Thursday, 23 January 2014

Paradise Lost (Genesis 1-3)

At times I have felt uncomfortable listening to people talk about the opening chapters of Genesis, for people tend to get very heated about some of the questions that these chapters present us with.  Discussion often centres on such issues as whether Genesis 1 describes six literal days of creation or is a highly stylized literary statement, and whether ‘the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’ is an actual tree or is symbolic.  Christians often have different opinions on such issues.

However, these aren’t the central questions that these chapters beg us to ask.  The big questions we should seek to answer from this, and every part of the Bible, are ‘What do this tell us about God?’ and ‘What do this tell us about our relationship with him?’  This is what we will try to do in this sermon.

God creates (chapter1:1-2:3)
It is worth noting that God is the subject of the very first sentence of the Bible.  He is not only the central character in this verse he is the central character of the whole book.  In the Bible God reveals himself to us! From this opening section we can learn something of our creator God.

1. The eternal triune God creates everything:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

God was there is the beginning, he has always existed, there was never a time when he was not—he is eternal! Our eternal God is the creator!  God the Father took the initiative in creation; verse 2 also tells us that the Spirit was involved—the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters; and the New Testament tells us that the Son was his Father’s agent in creation—all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:16).

God created the heavens and the earth. That is he created everything.

2. God creates with order and faithfulness:
Now the earth was formless and empty (shapeless and void).

What does God do with this formlessness and emptiness?  He gives it shape and he fills it. We see this described in stages.  Days 1-3 have to do with shape, then days 4-6 are concerned with the filling of those shapes (see diagram 1).

We also see a concern for order in how God does this.  The lights as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and there is probably significance in the fact that the phrase ‘God saw that it was good’ occurs seven times—throughout the Bible the number seven is associated with perfection, fulfilment, and completion.

Imagine a world characterised by a total lack of order.  Where one season did not necessarily follow another, day and night were unpredictable in duration, and where gravity varied all the time.  We would not be able to live in such a world. But thank God that he has created shape and filled it, and done so with order

3. God creates by his word
There are a number of phrases that are repeated throughout chapter 1. One of them is, and God said . . . and there was.  While very little is said about the mechanism of creation one thing that is underlined is that God only has to speak and things come into being.

When a king, president, or prime minister issues a decree things happen.  What an awesome figure God this; he brings matter out of nothing simply by a word.

Humankind—the peak of his creation
These chapters tell us something about God—they also tell us something about humankind. Humanity is given a privileged position in God’s creation.

Anthologist Desmond Morris has referred to humankind as ‘naked apes’.  The Bible affords us far greater dignity, we are the pinnacle of this creation account—after mankind nothing more is made. And we are made in ‘the image of God’.  ‘We reflect something of God’s nature in a way that nothing else in creation does.''

Bible teacher David Jackman points out that humankind is ‘created for a special relationship with God: to love and serve God, to be agents in his world for him, and to carry out his purposes in the world that God has given them.’

Rest is the goal of his creation
Each of the first six days end with the description—and there was evening and there was morning—the first [or whichever] day.  But the seventh day doesn’t have that formula, that day continues. In a sense God has rested ever since.  Of course that doesn’t mean that he is inactive—he continues to sustain creation, but he rests from the work of creation described in these verses.  The job has been perfectly done, there is no more to do—everything is as it is intended to be.

‘The seventh day is a picture of God and humanity enjoying perfect rest together in an unspoiled world.’ Indeed that is what we see in the rest of chapter 2. 

The creator provides (2:4-25)

1. Harmony with God (verses 4-7)
In chapter 1 we saw creation with the wide-angle lens. Now in chapter 2 we have the zoom lens on.  Chapter 1 is the splendour of the universe, chapter 2 is the intimacy of the garden. Chapter 1 talks of ‘Elohim’, translated ‘God’.  Chapter 2 God is called ‘Yahweh Elohim’, translated ‘LORD God’—‘Yahweh’ is the covenant name, the God who makes and keeps his promises, God in relationship with his people.  The God of all creation, the God who put the stars in their place, is now revealed as the fatherly God who provides.

Verse 7, the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.  Here is an image of startling intimacy!  What a reminder that we have been designed in intimacy by God, and for intimacy with God.  Indeed it is only in relationship with him can we live life as it was meant to be.

2. Harmony with creation (verses 8-17)
Eden literally means ‘bliss’.  It is a place of diversity—the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground; it is also a place of beauty and provision—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food (verse 9).

In verse 15, there is work, The LORD God took man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  As Bible commentator David Atkinson explains, ‘Human fulfilment includes the human creativity of work, and the Garden is the place for mankind to find that fulfilment.’  What amazing work it must have been, for this was before man knew toil—no back- ache, no weariness, no stress!
Man was to live in Eden under God’s rule, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 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.”

3. Harmony with each other (verses 18-25)
If we look carefully at chapter 1 verse 26-27 we see that God is referred to in both the singular (God, his, he), and the plural (us, our).  We believe there is one God.  We also believe that there are three persons in the God-head (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)—our God exists in relationship.  One aspect of our being made in his image is that we enjoy relationship with each other. So something is missing from the garden.

Verse 18, The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.  The animals are brought before Adam to see what he would name them (portraying him as exercising his rule), but no suitable helper was found for him. So God forms woman from his own body. 

In verse 18, ‘a suitable helper’ is literally, ‘a help as opposite him’ i.e., ‘corresponding to him.’  The emphasis is on them being complimentary.  She is made of the same stuff as he, yet she is different. Being a helper implies someone who assists and encourages.  However, it does not imply inferiority—the same word is used of God, who helps his people.  Man and woman are equal but different!

Adam delights at the creation of the woman—we have the first poetic couplet of the Bible, in verse 23.  The chapter finishes with a comment on marriage. All is well for the happy couple.

Underline this: in Eden God’s people, are in God’s place, enjoying God’s blessing.  will see the significance of this in chapter 3 of this series.

The creator rejected (chapter 3)
Sadly our world is not like that of life in Eden.  We live in a world that is not in harmony with God, not in harmony with our surroundings, and not in harmony with each other.  What went wrong to make things like this?  Genesis 3 gives the answer.

The chapter begins by introducing us to the serpent.  Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.

The serpent seeks to damage the relationship between humanity and God.  He starts by misquoting God’s word—“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”— God had actually said that they could eat from any, bar one.  Then he denies God’s word—“you will not surely die”.   Finally he slanders God’s character, ‘God is selfish’, he suggests in verse 5, ‘he just wants to stop you becoming like him.’  As the Bible unfolds it becomes clear that the serpent is none other than Satan himself. His methods have not changed. He still tries to persuade us that God’s commands are not for our good; he still tries to convince us that God’s character is not trustworthy.

Verse 5 is key to understanding the essence of the temptation: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil” [underlining mine]. To be like God— ‘to be independent of God . . . setting your own standards, being your own god.’  Would they let God tell them what was good and bad for them or would they seek to decide for themselves, in disregard of what he said.  Their sin was not the breaking some arbitrary test of obedience, this is an act of revolution—of trying to take the place of God. What is sin?  ‘Sin is not letting God be God.  All sin at its root is a rebellion against God: saying, “I’m not going to accept what God says, I’m not going to let God be God in this situation, I’m going to do what I want to do."

Eve takes and eats, and gives to Adam who was with her.  What’s the result?  Alienation from God—shame, hiding, and fear.  When they hear the LORD God as he was walking in the garden, they hide.  When the LORD God called to the man: "Where are you?"  He answers, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.''

Then watch them deny responsibility—passing the buck.  The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it."  She says, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

God pronounces his judgement—the curse!  Toil, strain and pain are now a part of the experience of our lives. They are removed from the place in which life is truly life.  They are condemned to death: being expelled Eden with no way back to the tree of life.

There is more bad news in this for us.  The Apostle Paul tells us that the Fall involves us. Indeed he goes so far as to say that we were there (Romans 5:12).  ‘Not’, as Vaughan Roberts explains, ‘. . . in a crude literal sense.  Rather, Adam was our representative.  He represented us perfectly in the Garden.  He did exactly what we would have done had we been there.  The result is that the world and human beings have never been the same since.  All of us follow quite naturally and willingly in the way of Adam and Eve.  We repeat their sin every day of our lives: we are rebels against God.’

There is good news however, Jesus has undone the effects of the Fall: For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous (Romans 5:19).  And to those who avail of God’s rescue plan in Jesus there awaits a new Eden—the ‘new heaven and new earth’, with the ‘tree of life’, and where ‘there will no longer be any curse’ (see Revelation 21:1; 22:2-3).


We started this chapter seeking to see what this portion of the Bible teaches us about God and about ourselves.

We have seen that God is awesome: he is the eternal creator, who creates with order and faithfulness, who creates by his word.  Within his creation humankind is unique—made in the image of God. We were created in intimacy by God for intimacy with God.  Yet we are rebels, in Adam we have thrown off God’s rule.

As a result of the Fall paradise is lost, yet by the end of the Bible we see a new Eden.  The Bible is a story that goes from creation to new creation.

The Earth was
formless (forms)      and        empty (fills)

Day 1 - Separates light from darkness forming day and night  (forms).  Corresponds with Day 4 - Puts sun, moon and stars in sky.(fills).

Day 2 - separates water from water forming sky and sea (forms0.  Corresponds with Day 5 - Fills sky and seas with birds and fish (filling).

Day 3 - separates sea from dry ground forming land and vegetation.  Corresponds with day 6 - Fills the land with animals and humans who eat the plants.

Day 7  The heavens and earth were finished and God rested.

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