A sermon by Steve Cooper
One of my favourite actors is David Suchet, who plays Poirot in Agatha Christie’s detective series for TV. David Suchet has a wonderful voice, full of rich expression. My wife and I recently purchased his reading of the entire Bible, and it’s great to listen to. We especially enjoy hearing him read the opening chapter of Genesis. The sheer beauty of its language echoes the beauty of the creation it describes. There is a majestic, orderly calm in the refrain And there was evening, and there was morning, reflecting the orderly calm of the Creator going about his work.
Genesis introduces us to our Maker. This morning, let’s consider this first chapter of the Bible, and meet the God it portrays.
It was Christmas Eve, 1968. The spacecraft Apollo 8 was orbiting the moon for the very first time. No humans had ever ventured so far from our planet; no mortal eyes had ever before seen the earth rising in the distance, a beautiful cloud-swathed ball of blue above the grey lunar horizon. As the world watched and listened, the crew broadcast a live Christmas message. After commenting on the awe-inspiring view from the capsule window, they read out the first ten verses of Genesis.
‘In the beginning’, we heard William Anders say against the hiss and crackle, ‘God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day. And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day. And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.’
These words read by the crew had an astonishing, unforgettable resonance. Here was humanity experiencing the grandeur of the universe in a completely new way, and we were hearing from the book which introduces its Maker. Later, the crew won an Emmy award for their broadcasts.
That’s the focus of this creation account in Genesis 1 – it takes us to meet our Maker. The words used to open the Bible are simple, yet momentous, each word packed with implications. The economy of style is amazing, yet the reader’s mind is full of pictures: of light, of dark, of seas, of continents, of stars, of plants and trees and great sea creatures, of birds and livestock and wild animals. The writer has taken great care with words. Each word has been weighed, each sentence carefully crafted.
Twenty-first century readers of this account find themselves perplexed – and distracted – by the question of what the ‘days’ of creation mean. Are they earth days, or days in the life of God, or something else? Do they contradict what science says about the age of the universe? But we shouldn’t be distracted – the first priority of Genesis is to introduce us to the hero of the account – the one, true, living Creator God. At one level Genesis 1 is about our world, but it’s first and foremost giving us an introduction to the one who made it. The focus of the creation account is not on God’s fingerprints, but on God himself. After the next song, let’s look at some of the things we learn here from this introduction to the Creator God.
This morning we’re reflecting on the opening chapter of the Bible, which introduces us to our Maker. What do we learn about God from this creation account?
First, he is personal. He speaks (calling things into being), he sees (that which he has made is good), he acts (making things), he gives names (calling what he has made sea, sky, earth), he blesses (the animals), he takes pleasure (seeing that it is all good). These are things that persons do; he is not just a force. That is why Christians speak of a ‘Personal God’.
This is a contrast to the way God has sometimes been understood. The Star Wars movies speak of a ‘force,’ an impersonal ‘something’ that is there which controls our fates. Maybe in sophisticated Western societies we prefer such impersonal deities because we find a ‘force’ rather less threatening than a real person. In Genesis, however, the ultimate Controller of the universe is one who is watching me as I speak, and you as you listen. That is why Genesis is so keen to introduce us to God. He is not just a thing but a person who can be known. You see, if God is personal, this opens up the possibility of relationship with him. He is not silent; he may be known, because he speaks.
And look what happens when he does: a universe springs into being. We are being introduced to the one whose words are powerful beyond our imaginings. That’s the second truth we learn about our Maker: he is powerful. He has only to speak for things to happen. ‘And God said…and it was so.’ That is power. And look what God controls. He gathers together whole oceans (9); his making the stars is described almost as an afterthought (16). He even made the biggest, scariest things in the sea (21). These are small fry to the sovereign God; the great white shark in the movie Jaws is like a minnow to him.
Who, or what, controls our world and our lives? It may be that the brief reference to the stars in verse 16 is an implied criticism of astrology, the ancient belief that the heavenly bodies somehow control our destinies. Millions continue to look to this for guidance in their daily lives. But if God made the stars, that puts the signs of the zodiac in their proper places. Why not look beyond them to the Creator of the heavens and the earth? Converts to Christianity find themselves putting horoscopes behind them and discovering, in the pages of the Bible, the one who really is in control. Isn’t he the one to trust?
When the prophet Jeremiah was faced with a bleak situation, with his home city under siege, he prayed. It was a wonderful prayer of trust. The prayer begins: ‘Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you’ (Jer 32:17). Against his desperate situation, Jeremiah set the Creator God. If he has made the universe, can anything be too hard for him? That’s a secret of prayer – knowing the one we pray to is the one who created everything. He is personal and powerful, and no problem we face is too big for him.
In the first chapter of the Bible, Genesis 1, we are introduced to our Maker. He is personal, and he is powerful. The creation account also shows us God in his proper place. He is the one, true, living Creator God.
By implication, the account also begins to show us our place. We are so tiny and small in the presence of such a mighty God. This is a lesson which, in our pride, we constantly need to relearn. As we meet this God, we can only do so with due humility, with reverence, and with awe.
Yet the astonishing thing about this Creator God described in Genesis 1 is that in his plans for his creation, he has a privileged place for human beings. After he created the world and the universe, he created mankind in his image, in his likeness, with a task of ruling over the world responsibly and wisely. It’s staggering to think of how significant we are in God’s eyes. He is generous towards us, and his intentions for us are good.
One response we should make to such a good and generous Creator is to be grateful. Yet we foolishly don’t thank God. As the Apostle Paul says, ‘Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images… They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.’ (Rom 1:20-23, 25)
Our human foolishness is shown in the Genesis story when we get to chapter 3. There we read that he first man and woman disobeyed God’s clear command, and they suffered the consequences. The result was that they were under God’s just judgment, separated from God. Our world was dominated by sin and death. Yet the marvellous thing is that the Creator God remained good and generous in his intentions for human beings. As we continue the Bible story we learn that God acted to save and rescue his people. He sent his own dear Son, Jesus, to suffer and die in our place on the cross. He raised Jesus to life – so Jesus is the mighty Saviour and Lord. Jesus has conquered sin and death. God calls us to turn from our sin, trust Jesus as our Saviour, and follow Jesus as our Lord.
So the God introduced to us in Genesis 1 is the same God through history and the same today. He is personal, inviting us to know him and enjoy a relationship with him. He is powerful, calling us to trust him and depend upon him. He is shown in his proper place – the one, true, living Creator God – which puts us in our proper place of humility and awe. He is good and generous in his purposes for us – which encourages us to be grateful and thankful for his rich provision for us.
My father was a watchmaker. I used to observe him as he sat at his desk, repairing watches and clocks. Today when I see a finely-made watch, or a beautiful clock, I think of my father and his patient care with each timepiece. The beauty of the handwork points to the creativity and thoughtfulness of the maker. Genesis 1 introduces us to our Maker, and shows he is personal, powerful, great, good, and generous.
Let me pray: ‘Lord God, our mighty Creator, deepen our knowledge of you, that we may be trusting, humble, grateful, and delight in your goodness. Thank you that your good intentions for us continued, so we can know your love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.’