The First Sunday in Lent March 5, 2006
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
144, 369, 384(1-4), 384(4-5)
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’” Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day 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, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, You are cursed more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you shall go, And you shall eat dust All the days of your life. And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
Dear Fellow Redeemed, through Christ Jesus, our Savior:
A serpent may be the first, but certainly not the last disguise the Devil ever took…
A teenage boy is prodded by his buddies—“you’re too chicken to do it!” “Yeah, Charlie’s idea of a good time is to stay home and plant marigolds with his mama!”
Charlie’s idea of adventure goes way beyond planting marigolds with his mother, but the taunt has its desired effect: “Hey, I can do it, just you see!” Fifty yards away is the shed where “Old Man Johnson” stores his home-made wine. Against all his training, Charlie mutters, “You’ll see whose chicken,” races out of the bushes to the shed, snatches a bottle of purple-red wine, and races back to his buddies.
“Let’s go down to the gravel pit—nobody’s going to be around there today.”
“What’s th’ matter, Charlie? I suppose your parents wouldn’t approve…”
“Hey, my folks are cool; they don’t care,” Charlie lies. “It’s just that I heard this stuff can really mess you up sometimes. Besides we’re not supposed to be doing this. What if we get caught?”
“Oh who told you that old wives’ tale? This stuff goes down just like water. Here, have a swig…”
I think we all know that the temptation of Eve has been played out thousands of times, with a thousand variations, in each of our lives. How many times have we wandered blindly into situations where, had we really been listening, had we only kept in mind the truth that every temptation is an assault on God by the Devil, we would have taken God’s “no” for what it was. As we travel back in spirit to the garden where Satan first overcame man, may the Holy Spirit open our eyes and teach us that when God says, “No,” I. It is a good thing, but furthermore, II. May He lead us to see and appreciate God’s great “yes” in Jesus Christ.
When God says, “No,” we need first to recognize that His Word is a command. Our text today touches on some of the high points of God’s creation of man. Unlike the rest of the world which was simply called into existence, God treated the creation of man quite differently. He took a moment in that final working day, gathered a little earth and worked it into the form of a man. Man drew his life from God in a most unique way. When man became a living soul, he was, spiritually, morally, mentally, in God’s own image.
The man was given an amazing charge—to work and keep the beautiful Garden of Eden. God said, “Yes!” to man as the chief steward of creation, and he was to be the crown jewel of all the works of God’s hands. Everything was in man’s power to do as his wisdom saw fit.
But God said, “No,” to making man a moral legislator. This planet is ours to enjoy and strive to understand. But it is not our place to quarrel with basic truths of the universe. No scientist worthy of the name will quarrel with known laws of nature—nobody denies the law of gravity, or tries to pretend it isn’t there. He works within its limitations. Likewise, when God says, “No,”, it is not our place to pretend he said, “Maybe.” He has marked out the field in which we play.
When God says, “No,” and forbids a certain action or choice, the command has been given with a good purpose. He placed the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. It was the one tree within Paradise that man was forbidden to taste. But let us not think that the tree was placed there on a whim.
When God created Man, he was made capable of fully and freely loving and honoring God. The willingness to obey God,—to give Him full glory, and to subordinate his will to God’s, was man’s way of expressing his love for God. There had to be the potential for disobedience—there had to be a, “No,” from God for man to fully say, “Yes,” to God.
The tree was a truth about obedience—if the creature obeyed the command, he would know good and taste of the tree of life forever. If the creature disobeyed, he would know evil after having known good.
When God said, “No,” it was to protect man from knowing the fruit of evil and to give man the opportunity for true love. The truth is that every day a tree of good and evil is set before us. when we are faced with choices of willing obedience and praise, or disobedience and rebellion: “Behold, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16).
When God says, “No,” He has denied us nothing. One of the serpent’s chief successes with Eve was to lead her to believe that God was holding back on her and Adam. He put it in ridiculous terms that she found easy to deny— “did God really say ‘You shall not eat off any trees?” [v.1] No, He didn’t say that. But in Eve’s answer we hear the seed of doubt starting to germinate: “No, but of the tree in the midst of the garden, He said, ‘don’t even touch it!’” [cf. v.3] Her overstatement betrayed a sense of bitterness. She was beginning to think of God not as gracious, but as a severe God.
But there was no severity on God’s part. He gave man and woman one test, in the midst of every sort of delight and goodness. They could eat freely of every tree except one. Whatever was appealing about this tree was surely equally matched among the other trees of the garden. Only this differed, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil gave promise of something God had reserved for Himself—this set the tree apart.
Our world and our lives, for all the problems that beset us even today because of sin still remain filled with countless wonders—astonishing richness, variety, and blessings we could not hope to recount. If He denies us anything it is only with good in mind—our everlasting good.
The guiding principle of what is ours to seek is no different than the one Adam and Eve were to live under: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). All the commandments reinforce the truth that we ought to seek what God wills to give us: “you shall love your neighbor as—yourself” (Matthew 22:39), “let each man (or woman) have his own wife (husband)” (1 Corinthians 7:2), “think not evil of one another” (Zechariah 7:10), “you shall not covet your neighbor’s house” (Exodus 20:17).
When God says, “No,” man’s disobedience merits death in the truest sense. Satan told Eve “when God said, ‘No,’ He didn’t really mean ‘No.’” But He did, and “through one man, sin entered, and death through sin, and death passed upon all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
The true effect of death is separation. When a person dies a physical death his spirit separates from the body. When Adam and Eve ate of the tree and came to know evil, they died spiritually. Their spirits became separated from God. Sin immediately corrupted their hearts toward God just as Paul says, “the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7). They came under His righteous wrath.
But the effects of that spiritual death became apparent even before God came into the picture. The world’s most beautifully intimate relationship became spoiled with shame. Even with no one else around, Adam and Eve’s nakedness left them ashamed and uncomfortable. We learn afterward that they were suddenly ashamed and terrified before God as well.
Adam and Eve also tried to solve their problem by sewing fig leaves for coverings. But their solution to sin was like mending a severed artery with a Band-Aid.
Man’s solutions to sin are always futile: A campaign for drug resistance that pivots on our children learning to “Just say ‘no’” might seem to work for a while; but it will never change “the imagination of man’s heart, [which] is evil from his youth” (Genesis 8.21). We find that it is God who had to produce a genuine solution.
To a world that is lost and condemned in its sin Jesus Christ is God’s “Yes!” God’s solution is more perfect and more astonishing than anything that could have been conceived in the heart of man. We have heard much today of the first Adam, his wife, and the Fall that has ruined us all. But we seek to hear every day the hope that God has given for all mankind in Jesus Christ who is the second Adam in whom the whole race of mankind receives redemption and reconciliation before its Creator.
The forbidden fruit had not yet digested in Adam and Eve’s stomachs when God came seeking His beloved creatures. They were a pitiful sight, hiding themselves—behind shrubs and leaves, eyeing each other suspiciously and trying to avoid accountability for their sins. But God avoided getting drawn into their arguments. Like a doctor, He informed them of the extent of their disease and the painful symptoms it would bring into their lives. But primarily, He promised them a cure—a Seed (or descendant) of the woman would arise to crush the dominion Satan had gained. Receiving the promise in faith, our first parents were assured of God’s grace—the second Adam would arise to reign in our lives with His own righteousness by which we would be found acceptable to God. God gave life to people who were dead in sin through the promise of a Savior. In hope they lived their lives. Death became merely their passage into the realization of that hope.
The God who says, “No” to sin, says “Yes” to us in Christ. “For all the promises of God in [Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us” (2 Corinthians 1:20). The life Jesus lived on earth was lived vicariously for us—that is, His life of righteous obedience to God becomes the righteousness we could not offer. His “yes” became our “yes.”
Lest we imagine we have gained success over the Devil, the Scriptures reveal our faults. The result of failure —eternal separation from God—is too terrible to imagine.
But Christ is our “yes.” We see today—and we see it with joy and relief—how He overcame the temptations of the Devil (cf. Gospel reading). That success belongs to us! God gave it to us for our peace and hope. We will see more. We will see Jesus’ grace under fire and His devotion in trial. We will see the Son of God forgive his executioners and endure the punishment we merited. We shall hear Him proclaim its completion. His “It is finished” is our “Yea and Amen.” His resurrection is the promise of our own salvation.
Jesus Christ is God’s “yes” to each one of us when we come to Him in sorrow for our sins. That’s the case even when we feel we’re not as “sorry” as we should be. It certainly is true though we’re not as good as we could be. For the promise is not to him who depends on his deeds, but to him who believes: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ (cf. Romans 3:20ff).
May God turn us from sin to His gracious verdict of mercy in Jesus Christ. Trusting in Him may He keep us faithful and firm against the Devil’s wiles so that we may not again fall into shame but hold fast the promise of life. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.