Once Upon Eternity
We don’t really know who we are unless someone tells us. It’s a strange thought, but it’s true, isn’t it? I can remember driving around with my grandmother when I was a teenager. My family has a long heritage in this community, and she would drive me around and tell me the stories of all my ancestors. She’d show me where the cabin was that she was born in, which my great-grandfather had built himself. She’d show me where her mother’s parents lived on Bain’s Gap (they were the Bains, by the way), and we’d find the chimney of their house that burned and visit the waterfalls where my great-grandmother played as a little girl. She’d tell me about picking cotton with her twelve brothers and sisters, and she’d tell me about how this land was lost and that land was obtained. And, I can remember as a teenager trying to avoid riding with her like the plague, because I wasn’t up for the Rabbittown lecture series, but, you know, I think back on those stories, remembering every one, and realize that she was showing me where I came from, where I fit, who I am, none of which I would’ve known unless someone told me.
And, this is important because souls our unsettled when they don’t know their story. And, this is where the Bible starts. The Bible begins by letting us know where we came from, why we’re here, and why the world is as it is. There is an interruption in the expanse of eternity for God to tell us who He is and who we are — an interruption to tell the story so that we might really know who we are. Because, if God didn’t tell us, we’d never know. And so, we’re going to start the Big Story where the story starts, ‘in the beginning’.
The Characters and Setting (Headline)
The Characters and Setting (Headline)
Our story begins where every good story begins. It begins by giving us the characters and setting (headline), the context so that we can know who we’re dealing with and how it all got started.
The main character is the “King”.
The main character is the “King”.
v. 1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We’re introduced to the main character in the very first verse, and the main character is the “King”. In Hebrew, ‘in the beginning’ is one word, meaning that we’re introduced to God in just the second word of the Bible. And, it’s not subtle that He’s the One this story’s about. God’s name is mentioned 35 times in the seven day creation account. The creation account is going to great lengths to describe this King in a very particular light. He’s a “sovereign” king. When his decree goes out, it is unstoppable and irrevocable. His word has the power call earth out of the depths and to eradicate the darkness with light. There is nothingness and vastness, and yet his word is able to create and separate and then populate ‘ex nihilo’, from nothing comes everything simply because He says it. You see, the only hope that the gospel is the true and lasting hope for the world is if it comes from the Creator of the universe. The only hope that this book will transcend all other books and all other wisdom is if the Author is the creator and Lord of all things. And so, what we see in Genesis is a God who has no rivals. God has placed eternity in our hearts so that we will know that there is One greater than us that we are to look to. But, the temptation of the ancients and the temptation of post-modern America is to look to what the King has given and what the King has offered rather than the King himself? But, will have none of it. Are you tempted to look up to the 10 octillion stars that paint the sky at night and, in awe, worship them? Are you tempted to look around at the earth and her snowcapped mountains and teeming rain forests and vast canyons and sing to her? “God created the heavens and the earth.” Are you overwhelmed by the power of the sun as it blinds you and burns you and tempted to wonder if its a deity, or do you see the moon in its dark mystery and worry that it might bring harm? “And God made the two great lights...” Do you look over the ocean that seems to have no end and feel as though you should bow down? Instead, look down at your feet and realize that our King has set the boundaries and told it where to stop. The greatest kings on earth covered from head to toe in gold, can on his best day, only reflect the outer edges of the glory of whose image he bears. Whatever you’re tempted to worship, whatever place or thing, whatever person or philosophy, whatever you buy or inherit that you’re tempted to live your life for will find its ultimate purpose or demise at the hands of this Sovereign. He has no rival. If He has a will, his will cannot be thwarted. If He has a promise, it cannot go unfulfilled. If He has Good News, no bad news can take it off course. He is worthy of your allegiance, and so the invitation of Genesis to come and worship your King.
v. 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.” And, we see that He’s a “wise” king. Notice where it starts in Genesis. Verse two describes the earth in the beginning as being ‘without form and void.’ It was submerged in water and darkness. So, what we begin with in Genesis one is vastness, darkness, and chaos, and what we end with are flocks of birds flying through an illuminated sky and schools of fish swimming through open oceans and human beings walking through a Garden that has food to eat and flowers to enjoy. God brings order to the chaos, and in his order, we see his wisdom and brilliance and creativity. He’s the opposite of all of the other ancient gods. They were angry, but you didn’t know why they were mad. They brought destruction, but there was no explanation of the destruction. They allowed prosperity, but there was no reason why. They were mean and mysterious and confusing, and they caused chaos everywhere they were worshiped. But, with God there was a beautiful symmetry to all that He made. He spends the first three days forming and the last three days filling. And, each day corresponds to its match on the second half of the week. Day 1 you have light, and day 4 you have light bearers. Day 2 you have the skies and water, and day 5 you have the birds to fly and the fish to swim. Day 3 you have multiplying vegetation and sustenance, and day 6 you have multiplying animals and humans to eat it. And, this informs our understanding of the gospel. God in his wisdom eliminates the chaos by his design, and what happens if step outside of his design? We return to chaos. This is what is talking about when it says that the creation has been subjected to futility. It means that we’ve stepped outside of God’s design, and chaos has ensued. This is what is talking about when it says that we’re suppressing the truth so that our thinking is futile and our minds are darkened. This is what it means to say that men and women have exchanged natural relations for unnatural relations. We have stepped outside of God’s design so that right looks wrong and wrong feels right, and the result is chaos. And, this is fundamental to any clear understanding of the gospel. The gospel is the story of how God, through Jesus, is renewing his creation according to his design. Where in your life are you inviting chaos by stepping outside of God’s design? s
v. 31 “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.” He’s a “loving” king. never say that God is loving, but they are clear that God is loving. Our King loves us, and it’s picked up right from the beginning. First of all, you’ll notice that at the end of each day that God passes the very first judgements of the Bible. Have you ever thought about that before? God sees all that He has made, all of creation, all of the mountain and the habitats and oxygen cycle and mankind, and He passes judgement when He says, “Behold, it is very good.” Genesis has two categories as we can see in chapter two with the description of the trees. It is to be good or to be evil, for it is the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’ That’s it. Blessed by God or cursed by God. Classified good and perfect and wonderful, or evil and detestable. And, God surveys all that He’s made, and it’s good, a reflection of perfection and an expression of his love. For God created a creation with which He would relate in love. Jesus gets to this in . Do you remember what He says? He says, “Don’t be anxious.” Why? “Lillies that live in fields without names or observer are clothed. Little sparrows fly around that nobody else cares about, yet not one of them can even fall to the ground without God’s knowledge.” And, what’s Jesus’ point? If God loves the lilies enough to clothe them and the sparrows enough to house them, how much more God love you, his child? The point is the loving, gracious, generous providence of God. It’s the love of this wise and sovereign King. God didn’t just make the birds; God made them to thrive. God didn’t just make the lions; He made them to have plenty to eat. God didn’t just make you; God made you to enjoy his kindness and know his love forever. He’s a loving King. It’s the very spine of the gospel that we see here in God. God is sovereign enough to overcome every obstacle in your life between you and him. God is wise enough to create a plan that will save you without compromising his own integrity and justice. And, God is loving enough to stop at nothing to provide it for you, not even the death of his Son. So, the main character of this story is the King, and what a King He is!
The plot involves his “governors”.
The plot involves his “governors”.
v. 26 “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’.” Now, I want you to see that The plot involves his “governors”. In the ancient kingdoms, they used to set up pictures of their kings is distant parts of the kingdom. And often, it would be in the house of a governor or a regent. And, it was to show that the king’s authority and reign had reached them and that now his representative, his governor, his regent would rule over them on his behalf and under his authority. So, listen again to verse 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 on the earth.” Did you catch that picture? We are set apart from the rest of creation to rule over creation under the authority of God. We are his picture everywhere we go. His glory shines through us, and we are to multiply so that the whole earth might be more filled with his glory as a result.
You see, God’s plot from the beginning involved us. God “blesses” us that we might “bless” the world. That’s why we have dominion. That’s why we multiply. That’s why we fill the earth. That’s why we rule the earth. So, even here, thousands of years ago, we see the seedlings of the Great Commission being woven into God’s very design of the universe. And, think about how wonderful that was then, and how wonderful that is now. God created you so that there would be one creature above every other creature that would be able to recognize and experience and enjoy his goodness. You were created to enjoy God, which would bring God enjoyment. And, enjoying God, you represent him and rule for him and glorify him wherever you go.
You see, there’s a shift that takes place between and . uses one name for ‘elohim’, and uses a different name for God, ‘YHWH.’ You see, ‘elohim’ is a name for God that speaks to his sovereignty and majesty and power, but YHWH, only God’s people get to call him that. That’s his covenant name. Only his children can call him “Dad”. So, He is the God of all creation, but He relates, He covenants with only mankind. Already, here in the Garden, we have God looking to the man and saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” “I will bless you and provide for you and rule through you. I will breathe life into you. I will bring you together. I will give you the freedom to enjoy all of me and all of my Garden, but I ask that you avoid a single tree out of your love for me.” You see, our “dignity” comes from God’s “design”. We keep trying to discover our dignity asserting our independence and our autonomy, but we keep finding chaos. We keep thinking that if we can just sleep with who we want to sleep with and buy what we want to buy and live how we want to live and make decisions how we want to make decisions that we’ll find what we’re missing. That we’ll finally discover the void that’s in us. That we’ll finally look in the mirror and not be unhappy with who we are. We’re looking for dignity. But, the only way to enjoy the fullness of your human dignity is to live in relationship with God according to his design. That’s why we should see the gospel as a call to human dignity. It’s inviting you to come to Jesus, to rest from your striving, and to take your place as one of the King’s governors in this creation.
The setting is his “Kingdom”.
The setting is his “Kingdom”.
2:3 “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.” That brings me to the last bit of context I want you to see here in regards to the Big Story: The setting is his “Kingdom”. When opens with “in the beginning”, it’s inviting the reader to finish the phrase. You know how you hear two words that always seem to go together and it feels strange to hear them alone? The word used for “beginning” here practically always paired with “end” at the same time. In fact, in , Jesus refers to himself as the “beginning and the end”. It’s a hint to the reader that this is only the beginning but that the beginning is headed to a certain end. and sin and our rebellion, don’t catch God off guard. God isn’t naive in and 2. Quite the opposite, God has planned an end, and the glory of the end will dwarf the glory of the beginning.
The Kingdom Pattern
The Kingdom Pattern
2:25 “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” You see, the Garden sets the “pattern” for the Kingdom. Think about how both tellings of the creation account ends. The first account ends with God at rest on the seventh day. And, do you notice that the seventh day doesn’t fit the pattern of all the other days? After all the other days, it says what? “And there was evening and there was morning” signifying the completion, or the end, of that day. Every day, darkness and chaos return in some form, only to have the morning light come again at the command of God each morning. Every day ends dark, and then begins bright again. But not the seventh day. There is no end to the seventh day. There is no night to interrupt the darkness. There is no interruption to the rest that has come. And then, look at the end of verse 25, where it says, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” What’s it saying? They were pure and innocent. There was no condemning voice. There was no looming judgement. They were exposed before God but unafraid. They were exposed before each other but uninhibited. There was no accusing voicing in their conscience. There was no false pretense for their happiness. Just unfiltered, unadulterated, unending joy found in their relationship with each other and their relationship with God. There was no degree of separation. There was nothing to hide.
Happily Ever After
Happily Ever After
And, when you put these pictures together, you get the framework of the Kingdom, don’t you? In the Kingdom of God, there is only rest in Christ for the people of God. There is no more trying to measure up and cowboy up and toughen up. There is no working harder and passing judgements and overcoming bad. There is only rest. It’s in the Kingdom that we come to know most fully that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in the Kingdom there will be not a single degree, not a single fig leaf of separation between you and each other and God himself. We will be resting, not worrying, not running, not crying, not pacing, but resting and singing in the presence of the Holy Almighty without the slightest concern of judgement. We will be in the presence of true holiness and be unashamed. So, you see, in the kingdom, the story really is “happily ever after”. And, if you’re in Christ, your story really will end happily ever after. In spite of all your failings and all your shortcomings and all your doubts and all your disappointments, you can be at rest and unashamed in the Kingdom. And, that’s the story we see started here. The King bringing his people into the full enjoyment of his Kingdom. It’s the gospel, and it’s right here on page one.
How do we see God’s sovereignty in the creation? How does God’s sovereignty comfort and encourage us? How does it hold us accountable?
How does stepping outside of God’s design and wisdom bring chaos? Can you think of any examples?
How does creation remind you of God’s love? How can that help you when you’re feeling anxious?
How does God ‘bless’ us? What are we to do with that blessing?
Why are we tempted to step outside of God’s design? How does that compromise our dignity? How is the gospel a call back to dignity?
What pictures of the Kingdom of God do we see in the Garden of Eden? Do we see any examples of those pictures in the church today?
How does is help you to realize that your story in Christ really does end ‘happily ever after’? Are you heart and mind fully convinced?