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In The Beginning, part 3
“The Image of the Best”
Mentone January 31, 2015
Our sermon today continues in our study of Genesis 1, written by Moses, about 15 centuries before Christ. What is the name of God used in Genesis 1:1? It is Elohim. It’s plural, which in Hebrew is three or more, and means literally “the powerful Ones.” So, we find that the trinity is embedded in the first verse of Scripture. And the Bible tells us that Jesus is specifically the God Who spoke and it was. We looked at the word “created” (bara) and saw that it’s a word that in its simple, active sense never describes what man does. Only God can create, bring into existence matter, both animate and inanimate, ex nihilo, or “out of nothing.” We sometimes use the term fiat creation (fiat is the Latin for “Let there be,” from Genesis 1:3) to describe this instantaneous creation by divine command.
We saw that the formula E = mc2 describes the conversion of matter to energy, as witnessed by an atomic explosion. Less than a gram of matter was changed to energy when the Hiroshima blast took place, releasing the energy of about 15 kilotons of TNT. On that basis, we learn that it would take the energy of 2,500 such blasts to bring into existence the mass represented by a 5 pound bag of flour. Since Genesis is describing, not the creation of 5 pounds of flour but the creation of the earth, we note that the weight of the earth is calculated to be about 6 septillion kilograms (that’s 6 with 24 zeroes behind it), or in terms of pounds, that number would be 13.5 with 24 zeroes.
Because it takes the energy equivalent of 500 atomic detonations to covert that energy to one pound of mass, we deduce that the mass of this earth’s matter required, in terms of atomic blasts, the equivalent of 6.75 plus 27 zeroes after it to create. And this earth, as large as it is, is just a speck in the spectrum of the universe! How awesome is our God! How true it is what Job said, “Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways. And how small a whisper we hear of Him!” Job 26:14.
Why is it important to get an idea of the magnitude of God’s power? We’ll see today that it’s because in our present situation He’s reserved all His creative power to solve the sin problem. We know of no other physical creation going on in the universe presently. All His attention, all His energy is directed toward resolving the problem planet. It’s arguably the biggest challenge God has ever faced, the most costly project He’s ever undertaken. His energy most certainly was expended in the creation of other worlds and galaxies, but nowhere are we led to believe that those projects cost Him His lifeblood, as did the restoration of lost humanity.
And this brings us to our study today. Here’s the main point we want to address. It’s a simple proposition. We’re going to see that the great plan of redemption parallels the story of Genesis 1 as it describes His work on this physical planet. Genesis 1 is not just the story of creation, as meaningful and important as that is; it’s the story of re-creation.
When we use the word “re-creation,” note the difference between the word “re-creation” and “recreation.” The word “recreation” came into the English language about 1400 A.D. and its original meaning was indeed “to create again.” That original nuance is the sense that we are using it today, and we’re emphasizing that aspect by pronouncing it re-creation.
Why so? Because through the process of time, the pronunciation and definition of the word have changed, just like “holyday” became “holiday.” Too often now, “recreation” is not “re-creation.” Too often recreation today is “wreckreation.” But it doesn’t have to be; “recreation” can be wholesome and restorative. But too often it’s diversion that’s actually harmful to our spiritual beings and sometimes our physical beings too. Someone comes back from their two-week vacation and they need a vacation after their vacation. Re-creation, on the other hand, focuses on God’s grand purpose to restore His character in our hearts, to fulfill His intent as described in Genesis 1:26, when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image,” and recognize that that great design was never rescinded.
But there is something we should take note of at this point, as we compare the account of the physical creation in Genesis 1 with spiritual renewal. When God said, “Let there be” in Genesis 1, there was no choice, no decision, no will involved. Light had no choice but to be when God said. Nature had no choice but to respond to the voice of her Master. The firmament, the sun and moon, the trees and all creatures had no choice but to be, when God said, “Let there be.” That’s the way it was in the creation of the physical world.
But in the spiritual realm, in this secondary application, it’s different. We do have a choice in the matter. We can put up the stop sign and say, “No, I don’t want to let go of sin. I want to continue living just the way I’m living. I don’t want a new heart. I don’t want a transformed life. I don’t want to be re-made into the image of Christ.” If I say that, then what happens? It won’t take place, because God gave us free will to choose life or death, and He’ll never force or coerce us to follow Him.
So let’s take another look at Genesis 1 and see 7 points of comparison between God’s work in creating the physical world and His work in re-creating us. Here are the 7 similarities. We’re actually starting with one of the last ones first. 1) The final objective: the image of God. 2) The condition when God starts His work: darkness, without form and void. 3) God exercises creative power. 4) The Spirit Who “hovers.” 5) “Let there be light.” 6) The principle of “separate and divide.” 7) The “fruit” and the “seed;” “after his (His) kind. We won’t be able to cover them all today. There are great spiritual lessons contained in these verses!
Now as we begin our study today, allow me to say a word about the subtitle of our message. It’s not a misprint, although I must confess that it came to me by way of a “typo.” I was actually attempting to type “image of the beast” and left out the letter “a.” But I looked at what I had typed, the thought came to me that there might be a lesson there. I know that Seventh-day Adventists are used to hearing a lot about the “image of the beast,” and it may be that when somebody saw that subtitle today their brains interpreted it that way. I won’t ask for a show of hands! And it’s important to know all about that. It’s in the Bible; a fearful warning to avoid the image and mark of the beast, featured prominently in the Three Angels’ Messages of Revelation 14.
But today our focus is going to be a little different. The purpose of the subtitle is not to make a clever, cutesy pun. It’s there to point out the fantastic design God has for your life and mine and the way He wants to use us as His exhibits to refute Satan’s charges in the biggest lawsuit ever filed. No trial would ever be held unless a prosecutor filed charges. Who in the Bible is the “accuser” or prosecutor of the brethren? It’s Satan, isn’t it? He not only accuses the “brethren,” but has mounted a charge against the Sovereign of the universe. Satan charged God with being unfair and unloving, unfit to rule the universe. He charged that His divine law was impossible to keep.
He was successful in getting about 1/3 of the angels to agree with him (about “half” according to his estimate). He was successful in getting innocent Adam and Eve to join his rebellion, and he’s been successful in getting every single person born on this planet to join his ranks, with one notable Exception. Who was that? It was Jesus Christ. Jesus never consented to sin; He never gave in to sin. Was that because He was God and couldn’t fail? No. He came here in weakened sinful flesh and lived here as we do. He could have fallen, but He didn’t because He lived “by faith.” He lived a perfect life of obedience to all of God’s commandments. Praise God for the perfect life of Jesus, fulfilling all the requirements of God’s law, and praise God for the perfect sacrifice He made on the cross, as a lamb without blemish. It is through faith in His atonement that we are justified, forgiven and “counted” worthy and without sin.
But that’s not where His great plan stops. It gets better. Jesus wishes to give His victory and His faith to you and to me. We are lost sinners; we are prone to fall and have made many mistakes, but Christ promises to not only forgive our sins and wipe our slate clean but, if we’ll let Him, to re-create in us His likeness. This gets to the very root of the Gospel promise, the New Covenant and the heart of the issue in the Great Controversy. He proposes to reproduce within us, fallen humanity, the image of God.
In other words, Genesis 1:26 not only expresses His purpose in the beginning, before sin, when He said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness,” but it also expresses His objective after sin, within fallen humanity. This verse, we submit, contains God’s “mission statement,” both before and after sin. By the way, this is the first time the word “image” is found in Scripture, and notice that it’s used in a positive sense.
In the Greek Old Testament of this text, the Septuagint (LXX), the word that is translated “image” is icon, a word that was brought into our English language and with which most of us are familiar. It means “image” or “likeness; copy or picture.” Thirty years ago or so, before the computer age, the word “icon” was used to refer to pictures and depictions of religious scenes in eastern orthodox churches. Now, the word “icon” refers to those little symbols on your computer screen that represent different programs or applications. In the Greek Old Testament, this word icon in Genesis 1:26 is the very same word that is used in Revelation 13 and 14 when it warns against the “image of the beast.” In Genesis 1, though, it is talking about the “image,” the “icon” of God. It is, pardon the play on words, the “Image of the Best,” not the “image of the beast.” And so it was that Adam and Eve came forth a perfect reflection of God in form, feature and character.
But then, what happened? As we shall see, that image was marred through transgression. But God didn’t give up. He didn’t abort the project. He didn’t throw away the clay, in the language of Jeremiah 18. That might have been the “easy” thing to do. But no, He went the “second mile” and purposes yet to fulfill Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image,” even after sin came in; even within the fallen society of mankind. This is a grand and glorious plan, a radical objective; a seemingly impossible dream. And some flatly deny that it can happen. Yet God says it can be done through His grace and He’s looking for those who will submit to His will and His power so that He can accomplish that work within them. And we know that He will succeed in this endeavor, because before this earth’s history is wrapped up, He will have a people to whom He can point and say, “Here they are. Here are they that keep the commandments and have the faith of Jesus.” Revelation 14:12. May you and I be in that group!
So, if you can look at it this way, at the end there will be two images, two likenesses, two “icons” on exhibition. Every single person alive at that point will have the imprint of one image or the other. Either Genesis 1:26, “Let Us make man in Our image” will be fulfilled in them and they will reflect the character of God, or the image of the beast, the likeness of Satan, will be stamped on their souls.
I don’t want to confuse you; it’s true that the image and the mark of the beast will come about by the willful and defiant compliance to an earthly law that uplifts Sunday as the day of worship in contrast to the true day of worship, the seventh-day Sabbath. That’s true. But that act of willful disobedience is the final token of taking on the character of him whom the Bible calls the “lawless one,” the one who invented “another way” different than loving loyalty to the Creator God.
Today, though, we’re talking about the “image” in the context of Genesis 1:26. The title today is given to encourage us that there will be some who will have allowed God to complete His mission of restoration and imprint His character in their lives; His image and likeness will be perfectly reflected in the lives of the saints. The title “The Image of the Best” is there to point out how awesome our God is that He is able to rescue a fallen planet from the mire of sin and destruction and bring restoration and life to fallen sinners. Praise God for His power that enables Him to do this and for His love that compels Him to do this!
We’re going to take a look a little later at Genesis 3, which describes the sad fall of mankind into transgression, but today we’ll presume that we all know that it happened. When that took place, God was not caught by surprise. Immediately He put into action the rescue plan that had been in His mind from the beginning.
Point number 1: the restoration of the image of God in lost humanity; the final fulfillment of Genesis 1:26 before Jesus returns. Our next point, number 2, comes from Genesis 1:2 which describes the condition of the earth and reads, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.”
This verse has 3 different applications. 1) It describes the physical condition of the world as God began to work on it during creation week. That’s the obvious and primary meaning of the text. 2) Also, though, as we’re going to discuss today, it describes the spiritual condition of the “world” before God comes into their lives. 3) What else does it describe? What’s the third application? These words also describes the physical condition of the world after Jesus comes back to this earth and the way it will remain during the 1,000 years of the millennium, in “darkness and without form and void.” Isaiah 24 uses language that is similar, Jeremiah 4 use the very words of Genesis 1:2 in describing what happens after the great and mighty Day of the Lord. Revelation 20 also uses the very words of Genesis 1:2 in describing the condition of the earth during the 1,000 years, when it will be clothed in darkness, without form and void.
Today we’re looking at the beginning point, the point before a lost sinner comes to Christ. At one point in our lives, this verse represents every one of us. It describes the condition of the “world” as being in darkness. When we speak of the term “world” in that way, we’re referring to those who don’t have God in their lives. Sad to say, that condition probably includes the majority of earth’s inhabitants today.
In the Bible, “darkness” describes that place, that condition that exists in a person’s life apart from God. It’s using it as a spiritual metaphor, not to be understood in a literal way. Spiritual “blindness” is a parallel concept in Scripture. There are many Bible verses that contain this idea, but let’s read just a few passages that bear this point out. Psalm 82:5 reads, “They (the wicked) do not know, nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness.” Proverbs 4:19 says, “The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” Notice then that this “darkness” has something to do with what you don’t “know” and “understand,” and the result of being in darkness causes you to “stumble.”
Colossians 1:13 tells us, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” The word “translated” in that text; is it in the past (perfect) or future tense? It’s in the past tense, isn’t it. Did you know that there are two “translations”? And we’re not talking about different versions of the Bible in this context. That’s a separate thing altogether, having to do with changing from one language to another, as when I would speak in English and it were to be translated into Spanish. But other than words being translated, what do we usually think of when we talk about Christians being “translated”? When will that take place? That happens when Jesus comes back, doesn’t it. At that “translation” the living are transformed in body and are swept up to the cloud to meet Christ. But prior to that, and as a necessary pre-requisite, there’s another “translation.” It’s the one indicated in this verse, by which we are spiritually moved from the kingdom of darkness, received into His kingdom and have a change of character. And, it’s also true, by the way, that when this “translation” takes place, we indeed do speak another “language,” the language of heaven!
I Thessalonians 5:4, 5. “But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.” Again, being in “darkness” means that you are not spiritually enlightened, in this case to know the truth about the coming of Jesus. To symbolize the fact that Jesus had taken on our sins at the cross, what happened there from noon to about 3 p.m. on Mt. Calvary? We’re told that Golgotha was wrapped in darkness. Matthew 27:45.
So, like the world before God began His work on it, before I come to God I was in a state of “darkness,” which is in this case a spiritual metaphor to describe the lack of insight, the inability to discern spiritual realities, the inability to know the truth about the God of love the Bible reveals. Because I’m in darkness, I stumble and fall, and if I remain in darkness, eventually I won’t be ready for the great Day of God. How many today are in “darkness,” in a state in which they do not appreciate the beautiful truth about God and His plan! Both the parable of the man without a wedding garment and the parable of the unfaithful steward end tragically with them being cast into “outer darkness.”
Concerning the last days the Bible says in Isaiah 60:2, 1, “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness (“gross darkness” KJV) the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.” What is the “glory of the LORD” that this verse speaks of, which shines upon God’s people in the “gross darkness” of the world? Is it some supernatural extravagant splendor, some majestic beam that lights them up? No. This “glory” is the character of God that is imprinted into the minds of the saints. That’s why Revelation speaks of the Father’s “name” or “character” written in the foreheads of the saved. It is the reflection of God’s thinking that has been re-wired into their brains. What is our role then? It’s our privilege to let His glory, His character be written by His Spirit on our hearts, so that we can be “light-bearers” and share the wonderful truth about our gracious God and the important truths that His Word contains especially for these times.
Besides being in darkness, what else do we read about the earth’s condition? The earth was “without form and void.” What application do these words have to the condition of the lost sinner, about my life before I came to God? Simply this. They describe the fact that the life of a person without God has no shape or direction. That person is spiritually amorphous. That person’s life is aimless and purposeless. It’s empty and meaningless, at least with respect to eternal values, the things that really matter.
You might remember the story of a king who started out as one of God’s children, but then succumbed to temptation and left the Lord. You know of whom I’m talking, don’t you. He was given riches, fame and wisdom, but then he tried to find greater happiness in things that God forbids. What did he find out? Was he happier after he searched out all those possibilities? No, he discovered the emptiness which that life leads to. He wrote a book to try to encourage others not to go down that path, the book of Ecclesiastes. What’s the most frequently used word in that book? It’s the word “vanity,” or “emptiness.” His name was King Solomon. Thankfully he discovered before it was too late how important it is to have God in your life to fill the emptiness and void. If there’s someone here today who feels that life is meaningless and without purpose, I appeal to you to receive Christ and have Him put meaning and purpose into your life. We were created to love and worship our Maker. There’s an “empty spot” in our souls that only He can fill. Satan tempts us to try to fill that hole with all kinds of other things, but they never give us the fulfillment that we need. We’re left “empty” and “void.”
Here are some other ways that this word is translated in the Bible, and as I read them, let your mind think of how these terms apply to a godless life. This word “without form” is translated elsewhere in the Bible as “waste, vain, nothing, wilderness, empty, confusion, nought, and as nothing.”
The synonym “void” means “empty and hollow.” Is this an accurate picture of a person who is living without God? Yes, it is. That was my life before I invited Jesus in. It’s true that people without God may have some structure to their lives concerning the passing things of this life, but this is talking about the things that really matter; the things that will matter on the Day when God comes back to this planet.
I Peter 1:18 reads, “Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers.” Aimless conduct, or lifestyle. That’s a life without direction and purpose. That’s a life that doesn’t have God in it. The high rate of suicides in our country, especially among youth, can be traced directly to this “aimlessness” that accompanies the life of darkness when Jesus is not in your heart. Satan discourages people with the thought, “What’s the point?” and they give up. How sad!
The prophet Jude referred to these godless people who are “without form and void” in their spiritual lives. Notice that he’s speaking of people who are outwardly religious. They associate and worship with Christians, but they are not truly and completely converted. “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves; they are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Jude 12, 13. There may be a foment of activity in a life like that, but it’s without purpose and direction. It sounds like the life of a person without God is accurately reflected by the physical condition of the world before God began to improve it, dark, without form and void, chaos and confusion. That’s the second point of comparison.
Now we come to the third point, which is given us in Genesis 1:1, 2. “In the beginning God created.” We remind you of the awesome might of our God exercised in His creative power. Remember the Hebrew word bara? In the form used in Genesis 1, it describes what only God can do, never what man does. Why is that important? It’s because I can’t make myself righteous. I can’t heal my heart from the virus of sin. Only God can. But He has the power to do just that! That’s the good news of the Gospel, His creative power to make me new. Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” Romans 1:16. What is the term that we use to describe this kind of creation? Fiat (remember, that’s a Latin word which means, “Let there be”) creation. Simply by the authority of His verbal command, things appeared which did not previously exist. That’s divine, creative power! Another related term we talked about is “ex nihilo,” a Latin phrase that means, “out of nothing.” That’s how God created the physical world.
And to our encouragement, that’s the same power, the very same awesome creative power that He proposes to use in our spiritual lives. Try to think of all that energy expended to bring the mass of this earth into being. That’s the kind of energy and power He is willing and able to apply to our lives to bring restoration, to bring re-creation. In fact, it’s His highest priority. All of His creative energy to bring forth more in the physical realm has been put on hold as He exercises His creative power in the spiritual realm to change lives.
“Without form and void and in darkness;” that’s my life before I let Jesus come in. Note that He’s not coming into a life that’s “pretty good” but just needs a little improvement. To be honest, without God, there is no life that is “pretty good.” That was the big mistake of the Pharisees who thought themselves “righteous” on their own. The truth is we need a complete renovation, a total transformation. This is not a spiritual “remodel” applying a little touch-up paint here and there. That’s not what the Bible is talking about. It’s a new beginning. It’s a radical make-over. It starts with me being “without form, void and in darkness” and begins a re-creative process that will lead me to the Kingdom, to be remade “in His image.” My spiritual life didn’t exist before. Then came God and brought life where there was none. It is “out of nothing,” ex nihilo, both physically and spiritually, that He exercises His mighty power. I was “dead in trespasses and sins,” and then He made me alive in Christ. Ephesians 2:1.
Notice this beautiful text in Exodus 34:10 which contains the New Covenant promise, “Before all your people I will do marvels (that means it’s a miraculous work) such as have not been done (the Hebrew verb here is bara, the same as in Genesis 1:1) in all the earth nor in any nation; and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD (it requires our consent and our cooperation, but it’s “His” work). It is an awesome thing that I will do with you.”
That should give us hope! I don’t have to be “good” to come to God and ask Him into my heart. In fact, if I recognize my total spiritual poverty; if I see my spiritual life in terms of Genesis 1:2, “without form, void and in darkness,” if I pray like the Publican did, “God be merciful to me, a sinner,” then there is great hope for me. What did King David pray after his grievous sin with Bathsheba? Psalm 51:10 “Create (again, it’s bara, the same word as Genesis 1:1) in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David recognized that only God could accomplish such a re-creation. He didn’t pray, “God fix me up a little but don’t change me too much.” No, He recognized that he needed to be re-created, and only God could restore in him His image and likeness.
In Isaiah 64:6 the Bible says that all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Jeremiah 13:23 asks, “Can the leopard change his spots? Then may you (on your own) also do good who are accustomed to do evil.” Jeremiah also says, “The heart is deceitful (“Jacob”-like) above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9. When sin came in, the image of God was marred; the spiritual nature of man died. And every son and daughter of Adam is born in sin and needs to be re-made.
What is the spiritual lesson conveyed by the concept of fiat creation, that is, “instantaneous creation by command?” Is there something we should see in that idea? Yes! What does the term fiat mean? It denotes “instantaneous creation by command.” When God said, “Let there be,” it didn’t take eons for the plants and animals to appear. It was instantaneous. What does that mean for us, in terms of the Gospel? Just this. When I invite God into my life, instantly my standing with Him is restored and I am “complete in Him.” Colossians 2:10. “Wait a minute,” someone says. “How can that be, seeing that I’m just beginning the Christian journey?” It’s because God sees us in Christ, and sees what we will become through His grace. This is the message of Romans 4:17, where Paul speaks of God Who “calls those things which do not exist as though they did.”
In the work of a moment, by fiat creation, our relationship with Him and our salvation are brought into being. Amazing! I stand before Him as if I had never sinned, robed in the righteousness, the perfect and holy righteousness of Jesus Christ. Praise God! It’s true that God will bring changes into my life that will take time and will better and more perfectly reflect the character of Jesus, and those changes will occur as He leads me day by day. The Bible calls that “sanctification.” And we are given the encouragement in Philippians 1:6 that, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ,” and one day Jesus is going to say, “Let him who is righteous be righteous still.” Revelation 22:11.
But never forget that our standing with God is accomplished the moment we give our lives to Him and surrender to His gracious Lordship. That should give us great peace of mind. If you give your heart to Him and have a heart attack the next minute or get killed on the highway, your eternal life is secure in Him. Why would anyone want to remain in darkness with emptiness and void; why would anyone want to stay in Genesis 1:2, when we can have peace in Jesus this instant, by fiat creation?
How did God accomplish His creativity in Genesis 1? Except for the manner by which He made humans, it was all by His Word. Psalm 33:9. “He spoke and it was.” Repeatedly in Genesis 1 you read the phrase, “And God said.” That’s telling us that His Word has creative power within it. That’s a huge lesson for us in our spiritual lives. I may not be able to tell you how reading the Bible on a daily basis plays a role in spiritual vitality, but I know that it does. His Word has power in it. It is the “living” and “powerful Word” according to Hebrews 4:12. If you want new life, read this Book and let God speak to you. If you want Jesus to make you like Him, read this Book. It will change your way of thinking. You will come into contact with the Lifegiver Himself. Of course, knowing that, Satan will do anything to keep you from reading the Bible. Don’t let him succeed!
Genesis 1 is the story of the physical creation of the earth and the spiritual re-creation of lost sinners. He starts with us being in darkness, our lives without form and empty. Then, through His mighty Word, the process of regeneration begins. He re-creates us into His likeness, His image. Do you want Him to accept and re-make you? Do you wish for Him to re-create your soul into His likeness, to reflect His character? Ask Him to come into your heart right now. He’s standing at the door, knocking. Won’t you let Him come in?