Jan. 11, 2009
Baptism of the Lord (B)
Genesis 1:1-5

Everyone knows the joke about the fellow who, when asked for directions, always answered, “You can’t get there from here.” That old joke inspired the R.E.M. song by the same title-“You Can’t Get There from Here” on their 1985 album Fables from the Reconstruction.
Five years before that song’s release, I took geometry as a sophomore in high school. I don’t remember much from that class. I do recall, however faintly, that if I began my problem-solving with the correct premise and reasoned logically from there, I had a good chance (but no guarantee) of arriving at the right conclusion. If, however, my premise was faulty or, as often happened, I failed to proceed logically, I would only arrive at
the right answer by dumb luck (or the sovereign grace of God, depending upon whether you’re an Arminian or Calvinist). My adventures in geometry just go to prove that there are some places you can’t get to from here, when “here” is the wrong starting point.
One of the reasons I love the Book of Genesis and recommend it to new converts is because it gets us started on the right foot. Genesis is one of the theologically richest and most significant books in all of Scripture. Chapters 1-11 particularly are essential for a biblical worldview. You can’t get to a biblical worldview, which is a correct view on things, from just anywhere. You must begin with the right premises. Genesis 1:1-5 yields four.
First, God created. Everything He created was perfect and good, just as He Himself is perfect and good. A perfect and good God can do no less; otherwise, He would be neither perfect nor good.
Second, chaos prevailed. How is it that the perfectly good creation of a perfectly good God came to be “without form, and void”? How did darkness come to cover the face of the deep? Are we missing something? Is there some gap between verses one and two of our text? Did our ancient foe successfully work his woe upon God’s pristine creation? Or, is it somehow possible that a formless and dark void were what a perfectly good God intended to create in the first place?
These are the sorts of questions that keep philosophers and theologians up at night. Are there even answers to such questions? Perhaps a starting point in our quest for answers is the realization that a perfect and good God doesn’t always lend Himself to neat and clean propositions. In many ways, despite the revelation and incarnation of His Word, He remains a mysteriously unfathomable God.
Third, the Spirit moved. The implication here is that nothing was happening, and nothing would have happened, until “the spirit of God moved.” Jesus said, “Without me, ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
It’s enlightening to look at the “nothing” passages in the Gospels. Jesus once confessed, “The Son can do nothing of Himself” (John 5:19). Jesus later promised that with faith as small as a mustard seed “nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20). There’s quite a lot in these “nothing” texts. As the old song goes, “Little [and I would add, “nothing”] is much when God is in it.”
Fourth, order ensued. In conjunction with the Spirit moving, God spoke and order ensued. The lights came on, and everything began falling into place.
When John the Baptist arrived on the scene of first-century Judea, chaos prevailed. God’s Spirit moved as John preached. In the hearts and lives of those who received his words by faith, order ensued (Mark 1:4-11).
When Paul arrived in Ephesus, chaos prevailed. Apollos’ confused converts were caught somewhere between faith and law. God’s Spirit moved as Paul preached. Convinced and baptized, those converts experienced God’s Spirit moving in their hearts and setting their lives in order
(Acts 19:1-7).
Veteran missiologist Donald McGavran identified a principle at work on the world’s fields that he termed “redemption and lift.” Over and over he observed that when redemption becomes a reality in any people group, their whole standard of
living is lifted. In other words, chaos ends and order ensues.
All of this New Year’s talk about “turning over a new leaf,” “pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps,” “cleaning up your act” and “becoming a new you” are, to rephrase the words of the R.E.M. album title, “Fables of Reconstruction.” The only way to get to where you want to go from here starts with the Spirit and the Word.

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About The Author


Gregory K. Hollifield is the Assistant Academic Dean at Lancaster Bible College at Memphis Center for Urban Theological Studies.

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