“The Road from Eden”
The First Sunday in Lent
March 1, 2017
Sermon Text: Genesis 3:7-24
When I was probably about 10 or 11 years old I saw a program on TV about the energy crisis and the problem of so many cars burning so much gasoline when gasoline was in short supply. This was back in the mid-70’s, when we first started to talk about these things. After watching that program, I thought about it, and I wrote a letter to someone, somewhere, where I explained that I had found the solution to this problem. Very simply, instead of building cars that run on gasoline, we needed to start building cars that run on water. Gas shortage problem solved. I gave the letter to my mom, and then later found out that she never mailed it. I was very upset, and I asked her why she hadn’t mailed my brilliant letter, and she nicely explained to me that cars can’t burn water the way they burn gasoline and my well-intentioned solution was unfortunately of no use.
That taught me a lesson about getting involved in matters that were over my head and thinking that I know more than I do. As Dirty Harry famously said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Sometimes, we need to defer to someone else who understands more than we do and believe what they say.
I see this problem all around us today. There is so much hand-wringing today over the issue of why would God allow this and why would God allow that. Mind you, I’m not putting down the question. When something bad happens to us or around us, it is part of the natural grieving process to ask, “Why?” It is a completely natural, healthy, human question. The problem comes when we end at a point of judging God, of calling His goodness or His very existence into question just because something has happened that doesn’t line up with our ideas about what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s fair and what’s just.
People go on and on and write long books and build entire philosophies around passing judgment on God because something has happened that we don’t approve of. People lose their faith over it. We have a problem with simply recognizing that I am man, I am mortal, I am limited, I have limitations, and all the books I could ever write and all the encyclopedias of knowledge that I could ever memorize are as nothing compared to the wisdom and knowledge of the Almighty and Holy God.
If we want to know why things are the way they are, if we really want to know, then we must fall silent, and sit at His feet, and study His Word as if it was our only sure source of knowledge about God and what He’s doing, because it is precisely that.
If you want to know why there is pain and death and injustice in the world, if you want to know why this place is a veil of tears, it is all right here, in our Old Testament lesson. Genesis 3 is where all pain and loss begin. This is where the road to pain and death starts. I’m sure you know the story. The Lord created the world in six days, rested on the seventh, everything was good. And then Satan rebelled, joined by one-third of all the angels, and they were cast out of heaven. And then Satan tempted Adam and Eve to rebel, and they and all of their descendants fell into original sin. They suffered spiritual death, and were sentenced to physical death, and they were kicked out of the Garden of Eden. And they went out from that place into a world that is now cursed with thorns and tears and pain and death.
You have all today come across things that you see as natural and take for granted, but they only exist because of what happened in Genesis 3. Let me take you on an imaginary car ride from my house in Crest Hill to this church, a short ride that only takes about ten minutes when there’s no traffic. I leave my driveway and shortly afterwards I see a dead animal, a rabbit or a squirrel, by the side of the road, hit by a car a short time ago. That shouldn’t be there. I drive past a cemetery on Caton Farm road, a final resting place for hundreds of corpses. That shouldn’t be there. Shortly after that I drive by Stateville Correctional Facility, a place filled with hundreds of living people whose lives have gone terribly wrong. That shouldn’t be there. I see a homeless man standing on a street corner asking for handouts. He shouldn’t be there. I drive past a bar in Lockport where people who have had way too much to drink are coming and going. They shouldn’t be there. If I passed the church and drove down Briggs Street, I could make my way to a hospital filled with hundreds of people suffering all kinds of injuries and diseases, some of them dying. That place shouldn’t be there. I could go to a nursing home filled with old people waiting to die. That shouldn’t be there. Over on that side of the street there is a house where a man is beating his wife and children, and on the other side of the street there is another house where a man lives in despair because he is in debt and can’t get a job and he doesn’t know how he’s going to make it. They shouldn’t be there. None of those things should be there, according to the original plan. All of those things are here only because of what happened in Genesis 3.
So Genesis teaches us that there is pain and death in this world because of our sin, and that we are corrupt and sinful through-and–through because of it. The question is, who is going to do what about it?
Adam and Eve had their own ideas. In their sin and shame, they notice for the first time their nakedness. And their first reaction, which confirms their fallen, sinful nature, is to take care of things themselves, to cover themselves with some clothes they make out of plants. Instead of running to God, instead of crying out, God, be merciful to me, a sinner, they try to make it right on their own and they hide. And so are revealed the two sides of human rebellion against God. One side is blatant and obvious, I’m going to do what I want to do, I’m going to eat that fruit even though the Lord commanded me not to, perhaps even, I’m going to eat that fruit precisely because the Lord told me not to. The other side of human rebellion is works-righteousness, I’m not perfect, but I can work my way back to God by my own works and merits. I’ll take care of it. I don’t need any help, and I don’t need to depend on unmerited grace and mercy. Just give me some works to do, and I’ll make it right.
This, by the way, is also where we see the two sides of human rebellion on this Ash Wednesday as we enter into Lent. There are those who are sleeping off their Fat Tuesday hangovers and couldn’t care less about trying to please God. And then there are those who are in church today with an attitude that Lent is going to be about what they are going to do, enough ashes, no meat on certain days, I’m giving up ice cream, some more Hail Mary’s and I’ll make it everything right again. And I’m obviously picking on the Catholics here, but I’m not just talking about them. People in all churches have a tendency to make this stuff all about us and what we’re doing, often without even realizing it. If Satan can’t get us to openly rebel, he’s more than happy to tempt us to start trusting in our own merits and works as if they are worth anything at all. It’s all the same to him. Nor am I criticizing anyone who is giving up something for Lent, as long as it is only being done to help you in your devotion and not to earn anything. My mom grew up in Rockdale at a time when it was heavily Catholic and you couldn’t buy meat on Fridays and that stuck with her and she raised me having fish on Friday’s during Lent just out of tradition and that was a devotional tool for us and that’s okay. Just as long as know that it earns us nothing and we never stop being people who simply pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The road out of Eden can never be paved by our own works. After Adam and Eve’s sin the world was broken and mankind was broken and somebody had to do something to fix it. And the Lord started right then and there. Even before He escorted his children out of the garden, The Lord did two critically important things to lay down a road that they could take to a place even better than Eden.
We find the first thing that the Lord does in verse 15, which is the first Messianic prophecy in the Scriptures – the first prophecy of the coming of Christ our Savior. The Lord curses Satan, and then declares that the seed of the woman, the descendant of Eve, would one day come and destroy the power of sin, death, and the devil over mankind. This sets up one of the unifying themes of the entire Old Testament, as it makes it’s way through 4,000 years of human history from Eve down through generation to generation all the way to Mary and the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus. This is why the Old Testament is so detailed with the so-and-so begot so-and-so’s that we often find so boring. All those passages bear witness to the faithfulness of the Lord in keeping His promise and keeping the line alive and well all the way to the coming of our Savior. This line is the road out of Eden, the road to Calvary, where our salvation would be accomplished.
We find the second thing that the Lord does in verse 21, in that simple statement, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and for his wife, and clothed them.” No painlessly produced clothing of leaves and vines would cover their nakedness and shame. Their covering would require the pain of the death of an innocent.
How many of us here love animals? Half the programs we watch at our home are nature specials or pet programs because all the animals are so cool and awesome in their own unique ways. But the joy that we find in animals is probably a shadow of the relationship that innocent Adam had with the animals in an uncursed world devoid of and ignorant of death. These garments of skin came from the very first death in the entire world. This is one of the most dramatic scenes in all the Old Testament, as the Lord appears with clothes made from the death of an animal and Adam and Eve stare at each other in shock and saying to each other, “Oh, man, what have we done?” When death hit for the first time, they would have begun to understand the gravity of their sin.
And so we have here, shortly after the first Messianic prophecy in the Bible, the very first Messianic picture of Christ in the Bible. Jesus, the innocent one, Who would be slain as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. Jesus is the One who provides a covering for our shame, it is His work that redeems us from sin, death, and the power of the devil, it is Jesus and Jesus alone Who forgives us all of our sins. It would be a long road out of Eden, a road that goes through much pain and death and many trials and tears, but the road begins immediately with the sign, “This way to Calvary, this way to Jesus, this way to forgiveness.”
These will be the two thoughts and meditations that will guide us through this Lenten season, as we consider our sin in light of its true cost, the death of the innocent, the death of our Savior the Son of God, and, more importantly, as we also consider the great mercy of Christ in willingly laying down His life to forgive us, to make us His own, and to make all things right again. Amen.
“The Road from Eden”
3/1/17 The Rev. Richard J. Bellas
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church