We are going to take two weeks and do something different. I’m going to preach a whole sermon on one book of the Bible. I figured what better place to start than Genesis. Actually, I had planned back in December that we would spend five weeks doing this and walk through the first five books of the Bible, but that changed when we decided to do our Missional and Confessional series back in April. My hope is that I will get to be the pastor of this church for a very long time and that before my time is up here we will have gone through most, if not all, of the books of the Bible.
I think it is such an important practice to go through whole books of the Bible at a very high altitude because we can so easily get lost in the weeds. I think it is important for Christians to be able to summarize each book of the Bible in a sentence or two. The whole story of the Bible is more than just the Roman Road. The Bible is one story that starts in Genesis and ends in Revelation and we have to see how that story unfolds to appreciate it fully. We need to understand what role each book of the Bible plays in the unfolding of the greatest story ever given to mankind and that story begins in Genesis.
Genesis is a book of Beginnings. The beginning of any story is so important to understand or you don’t fully appreciate the story. Imagine starting a movie 30 minutes into it. In almost every movie, you would be lost because the beginning is so crucial to the whole story. You will know how the story ends, but at best you will not appreciate how it got to that ending and at worst, you will be completely lost. Well, the same is true with the Bible. If you take Genesis out of the Bible, you may well understand how the story ends, but there are crucial elements to the story of mankind that you can only understand if you go back to the beginning.
I was in another country about ten years ago and this older lady asked me what religion I was. I said I was Christian and she said, “No, I mean what type of Christian?” I said I was protestant and she said, “Oh, you are the ones that only believe the New Testament and the Psalms.” And it hit me, the missionaries in that area were passing out those Bibles that only had Psalms and the New Testament. I don’t know if this is financially motivated because there are so many words in the New Testament or if it’s some attempt to just get straight to Jesus and fill in the gaps later, but this isn’t the most helpful practice.
There are certainly lots of questions in Genesis and I won’t be able to touch most of them in a sermon like this, but my hope is that the main point of the book would be clear and that you might even be motivated to go read it. Maybe do it in one sitting. It would take about three hours to do that. Ok, let me give you a quick outline of this book before we dive in. There are fifty chapters in this book. The first three chapters talk about God, creation, man, and what we call the fall of man. Then chapters four through eleven cover Adam to Abraham. A huge chunk of time is covered in these chapters which includes Noah, the flood, and the tower of Babel. Then chapters 12-50 slows way down and follows one family.. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. My first professor in seminary, talking about Genesis, said, “When time slows down, pay attention.”
So, here is how I want to do this. I want to look at three beginnings. The beginning of creation, the beginning of our problems, and the beginning of God’s people. And as we look at these beginnings, I want to see what we can learn about the character of God at each beginning.
- The beginning of creation.
Genesis tells us that God spoke creation into being. He created the universe, he created the earth, he created the land and the sea, he created the animals, and then he created us. You walk through the story of creation and every time God creates something, he says, “It is good.” But, after he creates man he looks at all he created and said, “It is very good.” Chapter one says that we are different from anything else created because we are made in God’s image.
Now, there are lots of questions about how to interpret what we read about creation. Are these six literal days or are we to read this as poetry and interpret these days as something longer than 24 hours? How do we account for dinosaurs? What role does evolution play? How do we account for light coming from other stars that clearly took billions of years to arrive here? Is the earth young? Is the earth old? Did God create a billions years old earth just a few thousand years ago? These are all good questions that I won’t fully dive into today, but I do want to give you some guide rails as you navigate this.
We have to first understand the original audience. Moses is writing this book to the Israelites likely as they were about to enter the promised land and he is answering the questions they were asking. They had been told that Pharaoh was made in God’s image and only he spoke for God. They wanted to know who the real God is. They wanted to know what their relationship was to him. They wanted to know what he wanted from them and for them. And God answers those questions in this book. But, do you know what question they were not asking? Is Darwin correct? They were asking who created everything, but they weren’t asking how exactly that happened.
I’m not in any way saying we can’t get some ‘how’ questions answered, but we can’t ask Genesis to answer questions the original Israelite audience wasn’t asking. There are about five acceptable interpretations of Genesis 1-2 and they are all acceptable because they have this in common: a literal Adam and Eve as our very first ancestors who are made by God, without sin, and in his image. However you interpret Genesis 1 and 2, those things have to be held as true for the rest of the Bible to make any sense.
So, we look at the beginning of creation and what can we learn about God? We can see that he is all powerful. He has existed as Father, Son, and Spirit forever. We even see the Trinity in the creation story as the Spirit hovers over the waters after the Father has spoken. You see the Son later in chapter three. I was in the rainforest of Panama this week where you see butterflies the size of your head and big lizards that walk on water and trees that look like something out of Jurassic Park. You can look up and see more stars than you ever could have imagined and everything you can see is literally like a drop in the Pacific Ocean compared to how much more is out there and God created it all simply by speaking.
He created life and in us he created sentient life. People with souls who live and love. Nothing else has that power. For the record, I’m a fan of science. I think science and the Bible agree. The problem right now is that we have such a limited understanding of our world. The other problem is that much of science right now begins by taking God off the table. That’s actually pretty bad science. You can’t make conclusions without proving them and increasingly, science is acknowledging that. Ray Ortlund said, “Genesis 1:1 did not make science possible, Genesis 1:1 makes science inevitable. The Bible does not suppress thinking and discovery, it arouses thinking and makes discovery plausible.”
Just think about it. We live in a world where anything…anything left alone will begin to break down, it will deteriorate and disintegrate. Nowhere is this more true than the back seats of our minivan. Yet, we think that the opposite happened with creation. All these bits of space rock were left alone and instead of drifting toward less complexity, they drifted toward more complexity? No, there had to be a guiding power to it all and Genesis shows us that God is that power. Nothing is beyond him. He does as he wills and no one will ever get in the way of that.
That’s the beginning of creation, now let’s go to chapter three and see the beginning of our problems.
- The beginning of our problems.
God created Adam, then God created Eve and they lived in perfect harmony with him with full freedom to do as they wanted, with one exception. They could not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s desire was that they be spared the knowledge of evil and live in that perfect harmony with him forever. That tree was also a reminder that God is God and they were not. They lived in obedience to him. He gave them all they could have ever wanted with one rule. But under the influence of Satan, who had already rebelled against God and been judged for it, they ate. They broke the one rule and that was the beginning of all our problems. That was the day that humanity fell.
And here we see one more essential thing in Genesis that we have to hold onto? A real fall. Without this moment, the rest of the Bible doesn’t make any sense. Adam and Eve were forever changed at that moment. They hid from God because they were ashamed. Sin entered the world and with it pain and death. Romans 5:12 tells us that every descendant of these two is born into the same pain and death and also born with a heart to rebel against God just like Adam and Eve.
So, in Genesis 3 and Genesis 7 we see the first two mass judgments against man from God. The first was the banishment from the garden with specific curses. Work will be hard, childbearing will be hard, and we will now die. The second was the flood that killed humanity. After Adam and Eve, sin just kept getting worse and worse. Their son Cain killed his brother, Abel. How much more contrary can you get to what God wanted for us than a man murdering his brother? By chapter six, man had spread about the earth and brought our sin with us and it had gotten so bad that God lamented even creating us. Sin had taken over the world, so God chose Noah and a few others and killed the rest of humanity with a flood. After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah that he will not destroy the earth by water again and the sign of that covenant was a rainbow in the clouds signifying that God had put his weapon down.
So, what can we learn about God in chapters 3-7? We see that he is holy and because he is holy, he hates sin. He has no tolerance for it. He isn’t some far off God who created everything and let it spin on its own after that. He is here and he is committed to dealing with the sin in our world. Sin isn’t the bad decisions we make, it’s our heart problem that causes us to make decisions that put us first and not God. Let me just pause and ask, do you see that you are sinful? Do you see that on your own, you can’t please God and that you and I deserve the same harsh judgement because we are no different?
Sin is such a problem that not even flooding the world will fix it. Right after the flood, what does Noah do? He gets drunk. Here we see that you can’t rid this world of sin without ridding it of us. And so, the sons of Noah, Ham, Shem, and Japheth have families and again populate the earth with sinful people. But, because God is all powerful and all holy, he comes up with a better way. And here is where we see the beginning of God’s people.
III. The Beginning of God’s People
For this last point, I do draw some from a sermon Mark Dever once preached on Genesis. He calls the event in chapter twelve the most crucial event between Adam and Christ: the call of Abram. Abram, who will later be called Abraham, is a pagan nomad who God calls in chapter 12 and makes a covenant with in chapter 15. God commits to making Abraham and his descendants his people and through them, God will bless all the earth. The rest of the story of Genesis is following this family. First, we follow Abraham, then we follow his son Isaac, then we follow Isaac’s son, Jacob (whose name is changed to Israel), and, finally, we end with Israel’s son, Joseph. As we follow this family we will see God’s commitment to our holiness, God’s sovereignty, and God’s mercy.
First, his commitment to our holiness. Going back to God’s call on and covenant with Abraham. God commands Abraham and his people to be holy as God is holy. They are to remain distinctly different from the cultures around them. This is why they can’t marry Canaanite women and this is why Abraham and Isaac go to such great lengths to find non-Canaanite women for their sons. God wasn’t concerned with his people marrying other races or ethnicities, he was concerned with them marrying people who would lead them away from him. And that is still true today. Paul calls all Christians to marry other Christians. They can be of any ethnicity on this Earth, but they must love Jesus. Single people, kids, God isn’t trying to take something away from you, he’s trying to hold you close to him.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “Well, he’s only human.” What does that mean? It is a way for us to justify our sin. But humanity and a sinful nature aren’t supposed to be synonymous. God doesn’t have this avant-garde view of our sin. Adam and Eve were created fully human and without sin. Now, as God chooses a people, we see that God still cares about our holiness. He calls us to be holy as he is holy and one of the ways he does this is by restating and reinforcing the way we are designed to flourish and much of it has to do with our sexuality. We are designed to have sex with a person of the opposite sex, who loves God in the context of marriage for the rest of our lives. We see God reinforcing that in his chosen people in Genesis. If you are sleeping with someone who you are not married to, God is calling you to stop and turn to him.
But, as we continue to follow Abraham and his family, we not only see that God is committed to our holiness, we see that he is also merciful. How are those two concepts not contradictory? You either have a God who wants us to be holy or you have a God who is merciful. How can they go together? Well, as you walk through Genesis you see that the greater the call to holiness is, the greater the mercy we receive. In the midst of the great judgment on the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, God spares Lot and his family. If you go back to the covenant God made with Abraham in chapter 15, God says it is he who will fulfill that covenant.
The traditional way you ratified a covenant in that day was by cutting animals in half and making a path with half of the animal on one side and half on the other. As you walk through it, you are declaring that the same thing should happen to your body if you break your word. But, instead of both God and Abraham walking through it, God puts Abraham to sleep and God himself walks through taking all the burden of the covenant on himself.
Look at the mercy in Babel in chapters 10 and 11. Babel was humanity’s attempt to declare how great we are by building a tower up to God. The first time humanity was truly unified and what do we do? We show how sinful and how prideful we are. God judged us by scattering us and confusing our languages. If that is what we do when we come together, then what a mercy we receive in our separation! Or, look at God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Isaac asks where the lamb is as they went up that mountain and what does Abraham prophetically say? God will provide a lamb. The mercy doesn’t stop. God isn’t merciful because he has to be, he’s merciful because he wants to be. How do I know this? I know this because he is sovereign over all things. This is the third quality of God in Genesis that I will point out.
You can’t get around God’s sovereignty in this book. We have already seen his sovereignty in creation and judgments like the flood and Babel, but now we see it in the choosing of his people. He could have chosen anyone, but he chose Abraham. Abraham didn’t deserve it, God just chose him. He chose Abraham over his brother Nahor. He chose Isaac over his brother, Ishmael. He chose Jacob over his brother, Esau. God intervenes to prevent King Abimelech from acting inappropriately with Abraham’s wife, Sarah. He even tells Abraham that his descendants would be enslaved in a foreign land.
Do you realize that in all the genealogical tables and records of Genesis, only three women are described as ‘barren’? Abraham’s wife, Sarah, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, and Jacob’s wife, Rachel. The very three families who God’s promise was supposed to go through. The line of the Messiah. How encouraging would all of this have been to the newly freed Israelites? How encouraging should this be to us? God is sovereign over all things and he will work all things for his glory and the good of his people.
And maybe nowhere is this more on display than in the story of Joseph. In the final chapters of Genesis. Joseph is the youngest of Jacob’s sons and Joseph seems to be a bit immature irritates he older brothers so much that they actually sell him into slavery. God permits this to happen because he knows that Joseph's enslavement in Egypt and rise to power there would be the salvation of Israel when famine hits and they had no food.
Joseph was sold into Potifer’s house where Potifer’s wife would act very inappropriately with him, but when he would not do what she wanted, she falsely accused him of acting inappropriately and had him imprisoned. Now, if you’ll allow me one small aside here. Almost every time I have heard this story preached, I hear preachers and teachers using it to tell men to be on guard against these kinds of bad women. That’s not the message here. That totally ignores the power dynamic here. Our hearts are to break for Joseph who does everything right, but she has the power, not him and he ends up in jail. Ok, that’s my aside.
But, God allows this to happen because he knows that in jail, Joseph would become known for his prophetic dreams which would result in Pharaoh hearing about him and using him. Then, Joseph would rise to the second most powerful position in all Egypt. And when Joseph rises to power, unlike Potifer’s wife, he uses that power for the good of others. He stores up so much grain that when the famine hits, there is not only enough for Egypt, there is also enough for Joseph’s brothers when they come asking. Because God allowed all those trials in Joseph’s life, Israel is saved. Do you think Joseph knew what God was doing in all those trials? No, but he knew it was for good. When his brothers realize who he is, they are scared of his revenge, but Joseph says, And God sent mebefore you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you manysurvivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father toPharaoh, and lord of all his house and vruler over all the land of Egypt. - Gen. 45:7,8
Then, after Joseph’s father, Jacob, dies, the brothers are again scared for their lives, but Joseph says, 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but iGod meant it for good, to bring it about that many people2 should be kept alive, as they are today. - Gen. 50:20 Joseph could have done whatever he wanted to Potifer’s wife and to his brothers, but his high view of God’s sovereignty kept him from carrying out revenge. If any of you struggles with a desire for revenge, take a moment to consider God’s sovereignty over everything using what other’s intend for evil for good. You may not be able to see the good right now any more than Joseph could in jail, but our call isn’t to know how God will use it, but just that he will.
Genesis ends with Joseph’s death and the nation of Israel living in Egypt. Joseph was embalmed and laid in a coffin, but not buried. He was clear that one day God will bring them into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is where the book ends. A reminder to the original audience that God isn’t through. They won’t wander forever. God will be faithful to finish what he started.
That’s a 30,000ft view of Genesis, but before we finish, we have to see one more thing. We have to see how God, in his power, holiness, mercy, and sovereignty was preparing the way for Jesus all the way back in Genesis. Jesus wasn’t an afterthought. He wasn’t superimposed on the text later on. He’s here. Do you remember the first judgement in the garden. There was a curse for Adam and a curse for Eve, but there is also a curse for Satan and in it we have the first glimpse of God’s plan for us. God says in Genesis 3:15, 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring5 and gher offspring; hhe shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” - Gen 3:15
God is saying that there is One coming through the line of Eve and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph who would crush Satan’s head. That One is Jesus. The Son who has always been took on flesh to come here to live a life tempted in every way as we are, but without sin. On the cross, as Jesus died, Satan thought he had won, but it was nothing more than a bruise to the heel as Jesus resurrected and the only real power Satan has over us, the true accusation of our sin, was taken from him forever. On the cross, we are declared every bit as righteous and holy as Jesus himself. On the cross God’s power, mercy, and sovereignty all come together not for our judgement, but for our redemption.
Do you remember God’s covenant with Noah? He will never destroy the earth again...by water. You don’t have to be a lawyer to see the glaring loop hole here. God will judge the earth again, but it will be by fire. Sin will be destroyed forever, but if we have placed our hope in Jesus, he is our ark that gets us through the flood. He is the better Joseph who endures unjust hardships that we might be saved. In Jesus, the bow in the sky shoots up, not down. We see in Acts 2 that in Jesus the language barriers established at Babel are cured. In Jesus, a True Lamb is provided for our sacrifice. One day Jesus will present all of creation and us to the Father even better than it was in the beginning. And we who are with him will enjoy an eternity with God the way God intended. The story of the beginning is the beginning of our understanding of Jesus.