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In the Beginning, God...

Date: 11 February 2024, 9.30 am

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong Sermon Text: Genesis 1:1–2:3

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TRANSCRIPT

Sir Peter Medawar, was a Nobel Prize Laureate and in his day, one of the most influential scientists in Britian. He did not believe in the existence of God because he found no scientific evidence for God. But interestingly, he admitted in his writings that there is an obvious limitation to Science, because for all the knowledge it as brought to mankind, Science cannot answer the simple questions of a child, such as “How did everything begin?” “What are we all here for?” “What is the point of living?”


The progressive rock band Dream Theatre echoes these common childlike questions in the opening lines of one of their songs. It goes:


Where did we come from?       

Why are we here?

Where do we go when we die?


It appears that these big but basic questions of life are common to man. The answers to them seem out of the reach of science, but can be found right in opening pages of the Bible. Which is our text this morning – Genesis 1.


So these are the three questions we will ask of our text in today sermon, and let us pray for eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to receive the answers it offers.


Heavenly Father,


We thank you for your words of truth that enlightens us. Grant us, we pray, to hear you with attentive hearts and open minds and discover the meaning of life, in your will for the world.


This we pray, in Jesus name,

Amen.


GEN 1:1-21 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.

In the beginning, God created. Well, who created God?


That question assumes that God is a created being. But he’s not. God is not a creature; He is the Creator.


And the following verses in the chapter will describe how God created the world – the 6 days of Creation.


But I want us to careful here, because the way creation is described in Genesis may not be the way we expect the description to be.


I’ll use an illustration that Dn Samuel came up with to teach Gen 1 to the youth. In essence, it goes like this:


In 2009, Usain Bolt finished the 100m race at the World Championships with a time of 9.58seconds, setting a new world record that remains today. It is doubtless an incredible sporting feat.


Now, if the Journal of Sports Science wrote an article entitled: “How Usain Bolt ran the 100m in 9.58s”, we would expect to read, something about biomechanics of his sprinting. The potential energy he creates in his starting position, the length of his strides, his running posture, his arm movement, his height, weight, muscle mass, genetics, that sort of thing.


But if People Magazine published an article with the same title: “How Usain Bolt ran the 100m in 9.58s”, we would expect to read something very difference. We would expect to hear about his family background, his passion for running, the people in his life that inspired him, his motivation to be the very best, his attitude towards life, he way he deals with setbacks and losses, and other social factors that contributed to him becoming the fastest man in the world.


In other words, both articles seek to explain How Usain Bolt ran the 100m in 9.58s. But they offer two very different types of explanation. One is interested in the science behind the event, the other is interested in person behind the event.


And the question we want to ask ourselves is, what type of explanation are reading in Genesis of how the world came to be created? Did Moses write Genesis 1 primarily because he wanted to educate Israel about the Process of Creation, or did he write Gen 1 because he wanted them to know the Person behind Creation?


In other words, was Genesis 1 written as geology or as theology?


The reason the bible was written wasn’t to elevate the knowledge of mankind, but to motivate the worship of God. It stands to reason, therefore, that the account of Creation we have in Genesis is less interested in telling us how the world was made, than it is in teaching us about the One who made it.


So do not expect or compel the text to be precise, scientific or literalistic about its narrative of Creation.


With that in mind, let us jump into a summary of the 6 days of Creation.


GEN 1:1-21 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.

We see the problem statement in verse 2: “the earth was without form and void”. Now this phrase, “without form and void” is translated from the Hebrew, Tohu WaBohu. It is used to describe a land rendered desolate by war, inhospitable for life, and therefore inhabitable by living creatures.


And what we see, is that the 6 days of Creation is parallels each other to remedy the problem of Tohu Wabohu. Where the world was without form, days 1-3 gives it form and structure. Where is it void (or empty), days 4-6, provides the inhabitants or substance.


So in day 1, God structured the world by separating light from darkness, and in day 4, the substance was inserted – the Sun to rule the light, the day, the moon to rule the night, the darkness.


Day 2, God structured by separating the sea from the sky, and on day 5, filled them up with fish for the sea and birds for the skies.


Day 3, God separated the sea from the land, and on day 6, filled the land with animals and Man.


And 7 times, in this 6 days, God pronounced his verdict on his creation – “God would say “let there be…” And things came to be, and there would be the note, “God saw that it was good”. And when he created mankind, Adam and Eve, God saw that it was “very good”.


7 times “God saw that it was good”. Why 7 times? Because in the bible, 7 is the number of completion and perfection. It is to say, that creation was completed wholly good. The world and mankind in it, was created good.


Why? Because the God who made it is a good God, who does what is good and creates that which is good. He sees that the world was good, which means he knows what good is.


The God who creates the world good, is a good God.


Let’s get to the Q&A.


Our first question:


Q:    Where did we come from?


A:    God created us. 

He created the universe by the power of his word –

A universe which is ordered and good.


What does this mean? I would like offer three implications for us.


First, if God created the universe, then we are not at the centre of the universe – GOD is.

As we well know, it is the year of the Dragon. It is the most auspicious animal in the Chinese Horoscope. It comes around once 12 years to boost the population in Chinese majority countries. The Chinese Horoscope suggests to us there are mainly 12 types of people in the world, depending on the year you were born. Interestingly, Western Astrology also posits 12 types of people in the world, this time, depending on month you were born. The Myers-Briggs Personality Test suggests that there are really 16 different types.


I believe there are mainly two: People who believe that God is at the centre of the universe, and people who believe that they are at the centre of the universe.


People whose world revolves around God, and those whose world revolves around them. These are obviously two ends in a spectrum, and all of us fall somewhere in-between. But these are the two types of people I see in the world.


The novelist David Foster Wallace once gave a commencement speech to Kenyon College, which came to be known as the “This is water” speech.


In this speech, Wallace said, and I quote.


Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence.


We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centeredness, because it’s so socially repulsive, but it’s pretty much the same for all of us, deep down.


It is our default setting, hardwired into our boards at birth.


The default setting of the human heart is to place ourselves at the centre of the universe. To be the main character of our story.


Before the world map was standardised, every country had their own map, and in their version of the world map, their country was at the centre. This “centre of the universe thinking is hard wired into us”.


It shows up in the way we make decisions. Should I donate to charity? Should I attend church camp? Should I attend service in-person every week? Should I forgive this person?


And the way we answer these questions is by asking “What’s in it for me?”, “How will it benefit me?” And if you think it doesn’t benefit you personally, you say, “why bother then?” Because the universe revolves about you.


The Christian knows he is not at the centre of the universe. He knows that God the creator is at the centre. Consequently, his world does not revolve around himself, or his family, or his career, or his convenience, or even his happiness. His world revolves around Jesus.


The Christian’s world revolves around God’s will and God’s glory, because he knows, as we sang earlier, “This is my Father’s world”.


So they’re not self-absorbed, but self-giving. They worry less about how others are treating them, and more concerned about whether they are Christlike towards others. And rather than ask “What’s in it for me?” They ask, “What does God want of me?” These are the ones who pray to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”


And this, allowing God to take his rightful place at the centre of our world, is ultimately what sets the Christian apart from the world.


Second, the fact that God created the world the power of his word means we ought to listen to God’s powerful, world-forming, life-giving, Word.

How did God create the world? He spoke it into existence.


God made it all, He said, "let there be"And there was all that we see.

God’s word made God’s world.


The Gospel of John puts it this way:


JOHN 1:1-3 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

This means that if we want to orient ourselves rightly in the world, we should pay attention to the Word that made the World. And this Word who is God has came down to us in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ – to whom the Scriptures testify.


There is an intrinsic order to the world. Human beings do not decide the speed of light, we discover it. We did not write the law of gravity, we discovered it. We did not decide that 2+2=4, we discovered it.


But when it comes to the meaning of life, and the meaning of marriage and sexuality, and the nature of good and evil, we human beings tend to believe that we are able to decide. We can decide what is the meaning for our lives, we can decide what marriage and sex means, we can decide what is right and wrong for ourselves.


But if there is a sovereign mind behind creation, a being who created the world and saw that it was good, then the sensible thing to do is to go him to figure out what it all means.


In other words, the meaning of life cannot be decided by us; it must be discovered in God, who gave us his word to show us the way.


So allow God’s word to guide our walk in his world.


Third, the fact that God created a universe which is ordered and good means that Creation Matters.

God said, let there be, and there was, and God saw that it was good.


This world we inhabit is not the product of an accident, neither is it a failed prototype. It is not a mistake. It was created with order and purpose – it was created good.


Yes, things went south, things went wrong with the world. But God hasn’t abandoned this world, he intends to restore it. He intends to redeem it. It remains a world he cares for, a world he loves, a world he will renew at the return of Jesus Christ.


So caring for creation matters to God. It matters that we do not pollute the rivers, it matters that we do not destroy the rainforest, it matters that we do not abuse animals. Because creation matters to God.


Our first question: Where did we come from?


God created us.

And if God created the universe by the power of his word – a universe which is ordered and good, then


  1. We must place God at the Centre of the universe,

  2. We must listen to God’s powerful word.

  3. We must care for God’s Creation.


Our second question: What are we here for? What are we human beings here for? What on earth are we here to do?


GEN 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Have you noticed that we are human beings, and not human doings? It means our being precedes and instructs our doing, not the other way around. In other words, what we do flows from who we are.


And who are we? We are created as the imago dei, that is, in the image of God. We are created as God’s image bearers. What does that mean?


What it means, substantively, is we resemble God in certain internal ways, not least in our ability to think and reason, it our capacity to love and worship, in our freedom to exert our will.


What it means, functionally is two things.


First, do you notice how in these two passages, how “image and dominion” are closely tied together?


That is one function of humanity. God is the ultimately ruler of the world, and he created mankind to rule the world in his image, that is, in the way he would rule it.


Consider the purpose of these images.


On the left is Lady Justice who stands before the Court of Appeal in Hongkong. The function of her image is to remind those who enter the court of how the court rules, of how justice is to be administered – she wears a blindfold because she is not swayed by appearances, only the truth. She holds a sword because justice is powerful and will punish the wicked. She carries a scale because she carefully and fairly weighs the evidence.


The image of Lady Justice reflects the way Justice rules the courts.


The Statue of Liberty in America is there to embody the ideals of the land on which she stands – the home of the brave, the land of the free. So anyone who visits Lady Liberty is reminded of the American ideals of equality, democracy and, of course, freedom.


This is one function of images: They reflect the values and attributes of the one whose image they bear.


In other words, when the world beholds the rule of Man, they ought to get a glimpse of what God is like – we are to rule the world in wisdom and justice, with love and goodness. As God would rule. We have failed in this vocation, as we shall come to see, in Genesis 3. But that was our function as the image bearers of God.


The second function of images is the reason these images were built.


You may not recognize them, but the three men in bronze are known as the United Trinity. George Best, Dennis Law, and Sir Bobby Charlton. Their images proudly at the stadium in Old Trafford.


The reason they are there is to stand as monument so that Manchester Utd fans can remember their legacy and their contributions towards the success of the club. In other words, their images exist to receive the praises of the fans.


This is likewise the reason King Nebuchadnezzar built his massive golden image. So that the whole city will bow before the image, praise it, pay homage to it, and so King Nebuchadnezzar is glorified amongst the people. Which is precise the reason why Daniel’s three friends refused to bow before the golden image.


The image is there to receive and reflect the praises of the people back to person in whose likeness the image was made.


That is the second function of mankind. As God’s image bearers, we are created to rule the world as God would rule it, in goodness and wisdom and love and beauty and truth, We are to rule so well, and so lovingly, that creation would see mankind and praise the God in whose image we were made.


Singaporeans are always complaining about the government, aren’t we? One of our national past-times. Always complaining, but during COVID-19, there are few other countries you would rather be in, than Singapore. The Government didn’t do a perfect job, but they balanced freedom and safety better than many, we didn’t run out of vaccines, we didn’t run out of toilet paper, we ran out of chicken, but then we got it from elsewhere. All things considered, pretty good. We should give praise where praise is due. But we don’t, we complain.


And then there is the joke. Someone interviews a North Korean and asks him, “Hey what do you think of your government?” The North Korean says, “Can’t complain. Can’t complain”. They interviewer says, “Wow, really?” The guy says, “Yea, really, can’t complain. I’ll get in trouble”.


The point is this, there is way to inhabit and rule the world that will issue forth in praises to Creator.


So Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount,


MATTHEW 5:16 Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Second Question: What are we here for?

We are here to rule the world as God’s image bearers.


1. We reflect forth God’s goodness in ruling Creation.

2. We reflect back Creation’s praises to God.


Our final question: Where are we going?


And here, we come to the 7th Day.


GEN 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 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.

The 7th day is different from the other 6 days in two ways:


1.  Unlike the first 6 days, God did not create in the 7th day. 2. Unlike the first 6 days, the 7th day does not have a conclusion. It remains open-ended.


And in this open-ended 7th day which caps off the creation of the world, God blessed the day and rested from the work of creating.


Now, if God wanted to rest after creating the world, that’s great. But if the point is that God rested from creating, it makes more sense to say, “In six days God created the world, and then he rested from his work of creation”. Why describe God’s rest as a 7th day of creation. In other words, why include the Rest – of God not creating – as part of the creation narrative? As part of the story of creation?


I believe, it is meant to communicate that Rest is part of the fabric of creation, in that it is the goal and nature of the world. The world is meant to be a place of rest. What do you mean? The original plan is that we are not supposed to work in this world?


No. God rested from the works he had done. He didn’t rest from working altogether. Rest isn’t a cessation from activity. If I told you that you were not allowed to work, not allowed to create and produce. You are forbidden from all mental and physical activity. You won’t feel rested, on the contrary, you would complain very soon that you feeling restless – you need to do something.


So this rest isn’t a cessation of all work, it is a way being and living this world that is characterised by rest, rather than by toil.


There is a phrase we use: “World-weary”. It used to describe, as per the dictionary, the feeling of weariness, boredom, or cynicism as a result of long experience of life.


In current world has a way of wearing us out. Such that a long experience of life in this world leads to becoming world-weary.


It is not meant to be. We are created to live in a good world of marked by rest.


So the Bible speaks of God’s people following God into a place of rest.


JOSHUA 1:13 13“Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’

Old Testament Israel was not called to remain as slaves of burden in Egypt, nor to wear themselves out in the wilderness. No, Israel’s destination was the Promised Land, a place of rest. They were to follow Joshua and enter into a place of rest.


But in the author of Hebrews says this:


HEBREWS 4:8-9 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God

That is, the promised land of Canaan, in the Middle East, is not the ultimate rest for God’s people. It’s merely a signpost to a greater promised land, a greater eternal rest. There remains a rest for us to enter into.


And that is the kingdom of God, in the renewed Creation.


Notice how Revelation describes the kingdom in Edenic language.   


REVELATION 22:1-2  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

The tree of life is found there, healing is found there, it’s a return to a greater Eden – a place of blessedness and rest; God’s rest.


That my friends, is where we are headed.


Q: Where are we going?


A: We are going to rest in the new Creation.


How do we get there?


We get there by striving.


HEBREWS 4:11-12 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

What does this striving entail?


It entails obedience to God by paying heed to the word of God.


12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

The People of God is following Jesus, the Son of God, into the Rest of God, and do so by allowing our steps to be guided by the Word of God.


That is where we’re headed and how we are to get there.


I know you all have your new year lunches to head to, so let me conclude with a brief recap:


Where did we come from?

God made the world and us within it.


What are we here for?

We are here to rule as the image bearers of God.


Where are we going?

We are headed for rest in the kingdom of God.

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