A sermon preached on Genesis 3, July 7, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week three of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the whole book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
Intro: Seeing Through the Broken
Let’s review our time in Genesis thus far. In chapter 1, we saw, in David Atkinson’s words, the “panoramic vistas” of God and the created order. In chapter 2, we saw the more “homely style” of God and humanity, male and female.
But now the goodness of the world God created in love is interrupted, to put it lightly. And, as we come to chapter 3, it feels like a bit of sad day, doesn’t it? It feels almost like an Ash Wednesday déjà vu! Again, David Atkinson writes:
“If the picture of the Garden given us in Genesis 2 comes to us reflected, as it were, in a clear and unspoiled mirror, in Genesis 3 that mirror is shattered into a thousand pieces. Each little piece still reflects something of the earlier beauty, but now the picture is fragmented, the perspectives are distorted, it is hard to see things whole. The world seen through the broken glass of chapter 3 is not longer a normal world. Everything is ambiguous; nothing is any more ‘very good.’” (The Message of Genesis 1-11, p. 80)
Today, we’re going to explore three aspects of this oh so important chapter. First, what happened at the tree, second, what happens to each of us and, thirdly, the promise of victory through sacrifice.
What Happened & What Happens (3:1-7, 14-19)
We must first be able to speak about what happened at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a definite event and what that event means. But, “we must not only say that it happened – we must also say that it happens.” (The Message of Genesis 1-11 by David Atkinson, p. 53) It is the story of our first parents, and it is also therefore our story. It is the story of Original Sin, and it is the story of every temptation to sin against a holy God.
Return with me to chapter 2. For this tree of knowledge has already made an appearance. In Genesis 2:16-17 we read, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely [or freely] eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
When God says to Adam, “you may surely eat of every tree” we can understand that to mean eat to the full! Be satisfied in what I give you! Man enjoyed freedom in the garden. People will often accuse God of being narrowly restrictive or some kind of killjoy. One verse I didn’t get to say too much about last week is verse 25, where we get a picture of the intimacy known in the first marriage: “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” Real restrictive! No, rather God give freedom with the good boundaries that he sets.
But in the context of one conversation, one boundary begins to seem like too much to bear. Focus with me now on verses 1 to 7 in chapter 3. Eve usually bears the brunt of our disapproval here, but that the conversation had already started with the snake/Satan is very telling. Where is Adam? He is there, and he has done nothing. Helmut Thielicke says here, “Significantly, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us the petition: “Lead us not into temptation; do not even allow us to get into the critical situation in the first place.” (How the World Began, p. 130)
Even so, we too must not even allow the conversation, the beginnings of standing in judgment over God’s word to begin. We must say “be gone” to the snake – get away from the garden of our family, our thoughts, our speech, our actions.
But there in the garden, in that conversation a subtle breach begins. You can even see it in the language that used. Throughout chapter 2 God is constantly referred to as the Lord God (YHWH Elohim). YHWH is God’s personal name, revealed to Moses at the burning bush. But here, as Eve speaks with the deceptive serpent, he referred to merely as “God.” It’s almost like it’s the first time God’s name is being spoken without love and without care.
In the conversation, the serpent gets Eve to believe the first Great Lie – that God doesn’t really love her and doesn’t really have her best interest in mind. That he is keeping something from her. The verbs in verse 6 are telling: she saw, she desired, she took, she ate. It was the decision to attempt life and happiness apart from the very Author of life and the joy of God’ presence.
So, we must understand that what was taken at the tree was not just fruit, but autonomy. As Nancy Guthrie notes here, “To eat [of the tree] was to assume the right to decide for oneself what is good and what is evil rather than depend on God to define good and evil. (Even Better Than Eden, pg. 33)
And, ironically, instead of making Eve like God in her knowledge, taking the fruit of the tree leads not to enlightenment, but instead to rebellion, shame, guilt, and bondage.
Two things here: first, this teaches us about Original Sin. We tend to think about sin as “individual” actions, but sin, as Scripture teaches on it, is actually much deeper and insidious than that. In Adam, our sinfulness is simply the condition we’re born into – it is the air we breathe. As Romans 5:12 puts it, “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” To use the language of the Thirty-Nine Articles, in Adam, Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man.”
But, also need to see the way in which the tree represents how sin works – the anatomy of sin, so to speak. Where are we, in our lives right now tempted to stand in judgment over what God declares is clearly evil? Where are we tempted to seize autonomy from God in a specific area of our lives? Where have we said to the Lord, as Thielicke says, “God, you can everything, but not this one thing.”
Promised Victory & Sacrifice (3:15, 21)
For as much as we see lost and broken in Genesis 3, we also immediately see the hope of restoration, of victory over the serpent and sacrifice for the sin of man. This emphasizes that in the mystery of God’s sovereignty, none of this has taken him by surprise (even though it usually leaves us with many questions).
The good news of victory is given in verse 15:
“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.”
Here we find that one of Eve’s descendants will himself be the snake-crusher. Just as man gave way to the serpent, so too a man will undo the curse of sin. But he will be more than a man: “I will…” says the Lord.
But there is one other place where we see the hope of restoration held out, and it can be easy to miss. Ask yourself, where is the first sacrifice for sin found in the Bible? Exodus, perhaps? No! It’s right here: “And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” In verse 21, God himself provides clothing made from animal skins for his wayward children. Think of how powerful that is. Right here, the cross of Christ is prefigured in these skins. By Jesus’ cross, he will stand our place, guilty and condemned. By Jesus’ same cross, we stand in his place, supplied with his righteousness.
There’s a very moving and interesting contrast here that I discovered while studying Genesis 3. As I mentioned, in the Fall, Eve saw, desired, took, and ate the forbidden fruit. But in his temptation, Jesus lives on every word spoken by God the Father, refusing to eat! At the feeding of the multitudes and, ultimately, at the Lord’s Supper, Jesus takes, blesses, breaks, and gives bread to us as the outward sign of his body given and broken for us. His life and obedience, death and resurrection, are the covering spoken of in Genesis 3.
I want to end with the moving poem “In Evil Long I Took Delight” by John Newton. Listen to how he weaves together the themes of betrayal and sin with redemption and forgiveness in the cross.
“In Evil Long I Took Delight” by John Newton (1725-1807)
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agony and blood,
Who fixed His languid eyes on me,
As near His cross I stood.
Sure, never to my latest breath,
Can I forget that look;
It seemed to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke.
My conscience felt and owned the guilt,
And plunged me in despair,
I saw my sins His blood had spilt,
And helped to nail Him there.
…A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou mayst live.”
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
Such is the hope found in Genesis 3, but for now the chapter ends with Eden lost and man ominously heading east.