Introduction to God

Genesis 1 in the Leningrad Codex, the oldest extant Hebrew Masoretic manuscript of the entire Old Testament. Genesis 1:1,2 are at the top of the right-hand column.

In the beginning 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.

In just the first two verses of the Bible, God actually tells us quite a lot about himself. Let’s unpack these verses and get properly introduced to the only true God.

In the beginning God…

These four words tell us that God is eternal. If at the beginning of all things, God was already there, then he exists outside of time and does not have a beginning himself. He does not tire or wear out; he does not grow old or die. He lives in the eternal now. When we ask, “What was God doing before the beginning?” we are immediately confronted with how limited our human understanding is. Time is God’s creation that didn’t exist until the beginning, so how can we talk about what God was doing before the beginning? Before is a time word, so there is technically no such thing as “before the beginning.” We cannot imagine God sitting around twiddling his thumbs for thousands of years, because there were no years or other units of time before he created the universe. From a realm outside of time, God brought time into existence.

In the beginning God created…

Moses does not say, “In the beginning God was there. And then God created.” No, from the very first moment of time, God was working. He is not idle, but active.

We also learn something else about God here, but not in English. The Hebrew word for “God” is plural, but the Hebrew word for “created” is singular. So literally, the verse translates something like, “In the beginning the one who are God created.” The creator is referred to as more than one, yet the creating is actually done by only one being. So already in the first five words of the Bible we have a hint that the true God is a trinity – three persons in one God, and one God in three persons. Even though we cannot logically understand how this can be, it does assure us that humans did not invent God, but that he invented us. Our trust in him is therefore not just an optimistic wish or a placebo to help us get through life, but is anchored in the actual, eternal Lord of the universe.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Moses is not merely summarizing the rest of the chapter here. He is talking about God’s first distinct action on day 1 of the universe’s existence. “The heavens” here are the heavenly and spiritual realm (perhaps including the angels – Job 38:4-7). It is where God dwells, but God did not prepare it for himself; it was “prepared for you [the elect] since the creation of the world” (Matthew 25:34). Just think: Even though God is going to create a perfect and beautiful home for Adam and Eve on earth, he already knows they are going to fall into sin and drag all of humanity into sin with them, and he has already planned to send them his Son to save them from their sins, and so the very first thing God creates is the eternal home where all those who believe in Jesus will dwell in his presence. So we also see already that God is loving and gracious.

Even though this will be even more applicable later, when God takes what is “formless and empty” (vs. 2) and gives it shape and adorns and fills it with beauty and life, let’s pause right here for a moment and ponder that word “created.” Everything we make, we make from something else, using mind and abilities that have been given to us, and basing it on a pattern that itself is based on past patterns or things that already exist. Even when we play make-believe, we do so using things with which we’re already familiar. God, however, created the heavens and earth out of absolutely nothing, and he had no pattern to work with for anything that first week. Think, for instance, of the symmetry and beauty of a human face; God had no human faces to pattern our faces after. God first creates a pattern for the heavens and the earth and everything else in them, in his own mind, and then flawlessly executes his creation on the basis of that pattern. (All human art forms, at their best, are nothing more, or less, than imitation of God’s patterns.) God is therefore incredibly knowledgable and wise.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…

Moses now focuses our attention on the earth, the physical realm. At first it was an indistinguishable, watery mass of raw materials. What exactly these raw materials and dark watery abyss looked like, we can only begin to imagine. It is hard for us to imagine anything without form, or an earth that is empty. But God deliberately created the physical universe as a dark and indistinguishable mess at first, so that he could demonstrate for us that he is not a God of chaos, but of order. He is going to take this indistinguishable mess and bring inexpressible order and beauty to it. We do well to remember this act of God on day 1 of creation when our lives seem to be a dark mess. God may have deliberately placed the mess there precisely so that he can show himself to us as a God who brings indescribable order and beauty out of mess.

…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

Here we are introduced to one of the persons in God, one of the persons in the Trinity, “the Spirit of God.” Moses says that he was hovering over the waters. What exactly was the Spirit doing by hovering? The Bible also uses the word hover to describe what a mother griffon vulture does after nudging her fledglings out of their nest to give them their first lesson in flying. She hovers over them to protect them, ready to swoop down and catch them at a moment’s notice when they tire (Deuteronomy 32:10,11). So here we clearly have the first example of what is called anthropomorphism – ascribing physical attributes and actions to God to help us understand God. The Spirit of God obviously wasn’t hovering in some physical location, because by very definition spirit is the opposite of anything physical. God uses this word to describe his Spirit’s protection of his creation from the beginning. The Spirit is ready to act at a moment’s notice in harmony with God the Father to create and bring order and life to this formless mass of material.

Now that you’ve been properly introduced, please join us for worship to get better acquainted with your eternal, active, loving, gracious, knowledgable, wise, orderly, triune God.

Just Camping Out

Now we know that if this earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, and earthly house in heaven, not built by human hands.  Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.   For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.  Now it is God who made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”   (II Corinthians 5:1-5)

Ah, camping out…what a delight!  If you were to think back to your favorite tent camping experience what would it be?  What would you list as your favorite memory?   The smell of a wood fire wafting in the air… the sound of a gentle breeze blowing through the trees…the smoky taste of bacon frying in a campfire skillet… the occasionally glimpse of a deer or even a bear darting through the trees?  There sure are a lot of great things about camping out!   Probably why we keep coming back right?

But those of you who have ever been tent camping before – you also realize there are a lot of challenges too!  And even though camping out can be loads of fun you also pretty quickly discover that tent camping is probably not something you want to do for the rest of your life.  Or at least every day for the rest of your life.

You see, along with all those great moments of camping come the difficult ones too!  Like the mosquitos that always manage to find their way in the tent or like that little river running through your supposedly waterproof tent or like that constant “I need a shower” kind of feeling.   I much as I hate to admit it, I always thought that the best thing about tent camping was that you get to go home and sleep in your own bed!    After about a week of smelly socks and eating burned hot dogs home never looked so good!

I wonder if we couldn’t supply some of that same imagery to this earthly tent that we live in!  Actually, we don’t have to imagine it – God’s Word makes the comparison for us!   This earthly body that we live in is, just like a tent.   And make no mistake it is a great dwelling place!  We get to eat and sleep, love and laugh, build friendships and loving relationships, and on top of it all, we get to take in all the wonders of God’s spectacular creation.

But there are times when we realize that this earthly tent that we live isn’t the end all either.   It’s not meant to be our permanent dwelling place.   Not because there was something wrong with God’s original creation!  God’s original creation was perfect!   Remember?  God looked at all he had made and said – It is very good!  But all that changed when sin came into the world.  Sin that not only affected our first parents but affects us too and, on a daily basis.

These hands that God has meant for me to serve and honor him I realize can be quickly become self-serving too!   And how often I can selfishly disregard the other tents that God put in this world with me.   This body that I’m supposed to regard as God’s temple – the dwelling place that God lives by His Spirit I often mistreat and act as though it’s my own personal play house.  And that youthful exuberant energy that God gave me when I was young, how quickly that can fade away, and all because of sin.  Yes,   I’d love to think that this earthly tent could last forever but the longer I’m in it the more I’m glad that it really is not.

Thankfully, our God has given us another dwelling place!   A dwelling place not built with human hands.    No, this dwelling place, our dwelling place in heaven, was built with someone else’s hands.   The hands of our loving Savior Jesus.

And what did Jesus do with those hands?   Well first he used them!   He used them to live that perfect life that we were supposed to live but didn’t!   And then he used them to pay price for my sinful actions!   Just think – Jesus hands were pierced for us!   And he allowed that earthly tent that he came in (the only one that was perfect by the way) to be destroyed so that you and I would never have to taste corruption.  So that we could live on forever in that permanent dwelling that he’s prepared for us in heaven.

No wonder Paul said – “we groan!”  Literally yearn for a taste of what God has prepared for us!  And with good reason!  In heaven God says we will be clothed with a new dwelling place!   No more sinful struggles against the old self.   No more sadness or pain, no more blame!   Rather we will be fully clothed with that perfect life that God gives us through Jesus!

Camping out?   It can be fun for awhile.   But there’s only one place we can be truly at home!   As Jesus said – I go there to prepare a place for you…    May that be the home that we look forward to this day and every day!   And may it also be the reason we make the most of this life as well!

 

Lord, Give Me Eyes to See!

The Old Testament prophet Job, living long before Jesus entrance into this world once wrote,

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. 26 And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;”(Job 19:25-26)

Do you ever wish that you could have been there on that first Easter morning? Wouldn’t it have been exciting to look at that rolled-away tomb? Wouldn’t it have been neat to look inside and see Jesus grave clothes, all folded up and laying neatly in a pile? And then, to hear the angel say, “He is not here, he is risen just as he said.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have seen Easter with our own eyes?

But then, we think of what we know about those eyewitnesses. They were there and they were still perplexed. All the signs of Jesus’ resurrection were readily apparent, and they still had trouble believing it. Even for those who were there, it still took a considerable amount of time for the good news to sink in. As Jesus said to those two Emmaus disciples, “Are you still so slow to understand?”

So what of us who live on either side of that great event? What of Job for example? Job lived long before Jesus was born. We’re not sure exactly when Job lived, but it’s possible that Job perhaps even lived before Moses. As an Old Testament believer, maybe he didn’t know all the details of the life and death of his Redeemer to come. Perhaps he didn’t even yet know that his Redeemer would be called ‘Jesus’ (which means Savior). But he did know about God’s promise to send a Savior. Apparently, Job also knew that Jesus would enable even him to live forever…in a bodily resurrection where he could see God with his own eyes.

If that’s true of an Old Testament believer who lived long before God’s promise of a Savior was fulfilled, how much more true shouldn’t that be for us who live on the completed side of Jesus resurrection? Because of the eyewitness accounts of God’s Word, our vision can be even clearer than what those first eyewitnesses saw! They could only see with physical eyes. Through the inspired Word of God, our eyes can be led to see the truth of Jesus bodily resurrection in all its awesome detail. And we are given the knowledge that what Jesus did, he did for us!

LORD, give me eyes to see! Give me eyes to see and believe your promises! Give me eyes to see so that, like Job, we too might know that our Redeemer lives!

Before and After

Have you ever noticed those before and after pictures shown in popular magazines or on the T.V. info-commercials? Take Weight Watchers for example: on the left side you have the picture of the 300+ lb. man dressed in a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Not the most flattering photo. On the right side you have a picture of the same man but this time he’s 180 lbs. and dressed in a skimpy bathing suit. What a change! Or, how about that advertisement of the latest stain fighting formula? In the first picture, you have a garment that’s been stained with every stain imaginable: mud, wine, blueberry pie, or grape juice. What a mess! In the second picture however, that same garment is bright, clean & completely stain free!

Do you remember the “before Easter” picture of Jesus’ disciples? Before Easter the disciples often didn’t have a clue about Jesus’ saving mission. Before Easter Peter rebuked Jesus when he talked about his suffering and death. Before Easter the disciples selfishly fought with one another and argued about who was the greatest. Before Easter the disciples were weighed down with every kind of fear and anxiety imaginable. Some even denied they knew Jesus, while others simply ran away.

But oh, what a different picture we see after Easter! The results were pretty dramatic. No more hiding, no more denying, no more running away. The disciples now were willing to witness openly in Jerusalem, and even continued to witness under the threat of punishment and death. Even more, impetuous

Peter who once denied his Lord now boldly stood before crowds of people saying, “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!” Now, even threats of punishment and jail did not deter the disciples from telling the world the good news. Now, even when threatened, they confidently proclaimed, “We must obey God rather than men.” So full and complete was their Easter joy that nothing would stop them from making Christ known to whomever would listen.

If you were to post a before and after Easter picture of Jesus in your life, how would the two compare? Would you be able to see the difference? Would we still be living as if Easter never happened and Jesus was still in the grave? OR – like those disciples, would we discover that there really is such a thing as Easter joy! Would we discover that the Easter message really has made a difference in our lives?

Does this picture seem a little too optimistic? Oh sure, there might still be those times when our outward circumstances may be challenging. But then again we remember what God said through the apostle Paul; he tells us, “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all!” And even though there may be those times that we feel alone and abandoned, we have Jesus own promise, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Even though we may still feel fear we hear Jesus saying to us, “Don’t keep being afraid!” Why? “Because in my house are many mansions, and I go there to prepare a place for you, that you may be where I am!”

Bottom line, we know what that after picture of Easter looks like but unlike some of those before and after pictures that we see in advertising, the after picture of Easter isn’t a retouched photo. We’re never going to have to say, “It worked for them but not for me” because the after Easter picture that Jesus brought about did not depend on us. Instead, it depends on the finished work of the one who has already risen victorious from the grave! As the early Christians used to say – He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!