The Trinity at Work (Genesis 1:1-2:4a)

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Since the beginning of time, people have looked at the world around them and wondered where it all came from. Every culture has had its own story or myth to try to explain the origin of the world and everything in it. Even in our own time, our culture is trying to explain the origin of the universe in scientific terms to understand where it all began and what its purpose or future might be.

I’m going to ask that you don’t discuss how long the Genesis 1 Creation Story took in your conversation about this message. Please take the advice of the Apostle Paul who warns God’s people ‘against quarrelling about words’ because ‘it is of no value and only ruins those who listen’ (2 Timothy 2:14). I believe that too much time and energy has been lost in arguments about how long a ‘day’ was in Jewish thinking. Because of those disagreements, we have often missed much of the good news that Genesis 1 can speak into our lives.

One thing we can miss about the Genesis 1 Creation Story is the way the Trinity is at work. It is true that the word Trinity never appears in the Bible. An early church leader named Tertullian began using it about two hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension to try to communicate the mystery of the one God who makes himself known to us as three distinct but still unified persons. While the Bible doesn’t use the word Trinity, we can still see plenty of evidence of the One-God-In-Three-Persons throughout Scripture.

One passage where we see evidence for the Trinity is in Genesis 1. We read that God created everything in the story simply by speaking. For example, in verse 3 ‘God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light’ (NIV). God spoke and his Word did what it said.
We can see the Trinity at work in Creation if we look a little closer at the story. Firstly, there is the Speaker who proclaims the Word that is spoken. Secondly, we have the Word itself which brings what is spoken into existence. Thirdly, the Breath of the Speaker carries the Word to do what is said. Whenever we speak, our breath carries our words to those who hear them. Genesis 1:2 has already introduced the Spirit of God to us. The biblical languages use the same word for breath, wind and spirit, so the Spirit of God is involved in Creation as the Speaker’s Breath which carries the Word to create what has been spoken.

This story continues to unfold when we read it through the eyes of the New Testament. The Apostle John identified Jesus as the Word which was spoken at creation who entered the world as a flesh and blood person (John 1:1-17). Jesus gave his followers a new relational way of understanding God by calling him ‘Father’ (John 5:18). Jesus also talked about sending his Spirit to his followers (John 14:15-17,26, etc) to be ‘with’ them and ‘in’ them (v17 NIV). Jesus expanded people’s understanding of God from the ancient Hebrew confession of ‘the Lord is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:4), to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being the Three-In-One and One-In-Three God which we know as the Trinity.

From this point of view, we can see the Triune God at work in the Genesis 1 Creation Story. The Father is the Speaker of the Word who brings everything into existence. The Word proclaimed by the Father is the Son, Jesus, through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3). The Holy Spirit carries the Word from the Father to do what the Father intends and what the Word itself says. When God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, Father, Son and Holy Spirit was at work creating light where there was darkness, peace where there was chaos, and life where there was emptiness.

There is much more to this reading of Genesis than just a theological analysis. Because of the reality of sin in our world, we continue to see and experience the darkness, chaos and emptiness that was present in the beginning before the Trinity’s creative work. For example, we can see the darkness of racism, hatred and injustice in our world which caused the death of George Floyd in the USA last week, and has been highlighted by protests in that nation and around the world, including Australia. We have all seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has plunged our world into chaos and confusion as nations have tried to prevent the spread of the virus and keep their people safe. We can see darkness and chaos on a global scale, but we can also experience it personally. In lots of different ways, we can also struggle with darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in our own lives.

When we acknowledge the darkness, chaos or emptiness in our own lives, the Genesis 1 Creation Story can speak so much good news to us. It tells us that the Trinity is still at work in the world and in our lives. The same Speaker continues to proclaim the Word which is carried by the Breath into our darkness, chaos, and emptiness to create light, peace, and life in us, just as the Triune God did in the beginning. The Trinity continues to be at work in our lives as the Father proclaims the Son who is carried by the Holy Spirit into our lives and into our hearts to create light, peace and life within us! When we believe that the Trinity was working in this way at the start of Creation, we can also believe that the Trinity is still at work in us and through us, bringing the light of perfect love into dark places, peace into our confusion and chaos, and life where everything seems empty.

The Word of God continues to speak the Trinity’s creative Word to us. It is the message of Jesus which proclaims love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and every good thing that our hearts, our lives, our world needs in these dark, chaotic and empty times. We find this Word in the message of Jesus, the stories of the Bible, the letters of the early Christians who were living in this light, peace and life, sharing what they had found with other believers and helping them to live in the reality of the work of the Trinity in their own dark times. The Bible isn’t just old bedtime stories or information about God. It is the creative Word of God, proclaimed by the Speaker and carried by the Breath into our lives to create light in the darkness, peace in the chaos, and life in the emptiness.

What might it be like for the Trinity to be at work in you, creating light in the darkness you might be experiencing, peace in the chaos or confusion that might be going on within or around you, or life in any emptiness you might be struggling with? I don’t argue about how much time it took God to create the world, or how long a Jewish ‘day’ is anymore because we can miss the main point of the Genesis 1 story. This Creation account tells us that we have a God who speaks a Word of grace, peace and hope into our lives, and whose Breath carries this Word into our hearts, our lives and our world to create light and peace and life, just like in the beginning.

More to think about & discuss:

  • What is your favourite thing about Creation? For example, sunsets or sunrises, autumn leaves, newborn babies, the beach, or something else? Spend some time discussing or reflecting on why you like them so much…
  • Do you ever wonder where everything came from? What does the Genesis 1 Creation Story say to you about God who created it all? (again, please don’t start discussing how long God took or what a Hebrew ‘day’ might mean; you can talk about that another day…)
  • What are your thoughts about finding the Trinity in Genesis 1 as Speaker, Word and Breath? Does it make sense to you? Is there anything about it you’re not sure about?
  • Before God started the work of creation, there was darkness, chaos and emptiness. Where can we still see these in our times? In the global situation? In our own lives personally?
  • In Genesis 1 the Triune God creates light from darkness, peace from chaos, and life from emptiness. Discuss or reflect on the idea that God is still doing the same today. Is that easy or more difficult for you to trust? Why or why not?
  • Where are you experiencing darkness, chaos or confusion, or emptiness in your own life? What might god be saying to you through his Word to create light, peace, or life in you? In someone else’s life?
  • At some stage, go for a walk outside. Look at and listen to creation. Wonder where it all came from as you reflect on the Genesis 1 story. If God can create all this beauty and wonder from darkness, chaos and emptiness, what might God’s Word and Breath be able to create into you?

You can find a video version of this message at https://youtu.be/dSTlQc50vGo

God bless!

 

From Nothing (Romans 4:1-5,13-17)

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Whenever people make something, we need something to make it with. For example, when I make breakfast, I need cereal, toast or juice. If I was to make a picture, I would need paper, paints and something to be the subject of my artwork. If I was going to make a cake, I would need ingredients such as flour, milk, eggs, sugar, and so on. If I was going to make a Lego model, I would need the bricks and a good set of instructions to complete it.

Our human experience tells us that if we are going to make something, it needs to come from something else. You can’t just make something from nothing – it just isn’t part of what we know.

But could you imagine being able to make something from nothing? What do you think it would be like to be able to think of something and then bring it into existence when it hadn’t existed before?

This is the creative power we can see God working throughout the Bible. From the beginning, God created the world out of nothing. The actual text of Genesis 1 talks about the earth being ‘formless and empty’ (NLT and NIV) but the idea is still the same. In the beginning, God created light and life and everything that exists where previously there had been nothing.

We can see God’s creative power at work throughout the biblical story. We can see it in Abraham and Sarah, who were well past the age of having children. However, God brought life out of Sarah’s dead womb and gave them Isaac, whose descendants became the nation of Israel. We can see it in the Old Testament stories when God saved his people. He took hopeless situations, broken and messed up people, and gave them deliverance, freedom, security and a future. Stories like Moses, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, David and more all show us how ‘God brings the dead back to life and … creates new things out of nothing’ (Romans 4:17 NLT).

We see God’s creative power most clearly in Jesus. Throughout his ministry, Jesus brought life out of death and created new things from nothing by healing the sick, purifying the unclean, forgiving the guilty and raising the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was the greatest display of God’s faithfulness to his promises and his life-giving power as he defeated the power of death over humanity by raising his Son to new, eternal life. When we look at the empty tomb of Jesus, we can see how God brings life out of death. God reaches into the deepest and darkest places of human existence to speak promises of life, hope, love and light. These promises do what they say. They raised Jesus to new life, once and for all showing that God’s creative power is stronger than death, stronger than nothingness, and brings into existence a new reality of light and hope and joy and peace and love and life! God creates all these and more where previously nothing had exited at all.

We have these stories so we can also receive the promises of God through them. If God could bring life from death and create new things from nothing for the people of the Bible, then he can do the same for us. In a world which tells us that you can’t make something from nothing, the gospel of Jesus tells us that God can do for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and that God has the creative power to bring new life from what is dead, and to create good where there has been nothing at all.

This is the good news of salvation for us in Jesus. When we were dead in our sin, God created the new life of Jesus within us by the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel (Ephesians 2:4,5). When we were distant from God and turned away from him, God spoke his promises into our cold, hard hearts to create something new and living. The good news of the redemption of Jesus is that God creates new life in us where previously there was nothing through his promises of forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Through the faith the Holy Spirit gives, we receive what God promises us by believing them. That’s why Paul writes, ‘the promise is received by faith.’ (Romans 4:16 NLT). When we hear God’s promises of forgiveness and new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus for us, the Holy Spirit creates the faith that we need to receive exactly what God promises us – forgiveness and new life as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased.

God continues his creative work which he began at creation by bringing into being things that haven’t to this point existed in us. When we have no hope, God creates hope. Where there is no joy, God creates joy. Where there is no love, God creates his infinite and perfect love within us through Jesus. When we have nothing good within us, God creates the goodness of Jesus within us through the good news of Jesus and the creative work of the Holy Spirit. Where there is no life and we just feel empty inside, our God ‘who creates new things out of nothing’ creates new, eternal life through his promises of the gospel of Jesus. If there is a part of our lives which looks like there is nothing or something is missing, our God who spoke all that we see into existence at the beginning of creation can speak whatever we need into existence so we can live in the reality of his creative power and love.

This is why it is so important for us to be listening to God’s promises in his Word. God ‘brings the dead to life and … creates new things out of nothing’ through his promises. When we receive those promises by believing them and trusting them, we also receive what is promised. That is why this Lent, and throughout my ministry, I want to help people find the promises God makes to you in his Word so you can hear them, you can believe them, and you can live in the reality of God’s creative power in your lives.

I know that it makes human sense to say that you can’t make something from nothing. God’s word, however, tells me something different. It tells me that God has the power to do what I can’t – that’s why he’s God and we’re not. At creation, in Abraham and especially in his Son, Jesus, God brought the dead back to life and created new things out of nothing. He can do the same for us through the promises in his word by the Holy Spirit’s power.

So what is missing in your life? And how might God’s promises to you in Jesus create what’s missing in you?

Heaven Comes Down (Revelation 21:1-6)

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What do you think heaven will be like?

There are lots of ways people answer this question. If people believe in a life after death – and it’s important to acknowledge that an increasing number of people in our society think that there is nothing after we die – then our picture of what that life looks like can vary a lot from person to person.

When I was growing up in the church, the picture I had of heaven was a kingdom in the sky where we would be living in clouds, singing old hymns with a pipe organ in a vast heavenly choir. To be honest, as a teenager it didn’t sound like the kind of eternity I was hoping for. In fact, if heaven was singing old hymns for ever, I wasn’t actually sure I wanted to be a part of it.

Thankfully, Revelation 21:1-6 gives us a very different picture of heaven to what I had as a teenager. It tells us that in eternity ‘there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain’ (v4) because the brokenness of life in this world will be gone for ever. This is an eternity that we can all look forward to, as pain and suffering of every kind is eradicated once and for all.

What can be challenging for those of us who have grown up with the ‘heaven in the clouds’ picture of eternity is where John tells us we will spend the afterlife. Instead of being taken up to God’s kingdom in the sky, John says quite the opposite. He doesn’t see people going up into heaven. John sees heaven come down to earth.

In Revelation 21:2, John writes ‘I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven’ (NLT). He then goes on to tell us,

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.’ (v3 NLT)

John locates our eternity on earth, not in the clouds. I understand that the Bible gives the impression of heaven being ‘up there’ in passages such as Jesus’ ascension (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:9) and when Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica about Jesus’ return on the last day (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17). I don’t believe that these writers contradict each other because sometimes the Bible describes the same truth from different points of view. John’s perspective, as he relates his vision of eternity to us, is that God’s kingdom will descend to earth and God will establish his eternal reign, restoring the world to the way God intended it from the beginning.

In the next two chapters of Revelation, John gives us a fuller picture of what eternity will be like. If you’re interested in his vision of heaven, please read Revelation chapters 21 and 22 and let me know if there’s anything in there you would like to discuss or aren’t sure about. For now, though, I just want to focus on the idea that heaven comes down to us and what that means for us as followers of Jesus as we live a life of faith.

For some Christians who have held to a ‘kingdom in the sky’ picture of eternity, the world doesn’t matter. They can see it as a broken and evil place which God will eventually destroy. This idea of the material world being corrupt and sinful has lead people to wrongly think that we don’t need to take care of the world and we can do nothing as we wait for God to take us somewhere better. So over the course of history, some ‘Christians’ have sat around, waiting for heaven to arrive, letting the world get worse and worse.

If, however, we take the message of John’s revelation seriously that God is making all things new (v5), then we need to start looking at the world around us through different eyes. If God’s plan of salvation includes restoring all of creation to its original condition, then we have a part of play in God’s plan. Jesus announced God’s coming kingdom at the start of his public ministry (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:15). Jesus’ miracles were evidence that God’s coming kingdom was breaking into the world through Jesus to make things right again. Every time we pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we ask that God’s kingdom would come to us and our world (Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2). The coming of God’s kingdom isn’t just something that will happen at the end of time, which is the way some people read Revelation. God’s kingdom comes to us in Jesus now. He is the presence of the living God among us (Matthew 1:22,23) who makes his home with us (both John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3 use the same word when talking about God ‘tabernacling’ or dwelling with us).

While we wait for Jesus to return to establish his eternal kingdom, the heavenly city of the new Jerusalem, we have an important role to play in God’s mission to restore the world to its original condition. God’s kingdom of heaven is coming into the world right now, and one of the ways it does that is through us, the body of Christ. God is calling us to participate with him in making all things new as we live like citizens of this kingdom. In Revelation, John gives us a picture of our eternal future. As we wait for its fulfilment, God calls us to live like this is where we have our home, this is where we belong, and this is what we have to look forward to. Our job as the people of God is not to sit around, waiting for him to take us to heaven. Instead, God saves us and calls us to be citizens of the new Jerusalem, God’s presence in the world, making all things new, just like God intended life to be in Genesis 1.

How can you be part of God’s work in the world this week through what you say and do? How can you work with God in bringing his heavenly city into your homes, where you work, your schools and universities, your sporting or social groups, or wherever God might lead you? As people whose home is the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, we are part of its coming when we live now like we will live in eternity, trusting in God’s goodness and grace to us in Jesus and loving others in the same way he loves us. When we live in faith and love, we are part of God’s coming kingdom and we share in its coming reality now and for ever.

More to think about:

  • What do you think heaven will be like? Spend some time reflecting on or discussing your thoughts. If you are more artistic, you might like to draw or paint what you imagine heaven to be like…
  • What surprises you about what John sees in Revelation 21:1-6? What doesn’t seem to make sense?
  • What is similar to what you imagine heaven to be like? What is different?
  • What is you reaction to the picture of eternity being spent on a restored earth which God has made new where life will be what he intended from the beginning? What do you like about that picture? What doesn’t sit comfortably with you?
  • If this is how we can view eternity, how might it change the way you see the world around you? Is it worth restoring? Share your thoughts on why you think that…
  • If we will spend eternity in a world which God has restored to its original condition, how might you be able to work with God in making ‘all things new’… in your home & family? in your paid or unpaid work? in your relationships? in your church? in the wider community? in other ways…?

God’s Powerful Word (Genesis 1:1-5)

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Many Christians have spent a lot of time arguing over the meaning of the creation story in Genesis 1. Some believe that God created the world in seven 24-hour days. Others understand the story more as ancient people trying to describe something God did over millions of years. As we hear the opening words from Genesis 1 as the Old Testament reading for the First Sunday after the Epiphany, I’m not really interested in arguing in favour of one interpretation or the other. Instead, Genesis 1 can teach us a lot about God and the way he is at work in our world, no matter how we may interpret it.

One of the most important things we can learn about God from Genesis 1 is that when God speaks, things happen. God’s word is so powerful that it has the ability to do exactly what it says. When God said, ‘Let there be light,’ that was exactly what happened – light came into existence and to give warmth to a dark and cold universe. As each day unfolded, God’s word continued to work its dynamic power, speaking the sky, dry land, trees and plants, and all living things into existence. The pattern is the same throughout the story: God speaks and whatever he says comes into being. This is because when the Holy Spirit is at work through the dynamic word of God, things happen.

We also see this in the ministry of Jesus. The Apostle John reflected the words of Genesis 1 in the opening chapter of his gospel when he wrote,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NIV)

In these words, John points to Jesus as the Word which God spoke at the beginning of time to bring everything into existence. This Word had now entered into creation in the form of a living, breathing person. As the Word-made-flesh, Jesus is the walking, talking Word of God who entered into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit to restore the original goodness of creation.

We can see this dynamic power of God’s word in Jesus as he spoke a new reality into existence through his earthly ministry. For example, at the start of Mark chapter 2, Jesus told a man who could not walk that his sins were forgiven. This was considered blasphemy by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day because they believed that only God could forgive sins. To show them that God had given him the authority to forgive sins, Jesus told the man to stand up, pick up his mat, and go home. To everyone’s amazement, that is exactly what happened! What Jesus said came into existence through God’s powerful word.

In this and every other miracle during Jesus’ earthly ministry, we see Holy Spirit at work through God’s powerful word. When Jesus told blind people to open their eyes, they were able to see. When he told lepers to show themselves to the priests, they are made clean. When he told the dead to come out of their tombs, they were raised to new life. And when Jesus told sinners that they were forgiven, the Holy Spirit worked through the powerful word of God to free them from their guilt, and make them righteous and good.

This dynamic word of God through which the Holy Spirit works is still with us today. It is so important for us to be listening to God through his word in the Bible because that is the main way the Holy Spirit operates in our lives. Just like the Holy Spirit worked through God’s word at the beginning of time to bring creation into existence, and just like the Holy Spirit worked through the words of Jesus to heal the sick, raise the dead and forgive sinners, so the Holy Spirit is still at work in our lives through God’s word. When we read the Bible and hear God’s promises to us in Jesus, the Holy Spirit works in us to bring into existence exactly what we read. When the Word of God promises us we are the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:27, that is who the Spirit makes us. When the Word of God promises us that we are a holy nation and a kingdom of priests in 1 Peter 2:9, that is who the Holy Spirit is making us. When the Word of God promises us in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that we are a new creation in Christ, that the old has gone and the new is here, the Spirit of God is continuing the work of creation by doing exactly what it says – making us new creations in Christ Jesus.

This Word of God is not just a written word that we read. It is also a word that we speak to each other and hear from each other. We do this each and every week when our pastor says to us that we are forgiven in Jesus’ name. Through the authority of Jesus which he has given to his church, when our pastor speaks God’s forgiveness, grace and love to us, that is exactly what God works in us – his forgiveness, grace and love.

This is not just something God gives to pastors. As members of God’s nation of royal priests, we are all able to speak the dynamic Word of God to each other in the Holy Spirit’s power. When we speak words of peace to each other, the same Spirit of God that was at work at the beginning of creation works through our words to create peace in the hearts and minds of those who receive our words. When we speak words of grace to each other, the Holy Spirit uses our words to extend God’s grace through us to the people we are speaking to. When we speak words of forgiveness to each other, the Spirit of God frees people from the wrongs they have done and gives them new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the same way that God brought everything into existence at the start of creation through his powerful word, when we speak God’s grace, love and blessing to others, God’s powerful word is at work through us and in us to create light, beauty and life in other people.

There are times when it can seem like words are empty and without meaning. When we read the story of creation in Genesis 1, however, we see that God’s word is powerful enough to do exactly what it says. God’s powerful word is still at work bringing light to dark places, giving warmth to cold hearts, and life where there is nothing at all. As we read God’s word, hearing his promises of grace and love, and when we speak God’s words of forgiveness and new life to each other, the Holy Spirit is still working in us and through us to do exactly what God says.