The Lord's Day Evening
December 6, 2009
“Christmas Viewed from Afar: Eden”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now I've been given the privilege, and it is a privilege, to bring three Christmas-themed sermons over the next three weeks — beginning tonight and then again next Lord's Day evening, and then the following Sunday morning, the Sunday when the choir will do the Music of Christmas in the evening. And I want to begin tonight about as far away from Bethlehem as we can get and I want you to turn with me to Genesis chapter 3. I got into trouble in the summer for referring to Romans 8 as “The Best Chapter in the Bible.”
Well, this chapter is “The Most Important Chapter in the Bible.” I have long since come to the conclusion that almost the entirety of what flows out in the Bible comes from the source, which is the third chapter of the book of Genesis. Now before we read this very familiar chapter together, let's once again look to God in prayer.
Lord our God, this is Your Word. We come as needy as ever. On this Lord's Day Evening, we know that we are sinners needing grace and mercy, reassurance of Your covenant love to us in the Gospel. Now bless us as we read Your Word. This is Your Word and we would honor it. We ask for the blessing of Your Spirit as we read it together. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’ He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?’ The man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ Then the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this that you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’
The Lord God said to the serpent,
‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.’
To the woman He said,
‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.’
And to Adam He said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us in knowing good and evil. Now lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever —‘ therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
Amen. May God add His blessing.
There's a connection with 1 Samuel, the series that we've taken a break from. We've seen in 1 Samuel how a king-figure has arisen. Not Saul so much, not even David, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who will become incarnate, a lineage, the importance of a genealogy, the importance of a line that stretches actually back to Genesis 3:15. The first Gospel promise - the seed of the woman bruising the head of the serpent and in the process his heel being bruised. There is then this promise, this motif, that we find in the Bible of a seed, a seed that culminates as we know in Jesus, in Bethlehem, in Christmas.
Oh, many, many moons ago now I went through the arduous task of learning Greek. And my Greek text was somewhat unlike most Greek texts in that the answers to all of the quizzes were in the back of the book. It was a great feat of temptation and withstanding temptation not to run to the back of the book every night when these quizzes came around. Well, the Bible is a bit like that. The answer, as all the children will tell you, is Jesus, and the answer is in the back of the book. 1 John chapter 3 and verse 8 — “The reason the Son of God came into the world is to destroy the works of the devil.” The reason the Son of God came into the world is to destroy the works of the devil — now if that is the answer, and it most certainly is, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the question?” because a problem, a predicament, has arisen and that predicament, that problem arises right here in Genesis chapter 3. This is the problem to which the answer is “Christmas.”
I. The world is alienated from God.
Now what exactly is the problem? And I want us in the time we have this evening to ponder that a little along three lines of thought. I don't have time to look at every nook and cranny of Genesis chapter 3 tonight, but I want to look at some of the key features of this chapter. The first is that the world is spoiled and alienated from God. That is the problem that we find in Genesis chapter 3. We find and discover this problem of a world that is spoiled, poisoned if you like, and alienated from God. It's the problem of alienation. Adam and Eve rebel. They rebel against God's Word, they disobey God's commandment, they lose sight of the grace of God, and God comes to them and asks them, “Where are you?” And He discovers that they are hiding, hiding from God among the trees. The God who had lavished mercy and yes, grace, indescribable pleasures, the paradise which is Eden — the God who had lavished all of these things upon them, this God has now turned to be, in their minds, someone of whom they need to be afraid. They are running from One who has been infinitely gracious to them.
There was one test, just one — the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God did not say, as Eve suggests, that they were not to touch this tree. They could touch this tree, they could climb this tree, they could build a house in this tree if they so desired, but they weren't allowed to eat of its fruit. That's the one thing amongst all the infinite plusses; this was the one single negative. And Satan insinuates, “You’re not to eat of any tree of the garden,” and plants you see, a thought, a thought that is endemic to perhaps many of us here tonight. He plants, do you see, the great lie, because that's who he is. He's a liar. We’re to tell the truth, but Satan never tells the truth. “He's a liar” the Bible says “from the beginning.” He is the great deceiver. He plants this thought that if God says you’re not to eat of this one tree, He's not as gracious as you think He is, He's not as loving as you think He is. Satan is playing on this, well, psychology.
Some of you, and perhaps I should say some of us, were raised in dysfunctional families, for whom the term “father” perhaps conjures up in your minds negative things, of someone who is undependable, of someone whose kindness was only forthcoming on occasions and at a cost. A suspicion arises in the minds of Adam and Eve that their Heavenly Father who had given to them paradise, who had given to them the run of the garden, lavished His goodness upon them, was actually miserly in His love. Satan has injected a suspicion about the character of God.
Do you know, my friends, that's at the heart of many of our problems — that we do not trust the character of God. We find again and again that perhaps in a week whereby we have fallen and we are conscious of our sin, we draw the conclusion that God perhaps doesn't love me as much as He did and I need in some way or another, that I need to convince myself now of His love and His dependability and His faithfulness and His covenant.
Eve has been manipulated, do you see, into believing that there is something about God and His giving that is fitful and reluctant and conditional, a camouflage for the real nature and the real character of God. This problem has arisen. It's a problem of alienation. By eating of that forbidden fruit, Adam, by eating of that forbidden fruit, have been alienated from God.
You notice how that alienation works its way through every aspect of their lives.
First of all, they’re hiding from God. They’re afraid of God — a God of whom they had no need to be afraid, a God who loved them, a God who had given everything, except this one thing, and they’re afraid of Him, and they’re conscious of being afraid of Him and they’re in a world now in verse 7 — “their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked.” The world in which they live is now out of joint. There is suspicion and threat and hostility in their world and you see it in the parameters of their marriage. You have to smile as you read this chapter. She blames him; he blames her; she blames the serpent. The cycle, the climate of accusation has come into their marriage. Tell me, dear friends, who doesn't know this? In the best and sweetest of relationships, how a climate of suspicion, how a climate of accusation spoils and disfigures and alienates the relationship, not only in their marriage but in their family. “In pain she shall bring forth” — and perhaps not just the reference to the pain of childbearing, but perhaps also to the pain that often results between parents and children and teenagers and parents and it's all part of the fruition that emerges from this problem of alienation.
But not only is there a problem of alienation, there is in the second place the problem of what I want to call unfulfillment. Accustomed to walking in the garden in the cool of the day — isn't that a beautiful metaphor? - to walk in the garden in the cool of the day. There's held out to them the possibility, by Satan of course, to be masters of their own destiny, to live without God, to have autonomous life, autonomous thought, and autonomous will. And their eyes are opened and they are no longer innocent, but guilty. And shame now clouds their relationship and what one theologian calls for other reasons, “an introspective conscience.” They become lawbreakers. They become transgressors.
But perhaps the greater tragedy is that to which Paul alludes when he comments on this passage in the first chapter of Romans. When Paul says that they “exchanged the glory of God for creaturely things” — they exchanged the glory of God, the glory of fellowship with God, the contentment, the joy, the happiness, the fulfillment of walking with God in the cool of the day — they exchanged that for creaturely things.
John Milton in Paradise Lost adds something that's not in the text. He says about Eve that she “moved away from the tree” and in Milton's words, “low obeisancemade.” She worshipped the tree. C. S. Lewis commenting on Milton says, “Eve gave up fellowship with God to worship a vegetable.” She gave up fellowship with God to worship a vegetable.
Do you know what Paul says in Romans about the consequence of Adam and Eve's sin? He says, “For all have sinned” — and not that they've broken the law. That's true, but that's not what Paul says. “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And part of what Paul is suggesting there, that part of the essence of sin is that apart from God you can never find satisfaction. You can never find true fulfillment. You can never find glory. We fall short of the glory of God. We never attain to that which we were created for. It's what the book of Ecclesiastes examines at length — that life under the sun, life apart from God, life apart from walking with God in the cool of the day is vanity. It's vanity. There's an unfulfillment about it. There's a lack of integration about it. There's a meaninglessness about it. It never quite comes together. There's this problem of unfulfillment. “I tried the broken cisterns Lord, but ah, the waters failed. Even as I stooped to drink, they mocked me as I wailed.”
There's the problem of alienation and there's the problem of unfulfillment and thirdly, there's the problem of destruction and death
III. The problem of destruction and death.
. In verses 17 and 18 and 19 God says to Adam, “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” We know it all too well - that enemy which is death. Adam was made to be a gardener and now he becomes part of the very garden itself. He returns to the dust. Instead of glory, there's dust, and he's exiled, banished from the garden, banished from paradise. And at the east end of the garden there is set God's marshal guards, the cherubim, with flaming swords turning every which way guarding the way back into paradise. But there's this extraordinary promise, this breathtaking promise — a seed, the seed of the woman.
Do you remember, do you remember in Cana of Galilee at the wedding when the wine ran out and Mary has a little flap? And Jesus comes to His mother and, you remember? — “Woman,” He says, “what have I to do with thee? Woman, what is this to do with Me?” Why does He call her woman? Why does He call His own mother, “woman”? — Because He is the seed of the woman. He's referencing Genesis 3:15. He's referencing this Gospel promise because in this predicament, in this problem which man finds himself, which we find ourselves tonight — this world in which elder John Crawford referred to in his prayer tonight — millions of people in this country alone find themselves in this predicament — alienated from God, unfulfilled in their lives, and subject to death and destruction.
There comes this shining light.
It's a little flicker in Genesis 3:15 and it grows and grows and grows until a star comes and stands over Bethlehem, pointing to down to a manger in which Jesus is born of a virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit.
He comes, do you see, not in mere sentiment, but He comes to Bethlehem in order to meet those cherubim with flaming swords. As Zachariah had prophesied, “I will smite the shepherd.” “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him,” Isaiah says. He came to Bethlehem in order that He might go to Calvary and bear our sins in His own body upon the tree and cry out as God's unmitigated wrath against our sin comes down upon His own Son whom He does not spare. “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And the answer is - for the likes of you and me that we might be brought back into fellowship with God, that we might find fulfillment and joy and purpose and meaning in our lives and that we might be given that blessed sweet note of Gospel grace that says, “Oh death, where is your victory?” And the answer is in Jesus Christ, in the Babe that was born in Bethlehem's manger.
John Henry Newman, in The Dream of Gerontius, wrote these lines :
“Oh loving wisdom of our God, when all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came. Oh wisest love that flesh and blood that did in Adam fail, should strive afresh against the foe, shouldst strive and shoudst prevail.”
Well, we're coming upon another Christmas season. Let's be sure to be full of joy and full of gratitude and full of praise for the Gospel which is Jesus Christ dying for sinners to set us free.
Let's pray together.
Our Father in heaven, we thank You as we glimpse tonight, Christmas from afar, that even in the darkness that prevailed around the garden of Eden there was a light that shone, that was none other than the Lord Jesus Himself. We thank You tonight that we have come to know Him, whom to know is life eternal. Now bless us we pray on this Lord's Day Evening and grant us Your grace for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand. Receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, be with you all. Amen.
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