But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Michaelmas 3-2022

Genesis 1:1-2:4

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

It’s not possible, in just a few minutes, to explore everything that is touched on in today’s text – the creation account from the Book of Genesis. But we can think together about some of the things that the creation account tells us about the true God, and about the relationship that exists between this God and his creatures.

In the ancient world, the testimony of the Book of Genesis – as it was preserved by the Hebrew people – would have seemed very odd to the various pagan nations. Almost all of them believed that the heavenly bodies – the sun, the moon, and the stars – were gods.

They prayed to the sun and moon. They sought to appease the sun and moon and to cajole blessings and favors from the sun and moon.

But in the Book of Genesis, the sun and moon, and all other heavenly bodies, are described as impersonal creatures of one supreme, personal God. They are not the objects of adoration and petition.

This honor belongs only to the infinite God who stands behind them; who brought them into existence by the power of his word; and who set them in their place to mark times and seasons according to his divine will and purpose.

This also goes for all the earthly objects and natural phenomena that the superstitious peoples of the past often deified. Mountains and rivers, bulls and birds, were worshiped – together with the heavenly bodies.

But these features of the earth likewise were, and still are, a part of the creation of the one true God – the maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. They are not themselves gods.

Another aspect of the Genesis account that would have been shocking and even offensive to the ancient pagans, is the testimony it gives to the unity of the human race. Most of the old pagan tribes and cultures had a unique myth of origin for themselves, which put supreme value on their own existence, but minimized the value of people in other nations.

These myths of origin often involved a far-fetched tale of an ancient transmutation from animals to humans, or a story about some other kind of biologically impossible event, which supposedly explained where the people of that particular nation came from; but which did not take into account the origin or existence of other nations.

The pagan nations that saw themselves in these ways, therefore, did not feel a brotherly connection to their foreign rivals and enemies. As a consequence, they became capable of extreme cruelty in their treatment of those dehumanized enemies.

These other peoples were not seen to spring from the same source. They were not seen to have a shared humanity, or a shared human dignity.

But here in the Book of Genesis, we read of God’s special creation of the original parents of the whole human race. The table of the nations that appears later in the book makes that clear. And this man and woman were created in God’s own image and likeness, no less!

It would have been in the political and military interest of the Hebrews to have their own contrived myth of origin, which excluded the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Assyrians, and other enemies of Israel from the human family to which the Hebrews belonged.

Then they could have killed all of them without any qualms of conscience. But in spite of the propaganda value that there would have been in their making up such a tale, the ancient Hebrews did not do this.

Instead, they believed the word of God, who told them that even their earthly enemies were, at the deepest level, their brethren – descendants with them of Adam and Eve. And this helped them to look forward, with the prophets, to a future when all nations would come to Zion, as it were, and worship the Lord with them.

Hardly anyone today builds altars to the sun or offers sacrifices to the moon. But these ancient forms of idolatry are actually similar to the kind of belief system that is held to in our time by modern atheists.

To them, the material world is all that exists. The material world is the ultimate reality. There is no supreme creator standing above or behind it, giving it meaning and purpose.

This means, therefore, that they put their trust in this material world. In the final analysis, the material world is what they believe in.

This kind of materialism is really a superstition – a superstition in the same basic category with the superstitious beliefs of sun-worshipers and moon-worshipers. Materialism attributes to the material world the kind of ultimacy that properly belongs only to the true God, and not to any creature of God.

I doubt very much that any of you sitting here today are atheists and materialists.

But as you work your way through the issues of life, and as you make decisions about how you are going to interact with the people and events you encounter each day: how conscious are you of the fact that there is a creator who stands behind everything, and who is governing and guiding all the natural processes that surround you?

The decisions that you make in life – ethical decisions, practical decisions, decisions about relationships, all decisions – should begin and end with an acknowledgment of the God who made everything, who preserves everything, and who oversees everything.

Your understanding of who and what you are according to the objective truth of how you were made – whether you are a man or a woman – is likewise to be based on God’s divine right and authority to define his own creation, and to order it according to his good pleasure.

In this life, you can’t trust ultimately in your own human judgment. You can’t place your confidence ultimately in your own human instincts.

And you can’t rely ultimately on your own human emotions: because God is the one who created your judgment, your instincts, and your emotions. He created you.

So, seek his wisdom. Ask for his help. Pray for his protection in all your ways, and for his direction in all your thoughts.

Today there are few people in the world who do not acknowledge the unity of the human race. The existence of an organization like the United Nations, for example, and the fact that all countries in the world belong to it, are evidence of this.

As a matter of principle, everyone knows – or should know – that we are supposed to acknowledge the value and dignity of all other human beings.

But, we do not always live this out, in the way we actually treat other people. Various forms of prejudice and bigotry often influence the way we think about people who are different from us, or of whom we are afraid.

But the Book of Genesis requires us to believe that there is indeed just one human race: in which all stand equally before God as his beloved creatures; and in which all are equally accountable to God for their personal words and actions.

We are to be concerned about the well-being of all. If God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son for the salvation of the world, then we, too, are to love the world, and each person in the world.

Yet the common humanity that we share with all other descendants of Adam and Eve does not only place obligations on us. It also bestows great blessings on us, especially when we consider the saving work of the second Adam, Jesus Christ. As St. Paul reminds us concerning him, in his Epistle to the Colossians,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible… All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”

But the world which God originally created through his eternal Son – as a “very good” world – became a cursed world due to the sin of man.

Adam and Eve fell away from their fellowship with God through their disobedience of God’s command. They thereby brought into themselves – and into all their descendants – the contagion of spiritual death, and an inner, inherited hostility to God.

And yet God did not leave us as we were. To save the human race from the guilt and power of sin, God’s Son became a part of that which he sought to save.

As a real flesh-and-blood man, he became the substitute for all men under the curse of the law, and he atoned for the sins of all men. It is God’s will that all people would now have an opportunity to hear and believe the gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation through Jesus Christ.

St. Paul goes on to explain that “in him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

The impact of this gospel on those who have believed it is described by St. Paul in this way, in his Epistle to the Colossians:

“And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven…”

The doctrine of redemption from sin rises or falls with the doctrine of sin itself. And the doctrine of sin rises or falls with the doctrine of creation.

Each of us belongs to a human race that was especially created by God, in his image and likeness. Each of us belongs to a human race that fell into disobedience and death, through the transgression of our first parents.

Each of us belongs to a human race that was redeemed by Christ: God of God, and also our brother according to the flesh. Each of us belongs to a human race that is therefore the object of God’s special forgiving and restoring love, as revealed to us in the gospel.

An atheist’s unbelief doesn’t make God cease to exist – although it does cut him off from the blessings of salvation and reconciliation that God is offering to him. And a Christian’s faith in God doesn’t bring God into existence.

But in faith, we are able to know and see who God is, as the supreme creator and governor of the universe. In faith we are also able to know and see the redemption and restoration that God has provided for his beloved creatures.

In faith you are able to know and see the redemption and restoration that God has provided for you. And by the grace of the Holy Spirit – who is the Lord, and the giver of life – you are able to be, and you have been made to be, a new creature in Christ.

God’s word, spoken into you with all of its supernatural power, makes this happen – just as the power of God’s word brought the whole creation into existence in the first place.

St. Paul writes in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

The God who created you is the God who has re-created you, by means of the gospel of his Son’s incarnation and life, death, and resurrection. The new life that he has bestowed upon you by the gospel, in preaching and Holy Baptism, is nurtured by that same gospel, in preaching and Holy Supper.

As God in these ways renews you in faith, he thereby renews you also in love: love for your Creator, and for your fellow-creatures – of all tribes and cultures, of all lands and nations.

And he thereby prepares you to hear, and to be drawn into, the great commission, that his Son Jesus gives to his church for the benefit of the whole human family, and that St. Mark’s Gospel expresses in this way:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

As we believe, so we speak, and so we sing. And we invite all God’s redeemed creatures to sing with us:

From all that dwell below the skies Let the Creator’s praise arise.
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung Through every land, by every tongue.

Eternal are Thy mercies, Lord; Eternal truth attends Thy Word.
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore Till suns shall rise and set no more. Amen.