In the Beginning
January 7, 2024

In the Beginning

Passage: Genesis 1:1

Setbacks from the Beginning

Now this might surprise some of you, but when these words were first written, 3500 years ago, people had trouble believing them. See, these words of Scripture were first received by a nation called Israel. The people of Israel were slaves in the Egyptian Empire, but God sent a prophet, Moses, to deliver the Israelites out of their slavery. And Moses set to work to clarify who this God was and how to worship Him.

The problem is that just about every other nation at that time believed that there were many divine beings, not just one. The nations had their own socially acceptable ways for explaining the origin of the world, which involved their line-up of so-called gods and goddesses. And as slaves in Egypt, the Israelites had been influenced by this idol-worship and paganism for generations.

So when God moved Moses along to write these words of Scripture, Genesis 1:1 would have been controversial. It would have violated the basic assumptions of the culture at that time. These words were not fabricated to appeal to the preferences of the uneducated masses. No, these words were written to confront the ignorance of the human race, particularly of the Israelites, and to teach them the truth of who God truly is and what God has done.

So tonight here, I want to explore two basic questions. Question 1: Who Is God? (What does the Bible tell us about God here?) And Question 2: Why does it matter?

Who Is the True God?

So question one: Who is God? From this one verse, we are introduced to at least five pieces of information about God.

First, we see that the God mentioned here exists. In the beginning, God. He is a real being, who occupies a real place in the history of the world.

Second, this God is eternal – his existence isn’t confined within time and space. You might wonder – where do I see this in the text? Well, look at those first four words again. In the beginning, GOD. In the beginning, God was already on the scene. The beginning we’re reading about here isn’t the beginning of God, but it’s the beginning of time, the beginning of space, the beginning of the heavens and earth. God’s existence didn’t start inside of time, but time’s existence started because of God. So this text teaches us about a God who is eternal – who has always existed. This is confirmed in Psalm 90:2 “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

And from this we can see third attribute of God here. Since God has always existed before anything else came into being, this tells us that he doesn’t depend on anything else for his own being. God has the ultimate power of life in himself, on His own, by His own power. God is self-existent.

Fourth, we also see here that God is one. Notice how many divine beings there are at the beginning of the universe here. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Only one God is mentioned. In the Hebrew, the verb “created” is (clearly) singular. This was wildly different from what other nations were teaching at the time. The Egyptians and Babylonians claimed that the creation of the world involved numerous gods and goddesses. And to differentiate between these deities, they needed to refer to them by whatever their personal names were. Marduk did this. Bel did that. But here in Genesis 1:1 – and I believe this is intentional – the personal name of the Hebrew God, Yahweh, isn’t used. Instead, we simply read, in the beginning, God. There’s no need to use the personal name of God to differentiate him from the other gods and goddesses, because there aren’t any. There is just one God.

Fifth, and finally, we learn about who God is by what he does. God reveals himself as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. The Hebrew word here translated create is only ever used in the Bible to describe a work of God. When this verse says that God created the heavens and the earth, it means that he brought something into existence from nothing. God didn’t just put together some puzzle pieces that were already there. He didn’t just clean up an eternal blob of chaos and put it into order. There are other Hebrew words to describe actions like that. Instead, Genesis 1:1 teaches that the universe had a beginningin the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

And other parts of Scripture confirm exactly the same thing. Hebrews 11:3: 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. Revelation 11:4: “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.” The whole cosmos was made by God out of nothing.

And so what we see here is that a critical distinction is made between what is created and the one who is Creator. The sun, the moon, the stars – fish, birds, plants, people – none of these things are gods. They are created things made by the one and only Creator.

Why Does It Matter?

But let’s change gears here and wrestle together with our second question: why does it matter? Assuming that God created the universe, what difference should it make for how you and I live?

Let me point out three ways this reality should impact us.

How the Beginning Shapes Our View of God

First, it should impact how we view God. In this incredible act of creating the heavens and the earth, God puts himself in his own weight class. He reveals to us that there is an elite status called “divinity” that is above and beyond everything else that now exists. And if we have our heads screwed on straight, that should fill us with a sense of wonder and respect for God’s power. After all, this God has made everything – water, wind, grains of sand, galaxies – he made everything out of nothing. He has demonstrated for us that He can do whatever he wants – there are no limits to his power. As Jeremiah 32(:17) says, “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.”

Yet God doesn’t just demonstrate the vastness of his power here. He also informs us about the scope of his authority. Just consider for a moment. If I make a sandwich, do I exist for the sandwich, or does the sandwich exist for me? Obviously, the sandwich exists for me. Instinctively we know that created things exist for the purpose of their Creator. So who do you exist for? Kids, do you exist for your parents? Do you exist for the government? For yourself? Genesis 1:1 gives the correct answer. By this simple statement – In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth – God is asserting that you and I belong to him. Our lives are not first and foremost about us. We exist for God. In fact, the whole universe does.

There is one Creator – and every nation, every planet, everything from every place and time – it all belongs to him and is designed to accomplish his objectives. This is why Colossians 1(:16) declares, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Also Romans 11(:36): “For from him, and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen.” You and I were created by God and for God. He makes us, he orchestrates us, he defines us. Not the other way around.

How the Beginning Shapes Our View of the World

There’s a second reason all this matters for how we live. Not only should this impact our view of God, but the contents of Genesis 1:1 also should shape how we view the created world around us. For one thing, we should recognize that the world around us is not ultimate. The ancient Egyptians believed that the world around them was ultimate – they believed the sun god had power, that the river god had power – and so on and so forth. And even though most people in America don’t believe that there’s a deity associated with the Sun, many Americans still make the mistake of thinking that the world around us is ultimate. We put our trust in the power of money, or the power of the military, or the power of modern psychology instead of placing our confidence in the power of God. Our society treats the Word of God like something that should be doubted, but then they turn around and receive the words of their favorite political figure or news anchor as though it’s gospel truth. People have tried to eliminate God from the public sphere, yet God has not actually been eliminated, but just replaced by lesser things that are worthless and empty by comparison. The world around us is not ultimate. It is not all-powerful, it is not all-knowing, it is not God. And if you really take this to heart, it will affect how you live.

So how should we view the world around us? Well, we should recognize that the world is the result of God’s creative work. It reveals something to us about God’s greatness. The beauty and complexity and pleasurableness of things you encounter in the universe – they aren’t accidental. Instead, the whole world around us is like a choir, crying out to draw our attention to God’s worth and glory. Just as Psalm 19[:1-2] says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” In other words, the created world is like a huge neon sign that says, God is real. He is powerful. He is wise. He is good. Every time you take a bite of food, every time you see a snowflake, every time you see a cloud in the sky (which is just about all the time these days) – everything you see, touch, or encounter is a reminder to you from your Creator that He is God.

How the Beginning Should Shape Our Desire to Know God

And here’s a third and final way we should be impacted by Genesis 1, verse 1. We should recognize that God wants us to know him. We have received these words because God himself gave them to us. He invented human language. He invented tools for writing and recording. He sent us His prophet, Moses. And God has worked in human history to preserve His Holy Scriptures and to make sure that you and I would be hearing these words tonight. Though God is invisible, he isn’t hidden. Though God rises above and beyond the material universe, he isn’t distant. He has spoken, and we can truly know him – not only as our Creator, but also as our Savior.

Though we have dishonored and displeased our Creator in countless ways, and though we deserve His curse and condemnation, He has not abandoned us to death. In John 1:1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John tells us that Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh – was active in creating us. But John goes on to tell us what else Jesus has done for his self-absorbed, rebellious creatures. Verse 10: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name he gave the right to become children of God.” Without Jesus, we are broken criminals in the courtroom of God – belligerent creatures. But Jesus has come to give us peace with heaven, to make us become beloved children of God.

God doesn’t have to be a stranger to you. Your Creator has revealed himself because he wants you to know him – to understand how you fit into His overarching story of world history. So listen to his voice. Learn from him. Love him. Live for him.