BEGINNING AGAIN: SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT FIRST THINGS
A study in Genesis 1-3 // Fall 2020
Many people who begin reading the Bible with the best of intentions find themselves discouraged and giving up within hours, if not minutes. Here’s what I mean: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”—so far so good . . . “And Mizraim begot Ludim and Anamim and Lehavim and Naphtuhim and Pathrusim and Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim” (Genesis 10:13-14 NASB). Not so good! Or is it? Someone somewhere has probably produced a doctoral dissertation on the “im” brothers (a plural ending in Hebrew), tracing this family line as far as possible. But it’s not the weeds of academic analysis that capture our attention. Though the first name on this list is the Hebrew word for “Egypt,” and a form of the last name is found in an intriguing passage in the prophets, most of us probably wouldn’t turn to Genesis 10:13-14 to find devotional inspiration. At least I wouldn’t!
So why, among all the beautiful poetry, the stirring and often soaring words of the prophets, the fascinating stories, and other literature of the Bible do we stumble over the name lists that read like some ancient version of ancestry.com? Surely scribes who copied Scripture had to wonder if long lists of hard-to-pronounce names are really necessary. Right? Well, on second thought, no! I doubt any scribe ever considered the lists of names unimportant or optional. And the reason for this—whether or not scribes fully grasped it—is both simple and profound: The Bible is real history, and therefore it is about real people with real names, involving real events, and real places.
So is the Bible a history book? Those who take it seriously know intuitively it’s much more than just a history book. There is something about the first three chapters, or even the very first verse, that seems to put it in a genre all its own. The Bible is God’s Word to and through His people to us. It comes from outside our world (from God), to a particular people (the Jews), at a specific time (the writing and recording of which began roughly around 1445 BC), for a redemptive purpose (to show the recently-liberated Hebrew slaves that it was Yahweh—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—Who had just brought them out of idol-worshipping Egypt) by which (and this is really important) He unveils Himself to the entire world as the living, loving, personal God Who in grace and mercy wants to deliver all of us from idolatries (god-substitutes) that enslave us. More succinctly, the Bible is the story of God’s salvation undeniably connected to and intertwined with the human story. It is Immanuel—God with us—loving us and rescuing us. It is foundational for knowing both God and oneself.
Many religions—particularly Eastern religions—don’t bother with long lists of names. Truth be told, they don’t bother with history much at all. The goal is Nirvana, not knowledge of the self but dissolution of the self. It is escape, or some utopia completely detached from everyday reality. The Judeo-Christian faith couldn’t be more different. Let me illustrate.
Years ago, at an Octoberfest celebration in neighboring Mt Angel, I was invited to climb into the gondola of a hot-air balloon, the long ropes of which were tethered to two or three automobiles. When the owner of the balloon released fuel to create a flame, the balloon rose to what seemed like at least three hundred feet or more. At that altitude I had not only a spectacular view of the entire Bavarian festival, but also a breath-taking panoramic display of the surrounding landscape. At one point the owner apparently released a little too much fuel and, for a moment, it looked as though the taut ropes would either lift a car or come untethered. It was a tense moment and could have been a disaster. But the ropes didn’t come loose. And much as I would have enjoyed a balloon ride that afternoon, I have to say I was thankful those ropes held!
Those name lists in our Bibles are “ropes” that keep us anchored. They keep us from putting the Bible in a category described by the Apostle Peter as “cleverly devised myths” (2 Peter 1:16). They keep us from floating up into the rarified air of pure secular “spirituality”—an undefined, impersonal, amoral, immaterial, androgynous, genderless, “no-man’s (or woman’s) religious land.” Those names we struggle with tether the supernatural work and Word of God to a world we are familiar with—the world of Hebrews, hamburgers (kosher), and history in general. Every time I travel to Israel, I see “ropes” in the rocks at dozens of archeological sites—sites mentioned in the Bible, like the remains of an altar built by a wicked king more than 900 years BC (cf. 1 Kings 12:25-30). I see “ropes” in cities like Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Capernaum. I see “ropes” in two-thousand-year-old limestone steps Jesus would have used to enter the Temple precincts. Numerous times I have sailed the Sea of Galilee, a wet “rope” over which Jesus tight-roped in the midst of a storm. It is where my youngest daughter Lindsey and her husband Adam were engaged, and after which their daughter (my newest granddaughter Galilee) is named. The point is this: As believers in Jesus Christ, we do not embrace a faith void of historical evidences. We actually have an embarrassment of riches in historical “ropes.”
But the “ropes” have not always existed. They have not been present because history has not always existed. Time and space had a beginning. There was a point before time, with no man, no woman, no Oktoberfest, no landscape surrounding the festival, no ropes, no balloon, not even an atmosphere to support the balloon—nothing but the Owner. Do you ever think about this?
Very recent in the history of the world—around 1959—the vast majority of scientists at that time (not including Bible-believing scientists) dogmatically believed the universe was eternal. Yes, despite protestations to the contrary, scientists exercise faith without evidence all the time, just like other rational human beings. Perhaps, though, we should reconsider putting all our faith in a single basket of “vast majorities” of scientists. For today, little more than six decades later, all those unified scientists have changed their position. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a single scientist who doesn’t believe the universe had a beginning—except now they have evidence. What a shift! Please understand what occurred here within the span of my lifetime. Scores of scientists believed without evidence what was false. Scores of Christians believed without evidence what is true. Then the evidence came in! And what did it prove? Among other things (that the universe did have a beginning), it proved conclusively there is not a “gullible faith community” and a “rational scientific community.” There is a faith community—period! If anyone tells you otherwise and you believe them, you will not exit “the faith community” and suddenly become some faithless embodiment of pure rationality. You will still believe in many things you cannot prove. You may even become something like Francis Crick, who cracked the genetic code with James Watson in 1953. He was a genius. He also believed our planet was seeded with life by alien spaceships (check out Romans 1:22).
The reason there is and will always be a single “faith community” is that we are all finite beings, scientist and non-scientist alike, religious and non-religious alike. We are limited. We are on the ground, not in the balloon! We can order apple strudel at the Bavarian festival, but we can’t see past the crowd waiting in line for their German sausages. Some very brilliant people can impress us by telling us what the strudel we are eating is made of, how the ingredients are put together, or even how fresh it is. But what they cannot do, what they have neither the wisdom nor power to do is, out of absolutely nothing, bring into being the seed that produced the apple in the strudel. Only God can do such a thing. Only He can invite us to see things from His vantage point. And only He can help us view the landscape surrounding our location where we can put things in proper perspective to see who we are, where we are, why we are. This ability to see outside the festival we are all a part of is made possible by God alone through what theologians call special revelation. And oh, what a special view God gives us in the first three chapters of Genesis!
Over the next few weeks, we are going to take a second look at first things. By this I mean we are going to look at certain verses found in the first three chapters of Genesis—verses that deserve another look, verses that show why there is something rather than nothing. Why are we doing this? The answer is because this is how we learn everything in the universe is contingent and dependent on God’s Word for its existence, why idolatry must be banished forever, where we come from, and how we know our true value and identity as bearers of God’s image. This is how we understand authority and power, both God’s and ours. It is here we get our first glimpse of culture and life before the fall. Here we discover male and female—God’s grand design for true unity and diversity. These are all things that don’t change over time because they are rooted in God’s perfect design for what He has made. They are not accidents of culture but blueprints “baked into the nature” of what God has created. Here we learn of the fall and its consequences, both disastrous and good—disastrous because it shows us the dethroning of God in the human heart, good because it points to the best and brightest hope for our future, the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.
And now let me warn you in advance. We will be walking through a minefield. There may not be a video game on the market that features more traps, snares, fireballs, falling bridges, or treacherous drop-off cliffs than we find in the first three chapters of Genesis! How did our universe come into being—big bang or powerful Word? Is it a young, middle-aged, or old earth we inhabit? Does it matter? Is it special creation or theistic evolution? What, if anything, makes human beings special—is it their race, their sex, something else? What is male? What is female? Is this true diversity or is it a distinction without a difference? Do we have a responsibility to the planet or to God Who holds us responsible for what happens to the planet? What is authority? Where does it come from, and what is it for? Why did God start this whole thing, knowing “in advance” people He created would declare independence from Him? These are just some of the questions we will address.
Here are the dates, titles, and texts for the sermons.
October 4, 2020 // The First Word (Without a Bang) // Genesis 1:1
Why is there something rather than nothing? Why are we here, and how did we get here? Can we adequately explain the existence of the universe or our own existence exclusively on the basis of reason? No, it is by faith we understand the worlds were framed by the Word of God.
October 11, 2020 // Idols Falling from the Sky // Genesis 1:3, 14-19
Has anyone ever said to you, “Do you have time?” When asked this question, we assume we either have the time or we don’t. It is ours to do with as we please. But do we ever truly have the time, or does the time have us? Is it something at our disposal, an idol that controls us, or both? When the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, they were stuck in a culture that worshiped the sun—Ra. The sun was everything—including the star by which they knew how much time they had. Just look at the sundial! God took His people out of Egypt, but taking Egypt out of His people was another thing.
How does God do this? Through Moses He reveals that He brought light into being (on Day One) before He created the sun (on Day Four)! He effectively says, “I am the source of your light because I am the source of the sun. Time does not belong to you. It is Mine. You are now Mine, and nothing, including time, is going to come between us. No other gods before Me.” Sunset, in its proper place. Any idols in your life need a smack down? God knows how to do it! He did it to Ra when he hung the sun in space on Day Four!
October 18, 2020 // Fairy Tales // Genesis 1:20-25
“After their kind, after its kind”—that is, until the natural limits of biological change were challenged by Darwin. And what are we to make of it all today? So far as I can tell, 161 years after the publication of Darwin’s magnum opus, a substantial majority of the non-expert public remains skeptical about macroevolution (the idea that everything evolved from a single cell). And well they should! Despite
herculean efforts to deny the natural limits of biological change, nature continues to be stubborn and only “offer a bone” here and there, none of which truly advances the metanarrative.
Should believers who don’t accept the fairy tale of macroevolution be intimidated by the likes of the atheist biologist Richard Dawkins, et al? No, I don’t believe so. For one thing, I am seeing an increasing
number of people who have impressive credentials—believers as well as unbelievers—challenge the “alternative-to-intelligence” explanation of origins. “In the beginning was the Word,” and this Word has left His fingerprints of intelligence all over what He has made.
October 25, 2020 // Crown of Creation // Genesis 1:26-28
You are precious to God. I have said it many times and it bears repeating: Animals are not made in His image; angels are not made in His image; you ARE made in His image! You are more like God than any other part of creation. In fact, this is what separates you from the rest of creation. This is the very basis for your worth. It is not your race. It is not your gender. These are what we might refer to as second-order classifications. So what follows from the fact you are made in God’s image? You are made for a personal relationship with your Maker! You are not made just for time, but for eternity. You have an open invitation to be the bride of Christ.
November 1, 2020 // Authority // Genesis 1:28; 2:15, 20
What if I told you it is impossible to flourish without order and authority? Furthermore, what if I told you Jesus was and is delightfully under the authority of the Father? Are you aware of the fact that once all enemies of God have been subjected under the feet of Jesus Christ, that Jesus Himself will “also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28).
What this means is that any authority we have is derived. It is not ours as a permanent possession, but a temporary trust. It is on loan to us from God. It is not a power to use over others, but a power to responsibly enable others to thrive. For us it begins in the Garden of Eden, where man is told to both subdue and cultivate the earth. It is further implicit in the act of naming. Far from being an enemy, authority rightly defined and responsibly used is our friend. It provides the order we so desperately need in a world that, without godly authority, always spins back toward chaos.
November 8, 2020 // Divine Diversity // Genesis 2:18-25
God created us male and female. It is the original diversity and most of us know there is an all-out assault on this divine design. Why have other “diversities” taken front and center stage? Are they genuine diversities, or diversions from God’s original blueprint? What does it mean to be male, and what does it mean to be female? Is there such a thing as biblical manhood and womanhood? If so, how do we teach it
to our children? Clearly God’s Word teaches us that in both the family and in the church there are distinguishable roles for men and women. These roles are not malleable or interchangeable. They are fixed from creation forward; for in a way not entirely comprehensible to us, the role distinctions between male and female are reflections of what we find in the Triune God. Apart from the eternal distinguishable roles of
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we would be confused about the nature of God. How could we distinguish the Persons, given they are all equal in essence? In a similar way, God has created males and females equally in His image, yet distinct in roles, not just for purposes of marriage and family, nor just in the church, but also for the enrichment of all life generally! God’s diversity is the best.
November 15, 2020 TBA
November 22, 2020 // Alone Together // Genesis 3
One of the great tragedies of Genesis 3 is the onset of alienation and loneliness. Prior to the fateful decision to disobey God and issue their declaration of independence, Adam and Eve knew one another
through God. Think about this. Adam didn’t look at Eve subjectively, which is to say from his own point of view as to what he wanted her to be for himself. He saw Eve as she truly was, not as an object for himself, but with perfect objectivity through God’s eyes. In other words, he saw her “through the knowledge of God,” so to speak. And Eve saw Adam the same way. When they insisted on knowing independently from God, everything relationally came apart. It is almost impossible for us to now imagine a completely selfless
romantic encounter. Post-fall romance is fraught with self-centeredness (sorry, I really didn’t mean to spoil our Hallmark movies!). As I’ve said many times, when a man tells a woman or a woman tells a man, “I love you,” what is meant is what is deeply felt—I love the way you make me feel about myself. Perhaps nowhere does the dethronement of God and the enthronement of self appear more veiled yet conspicuous than in romantic love. It doesn’t fill us up. It cannot fill us up. Only God’s love can do this. Romance, even in a
fallen world, is wonderful. It is a gift from God. But it is never enough. You were made for a divine romance. What are you waiting for?
November 29, 2020 // Hope for the Future // Genesis 3:15
The “seed of the woman” is not as specific as some would make it out to be. Technically it is not a prophecy, but rather a sign that hope is on the way. Do you like the sound of that? I sure do! Life without hope is miserable. God does not leave us without hope. Out of the curse—in the middle of the curse—hope peeks out. It will not be denied. Here, it is but a faint whisper, but this whisper builds to a powerful shout in the prophets and a glorious song from the heavenly hosts. Hope is born in Jesus Christ and it is signed, sealed, and delivered on the cross when He cries out, “It is finished!” Sin is dealt with forever. It took God—born of a woman, born under the law, to do it. And He did!