#GodsStory ft. Timothy: Biblical Theology in Genesis and the Yearning for Home
Posted on 7 Dec 2020 by CERC
Genesis: A grand mise-en-scene from the premise of the Garden to the promise of the Gospel.
Going through the book of Genesis with my Growth Group (GG) in Bandar Sunway has been an illuminating experience for me. In Genesis 1-2, we learned of God’s goal for Creation and mankind as reflected in man being created in God’s image, to have dominion over all creation, with the glorious task of working and keeping the Garden and filling the earth with God’s presence through fruitful generation of offspring. Their subsequent failure in Genesis 3 by listening to the words of the serpent instead of God’s word resulted in them being kicked out of the Garden— where they enjoyed God’s presence — into a land cursed by God (Gen 3:17, Rom 8:20-21).
My GG went through Genesis 1-3 quite thoroughly, and constantly revisited it as we went through the rest of Genesis. It has drilled into me how the Fall in Genesis 3 fundamentally changed humanity and all Creation — mankind now lives in bondage to sin and Creation is subject to futility under God’s curse. God’s words in Genesis 3 should ring loud and clear as we see God’s story unfold in the rest of Genesis, and grounds the proper appreciation of the unfolding of God’s story in the rest of the Old Testament.
The drama of God’s works in His governance over sinful mankind, like the descendants of Cain and those who built the tower of Babel, together with the genealogical progression out of the line of Seth leading all the way to Abraham form a gripping and page-turning plot. As we situated ourselves as the readers of the book of Genesis, we often asked ourselves when a new character emerged at the fore — ‘Will this be the promised serpent-crusher, the offspring of Eve in Gen 3:15?’ But sadly, as with most human heroes, they all failed our expectations.
We then noticed that God’s words in His covenant with Abraham in Gen 12 — with the promises of offspring, land and blessing, and His mighty works of salvation — showed God’s commitment in carrying out His promise despite man’s numerous failures (in those of Isaac, Jacob and his descendants who would form the 12 tribes of Israel) and drove the events that unfold and frame the entire account of the book of Genesis.
We saw from Gen 1-2 that God’s purpose of creation is to have mankind as His image bearers reflecting the glory of God and having dominion over all Creation to multiply across the entire world, so that the whole world would be filled with God’s presence through mankind — His image bearers in whom God would be present. We saw from Gen 3 the subsequent Fall of man from this grace, a tragedy of cosmic dimension. And it was this proper understanding of Genesis 1-3 that led us to appreciate how God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 correspond to the curses in Gen 3.
Returning to Genesis 1-3 as we progressed in our study of Genesis helped us to see that God’s promises to Abraham in Gen 12 are simultaneously a further development towards the reversal of the curses of Gen 3 through promises of offspring, land and blessing, and the realisation of God’s purposes for mankind in Gen 1-2. Although God’s purposes seemed to be frustrated by the Fall, God was still committed to realising His goal as set out in Gen 1-2. God was the mighty hero who was acting and leading His people faithfully all along.
The whole account of Genesis, the story of generations from Adam to Jacob, was the revelation of God’s sovereign and mighty arm acting at every step of the way for the sake of His holy name in the context of a fallen mankind post-Genesis 3. New Testament authors point to Christ as the final fulfilment of these promises, Him being the serpent-crusher through His death and resurrection, and Him as the offspring of Abraham (Gal 3:16) who fulfils all the promises. In this, we see with our own eyes the glory of God in the person and work of Christ. In Christ, the glory of the Gospel shines even brighter than the glory of the days in the Garden.
This revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, in Scripture is the true joy, hope and blessing for the church — God’s people today. It is through the Scripture, God’s story, that Christians have come to trust that Christ is the fulfilment of God’s promise for His people and to repent from a life of rebellion against God. Now that Christians have become God’s people and are united in Christ, we have been set free from the bondage of sin and now have the glorious privilege of serving God, to give glory to Him by being part of the various ministries in church, and in our work of evangelism and discipleship (Matthew 28:18-19).
In the homesickness of longing for the ‘days in the Garden’, Genesis points to the promise of a better ‘home’ in the Gospel.
As a foreigner who has lived in rented premises for all of my life, I do have a natural longing for a place to call ‘home’. When the MCO took effect, I didn’t anticipate I’d be affected so much. But after not being able to meet my GG and my fellow churchmates physically for quite a while, going to church was something I sorely missed. I live just a 15-minute-walk away from church and I consider the church as my home even more than where I sleep at night. Perhaps due to my predisposition as a Korean Christian, I am wont to think of the church as a place of safety, stability and a place to seek out God in times of distress. In all of my years of existence, not being able to go to church was an unprecedented event that has surprised me unawares.
After some unfortunate events involving myself and my family, together with weeks of not being able to take walks and visit the church, I had become depressed and lethargic during my free time and had lost focus with my responsibilities in church. Apart from my virtual gatherings with my Growth Group (GG), everything else felt foreign and almost surreal. I was drifting away to familiar idols of idleness, distractedness and a profound fear of uncertainty with changes happening in the workplace.
In remembering Genesis 3, I realised that the sense of disorientation, and an unwillingness in myself to die to self and be faithful to God, was a revelation of my true self when all the comforts were stripped away. It became clear to me that the problem was not the Movement Control Order (MCO), but myself. There was nothing that stopped me from taking the necessary measures to serve God during MCO, but it was I who was unwilling to adapt to circumstances even though God deserves worship regardless of circumstances.
In God’s providence, I got to know Christian and Gloria, who are visitors to CERC from Germany, who later visited my GG in Bandar Sunway. And for a time, they also became my neighbors in PJS 9. Christian and Gloria, in their enthusiasm to join us for GG, have been a real encouragement to me. Also, through frequent discussions during GG over Zoom, Christian and I shared our struggles with our sins and offered each other helpful advice to think as a Christian and get by in these times.
Additionally, opportunities to encourage two other brothers in my GG through 1:1 studies have helped me to stay focused as a Christian. Although it is somewhat shameful to admit, it was my first time doing 1:1 studies with someone. Although I have made mistakes, I am privileged that I have been able to encourage my brothers in Christ. What is deeply encouraging to me during this period is that, as I look at the Scriptures and try to exhort my younger brothers in Christ, I have been encouraged to keep looking upon Christ myself.
On this point of ‘looking to Jesus’, Tony Reinke devotes a whole chapter in his book ‘Newton and the Christian Life’. I wish to share a few snippets to give you a taste of what you may be blessed with through the book:
If the Christian life is Christ, then looking to him is the great duty of the Christian life. Looking to Jesus marks the beginning of the Christian life; looking to Jesus is the end goal of the Christian life; and looking to Jesus is the daily privilege of the Christian life, which is Newton’s way of saying that we never outgrow the gospel. (Reinke, 2015, p.69)
The Christian life will often remind us of the root of our own fruitlessness. We are powerless to save ourselves. And in our “total absolute depravity” there is a poison so deep it has seeped down into the roots of our being. Sin is a defeated poison, but not a wholly removed poison until the resurrection. And whenever the bronze serpent is raised before our eyes, we find healing. First we find salvation, and then we find sanctification in the ongoing duty of looking outside of ourselves and upward to Christ — the same Christ. (Reinke, 2015, p.70-71)
Beholding Christ is the key to the Christian life. We take in sermons and we open Scripture, and we slowly meditate on divine truth to enjoy the glory of our Saviour Jesus Christ. By beholding Christ we are changed into the image of Christ and find our souls satisfied.
Newton was no stoic. Jesus endured the cross to win joy to share with us (John 15:11; Heb. 12:2). The Christian is driven by the anticipation of experiencing full joy with Jesus face-to-face. But for now, rejoicing in Christ is a daily pursuit. We aim to rejoice always: on the mountaintop and in the valley, as we conquer and while we fight, when the Lord is shining on us and when he seems to be hiding from us. Therefore, nothing undercuts the Christian life like Christ-amnesia — thinking we can live safely for a moment without Christ, without his atoning blood, and without renewed communion with him. Keeping Christ in view at all times is, by far, the hardest —and the most essential — part of our calling as Christians. (Reinke, 2015, p.89)
Hebrews 11:8-16 mentions that the Patriarchs of Genesis, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were strangers and exiles on the earth. And although they were yet to receive what was promised to them, they were faithful to God. In Christ, we have received the fulfilment of what was promised to them, so we have even more reason to remain faithful and run the race with endurance, following after Christ who endured the Cross (Hebrews 11:39-12:2).
As Hebrews 12 exhorts us, may we not grow weary because of the current situation, and take up the discipline that God is giving us in this time of travelling through the ‘wilderness’ towards our heavenly ‘home’. Let us look upon Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).Timothy Lee
Timothy Lee is a member of CERC and serves as the head of CERC’s Library and Bookshop. As a Korean who has lived most of his life in the Philippines and Singapore, he hopes to one day be able to reside in Malaysia permanently. But more than anything, he is thankful for the gospel that has brought him to his eternal home, Jesus’s church.