of the Bible. We don’t think of it in those terms, but in Jobs 38:3-11, God is talking about his own creation. He’s asking Job, were you there from the foundations of the earth? He goes on to say,
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” Job 38:8-11, ESV
In Jeremiah 5:22 God again talks about how he placed a boundary for the sea. In Psalm 104:6-9 one of the reasons that the Psalmist praises God in creation is that God set a boundary in creation that the waters may not pass so that they might not again cover the earth. That’s a great act of God in making habitable the world.
What happens in just a few chapters from this? Because of the sin and corruption of mankind, the floods again cover the earth. You go on a little bit farther and what happens when God brings his people out of Egypt? He divides the Red Sea so that his people can walk across on dry land, that’s the same phrase we see here when describing how the waters were separated horizontally. They can walk across and what happens when the Egyptians were proud and foolish enough to follow the Israelites? God brings the floods back on top of them as an act of judgement. Salvation and judgement.
Even in Joshua three and four, we looked at the entrance of Israel into the land of Canaan. God separates the Jordan River so that his people can walk across on dry land, into the Promise Land. The word “earth” here is really the word for “land”. There is a clear connection between Genesis one and the Promise Land that God promises his people. Starting with Abraham a little bit later in Genesis chapter 12. But God allowed his people to walk across on dry land, across the Jordan river.
Do you know how the Canaanites received that? The description is very specific. the Canaanites weren’t following there so that the waters rushed over them. We read that their hearts melted. The floods actually entered into their own souls so that their hearts melted. Once again chaos striking judgement in God’s enemies.
God Creates Boundaries
We see here is God’s initial act of creation and organization carrying over into the old covenant. In the old covenant everything was about separating. Creating boundaries such as, this is holy this is unholy. As they were doing that God asked his people to keep these boundaries, keep things separated. That’s a fine system except that the Israelites were sinners and they couldn’t separate what needed to be separated.
In the new covenant you and I are still called to be separate, but the new creation is fundamentally different. It’s not about allowing the darkness to remain but separating it from the light. Nor is it about allowing the waters to remain but separating it from the dry land and the sky.
In the new creation, in Revelation 21, the waters no longer exist at all and night is banished forever. Why? Because the new creation does not consist of separation, but transformation. If you and I are in Christ, we are not trying to walk a tightrope of trying not to fall off of the wrong side. We are actually made new and whole. The reason Jesus Christ came into the world was not to separate himself from sinners but to pursue them. To bring about reconciliation and transformation. To make people God’s new creation, until the day when Jesus Christ returns. To make all the cosmos the new heavens and the new earth.
The gospel is that Jesus Christ came to save sinners, not so that we could live this life of being separate and trying to keep our distance from the world. Rather so that you and I could seek out the lost, just as Jesus came and sought us out. This tells us the story of where old creation is going to fall short and where new creation will have to differ. And it comes in such a glorious overview that it’s even picked up in the very end of Revelation.
God Fills His Creation
But God doesn’t just organize, he also fills. The rest of this passage, from the end of day three, God fills up the earth with vegetation. Then in day four God puts lights in the heavens. On the fifth day God first fills the waters and the skies, the creatures that would inhabit what God separated on the second day, the vertical separation. On the sixth day he will fill in the dry land creatures, animals that creep across the ground and human beings as well, which will be a totally different animal, literally. We will look at that next week.
The work of God here is to fill it. As you read through the rest of this passage, 1:11-23, you see God again filling the earth. This is now organized, it’s inhabitable, so God wants to fill it up. To make it teem with life and joy and vitality. One of the lies that Satan brings to us is that God doesn’t want us to be happy or fulfilled, that God wants to withhold good things from us.
In Genesis one we see right from the outset that God’s character in creation is to fill. If God withholds something for you, either forever or for a time, it’s because God wants to fill you up in a better way, that is with himself. To teach you to look to and trust him rather than the gifts of creation. To trust the creator rather than the creation. But God absolutely wants to fill this earth.
The other thing we learn from the filling aspect of God is that God actually uses you to continue filling the world. Even at the end of this creation week the world is not going to be completely filled out. That’s going to take time.
As we are going to see, God is going to call Adam and Eve to enter into this work of expanding the garden. To cultivate and keep the garden. So that the glory of God can fill all the ends of the earth. Now understand that theologians describe our work as being the fingers of God that fill the world. We fill the world with food, care, education, even just fixing a car, social work, through all kinds of things. Through the things you produce and filling the world with our families, you are actually continuing the work that God created in creation.
The point is that you and I are called to continue that role in the begetting of families and children. But also, in the ways that we are called to create. You have a holy vocation where you are called to be like the creator God in the creative work. Whether you are planning and organizing law or doing justice in the police force and military. You are called to act in the way that God acts. To fill and to order and to bring God’s justice into the world.
Now because of the fall, that work is going to be fundamentally stifled until Jesus Christ returns. But the promise is not that we are laboring in vain, but that as you and I are the new creation on this world. If we know and love Jesus Christ, if he has by his Spirit caused us to be made new. Then you and I are taking part in what will last forever in the new heavens and the new earth. God is transforming us so that we can be like Jesus and reign with him when he returns forever.
All of this is not unfolded. It takes 66 other books, including the rest of the book of Genesis to unpack this story. Including a look forward when God will return through his son Jesus Christ to bring all things together and make all things new. But it starts here through the separation and through the filling. Organizing and filling, forming and filling his creation. And God calls that good.
The two question then we have are;
- Do you trust God’s divisions? What God calls good and what God calls evil, do you trust that?
- Do you see yourself as commissioned by Jesus Christ himself to follow Jesus, trust in him, to be made a new creation by his spirit? Called into the work that God has given us as we await the full creation of the new heavens and the new earth.
Pray with me. Heavenly Father, I pray God that you would help us to see the goodness of your creation. Father there are so many questions that we have that we can’t wait to have an eternity to understand your glory in creation. I know that you have a thousand other stories that we haven’t heard that would illustrate your majesty and grandeur in creating this to be good. But we also see here the beginning of the rest of the story. The division that will eventually undo mankind because we won’t be able to walk the line. So, father, for that reason we are grateful that you sent your son Jesus Christ into this world to be the perfect savior, redeemer and Lord. We pray God that you will give us grace to trust him and to follow him all the days of our lives. In Jesus name. Amen.