Seeing the Glory of God in Creation: Genesis 1 and Psalm 104

Psalm 104 is an elongated meditation on God’s creative glory. It is a hymn of praise, that seems to be intentionally paired with Psalm 103.  Both begin the same way: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul!”  They are both hymns of praise: Psalm 103 is praise for God the Savior-King; Psalm 104 praise for God the Creator-King.  And both make explicit use of God’s history with Israel, especially as it is recorded by Moses.  Psalm 103 quotes Exodus 34:6-7 as it recounts the glory of God in redemption; and Psalm 104, as we will see, structures its entire praise chorus based on the creation account of Genesis 1.  It is this creative glory that we will consider today and this week.

Genesis 1 

In Genesis 1, Moses recounts the creation of the world.  Using a literary structure that highlights the creative wisdom and beauty of God, Moses gives a poetic description of creation, that is historical and accurate, even though it does not measure up to the scientific standards of our day.  (For a discussion on the genre and the intention of Genesis 1, see G.K. Beale, The Erosion of Inerrancy).

Moses describes how God in six days created the world ex nihilo. While not giving us exact information about all that was happened in creation; the testimony of Scripture is clear.  God alone is the maker of heaven and earth.  In the New Testament, Hebrews 11:3 describes creation like this, “”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.”  Likewise, Colossians says of Jesus the Divine Word, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible… all things were created through him and for him” (1:16).

Thus, in the first three days God forms the world—YHWH created light and darkness (Day 1), he separated the waters above from the waters below (Day 2), and he divided the land and the sea (Day 3).  Then he fills it.  On Day 4, the son and the moon as placed in the sky to govern, respectively, the day and the night.  On Day 5, the sea and sky are filled with sea creatures and birds.  And finally,  on the pinnacle of creation, Day 6, land animals and men and women, made in God’s image, are created.

Psalm 104

In Psalm 104, the same emphasis on God’s creativity can be found.  But even more striking is the way that the Psalmist (David?) follows the six-days of creation to worship the king of glory.  In opposition to those who see Genesis 1 as a myth borrowed from another ancient Near Eastern culture, this Psalm seems to affirm the veracity of the event.  Or at least, it gives praise to God for his creation, without questioning in the slightest the truthfulness of Genesis 1.

But more than an apologetic confirmation, Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise, and it wonderfully recounts the six days of creation.

Day 1. Verses 1-2 describe the formation of light. Majestic is the description: Like the priest who robes himself with beauty and glory (Exod 28:2), God clothes himself with splendor and majesty.  The language is figurative, but I believe it is meant to awaken us to the reality that the beauty of the heavens tells us something about God.  His heavens declare his glory; the skies above proclaim his handiwork.  He cannot be seen by men, but in the kaleidoscope of light that resides in the sky, we are introduced to the kind of glorious light in which he dwells.

Day 2. Verses 2-4 depict the separation of the upper chambers from the lower chambers. Just like a cosmic temple, God has created heaven and earth to dwell with his image bearers.  The colors, patterns, shapes, and images in the tabernacle were meant to reproduce much of what is seen in nature.  They are not incidental.  The macrocosm of the universe is related to the microcosm of the tabernacle/temple/Christ/church.  What takes place in the microcosm has effects for the macrocosm.  For instance, when Christ (the tabernacle of God) was crucified, the heavens (the cosmic dwelling place of God) grew dark.  Likewise, the promise of universal restoration will not happen apart from the revelation of the sons of God (Rom 8).  There is much to ponder in this reality, that God dwells with us in his creation, but is not in anyway dependent on his creation. (Again, G.K. Beale is helpful, see his The Temple and the Church’s Mission).

Day 3.  In Genesis, this day included both the division of land and sea, and the planting of vegetation.  Psalm 104 develops both of these things in verses 5-18,; plus, it shows how their creation supports men and animals which come later in the Genesis narrative.  Verses 5-9 tell of the way God commanded the waters to flee, how he made dry land.  They recount the first act of the third day. Verses 10-13 are a bridge between the sections.  They explain how God split the earth with rivers, but how these formations function to serve the animals that are coming. Verses 14-18 is the second act of Day 3.  Here the land is sown with vegetation for man and beast. The world is a cornucopia of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, spices, herbs.

Day 4. Verses 19-23 describes the way God put the sun and moon in place to give order to our seasons and the days.  Just as man is positioned to govern the animals (cf Psalm 8), so the sun and moon govern the day and night, respectively.  Like the horn blast from our local factory, which tells all the inhabits of Seymour that it is 7am; 930am; or noon… the sun and moon are messengers to us.  When the sun arises: It is time to work. Verse 23, “Man goes out to his work… until evening.”  Even more, in Psalm 89:37, Ethan speaks of the moon as a perpetual witness to God’s covenant with David.  In other words, just like the moon which testifies to God’s unchanging reign over the universes; the throne of David will stand until the moon is no more (Ps 72:7).

Day 5. Embedded in verses 17, 24 are the description of the birds and sea creatures formed on Day 5.  With freedom and beauty, God has designed birds to glide on the wind, and for humpback whales to “play” in the deep.  Who says God is prudish!  His world is filled with wonder, mystery, beauty, energy, and productivity.  He waters to earth and satisfies its inhabitants.  If a sparrow does not die apart from his will; than neither will one of his own image-bearers perish apart from his will and decree.

Day 6 is the capstone and it is described throughout verses 14-24.  In verse 14, the land animals are supplied with food; man is likewise given ground to cultivate.  Verse 15 anticipates the gladness that comes from God’s creation given to man—oil for his face, bread for his stomach, wine for his for his heart.  Verse 23 gives us instruction for man’s relationship with the world—we are to work it, mine it, grow it, organize, develop it. Verse 24 is the culminating feature of all God’s creation!  Why has God made anything?  It is to display his manifold wisdom, power, benevolence, and perfection.  The king of all the earth has filled his planet with boundless life.  Each aspect tells us something about him.

Therefore, we ought to study the creation in order to better know and love our Maker and Savior, Jesus Christ.  God has made the world good, and even under the curse of sin, its beneficence is evident.  So good is it still, that people worship the creation instead of the Creator.  Yet, we are better to follow the words of Psalm 104, to bless the Lord for all that he has given to us in creation.  For indeed, “all things were created through him and for him.”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Creation by the Numbers

Today many in our church and all over the world began their yearly Bible reading plan.  I did.  And one of the features found in Genesis 1 is the fact that God made plants (v. 12) and animals (v. 21), “according to their own kinds.”  While scientists, Bible scholars, and Christians apologists have argued for the origin of the species, the Bible is clear that God is the originator of all life.  He spoke the world into existence (Gen 1; Psalm 33:6), and no matter how long that process took, it is clear that he is the Creative Genius behind it all.  (Personally, I hold to a Young Earth position due to the disbelief that death existed before sin, which is clearly dated in Genesis 3, about 6,000 years ago).

Yet, in this brief post, my point is not to argue the age of the earth or the meaning of yom (‘day’) in Genesis 1, but rather to marvel at the endless fecundity of God’s creation.  Today I came across Wikipedia’s entry on “Species.”  In it is a list of all the plants and animals in the world.  In a word, it is astonishing!  Consider the sheer numbers of life-forms on the earth, all created by God.

The total number of species (estimated): 7–100 millions (identified and unidentified), including:

Of the identified eukaryote species we have:[14]

It has taken thousands of people over hundreds of years to amass this list, a list of all the creatures God created and their offspring.

In truth, Elihu declare in Job 34:14-15, “If he [that is God] should set his heart to it and gather to himself his spirit and his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to the dust.”   Thus, according to the Bible all the species owe their existence to God, and it is worth meditating on the estimated numbers above.  While these numbers are not exact due to the difficulties of subdividing species, they do represent this singular facet of God: He is unfathomably creative and prolific in the production of his creation.  If it is true that no sparrow falls to the ground a part from his knowledge (Matt 10:29), then it coheres that no life is born apart from God’s germinating spirit and no life ends apart from his sovereign decree.

He is the Supreme Creator, the God of the Nations, and the one who has made man in his image to rule over creation.  Moreover, when man failed to rule over the earth uprightly (cf. Ecc 7:29), God sent his Son to become a man, to perfectly rule over all the species that God created.  I am doubtful that each of these ‘species’ was created in the Genesis account, it seems more likely that the ‘kinds’ in Genesis 1 were higher up in the taxonomic hierarchy (maybe genus or family), but it is certain that God created in the beginning an expanding myriad of plants and animals, represented in the list above.  These life-forms had the capacity for incredible replication and speciation.  While many fight over Genesis 1 for good reason, we shouldn’t miss the forest for the trees: God is the glorious creator of all the earth, who has fashioned a world that is filled with life, fecundity, beauty, symmetry, wisdom, and so much more.  And even though this in a world overrun with sin, disease, and death, his incredible creation is evident.  How much better will the New Creation be when sin will be eradicated and mankind will finally rule over a perfect creation with Christ on the throne.

As we begin the year, may we worship the Triune Creator and look at creation as a hymn book of praise for our infinitely wise Creator.  As Revelation 4:11 sings, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by you will they existed and were created.”  Upwards of 100 million of them!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

So

The Ways of Our God: God’s Order (1)

In The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie subdivides his multithematic approach into main four categories: God’s Order; God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way.  Under each banner, he writes five chapters, and today we will consider his first section in his “sketch of biblical theology.”  For sake of space, let me list the headings and provide a few reflections.

  1. The Living God.  Scobie begins with God and His revelation in creation and history.  According to the Scriptures, Scobie argues that God is King, and taking his cue from the Decalogue and the Shema, he outlines his chapter with three concepts that establish “the very core of the OT understanding of God” (107).  These are the self-revelation of God’s Name(s), the unitive oneness of God, and the personal nature of God.  He examines each of these as they are initially proclaimed in the OT and more fully developed in the latter prophets and in the NT.  One of the highlights from this chapter is the way that each section (i.e. Proclamation, Promise, Fulfillment, and Future Consummation–also the framework of every other chapter) concludes with an explanation and affirmation of the Scripture’s canonical development at each stage of revelation.  In a chapter focusing on Theology Proper, he argues for Scripture’s essential role in revealing the one, true, and living God.  Additionally, Scobie emphasizes God’s relationship to both the created order and the historical order–this is expanded in chapters 2-3.
  2. The Lord of Creation.  Scobie writes this chapter out of a concern that biblical theology and recent biblical studies have devalued God’s relationship to creation, and have focused only on God’s role in the historical order.  He illustrates this by referring to those who begin their BT with Exodus and not Genesis; however, as he points out, this misses the way in which the canon is itself telling the story of God as Creator and Redeemer.  Scobie shows convincingly that God loves creation and has made creation for our enjoyment and his glory (cf. John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in His Creation” in The Pleasures of God).  He shows where creation is emphasized in the OT (Gen. 1-11; Pss. 8, 95, 104, 148; Isaiah; and the wisdom literature–Job 38-39; Proverbs 8), and argues that the NT maintains the same view of creation as the OT, only adding Jesus’ instrumental role in its creation and maintenance (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-3).  He introduces the distinction between apocalyptic eschatology which is alligned with God’s created order and prophetic eschatology which corresponds with redemptive history.  Just as the Bible begins with creation (Gen. 1-2), it ends with new creation (Rev. 20-22), and thus all the Bible is looking forward to the renewal of this fallen world. 

    His concluding application section would make the editors of the “Green Letter Bible” happy; it shows how the Bible does address many environmental concerns, but in a Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, sort of way, Scobies goes too far concerning the ways in which consumerist evangelicals have neglected the environment and are in need of confessing our “guilt for the ecological crisis” (186-87).  The ‘guilt’ rests not with Western evangelicals, but with the whole Adamic race. In the end, this chapter is a helpful commentary on what the Bible says about creation and its place in biblical theology.

  3. The Lord of History.  Scobie begins with a cursory review of the books of the Bible, and then proceeds to walk through the stages of redemptive history, before highlighting six ways in which God has worked in history.  These six characteristics of salvation history are (1) divine intervention, (2) [appointing] divinely inspired leadership, (3) salvation & judgment, (4) providence, (5) blessing, (6) and suffering love (198-202).  Scobie does not retain God’s work in history to veiled acts of redemption, though, he also posits that God has worked in history through revealing himself by speaking to his people (202-04).  Thus, redemptive acts of God are only recognized and understood when God also inspires a biblical author to interpret the meaning of the event (i.e. the exodus, the Babylonian exile, or the crucifixion).  The chapter is a helpful summary of salvation history, though he is theologically imprecise when speaking of God’s “suffering love,” a term most often associated with Jurgen Moltmann, and more recently Richard Bauckham, that ascribes suffering to the divinity of the Godhead, instead of assigning suffering to Christ’s humanity.  (For more on this see my post, Can God Suffer?).
  4. The Adversary.  Scobie presents a very balanced survey from the biblical text that walks through the Scriptures highlighting the passages of Scripture that concern the enemies of God, reprobate angels, and Satan himself.  He avoids the two extremes of spiritual warfare fanaticism and the modern mindset that makes the devil a cartoonish fable.  He chastens those who like Greg Boyd attempt to say too much about Satan and are required to import ideas from other Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries.  However, he shows the reality of the demonic realm and of the antichrist.  Like all of his chapters I have read thus far, his biblical content presents a helpful catalog of all the applicable texts on the subject.
  5. The Spirit.  Scobie is open to the continuous presence of miraculous gifts today because there is no hermeneutical reason, he says, to deny their continuation (296).  However, in his explication of this subject, Scobie is unfortunately imprecise and inconsistent.  In one place he states that “Christian baptism confers the gift of the Spirit” (283), yet later as he makes his summary he says “all believers receive the gift of the Spirit when they become Christians” (296).  I guess you could ask, “What makes someone a Christian,” but it seems that he inconsistently attributes the giving of the Spirit to baptism, and blurs the transitional period of Acts with what is now normative in the church today.  Like in chapter 2, Scobie emphasizes the Spirit’s role in and with creation, appealing to the Eastern Ortohodox tradition which includes Psalm 104 in its daily liturgy (295).  He spends little time on the revelation of the Spirit and its inclusion in the Trinity, because as he believes, the Bible gives triadic data but not trinitarian doctrine (297).  On the whole, this chapter shows a developing continuity throughout the Bible for the doctrine of the Spirit, but its synthesis leaves a lot of questions unanswered because of such short statements on things like tongues, the gifts, and the relationship of baptism to the Spirit.

More than a quarter of the way through this massive volume, I am pleased to report that the reading has been edifying and that any serious student of the Bible would be rewarded by reading it.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Craft of Research: An Unwitting Exposition of the Cultural Mandate

Reading The Craft of Research by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams, I came across this thought-provoking quote:

Teachers at all levels devote their lives to research.  Governments spend billions on it, businesses even more.  Research goes on in laboratories and libraries, in jungles and ocean depths, in caves and in outer space, in offices and, in the information age, even in our own homes.  Research is in fact the world’s biggest industry (The Craft of Research, 9).

Though perhaps overstated, these superlative statements unwittingly expose the cultural mandate at work in fields of research and discovery. Consider with me…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  He formed them (Days 1-3) and He filled them (Days 4-6).  On Day 6, the pinnacle of creation, he commissioned the man and the woman to be fruitful and multiply, to possess and subdue all creation, and to spread the blessing and glory of God all over the earth (Gen. 1:26-31).  In particular, he commanded the man to cultivate and keep the garden (2:15), to extend its borders, and to name all the animals (2:19).  These terse commands make-up the foundation of the cultural mandate.  From Adam and Eve and to us, we are to steward the world’s resources for the creative purpose of glorifying God.

Sadly, the Fall of man, made this cultural mandate immediately impossible.  Sin marrs each of us.  It clouds our minds, bends of our cooperative efforts, and perverts the products of our hands.  Though, great things have been accomplished by the human race, sadly the majority of these projects deny God his glory and his creative role in all life (i.e. Charles Darwin’s evolutionary biology, Watson and Crick’s atheistic DNA research, Craig Venter’s gene therapy, and John Dominic-Crossan’s “Jesus Seminar”).  Still, the arts and science of the world, in their best moments present something of the wisdom and goodness of God.  Perhaps, this is best seen in the life of King Solomon, whose Spirit-given wisdom is unparalleled.  1 Kings 4:29-34 reads:

Now God have Solomon wisdom and very great discernment and breadth of mind, like the sand that is on the seashore.  Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.  For he was wiser than all men, than Ethan the Ezrahite, Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol; and his fame was known in all the surrounding nations.  he also spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.  he spoke of trees, from the cedar that is Lebanon even to the hyssop that greows on the wall; he spoke also of animals and birds and creeping things and fish.  Men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, froms all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom.

In the fullness of time, a son of Solomon, Jesus of Nazareth, came to be recognized for who he really was–God incarnate, the Divine Logos, the eternal wisdom of God, and giver of the cultural mandatein the first place. As Matthew puts it, when Jesus came, “something greater than Solomon is here” (12:42).  As the second Adam, Jesus life, death, and resurrection redeemed humanity from its sin and set in motion the means for re-issuing the cultural mandate.  His resurrection, which prompted the coming of the Spirit along with the promise of his return, has established that he is going to restore creation, and in the age to come he will reinstate forever the cultural mandate.  

In this world, all efforts at art, science, commerce, technology, et cetera are corrupted by the brokeness invoked by our sin.  However, in the age to come all these things will be achieved with never before seen perfection.  Oh what a day that will be!

Sadly, The Craft of Research’s material is not all equally edifying.  While much of its advice is helpful and filled with practical wisdom, it becomes quickly apparent that the three professors writing this work have cut themselves off from the source of that wisdom.  In one poignant sentence, they reveal their God-denying foolishness (cf. Ps. 14:1).  As they discuss “warrants based on articles of faith,”  they write, “If you encounter them [statements of faith] as you gather your data, ignore them or treat them not as a subject for research but as an inquiry into the meaning of life” (167, emphasis mine).  Against the wisdom of Solomon and the purposes of God in creation, these academicians reject any kind of research that might lead them back to the God or stir cravings for the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus.  Like their Enlightenment forebears, rationalistic thought and human reason trump God.

While the authors have been gifted with incredible minds to gather, grasp, and articulate information, sadly, they are blinded by their own fleshly erudition.  They delight in the gift of research, but they reject the giver.  In this they ironically commit the greatest sin of the academy: plagiarism, and this they do on a cosmic scale.  In truth, such academic unbelief and darkness will one day be brought into the light (cf. Isa. 60:1ff), and it will be judged as Satanic, wicked, and shoddy (cf. Heb. 3:13).  In the meantime, those who do research as Christians have the opportunity to witness to their God in way they hone their craft.

For those of us who do know the Wisdom of God, and who enjoy studying–whatever the subject may be– we must do so as professing believers.  Incorporating God into our equations, essays, and laboratory equipment is not optional, it is part of the cultural mandate, and even moreso, it is part of the Great Commission.  The academics who scoff at us may never hear and believe, but truly their is coming a day when all the works of our hands and our minds will be tested by fire, and only those that are from, by, and for Jesus Christ will stand as faithful research. 

So may we give thanks  to God for the glories of his creation, and may we look forward to the day when all creation will be restored to its glorified condition.  Until then, may we like the Psalmist sing:

“Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them” (111:2).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

A Biblical Meditation on God’s iBible (1): Illumination and Intervention

In a informational age, where “data smog” threatens to pollute the air we breathe, where iPods, iPhones, and iGoogle have become part and parcel of daily living, and where keeping up with the Jones requires 24-hour instant information, it is salubrious to be still and know that our Lord is still God (Ps. 46:10) and that His Word remains fixed in the heavens (Ps. 119:89).  Yet, God’s Word is not a static, concrete fixture of law, suspended in time and space; it is living and active (Heb. 4:12), it has taken on flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and as we will consider over the next three days, it has come to God’s people over an extended period of time that has been marked by a number of progressive steps.  By means of nmenonic device, these stages included: general illumination (i.e. general revelation), historical intervention, divine inspiration, and Spirit-wrought inscripturation, transmission of information, and personal illumination.  Taking these “I” steps together, you might say that God has given us his own iBible.  Let us consider together the amazing process by which God has given us his Word:

Illumination (in General): In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). With the power of his voice he breathed life into being (Ps. 33:6; cf. Gen. 2:7) and with the command of his voice he spoke light into existence (Gen. 1:3ff). In a very real sense, the first day began with a massive burst of light, a grand illumination. From this moment in time until now God has illuminating his world with his glory and has been making himself known (cf. Rev. 22:5).  He maintains the existence of all things by the power of His Word (Heb. 1:3), and in his creation he has made his divine nature and infinite power known (Rom. 1:18-20).  As Psalm 19 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaim his handiwork; day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge; there is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”  In other words, God’s general revelation, or general “illumination,” has transcended the cosmos.

Intervention (in History): Throughout the Scriptures, the God of the Bible is a God who reveals Himself. This is seen in his creation (Ps 19:1-7) and in his written Word (Ps 19:8ff); this is evident in the Imago Dei and in the mystery of marriage. In every area of life and in each stage of creation he gives more light to view ponder his nature and understand His work in the world. As the author of Hebrews says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his son, who he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Heb. 1:1-2)” This progressive revelation can be seen in the way that each stage of Scripture offers are more complete picture of who the Triune God is:

Pentateuch: The God who is (Ex. 3:14)
History: The God who acts in love on behalf of his people (Ex. 34; Deut. 7)
Psalms: The God who reigns and deserves all worship (Ps. 93, 97, 99)
Prophets: The God who keeps his Word; the Covenantal God (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36)
Gospels: The God who is with us (Matt. 1:23)
Epistles: The God of Glory seen in the face of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:1-14)
Revelation: The Creator and Redeemer God; the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8)

(For a more complete discussion of theocentric revelational see Timothy George’s chapter on God in Theology for the Church, edited by Danny Akin [Nashville: B & H Academic, 2007]).

Perhaps today is the day to be still and once again know that he is God, to turn off the iPod and pick up God’s inspired Word. If that is hard, as it so often is, there is all the more reason and need to once again hear the voice of God in his eternal Word. Or perhaps, instead of opposing one against the other, download God’s Word on you iPod. Listen to it as you go, drive, workout, or whatever. In any case, wherever the word finds you, may we together make sure that we find the Word; may we have ears to hear what the Spirit of Christ is saying in God’s holy book.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss.

Acts 13:13-41 (pt. 1: Introduction & Creation)

Recently, I had the privilege of teaching in the Senior Saints ABF (Adult Bible Fellowship, i.e. Sunday School) at 9th & O Baptist Church. They have been going through the book of Acts, and my assignment was Acts 13-14. Luke’s account of the church of Antioch and Paul’s first missionary journey are amazing in that within an incredibly short time, the region of Galatia which had not yet heard the gospel had established churches with elders (14:23). It shows the power of the gospel to change lives and to take root in a ripe culture; moreover it shows the fruit of faithful and bold messengers of the gospel.

My threefold layout of the passage which followed thematic lines–it is difficult to do verse-by-verse exposition of two chapters in only 45 minutes–was this: The Church that Sends; The Gospel that Saves; and the Saints who Suffer. Below is the first of three installments of my exposition of Acts 13:13-41. In it Paul lays out with clarity and rigorous attention to the OT, the gospel of Jesus Christ. His message is strikingly biblical-theological, and it is a model of preaching excellence. May we, as students of the word, study its form and content and learn how to better share the gospel.

Paul’s sermon in Acts 13:13-41 is one of many recorded by Luke in his narrative (cf. Acts 14, 17, 20). It is like Peter’s sermons in the way that it employs OT Scripture and provides Christocentric interpretations; it is like Stephen’s in Acts 7 as it covers so much OT history, but in its own right it is very Pauline, espousing themes and theology found later in his epistles.

It is important to realize that this sermon in Acts contains the contents of the gospel to which Paul refers in Galatians 1. In his excoriating letter, he contrasts “his” gospel with the gospel(s) that are being erroneously advocated by false teachers. Since Acts 13 records the gospel which Paul preached to the Galatians, it is vital to follow his train of thought and his Christocentric exposition to understand Paul’s reasoning in his subsequent letter to the Galatians. In Acts, Luke gives us a full report of Paul’s gospel, drawing our attention to the highpoints of his message and allowing us to make the intratextual connections necessary to perceive the Pauline gospel. So with that said, lets consider Paul’s gospel message.

Waiting for the Scripture to be read (v. 15a) and the invitation to be given (v. 15b), Paul, in verse 16, stands to explain the text read in light of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 24:27, 44-46). From his opening line, it is clear that he addresses a mixed audience of Jews and Gentile God-fearers, “Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen.”

Gaining his audience’s attention, Paul starts in Genesis with a reference to YHWH’s gracious selection of Abraham and his kin from the nations, “The God of this people Israel chose our fathers”. Calling the patriarch from idolatry, the God of Israel’s covenantal love is immediately highlighted. Contrary to modernist religious teachers who say that spirituality and religion are sociological and psychological constructs, God revealed himself to Abraham in history and chose him to be the father of his blessed people. To Abraham and those united to him, he promised a land, untold blessings, a heritage, and his own personal presence in their midst (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 15:4-7; 17:1-8). The history of Israel chronicles the working out of these covenantal promises.

This Abrahamic beginning implies with it the reality of creation ex nihilo. For the God who called Abraham is the same God who created the heavens and the earth. This is apparent in the narrative of Genesis, where chapters 1-11, which speak about the origin of humanity, are linked via Abraham with chapters 12-50, which initiate God’s plan of redemptive history. Likewise, Paul’s preaching in Acts 14 and 17 explicitly refers to the God of Israel as the God who created all things. He says of YHWH in Lystra that he is the “living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them” (14:16). Clearly, God is the unique Maker of all creation. Thus Paul’s gospel message is founded in creation. He does not demean the corporeal and physical nature of our world. Instead, he roots the origin of creation in the divine design of YHWH, the God of Israel.

This, in and of itself, is good news. God created a bountiful world, one designed to provide pleasures and provisions for all God’s creatures. And though the world, as we know it, contains horrors that undulate with beauty, it was not always that way (cf. Gen 1-2), nor will it always be that way (cf. Rev. 21-22). Taking creation (and its fall) into account, the gospel is not opposed to the inhabitable world. Rather, through redemption, it goes to show how all creation is being renewed and directed on a course towards new creation. For as we will see, the message of the gospel which begins with creation in the Garden of Eden, will culminate in the new creation’s garden-city, the New Jerusalem.

(More to follow…)

Sola Deo Gloria, dss