Texts: Gen 1.1-2.4, Ps 104, Col 1.15-20, John 1.1-5
1. Of the Maker himself
Let’s start with Gen 1.1: “In the beginning, God.” Stop right there. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever he had formed the earth or the world, from everlasting to everlasting he is God (Ps 90.2). Who is God? We know his name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What is this God? He is the perfect One, great beyond measure, lacking in nothing, full of being, joy, and life. In the beginning was this God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. In addition to him, alongside him, in competition with him, arrayed against him … there was nothing at all. Nothing. And you know what? God was “ok” (!) without galaxies, and oceans, and daisies, and men. In fact, to misquote Mrs. Darcy, he was “completely, and perfectly, and incandescently happy.” For God is the Holy and Happy Trinity, and the Holy and Happy Trinity is God, the great, glad, glorious God who sent me here to preach his gospel. Before the beginning, when there was nothing but himself, he wasn’t alone. For God is the Father who delights in his Son, and the Son who rejoices before his Father, and the Spirit who enlivens the joy of the Father and the Son and perfects their peace in a bond of unbreakable unity and love. Nothing was needed to perfect this joy; nothing could be added to enrich this happiness; no creature had to be made in order to complete the infinite ocean of being and reality and life that the God who is, eternally is. “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God!”
Do you know the movie The Bachelor? At the end the guy who plays Robin in Batman tells Renee Zellweger: “You complete me.” When God finished creating the world, he didn’t look at it and say: “You complete me.” There’s not an instant in God’s eternity when he isn’t already complete in the fullness of his being and mirth and life as Father, Son, and Spirit. This means – contrary to what many in the Church teach, and to what each of us believes in the dark recesses of our flesh – this means God did not create us because he needed us, and he does not need us now. We are not the center of God’s universe; if he were hungry, he would not tell us (Ps 50.12). He does not exist to serve us; we exist to serve him. He does not need us to complete his joy, but we know nothing but sorrow until he completes us in himself. This is a bitter pill to swallow for a Selfie-taking, self-absorbed people. But until you embrace the humbling truth of the entire enoughness, the perfect completeness, the complete perfection, the radiant joy of God the Three in One apart from his creatures and quite apart from you, you will never come to have any dealings with the true and living God. But once you do swallow it, bitter as it might taste going down, you will find that the truth of God’s completeness warms your whole being from the very bottom of your soul. For being “needed” is a petty thing indeed, and in the gospel we hear the almost unbelievable news that we are something far, far greater than “needed.” We are loved.
If God the Trinity didn’t need us, why did he make us? In the Bible, there are basically two answers to this question. The first is in Ps 19.1: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In himself, our God is already fully clothed with splendor and majesty and glory (Ps 104.1). That’s why, the night before he suffered for us, God’s incarnate Son prayed to his Father: “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17.5). He doesn’t need our tattered praises to patch up the robes of his glory. Instead, he created creatures out of nothing at all, so that we too could know and experience and declare his immense glory. All God’s critters have a place in the choir, some sing low, some sing higher: but together, we sing the high praises of God and declare his glory just by being the creatures he made us to be. When St John was given to see the courts of God’s glory, he saw & heard the elders and the angels saying with a loud voice: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!” (Rev 5.12). But then he says this: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Rev 5.13). Everything exists to sing this song. You exist to sing this song.
I hinted at the second answer to the question before: and that is, that God in his boundless goodness and huge-hearted generosity and immense love didn’t begrudge the gift of being to we who are not. God is so great that he didn’t jealously possess the treasure of being and life; he didn’t cling to it and say, “My precious!” Rather, he who alone is secure in his completeness and rich in mercy and great in love freely and generously resolved to give us nothings a share in the gift of being and life. He did not create us out of nothing because he needed us, but because he loved us even when we were not. Creation isn’t the forced result of necessity, it’s an outburst of delight. “And God saw that it was good … very good!” “For the LORD delights in you” (Isa 62.4). “He takes pleasure in his people” (Ps 149). “He rejoices over you with gladness” (Zeph 3.17). It’s Father’s love that summoned creatures out of nothing into his presence by his Word, as it is Father’s love that calls his chosen ones out of the nothingness of sin into the new creation of grace through his Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.
The first thing to say on this score, is that we can’t even begin to imagine – let alone understand – the awesomeness of what God has done for us by creating the heavens and the earth. The LORD once asked his servant Job, who’d begun to think he knew more about being God than God himself, this question: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38.4-7). Rather like Job, I wasn’t there when God laid the foundation of the earth; and though I heartily wish I could’ve heard the angelic choirs shout for joy as light dawned upon the first day of creation, I didn’t hear it, and neither did Einstein, and neither did you. The creation of the world is shrouded in mystery; it is high, and I cannot attain it. In our ignorance, the safest route is to let God himself teach us in this matter, to hush our mouths and open our ears and listen to him in his Word.
Our teaching comes to this: God created everything out of nothing by his Word and through his Spirit.
Let’s begin with the “out of nothing” bit. Isa 44.24: “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” When God created the world, he acted alone. For there was absolutely nothing there at all besides him. Heb 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.” When a human artist sets about sculpting a work of some kind, the clay he’s going to fashion is already there. He “makes,” but in the strict sense of the word, he does not “create.” When God set about the work of creation, he didn’t just fashion some pre-existing stuff that was already there alongside him. He didn’t go to a cosmic lumberyard to get pre-fab materials. He started from complete scratch, that is, with literally nothing at all. And because he is great in wisdom and power and skill, he did this effortlessly. That is why the Bible’s creation story is so very different from ancient near eastern sagas of creation. There was no primordial struggle for existence. God didn’t have to tame the raging of the sea, or kill the chaos monsters, or even break a sweat in order to create the universe. He just spoke the word, and it came to be. That’s why the Bible begins with a sentence that is majestic and incomprehensible and glorious in its simplicity: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1).
Did God the Father work alone? No, the works of the Three are undivided; what the Father does, that the Son does likewise (John 5.19). The Spirit is the one who gives us life and makes us holy; but he is sent to do this great work by the Father and the Son, and he does it by bringing us through the Son to the Father. The Son alone became incarnate; the Son alone shed his blood for us; but the Father sent him to do it, and the Spirit anointed him to carry out all his redeeming work as Messiah. In the Creed we say, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,” and it is true that the Father is in a special sense the Maker of all things, because he is the origin-less origin of all reality. All things come from him; he is in the strictest sense, Father. But in the beginning, with the Father, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; and all things were made through him, and without him not one single created thing was made (John 1.1-3). Paul teaches the same thing in our NT lesson: “By Jesus Christ, all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things were made through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1.16-7). Now isn’t this an awesome thing? The One who became a zygote in the womb of a peasant girl named Mary was there in the beginning, making angels and mountains and oceans and men with his Father (Heb 1.2-3). The Spirit was there too, working hand-in-hand with the Father and the Son, hovering over the face of the deep (Gen 1.2), giving life to all things, bringing peace and joy and harmony to the symphony of creation, furnishing beauty upon the works of God’s hands. For it is by sending forth his Spirit that creatures are created, and he renews the face of the earth (Ps 104.30).
In short, everything that lives and moves and has being, lives and moves and has being because this God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, called it into being out of nothing (cf. Rom 4.17). Nothing that is would be apart from him; everything that is depends upon his generosity to uphold it in being and preserve it from the abyss of nothingness from which he summoned it; everything that is as it ought to be, everything that abides in the order, place, and station that God appointed for it, is good (Gen 1), for it forms part of the masterpiece fashioned by his love, wisdom, art, and power; everything that is belongs to him alone by proprietary right; everything that is, oceans and planets and mice and men, exists to sing the praises of his glory.
3. The joy of being small
How do we apply the truth about God, the Maker of heaven and earth, to our lives? One way to explain what “sin” is, is to say that it’s a creature’s refusal to be a creature. Gen 3.5: “God knows that when you eat of it you your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Lucifer was the most glorious creature of all; but being a creature – however glorious – wasn’t enough for him. He grasped in vain for the high glory that belongs to God alone, and when he exalted himself, he fell from heaven like lightening. For the God who gives grace to the humble knows how to humble the proud. When Adam & Eve ate the fruit, we drank the poison of demonic pride down into the deepness of our hearts. From Gen 3 forward, the story of the human race is the story of creatures denying that they are creatures and refusing to let God be God. Rom 1.21-22: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but their foolish hearts were darkened; claiming to be wise, they became fools.”
Do you know what God’s law is? The law of God is a short-hand summary of what it means to be human: a very precious gift indeed. Run through the Big Ten, and you’ll hear not just what you ought to do but who you were made to be – and best of all, who you are becoming in Christ by the grace of God’s Spirit. To worship the true God alone; to glorify his holy name; to keep his Sabbath holy; to honor your father and mother; to be kind and generous to all people; to be faithful to your spouse or chaste in singleness in thought, word, and deed; to respect and defend the property of others; to tell the truth whatever it costs you; to be content with what you have: this is what it means to be fully and abundantly alive as the kind of creature whom God created after his own image and likeness, in true righteousness and holiness (Gen 1.26, Eph 4.24). When we hear God’s law and pay attain to it and obey it, we aren’t just keeping random rules. Rather, in the deepest way, then we acknowledge that we are his creatures, and confess that he alone is God, and accept in reverent joy the truth that as our Maker, Father knows what is best for us better than we do ourselves. This is the little way that leads to joy. For to know this God is eternal life, and to serve him is perfect freedom.
The reverse is also true: when we sin, we are saying to God: “God, you are a fool, but I am wise; you are evil, but I am good; either you are ignorant, and do not know what is best for me, or you withhold it out of envy and meanness of spirit, because you’re a killjoy and don’t want me to have any fun; I am lord, not you; I am free to make myself whoever I please, in the image of my desires and after the likeness of what I feel in my heart. Who do you think you are you to tell me who I am! It would be better if you did not exist. In short, I wish you were dead.”
This is the lie our culture is built upon: the very same lie the serpent whispered in Eve’s ear so long ago. But the hard truth is that it’s a lie we’ve listened to as well. In our sinful flesh, I want my name to be hallowed, and my kingdom to come, and my will to be done on earth just as it is in my fantasy world. Long after our baptism and countless struggles with the raging passions of our flesh – and not without a few victories too – we remain passionately devoted to ourselves; for the most part, we’re only really interested in serving God so long as he demonstrates his unwavering interest in serving us. Not exactly holy angels, are we? To our dying breath, we blood-washed saints of God very much remain sinners, saved by a sheer and strong grace alone. That is why we pray day by day: “Dear Father, holy be your name; forgive us our trespasses.” And oh, do we suffer! for sin robs us of the joy and freedom that is ours in Jesus Christ by the strange right of mercy and grace (John 1.12).
Do you want to be glad, and free? Then repent, and in true faith and holy fear and humble love dare to become again the creature you are. Abdicate your throne, and acknowledge that the LORD, he is God. Embrace the limits he has set for you. Have the courage to become small. Fear, love, and trust God alone, and keep his commandments, and honor him not just with your lips as your Savior but with your whole life as your Maker and Lord. And in your littleness you will discover that in the awesome presence of your Father, you have found joy. To him, together with his Son and the Holy Spirit, be endless glory, now and forever, Amen.