Presented on The Lutheran Hour on September 1, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Begin Again)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Genesis 1:1 - 2:30
"I really like Papa Peter," he said to his dad. His dad's name is Chris. Chris is a friend of mine, and he was telling me about how his son had mentioned how much he likes his grandpa, Papa Peter, which is Chris' dad. He's never met Papa Peter. Papa Peter died about a decade before Chris' son was born. Why did Papa Peter have to die? I don't know. Chris was telling me about his dad. He said he was brilliant. He loved literature. He himself was an accomplished writer. In his younger years, Peter was an atheist. But through a series of events and people that he met, he was taken by the power of the Bible, its message, and he became a follower of Jesus, and he still loved literature. Inspired by Christian authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis, he wrote children's books, epic adventures, harrowing battles, daring rescues. He wanted to write something that could connect with his children and his grandchildren to show them his heart.
Most of the books never got published. But a few years ago, Chris discovered a box, manuscripts, stories that his father had written. And one evening near bedtime, he pulled one out and began reading it allowed for his children. Through these stories, they came to be acquainted with this man that they had never met face-to-face. They came to love him, even as their hearts ached to know him more fully. "I really like Papa Peter," Chris' son told him. "I think he would have been my favorite relative."
Today's program marks the beginning of a new season for The Lutheran Hour, our 87th season. Since 1930 we have been about one thing and one thing only: getting to know a Person through His story, the story that He authored and enacted by His all-creating Word, the Word who became a flesh and blood human being to dwell among us, Jesus. This program's always been about Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, who is called the Christ, crucified and risen, ruling and returning to come and make all things new.
Our goal, my goal, and I pray that it's your goal, is to know Jesus, and to make Him known. If you want to know Jesus, you got to get to know His family. The story of His family is in what is traditionally called the Old Testament of the Bible, or as my Hebrew professor, Dr. Andy Bartelt, liked to say, the "First Testament." Whatever you call it, it's the story of Jesus's family, the family of Abraham. And it's your story because God made Abraham's family not to be a family unto themselves, but a family for all the families of the earth. So we hear the Old Testament, and it comes to us from a distant past, and it's authored by someone we've never had the opportunity to meet face-to-face, but it's your story. It's the story authored by the God who in Jesus has done everything for Him to become your Father. So that's how you should hear the Bible. It's sort of like Chris' dad's stories. You should listen to the Bible like that. Listen and see your Father's heart. So as you listen to this opening chapter of the Bible, from the book of Genesis, listen for your Father's heart. Pay attention to what God sees.
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty. Darkness was over the surface of the deep and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. God separated the light from the darkness. He called the light, day, and the darkness, He called night. There was evening and there was morning the first day.
"Then God said, 'Let there be a canopy between the waters to separate water from water.' So, God made the canopy, and He separated the waters that were under the canopy from the waters that were over the canopy, and it was so. God called this canopy, the heavens. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
"Then God said, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered into one place and let dry land appear.' It was so. God called the dry land earth and the gathered waters He called seas. What did God see? God saw that it was good.
"Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants bearing seeds and fruit trees growing with fruit on it each according to their kinds.' And it was so. The earth sprouted forth vegetation, plants bearing seeds according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with a seed in it, according to its kind. And what did God see? God saw that it was good, and there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
"Then God said, 'Let there be lights in the canopy of the heavens and let them separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights to give light to the earth.' And it was so. God made two great lights, the greater light to rule over the day and the lesser light to rule over the night. He also made the stars, and He set them in the canopy of the heavens to give light to the earth and to rule over the day and the night and to separate the light from the darkness. And you know what God saw? That it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
"Then God said, 'Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the canopy of the heavens.' So, God made the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the waters team and every flying bird, according to their kinds. And you know what God saw. That it was good. God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the waters of the sea and let the birds increase on the earth.' And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
"Then God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures, according to their kinds, beast, and creeping things that creep across the ground and wild animals of the earth, according to their kinds.' And it was so. God made the beasts, according to their kinds and the wild animals of the earth, according to their kinds, and creeping things, according to its kind. And you know what God saw? That it was good.
"And then God said, 'Let us make humankind in Our image, after Our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heavens, and all the animals and all the earth, and all the creeping things of the earth.' So God made. God created humankind in His own image. In the image of God, He created him, male and female. He created them.
"And God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number. Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and all the living creatures that move about the earth.' And then God said, 'To you, I give every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree with the fruit and the seed in it. They shall be yours for food and to all the beasts of the earth, and all the birds of the heavens, and all the creeping things that creep on the ground, to everything that has the breadth of life, I give every green plant for food.' And God looked at everything that He had made. And behold, you know what God saw, not just good, very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
"Thus the heavens and the earth were finished in all their vast array. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done. God rested on the seventh day, and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Because on it, He rested from all His work of creating that He had done."
This is the Word of the Lord from Genesis 1-2.
What stands out to you when you hear that? What gets your attention? A lot of people only half listen to the account of Genesis. It doesn't sound very scientific to them. So some people try to fill in the gaps and make it sound more scientific, saying what the Bible doesn't say. And other people reject it wholesale, and they try to invent some other account that will be more satisfying. The fact of the matter is the universe exists. You don't have to argue for it. It just is. And if you want some meaning in life, you need an account. You need an account for why there is something and not nothing.
That's what the opening of the Bible is. It's an account of what God did in His relatively recent past to create everything out of nothing. Now maybe you're not satisfied with that account, and so you go in search of something more satisfying. Let's say, for example, you come to the account of the Cherokee people. They told stories about a water beetle who fashioned the earth after retrieving some mud that he had pulled up from the bottom of a primordial sea.
That's kind of interesting. But then you ask, "Well, where did the water beetle come from?" So maybe you look to a chief storyteller of the modern European people, Sir Charles Darwin, who when asked about how his story of natural selection got going, said that it all started in some little warm pond filled with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric acids and electricity. And you say, "Well, that sounds pretty scientific." But then you ask, "Well, where did the pond come from?"
Then someone else says, "from the Big Bang," and you say, "Well, where did the powder for the bang come from?" Here's the point. Every account of how we got to be so amazingly, incredibly, terrifyingly different from all the other creatures on the earth and yet so similar, every account will leave you wanting more. No account will answer all your questions, and that's the case with the book of Genesis.
Even the book of Genesis, will leave you wanting more. I think that's by design. The God who gave you the book of Genesis, gave it to you not just so that you could have objective knowledge about the origins of the universe, not just so that you could have psychological knowledge about yourself, He gave it so that you would come to know Him. Only your relationship with Him will satisfy.
It's a little like the stories that Chris found from his dad. Chris told me that his dad was brilliant. So I did a little research on the internet, and I brought what I found to Chris and I said, "Is this your dad?" And he said, "That's him." I learned that Peter Wallace Mackey, born in 1937, graduated from Harvard at the age of 20 with a degree in engineering, and then for the next two years served as an aeronautical engineer, a flight test engineer for Lockheed Martin. And then, he had this incredible turn in his life, and he went back to school to study the Bible, and he was a Rhodes Scholar, and then he got a Ph.D. from Oxford in New Testament studies. And then three years later, he got a doctorate of theology from Princeton. The man was brilliant. And when he wanted to write something that would connect with his children, he could have written them, drawing on his engineering knowledge. He could've written them about the aerodynamic principles of an airfoil in relation to Bernoulli's principle. When he wanted to write something that could connect with his grandchildren, he could have written them about biblical hermeneutics in relation to modern epistemology.
He could have written that, but he didn't. He wanted to show him his heart. And so, he wrote concrete, action-packed, poetic narratives. It seems like God did something similar. When God wanted to give us an account of how He made everything out of nothing, He could have given us a scientific timetable down to the nanosecond, matched with mathematical equations, key to chemical reactions—but He didn't.
When He came to rescue us from our self-induced misery brought on by our desire for more knowledge and more control, He could have come like Iron Man blasting repulsor rays from His suit of armor. He could've snapped His fingers and made all the misery go away, and He wouldn't even need infinity stones to do it.
Well, that's not what He did, did He? He wanted to show us His heart, and so He authored—and He lived—a story—even when that meant being born through labor pains, swaddled in a feeding trough; even when that meant suffering our misery, in our loneliness; even when that meant being humiliated and abandoned on a cross; and even now as He is risen from the dead, He comes to us in ways that leave us wanting more. He comes to us in in ordinary words like words from Genesis.
These words leave us wanting more because they are not the end. They are the means. He is the end. He is the goal. So as we begin this new season for The Lutheran Hour, we begin with the end in mind. We want to get to know Jesus through His story. This story will not answer all your questions. Let me tell you that right up front. It will not answer questions like "Why did God give us this account and not something else?" "Why does God let His human creatures be so awful to each other and to His good creation?" "Why did Jesus have to die like that?" "Why did Papa Peter have to die so young?" The Bible will not answer those questions, at least not directly.
There is one question it will answer: what will God do?
What will God do given His love to create good things and to share His life? What will God do given humanity's propensity toward evil and self-destruction? What will God do? The answer is concrete, action-packed, and poetic. He will begin again in Jesus. He will make all things new. Chris was reading these stories to his children, and his son said how much he liked Papa Peter, but this time when he said it, he said it in the present tense: "I really like Papa Peter. I think he is my favorite relative."
As you listen to your Father's story, I pray that you'd feel the same. So why don't you pray with me?
Father, You have made all things good, and through the death and resurrection of Jesus, You are restoring and will restore all things, not just good, but very good, not just new, but better than new. Yet, even these good things, leave us wanting. Only You can satisfy. We want to know You more through Jesus Your Son. Amen.
Reflections for September 1, 2019
Title: Begin Again
Mark Eischer: Now back to our Speaker, Dr. Michael Zeigler.
Mike Zeigler: Thanks, Mark. I have joining me today in the studio, my friend and professor from Concordia Seminary here in St. Louis, Dr. Chuck Arand.
Chuck Arand: Hi, Mike. Thanks for having me back. I always enjoy chatting with you.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you. As you know, we're working on this new program that's going to be a sister program to The Lutheran Hour. And the thought behind it is simply, I've been having people sit in as I record these messages for, really, the last six to eight months. And we started having conversations after the message, talking about the text of the sermon. And that's what we did, we actually recorded the first one. This is a new podcast that we're launching this weekend, and it is called Speaking of Jesus. And we just sat around and talked about how this text from Genesis 1—what it did to us, and what stood out to us. What were your reflections? What are your reflections, having sat through that and joined in the conversation?
Chuck Arand: Well, first of all, I think it's a terrific idea. I really enjoyed getting to know the other people who were part of the discussion. I think one of the things that I take away from it is that I often tend to be very rationalistic and live inside my head, if you will. And there were a number of nice insights that I gained just by listening to how other people hear the text and how they connect it to their lives, or people in their lives, or events that have happened, that I would never have thought about. And yet, I wound up thinking, "Yeah. I like that. That makes sense."
Mike Zeigler: I've had the same experience. I've come to love those conversations that we have after The Lutheran Hour message is recorded. You mentioned it. We had a couple of elementary school, prior elementary school teachers. One is an elementary school teacher. One is a videographer. We had two women and three of us men. And so we had such a variety of ages and backgrounds and takes.
Chuck Arand: Me being the old guy in the group.
Mike Zeigler: You're the token old guy in the group, so we appreciate you being that. But it's just really a joyful thing. And so again, if you want to listen to this conversation after The Lutheran Hour, it's called Speaking of Jesus, and you can find that anywhere you get your podcasts. And it'll also be on the Lutheran Hour Ministries website. Well, let's talk a little bit more about the text that we discussed. We listened to Genesis 1. And the text opens with this. "In the beginning, God created"—so He created everything out of nothing. How should Christians handle that question—this deep philosophical question? Why is there something rather than nothing?
Chuck Arand: That's a good question. Philosophers have been asking that for 2,000 years-plus. I think of possibly two different types of answers, at least that Scripture gives us. The first answer is, or "suggestion" maybe might be a better word, is God created because He wanted to create, because He chose to create. You have that passage in the Psalms. I think it's Psalm 135 that God created because it pleased Him, or because He wanted to create. Now we can then expand that because He created out of nothing, that it is an act of sheer love.
Mike Zeigler: Not because He needed to.
Chuck Arand: Not because He needed to, and not because He was constrained to. In other words, He didn't need slave labor. Sometimes the ancient Egyptian gods are portrayed as creating humans because they needed slave labor to build the monuments and things like that. He didn't create because He needed some kind of personal fulfillment.
Mike Zeigler: Right.
Chuck Arand: In Colossians 1, the apostle Paul talks about that all things were made through Christ and for Christ. So there seems to be something there that implies that God created everything for His Son to rule over, for His Son to be Lord of.
Mike Zeigler: As a gift.
Chuck Arand: As a gift, exactly.
Mike Zeigler: We talk about this word "rule," and we hear that in Genesis 1, God, after He creates humankind, tells them to rule over it to, sometimes some translations say to have dominion. And then later, to subdue. How should we take those words?
Chuck Arand: When we elect a president, a governor, or a mayor, we elect them to "govern" wisely. Maybe that's the word one could use instead of rule—not to govern for the purpose of their own glory or to line their pockets. We elect them to govern so that we can live in peace and prosperity. And I think that might be a way of getting at that idea of rule.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you so much for joining me, Chuck.
Chuck Arand: Thank you, Mike.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Son of God, Eternal Savior" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)