Sunday, May 31, 2015

Introduction to Genesis

Today, we start a new series of sermons on the book of Genesis. I thought it would be good to spend this first sermon giving something of an overview of the book so that it would make more sense as we make our way through it. So, what I'm going to do is poke around at some different issues that relate to understanding Genesis.

Let's start with this. I think that it's fair to say that most of us have been taught Genesis as a series of distinct stories. So, there's the story of Adam and Eve, and then there's Noah's ark, and then there's Abraham sacrificing Isaac. They are separate stories, each unrelated to the others and each with a distinct point. But that misses something rather important. Genesis isn't a series of stories. It's one big story - with lots of episodes. And all the episodes are connected to each other. They are part of one big plot with one big point to make. When you look at each episode in that way it will change the lessons that you take away from them. Adam and the Garden relates to Noah and his ark in a particular way. And both of those have something to say about what Abraham did with Isaac on Mt. Moriah. It's one big story.

In fact, it might be better to describe Genesis as the beginning of one big story. The Bible is a story about what God is up to. Genesis is the starting point, the foundation of that story. And what is the key point of the story of the Bible? The key to the whole thing is Jesus. So, all of the episodes of the Bible, including all of the episodes of Genesis, lead up to and flow from who Jesus is and what He has come to do. So, as we are working on one of those episodes, the question to ask is, 'How does this connect to the coming of Jesus? What does it tell us about Him?' That is going to be one of the important things that I will need to do in these sermons.

Here's something else to consider. Genesis is different from the other books of the Bible that I have preached through. It just tells a story. That's different from the apostolic letters. They explain and then apply Gospel concepts. It's even different from the four Gospels. They also tell a story, but not just a story. In the Gospels we have Jesus doing some teaching. This teaching comes up as part of the story. So, think: Sermon on the Mount. But Genesis is different. There is no teaching that comes up as part of the story. There are no sermons, no taking someone aside to explain some bit of truth that we can overhear. It's just a story.

Now, there is teaching in Genesis, lots of it. But you have to look for it. So, for example, why did God take six days to create the world? He could have done it in a moment with the snap of His fingers. Is He teaching something by that? Yes, He is. But He doesn't come out and tell you what it is. You have to look for it.

Or consider how Genesis starts. 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.' Why start there? Why not start Genesis with Abraham's faith? Why bother with all those episodes before we come to Abraham? Isn't one big goal of the book for us to imitate the faith of Abraham? Yes, that's a very important goal. But Moses thought that you would get there in better shape if he told you about God creating everything. There are lessons to be learned there.

So, let's follow up on that. Let's talk about God creating everything. How should we understand what He's doing? Let me use a few out of place labels to make a point.

For one thing, God is creating a Promised Land, a place that flows with milk and honey. That says something about Israel's hope while they were wandering in the wilderness after the exodus. It also has something to say about your hope. You also are on your way to a Promised Land, a place promised you by Jesus. The first chapters of Genesis can help you understand a bit better what that's all about.

We can also say that God is creating a kingdom. Here think of how Genesis 1 talks about dominion and rule. In this kingdom God is the high king, and Adam and Eve were lesser royalty who ruled the earth under God's authority. Once you see that, you can connect it with one of Jesus' main themes, the Kingdom of God.

And then, we can say that God is creating a Church, a people who walk with Him in the cool of the day. And so, as we work at being a church we can look back to the Garden to see who we are called to be in the present, as well as to gain some idea of our situation in the future once God creates what John calls a new heaven and a new earth.

Do you see what I've done? I've made some connections. And those connections can help you see how creation relates to Jesus. There is teaching in Genesis, but you have to look for it.

Now, in all of this God is revealing something very important, or better, Someone very important. He is revealing Himself. Who is this God we worship? And this is where folk get a little frustrated. We are used to people explaining themselves by saying things pretty much in black and white. We like clear and obvious. Don't make us guess what you're getting at. Just tell us. So, when it comes to God revealing Himself we'd like something like an essay - something short please - where God lists some characteristics about Himself - loving, kind, just, and that sort of thing - and then says one or two things about each of those characteristics.  That would be how most of us would like the Bible to be written. Clear, obvious, no guessing.

But, as you know, God doesn't do it that way. Instead, He tells this long story where He is the main actor. So, if you want to get to know God you need to watch Him in action and listen carefully when He speaks. But doing that isn’t easy because in this story He’s not speaking to you. You have to listen in while He speaks to someone else who lives in a very different place and a very different time. Isn't that what's going on with Adam and Eve, and all the others? And that is how God reveals Himself to you in Genesis. Frankly, there are plenty of times we'd prefer a simple, indexed manual where we can look up things like 'Creation, purpose of' or 'Husbands, how not to be a blockhead' or things like that. But God, who knows what He's doing, doesn't do it that way. He teaches about those sorts of things, but He does it differently. And that's what we need to look for in Genesis.

And what's the intended result of looking at Genesis in this way? What's God's goal for you in this? It's wisdom. Wisdom is understanding God so that you can understand yourself and then understand other people. And those who grow in wisdom will grow as faithful disciples of Jesus. That's the goal of Genesis.

I've given you something of an overview of Genesis. I hope that it has stimulated your interest. Now, let me mention two things that I would like you to do.

First, read Genesis. Become familiar with it. Next week, I'll be looking at something from Genesis 1. So, during the week, read Genesis 1. And you know that I'll be in Genesis 1 for more than next week. So, read it over again the following week. Become familiar with it. Notice things. So, for example, most of you know that in Genesis 1 God does stuff and then says that it was good. It's a pattern. Did you know that He doesn't say that for Day #2? When a pattern is broken there is a reason and knowing the reason helps you understand what the pattern is about. There's another day of that week where God says that it was good, not once, but twice. The pattern is broken, but in a different way. This week read the chapter. The goal is to become familiar enough with Genesis so that when I offer an idea about it you will be able to understand better what I'm talking about. And that will make it easier for you to apply that idea to your life.

Here's the other thing that I would like you to do: pray. As I've said before, there is more to do than just pray but there is never less. This series of sermons is going to be of benefit to you only if you pray that it would be. Bear in mind that a sermon is not a lecture for you to learn stuff so that you can pass the test at the end of the course. A sermon is the Spirit of God speaking to hearts so that lives will be changed. So, pray that that would happen. Pray for yourself. But also for the folk sitting around you. Remember, being a faithful disciple of Jesus is a group project. And then, pray for me. Preaching Genesis will be a challenge for me. It's a different kind of book from what I'm used to preaching from. There is much that I need to look for and see. And then, I need to make an important decision. Of all the things that I will see, which do you need to hear about? What will be helpful for you?

If we pray, God will bless. And one result of that will be our lives being changed so that we will follow Jesus better.