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Monday 3 August

Iain Provan is leading the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon this week.  Iain is passionate about the whole Bible for the whole church. Here’s a summary of his first message: 

Reading from Genesis 1

When did God begin to love the world?  Was it only when God the Son came among us? Were human beings only capable of believing in God the Father when the Holy Spirit came? When did God begin to care about Eternal Life?

Every so often I meet people who say they are “New Testament” Christians. Didn’t New Testament people believe in the Old Testament? Didn’t Jesus explicitly identify Himself with the God of the Old Testament?

Such is the state of Christian faith today that the Old Testament scriptures are marginalized or even completely ignored. The Old Testament is routinely assumed to have nothing to do with the New. People find it difficult to connect what they read of God in the Old Testament and what they read of God in the New Testament.

They say: The Old Testament is a book of law while the New Testament is about grace. The Old Testament God is one of anger and judgement while the New Testament God is one of mercy and grace. The connection between Jesus and God the Father can get broken and damaged. And the Holy Spirit only seems to show up at Pentecost.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Why did He do that?

In ancient times, people believed that the cosmos was created for the gods. In Middle Eastern mythology, human beings were a cosmic afterthought designed to meet the needs of deity – a “slave class” to benefit the gods. The whole of human society was orientated towards the gods.

In the book of Genesis, we get a very different picture. There is no hint that the cosmos was created to meet God’s needs. God does not have needs. The world is created for the creatures. God blesses them with food. No creature is meant to be a slave of the gods. In Genesis, humanity is the high point of creation.

Human beings in Genesis are created in the image of God! It is a wonderful truth. And because of that, we bear tremendous dignity and responsibility.  When the Dalit people (the untouchables in Indian society) read Genesis 1, it is transformational because they realise their value as image-bearers

God does not need anything or anyone but He created the heavens and the earth simply out of love, generosity, a deep desire to bless and so that other people can be drawn into the divine life and enjoy what is already true of God.

The cosmos  was birthed in love by a God who was for us. Love lies at the heart of Creation. God so loved the world right from the beginning. That is why anything exists at all.

God was looking for a relationship that involves trust and belief. Let us not the mistake that “believing” is simply a matter of belief… there is believing and believing. To believe rightly in biblical thinking is not only to believe things about God, it is also to trust yourself to God.

When did God begin to care about whether His human creatures believed in Him? It was right from the beginning.

Genesis 3 is fundamentally a story about trust. The serpent says, “Did God really say…?” It is a very big question. They begin to have doubts about God’s goodness. Before we get to pride and disobedience, in this story there is first of all a lack of trust. It leads on to a declaration of independence. Surely life will be better if we can set God to one side. When did God begin to look for believers? Right from the beginning. And right from the beginning we have been reluctant to trust Him. We prefer to trust the serpent.

When did God begin to care about eternal life? Right from the beginning.

In Genesis 2, we read about the Tree of Life. It grows  in the garden as a witness to where the story is going. We are headed toward immortality. We are headed toward glory. Let us take God at His word. Let us trust Him and love Him. Let all of that be true and not only will this life be wonderful but in addition there will be a gateway into eternal life. There is already a whole other chapter to our human story envisaged in the Tree of Life. Eternal Life was not part of plan B.

When did God begin to save the perishing? Right from the beginning.

A solution to the problem of evil was devised right at the outset of the story. God does not want anyone to perish. It is not only a solution for the future. It is a solution for the here and now, as God begins to care for the wounded world that existed after the fall.

When did God so love the world that he began to enter into this messy life to redeem and restore? Right at the beginning.

We see some glorious pictures of God’s love in Genesis 3 – 11. He is a God who does not give up. He is holy but finds ways of continuing to work for good in a world compromised by evil. He does not step back from the world just because it is fallen. He actively works within the world to turn evil toward the good.

The problem of human nakedness: The human beings cover up with fig leaves. They are useless materials for making friends. Humanity makes a huge mess by committing sin but they also make a mess of the cover up! God stepped in and provided them with clothing!

The problem of murder: Cain murders Abel. As we read the remainder of Genesis, we discover that society would be justified in putting Cain to death. But God does not put Cain to death, He sends Cain into exile.

Who of us could stand if God acted in the world in the way He is justified in doing as a Holy God? Yet God promised to look after Cain. He offered Cain precisely the protection that Cain had not offered His brother. It is an amazing story.

The living God is not the God of the binary. This is not the God of the great either or. He is in pursuit of good in the midst of evil. Even the murderer Cain gets pursued for good.

The story of the great flood: God sends the flood because of the great evil in the world. Everything had become corrupt. Perhaps we expect that after the flood the world will be cleansed from evil. Yet after the flood nothing had changed in the human heart. Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood!

In the Noah movie, the question is “what comes next?” Evil still existed. In the movie, Noah sets out to murder his grandchildren to finish humanity off. In our biblical story, God is not like that. In Genesis 8:21-22 God promises that He will never again destroy all living creatures… This is astonishing. After the great flood has almost brought creation to an end. God announces a change in His own approach to human beings. He adjusts Himself to the reality.This is Amazing Grace! This is Amazing Love. God meets us where we are and in all of his compassion, He so loved the world in the beginning and so on throughout the entire OT story.

Abraham’s story – Abraham and Sarah fail to trust God to provide a son and try to find their own solution. Yet God still provides for them.  In the course of the Abraham story, we learn that God would have gone on working with wicked societies like Sodom and Gomorrah if only a few righteous people had been found.

Jacob, Leah and Rachel – these were a very flawed group of people. It was a deceitful society, corrupted by favouritism. It was an unhealthy, competitive society! In the midst of this story, God brings a lot of good out of a lot of evil.

Jacob’s children:  These were a terrible bunch of people. Joseph provoked his brothers jealousy and ended up in Egypt. It was a horrible family. And yet God is at work in the midst of this family. Towards the end of Genesis, Joseph acknowledges that even in his brothers crime against him, God was working out His purposes. God intended it for good – to save many lives!

We could speak at length about the Exodus. God rescues them and it would be nice to think that out of gratitude they would be different but at the very moment when Moses was receiving the commandments, the people were getting Aaron to build them a golden calf. Yet, God continues with them.

In both the flood and the Exodus – “This narrative analogy suggests a deep theological vision. If the people show themselves to be faithless… then their continued existence is to be understood in terms of the merciful forbearance of God towards those who do not deserve it.”

Life is a gift of grace. A gift of love. We could follow this theme all the way through the Old Testament story.  God persists with His people through all their disobedience and rebellion. Even Jesus’ ancestors arose as a result of a sinful request by the people of God. We can track God’s love and grace throughout the monarchy, through the exile, through the restoration… in all of that you see the same triune God working with the world in grace, mercy and love… but I don’t have time to tell you all of that..

Don’t let anyone tell you that God the Father only began to love the world when God the Son came among us and don’t let anyone suggest that we human beings have only been capable of believing in Him since Pentecost. The truth is far more fantastic, amazing and extravagant.

God so loved the world from the beginning and God has never once stopped loving it since. The very idea of the world, is an idea that love had. The shaping of the world is an activity that love engaged in. Our own personhood was created by love.

From the beginning, love intended us to enjoy both this life and the next as a wonderful gift. Love looks for trust as a foundation. From the beginning, when things went wrong, love pursued us and God has opened Himself to weave even our bad ideas into a wonderfully good plan for the cosmos, always turning evil to good wherever it may be found. God is love!