In the Beginning, God
Last week we introduced our new sermon series called “You are Here.” The idea we’re exploring in this series is that the Bible is one story, and we are a part of this story, and Jesus Christ is the main character of this story.
We talked last week about the plot or the storyline of this story—how God created this world, and then how the world fell into sin and rebellion against God, and then how God put into motion a plan of redemption though a series of progressive covenants He made with Noah and Abraham and Israel and David.
And then God’s plan of redemption reached it’s climax in the coming of Christ, who is the fulfillment of each one of these covenants. He is the One that they had been pointing to and promising all along. Jesus is the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the king of the world.
But, His kingdom hasn’t come in it’s fullness yet. So much of the world is still in rebellion to His authority. And so Jesus has given us, His people, a mission to fulfill until He comes back and establishes His kingdom in it’s final fullness.
That’s the big idea of this series. The Bible is one story, and Jesus Christ is the main character, and we all, whether we believe it or not, are a part of that story today. Because the story of the Bible is just the story of human history, the story of the world, the story of each of us.
So from now until Christmas, we’re going to walk through this story one step at a time, seeing how God has built His kingdom through each of His covenants, and how Jesus has fulfilled each of those covenants. And then, after Christmas, we’re going to take several months to see how this all should affect the way we read the Bible and understand our place in history and what we’re supposed to do next.
That’s just a summary of everything we talked about last week. If you weren’t here with us last week, I’d encourage you to go on our website and listen to to the message, because there’s a lot more than what I just said. You can also subscribe to the podcast to get the latest sermons right on your device. With this new series we’re also posting the manuscript of the sermon as well, so that you can read it as well as listen, if that’s helpful to you.
Before the Beginning
So today, we begin. Today we are going to go all the way back to the beginning and begin to tell this story from there.
Except, that’s not quite true. Because in order to really understand this story, we can’t just start at the beginning. We have to start before the beginning.
That’s true in most important stories. In order to really understand a story, we don’t just begin with the story but with everything that came before the story. Think of how many books and movies that begin with a prologue. Or how biographies usually begin with at least the parents of the main character, if not further back in their family line.
And the Bible is no different. It doesn’t just tell us the story, it tells us at least some things about the backstory.
And we see that when we consider the very first verse in the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It’s easy to read that and think, “there’s no backstory there. It just begins in the beginning, with the creation of the world. It doesn’t tell us anything before that.”
But it does. Listen carefully: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
In the beginning, God.
The biggest story every told begins with the creation of the heavens and the earth. But the heavens and the earth were created by Someone, Someone who was there before the beginning in order to make the beginning happen. In the beginning, God was already there.
Other places in the Bible tell us this same truth. 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” (Psalm 90:2).
Before any of this was around, God was. He was there. From everlasting to everlasting He is God. In other words, God did not have a beginning. There never was a time where He was not. He always has been and He always will be.
We also see this in Revelation 1:8: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Revelation 1:8).
What we’re seeing here one of the fundamental realities that sets God apart from us. We were created. There was a time when there was no us. But God is the Creator. Nobody created Him. He never came into being. He never started. There was never a time where there was no God. He always has been. And He always will be.
If you think about that for too long it can start to make your head spin. And that’s because our brains can’t take this in. We literally can’t fathom this kind of eternal existence. Like we read in Job 36:26, “Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable” (Job 36:26).
So in the beginning, there was God. God who had no beginning, who always had been.
So now we’re going to ask two important questions. First, what was God doing before the beginning, before He made everything the heavens and the earth? What was going on back then? And second, why did He make everything? Why did God begin to tell this biggest story ever told?
I don’t know if you’ve ever asked those questions before. Maybe you wonder if it’s okay to ask those questions. What we’re going to see today is that asking and answering these questions is crucial to properly understanding this story, and our place in this story.
What Was God Doing?
The first question we’re asking is, what was God doing before the beginning, before He created the world?
While there is surely much we don’t know, the Bible does tell us that for all of eternity, God has been enjoying the perfect fellowship of the Trinity.
I hope you know that God is a trinity. He is one God, in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And even though Jesus Christ is the Son of His Father, He was not made. He is eternal, like His father. There was never a time where He was not with His father.
Jesus spoke about this reality in John chapter 17, when He was praying to His Father, and said, “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed" (John 17:5).
How is that possible? How is it possible for the Son to be, in the words of the ancient creed, “begotten, not made”?
The book of Hebrews helps us understand this. In chapter 1 verse 3, speaking about the Son, it says that “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature.”
Jesus is the radiance of the glory of God. The image is that if God the Father is like the sun in the sky, then Jesus is like the rays coming out from the sun. He is the radiance of the glory.
So we can say that while the sun’s rays come from the sun, there’s never a delay between the sun and the sun’s rays. You can’t have the sun without the sun rays. They always go together. And the sun’s rays, when they strike our retinas, give us a perfect image of the sun.
This just a small way of understanding the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son. The Son is begotten by the Father but there has never been a time when He has not been there with His Father.
And what we see when we look deeper is that this relationship between Father and Son has been full of perfect love. Do you remember the Father’s words at Jesus’ baptism? “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). And later on the mountain where He was transfigured? “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him” (Mark 9:7).
And this love has been there since the beginning. Returning to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, further on He said, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24).
This is wonder and mystery of the highest order. We are treading on holy ground as we think about such things. But Jesus invited us in to this holy ground in John chapter 17. And he showed us that before the beginning, before there was anything else, there was love. Perfect love between the Father and the Son and the Spirit.
This shows us that God is a God of relationship. And it helps us understand why we are so wired for relationship, because God made us like Him. Isn’t it true in our lives that one of the greatest joys we can experience is in relationship with others? Isn’t that what we’re all chasing with our dreams of the perfect family Christmas or the perfect day with friends or the perfect romance? Those moments in life when we have felt perfectly satisfied are so often the moments where we are enjoying deep and profound fellowship with others.
And this is just a taste of the perfect fellowship enjoyed within the Trinity throughout endless ages. Perfection delighting in perfection with unlimited energy and unlimited resources and unlimited time. We cannot fathom this eternal joy of God.
Planning the Story
So that is one answer to the question, “what was God doing before the beginning?” He was enjoying the perfect fellowship of the Trinity. And we could easily chew on that for the rest of the morning. But Scripture tells us more. It also tells us that before the foundations of the world, before the beginning of the biggest story ever told, God was planning that story.
God, as an author, planned His story before He began to tell it. In detail. He did n’t make it up as he went. He’s never had to resort to a plan “B.” Everything was there from before the beginning.
Titus 1:2 tells this to us when it speaks about “eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). Similarly, 2 Timothy 1:9 speaks of God’s “own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
Eternal life and God’s grace, were there, being promised and given from before the beginning. And not just as big general ideas. Before the beginning, God had already chosen exactly which individuals He would lavish this grace and eternal life on.
Ephesians 1:4 says that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:4). If you know Christ, it is because you were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.
Now I understand that as I say these words, many people struggle with the idea of God choosing some people and not others. God being this sovereign doesn’t seem to jive with our understanding of how things should work.
We are so used to democracy, where we have the power to choose and elect. Nobody chooses or elects us. And we’re so used to being told that we get to be whatever we want. We get to determine our own identity for ourselves.
But the Bible repeatedly tells us that God is absolutely sovereign, and our lives are ultimately determined not by our choosing, but by God’s choosing, and the if we choose God, it’s only because He chose us first.
This truth slips out in Scripture almost as a by-the-way in passages like Acts chapter 13. The apostle Paul is preaching in the city of Antioch, and had shared the gospel with a big group of Jews and Gentiles. And verse 48 says, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).
The ones who believed were the ones who had been appointed to eternal life.
Now maybe this teaching is hard for you to swallow. Maybe you really struggle with this idea of God being this sovereign. If that’s the case, I’d encourage you to search the Scriptures to see what they say, and submit yourself to them. Try reading through Romans chapter 9, slowly and carefully. Ask God to make your heart open to His truth. And then let’s talk. I’d love to have a conversation with you about these things.
But if we step back into the context of our message this morning, I want us to see how wonderful and rich this truth is. If you know Christ, just stop and consider that before the earth existed, before time began, before the furthest star had lit up, before anything, there was God, and that God knew you, and chose you.
Think about that the next time you feel like God has forgotten you. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to be jealous of someone else.
You have been known by God and chosen by Him for longer than time has existed. Your part in this story was chosen for you before the story had even begun.This truth should have a powerful effect on the way we relate to God and others.
So what we’ve seen so far is that before the beginning, there was God, who has forever been enjoying perfect relationship in the Trinity. And before the story began, He was planning it out, down to the detail.
But there’s one big question we still haven’t answered yet this morning, which is, why? Why did God do all this? Why did this eternal God decide to plan out redemption, architect salvation, choose people to save, and then create a universe for those people to live in?
We can start by saying what the answer is not. God did not plan redemption and create the universe because He needed something that He didn’t already have. He wasn’t lonely. He didn’t need our love.
Once again, we see how different God is from us. We have all kinds of needs. We need things outside of ourselves to exist, things like food and water and the Internet.
But Scripture shows us that God has no needs for things outside of Himself. He’s perfectly self-sufficient. And within the fellowship of the Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit have been eternally happy and satisfied.
So why did God make us if it wasn’t because He was lonely and needed us somehow?
The stunning answer is that God the Father designed the plan of redemption and created the universe in order to express His love for His Son. The biggest story ever told is a love story between the members of the Trinity.
We saw this last week when we heard about God’s plan to unite all things in Jesus and make Him preeminent in all things. God designed all of this to bring glory to Jesus. We saw it again today in 2 Timothy 1:9, which spoke of “his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began."
Now just think about that. If God gave us grace in Christ Jesus, that means that He gave a gift of grace to Christ Jesus, and we get access to that gift because we are in Christ. The gift was given to Jesus first. And this has to be true because He gave the gift before the ages began. We weren’t around then. Jesus was.
So the grace that saves us is a gift that was given from the Father to Jesus before the world began.
Let’s word that just a bit differently. Our salvation is a gift given from the Father to Jesus before the beginning. And what that means is that we are a gift given from the Father to Jesus before the beginning. The Father gave His Son the gift of a redeemed people who would love and worship and bring glory to Him forever.
In the gospel of John, Jesus spoke clearly about the fact that we had been given to Him by the Father. John 6:37-39 says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”
We hear these same words again in Jesus’ prayer in John chapter 17. Verse 6: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.”
And then, these words from verse 24 in your bulletin: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
And then the goal of all this is shown in verse 26: “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Do you see this picture? This beautiful, incredible picture? The plan of salvation was a a gift from the Father to the Son. The Father promised His son a people, a bride, who would bring glory to Him forever. And then Jesus came in love and obedience to His Father and sought this bride and made Himself known to her. And then He took her debt of sin upon Himself and died so that she could be forgiven. And one day this bride is going to be complete and perfect and will spend eternity loving Jesus with the same eternal love that the Father Himself has for the Son.
And so our eternal destiny is to be caught up within the same fellowship and love of the Trinity which had been going on forever before we were ever around.
This is the plan of salvation. And it should take our breath away.
I hope you see, clearer than ever, that Jesus is the main character of this story. The whole story is about the Father expressing His love for His son in giving Him the gift of eternal worship from a redeemed people. And we get to be that gift.
What About Us?
And I also hope, that as you hear that, you don’t feel disappointed. Like, we’re just the gift.
It can sound disappointing to us, because many of us have gotten used to hearing the gospel being presented in ways that make is sound like we are the end goal of salvation. That God didn’t want heaven without us, like a popular worship song said, and so did all of this just to be with us.
The idea that we’re just a gift from the Father to the Son can be difficult to hear. And what about the things the Bible tells us about God’s love for us? Doesn’t John 3:16 say, “For God so loved the world…?”
So what is it? Does God love His son, or does He love us? Is the plan of redemption about the son being glorified, or about us being saved?
Do you know what the answer is?
God does love us. Truly, deeply, and eternally. And when you love someone, you want what’s best for them, and you work to make sure that they receive that.
And there is nothing better God could do for us than to make us like His Son and cause us to be with Him forever, loving Him with the very same white-hot love that He Himself has for His Son.
So there’s no tension between the Father’s love for His Son and His love for us. God giving us to His Son as His bride is the best and the most loving thing in the universe He could do for us.
So this is the happy ending of the biggest story ever told. Our eternal joy and God’s eternal glory, coming together in perfect unity forever.
And this is what God was enjoying and planning before the beginning. This is the goal He worked towards as He spoke the universe into existence and made each covenant with our fathers. This is the goal He worked towards with each nail in Jesus hands, with each step Jesus took out of the grave, with each soul that He redeems and adds to His church, with each day that passes until Christ returns.
God’s eternal glory and our eternal joy.
So let’s end by asking the question we ask every week: what do we do with this today? How does all of this trickle down into how we wake up tomorrow and go through the hours and days ahead of us?
I trust that in some ways, this question has already been answered for you this morning. Because like we saw last week, simply catching this vision—simply seeing that we are a part of something so big and huge—makes a difference. It puts the problems and the struggles we experience into perspective.
Whatever’s ahead of you this week, whatever struggles and temptations are going to face you, simply remembering the things we’ve heard this morning should have a transforming effect, helping you see things clearly and accurately.
We should be encouraged beyond measure to know that the Trinitarian God has been experiencing such perfect joy for all of eternity, and that our destiny is to be wrapped up in sharing that joy forever. And think of the stability that should come to our souls from knowing that God knew us and chose us before we were born, before we did anything good or bad.
All of this should put every trial and temptation of our lives this week into profound perspective. This should make sin feel less attractive, suffering less all-consuming, the world less seductive.
So please, apply these truths to your life this week by remembering them. Don’t forget about these things. Memorize Genesis 1:1. It’s short. Write it on a sticky note and put it on your dashboard as you drive to work or above your sink as you wash dishes. Think about this and ask God to help you grasp how wonderful this is. And then watch it transform the way you think and the way you feel.
Please also hear this: if you don’t know Christ today, but you feel your heart being tugged on, and you wonder, could this be for me? The answer is yes. God does love His people, and if you would turn from your sins and ask Jesus to forgive you, you would find yourself included in this biggest story ever told, and could look forward to eternal joy beyond anything you can imagine. And I would love to talk to you more about this.