Creatio Ex Nihilo: Then and Now

Text: Genesis 1:1-2:3; John 4:46-54

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens…When I look at Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars, which you have set in place, what is man that are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him…O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!

So far the words of our psalm, Psalm 8, in which King David recounts the creative work of God. His glory is far above all heavens. He created the sun, the moon, the stars and all their host. They remain in place by His decree. Yet, what is man that God is mindful of him? What are we that God cares for us? We are God’s beloved creation, but we have fallen into sin. Yet, rather than forget us, God has redeemed us through the sacrifice of His Son. For that we respond with King David, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth.”

Our text today, the twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, is one that can teach us almost an infinite number of things. These are the very first verses and chapters of Holy Scripture, the very first words that God wished to be delivered to us in sacred writing. They are foundational to the understanding of God and for our faith as Christians. We see in these words that our God is the source and creator of all that there is, was, or ever shall be. All things find their source in the creative work of God. Our God, by His spoken Word, created all the heavens and the earth, including man. Here we also read the purpose for which God created the earth. In addition to being a testimony to His majestic glory, God created the earth to serve man. He created man to receive His divine love, to live in relationship with Him, and to care for the good creation.

God’s work through His Word is, however, not limited to His work those first six days. Rather God continues to work through His holy Word. Just as He spoke into being all that exists so, by His Word, He continues to work within us. He works through His Word to put to death the old sinful Adam, and brings life to us by His Spirit through the Gospel of Christ. In a country and time where many reject God, doubt His existence, or have an unclear confession of faith, let us be clear: our God is the God, the creator of heaven and earth. He spoke His Word and all things came into existence. Through that same Word, He also created us and continues to re-create us through His Word of Law and Gospel.

I.

We begin in Genesis 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”  Perhaps this is the text King David is meditating on with his lyre in hand. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth, for You were there at the beginning and caused all things to be. Here, in broad strokes we see our creative God at work. There was nothing, then there was. The First Commandment teaches that we should have no other gods than God. When Luther writes about the First Commandment in the Large Catechism, he ponders what it means to have a god. He says to have a god is to look to something for all good. To have a god is to look to something to create good for you. In Scripture we are led here to Genesis to see that the source and creator all good things is God.

This is how God reveals Himself to us. He is the Creator God, so we see in the text of Genesis 1 and 2. Now, the text is long, so I won’t read it all, but it is good for our edification and as a reminder to speak again the days of God’s good creation. On day one God created light and separated it from the darkness. The light was called day and the darkness night. On day two God separated the waters below from the waters above, calling the waters above sky or heaven. On the third day God gathered the water below into once place and caused dry land to appear. The water He called seas and the land He called earth. Then God caused plants to come forth and yield seed according to its kind. Each day after God creates, He calls it good.

Days four through six see God filling in the structure He created in the first three days. On day four God created the sun, the moon and the stars to fill the heavens. These were to be for “signs and seasons, and for days and years.” God created them, and it was good. On day five God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth.” And so, it came to be. Animals filled the water and the sky; God blessed them and there was evening and morning on the fifth day. On the sixth day God created all things that live on land, including the pinnacle of creation – the only thing to be made in His image – man. Then there was evening and morning the sixth day. On day seven, God rested.

In addition to the common refrain of “God saw that it was good,” there is another phrase that is repeated throughout this chapter, and it answers the question of how God created. God did not create out of existing materials nor did He need more than six days – nor did He require any time since He is God. Rather, God created all things out of nothing solely by the power of His Word. Look how often it repeats, “And God said.” God said and there was. God spoke, and by His Word all things were made. Psalm 33 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made…He spoke, and [the earth] came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm.” St. Peter says, “The earth was formed…by the word of the Lord.”

Thus, God created the heavens and the earth, bringing all things into existence out of nothing, by nothing else than the power of His spoken Word. Now, this flies against blind reason. The world would have us doubt these words or explain them away as pious poetry of well-intentioned men. But, behind all that is the devil, trying to peel God’s Word out of our fingers and replace it with a false understanding created in our own image. With the apostle we confess in the words from Hebrews 11, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the Word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” So also do we praise with St. Paul that God who, “gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist.”

II.

Speaking of things that don’t exist, why bring all this up? Why discuss this with boldness and certainty, that by His Word God created all things out of nothing? Because it is by this same Word, that God calls us out of nothing into His marvelous light. St. John wrote that at one time we were darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. The work of God through His Word is not limited to those first six days, but it continues now through the preaching of the Law and Gospel and through the visible, tangible Word in the Sacraments. The same God who worked by His Word to create all things also works by His Word to bring us from nothingness to His eternal life.

Think a second about our Gospel. In it a man, whose son is dying, comes to Jesus and begs Him to help. He begs Jesus to come to his house to heal his son, but what does Jesus do? He speaks. “Go; your son will live.” And he did. By His Word, Christ brought life to that dying child. And, so He does to us. The apostle wrote that God’s Word is living and active, that it cuts sharper and deeper than any two-edged sword, even to the division of soul and spirit. When I was in confirmation, I was taught that the sword of the Spirit, as it is called in our Epistle, has two edges – the Law and the Gospel. With the Law, God cuts through our lies, pretensions, and sinful desires and crushes them like a hammer crushes rock. Then, having killed us with the Law, He brings us to life through the preaching of the Gospel where we hear that Christ suffered for us on the cross, and by His wounds we are healed.

God works through His spoken Word of Law and Gospel to show us our sins and to show us our Savior, to bring us into His light from the darkness the death, to call into existence what wasn’t before. In addition to the spoken Word of God, God has also given us the Sacraments. The Sacraments were instituted by Christ and are His Word combined with physical elements for the forgiveness of sins. In Baptism He works through the water and Word to give us the forgiveness of sins through the gift of faith. In the Lord’s Supper by His Word Christ causes the bread and wine to be His real body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. In the Words of Holy Absolution, Christ works through the Word spoken by our pastors to forgive our sins there and then in that very moment.

If it seems like we’ve gone a little far afield, then maybe we should bring it back. In both our Old Testament and Gospel readings, we see God working through His Word. In the Gospel Christ brings life to a dying boy and in the Old Testament creates all things in heaven and on earth. In both of these we see that our God is the creator God who creates all things ex nihilo and preserves them by His Word. The same God who operates that way, even works in and for us through His Word. By His preached Word of Law and Gospel He puts to death the sinful nature and brings us to life through faith in Christ. In Baptism He removes our sins from us and in the Sacrament strengthens us in the one true faith. “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” To God be all praise and glory, both for His majestic work in Creation, and for His work in us by the power of His Word. Amen.

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