Tuesday 30 June 2009

Who wants to live forever? (Genesis 3:14-24)

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned

Romans 5:12

What Paul is saying in this verse from Romans is simply this: All of us will die.

All men will die, because all men sin.

And yet, he says something very curious at the beginning. He says that before death came to us, it came to one man.

Because this one man sinned, death came through that sin, to all of us.

Paul is referring, of course, to the passage we read today. Genesis 3 speaks of this one man, Adam. It tells us of the first sin that resulted in the first judgement of death.

And yet, if you look at our passage today, death is not mentioned. True: death was promised by God back in Chapter 2 verse 17 as punishment for breaking his command. “You will surely die” says the LORD God.

But Adam and his wife, didn’t die. They were driven out of the garden, life was more difficult from that day onwards. But they continued to live and have children.

In fact, chapter 5 verse 4 tells us that Adam lived till he was 800 years old. So I guess, he did eventually, knock off. But that was 800 years; a whole chapter after Genesis 3.

So what does Paul mean when he says death came through Adam? What does the bible mean what when it speaks of our death?

We usually think of death as something in the future. But the bible speaks about death very frequently, very honestly – as a reality we live with every day.

So as we come to our study of Genesis 3 on the topic of “true death”, we approach it under 3 headings:

o Living with death

o Living in death

o Living through death

Living with death

So firstly: living with death.

What do I mean? Well, what is first of all evident as you read today’s passage, is how we see the effects of death in every day life. We see it in pain and suffering.

And that says to us, that even though death might seem distant and far away; for all of us pain and suffering is very near, very real and very personal.

For the woman, she experiences judgement through her pain in childbirth. Verse 16 tells us it is God who inflicts this pain on her – twice in fact the text says this.

Almost to drive home the point to the woman: for you, pregnancy will equate with pain. In her highest moment of joy and fulfilment – as a woman and a mother – she will experience her deepest struggle of agony.

Scholars tell us the words used here for “pain” is unique. In Hebrew, the word for “pain” sounds similar to the word for “tree”.

And God is saying to the woman, because of the “tree”, you will experience “trauma”. Because you “ate” from the tree I forbid you from eating, you will suffer “agony”.

We are meant to see that there is a reason for the particular punishment God delivers to the man and the woman. Pain is not an end, in and of itself. It points to something else. It points forward to God’s judgement: death, and it points back to the reason for that judgement: which is sin.

That is, we live with death when we live in pain. Pain is a daily reminder our impending death. We can try to ignore death, deny it, forget it, delay it; but pain and suffering will always serve as a spiritual alarm clock – waking us up to the reality of judgement.

It was true of the woman in child-bearing. At it is true of the man in his work.

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

Through painful toil you will eat of it

All the days of your life” (verse 17b)

For man, his work which he was created to do as a sign of his worship is now transformed into painful toil – a sign of his hardship.

Notice the reason why work will be hard for the man. The ground is cursed. It will produce (verse 18) thorns and thistles. Meaning: the creation will rebel against you.

In the same way that the man turned against God, so now the earth will turn against man.

The very thing man will spend his entire life doing, his job, his profession, his career – the very thing that defines so much of who we are; when we greet one another the first thing we ask is, “What do you do?”; “What’s your job?”

This very identity and purpose in man will riddled with hardship, stress and frustration.

And yet, man has no choice. Verse 17: you will eat of it all the days of your life. We have to work, because we have to eat, and we have to eat in order to live.

5 times in these 4 verses, the words “eat” or “ate” is used. Like the woman, the punishment fits the crime and serves as a reminder of the crime.

Every meal will remind the man of the mistake he made.

Sweat on his brow will remind him of his sin.

He used to be free to eat from any tree in the garden. Any tree except the one, and because he took from that one, now every tree is cursed.

Pain and hardship reminds us that we live with death every day.

Living in death

But secondly, we don’t just live with death; this passage teaches us that we live in death.

That is, pain is just a pointer to the true meaning of death, which is separation.

Firstly, the man and the woman are now separated from one another.

God says to the woman in verse 16:

“Your desire will be for your husband
and he will rule over you.”

At first glance, this does not look anything like separation. The woman will desire her husband. What is so bad about that?

Here the text is not talking about love. That word “desire” is found in 2 places in the bible, here is chapter 3; and only one other time in Chapter 4 verse 7.

There, God speaks to Cain and tells him, “Sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

It is the exact same expression found here in Genesis 3. The woman will desire to have her husband. She will covet not his love and affection, but his position, his honour and his status.

Like sin crouching at the door, she will want to control him; looking out for the right opportunity to strike.

But in the end, the man will win. He will “rule” over her. Using his strength, his intimidation: using fear and manipulation

This is the battle of the sexes. This is the beginning of marital strife.[1]

This is: wives all over the world saying of their husbands, “That idiot!”

“He can’t do a single thing right!”

“Useless, lazy man!”

“What does he know; doesn’t he realise that I am right and he is wrong?”

“I can do a better job than him

And this is husbands retaliating without having to say a single word. Instead, he just has to raise his voice; to raise his hand.

It is the stare and the pointed finger that sends the message, “Just try it. Go ahead. Don’t test my patience.”

This is marriage after the fall. Held together not by love, but lust, and separated by selfish desire and ambition.

Now, I just want to take a moment to address the few of us who are saying to themselves, “But that’s not me? That’s not my girlfriend/boyfriend, my wife/my husband?”

Friends, don’t kid yourselves. We only want to read Genesis 2 – the best marriage; but we ignore Genesis 3 – the rest of our marriages.

The rest of the bible, whenever it refers to Genesis 2 – whether it is Malachi 2, or 1 Cor 7 or Matthew 19 has God condemning man; rebuking men for their broken marriages.

Don’t be deceived. There is no way back to innocence. There is only a way forward to redemption – One way forward to the cross.[2]

We’ll come back to this later…

Living in denial

Secondly, the man and the woman are separated from life itself. We see this in verse 22:

And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."

The man is separated from the means to eternal life. Kicked out of the garden and barred from re-entry.

But why? Why does God deny him this fruit?

Because we live in death. Death is not an end to our existence – death is separation.

Human beings do everything in their power to prolong their existence. And in many respects, we have been successful. More people live longer, more people live better.

At yet, more people die. More people kill one another. More marriages break up. More live in poverty, in war, in depression, sickness, oppression and strife.

We live in death. And all our efforts of prolonging our lives, through Pilates and pills, through cosmetics and cryogenics – prolong our experience of death. That’s all.

If anything, what we have been getting better at, is denying death.

Living in lies

And that’s the strategy of the serpent, isn’t it?

“You will not surely die!”

It’s not so bad. Don’t worry, be happy.

You can do it, you deserve it. You know you want it.

So just do it.

You will not surely die.

Jesus calls the devil the Father of lies. For he has been lying since the beginning, and he continues to lie to us even today

Revelation 12:9 talks of the ancient serpent, called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.

2 Cor 4:4 calls him the god of this age who has blinded the minds of unbelievers

1 John 5:19 says the whole world is under the power of the evil one

That is, the devil has no power except for his lies. And yet, we give him power, but believing his lies.

The lie that there is no death

The lie that there is no judgement

Or the greatest lie of all, there is no God

That is the essence of Romans 1, where Paul says that God’s anger and wrath are clearly seen. God has made it known, there is nothing hidden in terms of death, pain, sin and judgement. So that, verse 20: men are without excuse.

And yet, verse 28: since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind.

The worst thing God can do to us, friends, is to let us go.

“Leave me alone! Don’t bother me!”

Say that loud enough, often enough. And God might just give you what you want.

We are separated from life, friends, because we are separated from God.

Living through death

What then is the solution?

The solution is there in Genesis 3, and I think it might surprise you when you read it.

Because: the solution is not outside of death. Life does not come to us, instead of death. According to Genesis 3, true life comes through death.

So, we read verse 15

“’And I will put enmity between you and the woman,

And between your offspring and hers;

He will crush your head,

And you will strike his heel.’”

Here we have here is the “proto-evangelium”. It is what theologians call, the first proclamation of the gospel. This is the first time, the gospel is found in the bible.

Notice: who is the first preacher of the gospel?
It is God!

And curiously enough, who does God preach the gospel to? He tells it to the serpent!

That is, the first proclamation of the good news is a picture of God pronouncing judgement.

Now, this is very different from what we think of the gospel today. We have gospel services, where we invite our friends and families. We have food, we put on a show so that everyone enjoys themselves, in hope that they come again. We tell them how wonderful it is to come into the Kingdom of God, where there is life, blessing and fulfilment.

But here we see that the first gospel is not about life. It speaks of death.

The first gospel is not given as a blessing, but a curse.

Firstly, God promises the destruction on Satan. He curses the serpent above the animals (verse 14). This is a reflection of verse 1, where the serpent is introduced as “more crafty” than all the animals. Now, God says if the serpent is to be more of anything – he is to be more damned!

But notice what this curse entails. “You will crawl on your belly and eat dust all the days of your life.” Now, we are not meant to read this as a children’s story – this is not an etiological narrative – meaning: how the snake lost his legs. The Hebrew readers have never saw it that way – and neither should we.

Rather, the punishment is symbolic of utter humiliation and degradation. For all his days, the serpent will be lowly, never rising above anything or anyone else. More significantly, it reveals to us, the true nature of the devil’s sin. It is pride.

It reveals the true nature of our sin; the temptation from the devil to be proud – To want to be like God. To be looked at with honour and respect, to call the shots, to look down on others.

And God’s judgement awaits all those who oppose him in verse 15: He will crush your head.

But who is this “he”? Verse 15 tells us as well: it is the offspring of the woman.

That is why the woman is called Eve. Verse 20: says she would be the “mother of all the living”.

God promises that one of the descendants of Eve will reverse the judgement: One of her seed.

In the same way that the serpent caused judgement to come on man, so a man, a Son of Man will bring about the destruction of Satan.

So firstly, God promises the destruction of Satan, and all who oppose him. God promises the death of sin.

But secondly, God promises the death of God.

Verse 22:

And the LORD God said, "The man has now become like one of us

But many years later, the bible will go on to tell us of the day when God became one of man; A day when God walked amongst man, as a human being.

Jesus Christ came as the God the Son, but would commonly be known amongst his followers as the Son of Man.

And when he was on earth, it seemed like he brought Heaven with him: Matthew describes him as preaching the gospel: the coming kingdom of God, he heals the sick – reversing the power of death; he speaks and the wind and the waves obey him – he has authority over creation.

But the real reason why we know the Jesus is the one promised by God in verse 15, in the “proto-evangelium”; why he is the serpent crusher; is because the bible speaks on the day when he himself was crushed.

What does verse 15 say?

He will crush your head

And you will strike his heel.

On the cross of Jesus Christ, God pronounces judgement on his Son. God forsakes God. Judgement comes on the earth, but it is poured out on him.

Jesus dies on the cross. Isaiah the prophet says of him,

But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Friends, the gospel is not the gospel without judgement. Jesus says (Matt 9:12) it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Unless people see their sickness, until they are faced with the reality of judgement and death, they will not ask for forgiveness and eternal life.

And similarly for those of us who are Christians, when we forget the reality of death; when we leave it out of the gospel; we forget the preciousness of the life be paid for us.

Last week, when we took communion, 1 Cor 11 was read for us: it is always the same verse, for it is the same message. Why not take the time to reflect on what it actually says,

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

Or next week, when we come together to celebrate the baptism of our brothers and sisters in Christ. What will we see?

Changed lives? Better people?

Above the testimony of their lives – as wonderful as this is – but above the testimony of their lives, is the testimony of death: the death of Christ.

Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

Romans 6:3-4

What Paul says in Romans; what God says in Genesis 3 is simple and clear. Unless you are in the death of Christ, you will not have the life of Christ.

What is death? Well, Genesis 3 says you have a choice.

You can live now and die later. That’s the essence of Genesis 3. Living in death: separation from man; Living under death: separation from God.

But even this points to a greater and final death, at the judgement of Christ when he returns – The final death that awaits the serpent and all those who oppose God.

Or, you can die now in Christ, and live for God.

Acknowledging him as your Saviour, the one who was crushed for my sins and transgressions, and receiving new life through his resurrection.

Either way, the gospel speaks of both life and death. The only difference is whose life will you live, and whose death will you die.

Is it yours, or Christ’s?

[1] PD Jensen – “The promise of death”

[2] DA Carson – “Sin and the Fall”