When you’re thinking about which book of the Bible you should preach next, Genesis may not be near the top of your list. I understand why. It’s a long book with a number of dodgy characters and difficult chapters. But it’s reasons like these, and a few others, that compel me to encourage pastors to preach through this book—yes, the whole entire thing, chapter by chapter and verse by verse. Genesis has been one of the most refreshing studies for our congregation and for me as a pastor.
In this article, I’ll give you four reasons your church would benefit from an expositional series through Genesis. But before we get to those reasons, I want to distill all 50 chapters into an espresso cup, summarizing the whole book into a single main idea. And here it is: Genesis tells the story of a God who creates everything out of nothing in order to bless his people and glorify himself.
1. Genesis is foundational for understanding the rest of the Bible.
Genesis serves as the foundation for the rest of the Bible. In its opening verses, the writer (Moses) invites us to peek over the fence to a time when nothing existed except God in all his happy, Trinitarian glory (John 17). There, in this moment, the all-sufficient God speaks the universe into existence. Everything that is only is because of this sovereign act of our independent, creating God.
Genesis also introduces us to the biblical idea of covenants. God makes specific oaths with specific obligations to Adam, Noah and Abraham. From Genesis onward, these covenants serve as the undergirding rebar for the life of the faithful. They remind us of God’s unchanging promises amid the shocking and weighty disappointments of our fallen world.
We see these seeds of promise begin to bud in the lives of the patriarchs. They spread throughout the history of Israel, and finally blossom into breathtaking foliage through the Lord Jesus Christ. Take, for example, the promise that the seed of the woman would wage war against and ultimately defeat the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). While preaching through Genesis, you’ll be able to introduce your church members to foundational spiritual battle between serpent and seed, better equipping them to see how it intensifies throughout history. It’s not until the New Testament that we find ourselves marveling at the true seed (Gal. 3:16) and our privilege to be blessed by faith, just like our forerunner Abraham (Gal. 3:9, 14, 29).
Furthermore, Genesis provides foundational history. As the book of beginnings, so much of what we read in the rest of the Bible develops from Genesis. After preaching through it, I’ve found connections that have deepened my own personal Bible reading. I’ve heard the same for our church family.
Finally, Genesis is foundational for explaining foundational theological terms such as the federal headship of Adam, total depravity, justification by faith and the providence of God. Week after week, the stories of Genesis illustrate doctrine.
Simply put, the foundational value of Genesis cannot be overstated.
2. Genesis consistently wades into what I call “front-page issues.”
When discussing preaching with fellow pastors, they often lament the difficulty of finding connections from the text to our contemporary life. Preaching through Genesis won’t have this problem. It seemed to me that every sermon had an obvious contemporary parallel. Consider the following list and tell me if I’m talking about the newspaper or Genesis: origin of the universe, creation vs. evolution, human dignity, gender, marriage, sin, deception, greed, murder, abuse, war, immorality and oppression.
Each Sunday, I felt as though I actually had to trim out contemporary or historical connections. By wisely wading into these front-page issues, preachers have the privilege of shaping the congregation’s worldview. Instead of just going after the issues disconnected from the biblical narrative, Genesis helped me and my church to see the root issues that transcend era and geography. We also see the true human condition and the only divine answer. It’s the great privilege of the preacher to frame doctrine and hang it on the walls of our people’s minds. Genesis provides plenty of frames, nails and prints. As preachers, we just need to bring the hammer.
3. Genesis is a beautifully written narrative.
I didn’t grow up with a love for reading or movies. But since becoming a pastor, I’ve learned to better appreciate them. One reason for this is simple: The people I preach to love stories. Narratives pull our people in as they captivate the imagination and engage the senses.
Genesis is a masterfully told story. It uses conflict to accelerate the plot, reveal weakness and bring surprising resolutions. Think for just a moment about deception in the life of Jacob. When his sons deceive him, the deceiver becomes the deceived.
Or what about the divine pen strokes in the life of Joseph? His brothers rage in jealousy so they plot to sell him into slavery. But surprisingly, it’s precisely their sinful plotting and scheming that brings about them actually bowing down before him after all. Readers of Genesis are invited to see the drama of his brothers getting blindly tested by Joseph. Holding our breath, we exhale with Joseph’s announcement, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt” (45:4).
There wasn’t a week that went by when I didn’t stop and say to myself, “Wow, this is beautiful.” Preach Genesis because your people love stories—and there are few stories better written than this one.
4. Genesis relativizes our lives without emptying them of significance.
It’s easy to believe the lie that we’re living in the most important and unique time in history. Thankfully, Genesis protects us from myopia, and helps to show us the big picture. We see that life is short, and we’re mere specks of human history. As we read the genealogies and examine the lives of the patriarchs, we see people come and go, come and go, come and go. As we study these ancient stories that take literal centuries to unfold, suddenly our lives seem relatively puny in light of the eternal, unchanging and infinite God.
At the same time, our lives aren’t emptied of significance. The same God who has created, elected and made promises to us has given us irrevocable significance by creating us in his divine image. Furthermore, he has welcomed us into covenant with him whereby we partake of his blessings.
Simply put, the book of Genesis shows us the importance of God’s promises in the lives of God’s people as they journey on to God’s place, the Promised Land.
Doesn’t this sound remarkably similar to the life of the church? As God’s covenant people, we gather together as those marked off by our common profession of faith and our public identification as his people. Clinging to God’s promises kept, we mirror those in Genesis who clung to God’s promises made.