We’ve spent three weeks looking at Genesis 1. On the first week, we learned that Moses wrote the book of Genesis. And he wrote it, originally, for the people of Israel who were making their way from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. So, he didn’t try to prove the existence of God because they had already believed in him. And he wrote in a way that the Israelites could understand without using scientific language. And he wrote to convince them that their God is far, far, far greater than the gods of the pagans. The pagans worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars; but our God made the sun and the moon and the stars. Their gods struggled to make the world; but our God only had to speak and things were made.
Those are some of the thing we learned on the first week. The second week we concentrated on verse 2 where it tells us that the heavens and the earth — when God first made them — were formless and empty and dark. It was a dark, watery wasteland. Not the kind of place we’d want to live. But God wasn’t finished. He was about to transform this dark, watery wasteland into a world that would be a suitable home for us to live in.
And so, we saw how, in days 1 to 3, he gave light to this dark world and he gave order and shape to the earth. He separated daytime and night time so that we would have daytime for work and night time for rest. He separated the waters above from the waters below by creating the sky so that, eventually, rain would fall from the sky and water our crops. And he separated the dry land from the seas and rivers and lakes so that we would have a place to live and work. He also made the dry land produce plants and trees so that we’d have food to eat. And then, on days 4 to 6, he began to fill this empty world. He filled the heavens with the sun and the moon and the stars. He filled the sky with birds and the seas with fish. He filled the land with animals. And then, when everything was ready for us, when everything else was prepared, he finally made us, men and women, to live on this earth. Before creating us, God wanted to ensure that the world was a suitable home for us.
So, that’s what we were thinking about on the second week. Last week we concentrated on what Moses wrote about the creation of humans. We noticed from verse 26 how God paused and deliberated with himself before creating us. You see, he was making something special, something different from all the others things he had made.
Then he made us in his own image and likeness. He made us to be little pictures, or living statues, of himself and to represent him on the earth and to reflect his glory. And, of course, nothing else was made in his image and likeness. Only us. In other words, he bestowed great dignity and honour upon us.
And then, we learnt from verse 26 that he made us to rule. He gave us dominion and authority over everything else. Of course, we’re not meant to abuse our authority and destroy the world. We’re to take care of it and rule it well.
What else did we learn? We learned that the dignity of being made in the image of God has been given to men and women. We’re both made in his image, to reflect his glory. Though today men and women are often rivals, that’s not the way it was in the beginning.
And we learned that he made us with the capacity for language and for relationship. You see, in verse 28 he spoke to us. And today he still speaks to us through his word and we respond to him in prayer and praise. That’s how he made us. We were made to relate to him, and we were made to relate to one another.
We learned that, by commanding us to increase in number and fill the earth, he ordained marriage and family life. And by commanding us to subdue the earth, he ordained work. Marriage isn’t something we invented; having children is not a burden; work isn’t a pain. These are things he ordained; he approves of these things; he’s pleased with them; and they have been given to us for our good.
And then, we learned again that he provides for us. The pagans believed the gods made humans to serve them and to provide them with food. But our God has given to us every plant for food.
And then we learned that everything he made was very good. When Rachel has in P7 she was in a school play about building the Titanic. And it was called: ‘She Was Alright When She Left Us.’ The people who made her could say that the Titanic was fine when she left Belfast. So, we’re not responsible for what happened to her afterwards. And, you see, the world was fine, it was very good, when God first made it. And so, he’s not to blame for what happened next. He’s not to blame for Adam’s sin and for our fall into sin and misery.
And then, the last thing we learned last week was that in the beginning, God made us in his image and he commanded us to fill the earth. In other words, he commanded us to fill the earth with little, living images of himself. But, of course, because of our sin, the image of God in us has become spoiled and marred and corrupted. However, we then noticed that years later, the Lord Jesus commissioned the apostles — representing the church — to go and make disciples of all nations. They were to preach the good news about Jesus Christ, and whoever believes the good news, is pardoned for all that they have done wrong. And then, they’re sanctified by his Spirit, which means he works in us to renew us in the image and likeness of God. And so, through the preaching of the gospel, the earth will once again be filled with little, living images of God, all praising his name and reflecting his glory on the earth.
So, that’s where we got to last week and those are some of the things we’ve been learning along the way. And so, do you see how Genesis 1 helps us to understand ourselves? We’re made to be like God. Made to be rulers over all creation. Made for a relationship with God: God speaking to us through his word so that we can know him and give thanks to him for his kindness towards us. We’re made to live in families so that we’re not alone. We’re made for work so that we’re not idle with nothing to do. This is the way God made us. And since God is our Creator and our Provider, then, of course, we should seek from him every good thing we need in order to be the kind of person he made us to be.
Well, today we’re moving into chapter 2. Chapter 1 is all about the first 6 days of creation. Chapter 2 begins with the seventh day. But first of all, in verse 1, Moses wrote:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
Or, perhaps a more literal translation is as follows:
Thus the heavens and the earth and all the host were finished.
You see, Moses is summarising what happened in chapter 1. First of all, God made the heavens and the earth. That was in verse 1 of chapter 1. But the earth, at first, was this dark, watery wilderness. And so, in the following days he made everything else: the light, the sky, the dry land, the vegetation, the sun and moon and stars, the birds, the fish, the animals, the humans. In other words, not only did he make the heavens and the earth, but he made all the host as well, all the things in the world. God made all these things. And at the beginning of chapter 2, Moses gives us this summary statement to teach us that God was finished with his work of creation.
My sister and her family recently moved house. And their new house is an old house and needed a lot of work. And so, they hired a builder who began the work to do the renovation work. And, of course, he started with lots of enthusiasm and everyday he was there, knocking down walls, tearing up the floor, hammering here, sawing there, installing this and removing that. Lots of enuthusiam at the beginning, for the first month or two. But for the last month, they’ve hardly seen him even though the work is not finished. In the living room, plaster board is missing from one wall. Outside, the decking with steps down to the garden is still incomplete. In every room, there’s something that isn’t finished. And some of us have experienced the same thing. Or we know people who are great at beginning new projects, but they’re not too good at finishing them. They get bored. Or they get distracted. Or they get stumped and they don’t know what to do next.
But the Lord is entirely different. What he begins, he finishes. When the world was made at first, it was a dark, watery wilderness. But he didn’t leave it there. He carried on. Day 1. Something to do. Day 2. Something to do. Day 3. Something to do. Day 4. Still something to do. Day 5. Still not finished. Day 6. Getting there. Day 7. It’s all done. It’s all finished. The work of creating the world was done. What God begins, he finished.
And he’s like that about his other great work. His first great work was his work of creation. His other great work is his work of redemption. He’s not only our Creator, but he’s also our Redeemer. And when the time was right, he sent his Son into the world in order to redeem us from our sin and misery. And how did he do that? By living a life of perfect obedience, and then by suffering and dying on the cross in accordance with God’s great plan for our salvation.
And do you remember what the Lord Jesus Christ said on the cross? John 19 verse 30:
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
What was finished? The work his Father had given him to do. The work of suffering and dying on the cross to pay for our sins. It was finished. It was complete. What God begins, he finishes.
And, of course, as well as being our Creator and our Redeemer, he’s also our Sanctifier. There’s the work he did to make us in the beginning. Then there’s the work he did for us on the cross. But there’s also the work he does in us by his Holy Spirit. Do you remember that verse in Philippians 1? Paul wrote:
being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
God is working in our lives by his Spirit, to sanctify us, and to renew us in his image. He’s working to remake us. And though we still sin everyday and we still fall short of doing his will in so many ways, though we often despair that we’ll never be done with sin, and everyday we’re ashamed of ourselves and the things we do, nevertheless, God will continue to work in us until his work in us is complete. He won’t give up on us. He won’t get tired of us and our shortcomings. What God begins, he finishes.
So, back to Genesis 2. The heavens and the earth and all their vast array were finished. Then, in verse 2, Moses tells us that God rested from all his work on the seventh day.
Now, we need to be careful here. What did he rest from? Did he rest from all his work? Does he sit in heaven now, doing nothing? Well, not according to the Lord Jesus. Do you remember that passage in John chapter 5 where we read how the Lord healed the man at the Pool of Bethesda who had been lame for 38 years? And, because it was the Sabbath Day, the Jews complained to the Lord Jesus, because he was breaking the Sabbath Day, or so they thought. But the Lord Jesus answered them and said:
My Father is always at his work until this very day.
My Father is always working. So, when verse 2 of Genesis 2 tells us that God rested from all his work, it can’t mean that he stopped working altogether.
So, what did he rest from? Well, he rested, or he ceased, from his work of creation. That work was now finished. There was nothing more for him to make. He’d made the heavens and the earth. He’d made the light. He made the sky. He’d made the seas and the dry land. He’d made the sun and the moon and the stars. He’d made all the vegetation and, of course, he made them in such a way that they they would reproduce themselves. He’d made all the bird and the fish and the animals and the humans and, of course, he made us in such a way that we can produce offspring. His work of creating the world was finished. And so he could rest from it. He could cease from it.
But he’s still at work every day. Every day he sustains and directs all that he made. Do you remember what we learned from the Catechism about God’s works of providence?
God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preservation and control of all his creatures, and all their actions.
Every moment of every day, he’s preserving what he’s made. He upholds us and helps us, he strengthens us and sustains us. He causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall. He makes the crops grow so that everyday we have good things to eat and to enjoy. And then, he not only preserves us, he controls us. He directs us and guides us to ensure that his plan for us and for the world is fulfilled in every detail. On the seventh day, God rested, or he ceased, from his work of creating the world. But he works every day to uphold us and to direct us.
And that’s just as well. Without his constant care and help, we wouldn’t have what we need for this life. The sun wouldn’t shine. The rain wouldn’t fall. The crops wouldn’t grow. What would we eat? How could we survive? The world would become a dark, watery wilderness once again. But the Lord sustains all that he has made every day.
And, then, without his constant care and help, we wouldn’t have what we need for the life to come. He’s the one who ensured that there was someone to teach us the good news of the gospel. And he was able to work in our hearts by his Spirit to enable us to repent and to believe the good news when we heard it. And he’s the one who continues to work in our hearts to strengthen our faith in the Saviour and to help us to persevere in the faith.
On the seventh day, God rested from his work of creating the world; but he’s constantly at work to provide us with what we need for this life and for the life to come.
So, the heavens and the earth and all their vast array was finished. God therefore rested, or ceased, from his work of creating the world. And then, he blessed the seventh day and made it holy.
Now, this is very interesting. Apparently the pagans at that time considered every seventh day to be an unlucky day. They were bad days. Cursed days. So, you didn’t want to go on a journey on a seventh day. Or you didn’t want to start a job on a seventh day. If you did, chances are something would go wrong. Just think of the way some people today regard Friday the thirteen as an unlucky day and you get the idea of what the pagans believed. The pagans around Israel treated every seventh day in the month as a bad day. But for the Lord’s people it was a good day. It was a blessed day. It was a day to look forward to with expectation and delight. Why? Because it was a holy day.
Now, I’ve talked before about what ‘holy’ and ‘holiness’ are. If something is holy, it’s set apart by God. And so, in the Old Testament, the Temple and its furnishing were holy: they were set apart for God and his worship. Priests were holy, because they had been set apart to serve God in the Temple. We talk now about the Holy Bible, because this book is set apart and different from all other books. We talk about Holy Communion, because the bread and wine are set apart from all ordinary bread and wine to be used for the worship of God. Christians are holy, because God has set us apart from the rest of humanity and we now belong to God and must serve him. So, to be holy means something is set apart for God. And so, in the beginning, the Lord set apart the seventh day from all the other days. It was to be different from all the rest.
And, of course, it was to be different from all the rest, because every seventh day, every Sabbath Day, we’re to do what he did on that very first seventh day. On the very first seventh day, he rested from his work. He ceased from his labours. And we’re to do the same.
So, not only has God ordained family life, and not only has he ordained work, but he’s also ordained the Sabbath Day for rest. For six days, we’re to work. And we’re to work hard. But on the seventh day, we’re to rest from what we’ve been doing the rest of the week.
And what a blessing that must have been for the Israelites. Just think about what it had been like for them in Egypt. They had been slaves, forced to work every day, without break. Day after day after day after day. In Exodus 1, we read how their lives were bitter with hard labour. So, what was it going to be like for them now? What would it be like now that they had escaped from Egypt? Would their lives continue to be bitter with hard labour? Would God be a hard taskmaster? Well no. What a blessed relief for them, because their God was commanding them to rest one day in every seven. Every seventh day, have a break. Stop working. Take it easy. Rest your tired and weary bodies and find refreshment.
And they were commanded to ensure that their wives and children and slaves and animals were to rest as well. Everyone was to rest on the seventh day.
And so, we can imagine them, working hard in their fields, growing their crops. It’s was hard work. The sun, beating down on them. Digging the grounds. Weeding it. Watering it. Looking after their livestock. It was hard work. But every day, they were looking forward to the seventh day, longing for the seventh day to come when they didn’t have to go out and work.
And it’s the same for us. Most of us, busy with all sorts of things. Busy during the day with work. Busy each evening with activities and clubs. Busy at home with the family. Taking the children, here, there and everywhere. But what a relief. What a blessed relief for us, because it will soon be Sunday when we can rest from all of that.
And, of course, now that we’re able to rest from our work, and we don’t have to go to school or college, and we don’t have to rush out to the shops, or do the housework, and we’re not going off to play rugby or golf, and we can switch off the TV and the computer, now that we don’t have to do any of the other things we do during the rest of the week, then suddenly we find we have more time for worship. We’ve got the time to come to church to join with the Lord’s people to worship the Lord and to give thanks to him for his kindness towards us. And we’ve got time at home to read his word and to pray to him. The rest of the week is so busy. But he’s blessed the seventh day and made it holy, different from the rest of the week, so that we have time to rest and to worship him.
Well, when Yvonne and I were in Scotland, we went to a church where the members were in the habit of inviting guests for Sunday dinner. Older couples whose children had grown up and left home would invite those who were in their 20s and 30s for dinner. And so, after church on Sunday morning, Yvonne and I might be invited with one or two others to someone’s home. And we’d have a big dinner. And then, after dinner, we’d all sit back and relax. And we’d chat. Or we might go for a walk in the countryside. And then it was time for tea. And after tea, it was time for church again. It was a wonderfully relaxing day. It was wonderfully kind of them to invite us. And it was a wonderful way for the older members to get to know the younger members so that we felt like a true church family, knowing and loving one another. And without the Sabbath Day, it wouldn’t have been possible, because on Sundays we had the time for rest and worship.
Well, let me finish with two further points. First of all, we should notice how Moses — writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — depicts the Lord God as a worker, going out to do his work, and then resting on the seventh day. Working hard for six days; then resting on the seventh. God was setting a pattern, and a rhythm of life, for the Israelites and for us. Work and then rest.
Secondly, every Sunday we’re reminded of our eternal rest with God. You see, not only do we struggle every day with our work, but we also struggle with sin. Every day the Devil is tempting us to do evil, and every day he’s trying to convince us to leave behind the narrow way that leads to life. So, every day we must fight to remain faithful to our Lord. And it’s hard work, isn’t it? And then, we perhaps have to face people who hate the Lord and who despise us for believing in him. They mock us and they criticise us and they tell us we’re wrong. And it’s hard work to endure what they’re saying. And then, this life is just hard. There are so many trials and troubles and sorrows and disappointments in this life for us to face. And it’s hard work to put up with them all.
But then, every Sunday we join together in church and we’re reminded that one day, our Risen Lord Jesus is coming back. And when he comes back, our struggle against sin and temptation will be over. And we’ll be done with all the trials and suffering and sorrow of this life. And the Lord Jesus will bring us into the presence of our Heavenly Father, and, in his presence, there will be perfect peace and perfect rest at last.
In the beginning, the Lord ordained the Sabbath Day, this weekly day of rest which speaks to us of our eternal rest in the presence of God and all his people when there will be no more sorrow or sadness or crying or pain. No more death. But only perfect joy and peace.
In the middle of a hard week, we think to ourselves: Sunday is coming. Sunday is coming. When Sunday comes, I can rest. And every Sunday, we’re reminded that our eternal rest is coming, our eternal rest is coming, the Saviour is coming back, the Saviour is coming back. And when he comes, then finally, we’ll enter our eternal rest.