The bible is a big, complex book. In fact a collection of 66 books, written over some 1000 years by many different authors. It covers almost every literary genre we know – poetry, history, law, parable, proverbial sayings, hymns, letters, theology, even construction manuals – and introduces some we don't see elsewhere, like apocalyptic and prophecy.
Some of the Bible, particularly the OT is hard to understand or believe, some of it's even a bit offensive. As new Christians we start in the New Testament, usually in the gospels. But we can't avoid dealing with the Bible as a whole for very long. Jesus constantly refers back to the Old Testament – and so much of what he does and says only makes sense in light of that background. The rest of the New Testament does the same – it's full of references to the Old Testament.
We're rubbing against the fact that all the bits of the Bible refer to other bits – they're all related together as a whole, a single book with many parts. Despite the many authors, the many hundreds of years between the writing of the books and the great variety of genres and so on, the Bible is a single, coherent book. There's a big picture that makes sense of all of the details. That's what this series is all about.
Theologically this is simply an outworking of what the Bible teaches about itself – that it's first and foremost God's book. God oversaw the writing of all of the various bits so that the authors wrote precisely what he wanted them to write. Of course the bible is one book, even though it is made up of many smaller books, and it tells one overarching story, even though that story is made up of many smaller stories.
Now that's easy enough to say, but it can be very difficult to see when we're lost in the details. So what we need is a road map, a way to see the whole so that we can understand how the parts fit together.
And that's the idea of this sermon series. We're going to do a tour of the whole bible, looking at the major turning points in the big story – creation and fall, God's promises to Abraham, the exodus and formation of the kingdom of Israel, right through to Jesus and his death and resurrection and his return.
But we want to do more than just look at the events as a series of things that happened. We want to look at how they form a coherent story. We want to ask: 'what holds all these things together, how do they build up a picture of what it means to be human, of who we are and how we relate to God?'
This morning we start with the beginning – Genesis 1-3. Now there's more than enough to keep us occupied for a whole morning in Genesis 1 verse 1-3, let alone chapter 1-3. So I hope you'll forgive me if I don't address all of the details of the text. If you want to look into these chapters in more depth you could do worse than reading this book from Melvin Tinker – Reclaiming Genesis, or this book by Vern Poythress – Redeeming Science I'll put links to both of those on the web with these sermon notes, so look those up when you get home…
Right let's get stuck into Genesis chapters 1-3.
Genesis 1-3 set up the story of the Bible. They teach us that God made everything. God's creation was good, with no evil, sorrow or pain – but those things were introduced through the rebellion of the first man and woman. So the story of the Bible is the story of rebellion and its consequences, and God's work to restore what we spoilt.
Now Wikipedia tells me that in a story there are three main plot elements – a context or introduction, a problem and a solution. In Genesis 1-3 we get the first two plot elements of the Bible's overarching story – the context and the problem (and a hint at the solution). So those will be my two points this morning:
1) The context for the bible's big story is God's good creation
2) The problem that needs to be overcome is sin and it's effects
Let's start at the beginning:
The context or starting point for the Bible's big story is God's good creation
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 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. 3 And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning-- the first day.
Genesis 1 and 2 are absolutely categorical – in the beginning God made everything. The various elements of the cosmos are all the direct result of God's speech – the word of God made everything. The pattern we just read is repeated over six eventful days of creation – God says let there be, and there was, and it was good.
John 1 summarises:
NIV John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
All things were made through him – and without him nothing was made that has been made. Everything was made by the word of God.
God spoke and the universe came into being. Before we've even thought about it we know:
1) God is eternal, but the universe is not. The universe had a beginning.
2) God is in absolute control – God didn't labour and toil, he didn't have to wrestle the universe into shape. He spoke and it was.
3) God is separate and distinct from the universe – not bound up in mater; not emanating out of every living being; not living in the trees and the rocks and the sky.
4) Meanwhile created mater isn't evil. God declared it good, and, with the addition of the man and his wife, very good.
5) The universe isn't random or accidental, God made it according to his design, for his purposes.
These are radical ideas shattering ancient myths - the material world is not an illusion like in Buddhism; it isn't intrinsically evil as in Greek philosophy; It didn't emanate from the gods as in Babylonian myth; it's not governed by fertility gods like Baal and Asherah; it's not at the whim of competing gods as in animistic religions or Greek mythology. And it's not the product of random chance and time as in our contemporary myths.
But most significantly – there is nothing wrong with the world. Evil, pain and suffering don't come from God; the world God made was very good. Like God himself there was no trace of evil – there was God, and there was the creation he made, and it was very good.
Within this creation humanity finds its place. Men and women are there among the created beings. So we're humbled – creatures, finite and material, manufactured, property of the creator.
But we're special creatures. We're uniquely created in God's image, and given dominion, rule over creation. We're creatures, but not mere creatures; not gods, but God's image bearers.
Finally the climax of creation isn't creation itself. The week finds it's meaning and purpose in the day when there is no creation – the seventh day when God rested from all his work, declaring it holy.
Is there an illustration that does justice to the magnitude and power and beauty of God's creation? If there is I'm not aware of it.
But there are many partial illustrations that God has put before us: The power and splendour of the natural world – way beyond our control, reminders of how small we are next to the almighty God. More personally our creative urge reflects God's. Our work dimmy echoes God's work of creation – when we're productive, when we bring order out of chaos, when we rearrange created material to promote human flourishing, we're imaging God, creating in his footsteps. Whether in a factory or a work shop, in the home (bringing order out of chaos!) a school, on a farm, in a hospital, in the arts, even an office … our work is a partial illustration of God's creative work. Another facet God's creation is seen whenever we exercise authority – an aspect of God's rule on earth. But perhaps the most dramatic illustration of God's creation is child birth. There is nothing in the world as exciting and terrifying as seeing a new baby born. In Genesis 5 we read that Adam had a son in his own likeness, in his own image. The echoes' of creation are deliberate. We've been gifted the ability to create life in our own image, a dim but powerful reflection of God's creation. The implications of God's creation from nothing are enormous, and it's no exaggeration to say we could talk about them all day. But I'm sure you wont' thank me for it, so let me mention just some of the main ones:
1) Cosmology – the world is God's, made by him and for him. It is not God, or part of God, or in any way divine. It is not eternal, and it won't go on for ever. It's startling beauty and order is no accident, but the product of God's immense creativity.
2) Anthropology – we belong to God as his manufactured possessions. We're made by him and for him in his image - both male and female in the image of God. Therefore all people have intrinsic value as God's image bearers – all men (and women) created equal.
3) Natural law – the world belongs to God, God's law applies to every person on his earth, whether they know God or not.
4) Science – on the 7th day God rested from all the work of creating he had done – because God isn't continually creating there is a constancy and predictability about the universe, which means that we can study and understand it to a degree. Science begins as Adam names the animals and cares for the garden. Science isn't bad, good science is honouring to God, who brought order out of chaos. But science, un-tethered from true worship of God can easily become a god, an idol that leads us away from God.
5) The 7 days of creation are analogous to our 7 day week. They form the basis for our pattern of six days work, one day rest.
6) Work is a gift of God in creation, we're made for it – we should work 6 days and rest on the seventh. But;
7) We're made for more than work, rest on the seventh day points to meaning and significance in God, for whom we work, not in our work in and of itself. Rest says we trust in God, not in our creative work.
8) Because the 7th day continues to this day we should be wary of insisting on 7 24 hr days. The seven days relate to our working week by analogy – there is similarity and difference. The creation really happened, in real space time history. But we need to be careful not to press the language too rigidly.
9) Marriage is a gift from God in creation, a part of God's natural law; as defined by God, it's between a man and his wife; we're not free to redefine it to, say, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman.
10) Marriage in God's design includes sex, therefore sex is good – but it is to be contained within the marriage relationship for which it was designed. We may not all get married – and the New Testament speaks of singleness as a gift which allows us to be productively focused on serving God – but marriage is the norm.
11) Man's work is to rule the earth and subdue it. This is no mandate to use and abuse – we're gardeners in God's creation. We should be as 'green' as we can be – not worshipping the earth, but caring for it and looking after it as God's possession. Environmental consciousness starts here in Genesis!
There's so much more to say, but we need to move on. So let me summarise – the first two chapters of Genesis tell us how the world began, and in doing so they give us a picture of life as it should be, life as God made it to be.
In God's design we're created to live in harmony – in harmony with each other, with creation, and most importantly in harmony with God.
Adam and Eve lived in the place God made for them under God's rule enjoying God's blessing.
This simple summary provides us with a rich picture of what it means to live in right relationship with God – to live under God's blessing is to be:
in God's place
under God's rule.
And at the beginning that's how it was, Adam and Eve lived in the garden under God's rule. But it didn't stay that way. Genesis three tells us how it all went wrong.
So let's look at that as our second point:
The problem that needs to be overcome is sin and it's effects
Read Gen 2 16 with me:
And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
And Gen 3: 6:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
And down to verse 22:
And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live for ever." 23 So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.
In the time remaining let me point out a few key points:
1) Remember, evil wasn't there in God's creation, it was introduced. Genesis 3 tells the story of how it was introduced, it's not a myth – it doesn't just demonstrate the general pattern of sin that we are all guilty of (though we are, and it is the pattern of all sin), but what actually happened to bring sin into the world – cf. Romans 5:11-20
2) Temptation from the snake doesn't explain the sin – the snake makes the temptation clear, the snake doesn't compel Adam and Eve to do anything, they make their own choices.
3) There was nothing in Adam or Eve that explains the sin – there was no compulsion in them, no defect, and no necessity for sin.
4) Sin was Adam and Eve's free choice – they rebelled freely.
5) As promised Sin gives rise to death, and with it all the difficulties of life.
6) Sin is tied up with pride, selfishness and grasping, and gives rise to deception, shame, a blame culture and ultimately death. Things can only get worse from here.
7) As a result Adam and Eve must be excluded from the garden, and cut off from the tree of life. No more blessed life as God's people in God's place under God's rule – they're expelled from the garden and put under God's curse.
8) We all suffer the consequences of their choice – it couldn't be any other way since we all sin as they did.
In terms of the Bible's overarching storyline, this chapter introduces the problem that sets up the plot of the whole bible – sin and the curse that results.
God created a good world for Adam and Eve to live in under his rule, experiencing his blessing. But Adam and Eve stepped out from under his rule and cut themselves off from his blessing. They're justly excluded from his presence and under his curse, and all of us with them.
Again, there can be no fully adequate illustration for a perfect creation going wrong. But I wonder if we can get a sense of it from the way a virus invades and corrupts our bodies.
You know what it's like when you catch a bug – you're going well, fit and healthy, and suddenly out of no where you're ill. Your healthy body is reduced to a sniffling mess. In a bad case you can't even manage to get out of bed to feed yourself. Some viruses will kill you. The virus in itself is a tiny, tiny thing, but it brings everything undone. And there's nothing that isn't affected – all of you suffers.
And – pushing the illustration a little – viruses can run through whole populations. When Spanish explorers first stepped foot in South America they brought with them devastating viral pandemics – by the time they arrived in what is now Mexico City small pox affected over 50% of the locals – 50%. Within 75 years 18 million of them were killed by small pox, measles, mumps and the flu.
Sins like that virus, it goes right through us and we're completely infected. And once it entered the human population there was no stopping it from infecting each and every one of us. I guess the difference with sin is that it affects 100% of the population, and it's mortality rate is also 100%.
This chapter explains the problem, but it doesn't excuse it. This is an historical event that defines us all. And we need to pause for a moment here and recognise our own guilt. Gen 3 explains sin, but it doesn't excuse it.
Ever since Adam and Eve pointed the first fingers we've all tried to excuse ourselves. It wasn't my fault – the woman you put here with me, the serpent, it's only natural, it's just the way I am, I couldn't help it, I might be horrible, but at least I'm being honest…
But the Bible turns the finger of blame around and points it straight back at us. We're all as guilty as Adam and Eve, we make that same fateful decision time and time again. And whatever mitigating circumstances there may be, the truth is we choose to do the wrong thing, we know it's wrong and we choose to do it anyway.
That's me. And that's you. And the sooner we face up to that the better.
And the good thing about sin that's not natural to creation is that it opens the door to the possibility of redemption. If evil was just an aspect of God, or of nature, just the way it is – then there'd be no escaping it. But because evil is an introduced problem, it can also be undone, we can be reversed, there can be forgiveness and restoration. And that's the story of the rest of the Bible, hinted at even in the midst of the curses of Genesis 3 in verse 15.
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."
God is going to bring a solution to the problem of sin, going to reverse the curse and restore blessing. And he'll do it through a man who will crush the enemy Satan, even while the snake strikes.
On this side of Christmas and Easter it's easy to decode that promise. Jesus was born to defeat the serpent. He triumphed through death – when Satan struck his heal – a death which paid the price for sin and reversed the curse. He showed it by his resurrection, rising to enter into God's presence again, opening the way to blessing – life as God's people in God's place under God's rule forever. This side of the Lord Jesus it's obvious. But for thousands of years of human history the Lord Jesus was a promise, a rumour, a long hoped for mystery – the serpent crusher who remained unknown, hoped for, even forgotten. And that is the dynamic that drives the narrative, the plot of the Bible – how will God fulfil this promise, overcome these enemies and so return his people into his place of blessing.
And that's the story we'll be following over the next term.