Psalm 8:1-9 • Genesis 1:1-2:4a • 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 • Matthew 28:16-20
This week’s theme is the Triune purpose for creation. In Genesis we revisit the story of creation as a witness to the God of Israel for all the world. Psalm 8 considers the creative works of God and his glorious intentions for humans. The Gospel of Matthew records Jesus’ instructions to carry the witness of the Triune God into all creation. In 2 Corinthians Paul encourages believers to strive towards the wholeness of peace and love found in the life of the Trinity.
The End of the Line
Genesis 1:1-2:4 NRSV
Have you seen Disney’s remake of The Lion King? There’s a conversation in the movie that sets up nicely what is going on in our passage of Genesis 1 today. Simba, the lion cub, has a conversation with Timon and Pumbaa, a meerkat and warthog, where a clash of worldviews ensues. Simba was taught and believed in a worldview captured by the catchy tune “The Circle of Life.” For Simba this worldview understands everything being connected through a cycle of life where everyone plays their part. When he refers to this “circle” worldview, he is quickly corrected by his new acquaintances, who tell him that “it’s no circle…It’s a line. It’s a meaningless line of indifference.” They go on to say that “we’re all just running towards the end of the line. And then one day we’ll reach the end, and that’ll be it.” This worldview gives them permission to live their carefree lifestyle with little thought of how it affects others. Or as Timon puts it, “And you can really just kinda…do your own thing and fend for yourself.” Their worldview is captured in the singalong tune of “Hakuna Matata (No Worries).” I’ll try not to give anything away in the movie if you haven’t seen it, but I will give you a spoiler alert for this sermon. Neither worldview is biblical. And that brings us to our passage in Genesis 1.
Although the Book of Genesis opens with “In the beginning…,” if we want to understand the book best, we are better served to start somewhere else. Stay with me on this. First, we begin with Jesus. Jesus is God’s self-revelation to us. It’s only in this light that we can see more clearly what is going on in the Old Testament and specifically in Genesis. So, we must begin with the New Testament’s witness of Jesus Christ, who is Lord and Savior and the only Son of the Father. This is the truest “Beginning” that Genesis springs from. It’s from this self-revelation in Jesus that we come to know Who the Creator is. (In this way our text is not excluded from Trinity Sunday as a fitting text.) Although Genesis 1 does not mention Father, Son or Spirit in any Trinitarian formulation, we are to read the creation account knowing that it is the same Triune God we see in the New Testament who is calling all things into existence. This will become even more apparent as we see the relational intent put on display in the creation story. Also, it turns out the Genesis creation account is aimed at the same question of Who the Creator is rather than How the Creator created. This is an important distinction and starting place to read Genesis 1. Knowing who the Creator is will be far more important than knowing how he created. The next starting point for Genesis 1 again is not in the book of Genesis. It’s in the book of Exodus. Stay with me one more time and I think this will help us approach the book of Genesis more fruitfully.
The Book of Genesis is traditionally understood to have been written by Moses. Moses had a reason for writing the book and he had a reason for why he told the creation story the way he told it. Keep in mind that Moses is not an eyewitness of creation. No human is. You can’t witness your own creation. (Interesting side note: Have you noticed that there is no eyewitness account of the Resurrection of Jesus? There are witnesses of seeing Jesus after his resurrection, but no one sees or records directly the event of the Resurrection. The Resurrection is the beginning of the new creation. There is a parallel in how the story of creation and the story of the resurrection are told. For starters, they both take place in a garden.)
But back to Moses. The Book of Exodus is the story of Israel’s experience with Yahweh. God is revealing himself to Israel and by so doing, setting up a witness for all the world. Moses and all Israel emerge from this experience of the Lord with a new worldview. And that brings us to why Moses was writing the Genesis creation story. Like Simba and his carefree friends, Moses and the surrounding nations had opposing worldviews about who God is and what it means to exist. So, Moses is writing in story form about the God of Israel who revealed himself to be Creator of all things.
Since Moses is writing out of his experience with the God of Israel, we will see certain motifs emerge in the Genesis story that reflect this experience. For example, the Tabernacle was the place for Israel where God’s presence resided. In Genesis, it’s the Garden of Eden where God’s presence is found. Some interesting details emerge in those long laborious chapters that describe the furnishings and decorations of the Tabernacle. The construction of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, have woven into it many of the same images of life found in the creation story. Even the way the construction of the Tabernacle is recorded parallels the telling of God creating the Earth. Both the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle are full of images of rivers and trees that convey a fruitful and abundant life that exist in God’s presence. The lampstand just outside the Holy of Holies was crafted to resemble a tree with seven branches bearing almond blossoms. This might remind you of another tree that stood in the center of the Garden. Or the description of “the whole land of Havila, where there is gold.” are reflected in the gold covered furnishings and precious stones used in the Tabernacle and Temple. Moses is writing the story of creation to bear witness to the surrounding nations of who God has revealed himself to be. God told Moses exactly how to construct and design the Tabernacle, and that gets reflected in the way the creation story unfolds.
Those who are interested the parallels between the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple may want to consult the book, God Dwells Among Us, by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim.
When Moses wrote Genesis, he was presenting a worldview very different from his neighbors. The common worldview of the time was more similar to the “Circle of Life” worldview presented in The Lion King. Without the direct revelation God had given Israel, the rest of the world formulated their own views based on observing nature. They noticed everything seemed to work in cycles. The sun rose, set and rose again. Same for the moon and stars. Seasons were predictable cycles and even fertility cycles came to inform their worldview. As a result, life was just an endless cycle without meaning. Like the Lion King, there was no escaping the cycle. If you were born king, then you were top of the food chain. If you were born into slavery (think of Israel here) then that was your identity and there was no changing it. Israel being freed from slavery in Egypt was a brand-new event that had never been seen on the stage of history. We may be accustomed now to stories of revolution where the underdog comes out on top, but that was an unheard-of way of thinking before God’s interaction with Israel. No wonder the surrounding nations took note of Israel when they came close to their borders.
Another conflicting worldview was polytheism. The belief in many gods was the established way of life. There were various creation stories floating around before Moses wrote Genesis, but none them credited all creation to ONE God in the way that Genesis does. That was a laughable idea at the time. If you were to compare the common creation stories circulating in Moses’ time, it would be clear that Moses was writing to counter some of these prevailing ways of thinking about creation. Take for example Egypt’s many gods that were worshiped. Israel’s experience of being delivered from these gods established for them that Yahweh, the God of Israel, was the only God and therefore was the creator and not Ra, the Sun God as the Egyptians believed. Imagine an Egyptian reading “God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.” Moses could have written, “My God beat up your gods!” But he went way further and said in essence, “My God created your gods.”
That’s a lot of background for our text today and more could be said. But hopefully this will give us a better orientation of how to read the creation story. From the reading of the story, we can see a reality of existence, a worldview emerging that is consistent with God’s revelation to Israel through his history with them. Many observations can be pursued from this chapter and I would encourage you to spend time delving more deeply in the account. There is much we can learn about who God is in the story of Creation. But for this sermon we will zero in on one major point.
God creates with an end purpose in mind.
This is the opposing worldview not shared by Israel’s neighbors. God is not arbitrary in his creating nor does he stand opposed to it. He is not against his own creation; he is actively involved in it and he has a purpose in mind. In one way, Timon and Pumbaa are right to picture life as a line instead of a circle. Only, they arrive with the same conclusion of seeing life as meaningless that came from seeing life as an endless repetitive and unbreakable cycle. Timon and Pumbaa arrived at their conclusion that life is “It’s a meaningless line of indifference,” because of their understanding of what awaits at the “end of the line.” For them, the end of the line was it. Life was over.
The Genesis creation story has a very different end of the line in view. Our passage today recounts the days of creation, which include the seventh day, of rest. This is the end of the line in God’s creation. This is where all creation is headed. The telling of the story of creation has purpose and intentionality woven all the way through. God marks out days that add up to a week. This is not based on a natural cycle, but one that is defined by God. The marking of time has been established. There is a calendar. There is history. We can thank Israel and her struggle with Yahweh for both. Israel should have been stuck in the cycle of slavery but God called them out and made a people out of a non-people. They were called for a purpose and a future hope that God would bring into being. They were a people going somewhere. All creation is going somewhere. God is recorded as intentionally bringing order and structure out of chaos. He is forming and filling his creation for fruitfulness. And let’s not miss the repetitive pronouncement each step of the way that all of this was “good.” God speaking his creation into existence is “good.”
We are made to respond to God’s Word. We are made for relationship with him and each other. Notice how the account records God separating and naming in his acts of creating. Instead of some meaningless blob of matter, God has made distinctions in his creation where relationships exist. Day and night, land and sea. All this is good and culminates into the pronouncement of “very good” with the creation of humans as male and female. Without these distinctions, there would be no relationship and no meaning. This story is anything but a meaningless line of indifference.
This intentional creating of relationships sets up the “end of the line” of the seventh day of creation. The blessing of rest in God’s presence. All creation is headed to this end point, this goal: to enjoy and be at rest in God’s presence, where there is blessing and wholeness. The end of the line is Eden, the Tabernacle and the Temple and the Sabbath. This is the appointed place where God’s presence fills the earth and brings forth fruit. Very good fruit.
But let’s not pull up short before we close. To more fully understand the “end of the line,” we must return to the New Testament and gather up all that has taken place before. Eden, the Tabernacle, the Temple and the Sabbath rest all reach their fullness in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Garden paradise where we walk in the coolness of the day with the Father. Jesus is the Tabernacle and the Temple, and he is our Sabbath Rest. In short, Jesus is the end of the line for all creation and he lives in us through the Holy Spirit. The Father did not send Jesus to restore Eden. Eden was just the beginning. The Father sent his Son to restore us, giving us a place of rest, blessing and wholeness in his own Son where there is abundant life forevermore.
Small Group Discussion Questions
Speaking of Life Questions
- Ponder and discuss together the understanding that God created everything “out of nothing.” What can we glean from this teaching? Share how this might increase your faith in God working in the “nothingness” of your own life.
- What did you think about the idea that God “Makes a big deal out of something seemingly insignificant” when talking about humans? Do you see the eternal infinite God make a big deal over you? Why or why not?
- What are your thoughts about the two worldviews represented in the Lion King as the “Circle of Life” and “The End of the Line”? Where do you see these worldviews expressed in our culture today?
- Does reading the Genesis creation story by starting with Exodus make a difference in how you understand it? How does it change your reading of it in light of Jesus and the New Testament? How does starting with God’s identity inform how we read and understand God’s act of creation? Discuss your thoughts on these approaches to reading Genesis 1.
- What did you think of the comparisons between the Garden of Eden and the Tabernacle and Temple? Can you think of more parallels? What was a main sticking point for you from this discussion?
- How did it strike you to view creation with an end purpose in mind? Does this challenge your worldview in any way? How does seeing creation as a beginning point that moves to a goal affect how you view living in the present?