The Most Important Verse in the Bible
October 6, 2022 | Brian Bill
On Christmas Eve in 1968, in what was the most watched television broadcast at the time, the crew of Apollo 8 circled the dark side of the moon and headed toward home. As their tiny capsule raced through space, they saw the glistening blue and white hues of earth fill their window. In that majestic moment they were struck with awe and wonder.
They did not quote Einstein, Shakespeare, or Darwin. Taking turns, the three reverently recited Genesis 1:1-10 word for word from a Bible supplied by the Gideon’s. Billions of people around the world heard the Word of God echoing from outer space, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
This image was eventually turned into a postage stamp with the words, “In the beginning, God…” at the bottom. The chances of us having a stamp with a Bible verse on it today are about the same as seeing a 6-cent stamp again.
In reporting on this big event, I came across this sentence from an article in National Geographic: “The Apollo 8 mission captured a photograph of earth from space that forever changed the way we saw ourselves.” While that might have been one of the benefits, I submit the wonder of creation should forever change the way we see the Creator. Our text today is Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Here’s what I’m hoping we learn together: Genesis has a big beginning because God is a big God.
Last weekend, we kicked off our series called, “Back to the Beginning” and established this truth: “To move forward in our faith, we must go back to the beginning.” How many of you have been using the Edgewood Bible Reading Plan to read Genesis? Many of us have also been reading the first chapter of Genesis every day. In addition, we’re encouraging everyone to read the entire Book of Genesis in one sitting before Thanksgiving. This week I learned it will take about 3.5 hours to do this so I’m going to amend our assignment by suggesting it would be fine to listen to an audio reading of Genesis.
The first sentence of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible is simple and straightforward, yet complex and compelling. It is easy to understand and yet its meaning is inexhaustible. It is both majestic and mysterious. It is factual, and yet something we believe by faith.
The opening verse of the Bible is controversial in our culture today: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Skeptics, atheists, evolutionists, unbelievers, and doubters of all varieties have taken aim against the opening chapters of Genesis, arguing that it is absurd to believe in the existence of God, a six-day Creation, a literal Adam and Eve, a talking serpent, a Garden of Eden, original sin, Noah and the Ark, a worldwide flood, and the Tower of Babel.
One pastor put it like this:
“Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into these attacks to a significant degree. Because we are intimidated by the cacophony of criticism…it has been easier for us to keep silent so we won’t be mocked or to make a series of compromises so that we can live at peace with the unbelieving majority…there is no need to make compromises with unbelievers. It never works, it never helps, and they won’t be convinced by our compromising anyway.”
Since Genesis 1:1 is true, Ray Pritchard lists seven beliefs which are dismantled by these opening words – atheism, materialism, polytheism, humanism, fatalism, pantheism, and evolution: “Naturalistic evolution as a worldview is diametrically opposed to biblical faith. It is pagan at its root and evil in its fruit.”
We could say it this way. If Genesis is not true, then the whole Bible is suspect. If you can’t trust what is written here, how can you trust the rest of Scripture? A.W. Pink refers to Genesis as the “seed plot of the Bible.” If you discount Adam and Eve, how can you be sure Christ is real?
Genesis either explains it all or it does not explain it at all. You either believe it or you don’t. If you don’t, you can’t believe anything else in the Bible. If you believe it, you can believe everything else the Bible teaches. According to Psalm 14:1, only “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
While I’ve not read it yet, my plan is to read Erwin Lutzer’s new book called, “No Reason to Hide: Standing for Christ in a Collapsing Culture.” Here’s the first sentence from the summary: “In a culture with an ever-narrowing definition of tolerance, Christians can no longer stay silent about the divide between the Bible’s truth and the world’s lies.”
I see two main pillars of truth in this passage – God is eternal, and God created everything.
1. God is eternal.
Notice we are not given any arguments for the existence of God. The fact of His being is simply stated in an uncompromising way: “In the beginning, God…” The Bible is dogmatic that God exists and gives evidence of His existence everywhere. As Creator, God existed before His creation.
Everything else in the universe has a beginning or a cause. God alone has always been, is always, and will always be. He alone is self-existent. As one pastor put it, “He is the first cause, Himself uncaused.” When Moses asked God a question about who he should say is sending him to Pharoah in Exodus 3:14, the answer was bold and brief: “I am who I am.” The Almighty’s answer is, “I be,” or, “I exist.”
God has always been and will always be. God made time and yet He is before time because He is timeless. Once Augustine was asked what God was doing before He created the world. He thought for a moment and then replied, “He was creating Hell for people who ask questions like that.”
When I see the word “beginning,” I think of the line from Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music (not that I make a habit of watching musicals – I always told our daughters I like musicals, it’s just all the singing and dancing I don’t care for). Anyway, here’s the line: “Let’s start at the very beginning. A very good place to start.”
In Hebrew, the word “beginning” is “beresheit,” which means, “best, chief, first fruits, highest, or most excellent.” This word is connected to the reign of a King, which is how most Jewish prayers begin: “Blessed are you God, our God, King of the Universe.” Some have found spiritual significance in this opening word by looking at the individual Hebrew letters which represent words like “son” and “covenant.” I find it fascinating that the first letters of the Hebrew word for “beginning” form the basis of the Hebrew word “bara,” which means “to create.”
This name for “God” is Elohim and is in the plural, which is early evidence for the Trinity, which is more fully developed later. The plural God “created,” which is in the singular, shows God is one and yet He eternally exists in three persons. Verse 2 speaks of the “Spirit of God” and Genesis 1:26 says: “Then God [Elohim] said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’”
Elohim is intensive, which indicates God’s fullness of power. The beginning letters El signify He is the strong God. He is majestic and mighty. This name is used in other passages to indicate at least five other titles and roles.
- Creator – Genesis 5:1: “When God [Elohim] created man, He made him in the likeness of God [Elohim].”
- King – Psalm 47:8: “God [Elohim] reigns over the nations; God [Elohim] sits on His holy throne.”
- Judge – Psalm 50:6: “The heavens declare His righteousness, for God [Elohim] Himself is judge!”
- The Lord – Psalm 86:12: “I give thanks to you, O Lord my God [Elohim], with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”
- Savior – Hosea 13:4: “You know no God [Elohim] but me, and besides me there is no savior.”
He was there in the beginning because He had no beginning, and He will be there in the end because He also has no end.
For God to be present in the beginning, He had to exist before the beginning of time, which means God is outside of time. He was there in the beginning because He had no beginning, and He will be there in the end because He also has no end. Psalm 90:2 says it like this: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” The universe is not eternal; only God is.
Steven Cole writes:
“Consider just the enormity of the universe. If you could travel at the speed of light, it would take you 8 minutes to get from the earth to the sun. To go from the sun to the center of the Milky Way would take about 33,000 years. The Milky Way belongs to a group of some 20 galaxies known as the Local Group. To cross the Local Group, you’d have to travel at the speed of light for 2 million years. The Local Group belongs to the Virgo Cluster, part of the even larger Local Supercluster, which would take you 500 million light years to cross. To cross the entire known universe would take you about 20 billion light years!”
A.W. Pink points out, “false religions and human philosophies begin with man and, in some cases, seek to work up to God. But the Bible begins with God as the one who is the beginning, the One who made all that is. We must, in all our thinking, begin with God.”
That reminds me of some scientists who got together and decided they no longer needed God. They picked the smartest one to tell God they were done with Him. The man declared, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so don’t bother us anymore.”
God listened patiently and then said, “Very well, but before I leave you alone let’s have a man-making contest. We’ll do it just like I did back in the day with Adam.” The scientist said, “Sure, no problem” as he bent down to grab a handful of dirt. God quickly said, “What are you doing? Go get your own dirt!”
E.V. Hill once preached at a Promise Keepers event in Chicago for 40 minutes on just two words: “God is.” He said it over and over. He shouted it and whispered it. He proclaimed “God is” over and over and dared anyone to deny it.
Genesis has a big beginning because God is a big God.
2. God created everything.
The second part of verse 1 is profound and yet simple enough for everyone to understand: “God created the heavens and the earth.” This is also stated in Nehemiah 9:6: “You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.”
The word “created” in the Bible is only used with God as its subject. It means, “to create something new.” Theologians often quote the Latin phrase, ex nihilo, which means, “out of nothing” or “from nothing.” As we will see in the rest of the chapter, God simply spoke, and it was so. He created the world by His word. We get more clarity from Hebrews 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
The phrase, “heavens and earth” is a merism, which is two polar opposites which include everything in between. In other words, “In the beginning, God made everything.” Matthew Henry says God created the “frame and the furniture of the universe.” The heavens and the earth include the invisible as well as the visible, realms unseen and seen. The universe is filled with great variety, beauty, exactness, power, order, and mystery. Elohim created the entirety of the universe. There is nothing made that He has not made. Let’s walk through Genesis 1.
“And God made the expanse…” (7)
“…And God made the two great lights.” (16)
“So God created the great sea creatures…” (21)
“And God made the beasts of the earth…” (25)
“And God saw everything that He had made…” (31)
My good friend who is a pastor at a local church, has written a couple hundred deep devotionals from Genesis. I can’t wait for these to be published. Here’s part of one: “In ancient times gods were thought to have zip codes. Like crossing state lines where speed limits and laws might change, so the ancient mind believed one god had jurisdiction over this plot of land, and another god over that. God, however, starts out His book by ridding the reader of such a notion: “From the highest to the lowest, it’s all Mine.’”
Elohim brought design out of disorder when He created the cosmos out of chaos. He birthed beauty out of barrenness, and He continues to do the same in lives today. As Proverbs 16:4 says, God created everything on purpose for His purposes: “The Lord has made everything for its purpose.” Let’s personalize this. Because God created you, you matter to Him, and He has plans and purposes for you.
According to Psalm 96:5, only God creates, which is just another way of saying that only God is the Creator: “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.”
Ray Pritchard writes: “God has left His fingerprints all over this world…every rock, every twig, every river, and every mountain bears His signature. He signed His name to everything he made. The earth is marked ‘Made By God’ in letters so big that no one fails to see it.”
I came across this paragraph, but I can’t remember where I first read it:
“Think about the amazing balance God has put in creation! Our planet is perfectly designed to sustain life. If it were closer to the sun, we would burn up. If it were farther from the sun, we would freeze. If the earth were a few miles smaller in diameter, the density of its atmosphere would be so thin that the earth would not retain enough heat to sustain animal or human life. The earth’s waters would freeze to such a depth that all other forms of life would perish. But if earth were a few miles larger in diameter, the air would become so dense that too much heat would be absorbed, resulting in the death of all living things.”
As evidence of the centrality of the doctrine of creation in the early church, the two main creeds establish this pillar of truth in their opening lines. From the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth…” And from the Nicene Creed: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
We see the three dimensions in Genesis 1:1: Time (“in the beginning”), space (“God created the heavens”), and matter (“and the earth”).
The first verse of the Bible gives us the answers to the two big questions of origins:
- How did the universe begin?
- Who is behind it?
When we compromise what the Bible says about creation, we invariably end up confused about our origins, our purpose in life, and our destiny in death.
As we mentioned last weekend, Genesis describes where we came from (origins), why we’re here (purpose), and where we’re going (destiny). When we compromise what the Bible says about creation, we invariably end up confused about our origins, our purpose in life, and our destiny in death.
God is the central subject of the first sentence in the Bible and is referred to by name 31 times in the 31 verses of Genesis 1 [give a few examples]! That reminds me of the opening line from one of the most popular books ever written by a pastor: “It’s not about you.”
I quote from my pastor friend again: “Most primarily, we must see ourselves within a story not our own…most fundamentally, we are called to be observers before we are called to be participants. The central character of the story will soon be introduced. It is Him that we are tasked primarily with watching…our role, then, is not first to develop our personal storyline, but to follow His.”
I like how another pastor distilled it down to one sentence: “So the choice is, either the eternal, intelligent, all-powerful God created the universe and everything in it, or it came about from senseless chance acting on matter that has eternally existed.”
Genesis has a big beginning because God is a big God.
- God is eternal.
- God created everything.
The First Call to Worship
I’ve been contemplating a quote from A.W. Tozer: “What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”
Consider Romans 1:20: “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” We can believe in the existence of God and understand many of our Creator’s attributes simply by looking at the creation He created. We are without excuse should we ever say there’s no evidence for the existence of God.
This is also stated in Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork.” The skies are shouting His glory and the heavens proclaim His holy handiwork.
In July, the entire world was gripped by the stunning images from the James Webb Space telescope. I came across this paragraph from an article in Christianity Today published shortly after.
“There are approximately a trillion galaxies out there, each encompassing an average of 100 to 200 billion stars… our home—this pale blue dot called Earth—has not stopped shrinking in comparative stature. Now it is found to be a mid-sized planet orbiting a mid-rank star in one galaxy out of a trillion.”
All this should draw us to worship as we consider the wonderful work of God’s creative genius. God is beyond and behind His beautiful creation. Let’s look to the cosmos and be humbled and let’s look at the cross and see God’s holiness on display.
Last week we ended with a call to worship as we considered how the Book of Revelation fulfills Genesis. In my preparation for this message, I came across a post called, “The First Call to Worship: Twelve Attributes of God in One Verse.” I spent time worshipping Him for who He is and for what He has done in creation. Here’s a summary in one sentence: “God is one spirit, eternal, infinite, unchangeable, self-existent, living, and immortal in His being, the omnipotent, omniscient Creator and Sovereign of all things in heaven and on earth, of all things visible and invisible.”
This is the God we meet in the first verse of the Bible. And as such, we are called to worship Him like the living creatures in heaven are doing right now according to Revelation 4:11: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” If that is the response of the creatures in heaven as they contemplate who God is and what He has done in creation, then what ought to be our response as His creatures on earth?
Ecclesiastes 12:1 says: “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.” Since God created everything, He created you, which means you must answer to Him. Acts 17:24 tells us God is not only the Creator of everything; He is also Lord of all: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth.” As a result, we’re told in Acts 17:30 that “He commands all people everywhere to repent.” Instead of hiding in shame like Adam and Eve did when they sinned, surrender to Jesus Christ right now and ask Him to save you from your sins.
What we believe about the doctrine of Creation affects everything else we believe. Since God created us, then…
- We didn’t evolve.
- Our bodies belong to Him. It’s not “my body, my choice.”
- The preborn must be protected.
- Everyone has dignity and value. Everyone matters, regardless of race, color, age, disability, politics, class, gender…even Bears fans.
- Our gender is designed and assigned by the Creator.
- Everything we own is a gift from God. We’re called to manage our time, talents, and treasures for kingdom purposes.
- Our lives have meaning and purpose. God designed and created everyone and everything to put His glory on display.
- God has authority over our lives, and we are accountable to Him. If eternal matter plus impersonal chance caused all that is, we don’t have to submit to it and repent of our sin. But if a personal God created everything by His word, a God who is awesome in holiness, then we are accountable to Him.
- We’re made to know God. Ecclesiastes 3:11: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart.”
- We must live our lives to the glory of God. He’s #1, and there is no #2.
In 1971, Astronaut James Irwin was the eighth person to walk on the moon. He described how this experience changed his life: “I felt the power of God as I’d never felt it before.” This transformed him from being a nominal Christian to a sold-out follower of Christ. He was so impacted by this encounter with God, he resigned from NASA within a year, and for 20 years went around the world preaching the gospel.
Irwin was quoted as saying, “God decided that He would send His Son Jesus Christ to the blue planet, and it’s through faith in Jesus Christ that we can relate to God…As I travel around, I tell people the answer is Jesus Christ; that Jesus walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon.”
The book of Genesis begins with a beginning and ends with an ending. Genesis 50:26: “They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” God created each of us and one day we’ll be cremated or put in a coffin. Make sure you believe Jesus died in your place and rose again. Repent of your sins and receive Him as your Savior. Don’t delay. Do it today.