How do you respond to bad news?
- Maybe it’s bad news in your own life, like a bad diagnosis.
- Maybe it’s seeing so much senseless violence in culture or seeing how the culture more and more loves what God calls evil.
- Maybe you’ve been greatly wronged by someone you love.
- Maybe it’s a sin pattern in your life causing the bad news.
How do you respond? The book of Genesis is going to help us know how God wants us to respond to the bad news of life.
In this message, I’d like to look at the whole message of Genesis because when it comes to reading the Bible, sometimes we can miss the forest for the trees—we look at smaller portions and singular verses instead of knowing what an entire book tries to communicate. This is especially true for Genesis. When many people think of Genesis, they think of Creation vs. Evolution debates. They ask about the age of the earth. Or they think of stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that can seem random and confusing to us.
To see both the forest and the trees, we should ask, “Why did the author of Genesis, Moses, write this book? And what change did he want in his audience?” Understanding that helps us understand how we apply it to ourselves today.
Listening for the Melodic Line of a book of the Bible
All writing has an intended response. An advertisement wants you to buy their product or service. If I write my wife a love letter, I have a specific purpose for that letter: I want her to feel my love and not just read it and say “that’s helpful information” and throw it in the trash. It’s the same for books of the Bible—God wants to draw out a response from us.
The organization I work for often compares the main idea of a book of the Bible and its intended response the “Melodic line” of a song. Large musical compositions come back to a key melodic tune that repeats over and over throughout the song, and it has the intention of drawing out a certain response. It is often evident in movies that have melodies that help tell the story.
Think of the theme song from Jurassic Park (for those who need a reminder). How does the song make you respond when you’re watching the movie? You see pterodactyls flying and gigantic dinosaurs roaming the earth and it’s supposed to provoke awe and wonder. Just like there’s an intended response for the Jurassic Park theme song, there is a melodic line and intended response of Genesis. Seeing Genesis through the Melodic Line is like putting on a pair of glasses that sharpens our understanding of the story and its details.
Let’s take a look back to the original context. Moses wrote Genesis for Israel while they wandered in the desert thousands of years before Christ. God had just saved Israel miraculously from slavery in Egypt and led them through the Red Sea on their way to the Promised Land. But their disobedience caused them to wander for 40 years in the desert.
During this time they dealt with idolatry, making the golden calf and even when they arrived in the Promised Land were tempted to worship the false gods of the Canaanites. Israel was discouraged and tired, and the message of Genesis was meant to encourage them to trust God and His promises during difficult times.
In this message we’re going to walk through Genesis in three main parts: Genesis chapters 1-3, 4-11, 12-50 before applying the message to us today.
This message has three goals:
- That you would desire to go home and read Genesis this week.
- That you would love the Bible’s story more. Genesis launches the trajectory of the Bible’s story, a trajectory that goes through all the Old Testament, through the cross of Christ, and takes us to Revelation.
- That the theme song of Genesis would be stuck in your heads.
Let’s turn to Genesis 1 and see how the story starts.
Genesis 1–3 teaches that sin brought the curse into God’s good and blessed world.
Genesis opens describing creation with a pattern that happens on the days of Creation.
- God spoke each part of creation into existence—light, darkness, earth, sea, stars, moons, plants, sea creatures, animals.
- Then it says, “And it was so”—God’s spoken word was effective to achieve His purposes.
- God evaluates His work in creation, “And God saw that it was good.”
The first five days of creation stick close to this pattern but Day Six builds upon it. After pronouncing God’s creation of the animals good in 1:25, 1:26 and following describe the creation of man. Man is different from the rest of creation with more value, dignity, capacity, and responsibility on this earth. God gave man dominion over Creation. God gave man the commission to be fruitful and multiply to fill the earth with image bearers who would reflect the glory of their Creator and enjoy an intimate relationship with Him.
After day six, God’s evaluation of His creation is not merely good; look at verse 31—it is very good. Humankind made in God’s image serves as the pinnacle to creation. God blessed mankind and on the seventh day rested from His creative work.
Chapter two zooms in on the creation of man to tell us that the Lord God made man from the dust, gave him the good gift of work in the garden, and gave him a woman to be his wife and helper. God also gave one command to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (2:16–17).
Unfortunately, this paradise doesn’t last. In Genesis 3, the man and woman listen to the voice of the serpent, eat the forbidden fruit, and in so doing, rebel against their Creator. Adam and Eve’s sin is flagrant rebellion against the God of the universe who gave them so much. Their rebellion brings the curse of sin into the world, something that affects each of us today. Since God is just and holy, He must punish sinners, and so He doles out punishment in 3:14–19.
Because of sin, so many of the beautiful things God had done in creation were reversed:
- Instead of blessing (Genesis 1:22, 28, 2:3), the earth was cursed (Genesis 3:17).
- Mankind’s task to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) would still be possible, but bearing children would be done in pain (Genesis 3:16).
- Man was to work the earth (Genesis 1:26, 2:5); now his work would be painful toil with thorns and thistles and sweat (Genesis 3:17–18).
- God created man from the dust (Genesis 2:7); and sin’s sentence is a return to dust in death (Genesis 3:19).
Sin appears to unravel God’s good purposes for this world. And it brings terrible pain.
I’ve heard original sin compared to dropping a beautiful cake on the ground. You try to pick the cake up to restore it to its original beauty and purity, but who would want to eat a cake that is lying on the dirty floor in pieces? How can humanity make that cake right again? It can’t.
Sin also stains what it means to be an image bearer. We were like beautiful portraits hanging in an art gallery that have been spray-painted by vandals. We are at the same time masterpieces, but we are deeply flawed. Because of their sin, God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden and out of His presence.
And yet we see a glimmering hope. All throughout Genesis, we see the tender mercy of God even through judgment. In Genesis 3:15, part of God’s condemnation of the serpent includes the promise of a Deliverer, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
This promise of an offspring to crush Satan’s head propels forward the story of the whole Bible and is something we should keep in the back of our minds here as we look at Genesis.
Genesis 4–11 — Sin expanded among the descendants of Adam and Eve, bringing judgment. But even in judgment, God is at work to accomplish His redemptive purposes.
We learn in Genesis 4-11 that sin is a power that seeks to dominate and destroy; and sadly, that explains why our world is often a difficult place to live today.
At the beginning of chapter 4, Adam and Eve rejoice in the birth of their first son, Cain, possibly wondering, “Could he be the promised one?” They soon realize that their first offspring would be the world’s first murderer. Their corruption spread to him and to all their descendants.
Chapter 5 continues with a genealogy of Adam and his descendants; could the promised seed be coming soon? But the first 18 verses chapter 5 disappoint. One theologian calls it the “roll call of death” because as you read its genealogy, you are reminded of sin’s curse by the eight repetitions of “and he died” for generations of Adam’s descendants. The curse had spread.
As man multiplied on the earth, sin multiplied as well, forcing the conclusion of 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
This so grieved the heart of God that He decided to judge the earth and wipe out all people with a worldwide flood—all people except for a righteous man named Noah and his family.
You know the story. Noah built an ark, the rains came, and the earth flooded. God wiped out sinful mankind. After saving Noah and his family in the ark, Noah’s family comes out of the ark and God tells Noah some familiar words. He blesses Noah and says, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Genesis 9:1). At this point in the story, it sure looks like Noah is Adam 2.0—getting a second chance at fulfilling the command God gave to Adam in Genesis 1.
And a reader who may not know the rest of the story may think that Noah is the Promised Seed from Genesis 3:15. Look back at Genesis 5:29, Noah’s father gave him the name Noah, that means rest—and then shares these words that echo the curse and promise of Genesis 3: “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” Noah was supposed to be the deliverer. Unfortunately, Noah also disappointed.
The second half of chapter 9 tells of Noah’s sin of drunkenness and the shameful acts his son commits against him. The first man Adam sinned with the fruit of the tree; the supposed second Adam sinned with the fruit of the vine. (I think the author’s emphasis on Noah’s nakedness and shame because he wants the sin in the garden to come to mind.) Even among the “good” people sin is wreaking havoc.
Next in the Genesis story after a genealogy describing how Noah’s descendants filled the earth (Genesis 10) is the story of the Tower of Babel. In this episode, mankind tries to fight God’s purposes to fill the earth. It’s so interesting to see what the builders at Babel say in 11:4, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”
They tried to fight against God’s purposes from creation of filling the earth, and in judgment, God confused their languages and dispersed them across the whole earth.
Friends, know this: you can’t fight against God. You’re not going to win. Judgment will come.
Let’s Break the Rules for a Moment
Now we’ve made it to a pivotal part of the Genesis story and I’m going to do something they probably told you not to do in school: flip to the last chapter to see how the book ends. That’s helpful in reading the Bible because you can see the trajectory that is traced from the beginning to the end. So please turn to Genesis 50 with me.
Now, we just fast-forwarded through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now we come to the conclusion of the story of Joseph.
Have you ever wondered why Genesis, a book of 50 chapters, only has two chapters about Creation while Joseph has 13 chapters? That’s no accident.
Joseph goes through tremendous pain—being sold into slavery in Egypt by his brothers, and then he is falsely accused and thrown into jail for years. And yet God is with him and blesses him even though much evil had been done against him, and he finds himself second in charge of the mighty nation of Egypt. And in the end, he is able to save the lives of his family and countless others during a great famine.
The whole of Genesis is driving at the words Joseph shares with his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.”
- After creation, God evaluated His work and called it good.
- Here, after terrible human sin distorts His creation and seemingly His purposes for the world, God evaluates His work interacting with sinful humanity and calls it good.
The main idea of Genesis, or the melody that repeats through it is that: In spite of great evil, the Creator God will keep His promises to us and accomplish His good and redemptive purposes for the world.
Let’s go back and see how this main idea works itself out in Genesis 12-50 before we apply this message to our lives.
Genesis 12–50 teach that sin will not have the final word because God has an unstoppable plan to restore blessing and do good.
At the end of Chapter 11, we know that the post-flood and post-Babel world was growing in population and still very sinful—cut off from God’s blessing. God wanted to restore blessing on earth and he chose to do it through one man, Abram (who would later be called Abraham). While Chapters 4–11 take place on a global scale (all of mankind, a global flood, and global implications of Babel), now Genesis zooms in on one man and his family.
The Story of Abraham: A Man of Faith in God’s Promises
In Genesis 12:1-3, God gives Abraham a history shaping promise: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
God made a covenant with Abraham here (and expands a bit in Genesis 15 and 17). There are four main strands of this covenant God made with Abraham:
- Descendants – A great nation—as countless as the sand on the seashore or stars in the sky. Kings would come from his line.
- There’s the promise of Land – this is the “Promised Land.”
- Blessing, not only would Abraham and his family be blessed, they would be the channel through which God would bless every nation on earth.
- Protection: “he who dishonors you I will curse…”
In many ways, Abraham receives what Babel longed for: a great name and a great nation. There was only one problem: Abraham and his wife had no children and his wife Sarah was barren. When Abraham first heard this promise he was 75 years old!
When I was a kid, I didn’t think a whole lot of Abraham. I mean, he didn’t do any amazing miracles, he wasn’t like Moses in leading Israel out of Egypt, he was just an old guy in the desert. But as I’ve matured, I’ve come to see just how amazing and miraculous true faith in God’s promises are, especially when it’s a tough situation.
God called Abraham to leave his family, homeland, and culture. And in response to God’s promises to him, Genesis 15:6 says:
“Abraham believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
He believed God, but it was hard. He waited 25 years for God to keep the promise of a son.
Have you ever had to wait on God for years and years and years? It’s not easy. At one point Abraham and Sarah tried to force God’s hand and let Abraham have a descendant through the fertile servant woman Hagar—because hey, Sarah was an old lady!—but that was not God’s plan.
Abraham’s imperfect faith shows itself in Genesis 12 when he tells both Pharaoh in Egypt that Sarah was his sister, not wife. Pharaoh then saw how beautiful Sarah was and took her for himself. But how can Abraham bear a descendant if he’s giving his wife away? Abraham doesn’t fix the situation but God intervenes to preserve His purposes. God sends a plague on Egypt that doesn’t relent until Pharaoh returns Sarah.
A similar thing happened in Genesis 20 in a different place with a different king, and God again preserved his purposes for an offspring by speaking to the king in a dream saying he must return Sarah.
God would not let His redemptive promises be derailed and He did keep His promise in the birth of a descendant, Isaac—even though it took 25 years of waiting.
Imagine the joy Abraham and Sarah, who were in their 90s, holding baby Isaac in their hands—visible and tangible proof that God keeps His promises. Then imagine God asking you a few years later to put this promised child on the altar as a sacrifice to God. That’s what happens in Genesis 22 and Abraham’s faith is tested. You can imagine the inner turmoil Abraham faced. Abraham trusted God even when it seemed like God was going against His own promises—how? Hebrews 11:19 tells us: Abraham believed that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead. He knew that God doesn’t renege on His promises and that we can trust Him no matter what. Don’t you want faith like that? I do!
After the story of Abraham, God reiterated His promises to Isaac in Genesis 26:24, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”
Isaac would then pass the baton of God’s covenant to his son, Jacob, who would later become Israel. Jacob’s name meant ‘he cheats’ and he lives up to it. He cheats his brother out of his birthright and out of his father’s blessing.
In spite of Jacob’s trickery and sin, God’s purposes for Abraham’s descendants would be accomplished, as God told Jacob in Genesis 28:13–14:
“I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth…and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”
Jacob the trickster then has the tables turned on him when his father-in-law takes advantage of him for years. At one point Jacob and his family flee his father-in-law fearing their lives may be taken, but God appears in a dream to Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, telling him to not touch Jacob (Genesis 31:24, 29).
Are you seeing a theme here? God is keeping His covenant promises. His redemptive purposes will be fulfilled.
The rest of Genesis focuses on Jacob/Israel’s 12 sons, with Joseph in the center.
The Story of Joseph: The Beloved Son, Hated Brother, and God-Ordained Savior
If you remember the story of Jacob’s sons, they are really bad news. These are Abraham’s great-grandkids, children of the promise, and:
- Two of them (Simeon and Levi) murder an entire town exacting revenge for the rape of their sister. (Genesis 34)
- Reuben slept with his father’s concubine. (Genesis 35)
- Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because of their hatred toward him. (Genesis 37)
- Judah impregnates his daughter-in-law who he mistook for a prostitute. (Genesis 38)
This is the family that God chose to be the vehicle to bring blessing to the world? How is that going to work? Keep reading.
After being sold into slavery, Joseph found himself in Egypt as a servant in the house of a powerful man. Genesis 39 says that God was with Joseph and caused all that he did to succeed. Things are going well for Joseph and it appears that the promise to bless the nations might be fulfilled. And then a false accusation landed him in prison. But even in prison, God is with Joseph. God blessed him and caused him to be a blessing to others.
Joseph’s time in prison wasn’t wasted. Prison was the place that God ordained he would interpret the dream of the pharaoh’s imprisoned cupbearer. And then two years later, the same cupbearer would recommend Joseph the dream interpreter to Pharaoh when he had a distressing dream. Then Pharaoh summoned Joseph who explained that the pharaoh’s dream predicted a great famine. Pharaoh rewarded Joseph by promoting him to serve in his right hand and tasked him to store up food provisions for the coming seven years of famine that the dream predicted.
The famine came just as the dream predicted and hit the entire known world—even reaching to where Joseph’s family lived. Joseph’s family journeyed to Egypt for food, and who is the one they approach for food, but their long-lost brother who they sold into slavery—Joseph. And Joseph, with his position of power and storehouses of food, was able to save the lives of many people including the family of promise.
There are a few lines of dialogue that interpret the story for us and show us that Joseph knew that God was the Author of this amazing story. In chapter 45, he said to his brothers “God sent me before you to preserve life” and “it was not you who sent me here, but God.” And Genesis 50:20: “You meant it for evil, God meant it for good.”
This is the message of Genesis: In spite of great evil in the world, the Creator God will keep His promises to us and accomplish His good purposes.
God worked His good and saving purposes through Joseph, the beloved son of the father who was mistreated by his brethren, the one who lived righteously in a sinful world, who suffered under the hand of sinners, from humility was exalted to a high place and was able to nourish and save all who would come to him. Does this description of Joseph sound familiar?
Genesis points us to Jesus
Even though Genesis was written at least 1,400 years before the birth of Jesus, the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to draw these parallels to point to Jesus Christ, who is the Promised Deliverer of Genesis 3:15. Jesus is the True and Better Adam. Jesus is the Descendant of Abraham who would bring God’s blessing to the whole earth. And of course Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of God working His saving purposes on earth in spite of great evil.
As Genesis 3:15 states, the devil struck the heel of the Promised One by nailing it to a cross, but Jesus Christ, the Promised One crushed the head of Satan by shedding His blood as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. Then He rose from the dead victorious over the enemy, bringing salvation, cleansing from sin, and restoration to the presence of God by the Spirit to all who would believe.
And in Christ, we await the ultimate Promised Land—a land not stained by sin—a new heaven and a new earth where God will dwell with people and be their God and where there will be no more curse, pain, suffering, sin, or death. And until we are there, God promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Brothers and sisters, God is powerful to work His redemptive purposes in the world and is faithful to keep His Promises. In Jesus Christ, all of God’s promises are “Yes!” and “Amen!” (2 Corinthians 1:20). All of God’s good purposes for the world, and for you, will be fulfilled in Him.
Three applications for the message of Genesis
- Trust in our Sovereign Creator even when all seems lost.
Israel needed the message of Genesis as they wandered in the desert. They had seen God’s salvation in rescuing them from Egypt, but didn’t know what He was doing. It would be easy to turn to other gods instead of looking in faith and trust to the Creator. But Genesis shows us that God’s good purposes will prevail even if they are a long time in coming.
I remember when my mom died of cancer and went to be with the Lord in 2016, our pastor visited our family and said, “It’s hard to see why this all happened now, but you will be able to rejoice at the wisdom and sovereignty of God for all of eternity saying, ‘Lord, you knew what you were doing all along.’”
Do you realize that in eternity, you will be able to say that for every tough situation you go through in life? Even when our faith is weak, God is strong and faithful.
Before the next point, let me address you who may not know Jesus Christ. Maybe life is really hard. Maybe you’re hurt, or maybe you’ve done the hurting. Know that in Jesus Christ—and only in Jesus Christ—there is hope for today and eternity. He offers complete forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with the God you have sinned against. The wonderful things I’ve mentioned in this sermon are only available to those who trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. Trust Him today.
- Find your joy in God and not your circumstances.
You might have resonated with Joseph’s prison experience. You wake up each day and feel as if God has abandoned you. It’s so easy to live a life where your emotions flow from your circumstances instead of God’s promises. But just like Joseph, you don’t know the picture God is painting in your life. Joseph spent at least two years in prison not knowing if he’d ever get out.
Our eyes need to be fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith and not on our circumstances—especially in suffering. He is the source of greatest joy.
- Forgive those who have wronged us.
When you realize that God can use evil for His redemptive purposes, we can let go of bitterness and anger toward those who have hurt us. Maybe you struggle forgiving someone who hurt you. Maybe this person literally ruined your life like Joseph’s brothers did for him.
Know that Christ offers you peace and reconciliation. You can forgive as Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32). It wasn’t easy for Joseph and it’s not easy for us, but forgiveness is possible when we remember that in spite of great evil, the Creator God will keep His promises to us and accomplish His good purposes in the world.
Father, seeing your power and faithfulness in history amazes us. Lord, we want to live by faith. We want to live as worshippers. We want to be your hands of blessing for the world that is broken by sin. Help your truth shape our hearts toward a greater fear of you, a greater hatred of sin, a greater persevering attitude, and a greater anticipation of the glories that await us for all of eternity. In Jesus’ powerful name, AMEN.