In the Beginning
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”
“Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids.”
“The last drops of the thunder shower had hardly ceased falling when the Pedestrian stuffed his map into his pocket, settled his pack more comfortably on his tired shoulders, and stepped out from the shelter of a large chestnut tree into the middle of the road.”
“Janner Igiby lay trembling in his bed with his eyes shut tight, listening to the dreadful sound of the Black Carriage rattling along in the moonlight.”
“Curdie was the son of Peter the miner. He lived with his father and mother in a cottage built on a mountain, and he worked with his father inside the mountain.”
These are the beginnings to some of my favourite stories. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis, The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, the Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald.
Each of these are big, epic, exciting stories. They take you places you’d never expect from the first page. And yet, once you know the whole story, you can see how that first sentence or two is so important. In each of those examples I just read, the main character or characters are introduced to us, and things are told about them that will become quite important as the story moves on. The openings point us towards what the whole story is going to be about and gets us in the right frame of mind as we begin.
Today we’re starting an 11-week series in Genesis 1-5. This series is called “Beginnings,” which is basically what the word “Genesis” means: beginning.
And just like those snippets I just read, the opening sentences in the book of Genesis tell us a lot about the story that is about to unfold. We should notice where the story begins. Genesis 1:1 does not say, “Once upon a time there was a man named Adam.” No, Genesis 1:1 takes us all the way back, all the way to the very beginning of everything that we see.
These first two verses in Genesis tell us that what we’re about to hear is the origin story for the universe. In these first few chapters of Genesis, we’re going to hear about how the world began, how we fell into sin, and how God began to address that sin. Everything comes back to here. Everything else in the Bible begins, and hangs on, on this origin story in Genesis 1-5.
And because this is a true story, everything else in history hands on this story. So much of what’s going on in the world today, so much of what goes on in our own lives, all goes back to Genesis 1-5.
If we get this, we’ll be equipped to make sense of the rest of the story and the rest of our story. If we don’t get this, nothing else will make sense.
Now there’s so much wonderful truth in just these first two verses, and there’s a lot of different ways that we could approach them. The way we’re going to go at it today is to consider seven truths about God that these two verses either tell us directly or other places in the Bible tell us based on these two verses.
These seven truths all overlap with each other somewhat, but still I think they are a helpful way of organizing what this passage is telling us about God.
1: God Is the Main Character of This Story
Now maybe you’re wondering, why seven statements about God? Why not seven statements about creation? And the reason these seven statements are about God is because God is the main character here. And that’s actually our first statement: God is the main character of this true story.
Genesis 1:1 does not say, “In the beginning, Adam was created by God.” Instead we see, “In the beginning, God.” We see God speak and act and it’s not until further down in the chapter that humans show up. This is so important, because it tells us that we are not the main characters in this story. We’re supporting characters. This story is about God.
The Bible will never make sense as long as we think it’s about us. Your life will never make sense as long as you think that it’s about you. It is all about God.
2: God Was Already There in the Beginning
Our second truth statement is that God was already there before this universe was. “In the beginning, God.” When this universe began, God was already there. He was there before the beginning.
Which means that God did not have a beginning. God has always been. Just like Psalm 90:2 says: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
One of the questions we naturally ask when we think about God existing before the universe is, “What was He doing for all of that time?”
We ask that question because we seem to assume that this universe is a really big deal and it’s a lot of work to run and it keeps God’s hands really busy. And that’s why it’s so important for us to remember how great God is, and how much we don’t understand about Him. And we’re reminded of these truths when we consider Him existing forever before this universe was ever created.
But are we allowed to ask what He was doing? I think so, and the Bible does give us some answers. We know that God was not alone, but Father, Son and Holy Spirit were enjoying perfect relationship together forever. Jesus pointed to this in John 17:5 when He prayed, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
It’s hard to imagine the explosive joy that would be experienced by three perfect and all-powerful people living in perfect fellowship with each other with unlimited time and resources at their disposal. Can we even imagine how much joy God has experienced in Himself forever, long before the ages began?
Maybe you’ve had glimpses of it. Maybe after a week of camp or at a family reunion or when you’re with your best friends in the world, and there’s nothing particular to be done, and time itself seems to stop, and you are just enjoying being together.
For all of eternity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been enjoying that experience in a way that is so much greater than anything we can imagine.
And there’s more. Job 38:7 suggests that the angels existed before this world was created. So they had been created at some point. And what were they doing? What other projects, creations, missions, was God involved in other than this universe?
We also know that before the beginning God was planning out creation and salvation in this universe. Titus 1:2 speaks about the “hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.” 2 Timothy 1:9 similarly refers to “his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” Ephesians 1:4 says that “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
Have you been saved by Jesus? Know that you were chosen by God before Genesis 1:1 took place. What a thought.
3: God is a Creator
The third truth we see here is perhaps obvious to you, but really profound to think about. And it’s this truth that God is a creator.
Think about so many of those other stories we know, and how the first thing that a person does so often tells us some really important things about them. And here, in Genesis 1, the first thing that God does is create. And this tells us that this is the kind of person this God is. He is a creator. He makes things that were not there before.
Just consider that God did not work with materials that were lying around already. He made the materials in the first place. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Romand 4:17 describes God as one who “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” In the beginning He called this universe into existence when it did not exist.
I think we can go a step further than this, though. Got is not just a creator. He is also an artist. And we see this when we look at the kind of things that He made. God is not boring. God made a world based on a beautiful mathematical structure. A world that could be explored and understood by His creations. A world full of beauty. Full of bigness and space. Full of creativity. Could you have dreamed up a platypus? Or a lobster? Or those monkeys with the huge noses?
Not only did God make things that are beautiful, but He made them in a beautiful way. He didn’t just snap his fingers and have everything pop into place. No, like verse 1 and 2 tell us, he began by creating the raw materials. Those raw materials are described in verse 2 as a formless void of deep waters.
And then, as we’re going to see in the next two weeks, God began to give this world shape—He separated day from night, water above from water below, water from land. And then He filled it all with the sun and moon and stars and plants and animals and people.
Some people look at the six days of creation and how symmetrical they are and say, “This is just a literary device. It’s just too perfect to be real.”
And I say, “Are you sure about that? Just look around you at the kinds of world this God has made. Don’t you think that, with an artist like this, there would be beauty even in the way that He went about creating things?”
And this is who our God is. A creator. An artist who makes beautiful things in a beautiful way.
4: God Is Not a Part of His Creation
There’s a fourth truth we should consider here, which once again might sound obvious, but once again is important to consider. And it’s this: God is not a part of this universe. God is not a part of His creation.
That just falls out of what these two verses tell us and what we’ve considered already: this universe had a beginning, but God did not. Which means that God is distinct from this universe. He’s not a part of it.
And maybe we just take this for granted, but this probably would have been very striking to the original hearers of the book of Genesis. In much of the ancient world, many of the religions and cultures around Israel didn’t believe that the universe had a beginning. They seemed to believe that things just always had been. The universe was more or less eternal and the gods were just a part of this eternal universe.
And so these opening verses of Genesis would have been very surprising because it points to a very definite beginning and a God who was around before that beginning. Therefore, God is not a part of this universe.
By the way, you might be surprised at how this idea of an eternal universe came up again in recent history. Throughout the past several centuries and right up until the 1960s, many scientists believed in an eternal universe. They thought that space and time and matter had always just been here.
But as scientists like Edwin Hubble studied the galaxies they saw clear evidence that the universe had a beginning—just like the Bible had been saying all along. This is just one more example of how modern science changed its mind on something in a way that affirmed a truth that Scripture had always been telling us.
But let’s remember the big idea here. If the universe had a beginning, but God didn’t, and if God created the universe, then God is not a part of this universe, like so many other ancient religions believed. Instead, God is on a totally different level than the universe He created. He stands above it. He is supreme over it. He cannot be threatened by it.
Remember this the next time something happens that makes you worry. That makes you wonder, “Oh no, how is God going to respond to this one.” God cannot be threatened or backed into a corner by His creation because He is distinct from it. He was around before it was and He is not a part of it.
Another way of putting this is that God has no competition. He is greater than everyone and everything within this universe by the longest of long shots.
5. God Has No Competition
This idea of God having no competition is actually the fifth truth we’re going to focus on next: God has no competition. And this comes out with more clarity in verse 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” (Genesis 1:2).
There’s three short phrases here, each of them roughly parallel to each other. Number one, the earth was without form and void. Number two, darkness was over the face of the deep. Number three, the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And these phrases would have been really significant to the Israelites hearing Genesis for the first time. Because like we’ve heard, all of the other major cultures around Israel had their own religions with their own creation stories. And in many of these other creation myths, this idea of “waters” or “the deep” had major spiritual implications.
To them, “the waters” represented chaos and confusion. Their stories often told about a god of chaos, often represented by a sea monster who lived in the deep waters of chaos, who needed to be fought and conquered before the universe can be created.
According to one Babylonian myth, the creator god had to fight the sea monster chaos god, and once he had beat it then he made heaven and earth out of its carcass.
So if you are an ancient reader of Scripture, and you read about creation, and the earth being a dark deep of formless waters, this sounds like a showdown is about to happen. It’s like that music before a gun fight. You’d be braced for the battle between the creator God and the chaos God who lives in or is represented by those formless and void waters.
But the fight never happens. Like we’re going to see next week, God just speaks, and things just happen. There is nobody else on the scene to challenge or compete with him.
But even before we get to verse 3 we can see that this is the opposite of a battle scene. Look at that last phrase in verse 2: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2).
The word here for “hovering” is a word used for birds fluttering over their nest of young. It’s the word used in Deuteronomy 32:11: “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young…”
And this is actually where the idea first comes from of the Holy Spirit being like a dove. Jewish readers of Scripture got this idea of the Holy Spirit brooding over the waters, almost like a bird brooding over an egg about to hatch.
And I just love the sense of warm anticipation that verse 2 gives us. Instead of the music before a gun fight, this is more like the sound of an orchestra tuning up. You know that sound, when all of the instruments are playing all of their different notes, and it doesn’t really ousted like much, but you know that beautiful music is about to come out? Verse 2 is like that orchestra noise.
And that’s a very different picture than a battle, isn’t it? And what this points to, again, is the powerful creator God who existed before this world and who has no equals, no rivals, no threats, and no competition as He begins this work of making something amazing.
He doesn’t need to fight anybody before He creates all things, because He has no-one to fight. Unlike all of the stories told by Israel’s neighbours, He is the only God and nobody can challenge Him or compete with Him.
6: God Created All Things for His Glory
Let’s consider the sixth truth this morning, which is that God created all things for His glory.
This sixth point doesn’t really come right out of the text. But it does come out in the rest of the Bible in response to a question that we might ask after reading Genesis 1:1-2. Here’s the question: if God was around before this creation, if God is not a part of His creation, if God was happy and content within the fellowship of the trinity, if God had no competition, nobody to beat, nothing to prove, then why did He create?
So often we make and create because we have needs we needs we need to meet. Like food and shelter and sleep, without which we’ll die. Or we want to prove something or make something of ourselves.
But God isn’t like this at all. He has no needs. He was doing fine before this creation came along. He wasn’t lonely. He had nothing to prove.
And so the Bible confirms that God made all things simply because He wanted to. “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).
“By your will.” Because He wanted it to happen. Psalm 136:6 says the same thing. “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does.”
And yet we can go one step further. Because God wanted to, He decided to make this world as a display of His glory. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” That’s what this world does. It proclaims God and His glory.
So not because He had anything to prove, but simply because He wanted to, God made this incredibly huge universe, and He made this beautiful world full of intricate creatures, and He put us right in the middle of it so that we would behold Him and be amazed by His glory and worship and trust and love Him as He deserves.
Romans 1:19-20 echoes this truth when it says that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20). In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth to proclaim His glory.
7: God Calls the Shots
Now we’ve looked at six truths already, and there’s so much here that means so much for you and I in our lives today. We’ve pointed to some of that already as we’ve gone through the text.
God is the main character, which means that we are not. If you know Christ, God chose you before the universe existed. God is not threatened by anything in His creation. He wants us to worship Him as we look at the world around us.
Each of these truths are mega important for us to understand. When we understand and believe them, they will have a big impact on how we think and feel and live.
But this final seventh truth is perhaps the most practical truth of all. And here’s how I’m going to describe it: God calls the shots for His creation.
Once again, Genesis 1:1-2 doesn’t explicitly say this, but the rest of the Bible sure does, and it’s all based on Genesis 1:1. Because God made everything, He calls the shots. He has dominion over His creation. He is the king over it. It belongs to Him and He rules over it because He made it.
I think we know how this works. When you make something, it is yours, and you get to decide what should or should not happen with it. This is an important rule in our house with Lego. When someone builds something with Lego, you need to ask that person before you tear it apart to use those pieces for other things.
It doesn’t matter if you really feel like you want to make something with those pieces. They made that and they have creator’s rights over it until they say otherwise.
God made this world, and He hasn’t sold it to anybody else, and so He has the right and the authority to say, “Here is how I want my world to be used. Here is how I want my people to be treated by others. Here is your identity. Here is how I want you to use your words and your body and your whole life.”
He can say that because in the beginning He created the heavens and the earth. And this truth is really one of the most important foundations for a Christian view of the world. Because God made everything, God is in charge of everything, and He gets to decide what should or should not happen with His world.
That’s a really challenging truth in our world today because of the creation myths that tend to pervade our culture. The creation myths in our culture tell us that everything is just a big accident, the result of random chance.
And because of that, you get to decide for yourself what life is about. You get to decide for yourself what is true and good and beautiful. You get to decide for yourself who you are and what you want to live for.
We’ve been indoctrinated with this truth from the time we’re children by those posters that hung on the walls of our classrooms that told us that we can be anything we want to be.
Think about the message there. “You can be whatever you want to be.” Who is in charge? Who is deciding on your destiny? Who even defines “you”?
This is one of the reasons why our world is so confused today. We all do what seems right in our own eyes. We pick what seems best for us. And if we look around we can see just how great this is working out for planet earth and the people who live on it.
And this is why when you look at the book of Acts, and you see the apostles preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, they always start with creation.
In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas taught, “We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (Acts 14:15).
In Athens, Paul began to unpack the gospel by saying, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25).
And as we think about the gospel in our secular world today, we need to start here as well. If we start by telling people, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” they’re going to think, “well if there was a God of course he’d love me and have a wonderful plan for my life because I’m the most awesome and important person in the universe.”
We need to start with where the Apostles started. We need to start with creation. We need to start with “There is a God who made you, and you are accountable to Him. He, not you, is the main character of the story. This is all about His glory, not yours. He, not you, deserves to be worshipped. He, not you, gets to decide who you are and how you must life.”
We have to start here. Because, if we don’t, we might end up with people who seem to believe in God. They might even come to church and seem to fit in for a while. But all the while, they are still fundamentally believing the lie that they are at the centre of the universe, that they are the most important person in the world, that they can be whoever they want to be, and if God fits into the picture at all He’s just there to encourage them to do their thing.
Have you ever met anybody like that? Someone who looks the part of being a Christian, but when you dig down deep their basic worldview seems to be that they are the main character of the story and it’s all about them and they get to call their own shots? Hav you ever heard people say things like, “Yes, I know the Bible says that, but I just feel like I need to do this for me.”
All of this is why we need to start with creation. Our understanding of the gospel needs to start with creation. Our understanding of ourselves, our lives, needs to start with creation. We have to start by knowing that God is the main character. He was around, perfectly happy, long before His creation. He is far above us and has no competition. He made all things for His glory and He calls the shots.
Only once we know this will we be prepared to receive the truly mind-blowing truth that this God knows us. And loves us. And cares about us. And sent His only begotten son to die in our place so that our sins could be forgiven and we could be adopted as His children.
So, through this passage, and as we begin this series, I invite you to know God. I invite you to know Him as your creator. He is more than our creator—He is also our Father and saviour—but He is never less than our creator. And my prayer for us this morning is that the struggles and difficulties and hard decisions in our life, even in this very week, would fall into focus as we recognize our supreme Creator and His power and authority over us, and find ourselves in the safe place of not competing with Him, not arguing wth Him, but humbly worshipping Him.