sermon20220731 Genesis: Moving Ahead Spiritually by Looking Back
Genesis: Moving Ahead Spiritually by Looking Back
To understand the Bible, it is essential to grasp the sweep of that history from creation to consummation. It is also crucial to keep in focus the unifying theme of Scripture. The one constant theme unfolding throughout the whole Bible is this: God for His own glory has chosen to create and gather to Himself a group of people to be the subjects of His eternal kingdom, to praise, honor, and serve Him forever and through whom He will display His wisdom, power, mercy, grace, and glory. To gather His chosen ones, God must redeem them from sin. The Bible reveals God’s plan for this redemption from its inception in eternity past to its completion in eternity future. Covenants, promises, and epochs are all secondary to the one continuous plan of redemption.
There is one God. The Bible has one Creator. It is one book. It has one plan of grace, recorded from initiation, through execution, to consummation. From predestination to glorification, the Bible is the story of God redeeming His chosen people for the praise of His glory.
As God’s redemptive purposes and plan unfold in Scripture, five recurring motifs are constantly emphasized:
~ the character of God
~ the judgment for sin and disobedience
~ the blessing for faith and obedience
~ the Lord Savior and sacrifice for sin
~ the coming kingdom and glory
Everything revealed on the pages of both the OT and NT is associated with those five categories. Scripture is always teaching or illustrating: 1) the character and attributes of God; 2) the tragedy of sin and disobedience to God’s holy standard; 3) the blessedness of faith and obedience to God’s standard; 4) the need for a Savior by whose righteousness and substitution sinners can be forgiven, declared just, and transformed to obey God’s standard; and 5) the coming glorious end of redemptive history in the Lord Savior’s earthly kingdom and the subsequent eternal reign and glory of God and Christ. It is essential as one studies Scripture to grasp these recurring categories like great hooks on which to hang the passages. While reading through the Bible, one should be able to relate each portion of Scripture to these dominant topics, recognizing that what is introduced in the OT is also made more clear in the NT.
Looking at these five categories separately gives an overview of the Bible.
1. THE REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD
Above all else, Scripture is God’s self-revelation. He reveals Himself as the sovereign God of the universe who has chosen to make man and to make Himself known to man. In that self-revelation is established His standard of absolute holiness. From Adam and Eve through Cain and Abel and to everyone before and after the law of Moses, the standard of righteousness was established and is sustained to the last page of the NT. Violation of it produces judgment, temporal and eternal.
In the OT, it is recorded that God revealed Himself by the following means:
~ creation—primarily through man—who was made in His image
~ signs, wonders, and miracles
~ spoken words by prophets and others
~ written Scripture (OT)
In the NT, it is recorded that God revealed Himself again by the same means, but more clearly and fully:
~ creation—the God-man, Jesus Christ, who was the very image of God
~ signs, wonders, and miracles
~ spoken words by apostles and prophets
~ written Scripture (NT)
2. THE REVELATION OF DIVINE JUDGMENT FOR SIN AND DISOBEDIENCE
Scripture repeatedly deals with the matter of man’s sin, which leads to divine judgment. Account after account in Scripture demonstrates the deadly effects in time and eternity of violating God’s standard. There are 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Only four of them don’t involve a fallen world: the first two and the last two—before the Fall and after the creation of the new heaven and new earth. The rest is the chronicle of the tragedy of sin.
In the OT, God showed the disaster of sin—starting with Adam and Eve, to Cain and Abel, the patriarchs, Moses and Israel, the kings, priests, some prophets, and Gentile nations. Throughout the OT is the relentless record of continual devastation produced by sin and disobedience to God’s law.
In the NT, the tragedy of sin becomes more clear. The preaching and teaching of Jesus and the apostles begin and end with a call to repentance. King Herod, the Jewish leaders, and the nation of Israel—along with Pilate, Rome, and the rest of the world—all reject the Lord Savior, spurn the truth of God, and thus condemn themselves. The chronicle of sin continues unabated to the end of the age and the return of Christ in judgment. In the NT, disobedience is even more flagrant than OT disobedience because it involves the rejection of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ in the brighter light of NT truth.
3. THE REVELATION OF DIVINE BLESSING FOR FAITH AND OBEDIENCE
Scripture repeatedly promises wonderful rewards in time and eternity that come to people who trust God and seek to obey Him. In the OT, God showed the blessedness of repentance from sin, faith in Himself, and obedience to His Word—from Abel, through the patriarchs, to the remnant in Israel—and even Gentiles who believed (such as the people of Nineveh).
God’s standard for man, His will, and His moral law were always made known. To those who faced their inability to keep God’s standard, recognized their sin, confessed their impotence to please God by their own effort and works, and asked Him for forgiveness and grace—there came merciful redemption and blessing for time and eternity.
In the NT, God again showed the full blessedness of redemption from sin for repentant people. There were those who responded to the preaching of repentance by John the Baptist. Others repented at the preaching of Jesus. Still others from Israel obeyed the gospel through the apostles’ preaching. And finally, there were Gentiles all over the Roman Empire who believed the gospel. To all those and to all who will believe through all of history, there is blessing promised in this world and the world to come.
4. THE REVELATION OF THE LORD SAVIOR AND SACRIFICE FOR SIN
This is the heart of both the OT, which Jesus said spoke of Him in type and prophecy, and the NT, which gives the biblical record of His coming. The promise of blessing is dependent on grace and mercy given to the sinner. Grace means that sin is not held against the sinner. Such forgiveness is dependent on a payment of sin’s penalty to satisfy holy justice. That requires a substitute—one to die in the sinner’s place. God’s chosen substitute—the only one who qualified—was Jesus. Salvation is always by the same gracious means, whether during OT or NT times. When any sinner comes to God, repentant and convinced he has no power to save himself from the deserved judgment of divine wrath, and pleads for mercy, God’s promise of forgiveness is granted. God then declares him righteous because the sacrifice and obedience of Christ is put to his account. In the OT, God justified sinners that same way, in anticipation of Christ’s atoning work. There is, therefore, a continuity of grace and salvation through all of redemptive history. Various covenants, promises, and epochs do not alter that fundamental continuity, nor does the discontinuity between the OT witness nation, Israel, and the NT witness people, the church. A fundamental continuity is centered in the cross, which was no interruption in the plan of God, but is the very thing to which all else points.
Throughout the OT, the Savior and sacrifice are promised. In Genesis, He is the seed of the woman who will destroy Satan. In Zechariah, He is the pierced one to whom Israel turns and by whom God opens the fountain of forgiveness to all who mourn over their sin. He is the very One symbolized in the sacrificial system of the Mosaic law. He is the suffering substitute spoken of by the prophets. Throughout the OT, He is the Messiah who would die for the transgressions of His people; from beginning to end in the OT, the theme of the Lord Savior as a sacrifice for sin is presented. It is solely because of His perfect sacrifice for sin that God graciously forgives repentant believers.
In the NT, the Lord Savior came and actually provided the promised sacrifice for sin on the cross. Having fulfilled all righteousness by His perfect life, He fulfilled justice by His death. Thus God Himself atoned for sin, at a cost too great for the human mind to fathom. Now He graciously supplies on their behalf all the merit necessary for His people to be the objects of His favor. That is what Scripture means when it speaks of salvation by grace.
5. THE REVELATION OF THE KINGDOM AND GLORY OF THE LORD SAVIOR
This crucial component of Scripture brings the whole story to its God-ordained consummation. Redemptive history is controlled by God, so as to culminate in His eternal glory. Redemptive history will end with the same precision and exactness with which it began. The truths of eschatology are neither vague nor unclear—nor are they unimportant. As in any book, how the story ends is the most crucial and compelling part—so with the Bible. Scripture notes several very specific features of the end planned by God.
In the OT, there is repeated mention of an earthly kingdom ruled by the Messiah, Lord Savior, who will come to reign. Associated with that kingdom will be the salvation of Israel, the salvation of Gentiles, the renewal of the earth from the effects of the curse, and the bodily resurrection of God’s people who have died. Finally, the OT predicts that there will be the “uncreation” or dissolution of the universe, and the creation of a new heaven and new earth—which will be the eternal state of the godly—and a final hell for the ungodly.
In the NT, these features are clarified and expanded. The King was rejected and executed, but He promised to come back in glory, bringing judgment, resurrection, and His kingdom for all who believe. Innumerable Gentiles from every nation will be included among the redeemed. Israel will be saved and grafted back into the root of blessing from which she has been temporarily excised.
Israel’s promised kingdom will be enjoyed, with the Lord Savior reigning on the throne, in the renewed earth, exercising power over the whole world, having taken back His rightful authority, and receiving due honor and worship. Following that kingdom will come the dissolution of the renewed, but still sin-stained creation, and the subsequent creation of a new heaven and new earth—which will be the eternal state, separate forever from the ungodly in hell.
Those are the five topics that fill up the Bible.
The book of Genesis, concerned with origins, is very much a foundational book. It is the foundation of the Torah (also known as the Pentateuch), the Old Testament and ultimately the entire Christian Bible. We will fully explore the foundational quality of Genesis throughout this study, but here I will provide a few words of introductory comment.
We often think of Genesis as an isolated book within the canon, the first of the Hebrew Bible. It describes the period from the beginning of time, through the patriarchal period, to the severe famine that drove the family of God to Egypt. The next book, Exodus, begins several centuries after the close of Genesis. Exodus is tightly connected to the rest of the Torah, since the books of the Torah are all concerned with Israel’s journey through the wilderness.
The book of Genesis is not properly understood unless it is seen as the first chapter of a five-chapter work we refer to as the Torah, or the Pentateuch. While it may have been written using earlier sources, it was not written at the time of the events it describes, but rather, at the earliest, in the period after the exodus, and it was written very much as a prehistory providing the base of the story of exodus and wilderness wandering that follows.
Second, and this will be harder to see until we deal with the life of Abraham, the book of Genesis is the foundation for the rest of the Old Testament as well as the whole Bible, including the New Testament. When we read through the book of Genesis, we see that its ending anticipates that more is to come. The last major character, Joseph, dies, but he gives instructions that he is to be buried not in the land of Egypt but in the land that God has promised to give to the descendants of Abraham. When the Torah ends, the descendants of Abraham are poised on the border of the Promised Land, about to go in. We cannot understand the history of redemption of the people of Israel from beginning to end without the book of Genesis. The same is true of the good news concerning Jesus Christ (of which a full explanation will come later). Already in the book of Genesis, Christ’s redemptive work is anticipated, and without this foundational book we cannot understand the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Last, we should see a special connection between the very beginning of the Bible and its end. Genesis 1–2 narrates the creation of the cosmos and humanity. God places Adam and Eve in the Garden that contains the tree of life. Genesis 3 narrates the fracture of that relationship, and from that point through Revelation 20 we hear the story of redemption, how God pursued humans to restore his blessing on then. It is of great significance that the last two chapters of Revelation (Rev 21–22) use language reminiscent of the Garden of Eden to describe the time of final reunion with God. The end brings us back to the beginning.