When was the last time you went ‘Wow’? Was it the last time you went on holiday to a somewhere beautiful? Was it listening to your favourite music? Was it seeing something you haven’t seen before?
Now, we don’t all go ‘wow!’ at the same things. Someone can be completely obsessed about their latest gadget or favourite TV programme and it means nothing to me. But some things are just impressive. Like the fact that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on our planet. Or that although it’s only about 5cm long, a single Golden poison frog has enough poison to kill 10 people. Or that the human brain has enough memory to hold three million hours of TV! But the best impressive things are ones that you can linger over. Things you can enjoy. Like an incredible explosion of colour as the sun sets in a clear sky. Or your favourite meal shared with your closest friends.
This is an edited transcript of a sermon I recently gave on Genesis 1:1-2:3, the story of God creating the universe. In it, I hope you’ll see something that should make us all go wow. But first, here’s a bit of context.
Genesis is an introduction to the first five books of the Bible, which some people call the Pentateuch. These books were all written by Moses, when God was leading the people of Israel from Egypt, through the desert, to the promised land. During that time wandering in the desert, the people of Israel had no home. They were surrounded by other nations who worshipped other gods. Imagine what that felt like. Imagine all the questions that would be going round their heads: How could they know that their God is the true God? How could they know who they were?
Israel wandered around the desert for 40 years, long enough for one generation to die and another to grow up and take their place. How would they answer their children’s questions:
Daddy, why are we in the desert?
Mummy, why does God live in a tent?
Those people over there worship the sun and moon, why don’t we?
When are we going to stop moving?
Will we ever have a home?
In Genesis, God uses the stories of history to answer these questions. It tells the stories of how God created the universe. Why the world is in the broken state it’s in today. It then zooms in on the story of God’s relationship with His chosen people, finishing with how Israel ended up in Egypt in the first place. It’s a book of origins and generations, showing God’s people who they are and who God is.
We are on a journey to a promised home, just like the Israelites were, and we need to learn the same lessons that God’s people learned back then. We need to learn who we are. We need to learn who God is. So we are turning to the beginning of their story and the beginning of our story. The story of God’s relationship with His people over the generations.
The best place to start any story is at its beginning, but before we dive into Genesis 1 I want to acknowledge that the creation story found here can be a point of friction for us. Our belief in a Creator God has brought us under fire and ridicule from our culture. It laughs at the idea of an all-creating God as being unscientific, misguided, or just plain stupid.
How to interpret the creation story can be a point of friction between Christians, too. There has been plenty of debate over exactly what it means in terms of how long God took to make everything, and people who are Christians, people who know and love God, have different views. These views fit broadly between the two extremes of believing God created the universe in literally seven days, or over the course of billions of years.
This is a bigger issue for another time, but whatever you think, we must prioritise believing what God actually tells us in the Bible over what we think it says, or what the rest of the world tells us, because God’s Word is truth – not our ideas, and not other people’s opinions.
And to see what God is telling us in Genesis 1, we need to see its purpose. It wasn’t written to explain the details of how God created. Its focus is on the fact that God created everything.
God created… by the power of His word
And firstly, God created by the power of His Word.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” – Genesis 1:1
These are probably some of the most familiar words from the Bible, yet these 10 words are one of the biggest understatements I’ve ever seen! We are used to the world existing – of course we are. It’s been there for as long as we remember! From before we were born! But we can be so used to it being there that we forget how big a thing it is that the world is here in the first place.
Genesis says that in the beginning, the earth was formless, void, and dark. There was nothing. When we think of nothing, we often think of empty space, but really most bit of what we’d think of as being empty space are full of heat, and light, and air. In the beginning there was absolute nothingness – no substance, no light, and no order. Not just empty space, but no space to be empty!
But then we read that the Spirit of God hovered over the formless emptiness… something is about to happen.
And something does: God speaks. And the universe comes into being.
Time and time again in this chapter we read “God said… and it was so” or “God said… so God created” Have you ever stopped to think about what this means? Think about it – who can create out of nothing? I can’t make anything out of nothing – at the very least I need my body to physically put stuff together! But God spoke the universe into existence.
He said “Let there be light”, and there was light.
God said “Let there be an expanse separate from water”, and the heavens – the sky and space – were drawn apart from everything else.
God said “Let water and land separate”, and there were seas and continents.
He said “Let the earth sprout vegetation,” and the earth became lush and green.
God said “Let there be lights in the heavens to separate the day from the night” and the heart of the Sun started to burn.
He said “Let the water swarm” and “let birds fly” and “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” and we have billions of species that still fascinate us today.
He said “Let us make man…” and Adam took his first breath.
We should be utterly awestruck by God’s power.
The universe exists because God told it to exist. God is so powerful that just by telling something to exist, He doesn’t only create the outline of a thing, but all of the details of how it works and lives and moves.
With a word, God brought you into existence – every cell in your body in its place, every way that you think and feel written into your heart, every ability you have assigned and given to you. With a word! I can sing quite loudly but I can’t bring anything into existence with my voice!
Only God has that kind of power.
Isn’t that just awesome?
If God is powerful enough to command everything to exist and keep it existing with that same command, who are we compared to Him?
Who are we to make our own rules and decide for ourselves the way the world should be?
Who are we to tell Him how to behave?
Instead of trying to pretend that we are masters of our own universe, shouldn’t we be bowing to the One who has given us bodies and breath?
We should be awestruck by how God has shown His power in making the universe, and give ourselves to Him as people that He has created and rightly rules over.
God created… with purpose and order
God doesn’t just create with power. He creates with purpose and order.
We see it in how Genesis describes God creating the universe. He has six working days and makes a different thing in each. And each day has an evening and a morning – at the end of every day God stops working, and at the beginning of the next day He starts working on the next thing to be created.
He creates with purpose and in order. Each day builds on the last. God starts by separating light and darkness, the heavens and the water and the land. He then fills them. He fills space with stars, the Sun and the Moon. He gives them the job of measuring time. He then fills the earth with things that are more and more complicated. Plants sprout from the new ground. Animals soar and swim and scuttle. And finally, God creates humans. He makes us in His image, to reflect Him more than any other part of creation. And that means He made us to know Him. To have a relationship with Him.
When God has finished creating, He rests. God sits back and enjoys His creation.
Because God has created the universe to enjoy it!
God created… to enjoy
As our passage says, God creates everything, and the sixth day ends. Then it says:
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” – Genesis 2:1-2
God rests. But what does this mean? Isaiah 40 says that God is the everlasting God who doesn’t get tired. So is God just not bothering to do anything any more? We know that isn’t true – God is constantly at work in the whole Bible and through history. So He can’t be sitting around, doing nothing for the rest of time because He’s finished His work and left the universe far behind on His desk at the office. What is He doing?
Look at Genesis 1:31:
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good…” – Genesis 1:31a
The last thing God does before He rests is to look at all He has made and declare it to be “very good”. God sits back, not to have a snooze, but to take pleasure in His finished work. To enjoy it. To spend time enjoying it.
God delighted in His creation! God was happy with it. We can think of God being stern and serious and maybe a bit scary, but God is a joyful God. He takes pleasure in what He has made. And He intends for us to enjoy the universe too. God has commanded us to work as He worked, with six days of labour and one of special rest, as it says in the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. This isn’t just giving us a working week, it’s giving us rest, too.
As God’s people today, we should have one day a week where we stop our work. Where we leave the office behind. Where we leave the coursework on the shelf. Where all the chores, and the life admin, and anything else that distracts us gets put on hold. So that we can enjoy the universe God has made. But far more import than that, so we enjoy what God made us for – relationship with Him. So make time to enjoy God and enjoy His creation. Make time to enjoy Him as part of God’s people together – that’s what church is for.
I’m not saying that the world is perfect now. I know it isn’t. There are parts of it that are hard and confusing and painful. But God made the universe to be good. And although creation has been corrupted by our sin, it still hasn’t lost that goodness. It can still be enjoyed, and we can still delight in the smell of flowers, the roar of the sea, a fantastic lunch when you’re absolutely starving.
Creation hasn’t just kept its goodness now. One day it will be made completely new again. In Colossians 1 it says that on the cross Jesus reconciled everything to Himself. He dealt with our sin, that had broken our relationship with God. Jesus made a way for creation to be made new, and for us to be made new to live in that creation. To live in a world that is better than what we see now because it won’t be twisted by evil any more. A world that will be everything that God has made it to be. Where we will truly enjoy God and the universe at its best without anything getting in the way. But the only way we will get there is if we believe in God and trust in Jesus as our Saviour.
In God’s Word today we have seen that God created everything. He created by the power of His word. He created with purpose and order. And He created the universe for Him to enjoy, and for us to enjoy it with Him, because creation is good and we are made to know God. And if you trust God and believe in Jesus, you can look forward to this universe being made perfect again in the future.
So the next time you see something that makes you go ‘Wow!’ remember how it got there in the first place.
Remember that God spoke it into being.
Remember that God made it to be good and that you can enjoy it.
Remember that if this world feels painful and confusing, it will one day be made perfect, and if you’re a Christian you will enjoy it forever.
But most of all, remember that you are made to enjoy creation with God, in relationship with Him. So if you don’t know God, why not choose today to believe in Him? To become what you were made for?
If you want to listen to the audio recording, it can be found on the St Mary’s website.