Chuck's sermon is an excellent example of a sermon that sharpens the way we read the Bible. Notice how Chuck challenges us to take the form and genre of the biblical text into careful consideration, and then to preach in a way that illuminates—rather than obscures—those elements. Similarly, Chuck does an excellent job of highlighting the technical intricacies of the creation story without becoming mired in the details. By the end of the sermon, the Genesis texts shine just a little brighter.
"It was a dark and stormy night;" that was the opening line of every book Snoopy ever started to write in the Peanuts comic strip. There's something about opening lines. You know, for example, when you hear the phrase "Once upon a time," that you are about to hear a story. Opening lines set the stage; they introduce the plot and characters. They set everything in motion.
This morning we are going to set this story in motion. You can't understand God's story without starting in Genesis 1. The story is really quite simple. It starts out in the Garden of Eden, when the world is good. We get all the way into chapter three before man falls apart. God sets into motion a redemptive plan while man continues to rebel and fall. God sends his son, and man rejects him. God initiates a final covenant called the church. Some people respond to it; some don't. The church is sent forth into the world to retell the story. Some people receive it; some don't. Ultimately God returns and takes us back into a garden.
When we look at chapter one of the creation story, we find ourselves with what one man calls the prelude and the plot. It is musical and poetic, and it sets up the story. Chapter two sets the characters in motion and gives us the plot of the story. The underpinning assumption is that the story begins with an act of God: "In the beginning God." Generations later, when the author of Hebrews was writing to that group of Jewish Christians, he explained, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." We must decide whether we want to accept, by faith, the opening line of the Bible. If you accept the statement "In the beginning God," then everything else about Scripture falls into place and leaves no room for debate. Genesis 1:1–2 sets the stage for everything else that's going to happen, as the words "beginning," "spirit," and "water" are going to become important later on.
Creation establishes a sense of time.
Genesis 1:2 tells us that the earth was formless and empty. The first three days of creation are a direct address to the issue of formlessness. Days four, five, and six address the other issue: the emptiness and lack of substance. The rest of chapter one is written with the repetition and rhythm of Hebrew poetry.
In the first account, you get the sense that you're viewing creation from heaven's perspective. There is cadence and music, a count, a tempo; and the poet captures your ear and the eye of your heart, and he begins to help you understand that there is going to be shape and substance to this formless void. In chapter two, when the narrator talks about the seventh day, he does something unusual with the cadence and tempo. Instead of waiting until the end of the day to number it, he announces the day on the front end. Not only does he name it first, but he names it three times. This is poetry and music. It's designed for the ear and the heart.
This opening account has such intricate repetition. God is mentioned by name more than thirty times: "And God said…and God said…and God said." God is the subject of all the verbs: God created; God made; God saw; God named; God blessed. The text is punctuated with grammar inclusio, or parenthesis: "And God said…and there was evening and there was morning;" "And God said…and it was so." Six times he says, "it was good."
The poet wants us to feel this text in such a way that we understand there is music to the creation that's intended to help place us in time. Thus, the first emphasis of Genesis 1, according to Eugene Peterson, is about the way we measure life. We are restricted as human beings to measuring life in one fundamental way: time. When Paul speaks to the Athenians in Acts 17, he explains that the Creator God "made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth, and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live." Time is how we measure life, and it's the way we respond to God.
Creation establishes a sense of space.
Genesis 1 inspires awe and wonder. Then in chapter two, God seems to say: I want to show you this again; but this time I want you to see this from the earth's perspective. Genesis 1:1 reads, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;" Genesis 2:4 says, "the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." Do you see the shift? Chapter one reads "heaven and earth"; chapter two reads "earth and heaven." Chapter one sets the stage; chapter two begins the story.
There's an incredible shift related to the name of God in the second account of the creation. Chapter one records 30 occurrences of the word Elohim. In chapter two, God is called "the Lord God." That's the word Yahweh, or Jehovah in some Bibles. This name for God isn't even introduced to us until the Book of Exodus. As Moses is preparing to lead the people out of Egypt, God says, tell them "I Am"—Yahweh—sent you. The Hebrews wouldn't pronounce the word Yahweh. Instead, they substituted the word Adonai. That's why, in our English translations, we find the word Lord in capital letters. Suddenly in Genesis 2, the name "Lord God" is used instead of Elohim. This name is a covenant name, a relational term. With this shift, God and man began a journey together.
Chapter two divides naturally into two pieces. Verses 4 through 14 recount the creation and placement of man, and verses 15 through 25 are about relationships between people. If chapter one is about time, chapter two is about place, as location begins to take on great importance. In Genesis 2:8 and 2:15, the narrator tells us God "put" or "placed" the man in the garden. The garden is actually named; it's called Eden. It's given boundaries—four rivers. Identification, boundaries, and location emphasize the fact that we are put someplace.
The word "ground," from which the man was formed, is the Hebrew word adamah. The man, Adam, came from the ground, adamah. Five different times the narrator talks about ground. In fact, the man is mentioned 18 times, and the soil from which he came is mentioned 19 times. It's as if the poet is trying to help us understand that we are made of the same stuff as the world in which we live. We don't live in some ethereal world somewhere; we live in this world, the one that God has made. That's part of the challenge of understanding the nature of this text and its implications for us—wherever here is, that's where you are supposed to be.
Do you ever notice how place becomes so important; how we want to identify—and be identified by—our place? We are always trying to get to a better place. Gregory of Nyssa was appointed by his brother, who happened to be the bishop, to go to a little town called Nyssa in central Turkey. Gregory didn't want to go; it was too small a place. But he went, and in the process he learned to be content. Most of us have never even heard of Gregory, but he is famous in church history for helping the church come to grips with a little tiny issue—the Trinity. His writings helped shape our understanding of the triune nature of God. He is also one of the writers most responsible for helping us understand the infinite nature of God and the finite nature of man. This younger brother of a bishop, appointed to a wide spot in the road, found his place where God put him, and there he blossomed into one of the greatest theologians of the church. He understood that we are where God wants us to be; we don't have another place. If you're always looking for another place, then you will never be of any value where you are.
Creation establishes proper relationships.
This passage has several remarkable implications for relationships. First, notice the emphasis on the meaning and value of work. If you thought Eden was a place where Adam and Eve sat around and did nothing, you were mistaken. One of the things we must understand is that meaningful, valuable work is something we were created to do. Work is not a consequence of the Fall; work is good.
Second, we participate with God in creation. God creates the place, and then man names all the animals. The language of creation applies only to God. The Hebrew verb bara, which means "to create," never has another subject other than God. There are other words associated with creating, in terms of making, stretching, and forming. But only God creates from nothing. Nevertheless, after God made the world, he made us to make things; the creative nature of God comes out in the creative nature of humanity.
Next, we have a relationship with God in which there is incredible freedom. The Lord God made all kinds of trees, and he put a tree of knowledge of good and evil and a tree of life in the garden. He told the man he could eat of anything that he wanted—any tree he'd like—except one. That's freedom. Unlike any other part of creation, man is free to choose. Along with enormous freedom, though, we have also been given responsibility to make right choices. God gives us freedom, and yet he also gives us boundaries. We are made from the earth, but we are not just like the animals. God gave everything to man for his pleasure and supply, and he wanted a wonderful relationship where everything was good.
Marriage is also introduced in this passage. The only time in this text that anything is not good is when God says it is not good for a man to be alone. The first thing God does is ask Adam to name all the animals. I can imagine that after looking at a hippopotamus and a giraffe, Adam said: I'm sorry, but this just isn't going to work.
So God causes Adam to have a deep sleep, and he takes a rib out of his side from which he makes a helper suitable for him. The woman came from the side of man, not from his feet or his head. That means that we are companions, and in Scripture we are equals. This word for a "suitable helper" is used about God's being a helper suitable for Israel. All of this culminates in one simple phrase in Genesis 2:25—"The man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame." The opening chapter of our story ends with humankind innocent in the garden.
While Jesus is never mentioned in Genesis 1 and 2, he is clearly there. Genesis 1:26 says, "Let us make man in our image." Those are plural pronouns. John 1:1–3 provides the parallel New Testament text: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things were made." Furthermore, Mark 1:1 is "the beginning" of the gospel of Jesus. When Jesus is baptized in Mark 1:9, the Holy Spirit descends upon him. Just as Genesis 1 is the beginning of God's story, Mark 1 is the beginning of Jesus' story—the explanation of how God's story transforms humanity.
Genesis 1 and 2 serve one fundamental purpose: to confront the culture. There were lots of creation stories in the Ancient Near East that described God's coming into existence. God writes a story to confront those cultural statements. Moreover, Genesis 1 confronts our world, too. The spirituality of our world has no room for creation, because creation implies sovereignty and sovereignty implies submission. We don't want a spirituality that causes us to be submissive to something; we want a spirituality that makes us feel good.
In other words, this transforming story is going to be a problem for those who want just spirituality; the story is going to talk about service and equality, and the spirituality of the 21st century wants nothing to do with the inconvenience of God.
Genesis starts with, "In the beginning God," and Mark starts with, "This is the beginning of the gospel." Is this a good time for you to make a decision to live the story, to experience the story, to have a new beginning where the creator recreates your life and makes it what it ought to be? That's what you're invited to.
Chuck says the following about "All God Does Is Good":
It was the first sermon of a six-month series called "The Transforming Story," in which I attempted to retell the Biblical story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation in broad strokes. I was reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson, and Peterson's treatment of the textual subtleties and ways God provided clues to what was important made me so eager to preach the sermon. It quickly became one of my favorite sermons because it so spoke to me about God and his creativity and wisdom.
Chuck's favorite books on preaching include John Stott's, Between Two Worlds; Fred Craddock's, Preaching; Haddon Robinson's, Biblical Preaching; Craig Brian Larson and Haddon Robinson's, The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching; and Donald Sunukjian's, Invitation to Biblical Preaching
For your reflection:
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see "Plagiarism, Schmagiarism")
Chuck Sackett preaches at Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois, and teaches Ministry and Bible at Lincoln Christian College and Seminary in Lincoln, Illinois.