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In the Beginning

God's work of creation is still happening in our lives.


Let me read to you from Genesis Chapter 1. I'm going to read part of the chapter—beginning in verse 1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

Now let's read verse 6:

And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening and there was morning—the second day. And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so.

Then down to verse 14:

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so.

To verse 20:

And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Now to verse 24:

And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind. And it was so.

And finally, verse 26:

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Science tells us that the universe is made up of five essential ingredients—space, matter, energy, time, and intelligence. Now interestingly all five are found in the opening statement of the Bible, which is only ten words long. But all those five essential properties of the universe are mentioned.

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
  "In the beginning" speaks of time.
"In the beginning God …"
  That speaks of intelligence.
"In the beginning God created …"
  That speaks of energy.
"In the beginning God created the heavens …"
  Not heaven—the heavens—space.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
  That speaks of matter.

C.S. Lewis said he had never come across any philosophical theory about origins that was a radical improvement of these words. Right here in the very opening statement of the Bible we have these five essential properties of which the universe consists, summarized, succinctly, in a ten-word sentence.

According to David Paulsen, a Bible expositor, there are only 76 root words in the whole of Genesis 1. Every one of the 76 words is found in every language on earth, which means that Genesis 1 is the easiest chapter in the whole Bible to translate.

On Thursday night I was in Calgary and I met somebody who works with the Wycliffe Bible Translators. I asked him if he would verify that statement. He said, "Well I haven't got my Hebrew Bible in front of me to tell you how many root words there are but I do know that Genesis 1 is the easiest chapter to translate—that's true. Its vocabulary is extremely simple."

What we've got in this chapter is an amazing combination of simplicity on the one hand and profundity on the other. Simplicity of language—anyone can understand it—I could have read what I read just now to a Sunday school class of five year old kids and they would know exactly what it means.

On the other hand, it is a chapter of profundity that we cannot exhaust no matter how deep we drill. When we consider the volume of words written about creation, the origins of the universe, and the meaning of life, this most widely read description is the simplest.

However, of course, it's not without considerable controversy, ranging from fable on the one side—almost like a cartoon strip in seven pictures and each picture gives a picture of each day of creation—to the other extreme: people see it as fact where this is substantial scientific discovery to back up issues that are contained in Genesis Chapter 1.

Now of course there are different ways in which people interpret Genesis Chapter 1. A couple of Sunday evenings ago I talked about the five main views of Genesis 1 held by people who take the Word of God seriously as the inspired Word of God. I'm told there are about 23 different ways to interpret it.

But as I did mention the other week, that when we approach Genesis 1, it's usually with four questions: Who, How, When, and Why? Two of those are essential questions: Who and Why? Everything else that you and I know about life and our perspective on life derives on how we answer those two questions. Who, or if you like, What—What's behind it all? Who's behind it all? And why does the universe exist? Why does the world exist? Why do you and I exist?

The less essential questions are How and When. They are intriguing; we can debate them; they really don't make a big difference to the fundamental questions that the Who and Why do address.

But a point I want to make to you this morning is that what we believe about the Who and Why of Genesis Chapter 1 will determine what we believe about everything else in life.

The who and why of creation

The Germans invented a word—Weltanschauung, which literally means "wide-world perception" and in our English we have narrowed that down to one word, which we call "worldview." Worldview is a set of assumptions that govern how we understand the world. It's like a pair of glasses that you put on and through which you see the world. If I put on some dark glasses I would see you in a certain kind of way. If I put on some red tinted glasses I would see you in a certain kind of way. We all view the world through a pair of glasses, which we call our worldview. Our worldview begins with: where do we come from, why are we here, where are we going?

Our perspective actually determines everything. The way you and I behave is because of our pre-suppositions, our worldview.

Let me tell you a story, which may help to illustrate. An old man was walking along a country lane one day with his dog and his mule. As he was walking along this lane, suddenly a pick-up truck came around the corner much faster than it should have done and it knocked the man, his mule, and his dog into the ditch.

The old man decided to sue the driver of the truck, and when the court case came and he was claiming damages, the counsel for the defense was cross-examining the old man and said, "I want you to answer 'yes' or 'no' to the following question: Did you or did you not say at the time of the accident that you were perfectly fine?"

The man said, "Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road …"

The counsel for defense said, "Stop, stop, I asked you, tell me 'yes' or 'no,' did you say you were perfectly fine at the time of the accident?"

"Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road and …"

The counsel of the defense appealed to the judge and said to the judge, "He is not answering the question; would you please insist he answers the question."

The judge said, "Well, he obviously wants to tell us something; let him speak."

So the man said, "Well, me and my dog and my mule were walking along the road and this truck came around the corner far too fast, knocked us into the ditch. The driver stopped, got out of his truck, saw my dog was badly injured, went back to his truck, got his rifle and he shot it. Then he saw that my mule had broken his leg so he shot it. Then he said, 'How are you?' And I said, 'I'm perfectly fine.'"

You see we have a set of presuppositions to make us behave how we behave and say what we say and do what we do. The worldview that you and I have starts with God. You see, I have a pen here; if I see this pen as a writing instrument, there are certain things I will do with it. I will take off the top and I will write on a piece of paper and I will put the top back on, keep it in my pocket, carry it with me, because this is useful to me.

If I see this pen as something to stir my coffee with, I can do that—I can stir my coffee but I wouldn't bring it here with me this morning because I don't need to stir coffee in the middle of this service. The way I see this pen will influence completely how I use it, what I do with it, where I put it. If you see things wrong, you get everything else wrong.

The who of creation—the Triune God

Our worldview begins with God. Everybody believes something about God. I jotted down on my notes here a whole range of views of God—different people and their views of God.

First of all, you have the theist. A theist is someone who believes in a personal God who created and controls the universe.

A deist is somebody who believes in a creator God, but he does not intervene in the world he has created. He is like a watchmaker who winds up his watch and then lets it tick and it runs according to its own natural laws and he doesn't intervene.

A monotheist believes there is one God alone. We speak of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity as monotheist religions. But I am going to define Christianity differently in a moment—not as monotheist. But Judaism is and Islam is.

Then there are those who are dualist—that is, there are two forces at work— one good, one bad—two gods if you like. They are fighting out a cosmic battle.

There's the polytheist, who believe in many gods. Hinduism is polytheist.

There is the pantheist who believes that everything is god.

There is the animist who believes that many spirits control the world. There are the spirits of mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, ancestors, and so on.

Then there is the atheist who says there is no god. But even the atheists will usually believe in something else. An atheist might be a naturalist—that is, this material universe is all that exists. There is no such thing as soul, spirit, or the invisible part. We are simply physical beings and we operate on the basis of natural law or "mother nature."

Or he may be a humanist where man is his own god. Or a materialist where only matter is real. They do not accept anything that they cannot see, feel, touch for themselves. Or a pure mystic, who, where as matter exists, what is real is the spiritual, which is intangible but real.

These are just some of the perspectives that people have which begin their worldview, their understanding of why the world is and how it operates.

The Triune God's activity in creation

Now Genesis gives us a remarkable insight into God by giving him a name, which tells us some intriguing things about him. You see the name of God in Genesis Chapter 1 is the name Elohim. Now there are several names given to God, but Elohim is in Chapter 1 of Genesis and is repeated over two and half thousand times throughout the Scripture.

The intriguing thing about the name Elohim is that it is both singular and plural. It is singular in Verse 1 for instance, "In the beginning God created …"

Not "In the beginning the Gods created," but "God" (singular) "created." This is affirmed many times through the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy 6:4 it says, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one."

But when you get down to Gen. 1:26, you suddenly find Elohim saying, "Let us make man in our image …"

Suddenly there is a plurality, as we'll see next week, when it comes to creating humanity. We'll see why that is significant, when God creates male and female. As Scripture progresses, we learn the identity of the plurality of God; we discover he is Father, he is Son, he is Holy Spirit.

We find later in Scripture all three members of the Trinity were involved in creation—God the Father here in Genesis 1, God the Son, one of many examples—Colossians 1:15 says, "Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible."

So by him—the Son—all things were created. We find in Psalm 104 that the Spirit is involved in creation. Psalm 104:30 says, "When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth."

Of course right here in Genesis 1:2, the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters and involved in the creative work of God. Therefore we have in the name Elohim someone who is both singular and plural.

Someone has invented a good word for this and I want to give it to you—that we are "triune theist." Now to be triune theist is not to be tri-theistic, which is to believe in three gods. Now there are those who will accuse the Christian church of believing in three gods; we do not believe in three gods. But to be triune theist is to be three (tri), yet one (une). Triune is three in one-one in three. We are solidly monotheistic in the sense that God is one, but we are equally solidly triune theistic in that that one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That tells us some very important things about God right in the opening statement. It tells us that not only is God all-powerful ("In the beginning God—Elohim—created"), but it tells us that he is relational. He's not just a power detached but there is an inter-dependence of the Trinity.

We are not going to talk about that this morning in the way that we might one day, about how the Trinity operates as the Scripture reveals it to us. But it does help us to understand that when human beings are created in his image (at the end of the chapter), that part of that image is that we are created to be relational and we find our meaning in relationships, not in isolation.

Now I want to talk a little bit this morning about the Creator at work here in Genesis Chapter 1. How does God do his work of creation and what lessons may we learn from this about God today, as he works in our world, in your life, in my life?

The word "created" is used three times in Genesis Chapter 1. It is broken up into six days—whatever the six days may mean—and those are the different ways in which people interpret this chapter. But the word "created" is only used three times on those six occasions and each time it is significant.

First of all, in Verse 1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." That is the material world. God brought something out of nothing.

But then in Verse 21 it says, "So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind." Now we have the living word—God created life now—animal life.

Then the third occasion when the word "create" is used is in Verse 27, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Now we have the creation of human life and the human world.

So God is spoken of creating the material world, animal life, and then as something distinct to animal life: human life. We must recognize that humanity is a separate creation to the animal world. Elsewhere in Scripture it speaks of this. Paul wrote this in 1 Corinthians 15:39, "All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another, and fish another."

Now of course there will be overlap and there is overlap between the different kinds of physical life. But there is also very important distinction between these different kinds of human life, and particularly between human life and the other forms of life.

Now I don't know if you read TIME magazine but if you do, you would have picked up in this last week this edition, which has on the front cover the title: "How We Became Human." You've got a baby on one side and you've got somebody from Peoples Church on the other side—side by side—and the small print says, "Chimps and humans share almost 99% of their DNA." 98.77 is the exact proportion. You are 98.77% chimpanzee, did you know that?

Well of course, there are certain things that we do share in common with the animal world. We eat, sleep, breathe, mate the animal way. But it's interesting, this article, which is a couple of stories, comes to this conclusion, which I am going to read to you. It says, "But the one percent differences are so different that human achievements of agriculture, language, art, music, technology, and philosophy make it ridiculous so see human beings as chimpanzees in business suits."

So yes, there are differences and we consume the same foods, vegetables, meat, but this little bit of difference—genetic difference— is so significantly different, says the TIME magazine, we're not chimps in business suits.

In case you're concerned by that, you also share 27% of your genes with daffodils. So you're almost one-third daffodil, just in case you're feeling a little yellow or you look pretty; that's the reason.

The three stages of God's creative work

Now God created for six days in Genesis 1, but on the seventh day he stopped creating and interestingly, the seventh day does not have an end in the book of Genesis. In fact, you read in Hebrews Chapter 4, that there remains the Sabbath day. God stopped creating in the original sense at the end of the sixth day, in the sense he is no longer creating something out of nothing, which is what the definition of creation would be in Genesis Chapter 1. Now he is re-creating and we'll say more of that later.

But let me just point out to you that here in Genesis 1 there are three stages to God's creative work. Of course Scripture is given to us, not just to give us a bit of information that we can tuck away out of curiosity; it's given to us primarily to reveal things about God himself. There are things in this chapter that tell us about God's creative work, both here in Genesis 1, and I'm going to suggest to you, his on-going re-creative work—when he's at work in your life and mine (as he is).

The first stage of God's creative work is: there was a state of formlessness. That's explicit there. In Verse 2: "Now the earth was formless and empty …" That is, there was a barrenness, emptiness, darkness over the face of the earth. It was formless.

From that first position of being formless, God then moves to the second stage in the first three days of creation, he created form. That is, he gave some structure. On day one, he separated light from dark. That's all he did on day one. He called the light day and he called the darkness night.

In fact the first three days were all about separating two things: separate day from night on day one. On day two, he separated the earth from the sky.

Now the earth at that stage was covered in water and Genesis 1 says that. But geologists have told us that for the first 750 million years of earth's existence (and these figures come, go, stretch, shrink, whatever from time to time but this is the present figure) there was no land visible on the earth, just the occasional little rock that might have stuck up but not very much of that. Until the tectonic plates began to move and shift and the earth began to be pushed up above the surface of the water which is what happened on day three, because on day three God separated the sea from the land.

So the first day, he separated light from dark, day and night. Separated earth from the sky, and then on day three separated sea from land; land appeared on the face of the earth. Of course today, 29% of the earth's surface is covered by land, 71% covered by the oceans and the seas.

Now after three days, that is the state of creation. There's light and dark, earth and sky, and sea and land but it's empty, it's lifeless. There was the beginning of vegetation when God separated the land from the sea.

But then in days four, five, and six—go back to days two, three, and four and on day four he plugged something into day one; day five he plugged something into day two; day six he plugged something into day three. Let me point out what that was, because if it started as formless and it became form on the first three days, then the third stage of God's creative work was when he brought, what I will call, fullness on the next three days.

You see on day four, he put lights into the sky. He made the light and darkness on the first day; now on the fourth day: the sun, moon, and stars.

Now of course people ask the question: How can the sun be made after the first three days of evening and morning? Well, before the land appeared on the earth, the earth was covered with a thick cloud and mist so no light, no sun would be visible from the earth. When the land appeared that changed the weather patterns and the climate patterns and the mist and thick cloud began to disperse. So the sun—it doesn't say he created the sun—he said, "Let there be ..." and there was the sun. "Let there be lights in the sky" and there was and they saw (well there was nobody there to see them but they were then visible). The point is: into the dark and light of day one, he brought the sun for the day, and the moon and the stars—the lesser light—for the night.

On day five, having separated the earth from the sky he created fish (because it was water) and birds. There were still a few places where they might have landed because geologists tell us that there probably were a few very small areas of land that were above the surface at the point in the early years of the earth's existence.

Then on day six, we now have physical life corresponding to day three when the land and the sea were separated he now put animal life on to the land, culminating in human life, also created on the sixth day.

Human life was created as the pinnacle, the high spot, the climax, the conclusion. Having made male and female God in effect said, "That's it" and he rested and has been resting ever since, as far as his creation of something from nothing is concerned.

So the three stages are formless to form to fullness. In the first three days there was darkness—it was dark and dead and dry. In the next three days—four, five, and six—he brought light, he brought life. One the sixth day, by creating male and female in his image he brought love—light, life, and love.

Knowledge of God in creation

Now we look at this because it tells us something about God's ways. When the psalmist in Psalm 19 says, "The heavens declare the glory of God," The glory of God is his character; it's his behavior. The skies proclaim the works of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge."

Knowledge of what? Knowledge of God and his ways. Creation tells us about God's ways. I want to be practical about this because although God is not creating, I think we can safely say God has not been creating since the sixth day. He is re-creating as, for instance in 2 Corinthians 5:17, speaking of someone who is in Christ, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation the old has gone, the new has come!"

"A new creature" as some translations put it. The idea could equally be read here to say, "recreation." God has taken something that was there and he is remaking it, remolding it into something fresh. That's what happens in your life and mine.

I think this pattern of the formless taking form and then finding fullness is the pattern of God's work in your life and mine. Because we are described as being separated from God, in a condition of spiritual death, that spiritually in our alienation from God, we're in that sort of formless position. Then when a person is brought into relationship with God through Jesus Christ there is the form that you and I receive of a new relationship, a new structure. We are declared as justified—that is, we are legally freed from the consequences of our sin because Christ has bore them in our place. We are justified, we are declared righteous, we are declared children of God; we have a position in Christ.

All this is about our standing, about our position, which is true for every Christian, but it's possible to stop there, as sadly many do, because the third stage is then to bring fullness to the form. That is why Scripture in the New Testament constantly urges us: you have been brought into a relationship with God, then move on to fullness and maturity. Let me read to you Hebrews 6:1:

"Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity."

What are these elementary teachings? Well, he tells us:
  "… not laying again the foundation of repentance"
That is, the initial repentance that brings us to Christ,
  "and of faith in God"
That is the initial faith in God.
That is the sign of that initial repentance of faith in God.
  "the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, the eternal judgment," the future issues.

All these, he says, are basic, fundamental to becoming a Christian, but he says, "Let us leave these behind and move on to maturity." Because it is possible to say, "Well, I am a Christian." What does that mean?

"My sins are forgiven, I am reconciled to God, I am going to heaven when I die, I have been declared righteous in Christ."

Great, but you can live a totally carnal life in the meantime. It's possible. He urges: go on to fullness and to maturity. Ephesians 4 says, "Don't grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." Because although you have been sealed, that's the form you may grieve him; you don't move on to fullness; you stop God's re-creative work at day 3. But you don't go back and start bringing the fullness into the structure. Ephesians 5, the same letter, says, "Don't get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit."

The form is in place; move it on to fullness.


You know, if Scripture contains the Gospel in every chapter, as I believe it does in some form—embryonic or fully expressed—I believe that right here from the beginning we see God's ways that are going to become God's ways in your life and mine, and his creative and re-creative work.

Some of us can go through the three days in our relationship with God, the light comes to us, we understand there is light and darkness, we understand there is a heaven and an earth, we understand there is right and there's wrong. But we don't move on into fullness. You see a relationship with God can be right but your fellowship with God is not.

You can have a son or a daughter and your relationship will always be that of a parent to that person, but they may be completely out of fellowship with you and you hardly ever see them. The relationship might be right, the fellowship not. Your standing before God might be right, but your service that comes out of that standing is not. Your trust in God—in the sense you trust him for your salvation—may be right, may be in place, but your obedience to him is not. You can have form without fullness.

You see what intrigues me is God always takes his time; there is a process. You know we often say, "God can do whatever it is we're talking about." Of course God can do anything. We put no limits on what God can do. But a more sensible question is: What does God do?" You see, God could have done the whole work of creation in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

Move on to Chapter 2: done, did it. But he didn't. God, although he is omnipotent and is capable of doing anything at any time, of course he is; he actually doesn't do anything at any time; he follows process. In creation he did: over six distinct periods. He does that in your life and mine. We don't become spiritually mature overnight. We don't become what God wants us to be, ever, until we get to heaven and its fullness. But there is process.

You know we go through things in life when things go wrong. We've already had announced this morning that loved ones who have passed away. We had a good friend who died last week in England, quickly, and until a few weeks ago, totally unexpectedly, younger than me.

We ask the question: Could God have prevented that? The answer is: God can do anything. We ask the question: Does God just do that? The answer is: Mostly not. Mostly he lets people die—mostly. He does intervene sometimes. We cannot put any predictable pattern on God in that intervention. But it is very few times that he does; that's the fact that you and I know. God works to processes that he initiated and brought into being. That's why 2 Corinthians 3:18 says, "We, with unveiled faces reflect the Lord's glory; we are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory."

That is a statement about the Christian life, about what it means to be sanctified, to be made what God wants us to be. We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory. It's a process; not you have been; come forward; pow! Suddenly you're it; you're not. It's a process of growth. God shows that in creation.

We see it in other ways beyond Genesis 1 as well. God works through process. He could have gotten the Israelites out of Egypt into Canaan. I mean he could have done it, I guess, supernaturally. Even naturally he could have done it in eleven days because we are told it's an eleven-day journey, but it took forty years. There are reasons for that, but God works by process.

The process is out of formlessness—that's why by the way, this statement, which is the second statement of the Bible, is one of the most depressing statements of the Bible, "The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep."

I mean those are discouraging words: formless, empty, dark. Second verse of the Bible: one of the most discouraging verses in the Bible.

You meet somebody on the street and you say, "That man's life is just so broken; he's formless, he's empty, he's dark." That is no difficulty to God. It's from the formlessness he brings the form, the structure. Then into the structure he brings the life, light, love—the fullness.

This is his pattern in Genesis. It is his pattern in your life and mine, as we say, "Lord as I submit to you, I'm grateful I'm not the person I was a year ago, but neither am I yet the person I may be a year from now, in five years from now, in ten years from now. You could drop the whole bang shoot out of heaven and pow! But you don't. We grow one degree to another, a process." But we need to keep our eyes, our focus on the One who is the re-creator, the One who does it.

Charles Price is the Senior Pastor of The Peoples Church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and the founder of Living Truth, an international teaching and preaching ministry.

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Sermon Outline:


I. The who and why of creation

II. The who of creation—the Triune God

III. The Triune God's activity in creation

IV. The three stages of God's creative work

V. Knowledge of God in creation