March 28, 2004
When God created the world, He made it perfect—but our sin spoiled it. Beginning our biblical survey with Genesis, Alistair Begg dives into Scripture’s account of mankind’s fall but reminds us that the story doesn’t end there. Since Scripture is God-breathed and bears His authority, we know that just as God rested when He completed creation, so His people will rest with Him in eternity as part of His kingdom.
Sermon Transcript: Print
As we turn again to this brief—but I hope profitable—series of evenings when we’re going to try and get a handle on the overview of the Bible, I begin with the same disclaimers as last time. I think they were as follows: one, to make the point, and make it forcibly, that this is a deviation from course. It is not the establishing of a new course, i.e., our consistent pattern of working our way through the Bible and teaching the Bible remains our consistent pattern. And I’m doing this because I opened my large mouth and committed to it before I caught myself. And therefore, in order to have a measure of integrity about myself, I felt I had to proceed. In many ways I wish I was doing it in an elective kind of environment rather than this. It takes me in many ways beyond my comfort zone, and more than would be normal for me, I rely entirely on the help that others provide in relationship to all of this. Having said all of that, I’m glad of the opportunity, and I do hope that it will prove helpful to many of us.
Now, we’re gonna review where we were last time. We said that what we wanted to do was deal with the Bible and try and get the big picture. Last time was an overview of the overview. We pointed out that there were sixty-six books—I’m going to move through this very quickly—that the books were written by some forty authors or so, that they were written over a period of 2000 years. And that the Bible itself consists of the Old Testament, made up of thirty-nine books. And those books break out largely as history between Genesis and Esther; and then the poetry books, between Job and Song of Songs; and then the prophetic books, between Isaiah and Malachi. And that, when you look in the index of your Bible, you find listed as the Old Testament. And I thought of adding to our journey the opportunity of memorizing the books of the Bible—and I don’t mean that facetiously in any way; I think that we really should. And I think that would be a useful exercise, and no one can graduate from this course unless they are able to say the books of the Bible from Genesis all the way to Revelation. I don’t care how much you know about the bits and pieces; if you are unable to accomplish that, then I’m sorry, you cannot graduate from the class. But I haven’t determined yet just how I’m going to test you.
The New Testament—plus I have to practice a little more myself—the New Testament has twenty-seven books: the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts—someone came up afterwards last time concerned to get these details, and it was a reminder to me of the fact that there are people here, some of them have never ever even looked at the Bible in this way—but the Acts, we refer to as the Acts of the Apostles, although we may actually refer to it as the Acts of the Holy Spirit. It is the story of the work of God in the early church. And then of course the Epistles, which is a fancy name for letters, most of them written by Paul, the Apostle, but not all of them—Peter had a couple and James two, and John had three of his own. And then of course, the book of Revelation, which a number of you are hoping will be our next evening study, and I can’t guarantee that it won’t.
We said also that the Bible had one author—one ultimate author. We’ve dealt prior to this with the whole nature of the dual authorship of Scripture—namely, that men were picked up and carried along by the Holy Spirit. We quoted B. B. Warfield, when God wants to write a series of letters such as Paul’s, then he raises up a Paul, and the Paul who writes these letters is one who is capable of spontaneously writing such letters. But ultimately the Bible is authored by God. “All Scripture is God-breathed.”
It has one subject. The story of the Bible is just one story: it is the story of Jesus Christ and the salvation that God offers through him. And we tried to understand, at least in embryonic form, that the way in which the whole of the Bible moves from promise to fulfillment—and we anticipated that in a number of different ways, which I’m not going to go back to—but it’s a fairly obvious fact that the Old Testament is like act 1 of a two-act play. The New Testament is the second act, and without the first act you can’t make sense of the second and vice versa. One author, one subject, and one book. And when we said it was one book, we reminded one another that it is not a book of quotations—that we don’t have the Bible as a big compendium of stuff into which we dip to try and find something that is just inspirational. Nor do we have a series of books like the novels of Charles Dickens, where one novel, David Copperfield, can be read without any reference at all to Oliver Twist, and Oliver Twist may be read without any reference at all to A Tale of Two Cities. But you cannot read your Bible in that way. All of the books of the Bible actually form ultimately one book, and it’s not a book of quotations, nor is it a collection.
Then we said, “Well, how are we going to make sense of the way in which it all fits together?” And we said that of all the themes that we might use, we decided that the unifying theme that we would employ—which, of course, is not unique to me—is the theme of the kingdom of God. And we defined kingdom of God as “God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, enjoying God’s blessing.” So that we thought of the kingdom of God, not as a period of time—I’ve already had one person write me a note asking me about this, and I’ve chosen not to reply to it, at least for the time being, hoping that it will become clear as we proceed—but we’re not thinking of the kingdom of God as a period of time. We’re not thinking of the kingdom of God as a geographical area, but we’re thinking of the kingdom of God as a sphere, the sphere of God’s supreme rule: God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, enjoying God’s blessing.
Now, that was the overview of the overview, and from this point, we begin to move into material that we didn’t deal with before. It was so helpful that Gary did all the hard work this morning in Genesis 1, 2, and 3, thus providing for me the opportunity to say, “But of course, you understand this as a result of this morning.” Whether you do or you don’t doesn’t prevent me from being able to use that as a mechanism for making haste. Genesis 1 and 2 give to us a description of the world as God intended it to be. Sometimes our friends and neighbors say to us, “Why is the world the way it is?” And the answer that I always give is the same: “Well, the world as we know it is not the world as God created it, nor is it the world as God ultimately intends for it to be. But the world as we know, is a world that lives as a result of the implications of sin.”
So, in Genesis 1 and 2, in these wonderfully historical and descriptive passages, we learn these things: number one, that God is the author of creation. This of course is the question that our children ask us: “What was there before there was God?” Or “Where was God before there was a world?” and so on. And of course, the answer to that is that there was never a time when God did not exist. And God existed always as a trinity—God the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit—and indeed, when you read the Bible, you recognize that in the work of creation, each member of the Trinity is described as being involved: God the Father in taking the initiative, God the Spirit is described in the early verses of Genesis as “hovering over” the proceedings, and God the Son, then, is the agent—the Father’s agent—in the work of creation. So, for example, we would turn to John 1: “Without him”—that is, without Jesus—“nothing was made that has been made.” Or Colossians 1:16: “All things were created for him, and by him,”—and then verse 17—“and in him all things hold together.” And when we read the Genesis account, we recognize that God declared it to be good. At the end of chapter 1, it says that God surveyed all that he had made, and he declared that it was good. And what he had made, of course, was a lot of physical things: he had made a wonderful garden; he had created animals; he had given to us the flora; he had provided for Adam and Eve all that they could ever imagine, long for, dream, if they had the capacity to do so. And that, of course, is exactly what the Bible says. I don’t want to pause here—but I could—and talk about how Christianity affirms this; how that is very different from many religious perspectives that see matter and physicality as something that, if you’re going to be a religious person, or if you’re going to be involved in spiritual things, the way to deal with that is to remove yourself from matter and from physical things and so on. But when you read the Genesis account of creation, you realize that God is interested in both our bodies and our souls. And he has provided for us in every way.
Now, before I move on from that, I want to read for you one of my favorite quotes concerning creation, and it is from A. W. Pink’s, Gleanings in Genesis, a book that you can doubtless buy in the bookstore. And I want just to read this for you, so you can relax and listen—those of you who are taking notes don’t need to worry:
We have little patience with those who labor to show that the teaching of this chapter is in harmony with modern science—as well ask whether the celestial chronometer is in keeping with the timepiece at Greenwich. Rather must it be the part of scientists to bring their declarations into accord with the teaching[s] of Genesis 1, if they are to receive the respect of the children of God. The faith of the Christian rests not in the wisdom of man, nor does it stand in any need of buttressing from scientific savants. The faith of the Christian rests upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture, and we need nothing more. Too often … Christian apologists [have] deserted their proper ground. For instance: one of the ancient tablets of Assyria is deciphered, and then it is triumphantly announced that some statements found in the historical portions of the Old Testament have been confirmed. But that is only a turning of things upside down again. The Word of God needs no “confirming.” If the writing upon an Assyrian tablet agrees with what is recorded in Scripture, that confirms the historical accuracy of the Assyrian tablet; if it disagrees, that is proof positive that the Assyrian writer was at fault. In like manner, if the teachings of science square with Scripture, that goes to show that the former are correct; if they conflict, that proves the postulates of science are false. The man of the world, and the pseudo-scientist may sneer at our logic, but that only demonstrates the truth of God’s Word, which declares, “but the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit; for they are foolishness to him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Now, I read that purposefully, ’cause that is a veritable blast from the past. For fifty years of my life, I have grown up always with the notion that we are dreadfully in need of scientific confirmation in order that we might be assured of the viability and reliability of the Bible. And Pink says, “No, you’ve got it absolutely upside down. It is the Bible that is able to confirm the veracity of scientific discovery and not the reverse.” Boy, there’s a thought, isn’t it? There’s a challenge. And I’m glad it was Pink that wrote it and not me, because you’re going to have to take it up with him and he’s dead. Actually, he’s not dead. He just moved.
God is the author of creation. Secondly, God is the king of creation. He’s not only the creator of all, he is the Lord of all. A long time ago out on our previous property upon which we thought we would build, on a night sitting around a defunct swimming pool there, we studied Psalm 8 together. And we pondered the wonder of who God is—that he is perfect, and he is powerful, and he is plural, and he is praiseworthy. And he is the king of creation. The psalmist says, “For the Lord is the great God,”—Psalm 95—“the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” What a wonderfully encouraging thing that is as you look out on the ocean, as you take off over the eastern seaboard and head out towards, first of all, Greenland, if you’re going on a northern course, and out over there and eventually Ireland and the Irish Sea, and the waves beating out on that wonderful southern Ireland shoreline. And these waves are there by the express command of God.
God is transcendent. He is above and beyond all that he has made; he is different and distinct from it. And that is what distinguishes, again, Christianity from pantheism. You may not identify pantheism by its name, but by its teaching you will recognize it: the notion that the natural world came out of God, came out of the substance of God, emanated from God; and, therefore, everything is somehow a part of God, so you daren’t kill a fly or stand on an ant, because that ant or that fly is divine, because it is part of God, as are the trees, which you daren’t chop down, and as are those large beefy creatures that you are planning on cutting up to eat for your dinner. That is just idolatry. Romans 1 makes it clear that they chose not to worship the Creator, but to worship the creature and created things. And only God is to be worshiped, and God is distinct from his creation. He is king of creation.
Now, man is the pinnacle of creation. We’re not just naked apes. We alone, of all God’s creation, are made in his image—Genesis 1:27. We are creatures, because we were made by God, as were other creatures. But we are unique creatures, because we were made like God. And when we read the Genesis record, we discover that man is given—when I use the word man, I’m using it generically now, as man qua man, men and women, mankind—that man is possessed of a dignity as made in God’s image; that he therefore possesses an authority over the rest of creation, and he possesses a responsibility to fulfill the role that God has given him in creation.
And then rest is the goal of creation. When God completes the work of creation, he rests. That doesn’t mean that he ceases to be active in his world, but he rests from creation. There’s no need for it to be touched up. There’s nothing that needs to be added to it. He surveys the work of his hands, and he says it is absolutely good; it is perfect. Since creation, God sustains all things by his powerful [word]. And God’s design—God’s desire for human beings—is that they might live with God in the wonderful, ongoing day of rest. Now, again, I can’t delay on this, but you will notice if you read the Genesis account, that it says, “and it was evening and morning and that was the first day, and it was evening and morning and that was the third day” and so on. When it gets to the seventh day, it doesn’t say that. The seventh day, if you like, is an ongoing day, where God is pursuing—as we saw this morning—a people for himself, bringing man into a relationship with God, providing for him, protecting him, bringing men and women into unique relationships with one another, allowing him authority over his creation. And in all of that, we have it in the pattern that we saw: the kingdom of God, God’s people, God’s place, God’s rule. And that pattern is there: God’s people, Adam and Eve; God’s place, the garden; God’s rule, his Word; and God’s blessing, the perfect relationships that they enjoy.
So, what we have as a pattern is God’s ultimate plan. Part of the purpose of the Sabbath—in Exodus in the Ten Commandments—part of the purpose of the Sabbath was to give the Israelites an understanding of ultimately what life was designed to be so that they would, by rest and by reflection, ponder all that it might mean to live as God’s people under God’s rule in God’s place. And when Jesus calls people to himself in Matthew 11, remember, he says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest …. And you will find rest for your souls.” And the writer to the Hebrews picks that up in Hebrews 4, and he says, “There still remains a rest for the people of God.” So that what is designed in all of the perfection that is there in the garden scene—although marred by sin, as we’re about to see—is going to be restored in a transcendent beauty when we enter into rest. And the pattern of God is our pattern. People say, “Well, I don’t want to rest for eternity. I don’t want to do nothing for eternity. If God has finished with his work and now he rests, and that’s what we’re going to do… No, no, no, no. He rests from his work of creation, but he is not inactive. And so it will be for us.
Now, we move from that, and we’ll just try and do … What have we got, maybe another five or ten minutes? From the pattern of the kingdom as we find it there, then—and this is where I can move quickly because of this morning’s study—what we discover is that that kingdom is spoiled. That kingdom is spoiled, and here we have it: we’re introduced to a talking snake. We were reminded this morning that this snake is a created being. We’re not dualists. Dualism teaches that there is an eternal cosmic struggle between two equal parties: one is good, and one is evil; perhaps one is Satan, one is God; they’re both fighting it out to see who might win. The Bible says, “Not for an instant!”—that God alone exists from all of eternity, and everything else is by the work of his hand. He is the creator. And so, in this snake in the garden, he is a created being. He is a crafty being. And he is identified in Revelation 12 and in Revelation 20 as being nothing other, and none other, than Satan himself. And we were reminded clearly this morning that what we had there was historical—that Adam was a real human being, whose real sin resulted in a real fall, thus allowing Paul to write in 1 Corinthians 15, “As in Adam all died, so in Christ will all be made alive.”
The kingdom is spoiled: a talking snake; a rebellion. God has ruled his world through his Word. He speaks, and that is his authority. And that is exactly where Satan attacks—attacks the word that God spoke to his people. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’” See the distortion? No, God did not say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden.” He actually said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden,”—2:16—but the serpent comes and says, “Did God really say that you’re not allowed to eat from any of those trees?” She corrects him, and then he continues with his deception, seeking, as we saw, to make God out to be a spoilsport.
The kingdom is spoiled: a talking snake; a rebellion. And as a result of that rebellion, you have the breakdown in relationships. Incidentally—and we must affirm this—the entry of sin into the world was an act of blatant disobedience. And as we heard this morning, the whole idea of the knowledge of good or evil is a reference, not simply to knowing what is right and wrong, but is a reference to deciding what is right and wrong, and that man wants to decide what’s right and wrong. And the devil’s interference remains to that end. You can say what you like about Ten Commandments in the public square, in the courtroom, or wherever else it is, but it is not difficult to see that there is a direct correlation between the inherent, rebellious desire of man to make his own rules and an unwillingness to have anything that speaks of the rule of God confronting him as he goes about his business .
Now, the broken relationships are first of all between men and women. Adam and Eve have been living in perfect intimacy, perfect trust. And in an instant that is gone; all of a sudden, they’re squabbling. They’ve lived in nakedness without any shame. And suddenly he says, “Look at you.” And she says, “Look at me? Look at you. You should do a few sit-ups, Adam. I don’t want to hear, ‘Look at me.’ Look at you.” And off she goes and starts to stitch something together so that there will no longer be the opportunity for them to squabble over that. So they’ll squabble over something else. Who’s on first? And as we saw, the woman was no longer willing to submit to the husband’s lead. The husband was no longer willing to exercise loving, selfless leadership, and we’re off to the races. Now, this is at the heart of all marital counseling, incidentally. It’s not the answer to it all, but it is at the heart of it all, and therefore, a psychology which rejects this starts off way ’round the bend and has got very little to offer by way of restoration.
Not only is it broken down in relationships between men and women, but between man and creation. There is a struggle in creation—Genesis 3:17: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree, here’s how it goes. Cursed is the ground, painful toil, dandelions, thorns”—well, I added dandelions—“thorns, thistles, dandelions.” The universe is both friend and foe. And the broken relationship between man and God. Man turns away in rebellion, God turns away in judgment, and yet God graciously continues to call while man, by his nature, seeks to hide.
Now, let me wrap this up because otherwise we get so far behind this will be like the Gospel of Luke. And we don’t want that again!
Sin separates. Sin spoils. Sin spreads. And if you read chapter 4, you read all about Cain and Abel. Once it’s gone on the vertical hold, horizontally it’s chaos: murder, mayhem, confusion, family disruption. You read chapter 5: it’s the first genealogy that we have in the Bible, and the recurring phrase is “and then he died”—“and then he died.” We know that Adam and Eve did not instantaneously face their physical demise, but spiritually they were immediately dead and separated from God; physically that death was to come, and Genesis 5 is a reminder to it of mortality.
And somebody was telling me that they had found a hospital, somewhere I think in the States, in which when they put out a bulletin saying that Mr. Jenkins had died; they did not say that Mr. Jenkins had died, but that there had been “a negative patient care outcome.” Such is the unwillingness of our contemporary culture to face its mortality.
Then you have the flood in chapter 6 to 9. Then you have the Tower of Babel in chapter 11. Human history is preserved through the flood. God comes to Noah; Noah finds grace in the eyes of the Lord. It could have all come to a crashing end then. God in his mercy reaches down and grabs this fellow, and the line is preserved then. Man rises up, seeks to establish his own kingdom, builds a big tower. It’s the high point of his aspirations; it’s the low point of life. It’s a symbol of man’s exultation—its attempt at his own kingdom. And God frustrates the plan, and he separates the people. And now men and women are not only separated from God, but they are separated from one another.
So, to summarize: The kingdom of God is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule, enjoying God’s blessing. That pattern is there for us in the early books, in the early verses. That kingdom is spoiled. God’s people? No one. Reaches down and grabs Noah. God’s place? They’re banished. God’s rule? His Word is disobeyed. God’s blessing? They no longer enjoy it; they live under his curse. But this is not the end, because the story continues.
God still rules tonight, even though men and women disobey him. But he is in the business, if we might say, of bringing back to himself a people who are his very own, a people who will submit to his rule. Can I ask you—do you submit to his rule? Is Jesus Christ your king? Are you one of the kids of the kingdom?
Nicodemus was very religious. He came to Jesus by night with his questions and his inquiries. And Jesus, remember, told him, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Unless a man is born again, he cannot even see the kingdom of God. What control did you have over your conception? Exactly—physically. What control do you think you have over your spiritual conception? So, wouldn’t you cry out to God to save you, to bring you into his people, to make you ready for his place, to provide for you all of his blessings, so that you might live under his rule? That’s really what baptism is saying. Baptism is saying this: “Jesus is king, and by his great mercy, Jesus is my king.”
Father, I pray that as we lay down this foundation, it may be profitable for us as we move forward so that we might realize the way you’re working from creation, through to that new creation when one day you will gather to yourself from every nation and tribe and language and people, those who have been brought under your rule, and who, by your great grace, have enjoyed all of your provision. We thank you that, you having provided so wonderfully for us, we can make provision for the physical extension of the kingdom, as we seek to reach people with the good news. And we bring our offerings tonight in this regard. And we pray that as we anticipate listening to the testimonies of those who are to be baptized, that the question may linger in our minds: Am I in your kingdom? Am I one of your subjects? Hear our prayers, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
 Benjamin B. Warfield, “Inspiration,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 3, ed. James Orr (Chicago: Howard-Severance, 1915), 1480.
 2 Timothy 3:16a (NIV 1984).
 Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom (Exeter, UK: Paternoster, 1981), 47.
 See Genesis 1:2.
 Genesis 1:31 (paraphrased).
 A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Genesis (Chicago: Moody Press, 1922), 11–12.
 Psalm 95:3–5 (NIV 1984).
 Romans 1:25 (paraphrased).
 See Genesis 2:2.
 See Genesis 1:31.
 Hebrews 1:3 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 11:28–29 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 4:9 (paraphrased).
 See Genesis 3:1–5.
 1 Corinthians 15:22 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 3:1 (NIV 1984)
 Genesis 3:17–19 (paraphrased).
 John 3:3 (paraphrased).
 Revelation 7:9 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.